When the 2017/2018 Premier League season resumes, we could well be having Brighton & Hove Albion playing Tottenham Hotspur in the opening weekend.
With three games to spare, Chris Houghton’s have secured promotion to the big league and will be playing with the big boys for big money.
While Newcastle continue to stutter, Brighton continued to soar.
The Championship leaders Brighton were promoted after they beat relegation-threatened Wigan, and Huddersfield then drew at Derby.
Brighton had to wait on the result at Pride Park, before their return to the top flight after 34 years was confirmed.
Glenn Murray’s crisp strike from the edge of the area put Albion ahead.
Solly March smashed in a second after the break, before Nick Powell’s header made it a nervy final five minutes.
Brighton can now start preparing for life in the top division again following their relegation in 1982-83 and subsequent journey down and back up the leagues.
A Huddersfield win would have meant the Seagulls needed one more point to mathematically guarantee promotion, but their goal difference was already far superior to the Terriers.
— BHAFC ⚽️ (@OfficialBHAFC) April 17, 2017
Brighton need three more points to clinch the Championship title and will be crowned champions if they win at Norwich on Friday.
Wigan put up a spirited defensive display at the Amex Stadium, but offered little going forward until Powell’s goal, and now face the prospect of an immediate return to League One.
They are five points from safety with three to play, including games against play-off chasing Reading and Leeds.
Why are the Seagulls soaring?
Brighton missed out on automatic promotion on the final day last season, when a draw at Middlesbrough saw Boro go up with Burnley and Albion finish third on goal difference.
They then lost in the play-off semi-finals to Sheffield Wednesday.
But Chris Hughton’s side have bounced back superbly this campaign, winning 28 of their 43 matches, including all five games in April so far and bettering last year’s total of 89 points already.
- Attacking threat – Murray (22), Anthony Knockaert (15), Sam Baldock (11) and Tomer Hemed (11) have scored 59 of their 73 goals this season.
- Home form – The Seagulls have picked up the most Championship points at home with 54, and won 17 of their 22 games there.
- Unbeaten run – Brighton did not lose in October, November and December, winning 11 of their 15 games during that spell.
- Tight defence – They have conceded the fewest goals in the Championship (36) with 21 clean sheets.
They could have beaten Wigan by an even bigger margin, but Murray saw his header ruled out for a foul and the Championship’s Player of the Year, Knockaert, had a goal chalked out for offside and a strike cleared off the line.
What a difference 20 years makes
Brighton’s promotion party comes almost 20 years to the day since they were less than 30 minutes from dropping out of the Football League.
Trailing Hereford 1-0 on the final day of the 1996-97 season and needing a draw to survive, substitute Robbie Reinelt popped up in the 62nd minute to score an equaliser, Brighton held on and Hereford went down instead.
Steve Gritt, who had taken charge five months earlier with Brighton 11 points adrift at the bottom of the fourth tier, said afterwards: “It’s not something I really want to go through again.” They never have.
However, the club was still in turmoil off the pitch in 1997. They had to sell the Goldstone Ground to pay off some of their debts, spent two seasons 70 miles away at Gillingham’s Priestfield Stadium, and then moved into the Withdean Stadium in 1999 – a council-owned athletics track on the suburbs of Brighton.
Chairman Tony Bloom’s arrival eight years ago paved the way for their new permanent home and the success that followed, but it could have all been so different had they dropped into non-league.
Can Brighton survive?
Of the 71 promoted teams to play in the Premier League, 31 have been immediately relegated. But Brighton fans may want to put a positive spin on it – more than half of them stay up. The average finishing position is 15th.
Only twice have all three promoted teams stayed up – 2001-02 and 2011-12 – and only once have they all gone down – 1997-98.