Solly March’s first-half strike was enough to see Brighton beat fierce rivals Crystal Palace 1-0 in an entertaining encounter, closing the gap on the European spots.
The drama began before a ball had been kicked, with Crystal Palace No1 Vicente Guaita ruled out through injury, and replaced by 19-year-old academy goalkeeper Joe Whitworth. But the youngster acquitted himself well, although arguably could have done better for Brighton’s opener in the 15th minute.
Crystal Palace had dominated until that point – quickly breaking their duck of three Premier League games without a shot on target – but a sublime Kaoru Mitoma pass found March, whose strong shot grazed the fingertips of Whitworth before finding the bottom corner.
The Eagles should have ended the first half with 10 players, with two late challenges from Cheick Doucoure worthy of a second yellow card. But none were given by referee Peter Bankes, adding to Brighton’s frustration in this fixture, having had a goal wrongly ruled out by VAR at Selhurst Park just over a month ago.
Brighton dominated possession for much of the game – briefly interrupted by a power cut at the start of the second half – although sometimes lacked a cutting edge in the final third to find a second.
Nonetheless, the hard-fought victory sees Brighton close further on the European spots. They are now two points and two places from Newcastle in fifth, and six points from the Champions League places.
Crystal Palace extend their winless run to 12 games and have scored just four league goals this season, leaving them just three points from the relegation zone.
More to follow…
Brighton are in FA Cup quarter-final action on Sunday when they host Grimsby; kick-off 2.15pm. They return to Premier League business after the international break, when they host Brentford on Saturday April 1; kick-off 3pm.
Crystal Palace also play on Sunday as they travel to Premier League leaders and Vieira’s former side Arsenal; kick-off 2pm. After the international break, they host Leicester on Saturday April 1; kick-off 3pm.