You’d have to say it’s pretty lazy fare on the part of Premier League playmakers to hand Brighton an injury-time penalty to beat Manchester United 11 days after their heartbreak FA Cup semi-final shoot-out defeat to the same opponents.
But at least the trickiest finish of all – Solly March catching and scoring – was avoided and sometimes there’s nothing wrong with a pleasant Hollywood ending.
Furthermore, it’s hard to argue that Brighton didn’t deserve it in the balance sheet of the game in an enthralling 90 (well, 99) minutes which are practically followed by where the equally excellent semi-final of the FA Cup had stopped. Two good teams playing good football against each other is good. There, we said it.
Mind you, until Alexis Mac Allister’s absolutely frosty 99th-minute winner, the finale had been unmatched by the rest of the evening’s entertainment. Brighton spent most of the night producing a perfect pastiche to the tune of the glory days of xG banter, while United also had their moments.
Fortunately, there was as little controversy as humanly possible when it came to an injury-time penalty awarded by VAR against Manchester United. That the on-field referees missed Luke Shaw’s flailing hand slapping the ball into the frenetic pinball machine of a penalty area in injury time was entirely understandable, but from the first replay it was inevitable that the decision would rightfully be overturned at the time of review. It was the very definition of what the VAR was introduced for, and all pundits have duly fulfilled their legal obligation to note that it’s good to see it working well in this case.
It was also a penalty from Mac Allister, who drilled unbearably high and hard to De Gea’s right as the United goalkeeper – who had been one of the main reasons the match remained goalless while he did – fell to his left.
He also lifts Brighton above Spurs and Villa – a draw still wouldn’t have done it – with matches in hand. Their break-in is both grueling and tough on teak; this marks the first of seven games in 24 days to end the season, seven games which include all of the current top four plus violently in-form Villa and relegation battlers Everton and Southampton. No matches against beach sides with cigars here for Brighton. They will have to earn it.
But on those trials, they should have no problem finishing at least above a currently relegation-phased Spurs side – now, by the way, it’s entirely possible Spurs finish ninth and you’d need a heart of stone. not to laugh at that – and thus secure a first foray into European football.
They deserve it, and while any Manchester City fans watching this will have thoroughly enjoyed the denouement, it was a match that left them hoping to win the Premier League title before heading here in the final week of the season if possible. .
For United, a frustrating end to a difficult night. They played flawlessly and had a chance to pinch the game themselves but would leave Brighton happy enough with a point that would have strengthened their just-so-slightly loose grip on a top-four place. They should do well on that scoreline, however: their lead over Liverpool remains significant – four points plus one game down – and the break-in is gentle.
No one United have yet to face is currently higher than tenth in the Premier League, but an added bonus is that none of them are even in the deepest heat of the relegation battle. It’s hard to see United not picking up enough points from matches against West Ham, Wolves, Bournemouth, Chelsea and Fulham, no matter what a Liverpool might try to do about them.
But the fact that a league season which has offered fleeting glimpses of a title challenge ends in a slightly nervous scrap for fourth remains a slight disappointment, and it’s their record away to decent sides that has been the problem. .
Against the first nine away United’s record now reads eight games played, no wins, one draw and seven defeats. And also the only point – at Tottenham, of course – it felt more like a defeat given the tame way in which a two-goal lead was surrendered against a team at the slightest ebb.
It is an obvious weakness that Erik Ten Hag will be eyeing for next season and these tight games are where United’s lack of a genuine central forward is most apparent.
This, however, was Brighton’s night in a season that was full of them. They are an extraordinary football team doing extraordinary things. It’s almost certain tonight’s hero Mac Allister will be gone this summer, but it’s equally certain Brighton won’t miss a beat as they march on regardless.