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Bennett faces uncertain future
Albion 2 Sheffield Wednesday 0.
IT has been obvious for some time that Albion will be in the Championship at The Amex next season.
It is far less certain whether Elliott Bennett will still be scoring and creating goals for them in their new stadium.
Bennett provided a reminder of why Norwich were prepared to pay £1 million for him during the January transfer window with another stunning strike to put the Seagulls a win away from promotion.
He will be eager to shine again against Dagenham and Redbridge at Withdean tomorrow night to erase the memory of an uncharacteristically poor performance when Albion won 1-0 in Essex a fortnight ago.
That was a blessing in disguise, considering Norwich manager Paul Lambert was in the crowd. Bennett was substituted, having been rested from the starting line-up for the first time in the league since signing for the Seagulls against Swindon three days earlier.
He has bounced back to form, first at Rochdale and on Saturday against Sheffield Wednesday, and is sure to be the subject of summer speculation.
Norwich will be hard to resist if they are in the Premier League by then and renew their interest.
Albion manager Gus Poyet, realistic as ever, offered no guarantees about Bennett’s future.
“We’ll see, I don’t know,” he admitted. “I cannot be sure but it’s something that I cannot control for different reasons. Every player has a value, every player deserves a chance at the highest level so it will depend on many things.
“I don’t what to start thinking about it now because then I would have to start thinking about a replacement! You have got players that you know maybe have got a chance to have other opportunities so you need to be ready.
“He is a very important player for us. That’s why we didn’t let him go in January, which was a very hard decision.”
Albion have two big factors in their favour, The Amex and heading into a Championship which could include not only Norwich but also Bennett’s old club Wolves.
He said: “The situation is the same for me. I’ve got a three-year contract, I am really happy at the club. I love Brighton as a place, the fans have taken to me massively and, after what happened in January, they have been really supportive, which I didn’t think they would be.
“I owe a lot to the fans and the gaffer was absolutely magnificent with me as well. There was an opportunity to play at a higher level and it didn’t happen. I always said I wasn’t unhappy here. I am just as happy as when I signed.
“The Amex is unbelievable and Championship football – you can’t complain.”
There are also doubts, although to a lesser degree, about the other central characters in Albion’s 11th straight home win of 2011, ten of them in the league.
Glenn Murray was outstanding and won the penalty, converted by Chris Wood, which broke the deadlock just before half-time.
West Brom’s rise to Premier League safety under Roy Hodgson probably increases the chances of Albion getting the on-loan Wood back and I suspect Murray will eventually sign a new contract, although Poyet emphasised the wage structure will not be broken to keep him.
“We are trying our best,” Poyet said. “He wants to keep scoring and make it a bit more difficult for us. He is in a great position. You are on a Bosman free and you score 20 goals, maybe more.
“What an opportunity for him, so we’ll see. If we can keep hold of him it would be great, if it is out of our hands because he gets a better offer then it’s complicated. That’s life, we cannot control that. We cannot change our way of working, the structure, because of one situation.”
Murray led the line superbly against Wednesday. His performance had a lasting impression on Poyet.
He said: “It was Glenn at his best, holding the ball, passing the ball, winning the ball in the air, being in the right position, winning the penalty. He did so many things right. He didn’t score and that is what strikers want to do but I like it when they do their job.
“Maybe it was because of Glenn that we won. People will read Wood and Bennett were the goalscorers but I will remember what Glenn did.”
Murray was dragged down by Daniel Batth from a Gary Dicker cross to earn Albion the opportunity an increasingly fluent first-half performance deserved.
Wood took it with a well-placed penalty, his second in as many matches, which has gone at least some way to exorcising Albion’s difficulties from the spot this season.
Poyet has turned Bennett from an orthodox right winger into a central rover with great effect. He was always an irritant to Wednesday, with his capacity to find pockets of space. The more central role also gives him more chances to emphasise that he is the sweetest striker of a ball at the club His clincher 16 minutes from time was a gem, struck with power and precision from 20 yards after Murray miskicked from Marcos Painter’s pull-back. It was some response from Bennett to his rare omission from the previous home game. .
“I thought that was the right time to give him a little bit of a rest but not for anything bad,” Poyet explained. “You see Berbatov every now and again on the bench and Rooney or Giggs and they are the best players for Manchester.
“There is not an easy way to manage that but I am pleased for him, because I know that he was looking for something special. That goal was close to his best. Benno has that extra quality of shooting and you have to use it.”
The mood of the managers could not have been more contrasting. The pristine Withdean pitch suited Albion’s passing style and Poyet rated it one of their top five performances of the season.
Wednesday, massive under-achievers when you look at the players in their squad, were only a threat in the opening ten minutes. Gary Megson reckoned it was as poor as they have been since he took charge in February.
It was easy to agree with the assessment of the former Bolton boss that, based on their performance, not one of his players would get into the Albion side, although Megson was not helped by the absence of captain and midfielder Tommy Miller for contractual reasons.
Gordon Greer’s needless last minute dismissal, for an apparent butt off the ball while Bennett lined up a free-kick, took the edge off Albion’s victory.
The skipper was sent-off in similar circumstances on his debut against Rochdale in August and, after sitting out Swindon’s play-off final appearance at Wembley last season because of another red card, will now miss another big occasion at Withdean tomorrow.Aa Albion (4-2-1-3): Ankergren; Calderon, Greer, El-Abd, Painter; Bridcutt, Dicker; Bennett (Elphick 90); Wood (Barnes 63), Murray, Noone (Sparrow 76). Subs not used: Brezovan, Navarro, Sandaza, Kishishev..
Goals: Wood (44) penalty, Bennett (74).
Red card: Greer (90) violent conduct.
Yellow cards: None.
Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): O’Donnell; Otsemobor, Batth, R, Johnson, Buxton; Sedgwick (Potter 67), O'Brien (Coke 61), O'Connor, J. Johnson; Mellor, Morrison (Madine 67). Subs not used: Heffernan, R. Jones, Potter, Madine.
Yellow cards: R. Johnson (37) foul, J. Johnson (38) foul, Batth (43) foul.