Starkey '4 (pen), '39
Dale Stephens played his first game in over nine months as Brighton & Hove Albion’s under-21s recorded an impressive 3-0 victory over Middlesbrough at the American Express Elite Football Performance Centre.
The midfielder started the match against the Teesiders and played the opening 30 minutes in his comeback from a long-term ankle injury.
Albion were ahead inside the opening four minutes, when referee Ryan Atkin pointed to the spot after a handball inside the box. Starkey saw his initial spot-kick saved by Boro goalkeeper Luke Coddington, but slotted home the rebound to give the Seagulls a perfect start.
Ireland’s side continued their bright start, as Leon Best set up a chance for Stephens, who saw his effort deflect wide of the post. Soon afterwards the 25-year-old was replaced by Charlie Harris in a planned change after an encouraging return for the midfielder.
The Seagulls continued to create a number of good chances, as Starkey found Danny Pappoe deep inside the box from a corner, but the centre back stretched for the ball and his effort went over the upright.
Monakana’s pace down the left-hand side caused the Teesiders plenty of problems throughout the first half, and his cross was narrowly missed by Jason Davis inside the box.
Davis then turned provider after whipping in a superb ball into the path of Best, whose close-range effort cannoned off the post.
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The visitors managed to create a handful of chances in the first half, as Mustapha Carayol produced a quick turn and saw his subsequent effort saved by Christian Walton.
But Albion doubled their advantage after 39 minutes, when Monakana once again showed tremendous pace to get past his marker and set up Starkey, who fired past Coddington at the second attempt.
The winger then created a goal of his own two minutes prior to the interval after he raced towards the byline and saw his shot squirm past Coddington to put the Seagulls into a commanding lead.
The score could have been even more emphatic going into the break when Best reacted quickly to Adam Chicksen’s excellent delivery into the box, but his sliding effort was saved by the Boro keeper.
The Teesiders grew into the game in the second half and could have reduced the deficit four minutes after the restart, but Walton was on hand to tip away Jordan Jones’s close-range strike.
Bradley Fewster had another chance to get Boro off the mark just minutes later as his swerving effort sailed narrowly over the upright.
But Albion still carried a threat going forward, as Pappoe’s header from a Starkey corner forced a fine save from Coddington.
Boro put the Seagulls defence under a spell of pressure in the closing stages with chances falling to Bryn Morris and Jonathan Burn, but Albion recorded a comfortable victory.
ALBION: Walton; Barry (Hunt 77), Dallison, Pappoe, Chicksen; Monakana, Rea, Stephens (Harris 30); Best (Deen 61), Starkey, Davis. Subs not used: Doherty (GK), Muitt.