Brighton celebrated their opening match at the Amex Community Stadium in thrilling fashion yesterday.
Gus Poyet's team trailed for more than an hour before Will Buckley, a £1m summer recruit from Watford, scored the winning goals for last season's League One champions. Buckley's second strike came in the eighth minute of injury time after Doncasterhad their two leading scorers from last season, Billy Sharp and James Hayter, taken off on stretchers.
When Brighton left the Goldstone Ground in 1997, few among their supporters would have imagined that it would take so long to find a new permanent home. What a contrast the Amex Community Stadium provides to the bleak Withdean Stadium, the athletics arena where the club played for the last 12 years. Four miles from the city centre, the new stadium has sweeping roofs that complement the majestic South Downs countryside.
This was the second time Doncaster have been bit-part players on a significant occasion in Brighton's recent history. They were the opponents in the last match at the Goldstone, when a goal by Stuart Storer, who was presented to the crowd at half-time yesterday, gave Brighton victory. Having finished one place above the relegation zone last season, Doncaster are one of the favourites for the drop. However, Sean O'Driscoll, the division's longest-serving manager, is a shrewd operator who has performed wonders on limited resources.
Keeping Sharp, who has been the target for several clubs, will be O'Driscoll's most important task in the coming weeks. After the match the manager's greatest concern was not the result but the fitness of Sharp and Hayter, who have ankle and knee injuries respectively. O'Driscoll said he would not know the extent of their problems for a day or two.
Amid the party surrounding the new stadium, Doncaster might have felt like gate-crashers, but O'Driscoll's team were the best in the first half. Sharp wasted an opportunity after 18 minutes, missing from 10 yards, but made no mistake from similar range seven minutes before the break. Gary Dicker lost possession and as Doncaster swept forward Ryan Mason's shot was deflected to Sharp, who scored via the near post.
Brighton created little until Kazenga LuaLua found space in the penalty area on 27 minutes. When the on-loan Newcastle United striker went to ground referee Eddie Ilderton showed him a yellow card. Poyet flew into a rage on the touchline, sending the water bottles flying, and was subsequently banished to the stand.
The home side dominated the last half hour. Craig Noone shot wide after breaking through the middle and Craig Mackail-Smith, a £3.25m summer signing from Peterborough, shot straight at Gary Wood, the Doncaster goalkeeper, after being cleverly set up by Buckley, who had come on as a substitute after 74 minutes.
Brighton's pressure finally told after 82 minutes. When Doncaster failed to clear a free kick the ball fell to Buckley, who hit a beautifully timed half-volley inside the near post from the edge of the penalty area.
With 97 minutes on the clock even better was to follow. Noone created space for himself on the touchline before finding Buckley, whose coolness in steering the ball wide of Wood was in inverse proportion to the pandemonium in the crowd.
Poyet talked afterwards about his team's fitness and "winning mentality", but praised Doncaster. O'Driscoll gave credit to Brighton for sticking to their passing game but was disappointed to lose after his team had led until eight minutes from time. "In the Championship you can't take anything for granted," he said.
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