Middlesbrough 0 Brighton & Hove Albion 1: Late FA Cup heartache for Tony Pulis' Boro
Middlesbrough manager Tony Pulis was keen to focus on the positives after a game where he could have been forgiven for cursing his side's misfortune.
Boro were knocked out of the FA Cup at the Riverside following a 90th-minute winner from Brighton substitute Glenn Murray - which ricocheted into the net off the striker’s thigh following George Friend’s attempted clearance.
The hosts also lost key defender Danial Ayala to a groin injury midway through the second half, in a game where they created the better chances and the lively Adama Traore saw an effort tipped onto the post by visiting goalkeeper Tim Krul.
Still, one month on from his appointment, Pulis has been encouraged by what he’s seen so far.
"In the last few games there have been a lot of positives, there was today and I can’t fault the commitment for the effort.
"At times we can get more crosses in to the box, people can be more positive. We have invested money in players to score goals so then you have to give ammunition to score goals.
"The squad is misplaced in the way it is balanced, we have to be lucky. Daniel Ayala has come off, if we lost another centre-half we would be in trouble. Having said that they have good spirit and they work hard. They are trying as a team."
At the very least this was an opportunity for Pulis to take a closer look at his squad ahead of Wednesday’s transfer deadline day.
Midfielder Adam Clayton and forward Ashley Fletcher were both handed their first starts under Pulis, as the Boro boss made three changes following last weekend’s victory at QPR.
The 3-0 win at Loftus Road was topped off by Traore’s first goal for the club following his move from Aston Villa in the summer of 2016.
The pacey winger has been one of Boro’s standout players since the change in management, and he looked the most likely to break the deadlock against the Seagulls.
Chris Hughton made seven changes to the side which started against Chelsea a week ago, and it showed as both sides struggled to create chances.
The best opportunities fell to Boro, though, with Fletcher firing wide 10 minutes in, before Ayala’s header from a Braithwaite corner was directed straight at Krul.
Bamford’s attempted bicycle kick landed on the roof of the Brighton net, while Traore was unlucky not to open the scoring minutes before half-time when Krul diverted his effort onto the post.
Brighton’s first shot on target came just after the hour mark when Beram Kayal’s strike was spilled by Boro goalkeeper Darren Randolph, who subsequently collided with Jiri Skalak which forced a stoppage in play.
The hosts lost Ayala on 65 minutes, and Pulis will hope the defender can make a speedy recovery ahead of Tuesday’s home game against Sheffield Wednesday.
Then came the late sucker punch, when Friend swung a boot at Markus Suttner’s cross, but the ball rebounded off Murray and into the net.