Brighton and Hove Albion made sure of Premier League football next season with two games to spare after a Pascal Gross goal gave them a memorable 1-0 home win over Manchester United on Friday. It was no more than Brighton deserved after outplaying their more illustrious rivals throughout the contest and they sent a passionate home crowd into raptures after Gross headed home a 57th-minute winner.
The German forward got on the end of a sharp Jose Izquierdo cross from the left and the ball crossed the line before Marcus Rojo’s desperate attempt to keep it out. The result lifted Brighton into 11th place on 40 points from 36 matches and left them assured of finishing above the bottom three as they visit champions Manchester City on Wednesday before their final game away to Liverpool. United stayed second on 77 points ahead of Thursday’s trip to West Ham followed by a home game against Watford. The result also meant that they lost this season to all three promoted teams – Brighton, Huddersfield and Newcastle United.
Brighton manager Chris Hughton was delighted after seeing the Seagulls, who beat United 1-0 in their last top-flight meeting at this venue in 1982, avoid relegation. “There’s a group of players with great belief and discipline,” Hughton told Sky Sports.
“We learned after the first few games that the performances were good enough and we weren’t always going to get beat, and that gave us confidence.”
The club’s chairman Tony Bloom said: “When we finally got to the Premier League, it was about nights like tonight. The players have been brilliant all season, and tonight was perhaps our best performance.” Hughton’s counterpart Jose Mourinho gave forwards Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial a rare start together but they failed to impress as the visitors looked disjointed and bereft of ideas, with their final pass going astray all evening.
In fact, only a string of good saves by keeper David de Gea kept United afloat in the opening half as he kept out long-range efforts from Glenn Murray and Izquierdo before he denied Gross from close range. There was nothing the Spaniard could do after Izquierdo got the rub of the green to get past his marker and find Gross at the edge of the six-yard box, with the 26-year old from Mannheim showing sharp instincts in front of goal.
United, who had 68 percent possession but few meaningful attempts, launched a fierce onslaught in the closing stages but Brighton’s defence held firm. An ecstatic Gross revealed he was initially unsure whether he scored before referee Craig Pawson awarded the goal.
“I wasn’t sure,” said Gross. “Heading is not my strength, I tried to get it on target. We worked so hard all season but we always believe. We never stop and that’s why I think we won it.”
Although Mourinho declined to name the players who performed below par, his scathing criticism made it clear who he was unhappy with.
“You have the answer now when you ask ‘why always (striker Romelu) Lukaku?’,” he said. “We are probably not as good as people think we are individually. The players that replaced others did not perform at a good level and when individuals do that it is difficult for the team to play well.”