A goal in the final minute of normal time ended Boro’s interest in this season’s FA Cup.
Tony Pulis made just three changes from last Saturday’s starting XI, with Grant Leadbitter, Stewart Downing and Britt Assombalonga dropping to the bench as Adam Clayton and Ashley Fletcher started a game for the first time under his management, while Martin Braithwaite returned at the start.
Only four players who started last week’s 0-4 at home to Chelsea started for Chris Hughton today. Connor Goldson, Markus Suttner, Dale Stephens and Tomer Hemed survived the cull, with three more, Ezequiel Schelotto, Pascal Groß and Davy Pröpper dropping to the bench.
Boro started brightly and Fletcher was only just off target with a low shot from the edge of the penalty area.
It proved to be a rare opportunity as the opening 20 minutes was played between both penalty areas, but rarely in them.
Suttner was well over with a free-kick from 20 yards, then Adama Traore took off down the right leaving three in his wake and it needed a last-ditch challenge to put Fletcher off his stride as he prepared to shoot from Traore’s lay-off.
These were rare moments in a game between two well-organised sides who gave nothing away, or didn’t create enough, depending whether your glass was half full of half empty.
In such games the need to take chances, half or otherwise, is exacerbated and therefore frustration was the overriding emotion as Daniel Ayala couldn’t make proper contact with a header when meeting a Braithwaite corner, then Patrick Bamford just cleared the bar with an overhead kick.
With just over five minutes of the first half remaining, Fletcher, in another good position, set up Traore who darted a few yards to the edge of the box and delivered a shot that Tim Krul tipped onto his left-hand post.
Half-time Boro 0 Brighton 0
Hughton made a change at half-time, replacing Dale Stephens with Pröpper, and not long after Tony Pulis made two at the same time as Braithwaite and Fletcher were replaced by Downing and Assombalonga.
Not too long after that and not too far apart, both sides were forced into a change as Jiří Skalák limped off following a collision with Darren Randolph, then Daniel Ayala looked to have a groin problem when he walked tenderly off to be replaced by Dael Fry.
It wasn’t until the 71st minute and when the full compliments of subs had been used that the second half had a chance to settle down.
To that point there had been little in either box to suggest a breakthrough from either side, though it wouldn’t have been a leap of faith to suggest one was far away.
Traore drilled just wide from the edge of the box, Downing was further off target from further out a few minutes later.
Both sides were keen to avoid a replay and the game opened up in the closing stages, with Brighton looking the more likely, but Anthony Knockaert shot well over and the Seagulls couldn’t make a corner count.
Just when it looked as though the sides would have to do it all over again on the south coast, Glenn Murray put a foot in the way of a George Friend clearance and the ball flew in.
Boro Randolph; Shotton, Ayala (Fry 64), Gibson, Friend, Traore, Clayton, Howson, Bamford, Braithwaite (Downing 55), Fletcher (Assombalonga 55). Subs Konstantopoulos (gk), Christie, Leadbitter, Johnson. Order of subs on 55: 1) Downing; 2) Assombalonga
Brighton Krul; Hünemeier, Stephens (Pröpper 46), Kayal, Skalák (Izquierdo 60), Baldock, Hemed (Murray 71), Knockaert, Goldson, Rosenior (Capt.), Suttner. Subs Mäenpää (gk); Dunk, Groß, Schelotto.
Referee Anthony Taylor. Cheshire.
Boro Clayton 43, shirt pull
Brighton Baldock 60, foul;Pröpper 68, foul; Izquierdo 69, failing to retreat at free-kick.
Attendance 20,475 (911 Brighton)
Conditions Cool, overcast and breezy