Brighton Hove & Albion 1 – 1 Sheffield Wednesday
Sheffield Wednesday win 3-1 on aggregate
As 24,000 blue and white flags swung across The Amex it seemed even the sun didn’t want to miss the season’s climax, hovering beside the stadium long into the first half and bathing the pitch in a theatrical golden glow.
The task was straightforward: win by a margin of three goals and Albion were going to Wembley.
Fans battled for vocal supremacy as Albion laid siege to Wednesday’s goal, and Knockaert hit the post with a delicious free-kick which floated, dipped, and eluded the net by a matter of inches.
Given another bite at the cherry minutes later, he astonished the ground by side-footing under the jumping wall, Westwood showing great foresight to scramble the ball clear when it seemed certain to creep between post and keeper.
The Owl’s defence creaked and groaned, denied any attacking outlet by the fastidious Sidwell.
The relentless pressure eventually paid off in spectacular fashion as a driven free kick from Knockaert was slammed into the net by Lewis Dunk, the Wednesday defenders helplessly watching on as the ball fizzed viciously into the box and past Westwood.
Wednesday, in rare venture forward, silenced the jubilant Albion supporters with a ridiculously easy goal, Ross Wallace gleefully watching his innocuous cross from the right wing drift past defender, striker and keeper to nestle in the net. Albion claimed a foul; the referee waved away their protests.
Undeterred, Albion continued to march forward, and a poked effort from Wilson was smothered by the imposing Westwood after a fine run in-between the Owl’s centre-backs.
The four added minutes were a microcosm of the tie, an Albion corner generating pandemonium in the box without falling to the right blue shirt, while Stockdale kept the home side in it with a wonder save to deny a lightening Wednesday break.
Albion re-emerged from the tunnel knowing two goals were needed to force extra-time, and they duly came out fighting. But this exposed gaps in the back four, and it took a cynical shoulder barge from Kayal to prevent Wednesday from skipping past the unnaturally high backline and killing the game.
Tempers flared as the half progressed, and Wednesday’s understandable timewasting tactics incurred the wrath of referee Roger East.
Hope soon faded to resignation, the necessary slice of luck strikingly absent from Albion’s night.
Crosses, lobs, long throws: all were dismissively repelled by Wednesday’s now resolute defence.
Dunk was denied a brace at the death by a flying Westwood block, and Albion were left rueing what could, and possibly should, have been.
Glenn Houlihan at The Amex
Photos Credit: Paul Hazlewood BHAFC