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Npower Championship 2011/12: Brighton & Hove Albion 2-1 Doncaster Rovers

Newly promoted Brighton & Hove Albion welcomed Doncaster Rovers to their new home at the Amex Stadium, looking to get their Npower Championship campaign for 2011/12 off to a winning start, which they achieved despite going a goal behind thanks to a brace of goals in the final minutes from substitute Will Buckley on the afternoon of Saturday 6th August 2011.

Brighton collected three points after winning 2-1 in an event-filled season opener.

A packed house had come to the Amex Stadium, which cost £105million to construct, to see the 2010/11 League One Champions open their Championship season against Doncaster Rovers, who narrowly stayed in the Championship last season.

Despite Brighton starting with their record £2.5million signing, Craig Mackail-Smith, and Doncaster having lost seven of their first choice players through injury, it was Rovers who enjoyed the better opening, with Sharp going close in the opening exchanges.

Doncaster were perhaps a little fortunate to remain with a full contingent soon after, though, when Spurr left the ground in a full-blooded slide tackle attempt which was slightly late. Referee Ilderton produced only a yellow card despite cries of “off” ringing round the Amex Stadium.

Moments later and home fans had more to complain about, as LuaLua, on loan from Premier League Newcastle United to the Seagulls once more, burst into the area and appeared to have been knocked to the ground. The referee decided there was no foul – perhaps rightly – but also that the player had dived, and produced a yellow card for the Brighton midfielder which so incensed manager Gus Poyet that he was sent to the stands soon after with the clock yet to tick past 30 minutes.

It was then Brighton’s turn to have a shot on goal, as Barnes found himself clean through, one-on-one with Doncaster goalkeeper, Woods, well inside the area. The ‘keeper rushed out and spread himself well to smother the shot which squirmed through him and would have ended up in the net but for a good goal-line covering header from Rovers’ captain, George Friend.

Another contentious decision came in this increasingly heated affair when Doncaster’s Naylor put in a poorly timed, studs-up tackle in the middle of the park, only to receive a yellow card.

Doncaster finished the half by grabbing the lead with a scrappy goal through Sharp on 39 minutes. Brighton were caught in possession in midfield by Mason, who quickly surged goalwards before attempting a shot from just outside the area. The shot was blocked, but ricocheted through to Billy Sharp – who has been the subject of Premier League interest of late – who had found 5 yards inside the penalty area. Sharp volleyed right-footed first time into the legs of the diving Ankergren in Brighton’s goal, and watched as the ball span and bounced towards the post, hitting the inside, before rolling agonisingly slowly over the line as the defenders watched in horror.

1-0 Doncaster, as the half was to finish.

In the second half, Doncaster started brightly again, though visiting fans were upset to see their goal hero, Billy Sharp, carried from the pitch after being chopped down from behind by a poor tackle from Brighton’s centre half, Dunk. The player received a yellow card for the tackle, but, as twice earlier in the match, could not have argued if the referee had shown red.

Gus Poyet had brought Noone on to replace LuaLua for Brighton just after half time, and it was he who had the chance to level the scores when put clean through, but shot high and wide with his left foot following a good flick-on from Ashley Barnes.

Brighton seemed buoyed by this attempt, however, and were soon testing Woods again with new boy Macail-Smith hitting a low drive towards the bottom right corner from within the area following good buildup play. Brighton’s record signing found the Doncaster goalkeeper too good, though, and was denied a debut goal.

It was to be another Poyet substitution that made the difference. Will Buckley had been brought on after 75 minutes to replace Mason in the Brighton midfield, and the player soon had the home side on level terms after a long free-kick was half cleared to him. Buckley powered a right-footed shot at goal from fully 20 yards which beat the goalkeeper to the sound of rapturous applause.

Buckley’s perfect rasping half-volley had gone straight into the bottom right corner of Woods’ net with the clock in it’s 83rd minute, justifying his £1million price tag.

Mackail-Smith then went close to paying back some of his transfer fee moments later, but was again denied by Woods from outside the Doncaster area, as Brighton piled on the pressure seeking an opening day home win.

Doncaster had a half chance near the death when Hayter was marginally first to a headed back corner, but the Rovers man missed the target and came off second best as he collided with two Brighton defenders following through from his shot.

Deep in injury time – 8 minutes of injury time – Brighton fans got the break they were hoping for as one Poyet substitute, Noone, jinked clear of his man before threading the other sub, Buckley, through with a slide-rule pass. Will Buckley then showed equal parts pace and composure to race onto the ball, open his body, and curl a shot past Woods into the far corner of the Doncaster net to win the match and send Albion fans home happy.

The 2-1 win was fully deserved by Brighton, who had more of the possession and more shots on target, however, Doncaster will return from the newly built Amex Stadium feeling that at least a point was well within their grasp. The difference today was Will Buckley, who stole the show on debut with a twenty minute cameo that showed Brighton fans just why Gus Poyet felt Buckley was worth £1million of their club’s money in the summer.

Brighton 2-1 Doncaster

(HT 0-1)
Buckley 83
Sharp 39
Buckley 90+8

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Stories from the Sport Desk at The Global Herald.

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