Ul­loa leaves it late for Os­car

The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP - By Nathan Hem­ming­ham

ALAST-gasp win­ner from Leonardo Ul­loa se­cured Brighton the Cham­pi­onship’s fi­nal play-off place in the most dra­matic of cir­cum­stances – and boss Os­car Gar­cia in­sisted their be­lief had never wa­vered.

With Gar­cia’s Brighton need­ing noth­ing but vic­tory from their trip to Not­ting­ham For­est, it looked as though they were go­ing to miss out on sixth spot un­til an in­spired sub­sti­tu­tion three min­utes from time.

The Span­ish boss threw on Craig Mack­ail-Smith, who has en­dured a nightmare past 13 months with in­jury and has played less than an hour’s foot­ball in that time.

Yet, it was Mack­ail-Smith’s de­liv­ery from the left two min­utes into in­jury time that was headed home by Ul­loa to send the 2,000 trav­el­ling Brighton fans into ec­stasy.

The Seag­ulls now face third-placed Derby over two legs for a place in the fi­nal, and Gar­cia said: “I know my play­ers and I know they never give up. We kept play­ing and we got the goal we de­served in the end. It is im­pos­si­ble to score if you don’t be­lieve. I am pleased for Craig be­cause he hasn’t played for a long time, so for him to be in­volved in the goal is great.

“I didn’t want to know the Read­ing score in the first half, but in the sec­ond half ev­ery­one was telling me how they were do­ing. I couldn’t be more proud of my play­ers.

“They have given me ev­ery­thing right from the start of the sea­son. As a man­ager, it was the most ner­vous and tense 90 min­utes of my life. Now we have to be pre­pared and ready for Derby on Thurs­day.”

The win­ning goal would have meant a lot to Ul­loa, af­ter his miss on six min­utes looked to be prov­ing costly. The striker was sent clean through on goal and with only keeper Dorus De Vries to beat, some­how dragged his shot wide.

Matt Der­byshire is a striker in real form at the mo­ment and he made Ul­loa pay on 22 min­utes with his fifth goal in five games. It was a hor­ror mo­ment for keeper To­masz Kuszczak, who some­how spilled Der­byshire’s header into his own net.

With Read­ing los­ing at that stage, Brighton knew a point would take them into sixth place and they had the ball in the net five min­utes later. Inigo Calderon’s ball across the six­yard-box was tapped in by Ul­loa but he was off­side. Brighton be­gan to dream eight min­utes into the sec­ond half when Stephen Ward drilled home low and hard to level it.

News fil­tered through that a point for the vis­i­tors would not be enough how­ever and they pushed for the win­ner. De­spite ef­forts from Calderon and Kazenga LuaLua, it looked as though the win­ning goal was be­yond them un­til Mack­ail-Smith’s curl­ing cross was per­fect for Ul­loa.

For­est care­taker man­ager Gary Brazil said:“The im­por­tance of the game seemed to drain Brighton of their en­ergy a lit­tle at the start and I thought we passed the ball around and moved it re­ally well.

“We seemed to give them a leg-up in the sec­ond half and al­lowed them to get back into the game.We had a re­spon­si­bil­ity to the game and de­spite the amount of play­ers that we didn’t have avail­able, we were still able to be com­pet­i­tive.

“There should be a lot of op­ti­mism go­ing into next sea­son.”

PIC­TURES: Me­dia Im­age Ltd

LAST GASP: Leonardo Ul­loa cel­e­brates in front of the Brighton fans af­ter mak­ing it 2-1 in stop­page time

LEV­ELLER: Stephen Ward fires home

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