Thanks to results from Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea over the past two days, Tottenham didn’t lose any ground to its rivals despite its own loss early on Saturday.
Now, Spurs has a chance to earn points to secure another top four finish and keep one of its rivals out when it hosts relegation-threatened Brighton and Hove Albion. Watford, meanwhile, hosts a Southampton side with three wins in its last five games.
Brighton and Hove Albion v. Tottenham — 2:45 p.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com
This match should have just about everything as both sides will be desperate for all three points. Tottenham can take advantage of Arsenal, Man United and Chelsea’s failure to jump ahead or catch ground with a big win on the road, especially after the big win at Man City in the UEFA Champions League. Heung-Min Son showed that Tottenham fans won’t have to miss Harry Kane too badly as he recovers from another serious ankle injury, and Son will be expected again to score and have a big impact in the attack. The team received a boost as well, with Eric Dier returning to fitness and Hugo Lloris set to return to the lineup this week, if not this weekend.
Meanwhile, down in Brighton it’s been a different story all season. The Seagulls have just 34 points after 34 games, sitting just three points above the relegation zone. Before Saturday’s draw with Wolves, Brighton had lost four straight games in the Premier League and five in all competitions, including in the FA Cup semifinals against Manchester City. Now, with only the Premier League on its mind, Brighton can focus on finding an answer to its defensive and goalscoring woes. After a strong start, Glenn Murray hasn’t scored in seven games, and club-record signing Ali Jahanbakhsh has zero Premier League goals this season. Brighton will take one step closer to Premier League survival with a massive win over Tottenham. With Cardiff City facing Fulham this weekend, it’s crucial for Brighton to receive at least a point to maintain space between it and Cardiff.
While much of the Premier League drama focuses on the top four and the bottom three of the table, there’s quietly a very dramatic race for seventh place, which could still end up with a Europa League berth should Manchester City beat Watford to win the FA Cup (if Watford wins, only the fifth and sixth-placed teams would earn Europa League berths).
Watford is among a small group of four teams all within one point of another that could finish anywhere from seventh to tenth by the end of the season. Watford currently sits tied with Everton in seventh place and is looking for a third win in four Premier League games, though its last two wins were over Fulham and Huddersfield. One aspect Watford will have to work on in this match against Southampton is recording a clean sheet. Watford have conceded a goal in eight straight Premier League matches, their longest run this season without a shutout.
Southampton on the other hand are looking to bounce back from a 3-1 defeat against Newcastle. Like Brighton, Southampton is currently safe but still in a precarious situation, just five points clear of Cardiff and the relegation zone. Ralph Hassenhuttl has done a decent job in securing some breathing room for the Saints in his half-season at the club so far. If Southampton can replicate its form from its April 13 3-1 win over Wolves, in which Nathan Redmond scored a pair and even Shane Long found the back of the net, it will surely help towards Premier League survival. Also working in Southampton’s favor is that it has five wins, five draws and one loss in its last 11 matches against Watford.
Brighton will host Cardiff City on Tuesday and must get a result from a must-win win for the Bluebirds.
Hughton is flummoxed at what happened to his team in an abject, 10-man display against Bournemouth which saw the Seagulls lose by five and lose Anthony Knockaert for Tuesday.
“It was a reckless challenge,” Hughton said. “It was the right decision. I’ve spoken to the team and I think it was one of the poorest performances since I’ve been here. Especially knowing the qualities of the team we were playing against.”
After Cardiff’s visit, Brighton tangles with Wolves at the Molineux before visiting Tottenham, hosting Newcastle, traveling to Arsenal and hosting Man City on the final day of the season.
Their quality coupled with Cardiff City’s defensive struggles should be enough to survive the battle, but Hughton and some of his men may not get out of the war with their jobs in tact.
Ryan Fraser and Callum Wilson each had a goal and two assists as Bournemouth ensured its Premier League safety with a 5-0 win over still-threatened 10-man Brighton and Hove Albion at the Amex Stadium on Saturday.
Dan Gosling and David Brooks also scored for the Cherries, who move to 41 points and 12th place on the table. Brighton has 33, five better than 18th place Cardiff City.
Anthony Knockaert was sent off with Brighton trailing 2-0 after a wild challenge earned a straight red.
BRIGHTON — Sipping on a cup of tea as he strolls around the Brighton & Hove Albion museum at the Amex Stadium on a hazy afternoon in southern England, Glenn Murray is taking a trip down memory lane.
He and Brighton have been through a heck of a lot. Most of it together.
The 35-year-old English striker didn’t play in the Premier League until he hit 30, spending most of his career in the lower leagues of England and North America, sniffing out goals and bullying defenses wherever he went. The long and winding road has led him from the far north of England to the far south, as he now has 107 goals for Brighton and is the second-highest goalscorer in club history.
Ahead of Brighton’s clash with Southampton this Saturday (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com), Murray is aiming to continue his incredible return to the South Coast with the Seagulls.
“The period since I signed for the second time, it has just been a non-stop upwards curve. The progression of the club has just been phenomenal,” Murray said. “The club that I left in my first spell to the club I left in my second spell. Wow. I was away for five years, before I left we were training at a University campus. Getting changed in three separate dressing rooms. Playing second fiddle to the University teams if they wanted to use the fields. They had the say so. To be honest, the fields were rubbish. Going to play the games at the Withdean with the running track around… the away fans might as well have sat on the beach because they couldn’t see anything!
“To come back to this stadium, I always enjoyed playing here as a visiting player, sometimes you just get that feeling for places. You just enjoy playing there and somewhere you feel comfortable. To come back and score like I have is perfect. Behind that we have a state-of-the-art training facility, you couldn’t have dreamt it when we were back getting changed in those three dressing rooms. You would have just settled for one flat pitch!”
Murray is as laidback scoring goals in the Premier League against the big boys as he is sat on a sofa in sneakers on his off-day chatting about every facet of the game. It is clear soccer runs through his blood.
Growing up close to the Lake District in the far north west of England, he fell in love with the game. From the start.
“Everyone just plays football, don’t they? It is just part of life in England. Once I started I just totally got the bug and never lost it,” Murray smiled. “I can remember running around on my local green, the players I wanted to be were like [Eric] Cantona, [Georgi] Kinkladze, Uwe Rosler — I loved Rosler, he scored all the time — and from that time I started going to camps in my holidays and things like that. I supposed I was just blessed that I was quite good at it. And then it just went from strength to strength.”
He is now heralded as a throwback to the English center forwards of a bygone generation. But it hasn’t always been this way. The trajectory of Murray’s career has been remarkable.
It all began at Workington Reds, an amateur team, after he was released by Carlisle United as a youth team player. As a teenager, Murray was thrown in at the deep end and his physical style of play perhaps comes from the harsh lessons he learned in the small towns of northern England.
“We were in the seventh or eighth tier of English football then. As a young kid, that was rough. Really rough,” Murray smiled. “You are maybe dancing around a few older guys that didn’t like it, they would let you know about it… physically and mentally. Throughout my career it has just been brilliant. Every step I have taken something from it. I’ve enjoyed every step.”
A spell in the third-tier of North American soccer with the Wilmington Hammerheads (where he won a championship ring) was the springboard for Murray’s career, as he returned to the UK with a renewed love for the game. Even if others didn’t take a chance on him, Murray had faith in himself and scored goals for Carlisle, Rochdale and Stockport before he got his move to third-tier Brighton (for the first time) in 2007. His goals at their temporary home at the Withdean Stadium led Brighton to promotion to the second-tier, and joining the Seagulls was the catalyst to him reaching the top-flight.
Did he ever think he wouldn’t make it to the top after the first decade of his career was spent playing outside of the Premier League?
“Yeah, definitely. I felt around that 27, 28 age, the only way I was going to get to the Premier League was to be promoted into it. Thankfully that happened. I never really felt as though a team would put a large amount of money on the line for me,” Murray said. “I think there have always been question marks over me, throughout my career. Probably because I am quite an old-fashioned center forward and at every level people have said ‘he won’t do it at the next level, he won’t do it at the next.’ Given the opportunity I have managed to prove myself to people.”
Murray’s steely determination saw him do something many wouldn’t. Brighton’s fierce rivals are Crystal Palace, so when Murray left Brighton for Palace in 2011, just a few months after he led Brighton to promotion to the second-tier with 22 goals, there was huge controversy. That was just the start.
His 30 goals in the 2012-13 season led Palace to promotion to the Premier League, just to rub extra salt in the wounds of Brighton’s fans. But then, a horrible moment arrived. Murray snapped his ACL playing for Palace against Brighton in the Championship playoff semifinal back in 2013 and he was out for 10 months. The irony of injuring himself against the Seagulls isn’t lost on Murray, and he admitted he has thought on several occasions that his career was over.
But he keeps bouncing back.
“I’ve thought ‘this is the end’ on a number of occasions. That being one. Definitely,” Murray said. “Some people, their bodies can withstand it. I had to change not so much my game, but my lifestyle. The work I do off the field, it is now like 300 percent more. Diet comes in to it as I’ve got older. I work on stabilizing my knees, my ankles, the ACL knee obviously. I continue to do leg weights. Touch wood, I’ve never had any more problems with it.”
After Palace short stops at Bournemouth, in the Premier League, and Reading followed, but Murray jumped at the chance to return to Brighton in 2016.
The Seagulls were in the second-tier but Murray returned, initially on loan in 2016-17, and scored 26 goals to lead them to promotion to the Premier League for the first time in their history.
“That stupid saying went through my mind over and over. ‘You should never go back’ and all of that. Obviously I had great times here before I left. Everything just seemed perfect to come back. I always felt like I had unfinished business with the club. Got promoted out of League One. Top goalscorer. Brand new stadium. I left,” Murray said. “And, I always felt I wanted to test myself in the Amex Stadium and wanted to play at the Championship level or higher for the club. It always felt right to come back. The year before I came back I watched Brighton a lot because they were on TV a lot and pushing for promotion. I watched their players and studied them. Anthony Knockaert, Jiri Skalak and Solly March, all very, very good wingers I felt I could work with and would help me score goals.
“I sat and went over this in my mind. It was a big help that my family lived here. My kids were at school. But there is always that nagging doubt that you come back and it doesn’t work out. Your kids can get a hard time at school, saying ‘your dad is rubbish!’ and things like that. No kid should have to deal with that. But that is how big football is here. All of these nagging doubts ate away at me. I sat down and weighed up the pros and cons and said let’s do it and make it a success. I couldn’t have wished for it to be any better.”
Murray admitted he took a financial gamble to leave PL side Bournemouth to return to Brighton, but it was more of “an educated gamble” as he felt they could make it to the promised land of the Premier League.
Murray has scored 23 goals in 64 PL appearances over the past two seasons, which has led to many saying Gareth Southgate should call him up for the England national team.
“I have never heard anything. It would have been nice. You never know, I suppose,” Murray said about a potential call-up. “Gareth Southgate has gone in to England with his philosophy and nobody can deny he is working a wonder. It is enjoyable to watch our national team again. I for one sat down in the summer and enjoyed every minute of it [the 2018 World Cup]. It is what it is. I am just enjoying seeing the boys doing well.”
Asked if he is a better natural replacement for England captain and goalscoring sensation Kane than any other strikers in the current Three Lions player pool, Murray chuckles and dishes out another self-deprecating barb.
“I’m just 40 percent less than him on every count!” Murray laughed. “He [Kane] is phenomenal. He has shown that season after season. I don’t think Southgate has got anybody like-for-like, or similar shall we say, but I don’t think there is a like-for-like out there on the planet, at a similar age. I don’t think you have anybody in the squad who has similar attributes to Kane in the squad. Southgate knows what he is doing. You just never know in football. I’ve learned that over a long career in football. It may come. It may never come. You just don’t know.”
Taking a glance at the varnished wooden board in the museum which has a list of every Brighton player to ever play on the international stage while at the club, Murray lists through the names of those who have come before him. Both Ireland and Scotland previously enquired about Murray’s eligibility to play for them, but it wasn’t possible.
What he has proved is that the impossible is possible.
From Workington Reds to Carlisle United. Rochdale to Brighton via Stockport. Crystal Palace to Reading and Bournemouth. And, of course, back to Brighton. His journey epitomizes what is possible when you have belief in your own ability and never, ever, give up.
“I just always wanted to prove myself. I always wanted my peers to respect me and to enjoy playing with me and wanting to play with me. And any doubters out there, just prove them wrong,” Murray said. “It is just all about that hunger really, of wanting to succeed. For me, wanting to scoring goals. That has never changed, and for me it will never diminish.”
That hunger, and those goals, mean a section in Brighton & Hove Albion’s museum will be dedicated to Murray. He’s not in there yet, but there’s a nice blank section right in the center waiting for him.
With sixth-place Chelsea now just five points behind third-place Spurs, they are losing serious ground in their top four battle and still have to play at Liverpool and Man City. From the cusp of being in the title race, Spurs have crumbled and are now in real danger of not being in the UEFA Champions League next season.
“It is good because a lot of people now are going to realize our real level,” Pochettino said, before adding. “We are fighting against big sides (for the top four). We had a big gap, that maybe wasn’t real, now welcome to the reality. We are under going to be under pressure to win games. It is a massive challenge for us to keep our position.”
STERLING LEADS CITY, BUT NOT WITHOUT CONTROVERSY
Raheem Sterling‘s hat trick extended Man City’s lead atop the Premier League table to four points, but the 3-1 win against Watford didn’t come without controversy. The crucial first goal arrived less than 45 seconds into the second half but it was originally ruled out for offside, then it was allowed due to a strange perception of the offside rule. That could be a huge moment in the season, as City were struggling to break Watford down. Pep Guardiola‘s side were not at their best and that is expected as they are without Fernandinho, John Stones and Kevin De Bruyne, three players who are key to how they operate.
City took care of business, with a little help from the officials, and now it is over to Liverpool who host Burnley at Anfield on Sunday. Jurgen Klopp‘s men now know that any slip up will hand Man City an even greater advantage in the title race. The pressure is on.
COMEBACKS, GLORIOUS COMEBACKS
Southampton’s comeback win against Tottenham stole the headlines, but Newcastle also launched a marvellous comeback as they beat Everton at St James’ Park 3-2. Rafael Benitez’s side dug deep to fight back from 2-0 down as they also had a penalty kick saved in the first half moments before going 2-0 down.
The belief Newcastle showed to drag themselves back into the game was sublime and, just like Saints, the kind of momentum they will gain from this comeback win will be vital as so many teams battle to stay in the Premier League. At this point of the season sealing a comeback win can be even more important than grabbing three points. The resilience teams are showing at the bottom of the table is incredible, with the likes of Saints, Newcastle and Brighton standing tall. Add in Burnley and Cardiff scrapping away and there are still so many twists and turns remaining in the battle against the drop.
RELEGATION BATTLERS STAND TALL
It is not often Brighton, Saints, Newcastle and Cardiff have won games this season. So it was extremely surprising they all grabbed wins on the same day. Brighton dug deep and delivered a massive away win in the M23 at derby, with Anthony Knockaert‘s stunning goal worthy of winning any game. Glenn Murray had given the Seagulls the lead and Crystal Palace were never at the races. Saints’ win was incredibly unexpected, while Newcastle and Cardiff took care of business at home. All in all, the relegation battle is more muddled than it was before the day kicked off.
Just six points separates Cardiff in 18th and Palace in 14th, and the likes of Cardiff, Brighton and Palace have tough run ins compared to others at the bottom. Fulham and Huddersfield are basically down, while six teams are fighting to stay out of the final relegation spot. Pick one from: Cardiff, Burnley, Southampton, Brighton, Palace and Newcastle.
WILSON, TIELEMANS, RONDON ARE BALLERS
There are some players who are on teams outside of the top six who sometimes do not get the respect they deserve. A few of them stole the show on Saturday. Wilfried Zaha usually falls into this category but he struggled for Palace against Brighton, but Bournemouth’s Callum Wilson was brilliant on his return from injury. Wilson hasn’t played since mid-January for Bournemouth, but he returned with a goal and an assist in their win at Huddersfield and was a constant menace. You can bet that Wilson will be called into the England squad for the upcoming internationals and the PL’s big boys will be sniffing around him this summer.
As for Youri Tielemans, he continues to go from strength to strength in the Premier League. The Belgian midfielder is only on loan from Monaco and Leicester will want to sort that out sharpish as he scored the first and oozed class throughout their 3-1 win against Fulham. Brendan Rodgers loves to have a ball-playing central midfielder who makes things happen and Tielemans fits the bill. And then there is Salomon Rondon at Newcastle. The Venezuelan striker rarely gets the headlines, but he has quietly scored eight goals this season for the Magpies and their entire attacking unit is better when he is fit and playing. Rondon won Newcastle a penalty kick, scored the goal which sparked their amazing comeback and bullied Everton’s defense. For the likes of Miguel Almiron, Jonjo Shelvey and Ayoze Perez to flourish, Rondon has to be the focal point.