Chelsea cling on at Brighton after James' red to boost European hopes

In-form Chelsea held on to beat Brighton 2-1 after Reece James’ late red card, meaning they move up to sixth in the Premier League and edge towards European football next season.

Goals from Cole Palmer and Christopher Nkunku had put the visitors in control at the Amex but it was a nervy finale for Mauricio Pochettino’s men after captain James kicked out at Joao Pedro and was sent off following a VAR check with two minutes of normal time remaining. Brighton could not add to Danny Welbeck’s close-range finish seven minutes into injury time, though.

A sixth-placed finish will earn Chelsea Europa League football, should Man City win the FA Cup, or a UEFA Conference League spot, if Man Utd beat their rivals at Wembley. There is yet hope of stealing fifth off London rivals Tottenham, should Spurs surprisingly slip up at Sheffield United on the final day.

But regardless of what happens elsewhere, Chelsea supporters will be buoyed by their side’s run of four straight victories, with their travelling fanbase able to celebrate back-to-back away wins for the first time in 2024.

There were plenty more talking points on the south coast, with VAR in focus just hours after it was revealed Premier League clubs will vote on scrapping the system for next season.

VAR Peter Bankes advised referee Michael Salisbury to check the pitchside monitor for James’ obvious sending off and there were other high-profile calls from the officials in Stockley Park in the first half.

Bankes also rightly advised the ref to overturn his decision to hand Chelsea a penalty for Facundo Buonanotte’s good tackle on Marc Cucurella – but let off Tariq Lamptey for taking out Mykhailo Mudryk. Bankes said there was no conclusive evidence of violent conduct from Lamptey. Mudryk was forced out of the game with concussion.

There was also a header from Nicolas Jackson ruled out in that first half but those calls ultimately did not prevent Chelsea from continuing their strong finish to the campaign.

Brighton mounted a big push at the end of this contest, with Simon Adingra hitting a post before Welbeck pulled one back. It was the second time they’d hit the woodwork, after Joao Pedro’s header against the bar on the stroke of half time. But once again Brighton lacked precision in the final third. It is now 15 games since they scored more than once in a match.

A third defeat of the season to Chelsea leaves their hopes of a top-half finish under threat on the final day.

How Chelsea held on to win on night of drama

As well as big VAR calls, there was good football on show from these two sides from the first whistle.

Noni Madueke, Adingra and Palmer threatened with early efforts before Malo Gusto forced a fine stop from Bart Verbruggen with a deflected effort. But there was no surprise it was Palmer who made the breakthrough.

Team news

  • Brighton made two changes from their draw at Newcastle, with Tariq Lamptey in for the injured Joel Veltman and Joao Pedro starting ahead of Danny Welbeck up top.
  • Chelsea made one change from the win at Nottingham Forest, with Malo Gusto coming in and Thiago Silva dropping to the bench. Moises Caicedo started against his former club on his return the Amex while fit-again Ben Chilwell was on the bench.

It was a super header from Cucurella’s cross, with Palmer steering his 25th goal of the season beyond the reach of Verbruggen. It was a satisfying contribution, too, for Cucurella, who had been jeered on his return to Brighton, suffered an early cut and seen his penalty award chalked off.

Cole Palmer celebrates after putting Chelsea 1-0 up at Brighton
Cole Palmer celebrates after putting Chelsea 1-0 up at Brighton

Chelsea thought they had another in first-half stoppage time when Jackson nodded in but the officials spotted a shove on Lamptey from the forward as he tried to find space in the box. That setback was almost compounded when Joao Pedro rattled the bar at the other end seconds before the interval.

The action continued immediately after the break, with Adingra seeing his penalty appeal correctly waved away, Nkunku firing wide, Jackson miscuing a cross on a counter before another Chelsea break was stopped by half-time sub Valentin Barco.

But the Blues found breathing space when Nkunku converted Gusto’s excellent cutback for his third Chelsea goal of an injury-hit season.

Christopher Nkunku celebrates after scoring Chelsea's second goal against Brighton
Christopher Nkunku celebrates after scoring Chelsea’s second goal against Brighton

A mis-timed sliding tackle from Verbruggen outside his box on Jackson earned the Brighton ‘keeper a yellow – and once again had Pochettino complaining to the officials – but there was little to concern the Chelsea boss in terms of the result until his captain saw red.

James had only been on for 17 minutes when he pushed his leg against Joao Pedro after being floored by the Brighton man. A red card for violent conduct was inevitable after VAR advised ref Salisbury to go to the monitor. The Blues skipper will miss four games for his second such offence of the season.

That sparked a Brighton barrage but although Welbeck eventually made their pressure pay from Joao Pedro’s cross after Adingra had hit the woodwork moments earlier, Chelsea repelled the hosts’ search for an equaliser to cling on for a valuable victory.

What’s next?

The final day of the Premier League season sees Brighton host Manchester United at the Amex on Sunday, kick-off 4pm.

At the same time, Chelsea are at home to Bournemouth as they look to secure their place in Europe.

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