Glenn Murray opened the scoring for Brighton
The trail of tears that Brighton supporters have trodden for the last 20 years is matched by few others, as this morning they contemplate life in the Premier League.
A last day of the season escape from relegation from the Football League 20 years ago, homelessness and a 70-mile trek to Gillingham for home games for two years, protest marches and bucket collections, another temporary home in an athletics stadium, and three play-off defeats in the last four years.
At the final whistle, Huddersfield could still have technically caught them, even though would have to overturn a 32-goal swing and win their final five matches.
But that all changed in the late game as Huddersfield drew 1-1 at Derby, the home team equalising in the 88th minute through Jacob Butterfield after Collin Quaner’s opener, and Brighton’s place in the top flight was untouchable.
Two hours earlier, there were thousands on the pitch here with chairman Tony Bloom wiping away tears of joy up in the stand.
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Solly March doubled Brighton's advantage in the second half
Chris Hughton's side are all but promoted to the Premier League
Chris Hughton’s players, having comfortably seen off a relegation-haunted Wigan side after a nervy start, thanks to goals from Glenn Murray and Solly March, cavorted in the stands. They knew.
Bloom said: “This feels amazing. To be here at the Amex, with 30,000 Brighton fans, it’s our dream come true. Twenty years ago we were homeless, going nowhere, and here we are on the way to the Premier League.
“All of us at the club, and the players in particular want the title now, and we’ll be going for it. Hopefully we’ll be getting it very soon.”
Brighton dropped out of the top flight in 1983, and it has been the longest of hard roads since then.
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Understandably, it was an edgy, fidgety start to a match that was so important.
Wigan, fighting to avoid the drop into League One, arrived on the back of two wins and in determined, well organised mood.
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It took Hughton’s side a while to get going, and there were precious few chances in the first half hour. Lewis Dunk nodding Anthony Knockaert’s free kick over the bar in a rare breakthrough.
But Brighton’s crisp passing, the darting inventiveness of Knockaert – outstanding all season – and the intelligent movement of Murray always provided a threat. Four minutes before half time the breakthrough came.
Dunk lofted a ball forwards which Dan Burn should have dealt with, but he fluffed his header. Tomer Hemed knocked that ball back to Murray, and he drilled a lovely low shot into the corner from the edge of the area. It was his 22nd goal of the season, 19 of them at the Amex.
Instantly, Brighton were freed from their nerves, and the football and the chances started to flow.
The second goal was coming. Knockaert’s free kick was tipped around the post by Jakob Haugaard, and then Murray shot into the side netting after another clever pass by the Frenchman.
Then though Knockaert carved his way into the penalty area with another nippy run. His cross was blocked, but the ball ran loose to March, who took one touch and then buried his shot under Haugaard with aplomb.
Out of the blue, Wigan got a goal back to signal a momentary spell of the jitters, as Nick Powell headed home at the far post from Jamie Hansen’s cross.
But Brighton were soon back in control, and substitute Chuba Akpom should have done better than hit the side netting from Jamie Murphy’s pass.
And then the whistle went, and the club’s pleas for the fans to stay off the pitch stood not a chance. The faithful had waited a long time for this moment.
Local lad Dunk emerged at the end with clad only in his underpants. Did he mind? Did he heck.