For Brighton & Hove, Friday the 13th certainly lived up to its reputation as four of their key players were injured and Sheffield Wednesday won the 1st leg play-off 2-0.
The pre-match stats did not look promising for Albion since The Seagulls had lost three of their four home play-off games, including losing the last three in a row; and they had not won a home play-off encounter since 1991.
So tonight, could the Seagulls convincingly defeat the Owls to secure their place at Wembley for the play-off final?
Albion’s recently returned hero, Bobby Zamora, who is currently out of the squad with a hip injury, shared a heartfelt message calling for Seagulls’ fans to become the the squad’s ‘twelfth man’:
BHAFC (@OfficialBHAFC) May 16, 2016
And fans of the club, young and old, went to the Amex with hope in their hearts and seagulls on their shirts.
Claire Price (@MissClairePrice) May 15, 2016
A few (but not all) of the children at an East Sussex YMCA after school club had predictions for the score:
The game kicked off at 7.45pm and was thrilling from the start.
With a place in the Premier League at stake, both teams were full of energy, Knockhaert was firmly back in the game after Friday’s injury and Brighton looked like they could have at least scored four times by the time Lewis Dunk scored their first goal after 18 minutes.
BHAFC 1-0 SWFC (1-2 agg)
The Owls took their time over a couple of throw-ins to gain their composure which paid off as Ross Wallace put the ball in from the right hand side in the 28th minute.
BHAFC 1-1 SWFC(1-3 agg)
Brighton carved out another good chance minutes later, but Wednesday keeper Keiren Westwood was in good form and knocked it away.
All the way to half time, Brighton were still going with intent, dominating Wednesday’s half; they managed a corner with five minutes to go but the Owls’ keeper comfortably hold onto Bruno’s header.
Three more near misses, and the Seagulls went into half-time knowing they had it in them to score more goals.
In the second half, Brighton struggled to keep the intensity and the Owls started to exert some control, prompting some ‘tactical fouls’ on their key players and yellow cards for both teams (Kayal, Knockhaert and Brino for Brighton; Hutchinson, Hunt and Nuhiu for Wednesday).
In the 62nd minute Seagulls’ striker Jiri Skalak wasted an opportunity from a free-kick pelting the ball over the bar.
Kazenga LuaLua came on in place of Sam Baldock for Brighton and Wednesday’s scorer Wallace departed with a hamstring injury and was substituted by Jeremy Helan.
In the 77th minute, Wednesday managed to create a chance as Keiran Lee picked out Atdhe Nuhiu but the strike couldn’t direct his header and it went over the post; nevertheless, Sheffield Wednesday fans were in fine voice by now as they felt their journey to Wembley drawing ever closer.
Brighton really needed to gamble, to take their chances, but their delivery wasn’t accurate enough.
80 minutes down and Wednesday managed to get their first corner of the game, but Albion keeper David Stockdale managed to punch it away from danger.
With 3 minutes of added time, and two goals needed, Brighton desparately tried to score, including an unrealistic scissor kick from Dunk.
Many Albion fans started to leave the stadium and the police at the stadium mounted their presence to prevent a pitch invasion from the increasingly elated away fans.
Finally, having given everything they had, Chris Hughton’s Seagulls – with a 15 point, 9 goal advantage in the league – surrendered the game to the sixth place Sheffield Wednesday Owls.
Sheffield Wednesday are now just one game away from the top flight.
They will head to Wembley at the end of the month to play either Hull City or Derby County in the Championship play-off final in the hope of clinching a long-awaited return to the Premiership.
Final Score: BHAFC 1-1 SWFC(1-3 agg)
Niklas Tänzer, a student from Germany living in Brighton watched the game and drew comparisons with the Champions League semi-final a few weeks ago:
For the third time in four years, the Seagulls narrowly miss out on the chance for Premiership football and it’s a sad day to be beside the seaside.
But it’s a hoot for the Owls, who are looking to return to the top tier of English football after a 16-season absence and are flying high tonight.
The Championship play-off final will be played at Wembley on Sunday, 29th May 2016.