Albion were left to rue a controversial last-minute winning goal from Leeds’ new £1m man Luke Murphy, as they went down 2-1 in their season opener at Elland Road.
Popular striker Leo Ulloa – with a full pre-season under his belt – got the opener for Albion, continuing the rich vein of goalscoring form he displayed in the second half of last season, before Ross McCormack equalised a few moments later.
The game appeared to be heading for a draw until Murphy netted in the dying seconds – a goal which left Albion’s defenders furiously arguing with referee James Adcock after it appeared the midfielder had controlled the ball with his hand before tucking it past Tomasz Kuszczak.
Ahead of kick-off there was a real sense of expectation amongst the 33,432 crowd. Not just the usual opening-day buzz, but an added air with the arrival of Brian McDermott at the end of last season, and the departure of former owner Ken Bates ahead of the new season.
Albion were not fazed by the noisy Elland Road faithful, and started with real purpose. Andrea Orlandi revealed the head coach’s shoot-on-sight mandate, issued during pre-season, when he stung the hands of Leeds keeper Paddy Kenny with a shot from 20 yards out.
The Seagulls capitalised on their positive start in the 12th minute – and it was a typical predatory strike from Ulloa which gave Albion the lead. The big Argentinean forward got in front of his marker at the near post and swept in Bruno’s cross from the right wing with a fine first-time finish.
However, Leeds were level within seven minutes as McCormack showed his class in the final third. The striker took one touch to control Michael Tonge’s clever low cross, and then with his second he fired into the bottom corner, past Kuszczak’s outstretched palm.
It was end-to-end stuff for the first half, with both sides at full throttle. McCormack, Luke Varney and Noel Hunt were constant threats for the home side, with the trio linking up well, while Albion also opted for a three-pronged attack of Ashley Barnes, Ulloa and Orlandi.
The second period was a little less frenetic than the first and both Kemy Agustien – for his Seagulls debut – and Will Buckley were brought on around the hour mark, as Albion reshuffled.
The pair combined well to create an opening for Andrew Crofts, but Kenny was down low to push away to his right. Inigo Calderon was first to the loose ball, but Kenny made it a brilliant double save at the expense of a corner.
Albion hearts were in mouths as Leeds thought they had taken the lead with 15 minutes remaining, but sub Dominic Poleon missed by a whisker. He controlled the ball inside the six-yard box, turned and shot, but his effort grazed the outside of the right post.
Ulloa got on the end of a left-wing Calderon cross to the near post, but couldn’t get enough power into the header to really trouble Kenny, and with just under ten minutes to play Kazenga LuaLua came on in place of Orlandi. Meanwhile, McDermott sent on debutant Matt Smith – the hero at the heart of Oldham’s great FA Cup run last season.
Poleon brought the best out of Kuszczak in the last minute, as he cut in from the left and curled an effort across goal and towards the opposite corner, but the big Pole made a fine two-handed save. The ball dropped kindly to Paul Green, but his effort was too high, much to Albion’s relief.
Then LuaLua raced away as Albion hit Leeds on the break; the speedy winger sent in a superb cross for Buckley, who headed goalwards, only to see Kenny react brilliantly to save under his crossbar.
Seconds later Murphy won it in the final minute of stoppage time as the Albion, like on the opening day of last season at Hull, returned south empty handed.