Brighton & Hove Albion 0 Cardiff City 2: Beleaguered Seagulls' relegation fears increase after Cardiff loss
Brighton & Hove Albion suffered a 2-0 defeat at home to 18th-placed Cardiff City in the Premier League this evening, as the deficit between the Seagulls and the drop was slashed to just two points.
Goals from the Bluebirds' Nathaniel Mendez-Laing and Sean Morrison condemned Albion to their fifth league defeat in seven.
The Seagull's run-in makes their situation even more perilous, as three of their final four games see them take on Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Manchester City.
Cardiff have games against Liverpool and Manchester United to look forward to, but a visit to already relegated Fulham will give them hope of picking up the points to leapfrog Brighton.
Hughton made five changes after Saturday's debacle against Bournemouth. Pascal Gross made his first start for the Seagulls since February 26, while Solly March returned after missing the last two games.
Skipper Bruno, topscorer Glenn Murray and Alireza Jahanbakhsh all returned to the starting XI as Martin Montoya, Yves Bissouma, Jurgen Locadia, Florin Andone and the suspended Anthony Knockaert dropped out.
Neil Warnock made three changes to the team that fell to a controversial 2-0 away loss at Burnley last Saturday.
Joe Ralls, Mendez-Laing, and Oumar Niasse took the places of Harry Arter, Josh Murphy, and Kenneth Zohore respectively.
This key relegation match up got off to a frantic start. Just a minute into the game and March, receiving the ball from a Bernardo throw out on the left, jinked past two Cardiff defenders but his shot from inside the box hit the side netting.
A minuter later Bluebirds keeper Neil Etheridge had to be quick off his line to clear the ball into touch as the onrushing Murray looked to pounce.
March then went close again on six minutes as he snuffed out a loose ball to fire wide from the edge of the area.
On the ten minute mark Albion had a strong penalty appeal waved away. Lewis Dunk looked to be hauled down in the box by Bruno Ecuele Manga from a Gross free-kick but referee Andre Marriner was unmoved.
The game settled down after a manic opening ten minutes and the visitors already seemed intent on running down the clock. After winning a succession of free-kicks, Etheridge showed a remarkable lack of urgency in taking his kick.
But, like the Bournemouth game on Saturday, Brighton found themselves a goal down after bossing the opening stages.
Davy Propper was dispossessed by Mendez-Laing in the Cardiff half on 22 minutes, and the Bluebirds winger began a buccaneering counter attack.
25-yards from goal, Mendez-Laing played the ball out wide to Junior Hoillett on the right. The Canadian returned the ball to the former Rochdale man, who opened his body up to let fly with a superb curling shot from the edge of the box that left Mathew Ryan with no chance.
Despite the clock hitting the half-hour mark, the atmosphere around the ground made the game feel as if it there was just five minutes left. Every Brighton foray forward was met by a deafening Amex din as long-balls were thumped up-field in desperation in search of one of the Seagulls' front-men.
With five minutes of the half remaining a misplaced pass from Bruno was snuffed out by Mendez-Laing near the Brighton area, resulting in a corner. The set-piece came to nothing but the wayward pass saw Hughton explode with rage at the Spaniard.
And Hughton had ever right to be angry. Albion were failing to even do the basics, as five-yard passes failed to hit their target, and Brighton looked almost petrified to shoot.
Cardiff, despite the goal, had offered very little but with the Seagulls not at the races the visitors didn't need to get out of first gear.
As the half-time whistle blew, a chorus of boos yet again rang around the ground before the Brighton faithful let out a defiant chant of 'Albion' as the players went down the tunnel.
But any hope of a Seagulls comeback was scuppered five minutes after the restart as the Bluebirds doubled the lead.
A Victor Camarasa free-kick from the edge of the area was whipped into the box, and Cardiff skipper Morrison got ahead of Dunk to head past Ryan to make it 2-0.
Hughton had to react quickly to lift Brighton, and Andone was thrown on for the tiring Gross on 54 minutes.
The change amounted to little as Cardiff sat back and defended with ten men behind the ball.
Albion were also guilty of overplaying it, choosing to neatly but ineffectually pass the ball around the box when it would have been better to have a pop at goal.
On 69 minutes Jose Izquierdo replaced Jahnabakhsh, who had an awful, error-strewn game, as Brighton looked to spark a comeback.
A minute later and the Seagulls were mere millimetres from pulling one back. Murray saw his attempt fly just inches over the bar after a good lay-off from Andone.
The final 20 minutes of the game was a scrappy affair. Morrison put in a well timed block to stop Andone in the area but both sides were severely lacking in quality in the final third.
With a minute to go Albion fans began heading to the exits, frustrated at the lack of guile and enterprise shown by anyone in a blue and white shirt.
Murray did hit the post from a header in stoppage time, but as the full-time whistle blew the dwindling crowd expressed their displeasure with a torrent of boos.
The Seagulls will be looking to get back on track next Saturday as they travel to a Wolves side that have struggled against the bottom-five this season.
Brighton & Hove Albion: Ryan, Bruno, Duffy, Dunk, Bernardo, Jahanbakhsh (Izquierdo 69), Stephens, Propper, March, Gross (Andone 54), Murray. Unused: Button, Burn, Bong, Kayal, Locadia.
Cardiff City: Etheridge, Peltier, Morrison, Ecuele Manga, Bennett, Gunnarsson (Bacuna 54), Ralls, Camarasa, Mendez-Laing (Harris 79), Hoilett, Niasse (Zohore 85). Unused: B Murphy, J Murphy, Reid, Healey.
Referee: Andre Marriner