BRIGHTON beat Portsmouth 2-0 at the Amex Stadium on Saturday.
The win pushed our Seagulls up to fifth in the Championship, into the play-off positions for the Premiership for the first time since early December.
With ten games left the three points should keep the possibility of promotion going to the end of the season.
Currently, the clubs looking favourite are Southampton, West Ham and Reading.
In the equation are Middlesbrough, Cardiff, Birmingham, Blackpool, Hull, Leeds and, of course, the Albion. We still have to play five of the above, starting with a trip to Blackpool.
I don’t want to jinx our run, but have to say – while I can – we are the only team in all the leagues unbeaten this year. We have gone 12 games unbeaten.
First, let us spare a thought for Pompey. They are in trouble, in administration, and having had 10 points deducted, stuck at the bottom of the Championship. Personally I wish them well. We want them in the leagues with us. It is good to have local games and Portsmouth is as close as it gets.
It wasn’t easy against Pompey. It never is. To their credit they didn’t defend like Cardiff in midweek. Our south coast rivals needed three points so it made for an attractive game.
However, I don’t think they managed a shot on target and Peter Brezovan in our goal certainly wasn’t troubled. The question was, could we score?
For 75 minutes it looked as if we wouldn’t. Manager Gus Poyet had started with an attacking line-up which included two star wide-men: Craig Noone and Will Buckley. Unfortunately this didn’t work as Sam Vokes, the target man, was isolated and largely ineffective.
Early in the second half came the crucial change. On came Vicente for what proved to be another of Gus’s inspired substitutions. Our rarely seen Spanish international broke from midfield and won a free-kick on the edge of the Pompey area. He took the kick himself and scored with an inch-perfect shot into the corner past Jamie Ashdown’s despairing dive.
He happily took the yellow card for whipping off his shirt in celebration. I wish they wouldn’t do that. I’m pleased to say he didn’t when he scored the second goal!
In the closing stages Brighton attacked rather than defended and got their reward after Kazenga LuaLua (Gus can claim another fine substitution as he come on for a cameo 11-minute performance) worked a piece of magic out wide to leave two defenders behind – and find that man Vicente, who stroked an accurate shot past Ashdown... 2-0 to the Albion.
The 2,500 Portsmouth fans were generally well-behaved (although there was one blue flare) and sang out the Pompey Chimes with gusto. Perhaps it was unkind of the Albion fans to respond to “Play up Pompey, Pompey play up” with “Pay up Pompey, Pompey pay up” given their financial difficulties?
Funnier was the response to their “One-nil to the referee” chant (after the free-kick that gave us the first goal) of “One nil to the taxpayers!”
For Albion fans there was a tremendous feel-good factor at the end. A fine win sealed with yet another last gasp (94th minute) goal. We are back into the play-offs and have all to play for in the remaining ten games.
We can forget the four points dropped in the previous two draws through careless Albion hands – Joe Matlock’s handball for the Doncaster penalty and Brezovan’s flap to give Cardiff their second goal.
Poyet’s problems are now deciding his best starting XI and the best five for the bench.
Suddenly we have some of our star players not even being selected as subs.
For the Pompey game, the Man City loanees Gai Assulin and Abdul Razak weren’t chosen. Currently Lewis Dunk, an automatic choice previously, is being ignored. Gus admits it is difficult but he’s the manager and that’s what he is paid for.
See this Friday’s Sussex Express for the full Scene.