Leeds United’s trips to The Amex: never on a Saturday, invariably made with Massimo Cellino on the agenda and too often ending in defeat.
There are few stadiums as solid in the Championship or the country and Leeds’ failure to turn up at a ground where they have never won was punished by a sending-off and a penalty kick which decided a pivotal fixture after 24 minutes.
Leeds went to Brighton with the quiet ambition of cutting the gap to second place in the table to a mere four points.
By the middle of the first half, the margin was stretching to 10 and Garry Monk stood tensely on the touchline, hoping to avoid the beating that befell Steve Evans here in February.
His squad are out of the habit of implosions and as the evening ran away from United in the first half, their demeanour felt strangely out of character, if somewhat in keeping with an odd week for the club.
Cellino stands on the verge of both a sale of 50 per cent of his shares in Leeds and an 18-month ban announced by the Football Association on Thursday.
It can only be hoped that football finds a way to win out at Elland Road this season. Monk’s players have been keeping that candle burning as the authorities attempted to turn the lights out on United’s owner.
In context, last night was a defeat to a side who led the Championship at full-time and an evening when the issues affecting Monk’s plans caught up with him.
Eunan O’Kane’s groin strain kept him out against and a young midfield were, unusually, made to look their age. Goalkeeper Rob Green struggled despite his. Kalvin Phillips received a red card for handball on 24 minutes – an instinctive offence on the goalline – and Glenn Murray stuck away the resulting penalty to put Brighton in the direction of an eighth home win.
For Leeds, the rest of the match required damage limitation.
They succeeded in preventing Albion from administering the type of rout already experienced by Norwich City on the south coast but Albion wrapped up their win with a second penalty on 83 minutes, conceded by Kyle Bartley and scored by substitute Tomer Hemed.
Monk will have licked deeper wounds in his management career and the league table looks pretty regardless but it was still an occasion which called for an adequate response against Reading on Tuesday.
Cellino did not travel to Brighton and barring a successful appeal against his ban, it will not be long before he is declared persona non grata at United’s games.
His previous suspension, imposed by the Football League in 2015, was served at a time when Leeds were treading water in the bottom half of the Championship but on this occasion he is about to estrange himself from a team who are off the leash.
Leeds have rarely visited the The Amex with as much optimism as they held last night. Their confidence was sadly unfounded.
Brighton, as Monk knew well, are seasoned campaigners at the top end of the division and very much at home in their own stadium. Brentford took three points from The Amex in September but home defeats for Albion total four in 18 months. They asserted themselves, helped by Leeds’ tentative frame of mind.
The only cost to United in the first 20 minutes were bookings incurred by Luke Ayling and Pontus Jansson; Ayling’s after Jamie Murphy beat him for pace and gave the right-back no option but to drag him down outside the box, and Jansson’s for a foul on Murray on halfway.
The free-kick that followed Ayling’s trip zipped inches over the head of an unmarked Shane Duffy and another set-piece from Oliver Norwood soon after caused more uncertainty soon after. Monk’s defence were more at sea than the club’s head coach was used to.
By the 18th minute he was yelling at his players to move out and play further up the pitch and their reticence bit them badly six minutes later.
A deep corner was met by Lewis Dunk with a boot at the far post and as Green pulled himself away from a tussle with Sam Baldock, Phillips knocked Dunk’s shot off the line with his right arm.
Referee Paul Tierney ordered him off and awarded a penalty which Murray drove straight and cleanly past Green. As Monk looked on, his team repeated previous mistakes.
Another well-hit corner found Murray unmarked beyond Green’s goal, waiting to apply a header which flew tamely into the side-netting, and Leeds were constantly one sharp pass away from trouble. Monk dragged Souleymane Doukara into midfield to compensate for Phillips’ dismissal but half-time was needed by the time it came.
Seconds before the break there was a brief hint of an equaliser when Hadi Sacko’s mishit shot flew by Chris Wood who lost Albion’s centre-backs but failed to connect nicely with the ball.
Murray, however, was then denied a second goal by Green’s fingertips. Monk headed for tunnel with the challenge of altering the balance of the game in the way that Rotherham did to his side two weeks earlier and his answer was to sacrifice Sacko and send on Matt Grimes.
Grimes took up position in a deep role in front of Monk’s defence, a position where Brighton were happy to leave him with the ball. The Amex, however, began to look for the safety of a second goal and Murphy was denied it on 56 minutes when Green’s diving save blocked his low strike.
Albion’s control was tempered by a casual air and though Duffy forced the ball into the net on 70 minutes, an offside flag was up long before he converted it.
Monk turned to Stuart Dallas but the traffic was one way and Hemed snuffed the game out on 83 minutes after Bartley engaged in some soft grappling with Dunk as he tried to defend a free-kick he had given away seconds earlier.
Tierney pointed to the spot again, Hemed placed a shot to Green’s left and Leeds were beaten.
They were beaten far earlier than that.