TOWN withstood Brighton’s second half surge to seal a point on the South coast.
It was a third draw in four games for Lee Clark’s side, who could have clinched victory when Anthony Pilkington hit the bar late on.
Boss Lee Clark rang the changes, with four different faces in the starting line-up following Saturday’s 1-1 home draw with Carlisle.
In came Robbie Williams, Danny Drinkwater, Michael Collins and Robbie Simpson, with Dean Heffernan out with a groin strain and 17-goal top scorer Jordan Rhodes, Gary Roberts and Tom Clarke among the substitutes.
Brighton were still missing 15-goal leading marksman Nicky Forster after his bust-up with boss Gus Poyet, while their 11-goal second top scorer Glenn Murray was dropped to the bench.
It was a bold selection by Clark, whose side walloped Brighton 7-1 at the Galpharm back in August and who were desperate for a double over the South coast side to keep their League I promotion bid on track.
Town set up with Simpson, Pilkington and Nathan Eccleston all pushing forward in front of a midfield three of Collins, Antony Kay and Drinkwater, and Pilkington stretched Brighton with a good early cross.
Chris Holroyd, in for Murray, had a 10th-minute shot blocked before Town’s first attack of note, in the 13th minute, brought a clearance off the line.
Spanish right-back Inigo Calderon got the key touch after Kay headed goalwards from Pilkington’s corner.
Town escaped a penalty appeal for handball against Peter Clarke, who was having an influential game against the lively Holroyd and former Town loan player Liam Dickinson.
When Dickinson did evade Clarke’s shackles, in the 27th minute, keeper Alex Smithies was quickly out to thwart the danger, and Clarke’s fellow centre-back Neal Trotman got an important block in to frustrate Alan Navarro, then Clarke showed his prowess at the other end of the pitch, bringing a stretching save from Dutchman Michel Kuipers with a header from Drinkwater’s cross.
Brighton came close in the 32nd minute, when Holroyd sent a low ball right across the face of goal.
When Bennett put the ball back into the danger zone, it was the busy Clarke who diverted it away.
Simpson got in behind the Brighton defence to meet Drinkwater’s 34th-minute free-kick, but shot over.
Then the striker was back to help out his defence, heading clear from Bennett’s 42nd-minute in-swinger.
Town had a let-off early in the second half when Bennett, in space, produced a fresh-air shot as Dickinson crossed.
Kay’s shot from Drinkwater’s 49th-minute corner was blocked, but Brighton were exerting pressure, and Smithies made a fine 60th-minute save to deny Dickinson after Holroyd laid the ball back.
Soon after, defender Adam Virgo’s shot was hacked away by Lee Peltier.
Town made a double change after 61 minutes, with Rhodes and Lee Novak replacing Simpson and Eccleston to form a more orthodox 4-2-2, and the pair linked well six minutes later, with Rhodes’ shot deflected for a corner.
It was end-to-end stuff by this stage, and Town’s 163 travelling fans at the opposite end will have been relieved to see Virgo’s near-post flick from Navarro’s right-wing cross go wide.
Virgo then shot just over from Bennett’s 74th-minute corner.
Home fans in the 4,711 crowd appeared to be sensing a breakthrough, but it was Town who had the next close chances, with Kay’s long-range shot blocked before Rhodes’ teasing cross from the left rolled just behind the onrushing |Novak.
Then, with 10 minutes left, Tommy Elphick’s foul on Novak set up a free-kick in prime position for Pilkington, who rattled it against the bar and over, much to the relief of the home team.
Brighton, however, weren’t finished, and as they turned the screw, Smithies had to be alert to tip over Trotman’s misplaced clearing header from substitute Gary Dicker’s thumping shot.
Town's match on Saturday against Swindon could be called a six-pointer - but for a six-pointer of your own try our quick quiz.
We've got half a dozen questions that will stretch the old grey matter on the subject of the men in blue and white.