Amex annihilation highlights growing gap between Brighton and Crystal Palace

  • Brighton tore apart Crystal Palace with crunching win at Amex on Saturday
  • Roberto De Zerbi's side in total control by half-time after Dunk, Hinshelwood and Buonanotte goals
  • Chasm of quality continuing to widen between M23 derby rivals

Lewis Dunk celebrates scoring the opening goal as Brighton beat Crystal Palace 4-1 at the Amex
Lewis Dunk celebrates scoring the opening goal as Brighton beat Crystal Palace 4-1 at the Amex / Mike Hewitt/GettyImages

There were just 38 minutes on the clock at the Amex Stadium when noticeable gaps started to appear in the away end. Finding themselves 3-0 down before half time to their arch rivals, Crystal Palace fans started to abandon ship.

The humiliation at the hands of Brighton was too much to take. The time of Eagles supporters could be better spent going for a spin on the dodgems at the pier, browsing for bargains in an antiques shop in North Laine or jumping on a train back to Croydon in time for The Masked Singer starting at 6.25pm.

Those who lasted until the bitter end saw their side beaten 4-1. Arguments broke out at the final whistle between fans and players. Joachim Andersen and Dean Henderson had to be pulled away by Palace assistant boss Paddy McCarthy as things threatened to get out of hand.

You had to go back to 1958 to find the last time Brighton stuck four past Palace. Seeing as the Seagulls v Eagles rivalry did not become a thing until the 1970s, this was the Albion's most dominant and commanding success in the history of what both sets of supporters hate being called the M23 Derby. They are least united by that.

The most concerning thing for Palace must be that the manner of their defeat did not come as a surprise. Brighton have been threatening to do this to the Eagles for some time, going all the way back to February 2021, when Palace infamously left the Amex with a 95th minute 2-1 win from one shot on target. Graham Potter's Seagulls in contrast had 25 shots and 75% percent possession.

Since then, Brighton have dominated almost every meeting without really getting what they deserved. A goalkeeping error from Bart Verbruggen ensured Palace picked up a point from the December clash at Selhurst Park, which finished 1-1.

Joao Pedro
Joao Pedro counts down the four goals Brighton put past Palace / Mike Hewitt/GettyImages

The Albion's previous visit to Croydon last February saw another mistake from the man between the posts, on that occasion Robert Sanchez. VAR also managed to draw their offside lines from the wrong home defender, ruling out a perfectly legal Pervis Estupinan effort. Without those two moments of madness, Brighton would have won 2-0 rather than being held to a 1-1 draw.

Even the most ardent of Palace supporters must now admit that most uncomfortable of truths - the Seagulls have pulled miles clear of the Eagles. The gap between these two clubs is now the widest it has been since the 1990s, when Palace were Premier League regulars as the Albion only just survived going out of business in the bottom division of the Football League.

They are on different paths, different trajectories - and the reason can be found at boardroom level. Brighton have ambition and a long-term vision. It started with the building of the Amex, after which came promotion to the Premier League and European qualification. The Seagulls have a transfer strategy and recruitment department set up to find the best young talent from across the world, to benefit and nurture it and then sell it on for huge profit.

Compare that with Palace. Over a decade in the Premier League and they are yet to register a top-ten finish. A haphazard approach to transfers with no clear cohesion. All those millions banked in broadcast money and still Selhurst Park resembles something from a Charles Dickens novel. While Brighton chase glory in the Europa League and FA Cup, the extent of ambition at Palace extends to simply treading water to survive every year.

Nothing sums up the different approach of the two rivals better than what has happened in their respective dugouts over the past 18 months. When Graham Potter was lured away by the millions on offer at Chelsea, Brighton already knew who they wanted to succeed him. In came Roberto De Zerbi, the perfect man to build on the foundations already in place and send the Seagulls soaring to even greater heights.

Roberto De Zerbi
Long-term planning of the sort Brighton are famed for saw them upgrade from Graham Potter to Roberto De Zerbi / Bryn Lennon/GettyImages

This time last year and Palace had what they thought was their own version of Potter. Just as Potter had been charged with overhauling an aging Brighton squad and introducing a more attacking style of play in the summer of 2019, so Patrick Vieira was given a similar brief in 2021 upon his appointment to the hot seat at Selhurst Park.

Such rebuilds involving drastic changes in approach take time and invariably feature speedbumps in the road. Tony Bloom had to hold his nerve through Potter delivering a Brighton club-record 14 game winless home run, along with the worst start any Albion side had ever made to a top flight season of two victories in 18 matches to kick off the 2020-21 campaign.

Brighton went 12 games without a win between September and Boxing Day 2021, lost six games in a row the following March and failed to score for three months at the Amex. Bloom though remained patient and was rewarded when, two-and-a-half years after appointing Potter, it all clicked. Soon Chelsea came calling, which some might say was the best thing to happen to Brighton as it meant they landed De Zerbi and banked £21m in the process.

Steve Parish and his fellow Palace owners in contrast panicked at the first sign of trouble, sacking Vieira just 18 months into his own rebuild following a 1-0 defeat at the Amex in March 2023. They then turned back to Roy Hodgson, the man Vieira replaced. From the old to the new and back to the old. Making it up as you go along as no way to run a football club.

Peter Bankes, Patrick Vieira, Roberto De Zerbi
Patrick Vieira was sacked as Palace boss after the Eagles lost 1-0 at the Amex in March 2023 / Mike Hewitt/GettyImages

Hodgson did keep the Eagles in the Premier League, at which point Palace should have thanked him for his work, allowed him to enjoy retirement and sought a younger head coach who could start building for the future again. Parish and co needed to find their De Zerbi and this time, stick with him.

Instead, they gave Hodgson another year. While Brighton fans have spent this season flying out to Marseille, Amsterdam and Athens to watch their team make Europa League football look easy, Palace have wasted a campaign by keeping a 76-year-old in charge when they could have started putting in place the groundwork needed to emulate the Albion.

That groundwork of course requires some sort of plan, something which Palace are lacking. It is why Eagles supporters spend their spare hours making banners bemoaning their owners and Hodgson to hold up at the Emirates Stadium and the Amex, at the same time as Brighton fans sip red wine, eat cake and enjoy gyros on the continent.

Some have argued that the anger of Palace fans stems mainly from seeing their hated rivals thriving in Europe. And while there maybe an element of truth to that, the Eagles have been in the Premier League for 11 seasons now. 11 seasons of sheer mediocrity would be enough to drive most football fans mad, even without the Seagulls soaring.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and the answer for Palace when it comes to stopping the banners is probably imitating Brighton. That could yet extend as far as appointing Potter, who is second favourite with bookmakers to replace Hodgson.

Crystal Palace fans unfurl a banner criticising the direction the club is being taken in
Palace fans have unveiled banners criticising their owners and manager / Shaun Botterill/GettyImages

In a rivalry initially forged partly through the long-standing dislike between Brighton boss Alan Mullery and his Palace counterpart Terry Venables going back to their playing days at Spurs, Potter taking over at Selhurst with the disdain he is still held in by many Seagulls supporters because of the manner of his departure would add plenty more fuel to the fire.

It was hard not to feel sorry for Hodgson as he stood on the edge of his technical area at the Amex, watching the Albion play one-touch passing triangles around black shirts on their way to sending his Palace side to such a heavy defeat.

Brighton fans even taunted him with chants of "Super Roy Hodgson" and "Roy Hodgson, we want you to stay." A manager respected from Sweden to Italy, Switzerland to Denmark, Finland to Fulham, deserves better in the final days of his career.

But even if Hodgson does not stay, it sees unlikely that whoever takes over will be closing the gap to the Seagulls anytime soon.