I SAID it wasn’t going to be easy – and I was right.
Perhaps we were starting to believe we were unstoppable. Three wins on the trot in the Championship plus a Carling Cup win. It had been the perfect start. On Saturday against Ian Holloway’s Blackpool we were within touching distance of five straight wins. Until the 89th minute Gus Poyet was our “special one” with the magic touch.
Albion were 2-0 up but the Seasiders from the northwest scored twice in the second half to snatch the draw, their last and Kevin Phillips’s second, coming in the 90th minute.
On Tuesday night in the second Round of the Carling Cup there was an even bigger hurdle in the form of Steve Bruce’s Premiership Sunderland. It was almost as tense and exciting as the very first game against Doncaster. Craig Mackail-Smith headed home the winner in extra-time to take Albion into the Third Round for the first time in 17 years. We deserved the win and several of our players were heroes. Poyet got the perfect performance and our Seagulls remain UNBEATEN in cup and league this season.
The Championship game against Blackpool was a good, hard fought game. In our new, magnificent, packed Amex stadium (19,500) we celebrated with singing and flag waving.
Our first goal was great. In the 29th minute Gary Dicker found Craig Noone wide on the left. Nooney cut inside and sent over a perfect cross for Mackail-Smith to score with a great header.
It was Noone again who sent in a swinging corner early in the second-half. Ashley Barnes was there to smash home from close range. Could we relax two goals up? No! Blackpool manager Holloway made the positive move of bringing on all three substitutes. Albion were forced back.
Blackpool got back into the game when danger man Phillips headed in a deep cross from Alex Baptiste. Suddenly we were nervous. Poyet brought on Kazenga LuaLua who very nearly settled matters. He created two great chances which included a penalty shout for a push on Barnes.
Credit to Blackpool who pressed to the end. We didn’t clear a corner and suddenly there was Phillips acrobatically turning to smash home a great volley. We went for the win in added time but Blackpool kept us out.
We couldn’t complain – they deserved the point. Blackpool were in the Premiership last season and it showed. We aren’t going to get easy games in the Championship.
The atmosphere for the cup game under floodlights on Tuesday night against Premiership Sunderland was fantastic. More than 17,000 crowded into the Amex, including 1,200 from the north east to support the Black Cats. It was a thrilling game which we controlled at the start by keeping the ball.
New boy Ryan Harley made his debut in midfield and Nooney looked dangerous whenever he had the ball. Mackail-Smith ran his socks off up front.
He fired in a strong shot that the Sunderland keeper could only parry. Barnes fired the rebound high.
Former Manchester United man Kieran Richardson always looked dangerous. He created chances as the Premiership side got on top towards the end of the half.
There were worrying times. Skipper Gordon Greer had picked up an injury and didn’t come out for the second half. We are short of fit central defenders and he was replaced by Romain Vincelot. He didn’t last, having to go off with a dislocated elbow. We winced when Casper Ankergren tried to right matters by tugging his arm. Romain’s place was taken by assistant manager Mauricio Taricco.
Despite the enforced changes, Brighton were the better side. Young Lewis Dunk was a hero as the sole central defender. Liam Bridcutt was tremendous in midfield winning the ball and showed great distribution. And of course Mackail-Smith worked harder than anybody for the team. It was Craig who appeared to have scored the vital goal.
A stunning Bridcutt pass found our striker running through. He flighted the ball over the keeper and we were up on our feet celebrating.
The ball hit the inside of the post and came back across the goal rather than into the net.
Next we were up again cheering a penalty. Inigo Calderon ran into the area at speed and was tripped by the keeper. But ref Andy D’Urso’s card was shown to the Albion full back for diving. A later replay on the big screen seemed to show contact. The boos rang around the Amex.
Sunderland had chances to win the game too but Ankergren was strong and blocked their best chance from close range.
Into extra-time it went. Another 30 minutes with possible penalties caused a few “how do we get home” thoughts. It was tense stuff. Five minutes in and Alan Navarro went wide on the right to send over the perfect cross for Mackail-Smith to head home superbly.
There were a few scares and we had a few more chances as Sunderland attacked.
They couldn’t break down our defence and it is our Seagulls going through to the third round draw.
Tomorrow (Saturday) it is all back to the Amex again for high scoring Peterborough in the Championship.
It won’t be dull!