Report: Albion 1 Leicester City 1Kazenga LuaLua rescued Albion from the jaws of defeat with a late goal to secure a 1-1 draw with play-off rivals Leicester City.
The Foxes could have leapfrogged the Seagulls into the top six with a victory, and Matty James’ 73rd minute goal gave Nigel Pearson’s side the lead before Albion’s Conoglese winger’s late strike.
The point keeps both sides in the hunt for the play-offs with Albion remaining two points ahead of Pearson’s men.
The majority of the Amex collectively held their breath in the first minute as David Nugent wriggled his way into the area, before going to ground claiming a foul. But referee Jonathan Moss declared the former England international had taken a dive, swiftly brandishing a yellow card.
Albion had to reshuffle their pack early on, as LuaLua came on to replace the match winner of this fixture last season, Will Buckley, after just ten minutes.
Leicester were not playing like a side bereft of confidence considering they have not won for seven games, and James fired an ambitious half-volley over, before Andy King’s looping effort drifted wide, in a positive opening 20 minutes for the visitors.
Poyet’s men were probing, just unable to find a gap in the Foxes rearguard, but Inigo Calderon nearly gave the Seagulls the lead on the half-hour mark after meeting Andrea Orlandi’s whipped corner. The Spanish full-back’s powerful header cleared off the line by Danny Drinkwater.
And the danger was not over as the Leicester defence could only clear as far as Liam Bridcutt on the edge of the area, who’s fierce drive was tipped over by Kasper Schmeichel.
The close call for the visitors galvanised Albion, who again came close when David Lopez’s delicately chipped cross was headed over at the back post by Leonardo Ulloa.
However, Pearson’s men came straight back at Albion, carving out the best opening of the half. Jeff Schlupp broke down the left before squaring to the unmarked King, only a magnificent save from Kuszczak denied the forward, as he tipped the strike onto the bar.
Substitute LuaLua then tested Schmeichel again, but the Danish keeper was equal to his effort at the near post. King struck once more for Leicester before the break, this time going for placement over power, but again Kuszczak denied the forward.
The Foxes were almost ahead on the stroke of half-time, as Albion lost possession in the middle and Schlupp was played through. Kuszczak started to come, but caught in two minds stopped at the edge of the area, although the Polish keeper was still able to deny Schlupp with his feet as the Leicester man tried to slide the ball past.
Pearson’s men started lively after the break and Liam Moore spurned a good chance as he sliced an effort high and wide before King again forced Kuszczak into another decent stop, pushing away the striker’s side footed effort.
More Leicester pressure followed as Schlupp’s turn and shot was on target but comfortably held by Albion’s Polish shot stopper.
Poyet introduced Vicente and the Spaniard’s impact was almost immediate, as the former Valencia man’s quick feet opened up space on the right before teeing up compatriot Inigo Calderon, but his powerful strike from 12 yards was blocked.
Calderon was again involved as this time he provided the cutback but Ulloa, with his back to goal, was unable to fire his shot past the brave Wes Morgan.
Albion had assumed more control at this point after the Foxes’ bright start to the second period. And the Seagulls faithful were up when LuaLua cut the ball back to Ulloa from the byline, but the Argentinian’s guided effort rolled inches past the post.
It was a chance missed that Albion would regret just minutes later, James picking up a loose ball in the Albion box after a long throw, and made no mistake firing into the bottom corner from close range.
Development squad striker George Barker was introduced for his Amex debut as the Seagulls looked for an equaliser but it was Leicester who almost doubled their lead. Chris Wood latched onto a rebound only for an excellent Bridcutt block to prevent the second goal.
But with Poyet’s side staring defeat in the face, LuaLua came up with the goods, cutting inside onto his right foot before drilling the ball past Schmeichel to the relief of the Amex crowd, securing yet another vital point towards Albion’s play-off ambitions.