Four years after their last FA Cup semi-final visit, Brighton have returned to Wembley. And in truth it was more than straightforward progress. Grimsby Town, hoping they might make their first semi in 85 years, were brushed aside without romance or sympathy, having recorded just the two shots on target. Their boisterous fans can now return to singing, as they insist they do, when they are fishing.
Mind, whatever the third-division gap, Brighton’s Roberto De Zerbi did Grimsby the honor of picking his strongest line up. Although the fact that this was the last game before the international break probably helped. Serving a touchline ban, he watched from a box as his assistant Andrea Maldera stood in for him in the technical area.
From up there, he could see within the first minute the tone was set when Evan Ferguson had a shot that Max Crocombe clung to his chest. Five minutes later Moises Caicedo had a go and this time Crocombe couldn’t keep hold of it. It bounced off him and Deniz Undav was the first to react, converting with aplomb.
Even then, so early on, it was hard to see Grimsby – decked out in the kind of pink shirts unexpected from a side from Lincolnshire – getting back. When they had possession, their players looked a little anxious, as if they were under time pressure to create something. Take the moment Harry Clifton ran on to a misplaced pass by Adam Webster, but was too over-excited, couldn’t control the ball and it ran easily to Lewis Dunk to tidy up.
Brighton did their best to keep it competitive: Karou Mitoma missed a sitter, Dunk almost scored the comedy own goal of the season, and Robert Sanchez was within an inch of collecting the ball outside his area, thus being sent off. But really, they looked in complete control.
And soon after the second half began, Brighton put all thoughts of a giant killing aside. Ferguson scored a lovely center forward’s goal, deceiving and spinning past the defenders before slotting home. Up in his eerie, De Zerbi responded to the goal by sending a text. Perhaps he had been alerted to yet another superb player his club could pick up for a pittance and then sell on for a fortune.
After having one ruled out by VAR after Solly March was deemed to be offside in the pacy build up, Ferguson got his second with a fine run and shot after being craftily played in by Undav. March continued his scoring spree with a wonderful diving header to add a fourth and Mitoma finally found the target with a long range shot for the fifth.
“We’re on our way to Wembley,” sang the home support. And given the form they showed here, not even their master-gambler owner Tony Bloom would bet against them being back for the final.