Many of the established Premier League teams wouldn’t have played Brighton both home and away in one season before this one for a couple of decades at least. Some not since the early 80s during the Albion’s last stay in the top flight. Apart from Liverpool that is as in the 2011/12 season Brighton met Liverpool both home and away in the domestic cup competitions.
The teams met first at the AMEX on 21st September in the League Cup 3rd round, a matter of weeks after the opening of the AMEX. Brighton finally had a home to call its own and what a wonderful time to be an Albion fan. It was hard to get my head round everything that had happened since the beginning of the season and to reconcile all this with the club I was supporting in League One with eight thousand others down the road at a converted athletics stadium just a few months before. Hard in a good way of course, coming out of harsh wilderness of the Withdean stadium and into the promise-land that was the AMEX stadium was incredibly exciting.
So, when we drew Liverpool in the cup, it was yet another wonderful game to go watch at our wonderful new stadium. Still to this day some of those early AMEX games are my favourite Brighton games to have witnessed. And the good feeling was rubbing off on the team who were in form and sitting 3rd in the Championship, so all the reason to be optimistic.
The game itself was notable for the return of Liverpool and England star Steven Gerrard from a six-month spell on the side-lines through injury, although he only came on as a late substitute. Plus, the fact Brighton player Craig Noone once worked for him as a roofer before Noone turned professional. A point I remember Sky drumming down our throats a lot when I re-watched the coverage of the game the following day, including an awkward interview with the pair after the game.
But it would be Craig Bellamy and Luis Suarez who would be Liverpool’s main threat on the night. And it was them that drove Liverpool to a 2-1 win, Brighton’s first defeat at the AMEX.
Bellamy had just returned to Liverpool for his second spell and got their first and with a great breakaway run, created the second. Both of their performances showed whilst Brighton were on the up, the gap between Us and the Premier League’s top sides was still very big. I remember thinking at half time that they could have scored multiple goals and we should be happy that it was only 1-0 at that point, which seems truer after looking at what happened at Anfield later in the year.
That said the Albion weren’t disgraced, and got a late consolation goal through an Ashley Barnes penalty. We defended well too, which we had to during long spells in the first half. Whilst we threatened going forward on the break when we got the chance, particularly from wide positions through Craig Noone. Noone was a firm fans favourite, exciting to watch if at times lacking the decision-making ability to make the most of the skill and pace that he had. Not this night though, against Liverpool he was involved in everything good the Albion created and on another night, could have got the headlines.
So, whilst it was a 2-1 defeat and the first defeat at the AMEX for the Albion, it felt like we’d done ourselves justice and the honeymoon period at the new stadium continued. Although a certain Crystal Palace and Glenn Murray would burst the Albion’s bubble in the next home game, but the less said about that night the better.
Brighton and Liverpool then met again that season on 19th February in the FA Cup 5th round. A game which the Albion went into with confidence. Particularly having beaten Premier League Newcastle in the 3rd round meaning there was the hunger and belief for another scalp. They were also fresh from a romantic 2-2 draw with Millwall on Valentine’s Day courtesy of a late equaliser from the Albion, so spirits were high.
The Albion had good memories of visits to Anfield having never lost a cup tie there before that day, including some memorable days in the 80s. That said the Albion’s cup record in recent history was modest and it was their first 5th round FA Cup tie since 1986.
So, despite the good vibes around the club the then Brighton manager Poyet recognised the scale of the task ahead of his team. “The players know what they need to do in order to be competitive, because we have already played them this season… They know how they need to defend, they know how strong Liverpool are and they also know their quality in movement, speed and technical ability.” Sadly, the team didn’t heed his warnings.
The season so far had been up and down but Brighton went into the game with an outside hope of still making the play offs and on a good run of form. Signed permanently in the summer from Newcastle, Kazenga Lua Lua was one of the stars of the season so far and would score Brighton’s only goal that day and give the Albion a high point in an otherwise dour day. As in a heavy 6-1 defeat notable for a FA Cup record 3 own goals scored by the Albion, they put in a performance containing an incredible lack of discipline and some awfully comic defending.
Bridcutt’s two own goals preceded a spectacularly bad Lewis Dunk own goal that is reminiscent of me attempting to do keepie-uppies in my back garden, a fine way to cap off an awful display. Under little pressure the ball came to Dunk in the middle of the penalty area, he took a couple of touches that took the ball out of his control, further away from his original standing position and towards goal. This was followed by a big hoof away that was ultimately meaningless as the ball had already crossed the line. At least scoring own goals is a habit he has shaken off since…oh.
Poyet said after the game that Brighton ‘weren’t ready for promotion’, going on to say “People have been getting excited because we are doing all right. It would be fantastic if we went up but we would need to change things completely because I don’t want to be managing in the Premier League and getting beat 6-1.” Sadly, it would be another five years of toil for the Albion as despite claims in following seasons of being ‘Premier League Ready’ it is only this season the Albion get to revisit Anfield and exorcise the ghosts of that day.
Maybe trips to Anfield in the 80s hold nostalgic memories of better times for older Albion fans but for those of us with shorter memories the thought of a trip to Anfield will only lead to us waking up in a cold sweat thinking of conceding another comical own goal. If we can take anything from those two games that season it’s to keep disciplined and to just be glad we aren’t going to Anfield in need of a result.