Leicester City slipped to a second straight Sky Bet Championship defeat on Saturday afternoon after a frustrating 90 minutes against Brighton & Hove Albion at the AMEX Stadium.
Most of the damage was done in the first half when the dangerous David Lopez was the provider on both occasions to put Brighton 2-0 up inside the first 30 minutes.
Ashley Barnes grabbed the first on just nine minutes when he finished from a tight angle at the far post from a Lopez cross. The second then came when Lopez picked out Craig Conway with an impressive cross-field pass, allowing the winger to come inside and finish well past Kasper Schmeichel.
In the second half City did muster a response when Andy King’s diving header from an Anthony Knockaert set piece pulled it back to 2-1, but Brighton sealed the points 13 minutes from time when Barnes dusted himself down to convert from the penalty spot.
There were two changes for the Foxes going into the game – King and former Brighton man Dean Hammond coming into a 4-3-3 formation at the expense of Matty James and Knockaert.
Gordon Greer captained the home side, who named Kazenga LuaLua, the man that scored a late equaliser in the corresponding fixture last season, on the bench.
Both sides were clearly eager to return to winning ways, and it was the Foxes who had the best early chance when Danny Drinkwater made an incisive break from the midfield, only to see Peter Brezovan make a superb one-handed stop down low to his right.
The hosts responded with a flurry of set pieces – Marcin Wasilewski conceding one at the expense of a yellow card. However City’s defence held strong, with Wes Morgan getting a strong head to a free kick and Paul Koncheksy putting in a solid block on an Andrew Crofts effort.
It was a good spell for the Seagulls though, and they did a good job of capitalising on it for the opening goal in just the ninth minute.
Lopez broke at pace down City’s left, and after looking up, picked out Barnes with an inch-perfect ball to the far post, where he was able to turn it into the net from a tight angle.
There were chances for City however – Jamie Vardy picking up a loose ball after Brighton failed to clear a Lloyd Dyer cross, but Greer made a crucial block as he looked to pull the trigger.
Dyer then stung the palms of Brezovan as Brighton were forced into a 17th minute substitution when Adam El-Abd entered the fray for injured skipper Greer.
But just as City were beginning to have the better of the play, Brighton hit them swiftly and clinically on the counter attack.
Lopez was again the provider, when his raking diagonal from the right picked out the run of Conway. The winger took a touch inside before finding the bottom corner with an excellently taken right foot finish.
The second goal gave the home side plenty of encouragement, and their relentless closing down made in increasingly difficult for City to create the required openings, despite brilliant work from Drinkwater.
The frustration continued right up until the half time whistle, when the manager will have been glad to get them into the dressing room and re-group.
In the second half Pearson did make an attacking change, with Knockaert coming into the midfield on the right at the expense of Hammond as City reverted to a flat 4-4-2.
The Frenchman immediately went about linking up with Drinkwater as City pressed, but that inevitably left gaps, and on 52 minutes, Liam Bridcutt almost cashed in when he flashed an effort wide of Schmeichel’s goal.
City were good in possession, but they just weren’t putting Albion ‘keeper Brezovan under enough pressure – admittedly that was down to some impressive defending from Brighton’s back line for the most part.
Tackles were certainly flying in too as the game reached the hour mark. Wasilewski escaped with a warning for a push on Stephen Ward, as did Knockaert for a full-blooded but fair challenge in the corner, while Drinkwater did make it into the referee’s book for bringing down Barnes as Brighton broke.
Barnes joined him shortly afterwards after arrived late for a 50-50 with Morgan, but City were soon to drag themselves back into the game, and it was a familiar face on the score sheet in the form of King.
He was on hand at the far post to connect with Knockaert’s free kick with a beautiful diving header, raising City hopes of a comeback.
Pearson then made a double change as the game veered in City’s favour. On came the duo of Chris Wood and Gary Taylor-Fletcher, and off came Dyer and Nugent.
Taylor-Fletcher immediately went close to drawing Leicester level, his header being tipped over the crossbar by Brezovan, before King did well to get an effort away, only to be denied by the ‘keeper again.
Brighton brought on LuaLua, whose pace could certainly cause City headaches on the counter, but they continued to press regardless.
Then on 77 minutes, a difficult task was made even harder when referee Robert Madely pointed to the spot after he judged Morgan to have unfairly impeded Barnes inside the area.
The striker fired his spot kick straight down the middle for his second and Brighton’s third, leaving City scrambling to rescue a point.
To their credit, Drinkwater and Vardy both forced saves from Brezovan shortly after the goal, but it didn’t look like being their day against a side that had done most of the work in a brilliant display of first half finishing.
King also went into the book for a foul on LuaLua, as his right footed free kick a few minutes later indicated the end for City in terms of chances to pull it back and meant they now had a week to re-group in time for Saturday’s Fans Fixture against Burnley at King Power Stadium.
BRIGHTON (4-3-3): Brezovan; Ward, Greer (c) (El-Abd 17), Upson, Bruno; Bridcutt, Ince, Crofts; Conway, Lopez (LuaLua 73), Barnes.
SUBS NOT USED: Walton, Calderon, Lita, Agustien, Andrews
GOALS: Barnes 9, 77 pen, Conway 28
CITY (4-3-3): Schmeichel; Wasilewski, Morgan (c), Miquel, Konchesky; Hammond (Knockaert 46), King, Drinkwater; Vardy, Nugent (Wood 65), Dyer (Taylor-Fletcher 65).
SUBS NOT USED: James, Schlupp, Moore, Logan
ATTENDANCE: 27,497 (1,547 away)
REFEREE: Robert Madley