BN1 caught up with Brighton & Hove Albion Manager Chris Hughton and Midfielder Dale Stephens at their training ground, during a very busy press day ahead of their FA Cup Semi-Final. Brighton and Hove Albion have had a thrilling FA Cup run this season. The Amex stadium has been very much alive and singing during home games in this competition. They have fought off teams such as A.F.C. Bournemouth, West Bromwich Albion, and Derby County along the way, culminating in a nail-biting penalty shoot-out at Millwall FC in the quarter-finals. “I thought we were on our way out at 85 minutes!” said the Brighton first team regular Dale Stephens. But the Seagulls face the mighty Manchester City at Wembley stadium, for a massive semi-final this Saturday. “We know what a big occasion Saturday is.” Manager Chris Hughton assures. “The message to the players will be to give everything.”
The opposition, big six giants Manchester City, are frequently referred to as the best team in the world right now. Currently sitting at the top of the table with 80 points, the Sky Blues are set to reclaim their Premier League title. Despite being in a recent bloody battle with Liverpool for the top spot, they turn their attention this weekend to the FA Cup. “They are an exceptional squad of players,” says Hughton. As City Aim for the quadruple, by winning of all four competitions that they are currently still part of, can the Albion crush their FA Cup dreams? Hughton sizes up their rivals. “At this moment they are, if not one of, the best teams in the world.” “With an array of top players that not only technically gifted, but very fit and motivated.” But they aren’t unbeatable. Newcastle United joined an exclusive group of teams that brought Pep Guardiola’s side to their knees this season, with a 2-1 defeat at St James’ Park earlier this year. However, the Albion are staying realistic in their objectives for the game. “I think we have played well against City previously.” “Not a lot of teams pick up points when they play against them.” Says the Seagull of five years, Dale Stephens. “It will be a tough game, but it is an FA Cup game. A lot can happen.”
The FA have announced the presence of VAR at Wembley on Saturday. The Video Assistant Referee has created a lot of controversy in the football world, following its introduction into international football during the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Now it is being introduced into British games, not everyone is welcoming the changes with open arms. “I do ultimately think it will be good for the game.” Hughton discussed his thoughts on the new technology. “I am for VAR, although I probably wasn’t.” “Like a lot of us in this position, we have been persuaded because we know it is coming in.” “I think it’s about an adjustment for our game.” With the result of decisions being said to be revealed on big screens around the stadium, there are concerns about the impact on the fans and the competitive atmosphere. Will decisions being shared with the supporters, bring about discontent in the stands?
The last time the club reached the same stage in the competition was in 1983 when they faced Manchester United in a nerve-racking final. They eventually lost the game, but it brought about a lot of pride and support for the club. This time around, the city of Brighton and Hove has been decked with white and blue stripes. From buses being fronted with ‘Up the Albion!’, to flags being hung from every other window. The city is very much behind the club. Have you let it sink in yet? Stephens was asked. “Not really! It’s probably due to the busy schedule.” The Albion faced a very strong Chelsea side just this Wednesday evening at Stamford Bridge. A 3-0 defeat meant that the seagulls are fully involved in a Premier League relegation battle, but the team is putting it to the back of their minds as they look forward to Saturday’s big match. “It’s a special occasion for everyone involved,” says Stephens. “It’s massively important to put in a performance we can be proud of. You don’t get these opportunities too often.” “Playing at Wembley on the occasion that it is, you’ve got to grasp it.”
You can watch the big match this Saturday 6th April live on BBC One at 17:30. Or you can follow the build-up and full match commentary on BBC Radio Sussex throughout the day.