Brighton & Hove Albion 1 Knight (82 pen)
Bristol City 0
LEON Knight struck a late penalty to send Brighton back into Nationwide Division 1 at the first attempt and end years of play-off misery for manager Mark McGhee at the Millennium Stadium.
Knight beat Bristol City goalkeeper Steve Phillips from the spot after Danny Coles fouled Chris Iwelumo inside the penalty area eight minutes from the end of the Nationwide Division 2 play-off final in Cardiff to ensure Brighton would join Bobby Williamson’s Plymouth Argyle and QPR in Division 1.
Former Aberdeen and Celtic player McGhee has lost out in the play-offs three times as a manager with Millwall and Wolves and once as a player with Newcastle, but Knight helped him finally lay that ghost to rest on a great day for the homeless Seagulls.
"It’s a day for the players and supporters and I’m thrilled for them," said the Scot. "The players have worked really hard for this and it’s a great occasion."
Victory was tempered in the knowledge the club face extinction unless Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott gives the all-clear for a new 23,000-seater stadium at Falmer, but Brighton fans will be hoping for a double celebration when he makes his decision later this summer.
McGhee fears Brighton, who have spent seven years in exile since then owner Bill Archer sold the Goldstone Ground to property developers, will be an embarrassment in Division 1 unless the club win their battle for the new stadium. Their future rests on leaving their tiny temporary home at the Withdean Stadium, a converted athletics venue with one covered stand.
McGhee, though, believes winning promotion adds weight to their argument and will build the pressure on Prescott, who is due to decide within weeks on a planning application which has already cost the club 2.5 million.
The Brighton manager said: "We’re going into the first division with a ground which holds 7,000 people and we’re embarrassed by that. Leeds United, West Ham, Wolves and Leicester are going to be coming to the Withdean thinking we’re taking the Michael.
"We don’t want to be there, we want our fans to be able to watch games under shelter in a civilised way like other clubs do, and so that supporters from these other big clubs can sit in a stadium they deserve. Winning promotion allows us to make the argument that there’s a bigger demand for seats. It strengthens our argument."
McGhee won his third promotion from this division after taking Reading and Brighton out of Division 2 as champions, and he reckons the move to a new home could help him build a side capable of taking the next step.
He said: "We’ve got to somehow try and build a team which can get out of the first division, but our ground will be a factor in whether that’s possible or not. I’ve only ever been promoted from this division as a manager. This is the third time. But I don’t want to become known as an expert in getting teams out of the second division. I want to be known as something better than that."
Defeat was tough on Bristol, who made all the running in the match and were unlucky not to take advantage of big-match nerves from the Brighton goalkeeper, Ben Roberts, on a number of occasions. But it was to Brighton’s day, and Knight’s 27th goal of the season sent the Seagulls fans in the 65,167 crowd into rapture.
Coles was the guilty party when Iwelumo danced into the area, bringing the Brighton striker down from behind with a clumsy kick, and Knight stepped up to the spot to stroke home the resulting penalty low and true. Beaten Bristol manager Danny Wilson, however, refused to blame Coles for his clumsy challenge.
Wilson said: "Danny Coles has been absolutely superb for us this year. He’s matured into a very good defender. He kept their boys up front quiet and played well."
Bristol missed out on automatic promotion by a narrow margin to QPR this season, and Wilson could be forgiven for disliking the play-offs after losing at the semi-final stage last season. But he insisted changes would have to made for his side to bounce back and go one better than this next year, and with up to ten players out of contract that could mean several departures.
He said: "Unfortunately in football you have to make very tough decisions and they will be coming shortly. If we want to come back next season there may have to be changes in personnel."
Bristol City: Phillips, Carey, Butler (Goodfellow 88), Coles, Hill, Rougier, Doherty, Tinnion (Wilkshire 82), Woodman, Miller (Murray 62), Roberts.
Brighton & Hove Albion: Roberts, Virgo, Cullip, Butters, Harding, Hart, Oatway, Carpenter (Reid 62), Nathan Jones (Piercy 78), Knight, Iwelumo.
Referee: R Beeby.