Kuszczak own goal gives Derby play-off advantage
Derby County took control of their Championship play-off semi-final against Brighton as an own goal from goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak secured a 2-1 win in the first leg on Thursday.
Steve McClaren`s team fell behind to Jesse Lingard`s early strike at the Amex Stadium, but top scorer Chris Martin levelled from the penalty spot for his 24th goal of the season.
And in first half stoppage-time Martin saw his shot hit the crossbar and bounce in off the back of former Manchester United star Kuszczak to ensure Derby take a slender lead back home for the decisive second leg at their iPro Stadium on Sunday.
County, who last played in the Premier League six years ago, went into the tie having finished 13 points ahead of Brighton and had beaten them twice already this season.
Brighton left it to the final minute of the final day of the second tier season to snatch sixth place from Reading, and it was the hosts who drew first blood.
In the 17th minute Andrea Orlandi and Will Buckley combined to send Inigo Calderon charging to the byline and the Spaniard`s cut-back was turned in at the second attempt by on loan Manchester United forward Lingard.
But Derby drew level just before the half-hour when Craig Forsyth jinked into the area only to be halted by a clattering foul by former England defender Matt Upson.
Martin stepped up to punish Upson`s misjudgement with a cool finish from the spot.
The Rams went ahead seconds before the interval when Johnny Russell played the ball to Martin, who crashed his shot against the woodwork and in off the luckless Kuszczak.
Brighton came agonisingly close to an equaliser after the break, but Leonardo Ulloa`s volley was superbly tipped onto the crossbar by Lee Grant to ensure the Rams are within touching distance of reaching the final at Wembley.
The first leg of the other Championship play-off semi-final, between Wigan and QPR, takes place at the DW Stadium on Friday.