Derby County came from behind to beat Brighton & Hove Albion 2-1 in the first leg of their play-off semi-final to take a narrow advantage home from the Amex Stadium. After a breathless start to the game The Rams found themselves behind when Jesse Lingard converted at the second attempt from an Inigo Calderon cross but fought back and levelled the tie when Chris Martin converted from the spot after a foul on Craig Forsyth. Johnny Russell teed-up Martin again in first half injury time and there was a slice of luck as his shot crashed back off the bar and into the net off Tomasz Kuszczak in the home goal. The Rams slowly sat deeper and deeper in the second half with Lee Grant making saves from Leonardo Ulloa, Lingard and Stephen Ward to maintain their lead heading into the second leg at the iPro Stadium.
The game started at a fast pace with neither side getting on top but Brighton slowly established themselves in the game pressing high up and stopping The Rams from getting any momentum going. A counter attack saw Johnny Russell`s low cross evade Craig Bryson at the back post and there were shouts for a penalty when Inigo Calderon went down under a challenge from Craig Forsyth but the appeals were waived away. Brighton took the lead with eighteen minutes gone when Bryson gave away a freekick on the touchline and the quickly taken kick was flicked on by Will Buckley to Calderon who got into the penalty area before finding Jesse Lingard, the on loan Manchester United youngster converting at the second attempt after Jake Buxton blocked his initial shot with the ball fortuitously dropping back to the same player.
The Rams regrouped after the goal and got themselves level just before the half hour mark when a counter attack saw Forsyth surge through the middle swapping passes with Jeff Hendrick before being brought down by Matthew Upson in the area, Chris Martin kept his cool to convert from the spot to equalise. Derby were on top now and a great run by Russell ended with a cross flashed across the face of goal that Tomasz Kuszczak got his hand to and the ball was cleared to safety. Leonardo Ulloa had a header kept out by Lee Grant from a looping ball into the area but things got even better for The Rams in added on time when a neat interchange of passes on the edge of the area ended with Russell teeing up Martin who crashed a shot against the bar before the ball bounced back into the net off the back of Kuszczak.
Derby came out strongly at the start of the second period and came close to putting the result beyond any doubt when Hendrick found Jamie Ward down the left and his effort was turned into the side netting by Kuszczak's outstretched leg. Brighton forced their way back onto the front foot and Ulloa volleyed into the ground from an Andrea Orlandi cross but Grant was equal to the effort as it bounced up tipping the ball onto the bar. The Rams dropped deeper and whilst they were under pressure the home side didn't look like create an opening until two came in quick succession inside the last ten minutes. Grant beat away a low drive from range from Lingard before then tipping over Stephen Ward's rising drive from the just inside the area to maintain his sides advantage going into the second leg on Sunday evening.
Brighton & Hove Albion: Kuszczak, Calderon, Greer, Upson, S Ward, Andrews, Forster-Caskey, Lingard (Mackail-Smith, 81), Orlandi (March, 70), Ulloa, Buckley (LuaLua, 46).
Unused subs: Brezovan, Chicksen, Dunk, Ince.
Derby County: Grant, Wisdom, Keogh Buxton, Forsyth, Thorne, Hendrick, Bryson (Hughes, 90+2), J Ward (Sammon, 72), Russell (Dawkins, 66), Martin.
Unused subs: Legzdins, Whitbread, Eustace, Bamford.