This was a night that lifted the soul. Brighton were a man up against Manchester City for the vast majority of it, João Cancelo having been dismissed early on, but were trailing to Ilkay Gündogan’s header and a magical Phil Foden effort five minutes into the second half. But they ripped into the champions, earning a glimmer of hope when Leandro Trossard scored brilliantly and then sending their 7,945 fans into raptures when Adam Webster and Dan Burn turned the scoreline on its head.
It all took place amid the kind of relentless, febrile atmosphere nobody can have failed to miss over the past year; a dead rubber this may have been, but every chant and exhortation from the side seemed laden with extra meaning.
Within 10 minutes the returning faithful had been reminded of the vicissitudes involved in following a football team and, just maybe, had wielded their own influence too. They had begun in exceptional voice, a palpable rawness and urgency producing a sound that would not have embarrassed a capacity attendance. Brighton’s early touches were greeted with “oles”, City’s with boos, and it goes with the territory that such naked partisanship does not always go to plan.
The game was still settling when Riyad Mahrez, taking possession on the right, became the focus of vocal attention. He might have become unused to that but it did not deter him from working space on his left foot and, with characteristic precision, clipping a cross to the far post for an unmarked Gündogan to nod across Robert Sánchez.
Nobody minded much. Brighton may still have been battling relegation if just one of the three teams beneath had anything about them, but they deserve a fourth straight top-flight season and everyone involved could concentrate on showing their best face. This was no occasion to tense up and before long their fans had more to chew on.
Alexis Mac Allister’s volleyed, backspinning long pass looked troublesome for Cancelo as soon as it left the Argentinian’s boot. Cancelo completely misjudged its flight and grappled with Danny Welbeck, who would have been through, as the forward ran past. The appeals from all four stands were deafening and it was tempting to wonder whether Stuart Attwell would have brandished his red card as quickly if the external pressure had been at behind-closed-doors levels. City protested but the decision stood after a VAR review; there was certainly a question mark over whether Welbeck had full control of the bouncing ball.
The visitors might have craved a less intense assignment with their date in Porto on 29 May. Two years ago they won the title here but, that having been achieved, the aim was to keep ticking over. Ferran Torres, Friday’s hat-trick hero at Newcastle, was hauled rudely to earth after Cancelo’s dismissal as Guardiola afforded Eric García a perhaps valedictory appearance to shore things up; Gündogan endured a yet more painful bump after a high challenge from Alireza Jahanbakhsh but, to considerable relief among the City bench, managed to carry on.
Welbeck was less fortunate after seeming to pull his hamstring. Pascal Gross fluffed Brighton’s best chance of the opening period, miscuing on the half-hour after superb work from Jakub Moder, but that did nothing to dampen the noise.
It would reach fever pitch within minutes of the restart but not before Foden, the default response to whom can only be applause these days, had produced his latest masterclass. Danger seemed at a premium when he beat Ben White to the ball 10 yards inside his own half and wide on the left; Foden set off on a blistering run that, after outpacing the flailing White, culminated in the calmest of prodded finishes as Webster vainly slid in.
Trossard, who had replaced Welbeck, immediately produced his own response and raised the roof. He was gifted the ball by Rodri but still had plenty to do. After reaching the penalty area he took the long route, cutting from left to right and feinting to shoot before, upon finally doing so, blasting past a helpless Ederson.
Now the game fizzed and crackled. Gündogan was withdrawn, seemingly as a precaution, after taking another knock; meanwhile Brighton smelled a leveller, White seeing a meaty angled effort blocked.
City were wobbling and, remarkably, Brighton completed the turnaround. First Webster hung in the air to power Gross’s cross beyond Ederson; then his fellow centre-back Burn, finding himself in uncharted territory, took Trossard’s pass and almost lost his footing before scoring at the second attempt. Cue long-awaited bedlam.