Middlesbrough 1 Brighton & Hove Albion 1
Albion came agonisingly close to automatic promotion but couldn’t find a breakthrough after drawing level with Boro part way through the second half.
Albion uncharacteristically gave away possession far too much.
Young Connor Goldson look overawed by the occasion and gave away a few too many free kicks.
But it was a foul by Liam Rosenior that conceded the free kick that led to Boro’s goal.
The free kick swept in from the right and found its way to Christhian Stuani who swept the ball in from close range.
Soon after David Nugent saw his shot defected over by Goldson.
Albion failed to a have a chance on target in the first half as chairman Tony Bloom looked on nervously.
James Wilson replaced Sam Baldock at the start of the second half as Albion came together as a team more.
Then on 55 minutes came what could have been a huge moment in Albion’s season, even history, as Dale Stephens rose to head home an Anthony Knockaert free kick diagonally into the goal.
Just minutes later though Stephens became involved in a pushing match with Gaston Ramirez and although referee Mike Dean calmed the situation down, the pair clashed again as Stephens tried to win the ball.
Sadly Stephens’s foot was high and the momentum caught Ramirez on the shin.
Although Mr Dean pulled his yellow card the gaping hold in Ramirez leg combined with the Boro players’ protestations changed the referee’s decision to a red card.
Ramirez needed Entonox and was stretchered off.
From that moment, try as they might, Albion were up against it trying to find that life-changing winner.
Just one goal would have seen Albion promoted.
A few decisions went against the Seagulls and Mr Dean confused many with his interpretation of awarding free kicks.
Kazenga LuaLua replaced Gordon Greer as Albion gambled. Maybe thankfully, the Seagulls didn’t have a clear-cut chance at goal in the final quarter of the match. No player will have to think “if only” as they prepare for play-offs.
The first match is against Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough on Friday (13 May). The return leg is on Monday 16 May at the Amex, with a 7.45pm kick-off.
Albion may have to do it all without Dale Stephens. A straight red means that he is now out until next season although Albion may appeal. It could be time for Steve Sidwell to show his worth.