By David Windsor
Brighton maintained their unbeaten start to 2012 with a 2-2 draw against fellow promotion hopefuls Cardiff City last night.
With time running out in front of a nervous Amex crowd, it was left to Sam Vokes to plaster his name across the headlines and keep Brighton in touch of the top six by prodding home from close range.
The relief around the stadium was palpable and the draw leaves Brighton as the only unbeaten English club this calendar year, a statistic that they will be keen to preserve as the Championship enters the business end of the season.
Brighton has dominated a goalless opening 45 minutes, with Gonzalo Jara Reyes’ strike fizzing back off the post proving to be the standout moment.
But Malky Mackay had some stern words for his Cardiff players, as they seek to keep their season on track after the Carling Cup final defeat to Liverpool on penalties recently.
After the break it was Cardiff striker Jo Mason who showed quick feet in the box, evading two Brighton challenges to give the away side the lead after 57 minutes.
Brighton manager Guy Poyet reacted instantaneously with a triple substitution, as Craig Noone, Will Buckley and Sam Vokes came on; lifting the tempo both on and off the pitch.
It was Barnes who grabbed a leveller on 72 minutes, after being picked out by Craig Noone with a smart cut-back. Just over 60 seconds later Brighton failed to clear a corner and the ball dropped kindly to Peter Wittingham on the edge of the penalty area; who directed his strike exquisitely into the roof of the net.
The quality of the strike deserved to win the game and Wittingham and Cardiff City will feel aggrieved they did not leave the South coast with all three points after taking the lead so late in the game.
But Vokes’ last minute equaliser was to be the last word and Gus declared his pleasure at the way his players: “never stop creating chances and pushing forward” despite twice trailing.
Brighton will host Portsmouth at the Amex on Saturday and the Seagulls may well have sympathy with the financial plight of a fellow South-coast club.
But this weekend will not be the time to show it; with three points essential if Gus Poyet’s men are to continue their quest for a play-off place.