Brighton boss Chris Hughton admits he was relieved to edge a point closer to Premier League survival after his team battled back to salvage an important 1-1 draw with Newcastle.
Albion looked set to blow a big chance to move further clear of 18th-placed Cardiff following a poor first half which saw Ayoze Perez put the visitors ahead.
But Pascal Gross pounced 15 minutes from time to give the Seagulls a four-point advantage over their relegation rivals – as well as a vastly superior goal difference – with just two fixtures remaining.
Neil Warnock’s Bluebirds must now win against Crystal Palace and Manchester United to stand a realistic chance of catching Brighton and avoiding an immediate return to the Championship.
“(It’s) a step, but probably my responsibility is really not to feel too much until we know that, mathematically, we are safe,” said Hughton
“We have two games left. The cautious part of me has to think that anything can happen.
“Cardiff are home to (Crystal) Palace in their next game and, if they win that one, then it’s momentum going into their last game at (Manchester) United.
“Certainly it’s a better feeling at this moment than it was at half-time.
“Relaxed isn’t the word. It’s relief from what looked such a poor performance in the first half and coming away from today’s game with no points to showing a really spirited second half, better quality performance that allowed us to get something from the game.”
After Cardiff lost 1-0 at relegated Fulham earlier on Saturday, Brighton knew victory would virtually secure their top-flight status.
But they began sloppily at the Amex Stadium and could have few complaints about falling behind to Perez’s thumping 18th-minute finish.
It looked like being another frustrating day for the home fans but Gross arrived on cue to end the club’s six-game goal drought in the league and significantly ease relegation fears ahead of games against Arsenal and Manchester City.
“I don’t think the (Fulham-Cardiff) result had anything to do with it (the disappointing first half),” added Hughton.
“You should have a team of players filled with confidence.
“We afforded them far too much room and I don’t think we worked hard enough in that first half.
“It was a reality check for where we are. A few harsh words, which is normal after a first-half performance like that.
“But credit to the players.”
Newcastle boss Rafael Benitez, who felt his side were unfortunate not to take all three points, says he is still waiting to hear from the club about his future with his contract set to expire in the summer.
Asked if there were any updates on his position, Benitez said: “Not really. Today was about the game. The day we have any news, we’ll let you know.
“Every day counts because in the end you want to do everything possible to start working. But we will see.
“This morning I saw Lee (Charnley, managing director). We talk every week. I’m relaxed. It’s not depending on me. I am waiting.
“It’s very clear: everyone has his own ideas. What do we want to do in the future? That is the key.
“If we have different visions, we’ll have to find a point in between that we are happy with, if not we have to talk and try and move forward as soon as possible.”
- Press Association