De­fence will deny Ol­lie boys – Poyet GUS: BRIDGE TOO FAR FOR PALACE

The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP PLAY-OFFS 2ND LEG PREVIEWS - By Chris Dunlavy Mon­day, May 13 Kick-off 7.45pm

BULLISH Brighton boss Gus Poyet has warned op­po­nents Crys­tal Palace that it will take “some­thing spe­cial” to deny his side a place in the play-off fi­nal.

Fri­day’s 0-0 draw in the first leg at Sel­hurst Park was the Seag­ulls’ tenth straight game with­out de­feat and show­cased just why Poyet’s men have the best de­fen­sive record in the Cham­pi­onship.

The Seag­ulls sur­vived a sec­ond-half on­slaught and twice cleared off the line to make it just 43 goals con­ceded in 47 league games.

And with two for­mer Eng­land in­ter­na­tion­als in left-back Wayne Bridge and cen­tre-half Matthew Up­son, plus ex-Manch­ester United stop­per To­masz Kuszczak in goal, Poyet says his back four will take some beat­ing.

Abil­ity

“The de­fence is some­thing that not many peo­ple talk about, but it gets to a point af­ter 47 games where you have to,” said Poyet.

“We get lots of credit. Ev­ery­body talks about us, the way we play, how we pass the ball, the nice football, the tech­ni­cal abil­ity. But we are also the team who con­ceded the least goals in the Cham­pi­onship so we are hard to beat.

“We proved that again in the first leg. Some blocks, some great de­fen­sive ac­tions, good de­ci­sions from Liam Brid­cutt and the de­fend­ers.

“Over­all, I would say it’s go­ing to take some­thing spe­cial for Palace to beat us and that is some­thing to be very proud of.”

Even at 32, Bridge is the un­doubted jewel in Brighton’s de­fen­sive crown, back to his best form af­ter mis­er­able spells warm­ing the bench at Chelsea and Manch­ester City.

Palace flier Wil­fried Zaha has torn plenty of full-backs to shreds in win­ning a £15m move to Manch­ester United but, for all his un­doubted bril­liance, the 20year-old was taken to school in the first leg at Sel­hurst Park, even­tu­ally switch­ing sides to get away from Bridge’s cloy­ing at­ten­tions.

Cur­rently on loan from Man City, Poyet knows that pro­mo­tion and its at­ten­dant riches rep­re­sent his best – and per­haps only chance – of keep­ing the for­mer Eng­land man.

“Bridgey is the best left-back in the di­vi­sion by far, no doubt,” added Poyet. “When Zaha switched sides, that was be­cause of Bridgey. Be­cause he is a Premier­ship player, be­cause he is top, top class. We are so lucky to have him.

“I think pro­mo­tion would be the best op­tion if we are to keep him. It would be more dif­fi­cult if we don’t. Be­cause of fi­nan­cial fair play, it would be dif­fi­cult to sign a player of his qual­ity.

“But he knows he’s wanted here.You can see that he’s happy, that he’s de­lighted to be play­ing, that he’s en­joy­ing his football. So who knows? If he is happy maybe we can con­vince him to stay wher­ever we are.”

With the tie so tightly poised, keeper Kuszczak may yet be called upon for hero­ics, but the Pol­ish in­ter­na­tional is hop­ing it doesn’t go down to penal­ties.

“It’s a one-way ticket now and some­body has to win,” said the 31-year-old. “But we don’t want to go to penal­ties be­cause it is a lot­tery. It’s a great spec­ta­cle for the fans but we want to do it in 90 min­utes. For sure, I’ll be pre­pared, like I al­ways am. Be­fore ev­ery game I know who takes the penal­ties and where they like to go.

“But I’ve al­ways be­lieved it is not about the goal­keeper. It is more about the play­ers who take the penalty.

“If they hit it prop­erly, no­body will save it. If they make a mis­take or change their mind, I’m go­ing to have a chance. We’ll see, but I hope it doesn’t have to come down to that.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

LYNCH­PIN: Wayne Bridge takes on Peter­bor­ough’s Lee Tom­lin. Inset: Gus Poyet

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