Brighton & Hove Albion’s promotion hopes were ended for another season, as Derby County secured a comprehensive 6-2 aggregate victory to head into the Championship Play-Off Final on 24th May.
Strikes from Will Hughes, Chris Martin, George Thorne and Jeff Hendrick at the iPro Stadium ensured the Rams will face either Wigan or Queens Park Rangers at Wembley in just under two weeks’ time before Kazenga LuaLua added a late consolation strike.
The Rams started the match brightly, as Andre Wisdom cut inside the Albion defence only to see his shot saved by Tomasz Kuszczak.
Hughes looked lively for the home side and waltzed his way into the Seagulls penalty area, but Stephen Ward made a crucial interception to deny the midfielder.
Oscar Garcia’s side were then forced to make an early change with injured skipper Gordon Greer replaced by Adam Chicksen.
Derby then broke the deadlock after some considerable pressure on the Albion defence 10 minutes before half-time, as Hughes coolly slotted the ball past Kuszczak with a close-range finish.
The Seagulls had an opportunity to level the scores as Chicksen played the ball into the path of Leo Ulloa, but the Argentine could not latch onto the pass and keeper Lee Grant collected the ball.
The Rams could have doubled their advantage when Kuszczak fired a clearance straight at Jamie Ward only for the rebound to fortunately rise over the bar.
Jesse Lingard then played a ball over the top of the Derby defence, but Ulloa miscontrolled the pass and Grant was on hand once again.
County doubled their account 11 minutes into the second-half as Ward knocked down Johnny Russell’s cross for Martin to slot home.
Oscar brought on attackers LuaLua and Craig Mackail-Smith midway through the half, but it was Derby that came close to scoring once again.
Ward took aim from just outside the box, but this time Kuszczak was equal to his curling effort and tipped the ball around the post.
Albion attempted to pull themselves back into the game as Keith Andrews took aim from distance, but Grant was equal to the Irishman’s drive and made a low save down to his left.
LuaLua also made a trademark run in from the left-hand side, but Grant once again made a comfortable save.
George Thorne then scored a third goal for the hosts 12 minutes from time with a deflected volley past Kuszczak, before Hendrick made it 4-0 with a close-range finish.
Albion managed to have the last word in the 89th minute when LuaLua saw a trademark low drive fly past Grant, to give Albion's vocal and loyal support something to cheer about on a disappointing day.