As England’s Twenty20 cricket side found out in Sunday’s World Cup final, it’s ever so easy to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, and although Brighton & Hove Albion shared the spoils with Burnley on Saturday afternoon, a similar bitter taste of rejection was left in the mouths of Chris Hughton’s nearly-men.
Of course, Albion will detest that title come the end of the season, if they narrowly miss out on automatic promotion, and Saturday’s closely-contested battle with the league leaders will surely be remembered as a pivotal moment that led to another nerve-wracking play-off campaign.
Michael Keane’s 93rd-minute equaliser silenced the Amex crowd and restored the away side’s four-point advantage they boasted before kick-off. Anthony Knockaert’s skilful goal before half-time looked as if it would take all three points on the south coast, but Burnley’s late sucker-punch topped a positive afternoon with an unpleasant hint of anguish.
An opportunity was certainly missed but by no means was a fateful blow dealt to Albion’s promotion hopes, as the Seagulls head into Tuesday night’s game with Birmingham City just one point outside the league’s top two.
Luckily for the Albion, seven chances to rise or fall remain before the Championship season comes to a close and considering the nature of England’s second tier, where any team can be a cat amongst the pigeons, there are bound to be more twists and turns before the Premier League prizes find their home.
Albion’s late serving of disappointment could easily dent the framework that enforced the 2-1 lead that was brutally relinquished, and Tuesday’s trip to St Andrew’s could uncover the mental impact Keane’s late header has had on Hughton’s high-flyers.
For the first time this season the Amex was spoilt with a sell-out crowd, a belated reward and sign of appreciation for Albion’s impressive work on the field. Why? Because the importance of Burnley’s visit was crystal clear. The penny had finally dropped for Albion’s fans, as they woke up from their Premier League dream to realise its chances of reality.
Albion were extremely close to their biggest leap this season, but it wasn’t to be. A victory would have sent out a big message, considering the 15-game unbeaten streak Burnley arrived with, but a point for Brighton was a small step forward and a restraining tug on the league’s runaway force.
Hughton must erase any negative trail between Saturday’s late heartbreak and Albion’s crucial game against Gary Rowett’s play-off chasers. With seven games to go, the importance grows as the fixture list shortens and character must be shown to reach new heights.
Albion mustn’t dwell on the unchangeable stoppage-time disappointment they suffered and bounce back with another three points to reinstate the power they agonisingly lost in the face of success.
By Kieran Cleeves