Oscar Garcia’s playoff dreams were kept alive as a late goal from Leonardo Ulloa was enough to take all three points from Paul Dickov’s Doncaster Rovers.
Garcia had to be patient as he watched his side test Paul Dickov’s rejuvenated Doncaster defence early on, causing them problems up both wings with Andrea Orlandi on the left and nineteen-year-old Solly March on the right, but failing to truly test Sam Johnstone in goal for the Rovers.
A mixture of a solid Doncaster defence, which has conceded just two goals in their last four fixtures, and a Brighton attack, which has failed to score in their last three league games, led to a frustrated Garcia prowling the touchline as his side saw a number of opportunities wasted in the first half an hour of the tie.
Brighton dominated with Doncaster barely getting into the final third and Solly March who should have opened the scoring after half an hour. Left-back Stephen Ward played a delightful one-two with Andrea Orlandi down the left and whipped in a dangerous cross that March couldn’t quite latch onto.
Having gone nine games without a win, seven of which being losses, before this unbeaten four-game run, Paul Dickov set out a compact side which held firm in the first half. However, that poor goal scoring record of Albion’s had a lot to do with the sides going into half time without breaking the deadlock.
Dickov brought Paul Quinn on for Gabriel Tamas at half time as the Romanian defender had struggled with the link up play between Stephen Ward and Andrea Orlandi down the left. The change failed to make a difference as Quinn also had difficulties with the pace and trickery of Orlandi, who burst past the Scot and crossed to the feet of Leonardo Ulloa. The Argentinian swiveled and shot but the ball fell straight into Johnstone’s welcoming gloves.
The Rovers did manage to test Kuszczak early in the second half with Billy Sharp laying the ball back to James Coppinger, who hit the target with his strike but never looked likely to beat the Polish keeper.
Garcia brought on the popular Kazenga LuaLua for Orlandi on the hour mark and Brighton increased the pressure on the Rovers’ defence. This gave Quinn a new problem at right back with LuaLua’s pace also beating the Scot on a number of occasions.
David Rodriguez, Brighton’s Transfer Deadline Day signing from Celta Vigo, showed some silky skill and frustrated James Husband down the right wing as the Spaniard grew into the game in his full debut for Brighton. Rodriguez tested Johnstone at his near post as he struck a powerful drive at the near post which was palmed away to safety.
Brighton then appeared to have broken the deadlock midway through the second half as LuaLua put in a deflected cross which was tapped in by Ulloa, but the striker was deemed offside by the officials.
One minute later, the Argentinian did find the back of the net and this time it put Albion into the lead. Stephen Ward, who had caused Doncaster problems down the left throughout, whipped in a teasing cross which Ulloa latched onto and sent his header looping into the back of the net. It was the 27 year-old’s first goal since Boxing Day.
Paul Dickov’s afternoon went from bad to worse as any chance of an equaliser was made increasingly difficult by his side going down to ten men. Sharp saw red as he appeared to strike Brighton left-back Ward in the face.
With the loss of Liam Bridcutt to former Albion manager, Gus Poyet’s Sunderland, Oscar Garcia deployed Rohan Ince into the holding position in midfield to protect his defence; a defence which has only conceded twenty-five goals this season, only QPR and Burnley have a better record.
Ince is proving to be a perfect replacement for Bridcutt, as the former Chelsea trainee provided a calm and composed performance in the Seagull’s midfield. The youngster looks to be a strong core to Garcia’s side helping to provide another clean sheet at home and allow the attacking players license to get forward.
The win lifts Albion back up to eighth in the Championship, four points off the play-off positions, whilst Doncaster slip down to twentieth with their first defeat in four games.
Written by Tom Roddy