TONY Mowbray refused to get carried away with Middlesbrough’s promotion prospects, despite seeing them close to within two points of second spot in the npower Championship with victory over Brighton.
The only goal of an ill-tempered game arrived midway through the first half, when Seagulls goalkeeper Casper Ankergren spilled an innocuous cross from Joe Bennett and Scott McDonald pounced to convert from close range at the second attempt.
Although they failed to display their best form in the final third, Boro were good value for their win on a day when leaders Southampton were held by Blackpool and second-placed West Ham were thumped 3-0 at Reading.
Yet a cautious Mowbray said: “I don’t get too concerned about other teams at the moment. I genuinely feel that at this stage of the season we are still just trying to accumulate points, to position ourselves for when the end of the season comes.
“The last dozen or so games; you need to be in there with a shout and the only way to be in the mix is to win games along the way.
“Southampton and West Ham, 10 days ago everybody said it was done and they were running away with the league, yet they have lost a game or two and it closes up again.
“I’m pretty sure their quality will show as the season unfolds. We have to try and stay in the mix with them and results like today will help our chance of doing that.”
The hosts were the first to threaten when Marouane Zemmama volleyed wide from the edge of the area in the sixth minute.
A succession of Middlesbrough corners followed, but Craig Noone then fired narrowly wide for Brighton before a free-kick was touched to LuaLua, who struck the outside of Luke Steele’s right-hand post from 25 yards.
Boro were gifted the lead soon after as Ankergren failed to deal with a seemingly innocuous cross from left-back Bennett.
Zemmama then limped off to be replaced by Malaury Martin, before a furious Barry Robson went into the book for dissent, the Scot having accused LuaLua of taking a dive.
Ankergren had to be alert to parry away another Bennett cross shortly before half-time.
Brighton began the second half with renewed energy and Gordon Greer should have done better when heading over from a LuaLua corner.
Following a series of late challenges from players on either side, Matthew Bates then wasted a golden opportunity to double Boro’s lead in the 53rd minute. The skipper was left unmarked from Tony McMahon’s inswinging free-kick, but volleyed over from 10 yards.
Boro continued to press forward as the hour mark passed, but they were unable to find a second goal and suffered another injury blow when Marvin Emnes was forced off, Bart Ogbeche coming on in his place.
There was positive news for the Teessiders when Kevin Thomson returned from his hamstring problem as a late substitute for the influential Robson.
Ogbeche had a chance to make things comfortable for the home fans late on, only to screw his shot wide after fine work from McDonald.
Middlesbrough: Steele, Bennett, Bates, Rhys Williams, McMahon, Zemmama (Martin 32), Arca, Robson (Thomson 78), Bailey, McDonald, Emnes (Ogbeche 73). Subs Not Used: Hoyte, Haroun. Booked: Robson, McMahon, Ogbeche. Goals: McDonald 21.
Brighton: Ankergren, Greer, Dunk, Jara Reyes, Taricco, Vincelot, Sparrow (Buckley 63), LuaLua, Bridcutt, Noone (Paynter 74), Mackail-Smith (Barnes 74). Subs Not Used: Brezovan, El-Abd. Booked: LuaLua, Noone, Taricco, Jara Reyes, Vincelot.
Att: 16, 594 Ref: Michael Naylor (Sheffield).