Having secured 4th spot, Albion will on Saturday discover who they are to face in their play-off semi-final showdown, as they host a Wolves side who teeter on the brink of relegation.
Following last weekend’s dramatic late win over Leeds – during which Albion confirmed their top six berth – Palace’s failure to beat Millwall in midweek meant the Seagulls wrapped up 4th place to clinch an Amex play-off semi-final second leg as they look to cap off what has been an historic campaign with a Wembley trip, and ultimately, promotion to the top flight.
Whilst that is all well and good, the last game of the season still needs to be played, and it just so happens to hold huge significance for tomorrow’s visitors from the West Midlands. Ex-Seagulls forward Dean Saunders has his severely underachieving Wolves side staring down the likely barrel of relegation following a dismal season. It’ll require a handsome away win at the Amex, with numerous favours from elsewhere to prevent Wanderers from slipping into the 3rd tier for the first time since 1989.
Gus Poyet insists it’ll be business as usual, despite there being nothing riding on the game for the 4th place Seagulls.
“Sometimes it can be difficult to prepare mentally during the week for a game like this but on the day of the game, when you have the meeting, the pre-match meal and you’re in the dressing room, it will be like any other football match.
“As soon as you go into the tunnel you want to win and you forget about everything you have done during the week. Then it’s a football game and let’s not forget it’s a game against Wolves, who a year ago were in the Premier League.
“You need to be at your best, you need to compete and you need to make sure that you don’t think about not picking up injuries. There are plenty of things that we can control to a point but then it’s down to the individuals.
“We need to play our game with the best team available because we cannot do any favours when there is a relegation battle.”
Brighton & Hove Albion Team News:
Midfield stalwart Liam Bridcutt is set to return after being rested for Albion’s win at Leeds last time out, whilst Wayne Bridge is unlikely to be risked ahead of the play-offs.
Poyet’s only fresh concern is that of right-back Bruno, who was withdrawn with a calf injury at Elland – and the Spaniard will play no further part this campaign.
Player to watch: Ashley Barnes
Whilst many were beginning to lose patience with the Bath-born front-man following his now infamous referee trip and subsequent 7-match ban, Barnes has undoubtedly proven his worth in the side since returning – crucially taking the pressure off the prolific but at times over-worked Leo Ulloa. The two strikers, when starting together, have also shown promising signs in their link-up play.
Wolverhampton Wanderers Team News:
French winger Bakary Sako is a doubt despite making his return off the bench last Saturday – as he suffered a reaction to the hamstring problem that previously saw him sidelined.
Jamie O’Hara returns after serving a 3-match suspension following a red card, however Wolves are still without the likes of top scorer Sylvain Ebanks-Blake, wingers Dave Edwards and Razak Boukari, and first choice keeper Carl Ikeme.
Player to watch: Kevin Doyle
Despite a long barren patch earlier in the season, the Irish international striker has at last started to find his bearings in-front of goal – notching 4 in his last 8 games – in the absence of injured strike partner Sylvain Ebanks-Blake. Although it looks to be too little too late, Doyle – along with his top flight experience – is capable of producing a moment of quality in and around the penalty area.
Past Meetings & Stats
With Wolves desperate for the points to give them an admittedly slim chance of avoiding the drop – the head-to-head record with Albion does not make for pretty reading for the Midlands outfit.
The Seagulls have won 11, and lost just 3 of their 21 league meetings, including a run of 9 consecutive victories between the years 1989 and 1979.
Roger Johnson salvaged a late draw for 10-man Wolves in this season’s reverse fixture, levelling the scores at 3-3 in stoppage time after a Stephen Dobbie penalty had appeared to clinch the points for the Seagulls.