SUNDERLAND'S trip to the seaside left those who travelled down from Wearside wishing they could bury their heads in the sand as Brighton sent them crashing out of the Carling Cup.
Scotland international Craig Mackail-Smith did the damage five minutes into the first period of extra-time, his well-executed header leaving Black Cats keeper Keiren Westwood helpless.
This was a surprisingly listless performance from Steve Bruce’s side.
Coming after a poor Wear-Tyne derby loss, this was a fixture which they surely viewed as a great opportunity to boost morale – but the result only served to dent it further.
Credit, though, must go to Gus Poyet’s Brighton who took the game to their Premier League visitors – and at times you wondered who was the lower division side.
Sunderland had a gift-wrapped chance to open the scoring in three minutes when Brighton left-back Marcos Painter was caught napping by Sebastian Larsson.
He in turn played Sessegnon clear, but the Benin international skewed his shot wide.
Brighton hit back within two minutes when Keiren Westwood could only beat away Craig Mackail-Smith’s 25-yard effort into Ashley Barnes’ path, but fortunately for the Irishman, the striker hit the rebound over.
Jack Colback came to Sunderland’s rescue on 13 minutes when he was able to head clear Gordon Greer’s inviting cross from the right with Barnes ready to pounce.
Sunderland gradually got their way back into the match when Kieran Richardson’s cross from the left was met by the head of Larsson, but he directed his effort straight at Brighton goalkeeper Casper Ankergren.
A minute later the Seagulls‘ keeper ’ shotstopper was called into action again to save Sessegnon’s low drive from outside the box.
On 27 minutes neat inter-play between Richardson and Colback released David Vaughan down the left, but his cross only just evaded an unmarked Sessegnon.
Sunderland were having a good spell, but a horror show from Westwood and Elmohamady nearly gifted Brighton the lead in 34 minutes.
Greer’s cross looked liked a routine clearance for Elmohamady, only for Westwood to come flying out at full-stretch for the ball.
Instead of making a clean catch, he collided with the Egyptian, although luck was on his side when Mackail-Smith could only scoop the ball over the bar.
The start of the second half gave Sunderland an almighty scare when they were caught napping by a ball over the top.
Barnes hared down on goal and looked set to apply the finish, only for Anton Ferdinand to chase back and put in a timely block.
Another ball over the top caused panic in the Sunderland ranks as again they were left flat-footed as Mackail-Smith bore down on goal.
All at the AMEX Stadium thought he had given the Seagulls the lead – only for the ball to come back off the post.
Bruce had clearly seen enough and felt the need to introducemore firepower into his attack by bringing on Conor Wickham.
The surprise was it was his captain Lee Cattermole who was sacrificed.
While there was no argument about the introduction of Wickham – the youngster after all has a proven record against Championship sides – the Cats skipper did not look injured and the move clearly looked to be a gamble as Ferdinand had the armband tossed at him.
However, Cattermole’s absence merely widened the gap in the middle as Brighton began to flood forward in greater numbers.
Again they threatened the Sunderland goal when Mackail-Smith’s cross was met by the head of Lewes Dunk, only for Westwood to save well from the centre-half.
Brighton left winger Craig Noone had been winning his battle with Elmohamady all night and Westwood again had to save well.
The winger would have another crack a minute later when he left the Sunderland back four trailing, only for Ferdinand to again race back to block a goal-bound shot.
On 64 minutes, Brighton again sliced Sunderland open and Cats hearts were in their mouths as Westwood appeared to bring down Inigo Calderon in the box, only for referee D’Urso to give them a reprieve as he booked the Seagulls man for diving.
The pressure was unrelenting and Mackail-Smith was again unlucky not to hit the target as his header flew over.
Sunderland at last managed to break upfield in 73 minutes with Sessegnon cutting in from the left, only to see his low shot turned around the near post.
Wickham was unfortunate his long-range dipper did not sneak into Ankergren’s far-post in 84 minutes.
With extra-time looming, Gardner looked to have earned Sunderland an unlikely victory as Larsson slipped him in – only for Ankergren to pull off a fine save at his near-post.
From the resulting corner, Elmohamady should have done better with his free header that flew over.
Extra-time arrived and it was Brighton who not surprisingly broke the deadlock five minutes in.
Alan Navarro broke clear on the right and his pin-point cross found Mackail-Smith at the far post, who nodded in past a helpless Westwood.
Bruce threw on Asamoah Gyan at the start of the second period as Sunderland took one last gamble to retrieve the situation.