By Tim Hodges from the Amex
Brighton and Hove Albion 1 Derby County 2
The Albion lost their Champoinship play-off semi-final first leg against Derby, after a bizzare own goal from Polish keeper Tomasz Kuszczak.
But it was the Seagulls who went in front on 18 minutes with a fierce strike from Jesse Lingard, only for recent tormentor Chris Martin to convert a penalty for the Rams ten minutes later.
Albion started the game at breakneck speed, with Keith Andrews and Will Buckley combining well and Albion winning a succesion of early corners
But Derby themselves were moving the ball around at a fast pace. Andrea Orlandi was fortunate not to be booked very early on for a foul Craig Forsyth, but minutes later Inigo Calderon was booked for a trip on the same player.
But soon after Albion did make all their early possession count. A free-kick from Stephen Ward was flicked on by Will Buckley, Calderon fed the ball to Lingard who fired home after his first attempt was blocked.
It was Albion’s first play-off goal since Leon Knight scored in the 2004 League One Final.
Albion had at least two good shouts for a penalty prior to this but referee Roger East was unimpressed. On half an hour though he spotted Matt Upson’s trip on Forsyth and Chris Martin dispatched his third goal against the Albion this season from the penalty spot to make it 1-1.
Derby were getting on top and maintaing possession well. Just before half time Martin shot from the edge of the area, his shot hitting the crossbar then rebounding off the hapless Kusczcak, into the open goal to put Derby ahead.
Derby tried to finish the Albion off early in the second half, with Jamie Ward shooting into the side netting when well placed.
But it was Ward on the overlap who was trying to create chances for the Albion.
Sadly it just wasn’t happening for Leo Ulloa or Kazenga LuaLua, who replaced Buckley after half time.
Lingard went missing in action. Andrews misplaced far too many passes and Jake Forster-Caskey appeared a yard off the pace.
Almost out of nothing, Ulloa mishit a shot into the ground, although it was on target, but Derby keeper Lee Grant managed tip it on to the cross bar.
Grant then made further good saves from Lingard, acrobatically tipping over a fine strike from Ward.
Craig Mackail-Smith came on and looked sharp and very tenacious for the last nine or so minutes but Albion could not carve out an equaliser.
Derby have now beaten the Seagulls three time this season.
The teams meet for a fourth time late on Sunday afternoon (11 May) at the Ipro Staduim.
How ironic if the Albion were to win the fourth and most crucial encounter.