BRIGHTON, England (Reuters) -Brighton & Hove Albion's Kaoru Mitoma rose to the occasion and scored for a third game in succession to snatch a 1-0 win over relegation-threatened Bournemouth in an entertaining Premier League south-coast derby on Saturday.
With time running out and Bournemouth seemingly coming away from the Amex Stadium with a precious point, Mitoma stole into the box and rose high while back-pedalling to head home Jeremy Sarmiento's cross at the near post in the 87th minute.
Mitoma had been doubled up on during the match as Bournemouth identified him as the danger man, attempting to blunt his speed and agility in the final third, but the 25-year-old was relentless in his quest for a breakthrough.
Ultimately, the goal was far from a trademark finish from the electric Japanese winger but it was enough to seal three points as Brighton moved back up to sixth place with 34 points, inching ever closer to the dream of European football.
"I can never substitute him (Mitoma) because I felt he could score," Brighton boss Roberto De Zerbi said as Mitoma completed 90 minutes for the fourth straight game.
"I'm really happy, I think it was a really difficult game but we knew it would be. I think it was one of the best games in my time here - in terms of quality, shots and the attitude to win."
Earlier, Brighton's Deniz Undav had the perfect chance to open the scoring when he pounced on a poor pass from Bournemouth goalkeeper Neto but the forward had his first shot blocked and his second saved while his final attempt cannoned off the post.
Bournemouth felt hard done by when Dango Ouattara was pushed to the ground in the box by defender Pervis Estupinan, who made no attempt to play the ball, but the referee and VAR deemed it a legal challenge and no penalty was given.
Midfielder Moises Caicedo was benched after Brighton refused to budge on his request to move in the January transfer window amid interest from Arsenal, but all seemed forgiven when he came on in the second half to a warm reception from the fans.
"For Moises, I'm really happy with the response from the fans," added De Zerbi, who had said last month that he wanted the Ecuadorian to finish the season with them before considering a transfer to a bigger club.
Meanwhile, Bournemouth are 19th and sit a point off the safety zone as they look for their first win since the World Cup break. Gary O'Neil's side have only one point from their last six matches.
(Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Ken Ferris)