Roberto De Zerbi was pleased the Brighton fans embraced Moises Caicedo in spite of the midfielder’s failed attempt to join Arsenal during the January transfer window.
Caicedo started on the bench in the 1-0 victory over Bournemouth, his first match since expressing his desire to leave the club in an open letter posted on social media.
He had been given time off until the closure of the transfer window and received a warm reception from the home support when he came on for Billy Gilmour in the 57th minute at the Amex Stadium.
De Zerbi said: “For Moises I’m really happy to the answer of our fans.
“It wasn’t only my problem because Caicedo is not my problem but I think together we are stronger with Moises and with our fans with their support.”
Brighton moved up to sixth with the victory, sealed by Kaoru Mitoma’s 87th-minute header – the Japan international’s fifth goal in his last seven Premier League appearances.
Mitoma connected with substitute Jeremy Sarmiento’s cross and nodded into the top left corner. Cherries keeper Neto was able to get a hand on the ball but could not keep it out.
The visitors, who signed six reinforcements in January, put up commendable fight but the hosts more often seemed closest to a breakthrough.
“I’m really happy,” said De Zerbi, who took over from now-Chelsea boss Graham Potter in September. “I think it was a very difficult game but we knew this week the difficulty of the game.
“I think it was one of the best games of my time in terms of quality of play, number of shots, attitude to finding the win.
“It was a very difficult game to win. This result for us is very important but we deserved to win. Absolutely.”
De Zerbi refused to make any predictions about where his high-flying side, who have now picked up 13 points from their last six top-flight contests, could finish, insisting his focus remains on next weekend’s M25 derby with rivals Crystal Palace.
“I think we have to think positive,” he said. “But we have to think step by step and the next step is Crystal Palace and we will see during the season.
“We would like to give [the fans] more satisfaction next Saturday because for us Crystal Palace is not a normal game.”
Bournemouth boss Gary O’Neil remained optimistic despite his side slipping to 19th after fellow relegation battlers Everton pulled off a stunning 1-0 upset against Premier League leaders Arsenal.
He said: “I thought it was a good performance. You don’t want to sit here after a loss telling people it was a good performance but I thought it was.
“I thought if you look at the facts of it, of course Brighton dominated the ball but if you look at chances created we caused them some problems.
“So yeah, it’s an improvement. We still have three young lads on the bench at the minute, we have some injury issues, so I expect it to improve further from where it is.”
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