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Evan Ferguson scored a delightful back-heeled opener as Brighton boosted their European aspirations with a 2-0 success which pushed Bournemouth back into the Premier League relegation zone.

Republic of Ireland striker Ferguson stylishly flicked home Kaoru Mitoma’s low cross in the 28th minute to set sixth-placed Albion on course to move within four points of the Champions League spots.

Substitute Julio Enciso secured victory for the Seagulls in added time with his first goal for the club.

Hamed Traore squandered a golden first-half opportunity to equalise for lowly Bournemouth, who slipped into the drop zone on goal difference after missing a host of chances.

A big win for Roberto De Zerbi’s men was tempered slightly by influential midfielder Moises Caicedo limping off 10 minutes from time with an apparent ankle injury.

Brighton travelled along the south coast having not lost on the road since October 22 and with only one defeat this calendar year.

Fit-again striker Ferguson, who missed Saturday’s thrilling 3-3 draw with Brentford due to a minor injury, and defender Adam Webster were recalled, while Bournemouth restored Traore and Ryan Christie to their starting XI.

Following a lack of goalmouth action in an end-to-end opening period delayed by referee Darren Bond requiring assistance with his communication equipment, Albion seized the initiative just before the half-hour mark thanks to a moment of magic.

Bournemouth centre-back Marcos Senesi could only partially clear Pervis Estupinan’s initial cross and, after Japan winger Mitoma sent the ball back across goal, 18-year-old Ferguson produced a nonchalant finish into the bottom-right corner from around seven yards.

Brighton’s breakthrough – the game’s first attempt on target – had the away end singing of a potential European tour next term.

Yet Bournemouth responded well to the setback and should have levelled.

Dominic Solanke stung the palms of Seagulls goalkeeper Jason Steele before on-loan Sassuolo midfielder Traore wastefully poked wide after being slipped clear by Jefferson Lerma and was then denied by a superb block from Webster.

Bournemouth’s chances of survival had been significantly enhanced by three wins in their previous six outings but they began the evening just a point above the bottom three.

Gary O’Neil’s Cherries battled back to beat Fulham 2-1 on Saturday and looked well capable of repeating the feat.

Brighton captain Lewis Dunk came close to turning the ball into his own net under pressure from Solanke early in the second period before Lerma’s dipping effort from the edge of the box was tipped over by the fingertips of Steele.

Either side of those opportunities, Ferguson flashed two attempts off target at the other end.

Marcus Tavernier, who came off the bench to score against the Cottagers at the weekend, was brought on by O’Neil with 58 minutes gone, while David Brooks was later introduced for his first home appearance since being diagnosed with stage two Hodgkin’s lymphoma in October 2021.

Solanke’s powerful shot on the turn struck team-mate Dango Ouattara and flew over as the hosts continued to chase a leveller before Cherries keeper Neto produced a fine stop to deny Pascal Gross.

Caicedo then departed in distress following a collision with Philip Billing.

Danny Welbeck, on in place of Ferguson, almost put the result beyond doubt seven minutes from time when he was denied by Neto following fine work from Mitoma and Solly March.

That honour eventually went to Enciso.

The 19-year-old Paraguayan collected a pass from Gross and coolly stroked home in the first minute of added time as Brighton marched on ahead of tricky trips to Tottenham and Chelsea and a Wembley FA Cup semi-final with Manchester United.