Derby County 4 Brighton & Hove Albion 1 (6 -2 on aggregate)
The Albion suffered their heaviest defeat of the season at the iPro Stadium as the Rams ran rings around Oscar Garcia’s men.
The Seagulls looked quite comfortable until captain Gordon Greer limped off on 23 minutes with an ankle injury and was replaced by the inexperienced Adam Chicksen, although it was Stephen Ward who went to centre half.
Albion went to pieces, a little after this.
A central defensive pairing of Ward and Lewis Dunk bore little comparison to that of Greer and Matt Upson who have been Albion’s defensive spine this season. But with Upson also injured, the Seagulls were fully exposed.
A nervous-looking Tomasz Kuszczak didn’t help Albion’s cause. The Polish keeper was hestitant collecting a backpass from Inigo Calderon and elected to punch instead of catch a couple corners and crosses.
With just over half and hour gone Derby’s teen sensation Will Hughes audaciously flicked a shot past Kuszczak with his heel to put Derby 1-0 up on the day and with a clear 3-1 aggregate lead.
It stayed that way until half time although just before the break Chicksen picked out Leo Ulloa, who with just Lee Grant to beat, saw his shot saved by the legs of the Derby keeper from close range.
To the suprise of many, Garcia failed to make changes at the start of the second half although Albion needed to score at least twice.
On 56 minutes Chris Martin bustled his way past Dunk and Keith Andrews to score his fourth goal against the Albion this season.
It was now pretty much over for the Seagulls and only then were Kazenga LuaLua and Craig Mackail-Smith introduced for the largely ineffectual Will Buckley and Andrea Orlandi.
Neither of the substitutes had much impact and Derby were content to sit back a little and allow Albion some possession.
Rohan Ince showed some nice touches and industry in midfield but Derby, especially Jake Buxton, had the measure of Ulloa and Mackail-Smith.
With 15 minutes left young midfielder George Thorne blasted a half volley from 25 yards past Kuszczak to put the result far beyond doubt at 3-0.
Albion’s main aim now was to keep the score down. Back in 1991, Albion thrashed Millwall 6-2 over two legs in the play-offs and that was in danger of being eclipsed.
With three minutes left it was. Jeff Hendrick combined well with substitute Patrick Bamford and, after a neat one-two, Hendrick scored to put Derby 4-0 up.
Before the end LuaLua gave Albion fans a little something to cheer as he pulled a consolation goal back.
But the team who gatecrashed the play-offs didn’t stay at the party for long.
Albion played Derby four times this season and lost four times and looked a little out of their depth in this match.
The playing staff will be now be overhauled, probably in the next few days.
Keith Andrews, Stephen Ward and Jesse Lingard will return to their parent clubs.
All three goal keepers (Kuszczak, Brezovan and Ankergren) are now out of contract as are Matt Upson, Inigo Calderon and Bruno Saltor.
And with the injury-prone Andrea Orlandi and the out-of-favour David Lopez also having contracts expiring next month, it could be a radically new-look Albion next season.
And a top two finish must be the main objective.