You’d have to say it’s quite lazy fare from the Premier League scriptwriters to hand Brighton an injury-time penalty to beat Manchester United 11 days after the heartbreak of the FA Cup semi-final shoot-out defeat against the same opponents.
But at least the hackiest conclusion of all – Solly March taking and scoring it – was avoided and sometimes there’s nothing wrong with a feelgood Hollywood ending.
Also hard to argue Brighton didn’t deserve it on the balance of play across 90 (well, 99) enthralling minutes that pretty much followed on from where the equally excellent FA Cup semi-final left off. Two good sides playing good football against each other is good. There, we’ve said it.
Mind you, until Alexis Mac Allister’s absolutely ice-cold 99th-minute winner the finishing had not matched the rest of the evening’s entertainment. Brighton spent most of the night producing a note-perfect pastiche of the xG banter glory days while United also had their moments.
Happily, there was just about as little controversy as is humanly possible when you’re talking about an injury-time penalty awarded by VAR against Manchester United. That the on-field officials missed Luke Shaw’s flailing hand smacking the ball clear in the frantic pinball of an injury-time penalty box was entirely understandable, but from the first replay it was inevitable that the decision would quite rightly be overturned upon review. It was the very definition of What VAR Was Introduced For and all pundits duly performed their legal obligation to note that It’s Nice To See It Work Well In This Instance.
It was some penalty from Mac Allister, too, drilled unsavably high and hard to De Gea’s right as the United keeper – who had been a key reason the game remained goalless as long as it did – tumbled to his left.
It also lifts Brighton above Spurs and Villa – a draw would not have done so just yet – with games in hand. Their run-in is both exhausting and teak tough; this marks the first of seven games in 24 days to conclude the season, seven games that include all the current top four plus the violently in-form Villa and relegation-battlers Everton and Southampton. No games against teams on the beach with the cigars out here for Brighton. They’re going to have to earn it.
But on this evidence, they should have no trouble finishing at least above a Spurs side currently in relegation form – it is now, by the way, eminently possible that Spurs finish ninth and you’d need a heart of stone not to laugh at that – and thus secure a first foray into European football.
They deserve it, and while any Manchester City fan watching this will have thoroughly enjoyed the denouement it was a game that will have left them hoping to have the Premier League title squared away before heading here in the final week of the season if at all possible.
For United, a frustrating end to a difficult evening. They played perfectly well and had chances to pinch the game themselves but would have left Brighton happy enough with a point that would have strengthened their just-ever-so-slightly-loosening grip on a top-four spot. They should still be fine on that score: their lead over Liverpool remains significant – four points plus a game in hand – and the run-in is kind.
Nobody United have left to face is currently higher than 10th in the Premier League, but an added bonus is that none of them are in the deepest fires of the relegation battle either. It’s hard to see United not picking up sufficient points from games against West Ham, Wolves, Bournemouth, Chelsea and Fulham no matter what a fast-finishing Liverpool might try and do about it.
But that a league season that offered fleeting glimpses of a title challenge ends with a slightly nervy scrap for fourth remains a slight disappointment, and it is their record away at half-decent teams that has been the problem.
Against the top nine away from home United’s record now reads played eight, won none, drawn one and lost seven. And even the one point – at Tottenham, naturally – felt more like a defeat given the meek way a two-goal lead was surrendered against a team at the very lowest of ebbs.
It’s an obvious point of weakness that Erik Ten Hag will look at for next season and these tight games are the ones where United’s lack of a proper central striker is most glaring.
This, though, was Brighton’s night on a season that has been full of them. They are a remarkable football club doing remarkable things. It’s almost certain that tonight’s hero Mac Allister will leave this summer, but it’s equally certain that Brighton won’t miss a beat as they march on regardless.