Brighton moved into the FA Cup fifth round with a difficult win over lower-league opposition, edging past Blackpool 2-1 to end the League One club’s impressive cup run. After lovely first-half goals by Yves Bissouma and Gary Madine, only a deflected goal that last struck Steven Alzate separated the two sides.
It would have been understandable if Blackpool had far less resistance to offer. Their day began with the announcement that the club had recently returned five positive Covid-19 tests from 37 players and staff tested. But Neil Critchley’s side opened the game with vitality and were impressive: while Brighton set the tone by controlling possession as expected, some early loose passes allowed the away team to move up the pitch from the beginning and quickly settle down.
Away to a Premier League team and without some of their most creative players, Blackpool didn’t merely defend. They looked to play out from the back when they could, demonstrating their collective quality by calmly navigating the Brighton press numerous times.
Just as the away team was demonstrating their ability, though, their progress was halted by one of the most impressive performers in England this season. Bissouma picked up the ball from far outside the area, scanned his surroundings and then decided on the simplest solution: he belted a wondrous strike into the top left-hand corner, which kissed the crossbar before crossing the line.
Although Brighton continued to hold on to the ball in the first half, most of their chances came from either deft deliveries by Joël Veltman on the right flank or from corners. They were disappointing in the final third, with Percy Tau and Andi Zeqiri badly struggling to leave a mark on the game. Alzate was energetic but the quality of his decision making did not always match his effort.
The home team eventually paid for their sloppiness as Blackpool closed off the first half with a beautifully worked goal. Jerry Yates’s backheel found Luke Garbutt who whipped in an excellent cross, and Madine converted with a brilliant poacher’s finish.
After a deeply impressive half of football from Blackpool, they fell back to earth early in the second half, underlining why they are 16th in the league. A couple of defensive errors offered Tau and Zeqiri clear opportunities that both players badly fluffed.
As Brighton began to move the ball more quickly and swarm the final third, their breakthrough came in an unexpected form. Alexis Mac Allister’s long-range strike was heading towards the right-hand corner when it struck Alzate and was deflected into the left corner. As Mac Allister and Alzate giggled at the absurdity of Alzate’s first official goal for Brighton, a wrongfooted Maxwell could only watch it fly past him.
The pair had only three minutes to savour their contributions to the goal before Graham Potter made a triple substitution, swapping them and Tau for Neal Maupay, Leandro Trossard and Solly March. The starters were thrust on to search for a third goal, but Maupay was wasteful in the final minutes and the relaxing sensation of a two-goal cushion never came, but Alzate’s slice of luck was enough in the end for victory.