If ever there was any doubt surrounding the direct impact of supporters inside football stadiums, then those suspicions were comprehensively shattered on Monday evening as Brighton & Hove Albion produced a fearless display against champions Manchester City.
The mood around the AMEX was murky as England sensation Phil Foden doubled his already depleted side’s lead minutes after the restart, before Leandro Trossard proved the catalyst for an unlikely comeback as the Seagulls scored three swift second half goals to secure a maiden Premier League triumph over their opponents.
In what would have felt like an aeon, as fans of Brighton endured a footballing abstinence of some 149 days, they returned to their beloved sanctuary full of voice and vigour. The electricity generated from the 8,000 fans swirled around the once ghostlike stadium, charging the XI on the field with immense efficiency as they carved Pep Guardiola’s side open in a frenetic second half.
Having conceded before most supporters had re-accustomed themselves to their surroundings, Joao Cancelo was shown a straight red card after the visiting full-back hauled Danny Welbeck down to the glistening turf, denying a goal-scoring opportunity.
That breathed an element of confidence from those in the stands as the vintage roar from the North Stand re-ignited Graham Potter’s men. The response from his players to falling further behind soon after the interval demonstrated their mettle as the Sussex side, exhibiting their new, yet classic colours for next season, marked their penultimate fixture in fine style.
After Trossard immediately halved the deficit, a powerful Adam Webster header made it 2-2 with a further 20 minutes remaining. It would not be long, however, until Dan Burn would be reeling away with delight at having sent his side in front.
‘A heroic display’
Upon conclusion, one would not be mistaken for believing that Brighton were in the midst of a relegation battle. With their top-flight status now comfortably secured, they played as a team with desire and passion, capping a heroic display from all in blue and white.
As the clock ticked ever closer to the 90, with the champions knocking firmly on the Brighton door, the hunger to ensure three famous points was reflected by Robert Sanchez who, sprawling in all directions, pulled off a seemingly implausible double save as he clawed the ball away at the second attempt.
It was evident in the emotion shown by Potter, whose traditional unvarying poker face was replaced as the fire from the stands transcended down to the dugouts. In the heat of it all, a rare glimpse of a fiery Potter took centre stage as tempers flared between both benches following the concluding whistle.
It was the indomitable Webster who, in his post-match interview, expressed the influence of the 8000 in the stadium.
“It was amazing to have the fans in the ground and when we went 2-0 down, if they weren't there behind us the turnaround doesn't happen," the centre-back said. "They were our 12th man.”
In a season where sparking passion has appeared challenging, the crucial significance of fans has rarely been as evident. Following a fairly frustrating season, with missed opportunities sounding like a broken record to Seagulls supporters, this game perhaps portrayed a peek of what could have been, but more importantly what could arise in the future as the current campaign nears its completion.
An unlikely hero
With sky blue ribbons already adorning the Premier League trophy, few would have expected the towering 6’4 figure of Burn to complete the Brighton turnaround, recording his first goal for the Seagulls in the process.
It was the wonderful composure of Burn which ultimately gave his side the victory, prodding the ball past 'keeper Ederson after his initial effort was saved. After a season of many peculiarities, little compares to this unlikely full-back’s heroics.
As confidence embeds itself deep into Brighton’s season, a trip to north London awaits Potter’s men as they conclude their season at the Emirates to entertain a drained Arsenal team.