CHERRIES’ hard work at the Amex was all for naught as they fell to a late Brighton winner in a 1-0 defeat.

It looked like Cherries would pick up another precious point in the Premier League relegation battle with minutes left in Sussex.

However, Kaoru Mitoma popped up four minutes from time to break Cherries’ hearts.

Gary O’Neil made five changes to the side that were held 1-1 by Nottingham Forest two weeks ago.

Neto was handed the captain’s armband in the absence of Lloyd Kelly, who missed out due to injury.

Kelly’s centre-back partner from last time out, Jack Stephens, was also replaced, with Chris Mepham and Marcos Senesi the pairing chosen to start at the Amex.

New signings Hamed Traore and Antoine Semenyo were handed Premier League debuts, joining fellow January recruit Dango Ouattara and Jaidon Anthony in attack.

Ryan Christie and Kieffer made way, with Philip Billing replacing Joe Rothwell in midfield after returning from a knock.

There was a shaky moment early on for the stand-in skipper, Neto passing the ball straight to Brighton’s Denis Undav.

Luckily for the Brazilian, the German was unable to find the correct shot, Cherries eventually dealing with the danger after a flurry of efforts.

There were mass protests from the Cherries bench when Dango Ouattara hit the deck inside the Brighton box, O’Neil and co. believing the Burkinabe to have been pushed illegally by Pervis Estupinan.

No penalty was given, however, much to the consternation of the Cherries.

At times Cherries were forced to defend in their numbers. Jefferson Lerma put his body on the line to block Billy Gilmour’s effort from the edge of the area.

Danny Welbeck could only steer an attempt on target from a relatively free header, before the former England international saw a golden opportunity flash by his studs, the slightest of connections being enough to send the ball beyond Neto.

The second period was not quite as open as the first 45 minutes, with neither side generating much of note.

Antoine Semenyo embarked on a run from his own half after a Brighton attack broke down, the Ghanaian international being denied by the sliding block of Estupinan.

After a few anonymous performances in recent weeks, midfield general Lerma was back to his best.

His sliding tackle in the middle of the park was full-blooded but fair, allowing Ouattara the chance on goal. However, the winger was only able to send a tame effort right at Roberto Sanchez in the Brighton goal.

There were further mass appeals when Cherries believed Estupinan’s hand blocked Ryan Christie’s cross inside the box. However, VAR declined to intervene again, leaving Cherries incensed.

The final stages belonged to the hosts, and in particular, one player.

Neto made himself big to deny Mitoma at the near post, with Cherries dealing with the subsequent corner.

It would be Mitoma who find the winning goal, the Japanese international leaping highest to head home beyond Neto, who could not claw the effort away before it crossed the line.

With Everton beating league leaders Arsenal in the early kick-off, Cherries dropped to 19th in the Premier League table, two points off of West Ham who occupy the final safe spot.

Cherries: Neto; Smith, Mepham, Senesi, Zemura; Lerma, Traore (Christie, 60), Billing (Rothwell, 66); Ouattara, Anthony (Vina, 81), Semenyo.

Unused subs: Stacey, Kinsey-Wellings, Greenwood, Pollock, Moore, Travers (g/k).

Booked: Smith.

Brighton: Sanchez; Lamptey (Buonanotte, 75), Dunk, Veltman, Estupinan, March (Webster, 89), Gross, Undav (Enciso, 75), Gilmour (Caicedo, 57), Mitoma; Welbeck (Sarmiento, 57).

Subs: Webster, Steele (g/k), Paul van Hecke, Offiah, Moran.

Booked: Veltman, Dunk, Caicedo.

Referee: Craig Pawson

Attendance: 31,600