Sheffield Wednesday must be sick of the sight of Anthony Knockaert.
Yet again the talented Frenchman was the architect of Owls’ downfall in a breathtaking promotion tussle.
Knockaert scooped the man of the match award after his double either side of half-time sent Brighton and Hove Albion back to the top of the Championship.
After Knockaert’s well-taken 34th minute opener, the visitors battled back and equalised on the stroke of half time courtesy of a Lewis Dunk own goal.
The second half was an absolute thriller.
Three players saw red, Wednesday missed a penalty and the Seagulls snatched the points late on courtesy of Knockaert’s third goal against the Owls this season.
Carlos Carvalhal’s charges bossed the second half for long periods and wasted a glorious chance to take the lead in the 66th minute when Fernando Forestieri fluffed his lines from the penalty spot after Glenn Murray had been sent off for handling Glenn Loovens’ goalbound attempt.
Wednesday piled on the pressure but could not find a way through and Knockaert made them pay in the closing stages, turning in Sebastien Pocognoli’s wonderful delivery.
The result condemned the Owls to their first Championship defeat in seven matches on a night when they deserved so much more.
They paid the price for not seizing the big moments and lost their discipline late on as substitute Steven Fletcher and Sam Hutchinson were dismissed.
Brighton, looking to bounce back after their shock defeat to Preston North End last weekend, made a strong start and almost opened the scoring inside the opening two minutes.
A lovely piece of skill by Anthony Knockaert on the right flank outfoxed Daniel Pudil and the Frenchman teed up top-scorer Murray but the forward’s shot was superbly kept out by Keiren Westwood, who also saved Jamie Murphy’s weak follow up.
Although the Seagulls shaded possession and territory, Chris Hughton’s side did not have things all their own way. After Brighton only partially cleared a free-kick, Adam Reach drilled a low 25-yard drive narrowly wide.
Knockaert, a constant menace in the early stages, fizzed in a low cross which Hutchinson hacked away inside the six-yard box.
For Wednesday, Reach forced David Stockdale into action in the 25th minute, with the Owls’ record-signing seeing his fierce strike brilliantly turned behind.
The visitors were forced to rejig their backline after Jack Hunt was carried off on a stretcher following a hefty challenge by Pocognoli. After a lengthy chat with his assistant, referee Stuart Attwell opted to caution the Seagulls full-back. Pocognoli caught Hunt with a high foot but there was no malice in the tackle. Hunt was replaced by Liam Palmer.
The change disrupted the Owls’ rhythm and Brighton caught them napping with a quick, incisive counter attack and Knockaert deservedly grabbed the goal his enterprising performance merited.
He latched on to Tomer Hemed’s lovely through ball and, despite a poor first touch, expertly rounded Westwood before firing into the roof of the net from an acute angle.
It was Knockaert’s second goal in as many matches against Wednesday and it is surely only a matter of time until his silky skills are gracing the Premier League.
Things were beginning to look rather ominous for Carvalhal’s men as Hemed flashed a right foot drive wide from just outside the penalty area.
But the Owls dug deep and levelled things up against the run of play before half-time.
Forestieri’s deft centre with the outside of his right foot caused panic in the Seagulls backline and skipper Dunk headed the ball into his own net after Oliver Norwood failed to clear their lines. A fortuitous goal but Wednesday showed plenty of grit and determination after falling behind.
You could not take your eyes off proceedings and Brighton upped the ante after the restart as Shane Duffy powered over Norwood’s free-kick before Murphy’s downward header was comfortably gathered by Westwood.
Wednesday soaked up the pressure and took control of an absorbing second half, with Wallace testing the reflexes of Stockdale from a free-kick.
The visitors dominated possession and were awarded a penalty in the 66th minute after Murray’s handball. The striker was given his marching orders and Forestieri had the chance to complete the turnaround from 12 yards.
Stockdale had other ideas and the goalkeeper pulled off a stunning double save to thwart Forestieri.
It just would not go in for the Owls as Bannan fired agonisingly off target after being fed by Palmer.
And Knockaert, who was given a standing ovation when substituted in added on time, pounced to ensure Brighton completed the double over Wednesday. It is his third goal in two meetings with the Owls this season.
To compound Wednesday’s woes, Fletcher, brought on a second half substitute for Sam Winnall who made his first start, was given his marching orders after squaring up to Dale Stephens.
Hutchinson also naively got himself sent off after a late lunge on Solly March. The midfielder was already on a yellow card.
The only consolation for Wednesday is that they will stay in the play-off positions regardless of the weekend results.
Brighton (4-4-2): Stockdale; Goldson, Duffy, Dunk, Pocognoli; Knockaert (Skalak 90), Stephens, Norwood (Sidwell 79), Murphy (March 79); Hemed, Murray. Subs not used: Maenpaa, Hunt, Huenemeier, Kayal.
Owls (4-4-2): Westwood; Hunt (Palmer 33), Lees, Loovens, Pudil (McManaman 67); Wallace, Hutchinson, Bannan, Reach; Winnall (Fletcher 57), Forestieri. Subs not used: Wildsmith, Jones, Hooper, Sasso.
Referee: Stuart Attwell (Warwickshire)