The immediate future takes Aston Villa to Wembley to contest the Carling Cup. The long-term future appears to be in good hands, too, with 18-year-old Nathan Delfouneso and Fabian Delph, two years his senior, both scoring as Brighton's first fourth-round tie in 17 years ended in honourable defeat.
Birmingham-born Delfouneso set an under-strength Villa on their way, only for Tommy Elphick to send the League One stragglers in level at the break. Ashley Young, Villa's captain for the day, restored their lead before Delph showed why Martin O'Neill paid Leeds £6m, potentially rising to £8m, with the goal of the game. Nicky Forster, twice Delfouneso's age, fired a second for Brighton to lend drama to stoppage time.
The Villa manager, who hailed Delph's first goal for Villa as "magnificent", added: "It was closer than it needed to be. We had to bring James Milner on earlier than we wanted, but as it turned out we really needed him and we had to up the pace in the second half."
Gus Poyet, a Wembley winner in 2000 with Chelsea against Villa in this competition, praised his team's part in an entertaining tie. "I'm not the kind to try to defend and be boring and get a 0-0," the Brighton manager said.
Villa seized a fifth-minute lead when another 20-year-old, Marc Albrighton, made ground along the right towards the end whose upper tier was, coincidentally, all Brighton. On reaching the goalline he had the composure to lift his head and cut the ball back to Delfouneso, who deftly turned it into the net.
But having started out all at sea, Brighton finished the first half on the crest of a wave. When Elliott Bennett's 41st-minute corner landed around the near post, Elphick's right-footed shot produced a deserved equaliser.
Villa re-asserted their status with a counter-attack three minutes into the second half. Brad Guzan caught Bennett's cross before bowling the ball to Milner, who surged into Brighton's half before feeding Stewart Downing on the left. His cross saw Young out-jump Jim McNulty to score a rare headed goal, the ball going in off the angle of post and bar.
The songs of Brighton's followers stuck in 6,000 throats just after the hour. Downing helped the ball on to the increasingly influential Milner whose through-pass released Delph. Having waltzed round a defender, the midfielder angled a left-footed shot across Michael Kuipers. Forster's goal kept the magic alive to the last, but it proved only a consolation.
Referee: Anthony Taylor
Man of the match: Milner