Albion 0 Middlesbrough 1Albion were dealt a cruel blow by Middlesbrough this afternoon, going down 1-0 the north-east visitors.
Gus Poyet expected there to be little between the two teams ahead of the game and that proved the case with Marvin Emnes’s first-half strike proving the difference, with the help of a telling deflection of Albion skipper Gordon Greer.
The early signs were positive for the Seagulls – which included a return to fitness for Craig Mackail-Smith and Andrew Crofts – as they piled the pressure on the visitors and, in truth, the Boro struggled to get out of their own half.
Wayne Bridge was his normal creative spark from left-back, while Spanish duo David Lopez and Bruno combined to good effect down the opposite flank.
Crofts came close inside the opening ten minutes and he was denied only by the head of Andre Bikey, which led to a flurry of corners, but the visitors appeared strong with their aerial threat.
But in the 21st minute came a sucker punch against the run of play. Bruno uncharacteristically left Liam Bridcutt short with a pass in defence and Faris Haroun capitalised on the loose ball. He slid the ball to Dutch striker Emnes who fired the ball past Tomasz Kuszczak courtesy of a fortuitous deflection off the chest of Greer.
Within a matter of minutes Albion almost pulled level when David picked out Dean Hammond from a corner, but the former Albion scholar couldn’t find the target with his effort.
And moments later Bridge played a delicious low cross into the path of Mackail-Smith but his first-time shot was acrobatically tipped over the bar by Jason Steele.
The Scottish international also came within a matter inches on the brink of half-time but his curling effort dropped agonisingly wide of Steele’s left post.
Poyet’s men had a chance to regroup at half-time and within five minutes of the restart almost unlocked the Boro defence from the left, but Barnes couldn’t quite pluck the ball out of the air to set up a scoring opportunity.
The visitors dropped deep to defend their one-goal advantage and the Seagulls pressed forward in search of the leveller, and came close to being rewarded on the hour. Hammond’s cross was met by Barnes with a header destined for the bottom corner, but Steele was once again on hand to make a vital stop.
The rebound dropped to Mackail-Smith six yards out but, with little time to react he could not guide the ball into the net.
With the clock ticking down David teed up Crofts, but his half-volley was dragged wide, while Barnes’s vicious long-range effort was unceremoniously beaten away by Steele.
Then with two minutes remaining Boro had their chance to kill the game off when substitute striker Ishmael Miller strided clear of the Albion defence but he placed his one-on-one effort narrowly wide of Kuszczak’s goal.
In added time Barnes again struck on goal and the ball was stopped by the lunging Boro defender which sparked huge cries for handball but referee Andy D’Urso waved play on, which was closely followed by the final whistle.