MIDDLESBROUGH might be challenging in the upper reaches of the Championship, but the gulf separating Michael Carrick’s side from the Premier League elite was all too apparent as they were hammered by Brighton and dumped out of the FA Cup.

The Teessiders conceded five goals at home for the first time since the Gareth Southgate era as they were comprehensively outplayed by a Seagulls side who currently sit in eighth position in the top-flight.

Chuba Akpom cancelled out Pascal Gross’ early opener, but from that point on, it was one-way traffic with Brighton claiming a deserved and comprehensive success.

Adam Lallana restored the visitors’ lead in the first half, before Argentinian World Cup winner Alexis Mac Allister left the bench to score two goals of his own in the second period. Another Brighton substitute, Dennis Undav, completed the scoring with two minutes left.

Carrick’s team selection underlined just how seriously he was taking the game, with the Boro boss making just one change – Paddy McNair for Darragh Lenihan – from the side that started the 3-1 win at Birmingham in the club’s last league outing.

Brighton boss Roberto de Zerbi was also treating the FA Cup with respect though – the Seagulls’ starting side contained just four changes from the team that thrashed Everton in midweek – and the visitors were ahead inside the opening eight minutes.

Evan Ferguson found Solly March in a huge pocket of space at the heart of Boro’s 18-yard box, and while the midfielder’s shot was saved by Zack Steffen, Gross was on hand to stroke home the rebound.

Lallana almost added a Brighton second with a shot that Steffen kept out, but Boro struck back to equalise with pretty much their first attack of the game in the 13th minute.

Ryan Giles swung over a cross from the left, and Akpom leaped effectively to direct a header towards goal. Former Boro goalkeeper Jason Steele got a touch on the ball to direct it onto the post, but the subsequent spin on the rebound saw the ball go over the goalline and into the net.

It is debatable whether the goal should go down as a Steele own goal, but assuming the initial decision to award it to Akpom stands, it will be the forward’s 14th goal of the season.

Buoyed by their equaliser, Boro almost claimed the lead midway through the first half, but while Matt Crooks’ flick-on released Riley McGree into the inside-left channel, Steele produced a fine stop as he tipped the Australian’s stinging drive over the bar.

Steffen produced another save of his own to keep out Gross’ free-kick as the action continued to swing from one end to the other, but Boro’s American goalkeeper was unable to prevent his side falling behind for a second time just before the half-hour mark.

March crossed from the right, Kaoru Mitoma hooked the ball back across the face of goal, and Lallana was able to chest the ball home from just in front of the goalline.

Mitoma and March caused problems from the wide positions all afternoon, and the former went close on the stroke of half-time as his one-two with Gross culminated in a low shot that Steffen saved.

The start of the second half saw the introduction of Mac Allister, and after replacing Lallana, it took the Argentinian World Cup winner less than quarter-of-an-hour to make his mark.

Pervis Estupinan drilled in a low shot from close to the corner of the penalty area, and Mac Allister stuck out a foot to divert the ball beyond Steffen and into the bottom right-hand corner.

Cameron Archer came off the bench to make his Middlesbrough debut as a 68th-minute substitute, but the Aston Villa loanee, who only joined the Teessiders yesterday, was unable to change the course of the game.

Instead, Brighton added a fourth goal as Mac Allister scored again with ten minutes remaining. Gross delivered a square ball from the right, and Brighton’s World Cup winner slotted home an excellent first-time finish from eight yards.

Undav completed the scoring in the 88th minute as he turned neatly in the area before drilling home via the inside of the left-hand post.