MIDFIELDER Kalvin Phillips saw red as Leeds United’s impressive ascent up the Championship was brought to a halt at new leaders Brighton in Friday night’s 2-0 defeat at The Amex.
After Brighton came flying out of the traps at their home fortress, Leeds were reduced to ten men in the 23rd minute when Phillips was sent off for preventing a certain Brighton goal with his arm.
Glenn Murray easily converted the penalty and only lapse finishing and a smart saves by Rob Green denied Brighton and Murray in particular a second.
But there was no denying the Seagulls a second goal in the 82nd minute which also arrived from the penalty spot as Kyle Bartley was penalised for pulling Lewis Dunk’s shirt, allowing Tomer Hemed to slam home from 12 yards.
Leeds approached the game following a superb nine league wins from their last 13 games and knew another victory would have taken them third.
But among the backdrop of chairman Massimo Cellino’s upcoming 18-month ban and amidst interest in the club from Italian businessman Andrea Radrizzani, the Whites remain fourth ahead of Saturday’s games, the results of which could leave the Whites outside of the play-offs.
Brighton started with a high intensity to their game but a third-minute cross from Oliver Norwood went flying wide and ended a spell of early pressure.
At the other end, a raking left flank cross from Charlie Taylor dropped just over the head of Chris Wood in front of the 2,736 travelling Leeds fans in the away end.
But Brighton posed the first real sense of danger in the 11th minute when Jamie Murphy did Luke Ayling for pace as he approached the penalty box and Ayling was booked for hauling his opposite man down.
Oliver Norwood stepped up to take the free-kick on the edge of the area and curled in a fine delivery that flew inches over an unmarked Shane Duffy at close range.
Then, after Hadi Sacko tripped Murphy in a similar position but slightly further out, Norwood delivered an almost identical free-kick delivery to his previous attempt which also went narrowly wide.
Brighton had their tails up and Pontus Jansson then became the second Whites player to be booked in the 19th minute after a foul on Murray.
But just three minutes later it was the card of a different colour handed to Leeds as midfielder Phillips was sent off for handball.
A dangerous Brighton corner reached Lewis Dunk at the far post and his flick was heading for the back of the net but kept out by a diving Phillips and his outstretched arm.
Referee Paul Tierney had no choice but to give Phillips his marching orders and award Brighton a 23rd-minute penalty from which Murray coolly sent Green the wrong way.
Whites head coach Garry Monk reacted by sending Souleymane Doukara into a more defensive role alongside Ronaldo Vieira in midfield but Brighton continued to dominate, with Kyle Bartley forced to block a Sam Baldock shot before Murray - who was earlier booked - then hit the side netting in search of his and Brighton’s second.
But the Whites were presented with half a chance in the first minute of first half injury time when Hadi Sacko’s low drive found Chris Wood free in the area.
Wood, though, got his feet in a tangle and the opportunity went begging as the ball flew past the forward and wide.
Then, in the third and final minute of first half added injury time, it was Brighton who went agonisingly close to bagging a second when Murphy again skinned Ayling before pulling the ball back to Murray whose rising effort was brilliantly tipped over the bar by Green.
Monk then brought on Matt Grimes for Sacko during the half time break but after a quiet opening ten minutes Brighton were only denied a second when Green produced a smart low save to keep out a stinging drive from Murphy who then headed wide moments later.
The Seagulls then had the ball in the net from a 70th-minute corner from which Duffy had the last touch but the effort was ruled offside.
Monk then brought on Dallas for Doukara but Brighton looked to be cruising and Duffy put a free header straight at Green in the 80th minute.
And just three minutes later the hosts finally bagged their second and again through a penalty as Bartley pulled Dunk’s shirt in the area.
Six minutes after coming on for Murray, Hemed this time converted to double the home side’s lead and wrap up a game that in truth looked over from the 23rd minute.
Leeds United: Green, Ayling, Bartley, Jansson (Cooper 88), Taylor, Vieira, Phillips, Sacko (Grimes 45), Roofe, Doukara (Dallas 71), Wood. Subs not used: Silvestri, Berardi, Mowatt, Antonsson.
Brighton: Stockdale; Bruno, Duffy, Dunk, Pocognoli; Knockaert (Skalak 87), Stephens, Norwood, Murphy (March 66); Baldock, Murray (Hemed 77). Subs not used: Maenpaa, Goldson, Hunt, Sidwell.
Referee: Paul Tierney.
Attendance: 28,206 (2,736 Leeds).