Mauricio Pochettino admits Reece James’ red card was ‘painful’ for Chelsea

Mauricio Pochettino admitted Reece James’ late red card was “painful” after Chelsea moved to the verge of European qualification with a gripping 2-1 Premier League win at Brighton.

Blues captain James was dismissed for the second time in an injury-plagued season for kicking out at Seagulls striker Joao Pedro in the 88th minute at the Amex Stadium.

The England defender, who came on in the 69th minute for only his second appearance since December following hamstring surgery, faces a four-match ban and cannot play again before Gareth Southgate names his preliminary Euro 2024 squad.

Goals from Cole Palmer and substitute Christopher Nkunku lifted Chelsea to sixth position – three points below fifth-placed Tottenham and three above Newcastle and Manchester United – going into the final day at home to Bournemouth.

“It’s difficult to give my opinion because I didn’t have time to see the action,” Blues boss Pochettino said of James’ costly retaliation.

“Maybe it’s the frustration of him.

Cole Palmer celebrates the opener
Cole Palmer celebrates the opener (Adam Davy/PA)

“But, yes, painful. Painful because it was a fantastic night of football and he’s our captain and a really important player.

“I’m disappointed because now he’s going to miss the next game and maybe a few games in next season.”

Brighton substitute Danny Welbeck claimed an added-time consolation after Palmer registered his 22nd Premier League goal of the season with a delightful first-half looping header and Nkunku slotted home in the 64th minute.

Lewis Dunk suffered an injury
Lewis Dunk suffered an injury (Adam Davy/PA)

Albion skipper Lewis Dunk is now a doubt for the forthcoming European Championship in Germany, having been forced off by a knee injury at half-time of an incident-packed contest.

Asked if the centre-back was OK, Seagulls head coach Roberto De Zerbi replied: “No, because the substitution was for an injury.

“I hope for him it can be not a big problem.

“I don’t know if he can be available for Sunday (against Manchester United) but more important for him the possibility to be available for the Euros.”

On the day it was announced top-flight clubs will vote on whether to scrap VAR for next season, the technology played a major role in Sussex.

Referee Michael Salisbury checks the pitch side VAR monitor
Referee Michael Salisbury checks the pitch side VAR monitor (Adam Davy/PA)

Chelsea had a first-half penalty award overturned after replays showed Albion forward Facundo Buonanotte won the ball when tackling Marc Cucurella, while James’ dismissal followed intervention from Stockley Park.

However, referee Michael Salisbury did not review the pitch-side monitor when Seagulls winger Simon Adingra appeared to be fouled by Malo Gusto at 1-0.

De Zerbi felt his side were denied a blatant penalty and criticised the performance of Salisbury, while empathising with James, who was also red carded in Chelsea’s 4-1 thrashing at Newcastle in November.

“We have to speak of the level of the referees like the level of the coaches,” said the Italian.

“Behind the VAR, there are people and we have to analyse the level of the referees.

Brighton manager Roberto De Zerbi applauds the club's supporters at full-time
Brighton manager Roberto De Zerbi applauds the club’s supporters at full-time (Adam Davy/PA)

“I didn’t like the referee today. But not for the penalty because nothing changed for us if we win or lose this game (in terms of league position).

“I didn’t like the personality, the control of the game.

“I’m sorry for the red card of James because I think it was a normal reaction.

“If you have played in your life football it can happen this reaction but the penalty of Adingra was clear, it was clear from my bench. On TV, it’s more clear.”

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