- Albion secure 5-0 victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers
- Aaron Connolly hits hat-trick at Molineux
- Viktor Gyokeres and Danny Mandroiu extend lead
- The Seagulls will now play Middlesbrough at home in the play-offs
Brighton & Hove Albion’s under-23s scored five goals for a third successive game to beat Wolverhampton Wanders 5-0 at Molineux this evening, as they sealed an emphatic win before the Premier League 2 Division 2 play-offs get underway.
Aaron Connolly fired a hat-trick to put the Seagulls 3-0 ahead, before goals from Viktor Gyokeres and Danny Mandroiu extended the lead, as Simon Rusk’s team produced another eye-catching performance.
Albion had a great opportunity to open the scoring when Connolly was sent racing through on goal after just nine minutes, but with just Andreas Sondergaard to beat, the Irishman’s low effort was saved by the Wolves goalkeeper.
Tom Dallison then made a crucial intervention to cancel out the hosts’ first meaningful attack on Albion’s goal - the defender slid to cut out Sherwin Seedorf’s square pass for Niall Ennis, who was waiting for a simple finish at the back post.
Neither side managed to take hold of the game as possession switched hands throughout the first half, but Albion remained patient and continued to look for balls over the home side’s defence, as Connolly showed his pace in-behind.
The Seagulls were forced into making a change shortly before the break, as Alex Cochrane replaced the injured George Cox - but with the game looking set to be goalless at half-time, the deadlock was soon broken.
Henrik Bjordal whipped a wonderful cross into the penalty area from the right wing and Connolly connected with a firm volley to send the ball into the bottom corner, which gave Albion a narrow lead at the break.
Mandroiu and Connolly then had glorious chances to extend Albion’s advantage when play got back underway, but the former fired straight at Sondergaard before his compatriot lifted his shot over the crossbar from another Bjordal cross.
But the Irishman sealed his brace and made it 2-0 in the 49th minute - Connolly controlled Mandroiu’s free-kick into the penalty area, before composing himself in front of goal and finishing into the bottom corner.
Ten minutes later, the forward had his hat-trick and extended Albion’s lead to 3-0. Connolly raced onto a through-ball from Max Sanders before opening his body to curl his effort into the bottom corner, beyond the reach of Sondergaard.
The hosts then had their best chance of the game, but the Seagulls were let off the hook when Seedorf’s right-footed effort took a deflection, rolled across the face of goal and hit the outside of Robert Sanchez’s left-hand upright.
Wolves fell further behind in the 69th minute and Gyokeres got his name on the scoresheet for the Seagulls, as he lashed home from close range, following a fine run and cross from Ales Mateju down the right wing.
Bjordal almost made it 5-0 with ten minutes left on the clock, but the winger’s ferocious drive from 25 yards cannoned back off the post before the hosts scrambled the ball clear.
But the Seagulls secured their third successive five-goal haul in the 86th minute and it was a spectacular 25-yard free-kick from Mandroiu that found the top corner, similar to his effort against Stoke last Monday.
Rusk’s team saw out the remaining minutes of the match, and made sure their breathtaking form continued into the play-offs, where they’ll meet Middlesbrough for a place in the final.
ALBION: Sanchez; Mateju, O’Hora (Kerr 66), Dallison, Cox (Cochrane 40); Bjordal, Sanders, Alzate, Gyokeres; Mandroiu; Connolly (Tilley 70).
Subs not used: Collings (GK), Hutchinson.