Chris Hughton's Brighton have promotion hopes ended as Sheffield Wednesday edge close to top flight return
Published 16/05/2016 | 22:06
Ross Wallace stunned Brighton for the second time in four days as Sheffield Wednesday moved another step closer to the Premier League.
The Scottish winger had opened the scoring from 30 yards in the first leg of the Championship play-off semi-final on Friday, and struck from a similar distance at the Amex Stadium to fire Wednesday to Wembley.
Yet there was more than a hint of fortune about this strike after Wallace launched a cross towards the Brighton net and watched it loop over everybody and bounce into the net.
Nevertheless, it could prove a priceless goal - or one at least worth a sizeable chunk of the estimated £170million promotion brings this year - as it secured Wednesday a 1-1 draw on the night and a 3-1 aggregate victory.
They will move onto the final a week on Saturday, for what is likely to be an all-Yorkshire affair with Hull holding a 3-0 advantage over Derby in the other semi-final.
Meanwhile Brighton, who finished 15 points ahead of the Owls, were left to dwell on a third play-off failure in four seasons.
Yet Chris Hughton's side threatened to wipe out Wednesday's lead in the space of a frantic opening half hour. They led on the night through Lewis Dunk and saw a host of other chances come and go.
Brighton were patched up after losing four players to injury during the 2-0 defeat at Hillsborough, although Anthony Knockaert had made a rapid recovery and took the game almost single-handedly to the visitors.
The French winger curled one free-kick onto the near post and rolled a second under the wall, only for Keiren Westwood to scramble across and smother the ball.
Westwood also tipped a fierce Sam Baldock shot over before Knockaert somehow headed wide at the far post.
But Knockaert's persistence eventually paid off in the 19th minute when he flighted in another free-kick which was flicked on by Bruno for Dunk to apply the finish.
However, just as a packed and raucous Amex braced itself for a famous comeback, Wallace rather spoiled the mood.
Brighton were convinced Dunk was fouled as he attempted to head the 28th-minute cross clear, but with Seagulls goalkeeper David Stockdale rooted to the spot the ball nestled into the far corner.
Wednesday could have killed the tie off in first-half stoppage time, moments after Dunk saw yet another Brighton effort cleared off the line, but Stockdale kept out Gary Hooper's point-blank header.
After the break Brighton continued to pour forward but as they grew more desperate, so Wednesday grew more belligerent.
Westwood made saves from Jiri Skalak and James Wilson while Kazenga LuaLua's free-kick, and the rebound, were blocked by a sea of defenders.
Wednesday held firm to keep their dream of a return to the top flight after 16 years well and truly alive.