BURTON ALBION 0 - 1 BRIGHTONThe Brewers five game unbeaten run in the Sky Bet Championship was brought to an end by Tomer Hemed's 88th minute penalty to send Brighton into the thick of the promotion race.
Albion's propensity for conceding late goals struck again as an injury time equaliser for Fulham on Tuesday was followed up by a penalty against Brighton that denied the Brewers so much as a point. Not many would deny that Brighton were the better side and deserving of the win but Burton's never say die attitude and resilient defending almost secured what would have been another vital point in their bid to establish themselves in the second tier this season.
It all looked to be heading for a goalles stalemate until the otherwise superb John Brayford conceded possession on the half way line and with Brighton able to counter through the impressive Anthony Knockaert the Burton defence was immediately under pressure and Lee Williamson was adjudged to have brought down Jiri Skalak as he tried to latch onto Knockaert's threaded pass. Hemed showed no sign of any nerves as he ruthlessly despatched the spot kick to secure all three points for Chris Hughton's side.
With injuries and suspensions biting deep into the Burton squad manager Nigel Clough was forced into three changes to the side that battled to a more than creditable draw at Fulham on Tuesday evening. The good news was that a depleted backline was boosted by the return from injury of Tom Flanagan. The young defender was forced to pull out of the Northern Ireland squad with an injury but was back for the Brewers to face the Seagulls. Also returning to the side were Will Miller and Jamie Ward, the latter making his home debut for the Brewers. Stuart Beavon was fit enough for the bench having picked up a knock at Craven Cottage and there was a call up for second year scholar Joe Sbarra who has been amongst the goals for the Brewers second string this season.
A raking pass out from left back Gatean Bong picked out the dangerous Knockaert whose first touch was exemplary. Fortunately for the Brewers they had players racing back to cut out the danger and the Frenchman saw his early shot blocked on the edge of the box.
Knockaert was then given too much room to dart into the box on the end of Jamie Murphy's threaded pass and when the winger went to ground under a challenge from Flanagan it gave referee Geoff Eltringham an early decision to make - the verdict was no penalty but also no yellow card for the forward.
Last season's leading scorer for the Seagulls, Israeli striker Tomer Hemed was eager to sniff out opportunities and keen to try and catch Jon McLaughlin unawares struck an early shot on the turn on 14 minutes but the Brewers keeper was more than equal to it.
Brighton continued to look sharp and incisive going forwards with Flanagan having to hastily clear a free kick behind for a corner that was swung in dangerously towards the back post where Lewis Dunk towered over John Brayford to head wide. Some of Burton's defending left a bit to be desired and there was danger when both McLaughlin and Naylor skewed clearances but Jamie Murphy was unable to profit. Naylor was mightily relieved moments later when Jiri Skalak swung in a menacing cross that curled inches wide of the far post via a deflection off the Brewers stand in centre back.
Albion almost grabbed a goal out of nothing on 25 minutes. Ward swung in a low cross from the right and the ball cannoned back out towards Irvine at the near post, the Aussie forcing a smart stop from David Stockdale at his near post with a first time effort.
Hemed was even prepared to have a go from his own half. Spotting McLaughlin off his line the striker picked up the ball on the edge of the centre circle and instinctly went for goal. Albion's number 1 cast an anxious glance over his shoulder before watching the ball bounce wide.
The Brewers were coming more into the game and there were half shouts for a penalty when Choudhury pounced on a poor ball by Bong. It was all a bit untidy as he made his way into the penalty area but again Mr Eltringham was not going to entertain any thoughts of giving a penalty. Brighton's back line were coming under a spell of pressure but as the ball pinged around the edge of their penalty area, Brighton watched as Ward fired a rising drive too high to trouble Stockdale.
After a quiet spell Knockaert sprang to life again on 36 minutes, some exquisite close control working a chance for a volley that McLaughlin had to pluck out of the air under his crossbar to avert the danger.
Will Miller, buzzing around in attack for the Brewers showed goo awareness to turn on the edge of the area and get a left footed shot away but unfortunately it lacked the power to seriously trouble Stockdale.
Brighton were certainly stretching the Brewers at the back and Dale Stephens was quick to latch on to a clearance from Naylor a fizzing shot more than stinging the palms of the Brewers stopper who needed two attempts to hang on to the ball.
Stockdale was forced into an awkward save from Ward as half time beckoned. Ward was invited to run at the Brighton back line and a viciously swerving effort was beaten away by the Brighton keeper who could not afford to risk trying to catch the ball.
Half time: Burton Albion 0-0 Brighton & Hove Albion
Murphy was quickly about his business of creating chances in the second half getting to the bye line and pulling back a wicked ball that flew through the six yard box with Williamson having to awkwardly clear behind at the expense of a corner. The danger was not over, even when Dunk failed to connect at the back stick and as another corner came in Skalak was wide with his effort from inside the box.
A rare poor pass from Brayford had Albion back pedalling as Brighton countered with an overlap but Murphy this time was foiled by McLaughlin who got his angles right to keep out his low drive.
Stephens was the first player to go in referee Eltringham's book as he clumsily brought down Lloyd Dyer, looking to work room for a cross on the left.
Dunk went closest of all on 53 minutes as another corner from the Brighton left was fed in for the giants up from the back. Finding himself unmarked inside the six yard box the big centre back got there first but watched on as his meaty header crashed back out off the face of the crossbar.
Tom Naylor followed Stephens into the book for a challenge on Hemed. The Brighton striker looked to have played the ball too far ahead of him as he launched a swift counter and Naylor was lured into a challenge that was marginally late but which sent Hemed sprawling.
Clough turned to Marcus Harness for his first change on the hour mark, the winger taking over from Miller in the hope that he could conjure something similar to his cross at Wolves last week that helped secure a point.
Burton were struggling to get out of their own half and having to defend doggedly and in disciplined fashion. Corners were proving difficult to defend against with the delivery of Knockaert from the right posing problems and Shane Duffy went close to converting rushing in to meet another corner with a meaty header that flashed over the crossbar.
Ben Fox was sent on for his League debut on 76 minutes. The youngster was able to add fresh legs as Choudhury played no further part in the game and certainly did not look out of place with a couple of decent runs into Brighton territory late on as the Brewers tried to relieve the pressure on their goal.
Harness did extend Stockdale with a booming cross that the Brighton keeper flapped at with Lloyd Dyer unable to get to the loose ball ahead of a Brighton defender.
Brighton had ground out a vital 1-0 victory in the week against high flying Huddersfield and this time they left it late with barely two minutes of normal time left when John Brayford's pass on the halfway line was picked off, allowing the visitors to raid forward and win the penalty that ultimately left Clough's side unrewarded for another gritty and stoic defensive performance.