Brighton boost promotion hopes and deal blow to Birmingham boss Gianfranco Zola
New Birmingham manager Gianfranco Zola suffered a painful start as Glenn Murphy headed a stoppage-time winner for Brighton at St Andrew's.
It was a cruel finish to the match for Birmingham and Zola, who looked to be heading for a memorable victory following a 52nd-minute goal from striker Lukas Jutkiewicz.
But Brighton are not second in the Sky Bet Championship without the ability to hit back. The ever-dangerous Anthony Knockaert equalised in the 83rd minute before Murray headed in to give Brighton a 2-1 success, with the Seagulls extending their unbeaten run to 16 games.
It was certainly a baptism of fire for the Italian manager who took over from Gary Rowett in midweek under surprising circumstances.
There was no vocal pre-match ill-feeling before the game despite many fans having previously expressed dissatisfaction at the sacking of predecessor Gary Rowett and Zola's swift arrival as his replacement. Instead, the Blues fans offered strong backing for a team who responded with a battling performance against high-flying visitors.
In the circumstances it was hardly surprising that Birmingham made only one change from the side which beat Ipswich in midweek and they should have made a dream start after only 37 seconds.
Jutkiewicz, given plenty of room throughout the game, lost possession to Dale Stephens and then regained the ball to put over a cross from the left which Maikel Kieftenbeld hit first time against the right post.
Brighton quickly demonstrated why they are a team in form. They were seemingly undeterred by the lucky let-off and the dangerous Knockaert jinked his way through to test Tomasz Kuszczak low at the goalkeeper's near post.
Knockaert continued to torment Birmingham and Jonathan Grounds collected the first yellow card for a reckless tackle on the Brighton winger.
Fired-up Birmingham certainly gave a good account of themselves against the promotion pace-setters but Brighton slowly got the upper hand in the last third of the first half.
Birmingham continued to pose an isolated threat as demonstrated when Grounds went forward to unleash a powerful goal-bound drive, only for Duffy to intercept with his headed clearance.
Some tigerish tackling kept Birmingham in the game and put a block on Brighton's goalscoring opportunities.
Brighton's leading marksman Murray was having a quiet time against the tenacious Ryan Shotton.
The closest Brighton came to opening their account in the first period came when Michael Morrison turned a strong header from Knockaert's cross towards his own goal. Kuszczak was alive to the situation to prevent an own goal.
Jutkiewicz, making a good impact, was dangerous in his lone role and it took the partnership of Duffy and Lewis Dunk to avoid a possible dangerous attempt on goal.
Seven minutes into the second half they both failed to close down the striker who rose high to head home a lofted cross from David Davis.
Brighton chased the game following the setback, with Birmingham dropping more and more onto the defensive in an effort to retain their slender lead.
Jutkiewicz could not be ignored as he demonstrated when he turned and shot from 25 yards, forcing David Stockdale to make a leaping save.
Brighton, however, equalised in the 82nd minute when Knockaert was on hand to collect a cross from Solly March and blast home the equaliser with a powerful left-footed drive.
Sensing the win was on, Brighton launched a late victory bid with Murray heading home in fine style four minutes into stoppage time.