Chris Hughton felt Chelsea’s Marcos Alonso should have been sent off as the visitors resisted late pressure from Brighton to secure a 2-1 victory at the Amex Stadium.
The outstanding Eden Hazard had inspired Chelsea into a two-goal lead after creating the first finish for Pedro and then adding a second before half-time as the visitors threatened to win by a wider margin.
Hughton’s Brighton then responded throughout the second half, and after Solly March had pulled a goal back in the 66th minute, Chelsea defender Alonso perhaps proved fortunate to escape with only a yellow card after a late foul on March – and as the last man.
Had the Spaniard already been punished for an earlier challenge on Anthony Knockaert, match referee Stuart Attwell would have had little choice but to send him off, and it was that which contributed to Hughton’s frustration when he said: “My first impression was that it was a red card.
“Having seen it again, I do understand that it’s a difficult decision with the pace on the ball and whether Solly would have been right through. I can understand that a bit. (But) I still think there are referees who would have sent him off as the last man.
“He should have been on a yellow card anyway. He pulled back Anthony Knockaert, which is generally always a yellow card. There were two incidents. He should have been on a yellow. If someone pulls someone back on more than one occasion, it should be a yellow.
“The fourth official, Kevin Friend, explained it to me. He didn’t think Solly would have been in control of the ball.
“(But) because he’s last man, and because of the intensity of the game, there would have been a lot of referees who would have sent him off.
“In the end, whether we deserved (a draw) or not – probably not over 90 minutes – when you get a rhythm in the game and are in the ascendancy, you do think it might be your day.
“Eden is very difficult to stop. He’s a world-class player.”
Chelsea’s manager Maurizio Sarri insisted he had not been close enough to judge whether Alonso had indeed been fortunate, but was adamant it had occurred late enough in the game that it would have had little influence.
His team conclude the weekend in the Premier League’s top four having rediscovered their sense of momentum, and Sarri received a further lift by confirmation that the injury suffered by Hazard proved only a minor knock.
“It’s not a big difference (with Alonso) because there were only two minutes to play, so maybe we’d have finished the match with (striker Olivier) Giroud as a centre-back,” the Italian said.
“Eden is okay. Maybe one day to rest; two days at most. He could be very important in this (forward’s) position.
“He’s very able to come out and play with his team-mates, very able to create spaces. Now, in that position, he has to improve in attacking the box.”