DONCASTER Rovers failed to spoil Brighton’s big day as the Seagulls celebrated the first competitive game at their impressive new Amex Stadium with a victory.
Two late goals by substitute Will Hoskins - the second coming deep into stoppage time - secured last season’s League One champions a confidence-boosting victory on their return to the Championship.
But Rovers can consider themselves unlucky to come away empty handed.
Having used all three substitutes, Rovers were down to 10 men at the time Brighton secured all three points having had striker James Hayter stretchered off after being injured whilst trying to score a winner in the last minute of normal time.
Hayter was the second Doncaster player to be stretchered off - record signing Billy Sharp being the first in the 57th minute.
Sharp suffered an ankle injury following a tackle by centre-back Lewis Dunk which the Rovers camp felt warranted more than a yellow card.
The subject of two close-season bids by Ipswich and Southampton, Sharp had earlier given Rovers the lead on 39 minutes.
He latched on to a shot from just outside the area by Ryan Mason, which had struck a defender, and set himself up to score at the near post - the ball striking the woodwork before crossing the line.
It was a goal which Rovers’ efforts to that point had richly deserved.
Making good use of the wide open spaces afforded by the Seagulls’ maximum size pitch, Rovers had knocked the ball about in eye-catching style with John Oster proving the driving force in midfield.
Mason also made an impact in a more attacking midfield role.
Right-back Mustapha Dumbuya was a threat with his pace when pushing on down the right and his crosses into the box caused problems for the Brighton defence on several occasions.
Newly-elected temporary skipper George Friend could prove a wise choice on the evidence of Saturday’s game.
Not only did he win his personal battle with Brighton’s record signing Craig Mackail-Smith, no easy task given the striker’s track record in recent seasons with Peterborough, he led from the front in defence.
No more so than when clearing off the line in the 33rd minute after striker Ashley Barnes had beaten keeper Gary Woods - another to show up well - from close range.
Although Brighton, as you would expect being the home team and being roared on by a crowd of 20,000 which sounded more like double that figure, had other chances, Rovers were good value for their 1-0 interval lead.
Sharp shot wide at 0-0 with a chance he would normally have buried.
Oster forced a good save from the keeper and Mason shot narrowly wide from long range
Everything teams do in pre-season is geared towards being ready on the opening day of the season and in that respect Rovers’ preparations looked to be spot on in the first 45 minutes.
Brighton started the second half with all guns blazing looking for an early equaliser. What at first appeared to be an opening flourish turned out to be a more sustained spell of pressure and Rovers found it difficult to get out of their half.
The injury to Sharp came during one of their few excursions into Brighton territory at that stage since the interval.
It would perhaps be wrong to describe Sharp’s departure as a turning point given the state of play at the time, but there can be no argument that Rovers are always a more dangerous side with the 25 year-old in their ranks.
Brighton continued to take the game to Rovers and Noone missed a good chance to level on 59 minutes.
Ironically, Rovers, who had started to impose themselves again in attack, looked to have weathered the storm when the equaliser came on 82 minutes.
Rovers could only head clear from Liam Bridcutt’s free-kick as far as Buckley and he drilled a low 20 yarder past Woods at the near post.
Had the game stayed at 1-1 then probably both sides would have been happy with a point and few would have been able to argue with the result.
But Buckley broke Rovers’ hearts deep into the seven minutes of stoppage time when he got on the end of a clever through ball from Noone and placed his angled shot wide of Woods.
“We were all gutted to concede the winner so late on,” said Friend.
“We had a great first half but we didn’t match it in the second unfortunately, which was a shame because if we had played like we did in the first half I think we would have won the game.
“Their equaliser was a well taken goal but we probably should have done better.
“It didn’t help being down to 10 men in injury time but it is something that we work on in training and it was disappointing not to see the game out.”
Friend, who only found out that he would be leading the side a couple of hours before the game, claimed that despite the result there were plenty of positives to take from the game.
“The way we passed the ball and worked off the ball in the first half was pleasing and it was nice to see Billy Sharp get off the mark (in the first day of the season),” he said.
“We’ll be looking to pick ourselves up in Tuesday’s Carling Cup tie at the Keepmoat and it’s good that we’ve got another game straight away.”
I thought in the first half we were excellent and deserved our interval lead.
We’d coped with what they’d got and broken the play up in the middle of the park and ought to have had two or three more goals.
But second half I don’t think that we started that well.