The empty seats before the final whistle said it all. Rotherham United, and their fans, knew they were beaten.
They had offered stiff resistance in the first half against side who look to be heading to the Premier League and could have led against the Championship’s second-placed outfit.
But an away goal four minutes after the break changed everything and New York Stadium started to empty as Brighton sealed a routine win with 11 minutes to go.
In the end, the Millers, suffering a ninth loss in 10 games, were well beaten and the division’s bottom club are now 19 points from safety with just 10 games remaining.
“I thought the lads gave me their all in the first half. But, with 20 minutes to go, I thought a few hid,” caretaker manager Paul Warne said.
“They really dropped as a group, which is sad. A few of them let themselves down. We can’t let performances just fizzle out. The fans don’t deserve that.”
The visitors swept into the lead in 49th minutes, heroic Millers defending in vain as the ball finally fell for Anthony Knockaert to fire home after Price had saved from Beram Kayal and Aimen Belaid had somehow blocked Baldock’s follow-up effort.
Substitute Solly March came on to wrap up the game in the 79th minute with a low 20-yarder and Chris Hughton’s team could have won by a bigger margin,
It had all been so different in the opening period when, patched up and beaten up, Rotherham went out and at least stood up.
They were beset by injuries and could have been forgiven for feeling sorry for themselves after a season of struggle as the gap between them and survival at the foot of the table has grown wider.
But, up to the interval, they had the better chances and produced some slick play against opponents renowned for their passing game.
Tom Adeyemi was denied from close in by David Stockdale after clever play on the right by Jerry Yates on 17 minutes and the visiting goalkeeper did even better nine minutes later, producing a fine, instinctive stop from Yates’ six-yard shot when the young Rotherham striker looked sure to score.
The Seagulls were thwarted by right-back Will Vaulks who cleared Lewis Dunk’s 24th-minute header off the line, while, three minutes before the break, Millers keeper Lewis Price was equal to Sam Baldock one on one when the Brighton man was played in on the right.
After the break, the only threat came from Albion.
“I thought, first half, we were quite good,” Warne added. “With the players available, that was the best set-up we could go with. We need to score first. We need a goal for the lads’ confidence.
““They scored. It was a pyschological blow for my lads. They never really recovered from that.”
Afterwards, bizarrely, old country and western tunes rang out from the Brighton dressing room, interrupting Warne’s press conference.
Country Road, by John Denver.
Millers supporters had long taken themselves home.
Rotherham United (4-1-4-1): Price; Vaulks, Ajayi, Belaid, Mattock (Purrington 73); Smallwood (Newell 59); Forde (Bray 71), Adeyemi, Frecklington, Taylor; Yates. Subs not used: Bilboe, Dawson, Warren, Wilson.
Brighton (4-4-2): Stockdale, Saltor, Hunemeier, Dunk, Rosenior; Knockaert (March 73), Stephens, Kayal, Skalak; Baldock (Towell 84), Hemed (Murray 75). Subs not used: Walton, Sidwell, Norwood, Tomori.
Goals: Knockaert 49, March 79 (Brighton).
Referee: Geoff Eltringham (Co Durham).
Attendance: 8,366 (1,006).