Defence will deny Ollie boys – Poyet GUS: BRIDGE TOO FAR FOR PALACE
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.
“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.”
LYNCHPIN: Wayne Bridge takes on Peterborough’s Lee Tomlin. Inset: Gus Poyet