LET’S hope this fixture is repeated next season, because while Brighton are heading up to the Championship, Town surely deserve to join them.
In seven of the last 10 seasons, their current points tally of 86, a club record under three for a win, would have been enough to seal automatic promotion.
But the form of Southampton, who have won 12 of their last 15 matches, has put them in the driving seat for a second-placed finish.
And their superior goal difference, extended to 44 (to Town’s 29) by Saturday’s 3-0 win at Brentford, means victory at Plymouth this afternoon would all but condemn Lee Clark’s side to the League I play-offs.
Everyone remembers last season’s misery at Millwall, but Saturday’s South-coast victory over the champions, which was sealed by Danny Ward’s last-minute sizzler and extended an amazing unbeaten run to 24 league games, underlines what we already knew – that Town have what it takes to come through the post-season competition successfully.
Two other club records tumbled as Clark’s men put the spoilers on a big day for Brighton, who were playing their last match at the Withdean Stadium before their switch to the new £93m AMEX stadium and received the title trophy after the game.
It was a 13th away win of the season, bettering the previous best of 1919-20, and a sixth in succession, improving the achievement of 1924-25.
Some will say Brighton have gone off the boil since clinching the title, but make no mistake – they were desperate to win on their special afternoon, and showed plenty of the power which has taken them to 94 points.
No other side has done the double over them this season, but Town managed it thanks to Ward’s hammer blow after twice having Benik Afobe goal cancelled out, first through Ashley Barnes, then Matt Sparrow.
On-loan Bolton winger Ward’s first Town goal rewarded Clark’s bold policy from the bench, because the visitors ended the game with three up front – Afobe, Jordan Rhodes and Alan Lee – and just three at the back, Gary Naysmith having been sacrificed to the push for victory.
They had started with their ‘away’ set-up, Afobe flanked by Jack Hunt and Gary Roberts in a front three, and it took only eight minutes to find a way past Peter Brezovan.
Liam Bridcutt’s foul on Joey Gudjonsson brought a halfway free-kick from which Naysmith picked out Afobe, who spun away from home skipper Gordon Greer and slotted home.
Brighton could have been back on level terms within 60 seconds when Chris Wood slid the ball through to Barnes, but Ian Bennett was quickly out to block.
Then in the 33rd minute, Inigo Calderon freed Bridcutt, whose cross set up Wood for a header which bounced back off the bar.
Brighton finally counted two minutes into the second half, when Peltier was ruled to have fouled Elliott Bennett inside the box as he ran onto Barnes’ pass.
Ian Bennett was equal to Barnes’ spot kick, diving to his right to parry, but was powerless to prevent the penalty taker heading home the rebound.
Brighton powered forward, with Wood (twice), Barnes and the lively Craig Noone thwarted before Afobe fired his seventh Town goal in the 61st minute.
It came from Calderon’s slip (his chest back to Brezovan fell well short) and the on-loan Arsenal ace took advantage with a neat finish.
Gary Roberts could have made it 3-1 after latching on to substitute Ward’s 68th-minute pass, but his shot was blocked by Brezovan, and it was even stevens a minute later when Sparrow, freshly off the home bench, slotted home an angled shot from Gary Dicker’s pass.
Chances were traded as Barnes shot into the side-netting before Jamie McCombe came close twice in as many minutes – both times with shots, rather than headers, which were saved.
Town’s Bennett made a fine save from Gary Hart, but opposite number Brezovan had no chance when Ward thumped home the fifth-goal of a ding-dong duel from the busy Afobe’s tee-up.
There will be no webchat today (Monday) however we will be hosting one from 12.30pm to 1.30pm on Tuesday, May 3.