The atmosphere before kick-off crackled with anticipation with fans shoehorned into virtually every space inside the stadium as the teams walked out to Steel River.
Right from the kick-off Brighton flew at Boro, winning a free-kick in the opening seconds and a corner not long after.
It was nothing more than Boro expected.
The game settled with possession equally shared, but Boro gradually wound up the tempo and took the lead with 19 minutes played.
Gaston Ramirez was fouled a few yards up from the left-hand edge of the Brighton penalty area. Grant Leadbitter floated over a free-kick, Nugent at the back post knocked it back across goal and Cristhian Stuani tapped in from close to the goalline – not a bad time to score your first goal in 22 games.
It was close to being two a few minutes later when Adam Clayton intercepted a goal-kick from David Stockdale and set up Albert Adomah who was thwarted at the last second by Connor Goldson.
Brighton’s response had not been what their 2,500 fans wanted and when Ramirez lobbed Stockdale they must have feared a second goal, but the ball landed on top of the net.
Again Adomah found space down the left, but couldn’t find a the telling pass that would have set up a clear shot on goal for Nugent, then Clayton curled a shot just wide through a crowded box from 22 yards.
Another half chance went begging when Stuani elected to pass inside the penalty area, Brighton scrambled to cover and Nsue shot tamely at Stockdale from the edge of the box.
Half-time Middlesbrough 1 Brighton 0
Brighton made a change at half-time with James Wilson replacing Sam Baldock.
The visitors started brightly and had Boro penned back, though there was a usually a dispute when they won a free-kick as Boro’s fans and players became frustrated.
It was from one such disputed free-kick that the Seagulls drew level. It was taken from a position not dissimilar from where Boro took the lead and Dale Stephens rose to head home an equaliser from a narrow angle at the back post with 55 minutes played.
His personal joy was short-lived as the game erupted four minutes later when he went in high on Ramirez and was shown a red card. After several minutes treatment Ramirez was taken off on a stretcher with a gaping wound high on his shin.
Downing was his replacement, while Hughton replaced Murphy with Steve Sidwell.
Boro created a couple of half chances, but nothing direct and Brighton, despite their numerical disadvantage put more energy into their game.
This game was set for big finish.
Not long after missing a chance inside the Brighton penalty area Nugent was replaced by Rhodes and left to a deserved standing ovation after putting in a terrific shift.
Gibson, calm in the face of pressure, twice made effective clearances as the game edged towards injury-time.
When the board went up it displayed eight minutes.
The mist rolled in, tensions rose, distribution became errant and after eight long minutes no-one cared, fans stopped checking their watches and began to party.
Fans poured on the pitch and players were carried shoulder high from it as celebrations erupted around a ground that was once again to host Premier League football.
Scorers Stuani 19, Stephens 55
Middlesbrough: Konstantopoulos; Nsue, Ayala, Gibson, Friend, Adomah, Clayton, Leadbitter (Capt.), Stuani, Ramirez (Downing 63), Nugent (Rhodes 79). Subs: Agazzi (gk); Kalas, De Laet, De Sart, Forshaw.
Brighton: Stockdale; Bruno (Capt from 81), Goldson, Greer (Capt to 81.) (LuaLua 81), Rosenior, Knockaert, Stephens, Kayal, Murphy (Sidwell 63), Hemed, Baldock (Wilson 46). Subs: Maenpaa (gk); Bong, Calderon, Skalak.
Order of subs on 63: 1: Downing 2: Sidwell
Referee Mike Dean. The Wirral.
Sent-off Stephens 59, foul on Ramirez