Brighton and their supporters had double cause for celebration yesterday after their first home win over arch-rivals Crystal Palace since 1988 and three points that take them back into the play-off picture following three games without a victory.
The Seagulls drew level on points with sixth-placed Leicester City thanks to two goals either side of half-time from Leonardo Ulloa and another in first-half injury-time from David Lopez in front of a record crowd at the Amex Stadium of 28,499.
Ulloa has now scored eight times in 11 appearances since moving from Almeria in January for £2m and Brighton manager Gustavo Poyet praised the Argentinian's contribution. "[He's] the kind of centre-forward we missed for a year and half after we lost Glenn Murray [to Palace]." said Poyet. "He's got a right and a left foot, he can jump, he can head, move well in the penalty area. He's perfect for English football. Can you imagine if he'd been here in August? What a difference."
Murray, the top scorer in the country with 30 goals, was anonymous even when Palace were on top in the first half. The Eagles threatened only once, when Jonathan Parr raced forward from left-back only to scoop Wilfried Zaha's pass tamely into the arms of Tomasz Kuszczak.
Palace would have moved into second place with a win but they paid for the miss when Ulloa nodded on Liam Bridcutt's forward ball after 43 minutes and raced to the far post to head in Will Buckley's cross with the help of a deflection off Jazz Richards. Then Lopez curled a free-kick over the wall and in off the bar after Kagisho Dikgacoi fouled Buckley.
Ian Holloway, the Palace manager, introduced Kevin Phillips at the interval in an attempt to get a goal back but instead Brighton extended their lead with a goal that Holloway said was "the worst I've seen us let in."
Bridcutt, Lopez and Inigo Calderon played a neat triangle of passes before Bridcutt crossed, Andrea Orlandi headed across goal and Ulloa volleyed in unmarked.
Palace had no answer, and Zaha, signed by Manchester United in January for £15m and loaned back, spent the rest of the game firmly in the pocket of Wayne Bridge – a warning of the challenge he faces next season.
"It was pretty tight until we suddenly found ourselves 2-0 down," said Holloway. "That sums up the Championship. The third goal knocked the stuffing out of us and I don't ever want to see that again. We've got eight games left to do better than that."
Poyet summed up: "It wasn't very pretty, a derby, many mistakes, but when you come here you learn to have to beat Palace. It's a day to stop time, and stay there forever. After the day we went up from League One it's my best as manager – by far."
Brighton (4-1-2-3): Kuszczak; Calderon, Greer, Upson, Bridge; Bridcutt; Lopez (Hammond, 88) Orlandi (Crofts, 63); Buckley, Ulloa , LuaLua.
Crystal Palace (4-2-3-1): Speroni; Richards, Delaney, Ramage (Wilbraham, 67), Parr; Dikgacoi, Jedinak; Bolasie (Phillips, h-t) , Williams (Moritz, h-t), Zaha; Murray.
Referee C Pawson (S Yorkshire).