BRIGHTON goalkeeper Michel Kuipers prevented the perfect outcome, but there was still a trademark Andy Booth goal for the retiring striker, and the thousands of Town fans who adore him, to savour on his final home appearance.
The 35-year-old headed home in only the 16th minute – his fourth goal in three games, seventh of the season and 149th for the club – but because battling Brighton defended better than Town, a 2-2 draw was the final outcome.
Michael Collins chalked up a 10th goal of the season with a classy 57th-minute finish after Robbie Williams had hit the bar with a humdinger of a shot midway through the first half, but the man the fans really wanted to see score again was Booth – and Kuipers was having none of it.
Having pawed away the Town legend’s 23rd-minute shot, the former Dutch marine dived to his right to make an even more spectacular save from Booth’s 83rd-minute header, which had it gone in, would have had the Galpharm faithful in raptures.
As it was, neither set of supporters could be fully satisfied, because Brighton, who brought 1,201 to swell the attendance to 14,740, would have assured their League I survival had they claimed all three points.
They certainly had a go, twice levelling through Calvin Andrew in the 38th minute and Lloyd Owusu in the 66th, and having fluffed good chances in the 14th minute (Andrew) and 50th (Owusu), came close to a dramatic stoppage-time clincher.
Substitute Craig Davies swung in a deep cross-cum-shot from the left which the backpedalling Alex Smithies did well to push away for a corner.
Town’s early defending was solid, with Martin Kelly and Nathan Clarke both producing brave blocks to frustrated Owusu and Andrew Whing in the sixth minute before Doug Loft shot wide from Dean Cox’s cross in the seventh.
Then Crystal Palace loanee Andrew, on as a ninth-minute replacement for the injured Gary Hart, ballooned his 14th-minute close-range effort after neatly controlling another Cox cross.
Town’s sole effort previously had been a 10th-minute shot from Kelly which went wide, but the home side went ahead, with Brighton insisting Tommy Fraser had blocked Booth’s header before it crossed the line.
But just as at Walsall the week before, an assistant referee, in this case Yorkshireman Andrew Smith, was well placed to judge, and his raised flag brought gleeful celebrations on three sides of the stadium and a booking for protesting midfielder Fraser.
Town twice came close in the 23rd minute, with Williams’ 30-yard shot smacking against the woodwork with Kuipers well beaten before the stopper saved from Booth.Related content
Little was being seen of Brighton as an attacking force – until Andrew struck with a strong header from a Cox corner which gave Smithies little chance.
Owusu was wide from a great position as the visitors carved out the first opportunity of the second half.
But Danny Cadamarteri came close as Town found some rhythm ahead of Collins’ strike, tucked away neatly after a one-two with Cadamarteri.
Gary Roberts had a shot blocked by Whing while Booth headed over from Cadamarteri’s cross before Brighton got themselves back on level terms, Owusu nodding home from close range after Gary Dicker’s attempted volley from Whing’s long throw bounced up kindly.
Town tried to force a third, with Nathan Clarke heading wide before Kuipers’ top stop from Booth.
And in the final minute, substitute Lionel Ainsworth raced through onto Tom Clarke’s pass only to put his low shot wide.
At least Smithies remained alert to deny the visitors a dramatic victory and keep their fans on tenterhooks until the final games of the season this Saturday, when Town head to Orient and Brighton host Stockport.
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