Well, it had to happen eventually. And the Monday papers were unanimous and almost certainly correct in blaming Albion’s first-ever top-flight defeat at the hands of Wolves on the dismissal of captain Lewis Dunk.
Tom Collomosse of the Daily Mail wrote that Dunk “went from hero to villain by scoring the goal that looked set to seal Brighton's Premier League survival before his red card let Wolves steal an improbable victory.
“The Albion skipper's header gave the visitors the lead and they were 37 minutes from the three points that would have secured safety when he was dismissed for dragging back Fabio Silva.
“The result is unlikely to make much difference to Brighton. It left them waiting on results elsewhere rather than completing the job at Molineux. At the final they were still 10 points clear of the relegation zone.
“But this game followed the pattern of their season, with Graham Potter's side unable to ensure that long periods of dominance bring victories. Brighton took control, with Pascal Gross and Yves Bissouma dictating the game in midfield and Conor Coady seeming to keep Wolves in the game single-handedly at times.”
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In The Times, Tim Nash observed that “Lewis Dunk was enjoying a decent afternoon having scored the goal that looked set to secure Brighton & Hove Albion’s top-flight status. The centre back’s hard work, though, was undone in the 53rd minute when his sending off altered the course of the game.
“Wolverhampton Wanderers seized on the advantage by equalising through Adama Traoré in the 76th minute before Morgan Gibbs-White scored their winner seconds from the end.
“As if the frustration of blowing the chance to stay up was not enough, Potter, the Brighton head coach, then witnessed Neal Maupay being sent off after the final whistle at Molineux. The Frenchman, 24, was dismissed for carrying his protests too far to [referee] Jon Moss about an alleged foul in the build-up to Wolves’ equaliser.
“Potter was far more sympathetic for Dunk, who was sent off for tugging the shirt of Fabio Silva after Vitinha had cleverly threaded the £35 million club record signing through on goal.
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“’Instinct kicks in and you have to make a split-second decision,’ Potter said. ‘If you ask him now maybe he’d say he would have let him [Fabio] go and taken a goal so it was 1-1 but still 11 v 11. But it’s easy to say that now’.”
Graeme Bryce of The Sun also felt Dunk's dismissal was the turning point. “Lewis Dunk was red-carded to leave ten-men Brighton at Wolves' mercy. The home side smelled blood when the Seagulls' inspirational skipper Dunk was red-carded for tugging Fabio Silva's shirt as the 18-year-old threatened to burst clear on goal, eight minutes into the second half.
“Dunk had earlier powered Brighton into an early lead as the Seagulls dominated. Albion's 29-year-old skipper thought he had sealed his side's Premier League status with his fifth goal of the season.
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“Pascal Gross swept in a teasing corner on 13 minutes and Dunk soared majestically to power his header beyond Patricio from 12 yards. The fact Dunk had Ruben Neves and Ki-Jana Hoever hanging off him at the time made the contest look even more of a mismatch as Wolves’ blockers failed to do their job.
“But it all went wrong for Brighton when Dunk tried to swap shirts with Silva. Unfortunately for the defender, the Portuguese kid was bursting through on goal at the time - leaving Moss with no other option than to send him packing.”
The Guardian wrote that “Brighton’s swift attacks left the hosts floundering, with Danny Welbeck’s movement giving Max Kilman and Conor Coady countless problems, and it was from his knockdown which saw Maupay flash a drive over.
“Brighton have won just three in 14 but there are clear signs of progress under Potter, despite a frustrating defeat and their flirtation with the drop.
“Potter’s side had more desire, were slicker and had the confidence of a side who knew survival was in their grasp - before it slipped away in the second half.”
In the Daily Telegraph, John Aizlewood – one of this column’s favourite writers – offered comfort to frustrated Albion fans: “With games against West Ham United, Manchester City and Arsenal to come and Fulham unlikely to finish the season as world beaters, survival remains a formality, but not for the first time, Brighton have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
“[They] were wholly dominant in the first period. They went ahead when Pascal Gross slung over a corner towards the penalty spot. Dunk rose above the earthbound Ki-Jana Hoever and Ruben Neves to power a downwards header past Rui Patricio.
“Dunk’s goal both settled and galvanised Brighton. They pressed with swashbuckling authority. Yves Bissouma pulled the midfield strings, Danny Welbeck’s new-found hunger caused Conor Coady consternation and they maintained their poise even when denied a clear-cut penalty after Gibbs-White wrestled Dan Burn to the floor (‘a bit strange,’ mused Potter), but chances kept coming. Dunk had another free header from another Gross corner and only Patricio’s athleticism kept it out and Maupay volleyed high and wide from six yards.
“But Wolves improved, even before Dunk’s dismissal. In contrast Potter conceded Brighton had started the second half ‘slow and sloppy’. They lost their mojo and they lost Dunk when Silva played a whiplash one-two with Daniel Podence and burst through on goal, only for Dunk to haul him back and give Moss one of his more straight-forwards decisions. In a moment, what had been a cruise for Brighton became a journey through hostile waters, hatches battened down. They would not make it into safe harbour.”
Phil Dawkes of the BBC website wrote that “on results and league position alone, you could be forgiven for thinking little progress has been made at Brighton in their four Premier League seasons, with Sunday's result another negative to add to the list. However, there has been a clear philosophy shift at the club and signs that Graham Potter is building something more robust and tactically intelligent than his managerial predecessors at the Amex Stadium.
“With a full complement of players, they were the better side at Molineux, comfortably mixing a modern desire to play out from the back with older-school qualities of towering goalscoring headers from domineering centre-backs. Even with 10 men, they were well drilled enough to restrict the home side to half-chances for much of the second half.
“Losing to two well taken goals having played for more than 30 minutes a man down is not something to be unduly concerned by, even if it means a delay in sealing their inevitable survival. More concerning is the loss of discipline from Maupay at full-time, meaning Albion will now be without their leading striker as well as their captain through suspension.”