Some eyebrows were raised when Gus Poyet chose to turn down the opportunity to take over at Reading last week, but his decision may look a little more understandable now.
In holding a Nottingham Forest team looking to equal their club record of seven successive league victories, Poyet's Brighton, weakened by illness and injury, displayed a resilience that may yet see them replace the Royals in the Premier League. What a game it was though. Or to be more precise, what a second-half after Forest had completely dominated the first period, but failed to make a breakthrough in the face of stout defence lead by Gordon Greer and Matthew Upson.
An unhappy Poyet switched things around, gave his prolific striker Leonardo Ulloa some support, and saw the 26-year-old Argentinian score one goal and brilliantly create another for midfielder Will Buckley.
Notwithstanding Lewis McGugan's reply, that should have been enough for a famous victory had not Albion's goalkeeper, Casper Ankergren, somehow allowed Henri Lansbury's tame shot to trickle through his legs and over the line in added time.
"I was not happy at half-time," Poyet said. "We were not in the game at all, but we put in a good performance in the second half and should have won. I thought at first it was a deflected shot [by Lansbury], but when I saw the replay I nearly killed myself.
"If we hit a thousand balls like that at Casper in training he would stop them all. But that's why I didn't want my son to be a goalkeeper. It's a terrible position."
The ease with which Lansbury skinned Albion's left-back, Wayne Bridge, in the second minute did not bode well for the visitors, for all that the subsequent cross was cleared.
As were the five or six that followed as Forest put their opponents under a good deal of early pressure.
Ankergren looked less than secure when he chose to beat out Lansbury's early shot, and Simon Cox headed over after an impressively patient and precise passing move, but the best early chance went to Andy Reid, who having worked himself into space on the left side of the Albion penalty area, saw his attempt to chip Ankergren sail both wide and high of the goal.
Forest's Darius Henderson then saw two shots blocked in a goalmouth scramble, but the red waves were breaking on the rocks that were Greer and Upson, and gradually the storm began to peter out.
While Brighton's determination was impressive, however, Poyet was clearly less happy with their failure to make an impression going forward.
He took off Kazenga LuaLua for a central midfielder in Dean Hammond and pushed Buckley up front alongside Ulloa.
Within five minutes of the restart Ulloa had his first real shooting opportunity. His effort was disappointing, but not so the instinctive goal-bound volley which Danny Collins somehow deflected for a corner soon afterwards.
How much Collins knew about it was uncertain, but the Argentine's luck changed immediately as Forest failed to clear the corner and Ulloa drove a shot through a crowd of players and into the far corner.
It was his ninth goal in 12 games since he was signed for a bargain £2million from Almeria in the January transfer window.
It took Forest a few minutes to absorb the blow, but having done so they built up an impressive head of steam in the search for an equaliser. Ankergren saved well from Henderson, but with eight minutes remaining Forest manager Billy Davies's introduction of McGugan paid dividends when the midfielder, from a narrow angle and with the aid of a slight deflection, looped a shot over Ankergren and into the far corner. The sold-out City Ground erupted, only to quieten again when Ulloa, cool and aware in the Forest penalty area, gave Buckley time and space to drive firmly past Forest goalkeeper Karl Darlow.
That should have been that, and would have been had Ankergren, who had played so well, not somehow allowed Lansbury's tame effort to go through his hands and between his legs.
"If it had been a boxing match it would have been stopped at half-time," Davies grumbled. "We just didn't get the little breaks. I'm delighted with the players' courage in keeping going. Even at 2-2 we were still trying to win the game."
Nottingham Forest (4-4-2): Darlow; Hutchinson (Jara, 68), Ward, Collins, Cohen; Majewski (McGugan, 73), Guedioura (Sharp, 79), Lansbury, Reid; Henderson, Cox.
Brighton (4-5-1): Ankergren; Calderon, Upson, Greer, Bridge; Buckley, Cofts, Lopez, Orlandi (Dunk, 90), LuaLua (Hammond, h-t); Ulloa.
Referee James Linington.
- More about:
- Matthew Upson
- Nottingham Forest
- Premier League
- Reading FC
- Stephen Carter
- The Carling Cup
- West Bromwich Albion
- West Ham United