Four years after their last visit to the FA Cup semi-finals, Brighton have returned to Wembley. And in truth it was more than direct progress. Grimsby Town, hoping to make their first semi-final in 85 years, were brushed aside without romance or sympathy, having registered just the two shots on goal. Their boisterous fans can now sing again, as they insist, when they’re out fishing.
Keep in mind that whatever the three-division difference, Brighton’s Roberto De Zerbi did Grimsby respect by picking their strongest line-up. Although the fact that this was the last game before the international break probably helped. Serving a ban on the touchline, he watched from a box as his assistant Andrea Maldera replaced him in the technical area.
From up there, he could see in the first minute the tone was set as Evan Ferguson fired and Max Crocombe clutched at his chest. Five minutes later Moises Caicedo had a chance and this time Crocombe couldn’t contain it. He bounced back and Deniz Undav was the first to react, converting with aplomb.
Even then, so soon, it was hard to see Grimsby, decked out in the unexpected kind of pink shirts from a Lincolnshire side, coming back. When they had possession, their players looked a bit anxious, like they were pressed for time to create something. Take the moment Harry Clifton ran into a misplaced pass from Adam Webster, but he was too excited, he couldn’t control the ball and Lewis Dunk easily snatched it away.
Brighton did their best to stay competitive: Karou Mitoma missed a shot, Dunk nearly scored the comical own goal of the season, and Robert Sanchez came within an inch of picking up the ball outside his box, for which he was sent off. But in reality, they looked in complete control.
And soon after the second half began, Brighton dropped all ideas of a giant killing spree. Ferguson scored a beautiful center forward goal, tricking past defenders before scoring. In his spooky, De Zerbi responded to the goal by sending a text message. He might have been tipped off to another great player that his club could sign for a pittance and then sell for a fortune.
After one was ruled out by VAR after Solly March was deemed to be offside in the pace build-up, Ferguson got his second with a fine run and shot after being shrewdly tapped by Undav. March continued his scoring run with a marvelous diving header for the fourth and Mitoma finally found the goal with a long-range shot for the fifth.
“We’re on our way to Wembley,” sang the home crowd. And given the form they’ve shown here, not even their owner, master player Tony Bloom, would bet against them returning for the final.