Brighton & Hove Albion 3-1 West Ham United
Premier League, American Express Community Stadium, Sunday 22 May 2022
West Ham United will play UEFA Conference League football next season after a 3-1 final-day defeat at Brighton & Hove Albion.
The Hammers arrived in Sussex knowing victory, combined with a Manchester United draw or defeat at Crystal Palace, and they would finish sixth and be packing their suitcases for another crack at the UEFA Europa League.
And at half-time everything was going to plan, with the Irons leading through Michail Antonio’s 40th-minute thunderbolt and Manchester United losing at Selhurst Park.
However, Joël Veltman’s equaliser five minutes after the break, Pascal Groß’s strike 13 minutes from full-time and Danny Welbeck’s added-time header meant David Moyes’ side had to settle for seventh, despite the Red Devils failing to turn things around in south London.
In truth, West Ham probably did not warrant anything more at the American Express Community Stadium, where Brighton had more than twice as many goal attempts as the visitors.
Prior to Antonio’s breakthrough, it was a slow burner of a game, with both teams sitting deep when out of possession and building slowly and deliberately in it. What resulted was an even game devoid of much in the way of goalmouth action.
There were some chances, though, with Moisés Caicedo denied by Łukasz Fabiański, Vladimír Coufal blocking a Marc Cucurella shot and Groß firing high and wide for Brighton, and Aaron Cresswell seeing a powerful drive blocked for West Ham.
Then, out of next to nothing, Antonio struck. Despite initially miscontrolling Coufal’s throw-in, the No9 held off Lewis Dunk before lashing an unstoppable left-foot drive into the top corner – his first goal from outside the penalty area on his 196th Premier League appearance and with his 444th Premier League shot for the Club.
Unfortunately, the goal was not enough to secure historic successive sixth-place finishes as Brighton levelled through the unlikely figure of Dutch defender Veltman, then took the points courtesy of German midfielder Groß.
The equaliser was a moment Fabiański will want to forget as Veltman’s low shot squirmed through his legs and into the net, but he could do nothing to keep out Groß’s rising left-foot shot, nor Welbeck's late header.
In between, Brighton had gone close twice, with Welbeck firing narrowly wide and Adam Webster heading powerfully over. And after going in front, Welbeck headed too close to Fabiański, before making no mistake from similar range two minutes into added time.
At the other end, West Ham fed off scraps, with Cresswell’s blocked shot and Declan Rice’s long-ranger straight at Robert Sánchez the closest they came to snatching a point, but even then it would not have been enough to lift the east Londoners into sixth.
There was time for Mark Noble to make a farewell appearance in Claret and Blue, with his introduction met by a standing ovation from both sets of supporters, but there was nothing the long-serving skipper could do to avert a disappointing end, not just to a memorable season, but to his unforgettable career.
Brighton & Hove Albion: Sánchez, Veltman, Dunk ©, Webster, Cucurella, Bissouma (Maupay 46), Caicedo (Mwepu 79), March (Lamptey 75), Groß, Mac Allister, Welbeck
Subs not used: Steele (GK), Lallana, Alzate, Duffy, Offiah, Ferguson
Goals: Veltman 50, Groß 77, Welbeck 90+2
West Ham United: Fabiański, Coufal (Johnson 81), Dawson, Zouma, Cresswell, Rice ©, Souček, Fornals (Noble 81), Lanzini (Yarmolenko 81), Bowen, Antonio
Subs not used: Areola (GK), Randolph (GK), Fredericks, Král, Masuaku, Okoflex
Goal: Antonio 40
Referee: Kevin Friend