TWO SECOND half goals condemned Derby County to back-to-back away defeats as Brighton & Hove Albion won 2-0 at the Amex Stadium.
Derby were out of luck in front of goal as Brighton survived heavy spells of early second half pressure to take the lead through a ricocheted finish from substitute Dale Stephens.
Kazenga LuaLua effectively killed the game with a well driven strike – moments after Jesse Lingard skied an effort when well placed as the Rams fell off the Sky Bet Championship summit.
The word impressed on to the players before kick-off from the management team was ‘reaction’.
It is something that the Rams have achieved on a regular basis after setbacks over the course of Steve McClaren’s tenure and they started the contest on the south-coast with purpose and intent as they searched for an early break through.
Jeff Hendrick curls a long range effort over the outstretched fingertips of David Stockdale but was denied by the bar and Craig Bryson flashed another in a strong start to the encounter.
The first half developed into a game of patience with both teams intent on impressing their passing style of play.
A lofted ball over the top caught Richard Keogh, the Rams’ Captain, out and Sam Baldock forced Lee Grant into his first save of the game with a palmed save from the forward’s half volley.
The visitors crafted out the better openings at the other end of the field.
Tom Ince had the next two chances as he, like Hendrick, curled over from the edge of the area, before Stockdale denied the wideman at his feet after a defence splitting pass from Johnny Russell.
As the board was raised to indicate three minutes of added time, Derby constructed a quick passing move – pulling the ball from right to left – before Ince picked up possession, evaded two challenges and lashed a low shot into the midriff of Stockdale.
With the last action of the half, Stockdale produced an outstanding reflex save to ensure the home side went into the interval on level terms.
Russell won a corner after a swift break away and Ince’s set piece was met by the rising Keogh, whose firm header was tipped over by the ‘keeper.
Only a series of near misses and last ditch defending from the hosts prevented Derby from taking an early second half lead.
Jamie Ward was heavily involved on the left as he flashed a cross across goal that narrowly evaded Russell and, after evading two defenders, had an effort deflected over the top of the bar.
With the hour mark approaching, a neat move on the left set Forsyth away and the full back, sliding, cut the ball back to Hendrick who forced another sublime save out of Stockdale.
Chris Hughton’s side rode out the storm and hit back to take the lead with 20 minutes remaining.
A ball into the box was not dealt with and as Ryan Shotton looked to clear, the ball cannoned in off Dale Stephens and into the back of the net.
Derby utilised the bench for the first time of the evening soon after as Jesse Lingard replaced Jamie Ward and the on loan Manchester United man should have levelled a minute later.
Ince received possession on the right and after evading two challenges he whipped a low ball into the six-yard area, which was turned over by Lingard.
The Seagulls punished the Rams in the harshest manner as they went up the other end of the field to double their lead.
A quick move forward saw the ball played to Kazenga LuaLua, who was afforded too much time to pick his spot and the wideman duly took his chance to drill a low effort beyond Grant and into the bottom far corner.
Brighton shut up shop and invited Derby to press forward. Simon Dawkins, on as part of a double change, saw an effort blocked and the Rams’ evening was summed up as Ince had another effort blocked after being picked out in the centre.
Brighton & Hove Albion: Stockdale; Bruno, Greer, Dunk, Bennett; Holla, Kayal (Ledesma, 90), Teixeira (Stephens, 66); Calderon, O'Grady, Baldock (LuaLua, 40)
Substitutes not used: Walton (GK), Hughes, Halford, Best
Derby County: Grant, Shotton, Keogh, Buxton, Forsyth; Mascarell (Dawkins, 76), Bryson, Hendrick; Ince, Ward (Lingard, 71), Russell (Thomas, 76)
Substitutes not used: Roos, Hughes, Albentosa, Warnock