LONDON: Brighton bolstered their bid to qualify for Europe with a 1-0 win in their Premier League derby against Crystal Palace, while Brentford pushed Southampton deeper into relegation trouble on Wednesday. Roberto De Zerbi’s side earned their first victory in eight league meetings with bitter rivals Palace thanks to Solly March’s goal at the rain-soaked Amex Stadium. Seventh-placed Brighton moved level on points with sixth-placed Liverpool, with the Seagulls holding a game in hand.
As it stands, sixth place will guarantee qualification for next season’s European Conference League, although that will drop to seventh if Manchester City or Manchester United win the FA Cup. It is shaping up to be a memorable season for Brighton, who host fourth-tier Grimsby in the FA Cup quarter-finals on Sunday. In contrast, their old enemies Palace saw their winless streak reach 12 games in all competitions as they await their first victory in 2023. “The most important thing is the fans understood our style of play and in England this is a great challenge,” De Zerbi said. “The players believe in our style. We didn’t play our best game but if you win it is better.”
Palace remain three points clear of the relegation zone. Patrick Vieira’s team had failed to have a shot on target in each of their past three Premier League games, the first instance of that happening since the statistic was first recorded in 2003-04. Palace’s dismal streak finally ended early in the first half as Wilfried Zaha’s shot forced Jason Steele to save. Vieira was forced to hand teenage goalkeeper Joseph Whitworth his professional debut after Vicente Guaita sustained a late injury.
March make his mark
At 19 years and 15 days, Whitworth was the youngest keeper to appear in the Premier League since 18-year-old Ben Alnwick in 2005 for Sunderland against Tottenham. But there was no fairytale for youth academy graduate Whitworth, a boyhood Palace fan, as his weak attempted save allowed March’s low strike to squirm into the net in the 15th minute.
March’s goal came just 24 hours after De Zerbi said the midfielder deserves a place in the England squad, with Gareth Southgate naming his selection on Thursday for the Euro 2024 qualifiers against Italy and Ukraine. There was a five-minute delay in the second half when a power failure plunged the stadium into darkness, but even that break couldn’t rattle Brighton as the high-flying Seagulls continued their ascent.
Just across the south coast at St Mary’s, bottom of the table Southampton slumped to a 2-0 defeat against Brentford, who sit one place behind Brighton and have their own European ambitions. Brentford lost for the first time in 13 Premier League matches against Everton last weekend. But they bounced back as Ivan Toney struck in the 32nd minute with his 16th league goal this term, this one a tap-in after Christian Norgaard headed Bryan Mbeumo’s corner across the six-yard box.
Yoane Wissa grabbed Brentford’s second goal deep into stoppage time with a clinical finish from the edge of the area. Southampton are two points from safety and have played a game more than all the teams just above them in the fight for survival. “I think the belief is there. We have been working hard to change the situation. Today was disappointing because of the result,” Southampton manager Ruben Selles said. “The feeling is still ‘we can do it’. We will keep working, fighting and trying to keep us alive.” – AFP