Spirited Albion suffer play-off heartbreak again

Lewis Dunk. Picture by Angela Brinkhurst
Lewis Dunk. Picture by Angela Brinkhurst

Albion’s promotion hopes ended this evening when they drew 1-1 at home to Sheffield Wednesday in the second leg of the Championship play-offs.

The Owls had won 2-0 in the first leg at Hillsborough on Friday and, despite an excellent performance from the Seagulls in the first half especially, they were unable to turn the tie around.

It’s a third defeat in the play-off semi-finals in four seasons for Albion as their winless record in play-off matches increased to six matches.

Brighton made a lightning fast start to the match as they dominated much of the opening 45 minutes.

Steve Sidwell and James Wilson both had shots blocked from Jiri Skalak’s corner on three minutes, before the Seagulls went even closer after nine minutes.

Wednesday defender Glenn Loovens was booked for tripping Anthony Knockaert, fit after being stretched off at Hillsborough, on the edge of the penalty area and Knockaert’s resulting free kick came back off the inside of a post after curling over the wall.

Knockaert then had another free kick well saved by Owls keeper Kieren Westwood, before the lively Seagulls winger had a shot deflected just wide.

Westwood then tipped over a Sam Baldock drive on 16 minutes, before Knockaert headed wide from just four yards after Wilson headed on Skalak’s cross a minute later.

The goal Albion had been threatening came on 20 minutes when Knockaert’s inswinging free kick was turned home at the back post by Lewis Dunk, on his return to the side after a two-game suspension.

Wednesday equalised eight minutes later when Ross Wallace’s inswinging cross from the right missed everyone and dropped into the far corner of the net, with Dunk appearing to be fouled by Gary Hooper as he went to head clear.

Albion should have gone back ahead on 33 minutes when Kayal played in Wilson but his low shot was saved Westwood, diving low to his right.

Skalak then fizzed a 25-yard free kick inches over three minutes later, before there was late drama at the end of the half. Wednesday survived a huge goalmouth scramble three minutes into injury-time, before they broke forward and Albion keeper David Stockdale produced a brilliant save to keep out Hooper’s header from Fernando Forestieri’s cross.

Albion made a bright start to the second half as Westwood kept out Skalak’s curling shot at his near post, before he also gathered Wilson’s resulting cross-shot.

Wilson had another low shot comfortably saved by Westwood on 49 minutes, before Stockdale spilled a Barry Bannan effort at the other end but Brighton were able to clear the danger.

Kayal was given a final warning by referee Roger East after two fouls in quick succession just before the hour and Albion soon introduced winger Kazenga LuaLua for Baldock.

As Wednesday sat back, Brighton struggled to create any clear chances and the Owls could have put the tie to bed 14 minutes from time when Kieran Lee found Atdhe Nuhiu at the back post but he could only head over from eight yards.

Wilson turned and fired over six minutes from time as the Seagulls looked for a goal to ignite the closing stages. Dunk was denied by Westwood in injury-time as the Owls progressed into the Wembley final on May 28.

BRIGHTON: Stockdale; Bruno, Greer (Rosenior 77), Dunk, Bong; Knockaert, Kayal, Sidwell, Skalak; Baldock (LuaLua 60), Wilson. Subs: Maenpaa, Crofts, Calderon, Murphy, Towell.

WEDNESDAY: Westwood; Loovens, Hooper (Nuhiu 71), Lees, Lee, Lopez (Hutchinson 45), Hunt, Wallace (Helan 66), Pudil, Bannan, Forestieri. Subs: Wildsmith, Matias, Joao, Sasso.

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