Brighton & Hove Albion’s under-23s extended their unbeaten league run to six matches with a hard-earned 2-1 victory over Derby County at the People’s Pension Stadium this evening.
First-half goals from Bojan Radulovic and Soufyan Ahannach gave Simon Rusk’s side a comfortable lead, and despite Cameron Cresswell’s last-gasp penalty, Albion managed to hold on for maximum points.
The victory moved the Seagulls four points clear of the Rams, who occupy third spot, but Everton’s 2-0 win at Liverpool kept a four-point gap between the Toffees and Rusk’s side with four matches remaining.
Albion had to cope with some early pressure from the Rams, with numerous balls being delivered into Robert Sanchez’s penalty area, but the visitors were unable to cause considerable damage.
Soufyan Ahannach then played his team-mates into trouble when his back-pass was intercepted by Cresswell, but after the striker rounded Sanchez and laid the ball back, the Albion winger recovered with a well-timed tackle.
Viktor Gyokeres created Albion’s first opening after 22 minutes when his delicate pass picked out Jayson Molumby over the top of Derby’s defence, but the Irishman could only find the side-netting with his angled effort.
Albion grew into the game and almost took the lead when Gyokeres latched onto a searching ball over the top, but with just Josh Barnes to beat, after opening his body to shoot, the Swede’s curling effort was saved.
But Rusk’s side found the reward for their early positivity, and it came after Barnes failed to claim a harmless Albion delivery into the penalty area, which left Radulovic the simple task of heading into an empty net.
It was fairly comfortable for Rusk’s team towards the end of the half, with Sanchez making a routine stop from Cresswell’s 25-yard free kick, and on the stroke of half-time the lead was doubled.
Alex Cochrane delivered an excellent cross from the left wing to find Ahannach inside the penalty area, and the Dutchman timed his run to perfection and glanced a header past Barnes to make it 2-0.
The teams returned for the second half and Gyokeres went in search of getting his name on the scoresheet, but the forward’s powerful effort, after shifting the ball onto his left foot, swerved wide of the target from 20 yards.
Derby full-back Kellan Gordon then surged forward and broke into Albion’s penalty area shortly before the hour mark, but Sanchez was equal to his effort, which fizzed towards the bottom corner of the Spaniard’s goal.
The visitors continued to press for a deficit-halving goal, but Albion remained strong in defence, as Cochrane raced across and bravely threw his body in front of Ikechi Anya’s ferocious shot.
Haydon Roberts could have extended Albion’s lead late on when he arrived late in the penalty area to meet a loose ball, but the midfielder’s side-footed effort sailed just wide of Barnes’s left-hand upright.
Sanchez made an excellent reaction save from Alex Babos shortly before Cresswell gave the visitors hope from the penalty spot in stoppage time, but Albion saw out the remaining minutes to seal their third league victory in a row.
ALBION: Sanchez; A.Davies, O’Hora, Ostigard, Cochrane; J.Davies (Spong 62), Molumby, Roberts, Ahannach; Gyokeres, Radulovic (Longman 86).
Subs not used: Collings (GK), Moore, Ljubicic.