Six days can be a very long time in football.
After suffering Wembley heartbreak against Manchester United in the FA Cup semi-finals last weekend, Brighton romped to victory over Wolves on Saturday to remain in striking distance of the Premier League’s top seven and a place in Europe for the first time in the club’s 121-year history.
Deniz Undav, Pascal Gross and Danny Welbeck all scored twice in a one-sided match at the Amex Stadium which leaves the Seagulls just two points shy of fifth-placed Tottenham with two games in hand.
Brighton also have a game in hand on Liverpool in seventh, while sixth-placed Aston Villa have played two games more than Roberto de Zerbi’s side.
“It’s an exciting time,” De Zerbi said afterwards. “I think we deserve to achieve our target – Europe.
“If we deserve to achieve our target, we have to achieve it.”
‘A great advert for English football’
Having watched his team lose 3-1 to relegation-threatened Nottingham Forest three days after the semi-final loss, De Zerbi left star performers Kaoru Mitoma, Alexis Mac Allister and Moises Caicedo on the bench.
But any fears that the Italian’s bold team selection would backfire were allayed with just six minutes on the clock. By half-time, those pre-match concerns seemed ridiculous.
Undav opened the scoring from Welbeck’s clever flick, before a Gross double – including a sensational long-range effort set up by the brilliant Julio Enciso – and a Welbeck header made it 4-0 at the break.
Brighton were gifted two further goals in the second half, as Undav and Welbeck struck again to earn the Seagulls their biggest-ever top-flight triumph and match their record top-division tally of 52 points in emphatic fashion.
“We were absolutely gutted about Wembley and Nottingham [Forest],” midfielder Billy Gilmour, who was handed a rare start against Wolves, told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“Maybe it was still on [our minds] a bit. We knew we had to put on a performance. I think every one of us was brilliant.”
Former England and Liverpool defender Stephen Warnock, who was working for Final Score on Saturday, feels the Seagulls deserve to compete in Europe next season.
“It would be great to see Brighton get something at the end of the season,” said the 41-year-old.
“They would be a great addition to European football because of the way they play. They would be a fantastic advert for English football.”
‘It’s very exciting to see who makes Europe’
While Newcastle and Manchester United appear well-placed to join Arsenal and Manchester City in the Champions League next season, the race for the Europa League and Europa Conference League spots is much more open.
Seven teams can qualify for Europe from the Premier League, but victory for West Ham in the Europe Conference League this term would give England eight continental representatives in 2023-24.
While fifth place is the only guaranteed Europa League spot in the top flight, the FA Cup final between Manchester rivals City and United means an extra place will be granted via the league – unless Erik ten Hag’s team drop out of the top five.
City are all but guaranteed Champions League football already but as long as United do not drop below fifth, the team finishing sixth will claim a place in next season’s Europa League group stage.
The only Europa Conference League place is awarded to the Carabao Cup winners but with United – victors over Newcastle back in February – likely to secure a top-five finish, the next-highest team not to qualify for Europe – seventh – would play in the Europa Conference League play-offs.
After Saturday’s thumping win, however, Brighton have every reason to be aiming higher.
“It’s all about the Europa League now [for Brighton],” former Manchester City defender Nedum Onuoha told BBC Radio 5 Live. “It’s very exciting to see who gets those spots. It will be a mad scramble.”