With Sunderland awaiting the winners of this FA Cup fifth round tie on the south coast, their manager Gus Poyet and Steve Bruce of Hull City still do not know which of them will face a reunion with former employers in the quarter-final.
As two low-scoring sides produced a predictably tight contest, Bruce's team scored a late equaliser to deny Brighton victory and almost earned a passage into the last eight in added time. David Meyler had a header cleared off the line and with Hull having twice struck the bar in the first half, Bruce was able to claim that they should have avoided what will be a second game in three days following Saturday's important Premier League game at Cardiff.
“Brighton played some smashing football and we found it difficult, especially in the first half,” he said. “But once we got a goal we had two great chances to win it.”
Poyet was manager of Brighton until leaving in acrimonious and confusing circumstances last summer, taking over on Wearside from Paolo di Canio in October. Bruce, who was in charge from 2009-11 and won 2-0 there with Hull last week, is still hoping for another meeting and home advantage this time, giving them the opportunity to match only one previous semi-final appearance, more than 80 years ago.
Meanwhile Brighton, chasing a play-off place in the Championship, have an unwanted additional game, which Poyet's successor Oscar Garcia thought they could have avoided. “First half we were the better side and second half the game was very even,” he said. “After 80 minutes we were in the quarter-final. When you concede a late goal you can be a little disappointed.”
Hull had made nine changes in each of their previous two rounds and still managed 2-0 away victories at Middlesbrough and Southend. Here, they again had to do without the two ineligible new strikers, Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic, but were able to bring back Sone Aluko, who set up the equaliser, for the first time since October and first-choice goalkeeper Allan McGregor after suspension.
Brighton made rather more changes and rode their luck in surviving some uncomfortable moments in defence and taking the lead with a well crafted goal after half-an-hour. The Argentinian striker Leonardo Ulloa played a deft flick to Will Buckley in the centre circle and ran onto a perfect return pass, bisecting a square pair of defenders and dinking the ball over McGregor as the goalkeeper went down.
They were fortunate just before and just after that, however, as the tie finally came to life. First, from a cross by Ahmed Elmohamady, Yannick Sagbo's volley as he fell hit the bar. A minute after the goal, Curtis Davies headed Tom Huddlestone's corner against a similar spot and when Sagbo nudged the rebound at goal, Matthew Upson was lucky that his jab landed in the arms of his goalkeeper Peter Brezovan.
Crossbar or not, the lead could easily have been doubled just before the interval, when the excellent Buckley made another threatening run down the right and crossed for the onrushing and unmarked Ulloa to head a foot wide. It was Buckley's last contribution, Solly March replacing him because of an injury presumably sustained in that incident.
With the game slipping away from Hull midway through the second half, Bruce made a bold double substitution, sending on two extra attacking players in Matty Friar, who scored both goals in the win at Southend, and George Boyd.
There were only six minutes left when Sone Aluko crossed, the defender Lewis Dunk went to ground and Sagbo nipped in ahead of him to score. So Albion were denied a fifth successive home win by a margin of 1-0 and almost beaten too in added time when Jake Forster-Caskey headed off the line from the third substitute Meyler.
Brighton (4-2-3-1): Brezovan; Calderon, Dunk, Upson, Chicksen; Ince, Forster-Caskey; Buckley (March, 46), Andrews, LuaLua (Rodriguez, 89); Ulloa (Obika, 77). Substitutes not used Ankergen (gk), Saltor, Greer, Lopez.
Hull City (4-4-2): McGregor; Elmohamady, Faye (Boyd,67), Davies, Figueroa; Koren, Livermore (Meyler, 81), Huddlestone, Quinn (Fryatt,67); Aluko, Sagbo. Substitutes not used Harper (gk), Bruce, Chester, Henderson.
Referee L Probert (Wiltshire).
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