When the away support makes up one third of the match attendance, it can really spur a team on. That could not have been more evident than at the Stadium:MK yesterday, where Brighton and Hove Albion held on to win 2-1 against MK Dons.
With over 7,000 albion fans making the trip up to Buckinghamshire, there was a sense of optimism in the air. The recent drop in form for promotion rivals Middlesbrough, Derby County and Hull City have coincided with the Seagull’s regaining there early season momentum.
It was just one defeat in 11 prior to yesterday’s vital clash, and Chris Hughton’s men knew that a win was a must ahead of a tricky looking April.
It was a first visit for me to Stadium:MK and what a lovely ground it is. It’s just a shame it wasn’t filled to it’s maximum capacity of 30,500 as the place would have been absolutely rocking.
It was certainly a party atmosphere in the away end- compared to the subdued home MK Dons supporters. Balloons and confetti were being thrown about as if the fans were already celebrating what has been a magnificent season for the Seagulls.
With such a carnival like build-up, the first half of the match was an anti-climax. The game was very stop start, with the referee blowing for a foul every time a player went down.
The ground went from party central to a rather loud silence within those opening 45 minutes- something had to give the place a bit of noise again.
Step up Gully and the team mascots. As part of the MK Dons family fun day, the mascots had a race from one side of the pitch to the other (Watch here). Forget Usain Bolt, this was the 100m race that we all wanted to see!
Gully flew out the blocks and by the time he crossed the halfway line he was in the lead. I’d like to say he won, but I think it was too close to call with the chicken on the outside who came out of nowhere!
With the feel-good factor back, Brighton went on the offensive early in the second half. Tomer Hemed came on to replace Sam Baldock, who went straight down the tunnel, and the Israeli striker made an instant impact.
Brighton’s number 10 won and then converted a penalty to give the Seagulls the lead. Six minutes later, he latched onto Jiri Skalek’s cross to head home powerfully for his 13th goal of the season.
The crowd were going crazy. 2-0 up and controlling the match, it looked like it was going to comfortably be a fourth win in six games.
James Wilson came close to making it 3-0 but his first time effort was saved brilliantly by Cody Cropper.
But, as many Brighton supporters will know, the Seagulls never make life easy for themselves. Bruno, who usually is superb at the back, gave away a cheap free kick, and MK Dons scored from the resulting set piece to get back into the game.
Hemed was again involved in Kyle McFadzean’s red card with fifteen minutes left. The MK Dons defender appeared to elbow the albion striker in the face, resulting in an early bath.
The striker could have gained his hattrick when the ball fell to his feet 10 yards from goal, but he hit the ball wide of the post.
He did guide the ball into the net eventually with a couple of minutes to go, but he was ruled offside by the linesman.
Then the controversy started. Dons swung a corner in which hit Tomer Hemed in the face. However the referee adjourned the ball hit his arm and gave a penalty in stoppage time. Incensed, half the Brighton team got booked for complaining and time wasting.
The albion fans’ hearts were in their mouths. Shocked, they knew if this went in it would be a huge blow to their promotion charge.
Carl Baker stepped up for the hosts…and missed the target to send the Seagulls’ players, coaches and supporters into raptures.
The coaches were jumping around the touchline in delight at the miss, they knew how much this game meant, and when the full time whistle blew, the fans had a belief this was their year.
The Brighton players also celebrated passionately at the final whistle in front of the travelling support, with Chris Hughton applauding the fans for a good two minutes.
The chanting began. “WE ARE GOING UP! SAY WE ARE GOING UP!” The noise was deafening. Fans jumping around, celebrating, some with tears of delight. They had been through it all in those last 20 minutes, and in the last few seasons they would arguably have seen their team draw that game. They just sense it’s their time.
The coach journey home was a quiet one. A majority of the fans slept, others trying to soak up what had just happened.
But one thing’s for sure. This club is together, and the good run keeps going. You just sense this could finally be the year Brighton break into the top flight for the first time in 36 years.