When Brighton fans think of the 1978/79 season, they will most likely remember the club’s first ever promotion to the top flight and that historic day away to Newcastle when the club finally secured it. But that season the club also achieved another first, the club’s first ever major cup quarter-final in what is to date its best ever League cup run.
This wasn’t the club first good run in the competition, in fact they’d got to the last 16 in the 1976/77 season. A run which included the club’s first win over a First Division club since 1933 courtesy of a notable 2-1 win in a replay at the Goldstone Ground over Bobby Robson’s Ipswich Town. This was an Ipswich team that would go on to win the FA cup the following season and the UEFA cup in the 1980/81 season, as well as being a regular feature at the top-end of the First Division for an extended period. They finished 3rd that season and within the top-6 in nine out of the ten seasons between the 1972/73 and 1981/82 seasons, after which Bobby Robson left the club to take the England job and the their fortunes diminished.
It was a feat they then repeated in the third round by beating another First Division team, West Brom 2-0 at the Hawthorns. But, the Seagulls were eventually beaten by Derby County 2-1 in a replay, First Division League Champions from two years previous.
On defeating Brighton then Derby manager Dave Mackay said “Brighton produced the sort of display I thought they would. I hope they get promotion and I’m sure they will.” And then in the Third Division, Brighton did achieve promotion to the second tier that season.
The 76/77 season was the first in a five year spell as manager of the club by Alan Mullery, and one where a famous FA cup first round tie between the Brighton and Palace instigated the club’s rivalry. Animosity that was no doubt exacerbated by the fact they were also competing for promotion to the second tier that season. A target both achieved, with Brighton finishing second ahead of Palace in third.
The following season Brighton almost achieved back-to-back promotions, only missing out to Tottenham on goal difference. So they entered the 1978/79 season still in the old Second Division (now the Championship), and with their sights set firmly on promotion to the top flight.
Due to its league position from the season before, the Seagulls received a bye in the first round of the League cup. A rare occurrence for a club who’d spent all bar five years of its history to that date in the third tier or lower. And entered the competition in the second round, with a home tie against Millwall.
But despite the early season promotion expectations, Albion started the season with a mixed set of results. First came a draw away to Wrexham and then a defeat at home to Cambridge, before finally winning at home to Sunderland.
So after it’s first win of the season Alan Mullery named an unchanged team which ran out 1 – 0 winners over Millwall with Peter O’Sullivan scoring the only goal of the game.
There had been talk of renovating the Goldstone Ground over the summer to improve the now run-down facilities, but the 16,748 fans that watched this second round tie found those promises undelivered, much like many promises at the time for ground development.
This was five years prior to the Bradford stadium fire that killed 56, ten prior to the Hillsborough stadium disaster that killed 96 and still fifteen years prior to the beginning of the Premier League that came just after the Taylor report was published. All of which instigated a significant investment in upgrading football stadiums across the country to become all-seater stadiums. And so the Goldstone’s run-down features were fairly common for British football stadia of the 1970s.
The teams met 4 days later in the league at the Den when Albion ran out 4-1 winners to get their promotion campaign properly on track. It was a result that rang true come the end of the season, as whilst Brighton were promoted to the topflight, Millwall were relegated down to the third tier.
In the run up to the 3rd Round Albion won their two home games against Oldham and Preston but only drew away to Stoke 2-2 and were hammered 4-1 away to Leicester City. Leaving them short of the promotion places, with ten points from eight games.
So they travelled to Lancashire to face a Burnley team for the first of two trips to Turf More that month, in search of a much needed morale boosting win, and achieved it through a convincing 3-1 victory. It was a performance described by the Brighton match-day programme as: “little short of brilliant”, as the Albion won through two Peter Ward goals and one from Teddy Maybank in front of 9,056.
This was another win over a Burnley side they’d beaten nine months earlier at the Goldstone Ground. But that day was more notable for the rock band Slade recording the video to their new Song “Give Us a Goal” at the ground ahead of the match.
But the most recent win was very notable. It was a win that secured only the club’s second last-16 league cup tie, the other being the defeat to Derby two years earlier. And previously the club had also only got to the last 16 of FA cup on four occasions, but never made it to the last 8 of either competition.
Any thoughts that the continued cup run would spur an instant upturn in league form were diminished when the Seagulls lost their following league game, which happened to be the Derby match against Palace. The game saw a 3-1 defeat to the top of the table team, one of their main promotion rivals and the team who’d ultimately beat the Albion to the title.
And the team’s patchy form continued with two wins and two defeats in the following four games to leave the team 8th and 6 points off top place and plenty of work to do in the league.
So when the 4th Round draw paired Albion with Third Division Peterborough, who would ultimately be relegated to the fourth tier that season, you could understand a little apathy towards the match. But 21,421 saw Peterborough put up a good fight at the Goldstone Ground, only going down to a narrow 1-0 defeat thanks to a goal from Mark Lawrenson.
Lawrenson went on to score another three goals that season, a reasonable return for a centre back, also winning the club’s player of the season award, a season which helped to create his legend status at the club. The most notable of his four goals came in the third round of the FA cup against Wolves when he scored after making a mazy run up the pitch from defence. Scoring a goal many who saw it consider the best goal ever scored by an Albion player. And it was this sort of solo run out of defence that he partly became known for at Albion before he left for greener pastures at Liverpool.
With that win Brighton booked their first ever major cup quarter-final. But in the run up to the match Brighton’s patchy league form continued, and three wins, two defeats and a draw left them on the fringes of the promotion hunt in 7th.
But maybe the draw had distracted the team, after all Albion were drawn away to League Cup holders and reigning Division One Champions Nottingham Forest, who were possibly the biggest draw at the time. And as highlights of the game were being shown on national television on ITV’s midweek sports special, it was a rare occurrence of national exposure for the club and its players.
Very rare in fact. When BBCs Match Of The Day expanded in 1970 to cover a 2nd game nationally, (often from outside the top Division) highlights of a Brighton game were only featured ten times before the 78/79 season. A massive difference from the level of national and now international TV exposure seen in modern day English football.
In a strange twist of fate it was national exposure for the club that once again featured a certain Brian Clough. Forest were then managed by the mercurial but brilliant Brian Clough, went on to win the League Cup that season, along with the European Cup and finishing 2nd in the league. Only losing out to a Liverpool team that won the 4th of its 11 league titles out of a possible 17 available between 1973 and 1990.
But Clough’s reputation in Sussex wasn’t what it was nationally after a failed 32 game spell as manager of Brighton during the 1973/74 season with the club still in the third division, a period chronicled in Spencer Vignes book “Bloody Southerners.” But a spell that Vignes admits put Brighton on the map due to Clough’s reputation.
His assistant Peter Taylor stayed at Brighton as manager for two more years before joining Clough at Forest in 1976 and was replaced as Albion manager by Alan Mullery who took the club from the Third Division to the First, a task originally meant for Clough.
This was Clough and Taylor’s first meeting against the Seagulls since their departure, and it would be seen by more than 5,000 Albion fans that had made the trip to Nottingham, many of which made it up on the special trains that were put on.
It was no surprise to the Albion faithful that such milestones were being achieved at the club. After all, when Chairman Mike Bamber bought the club in 1972, he did so with the intention of turning this perennially Third division club into a more prestigious outfit and appointing Clough was all part of the plan. And whilst that didn’t work out, he wasn’t deterred until ill-health forced him to step down in 1984 subsequent to the club’s relegation from the topflight the year before.
But, whilst the fans that made the trip would witness a spirited and respectable performance, Forest’s class and superiority that night told in a convincing 3-1 victory. John McGovern opened the scoring for the home side before future Forest player Peter Ward equalised for the Seagulls. But goals from Gary Birtles and John Robinson gave Forest a convincing victory and ended the Albion’s historic cup run.
It was a run that helped give the Seagulls the confidence they needed to finally achieve promotion to the top flight. Subsequent to the trip to Nottingham, the team won their next four straight games to take them up to 3rd in the table and a point off leaders Palace. A points difference that would be replicated come May as the Seagulls secured 2nd place and their first ever promotion to the topflight behind their A23 rivals.
The following season they lost in the fourth round of the League cup away to Arsenal in a replay 4-0, after drawing the original tie 0-0 at the Goldstone Ground. But Arsenal would go to lose in the next round (quarter finals) of the League cup as well as losing in the final of the FA cup and finishing 4th in the league, in a season of near but yet so far for the Gunners. Whilst Albion finished 16th of 22 teams in their maiden topflight season, avoiding the dreaded relegation.
Albion also took revenge on Forest that season by beating their 78/79 League Cup victor 1-0 both home and away in the 79/80 First Division season.
Since then, Brighton have only got to the fourth round of the League Cup once, in the 2014/15 season. At the time the team was under the short-lived and ill-fated management of Sami Hyypia, losing to Tottenham 2-0 at White Hart Lane after beating Cheltenham, Swindon and Burton respectively in the previous rounds. So here’s hoping that anything Sami Hyypia can do it, Graham Potter can do better!