Chris Hughton began his Brighton & Hove Albion managerial era with a dramatic 2-0 win over Brentford in a pulsating FA Cup third round tie.
Both sides deserve plaudits for fighting out an entertaining cup tie where chances were aplenty at both ends, but it was the Seagulls that found the all-important finishes thanks to late goals from Lewis Dunk and Chris O’Grady - his first goal for the club.
Hughton made four changes for his first game in charge; Elliott Bennett returned to his parent club Norwich City so Solly March was promoted to the starting line-up while returning captain Gordon Greer replaced Greg Halford. Sam Baldock and Adam Chicksen came in for Adrian Colunga and Joe Bennett respectively.
As with the league game back in September, it was a fast start at Griffin Park and Albion survived a second-minute scare as Jota’s low drive was well saved by David Stockdale, and the keeper was rewarded for his excellent initial stop when Andre Gray failed to convert the rebound.
The hosts settled the better and Jota’s skilful feet created a glorious opening for Jon Toral but Stockdale again produced a magnificent save to deny the midfielder from 12 yards.
Brentford had James Tarkowski to thank for a superb last-ditch challenge that prevented March from going through on goal while up the other end Jota mistimed a free header. An Albion break also saw Joao Teixeira testing Bees keeper Jack Bonham with a low drive.
Shortly after the break the combination that clinched the points at Fulham, Teixeira and March, linked up again and almost gave Albion the lead but the latter’s strike was beaten away by Bonham.
Gray threatened twice in quick succession for the hosts, dragging wide of the left-hand post then heading agonisingly wide of the right one, while Stockdale also palmed away a Toral header.
Albion came even closer moments later as March stripped the ball off the last defender but his effort cannoned off the post, while the Seagulls were almost punished a minute later but Gray again failed to find the target with his head.
It was end-to-end action; again March caught the last defender napping, this time setting substitute O’Grady away and the striker’s first-time drive proved too powerful for Bonham but squirmed excruciatingly wide.
There was no let-up as 60 seconds later the Bees broke at pace but Gray wasted a four-on-one opportunity by shooting wide rather than laying the ball across the box for one of his three eagerly awaiting team-mates.
Albion came within a whisker of a winner with five minutes remaining as Baldock and O’Grady combined with the latter’s effort clipping the outside of the post, but the net was soon bulging in Brighton’s favour.
March’s teasing in-swinging free-kick was flicked on by Dunk and past Bonham to spark wild celebrations from the Albion fans behind the goal. Then, three minutes into stoppage time, O’Grady grabbed the goal his performance deserved, taking his time before finishing with aplomb to send Albion into the fourth round.