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Brighton 1 Chelsea 2: Blues dreaming of fifth place as Palmer and Nkunku score

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COLE PALMER’S season gets better and better, while Reece James’ could hardly get worse.

Chelsea’s superstar Palmer has single-handedly guided the club from the depths of mid-table to what should be continental football next season with his elite goal-getting prowess.

Cole Palmer scored as Chelsea beat Brighton 2-1

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Cole Palmer scored as Chelsea beat Brighton 2-1Credit: Getty
Christopher Nkunku was also on target as Chelsea moved into 6th place

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Christopher Nkunku was also on target as Chelsea moved into 6th placeCredit: Getty

His 22nd of the Premier League term – a smooth looping header in the 34th minute – helped down Brighton to lift the Blues into a Europa League-beckoning sixth spot.

And as if Palmer’s shoulders are not heavy enough, he will surely be expected to replicate this stunning form for England in Germany this summer at the Euros.

But what of James? An injury-plagued season and a straight red here coming off the bench which will see him miss yet more football for both club and country with a major tournament looming and friendly auditions on the horizon.

It was an idiotic 88th-minute kick-out at Joao Pedro off the ball on a night when VAR was under the microscope more than ever.

Christopher Nkunku stepped off the bench to double the lead in the 64th minute with just his third goal in a Chelsea shirt, but the away end sung Palmer’s name into the night, even after Danny Welbeck’s injury time consolation.

Three Lions boss Gareth Southgate is notoriously safe in his selection process, yet you simply cannot ignore the elegance and electricity that Palmer possesses right now – and you cannot ignore James’ dramatic plummeting form.

What a £40m signing Palmer has been since arriving from Manchester City, taking Pep Guardiola’s preferred main man in Erling Haaland – who has 27 Prem goals so far – all the way for that Golden Boot with one outing remaining.

A fourth successive top flight victory for the first time since October 2022 has steadied the ship and calmed choppy waters at Chelsea. Progress is – finally – being made in West London.

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On the South Coast, Robert De Zerbi’s Seagulls end this historic campaign – where they have competed on four fronts domestically and on the continent – battling for a top 10 presence.

One win in their last nine in the Prem was not what De Zerbi had envisioned, yet the Italian knows that with their injury crisis soon behind them, next season bodes yet more promise.

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The Italian coach – now expected to remain at Brighton for another year at least – made two changes from last weekend as Pedro and Tariq Lamptey came in.

Poch altered his line-up by just one – Thiago Silva dropping out for Malo Gusto, while £115m summer signing Moises Caicedo made his first return to the Amex.

But in the 16th minute, another ex-Seagull in Marc Cucurella thought he had won a penalty following Facundo Buonanotte’s lunge.

Ref Michael Salisbury had no hesitation, that was until VAR requested a monitor review which showed Buonanotte had just won the ball. Who needs VAR, huh?

Cole Palmer gave Chelsea the lead

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Cole Palmer gave Chelsea the leadCredit: Reuters
Injury-ravaged Christopher Nkunku fired in a second

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Injury-ravaged Christopher Nkunku fired in a secondCredit: Reuters

No intervention needed for Palmer’s brilliance – guiding Cucurella’s cross over Verbruggen with ease and arrogance, matched only by his ‘chilly’ celebration.

Brighton responded. Lamptey was influential before he was involved in a nasty off-the-ball collision that decked Mykhailo Mudryk with Nkunku replacing the Ukrainian soon after.

VAR checked and waved on. Palmer almost found another from Malo Gusto’s delivery but was denied by Lewis Dunk’s block.

Nicolas Jackson had a flick-on ruled out for a foul in the build-up and Pedro smacked the bar with his header.

Reece James was shown a straight red for kicking out at Joao Pedro

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Reece James was shown a straight red for kicking out at Joao PedroCredit: Premier League
James faces a bumper four-game ban

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James faces a bumper four-game banCredit: Getty
Danny Welbeck pulled one back late on but Brighton could not get an equaliser

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Danny Welbeck pulled one back late on but Brighton could not get an equaliserCredit: PA

The end-to-end madness continued after the break, coinciding with Brighton skipper Dunk being subbed off with injury.

Palmer, Gusto and Jackson all squandered big early chances and Pascal Gross somehow knocked wide from another superb Lamptey pick-out.

Poch was getting edgy over his side’s wastefulness until Nkunku tucked away Gusto’s low cross with aplomb.

VAR had one more spotlight moment, rightly asking ref Salisbury to watch back footage of James – on the pitch for 19 minutes – swiping at Pedro while on the floor. Red all day.

Nevertheless, Chelsea fans can start to dust off their suitcases…

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