By Tom Stewart
Brighton & Hove Albion won a 4-3 thriller against Dagenham & Redbridge on Tuesday (April 12) to secure promotion to English football’s second tier and cap off a remarkable season.
The promotion is the first of Gus Poyet’s managerial career and comes in Brighton’s final year at the Withdean Stadium before their move to the new 22,500 capacity Amex Community Stadium.
Poyet ranked the achievement as the proudest of his career:
“I believe in myself, I knew what I wanted to do but I needed to prove it and what we have done is much bigger than people think.”
Many of Albion’s wins this season have been built on clean sheets but things were different against Dagenham, as the Seagulls had to twice come from behind before claiming victory.
Dagenham shocked the league leaders as they took the lead inside a minute through John Akinde. Brighton turned it around with two goals in as many minutes from Inigo Calderon and Glenn Murray to make it 2-1 in just 20 minutes.
The Daggers clearly hadn’t read the script, and a 48th-minute Jon Nurse goal followed by Danny Green’s 51st-minute penalty put the visitors 3-2 ahead
Brighton’s players refused to let the occasion get to them, and pushed hard for the win that would secure promotion.
It seemed as though it was not to be when Glenn Murray hit the bar from close-range, but then Liam Bridcutt hit a 25-yard scorcher to draw Albion level.
Substitute Ashley Barnes’ met a 63rd-minute Bennett corner to score with his first touch to leave Albion on the brink, and when the final whistle blew the home crowd erupted.
Bennett, whose form this season earned him FourFourTwo’s ‘League 1 Player of the Year’, described last night as the best of his life.
He said: “At the time it was unbelievable seeing everyone’s reaction. It’s sunk in now after watching Sky Sports and seeing the ‘P’ next to Brighton.
“It’s the best thing that’s happened to me.”
Albion put themselves in the position to confirm promotion against Dagenham by comfortably beating Sheffield Wednesday 2-0 on Saturday (April 9).
Chris Wood’s late first-half penalty and Elliot Bennett’s wonder-strike after 75 minutes were enough to take the three points, but all thoughts now turn to next season.
Chairman Tony Bloom is already looking for back-to-back promotions.
He said: “We will be aiming for the top six next year. I’m not saying we’re going to get there or putting any pressure on, but we’ll be in a fantastic stadium so we’ll aim high and see where we get to.”
Poyet reaffirmed his commitment of trying to take Albion all the way to the Premier League when he said: “I would like to do it like Sir Alex Ferguson or Arsene Wenger.
“If we are improving and getting better, and if we are playing the way I want to, then I will be here for many, many years.
“We’ve got unbelievable fans who’ll make a lot of noise. Now we’ve got the stadium they deserve, we hope to sell out or get close to it for every home game.”
ALBION vs.Wednesday: Ankergren; Painter, Calderon, Greer (c), El-Abd, Noone (Sparrow ’76), Dicker, Bridcutt, Bennett (Elphick ’90), Murray, Wood (Barnes ’63). Subs not used: Brezovan, Navarro, Kishishev, Sandaza.
vs. Dagenham: Ankergren; Painter, Calderon, Elphick, El-Abd(c), Noone (Sparrow ’65), Dicker (Kishishev ’85), Bridcutt, Murray, Wood (Barnes ’58). Subs not used: Brezovan, Navarro, Sandaza, Dunk