Albion's under 21s had a tough introduction to the second division of the Premier League at Lancing tonight.

They were beaten 2-0 by Blackburn Rovers at the Sussex FA's Culver Road headquarters in their opening fixture at the upgraded level, secured by the club's rise to academy one status at the new training ground nearby.

Teams are permitted up to three over-age outfield players plus the goalkeeper but several potential candidates for a game travelled with the first team squad for the matches at Birmingham and Leeds, so coach Simon Ireland fielded a mixture of first and second-year scholars.

They were spirited but found it hard going and were not helped by a right leg injury to Emil Asmundsson which forced off the holding midfielder midway through the first half. He later made his way to the dressing room on crutches for treatment.

Blackburn should have been ahead by the interval. Jordan Preston let the Seagulls escape by shooting wide early on following a defensive mix-up and subsequently drove against the near post when a cross eventually landed at his feet.

Modou Cham, Rovers' lively left-winger, cut inside to fire just wide and had a similar effort blocked with his legs by keeper Josh Smith.

Blackburn were also threatening from set pieces. Bradley Barry, stationed on the near post, cleared Darragh Leniham's effort off the line approaching half-time to keep Albion on terms.

Their response in the opening 45 minutes was a couple of shots from centre-forward James Muitt which gave visiting keeper David Raya Martin routine saves.

Albion fell behind three minutes into the restart, Preston heading in a cross from Dean Rittenberg. Robin Deen came closest to equalising with a half-volley wide at the near post from Barry's cross 16 minutes from time.

Cham put the contest beyond the Seagulls in the 78th minute, sliding in to slot a cross via the bar from point blank range.

It does not get any easier for Ireland's youngsters. They go to Middlesbrough next Tuesday, when the first team play at Swindon in the Capital One Cup.

Albion (4-1-2-3): Smith; Barry, Barclay, Dallison, Hunt; Asmundsson (Collar 22); Wiltshire (Cole 59), Hutchinson; Deen (Tighe 83), Muitt, Starkey. Subs not used: Doherty, White.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Raya Martin; Daly, Lenihan, Lavelle, Doyle; Rittenberg (Pierce 74), Carson, Bauress, Cham; O'Sullivan, Preston. Subs not used: Jorge, Crump, Joel.