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Chelsea 3-2 Brighton: Seagulls have wings clipped by ten-man Blues



(Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

Chelsea embarrassed Brighton and Hove Albion by winning 3-2 despite being a man down for the majority of Sunday afternoon at Stamford Bridge.

Mauricio Pochettino’s men sprung into an early two goal lead through Enzo Fernandez and Levi Colwill before threatening to hit the self-destruct as has so often happened this season, with captain Conor Gallagher getting his marching orders on the stroke of half-time. Yet Fernandez would bag his brace from the penalty spot in the second-half to seal success in spite of the Seagulls’ siege, which included a late goal from Joao Pedro in added time.

Robert Sanchez found himself in the wars against his former club early on, clattering into Simon Adingra during Brighton’s first real foray forward a couple of minutes in. A VAR check quickly ruled it permissible force.

Albion bossed the possession from the off, but Chelsea did settle after ten minutes or so. A nice turn from Conor Gallagher set them on their way in their first attack. A one-two between Raheem Sterling and Nicolas Jackson saw the former drill a ball across the box, with the outstretched leg of Carlos Baleba needed to snuff out the danger.

A succession of feisty challenges followed, with clearly no love lost between these two intertwined teams. A crunching yet fair tackle by Joel Veltman on Mykhailo Mudryk clearly annoyed Gallagher enough to give the Dutchman a receipt. Shortly after a very positive opening presented itself for Jackson, who had options left and right on the counter but failed to find the right man.

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But double trouble was on the horizon for the visitors. Brighton failed to deal with a Gallagher corner, leaving Benoit Badiashile to hook it back in the direction of the six-yard box. Enzo Fernandez rose higher than his colleague Levi Colwill to nod the final touch past Jason Steele in the 17th minute. Four minutes later Colwill would get in on the act with a header of his own from a similar situation – this time Jackson heading back across the box to find the former Brighton loanee.

Roberto De Zerbi’s men were firmly on the ropes, but as has so often been the case this season Chelsea took the foot off the pedal and stopped peppering shots to the body. A lapse in concentration from Sanchez almost led to arrears being halved – the Spaniard just about scrambling back in time after the ball rolled under his foot from a Thiago Silva pass. Gallagher would also see yellow for a needless late challenge on Facundo Buonanotte.

Mudyrk had a decent opportunity to put the game to bed, spinning away from Veltman in the middle of the pitch and then flashing a fizzing drive wide from distance. Typically, that miss would be suitably punished – Buonanotte skipping beyond a flat-footed Colwill and curling a delicious strike beyond the outstretched palms of Sanchez in minute 43.

Since the bad news seems to come all at once for the Pensioners this season, captain for the afternoon Gallagher would then get a second yellow for clattering into former Blue Billy Gilmour for no discernible reason. It was a carbon copy of Reece James’ dismissal a week prior in the collapse against Newcastle.

The complexion of the game had completely changed in a matter of mere minutes, and poor discipline from Chelsea’s anointed leaders was much to blame yet again. That an effort from Evan Ferguson just before the merciful shrill of the referee’s half-time whistle blew went just wide seemed a real – yet momentary – reprieve.

It was end-to-end after the restart, without any immediate meaningful chances falling to either side. Baleba has a sight of goal from 25-yards for the away team, but it rolled through softly for Sanchez to scoop up. Adingra would also send a dangerous yet speculative cross across the goalmouth from a free kick a couple of minutes thereafter, with Moises Caicedo going into the book for his troubles.

(Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

The Seagulls continued to probe and press the ten men in royal blue. Adam Lallana nearly threaded the eye of the needle by bringing down a high ball and volleying on the turn, but it went harmlessly wide. That would be his last contribution, as Roberto De Zerbi rolled the dice early with a lesser-spotted quadruple change in the 56th minute. Pascal Gross, Kaoru Mitoma and James Milner and Joao Pedro came on for Buonanotte, Lallana, Baleba and Hinshelwood.

Such upheaval perhaps left Albion disjointed, allowing the Kings of the King’s Road to spring their trap. Jackson flicked Mudryk through on goal and newly introduced Milner could only pull the Ukrainian down in the area, seeing yellow for his troubles. A lengthy VAR check eventually confirmed the stonewall decision in minute 64, and Enzo showed nerves of steel to restore both the two-goal cushion and some much-needed breathing room. It’d be Jackson’s last impact as he headed off for Ian Maatsen.

Brighton became more and more desperate thereafter, piling on the pressure but struggling to find the patience to fashion a good opportunity. Indeed it was the hosts who would next go closest after that, with Caicedo dragging a long-range effort wide. Armando Broja would enter the fray thereafter in place of Mudryk.

The clock continued to dwindle, but Sanchez had to be alert to save from the tricky Mitoma at the back stick with ten minutes remaining. The same could be said a couple of minutes later – Gross stinging his palms with a low free-kick.

Fresh out of ideas, Mitoma would pathetically launch himself to the floor to try and buy a penalty under the nose of Maatsen. It was rather typical and emblematic of Brighton’s pitiful performance, completely outfoxed despite having the man advantage. The officials seemed determined to help the hapless Seagulls as much as they could, though, with ten minutes of time added on.

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Understandably the tired Blues would concede – Pedro guiding home a nice header in the 92nd minute. But Pochettino’s men would show true grit and character to grind out the win from there – even when VAR drama threatened to derail it in the dying seconds – deservedly closing the gap on the top half of the league ahead of a trip to Old Trafford to face Manchester United on Wednesday.