Although only mathematically sealed yesterday, Brighton's place in the play-offs was already pretty much confirmed and so manager Gus Poyet could make two changes from the side that impressively trounced Blackpool 6-1 last weekend. Bruno Saltor replaced Wayne Bridge and the impressive Liam Bridcutt was rested with Marcos Painter taking his place in the starting line-up. With a lot less to choose from in terms of quality, Brian McDermott was set to select an unchanged Leeds team until Sam Byram picked up an injury in the warm up. Lee Peltier was brought in to replace the youngster and regained the captain's armband from Stephen Warnock.
Brighton's impressive football has defeated many this season and Leeds were nearly victims of it inside sixty seconds. The lively Will Buckley found space down the right to deliver a ball across the face of goal that was stabbed goal-wards by Orlandi. Kenny could only watch on as the ball clipped the outside of the post and went behind for a goal-kick. An ominous start was only to get worse in the tenth minute but as has been the case throughout the season, Leeds brought about their own downfall. After seemingly beating Ulloa in the air, Lees' misplaced attempt at what I can only think was a back-pass fell straight to Buckley who ran through on goal and beat Kenny with an assured finish. Elland Road fell silent in the disappointed way it has done so often throughout the past few years but a disappointed silence turned to stunned silence two minutes later. Whilst running alongside Austin, Brighton's Ashley Barnes fell to the floor clutching his face after a slight coming together. The referee awarded Brighton a fairly soft free-kick before sending Austin off, indicating that an elbow had been used. I haven't yet seen it back but I'm pretty sure that he got this one wrong. It was to come as no surprise; he got just about everything wrong all day.
For a few minutes Leeds lost shape and Brighton took control as Saltor flashed an effort wide from the edge of the box, before a little bit of complacency set in. A lapse at the back by Greer allowed McCormack to drill a half-chance over the crossbar and was the start of a turnaround for Leeds who started to apply pressure. Three ambitious penalty shouts were all turned away by Scott before a delicious ball across the face of goal by Diouf evaded everyone in the box. Chances were coming for Leeds and from Varney's header down Ross McCormack grazed the post with a technically brilliant overhead kick. The ten men always looked fairly vulnerable though and Brighton had the last shot of the period as Will Buckley curled one wide from distance.
You'd have thought Poyet would have been disappointed with the way his side had failed to kill off the game and as expected, the visitors came out looking a lot brighter at the start of the second half. Ulloa turned well but screwed his shot high and wide on fifty minutes before Buckley drilled a shot wide after good work by David Lopez. Lopez himself had the most meaningful opportunity as his shot thundered through a crowded penalty area but was well handled by Kenny. Leeds were creating little for the amount of possession they had but were working tirelessly with ten men and were gifted the chance to level the match on seventy three minutes. Five minutes after coming on as a substitute, Inigo Calderon was guilty of a tug on McCormack when the Scot was through on goal. Finally referee Graham Scott gave Leeds something, pointing to the spot before evening things up further by dismissing the unfortunate Brighton defender. Diouf stepped up and scored to level things up, before being sent off himself. The wind up merchant walked calmly over to the Brighton fans, blowing affectionate kisses before his romantic act turned into something more. Maybe he'd got the wrong idea, maybe he felt led on or maybe he just had an itch. Whatever it was, referee Scott didn't appreciate the gesture to his genitalia and a third red card of the game was awarded.
Brighton then took full control of the game and had chances through Vicente and Ulloa with neither managing to hit the target. However, the Argentinian striker did hit the target in the 87th minute, powering his close range header past Kenny and into the back of the net to keep up his impressive goalscoring streak and condemn the Whites to another defeat. With nine men an equaliser was never looked likely but Kuszczak was called upon in the last minute to tip over a goal-bound header from Jason Pearce. Brighton were left to celebrate their play-off place whilst McDermott's Leeds could only wonder what could have been. Half of the home fans left but half stayed to applaud the players as they made their way around the Elland Road pitch for the last time this season.
Despite the disappointment that has been this season, the award's dinner was left to celebrate anything good. It summed up what we all knew; Sam Byram has been the only positive. The young right back picked up Young Player of the Year, Player of the Year and Players' Player of the Year to round off a fantastic first season in professional football. Community Player of the Year went to Leigh Bromby, Aidy White won the Fastest Goal of the Season for his effort against Everton and Ross McCormack's stunner against Tottenham Hotspur won Goal of the Season. The Chairman's special award was surprisingly taken by Tom Lees who seemed stunned yet delighted. He said he was anyway; he still didn't smile. McDermott raised a smile by suggesting there were more fans at the award's dinner than watched Reading every week before getting down to serious business by suggesting a somewhat ambitious promotion next season. The more you drank, the more realistic that suggestion seemed and despite an awful season, the optimism surrounding the future of the club fuelled a very enjoyable evening. Even at £5 a pint.