Brighton and Hove Albion 1 Doncaster Rovers 0: Good run ends as Sharp sees red

James Coppinger looks to evade Brighton's Dale Stephens
James Coppinger looks to evade Brighton's Dale Stephens

The change in weather over 90 minutes at Brighton’s sparking Amex perfectly summed up the shift in the mood surrounding Rovers.

When they walked out on the pitch Rovers’ fortunes were as bright at the sunshine following a season-best run of form and a feeling a side had been put together in January which could achieve the goal of survival.

By the end of the game, following Leonardo Ulloa’s goal for Brighton and, more pertinently, Billy Sharp’s dismissal, the mood was as dark and gloomy as the stormy clouds which had descended on the South Coast.

The performance overall was not a poor one from Rovers, in fact there were plenty of positives.

But there was a reminder that Rovers are likely to be involved in the fight against the drop for most, if not all, the remainder of the season.

And of course there is the prospect of missing Sharp for three big games in the club’s campaign.

Rovers appear to be planning an appeal based on inconsistencies in Gavin Ward’s decision to dismiss Sharp five minutes from time.

But it certainly appeared that Sharp threw his shoulder into Brighton defender Gordon Greer after their tussle for the ball was finished.

Such aggression is unlikely to draw much sympathy from the appeals board at the Football Association.

Saturday did provide a warning of what the absence of a key man can mean for a side with a lack of strength in depth.

The suspended Richie Wellens’ absence was particularly apparent in the first half when Rovers struggled to keep the ball.

Paul Dickov denied the midfielder was missed but anything other than diplomacy would have been unexpected from the Rovers boss.

It was the composure on the ball which Wellens brings that Rovers lacked. Passes were often short, often rushed and regularly over-complicated as Rovers looked to spark attacks of their own after long periods off the ball.

When a counter attack was produced, there was little in the way of support for the breaking player with both Sharp and James Coppinger unable to hide their frustration at.

Matters attacking did improve in the second half when Brighton’s intensity dropped and Rovers got the ball out wide for a less-rushed build up.

Sharp in particular was guilty of missing two glorious chances, both coming from Coppinger crosses and both before Ulloa’s 75th minute winner.

Though play was far from as fluid as it has been recently, there were nevertheless plenty of positives to be taken from the defeat, the biggest being the continued defensive rigidity which Rovers have produced over the past month.

While the threat of Brighton could not be nullified in the wide areas, Rovers defended doggedly in and around the penalty box, ensuring Sam Johnstone never had to produce anything spectacular to keep the hosts out.

Much has been made of the assured nature of Rovers’ play higher up the pitch but there are few players in the side who look as composed as Abdoulaye Meite.

The towering centre half is at his best inside his own area, cutting play out superbly and helping to clear the lines as he did so well at the Amex.

The biggest change in Rovers since the good run of form started has been the calmness in defence, so much so that even when players are throwing their bodies in the way of shots it does not looked panicked.

James Husband and Dean Furman in particular cut out plenty of shots and crosses as Rovers’ box found itself under aerial bombardment.

Wide men David Rodriguez and youngster Solly March - handed his full Championship debut by Oscar Garcia - had plenty of energy, supported well by full backs Stephen Ward and Bruno.

Lone striker Leonardo Ulloa could not complain about the service he received from start to finish, though his team mates could have thrown a few moans in the Argentine’s direction for his profligacy.

Ulloa was thwarted for so much of the game by Johnstone, whose performance belied his tender years and relative inexperience.

There was not one eye catching save from the on loan Manchester United keeper but he needed to be alert and well positioned throughout in order to make his stops look so simple.

Rovers failed to register a single shot in the first half but wasted no time in threatening in the second with Sharp scuffing a header after finding space to meet Coppinger’s cross.

Johnstone produced his best save of the game seconds later when Ulloa received the ball ten yards out, turned and shot with the keeper reacting well to claim low.

Sharp was left face down in the grass bemoaning a miss from the most golden of opportunities.

Another Coppinger cross and more good movement from the striker allowed him to execute a diving header in space but he sent the ball wide.

Rovers finally had a shot on target moments later when Coppinger hit a Chris Brown inside pass first time but put it straight at a grateful Tomasz Kuszczak.

Rovers had a let off of their own when Ulloa finally got the better of Johnstone, turning home Kazenga LuaLua’s pass from close range, only to see it ruled out for offside.

But his persistence paid off on 75 minutes when he met a fine high cross from Ward to nod past Johnstone and give his side the lead.

The game fell completely away from Rovers 11 minutes later when Sharp saw red for his tangle with Greer though substitute David Cotterill almost snatched a point with a deflected effort that Kuszczak eventually claimed.

Rovers have a firm place in the Brighton history books after providing the last opposition at the Goldstone Ground and the first at the Amex, something celebrated in match programme as was defender Lewis Dunk who will be remembered for his challenge on Sharp which robbed the striker of much of the 2011/12 season.

The warm feeling shown by Brighton towards Rovers will only have been maintained by the final result, one which continued Doncaster’s poor historic form in Sussex.

Such affection is hardly likely to be returned by Sharp in particular.