Blues began 2013 in defeat as Brighton hit Town for three at Portman Road
Town began 2013 in disappointing fashion, after going down 3-0 to Brighton at Portman Road.
First-half strikes from Dean Hammond and Craig Mackail-Smith put the Seagulls in control at half-time, before Wayne Bridge added a third after the break to wrap up the win for Gus Poyet’s side.
The defeat represented a first home loss for manager Mick McCarthy, since he arrived at Portman Road in November.
The Town boss was forced to make one change to the side that beat Wolves last time out, with Nigel Reo-Coker replacing Andy Drury in midfield as the latter missed out through illness.
Youngster Tyrone Mings was named amongst the Town substitutes for the first time since he arrived at Portman Road from Chippenham.
However it was the visitor who started the brighter and Gus Poyet’s side broke the deadlock after 15 minutes.
A corner was swung in by Andrea Orlandi and met by Dean Hammond, who powered his header past Stephen Henderson and Carlos Edwards and into the back of the net.
Chances were at a premium but the game suddenly burst into life midway through the half, with Daryl Murphy denied a stunning goal after 25 minutes thanks to a fine diving stop from Tomasz Kuszczak, before Lee Martin then had strong shouts for a penalty waved away by referee Kevin Friend.
Two minutes later at the other end, Brighton defender Adam El-Abd was unlucky not to double the Seagulls’ advantage, as he saw his header cleared off the line by Town skipper Carlos Edwards.
Just after the half hour mark Town went close to drawing level but DJ Campbell’s header looped over the crossbar.
However Brighton soon made it 2-0 with a goal of sheer quality. Hammond flicked the ball on to Mackail-Smith and the striker made no mistake when through on goal, finishing emphatically into the bottom corner, in off the post after 34 minutes.
Four minutes later and Tommy Smith almost inadvertently turned into his own net following a dangerous cross from Orlandi, but the defender managed to clear the danger behind for a corner.
Martin did try to find a way back for Town but his dipping drive from distance flew just over the crossbar, before the referee called time on the half.
Blues did start the second-half well, with Guirane N’Daw thundering a volley towards goal after 53 minutes that flew just wide of the target from fully 30 yards out.
Martin then went close for Town just after the hour mark, curling a free-kick just over the top of Kuszczak’s goal.
However Blues were dealt a further blow as Bridge made it 3-0 to Brighton after 76 minutes. Gary Dicker swung the ball out to the left-back, who cushioned the ball on his thigh before snapping the ball into the bottom corner from 30 yards out.
Michael Chopra, who had entered the fray as a second-half substitute, was unfortunate to flick the ball over the top from close range, after he met Aaron Cresswell’s left-wing centre.
Martin fired wide for Town late on as Blues tried to find a way back into the game, although struggled to create many clear cut chances throughout the course of the afternoon.
Brighton should have added a fourth late on, as both Ashley Barnes and Liam Bridcutt broke the Town offside trap, but the pair got in each other’s way and Henderson was able to gather the loose ball.
Substitute Will Hoskins then wasted a glorious chance to make it four in injury time, but he lobbed the ball over the top when through on goal.
That proved to be the final piece of meaningful action, as Blues started the New Year with a defeat.
Town will now take a break from league action, as Blues travel to Villa Park to take on Premier League side Aston Villa in the FA Cup.
Town: Henderson, Orr, Chambers, Smith, Cresswell, Edwards, Reo-Coker, N’Daw (Hyam 85), Martin, Campbell (Scotland 65), Murphy (Chopra 65). Subs not used: Loach, Hewitt, Mings, Emmanuel-Thomas.
Brighton: Kuszczak, Lopez, Greer, El-Abd, Bridge, Orlandi (Hoskins 80), Hammond, Bridcutt, LuaLua (Dicker 55), Barnes, Mackail-Smith (Dobbie 85). Subs not used: Brezovan, Dunk, March, Crofts.
Booked: Bridcutt, El-Abd
Att: 19,018 (909 visiting fans)