Rivals meet in play-off semi-final
13 May ~ Sometimes it can be a good thing to play one's local rivals – it can invigorate teams and fans. This hasn't been the case for either Brighton & Hove Albion or Crystal Palace this season. Brighton's 3-0 defeat at Selhurst Park in the autumn was arguably their worst performance of the season. Palace's visit to Falmer saw them lose by the same 3-0 scoreline, which served as the catalyst a terrible end-of-season run that for a time put their play-off place in jeopardy – only made safe by a win over Peterborough on the final day.
To now face two more games against Palace, in the play-off semi-finals, was certainly seen as the worst option by Brighton fans – if we are to lose, rather anyone but them is the consensus. Palace probably feel the same.
Neither set of fans will want to hear this but the two clubs are quite alike, with comparable histories, one reason why they have a rivalry the intensity of which seems to surprise outsiders. Palace have flown higher in the league, particularly in the 1990s, but Brighton generally have a stronger media profile and, this season, have the highest average home crowds in the Championship.
Both have reached one FA Cup final, in which each lost to Manchester United after a replay. The rivalry took root only in the 1970s with both rising, like scrapping kids in the same class, from the old Third to First Divisions in three seasons. But that is long enough for the antagonism to have been a permanent feature in the lives of all but older supporters. Matches that mean little to non-supporters of the clubs (the twice-replayed FA Cup tie of 1976, the five-penalty game of 1989) are significant historical events at each end of the A23.
An edgy 0-0 draw on Friday night resolved nothing, except that the Championship's top scorer, Palace's Glenn Murray, who crashed from hero to zero in Brighton when he left for Selhurst at the end of his contract, is most likely out of tonight's return game with a knee injury.
Brighton are the team in form, unbeaten since mid-March, but they've also failed all season to come from behind to win. There is all to play for tonight and for once, that phrase does not seem like a cliche. It'll be tense, hostile and probably no fun for anyone until the last whistle which, for one set of supporters or the other, will really feel very final indeed. Drew Whitworth