Brighton’s 87/88 FA cup run

The 1987/88 season saw Brighton return to its spiritual home of the Third Division after ten seasons away, four of which were spent in the topflight.

The team was then managed by Barry Lloyd, whose previous managerial job was with Non-League Worthing and who was initially brought in by his predecessor Alan Mullery during his doomed second spell at the club to manage the reserves and youth team. But was promptly promoted into the job as first team manager after Mullery was sacked just a few months into the job during a period of severe cost cutting and player sales.

Lloyd’s task initially was one of remaining competitive in the Second Division amongst the costs cutting measures. So drastic we’re the measures that during this time The Brighton Argus featured a front page story saying that all the club’s first team professionals were for sale.

Somewhat inevitably amongst such turmoil, the club couldn’t avoid relegation back to the third tier. However, given the circumstances he was working under and after the club had sacked two high profile managers in just over a year, it’s little surprise that the club stuck with Lloyd, despite his inexperience.

Fortunately for Albion, Lloyd proved to be a more than competent coach and a shrewd operator of the transfer market. Despite the club’s financial limitations he began building an exciting, attacking side, focused on a passing style and he managing it despite having to sell high profile players. The likes Terry Connor and Dean Saunders were sold for a profit and replaced with cheaper options like striker Garry Nelson who was signed from Plymouth, and with midfielder Dean Wilkins, who had returned to the club after playing in the Dutch topflight with Zwolle for three years.

Due to their return to the third tier Albion joined that season’s FA Cup in the first round for the first time in a decade, but despite this handicap the cup finalist of five seasons earlier still managed a decent cup run in the competition.

Albion’s run started by beating Brentford 2-0 away from home in the first round, thanks to a brace from Garry Nelson.

Nelson’s first that day has gone down in Albion folklore and is one he described recently on the podcast “Football, Albion and me” as one of his best. He said: “The sad thing and funny thing about it was it was the only goal that season I scored out of the 32 – that and a penalty – that nobody filmed.” Also saying that “At the time the local paper at Brentford said it was one of the best goals they had ever seen at Griffin Park.”

But don’t just take Garry’s word for it. John Vinnicombe the then lead sportswriter of the Brighton Argus said of the goal: “Nelson rated his 68th minute strike as the best of his nine years in the game, and that is saying something. Albion were shading the second half when he took the ball off Keith Jones just inside Brentford’s half and then proceeded to bamboozle no fewer than five defenders before unleashing that rocket-powered left foot. The ball must have been a blur to Gary Phillips as it tore into the top corner.”

Nelson then rounded off the day with an injury time penalty that secured the 2-0 win before Albion faced another away trip to Northampton in round two. A match which they won 2-1, with goals from Kevin Bremner with another from Nelson, setting up a home tie in the third round with then Second Division Bournemouth.

Bournemouth were then managed by a young Harry Redknapp, who would lead the team to a 12th placed finish in the Second Division that season, which up until 2014 was the Cherries highest ever league finish. They had also caused a notable FA Cup shock beating the then cup holders Man United in round four, four years previously. But this Albion team were up to the challenge and deservedly beat the visitors 2-0 to make it into round four. Captain Doug Rougvie put Albion ahead, getting on the end of a Steve Gatting free kick, before Nelson scored his 4th goal of the competition to seal another 2-0 victory.

Albion’s reward in Round 4 was a plum draw at home to George Graham’s Arsenal. This was a highly anticipated tie and saw an attendance of 26,467, the biggest at the Goldstone since the 1983 quarter final against Norwich, and an attendance that earned the club a then record matchday gate receipts of £85k. This was indeed no ordinary game for the club and the Albion players and management prepared for it with a four day summer training camp in Spain the week before.

And the break appeared to have done Albion good, as they started the game well and created a flurry of chances on an admittedly poor Goldstone pitch. Those chances included one for that man Garry Nelson, but he put his shot straight at the Arsenal goalkeeper John Lukic. And despite the home sides pressure it was Arsenal who took the lead on the run of play through Kevin Richardson, a goal the Brighton programme described as “soft”.

But Albion continued to press and equalised after Garry Nelson turned in a Dean Wilkins headed cross with a spectacular flying volley scissor kick, to score his fifth of the competition.

That particular goal is said to have “caused one of the biggest terrace surges in North Stand history at the Goldstone Ground.” But despite all the excitement and anticipation, Albion couldn’t muster a second to take the lead. They did have their chances, including one for Nelson’s strike-partner Kevin Bremner who had probably the best chance of the game after being found at the near post by Alan Curbishley, but his cross come shot was fired harmlessly across the face of goal.

It seemed like the tie was destined for a replay at Highbury, which given the club’s mounting debts would have been a useful financial reward for the club. It would also have made for a special return to Highbury, the location of Albion’s most famous win in the competition, 2-1 over Sheffield Wednesday in the 1983 FA Cup semi-finals. That was until Perry Groves scored a 78th minute winner for the visitors. A victory the Brighton programme described as “rather fortunate” also commenting: “Now you know why they are known as lucky old Arsenal”.

Indeed Garry Nelson told the Brighton programme last year in a feature about this game that “we were gutted” and “we all felt we deserved a replay and gave a brilliant account of ourselves. They were more clinical but there wasn’t much between the teams.”

This may have ended Albion’s 1988 cup run, but there would be further success in the competition as the club made the 4th round in four out of the next five years. In fact from 1978 through to 1993 the club made it to at least the 3rd round every year making two quarterfinals, one further 5th round appearances and nine further 4th round appearances. A period of relative success in the competition unmatched until recent seasons.

A win in Albion’s following game away to Blackpool saw them move up to sixth. And a 2-1 win at home to Bristol Rovers on the last day of the season would see them finish second, behind Sunderland, securing automatic promotion back to the Second Division and avoid the dreaded playoffs, which had only been introduced the season before.

Including his five goals in the FA Cup Garry Nelson scored 32 goals in total that season. But despite this impressive season he eventually lost his place after promotion as the team pushed for a further promotion back to the First Division in the 90/91 season. However the success on the pitch led by Barry Lloyd’s management was masking the financial troubles off of it, which would come to a head later that decade.

In contrast, Arsenal would go on to beat Man United at home in round 5 before losing in the quarterfinals to Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest and finish 6th in the First Division that season, before going on to win the First Division the following season in that dramatic end of season decider against Liverpool, chronicled brilliantly in the documentary “89”.

Further patience is required for Potter as Albion continue flattering to deceive

Graham Potter’s Albion side have often been a contradiction since he took charge of his first competitive match as manager of the team back in August 2019. That 3-0 win over Watford turned out to be more a signpost of where Albion’s opponents were rather than themselves, as another season of relegation struggle followed. But then again, it’s not surprising considering the level of overhaul he was required to oversee in his first season at the club with relatively limited funds.

After Hughton’s sacking, Potter was tasked with creating a more entertaining team that also progressed up the table towards its long-term goal of an established top half place and away from that dreaded relegation zone, all whilst blooding youngsters and replacing the unwanted but previously important squad members.

Given the amount of change required, we all knew it wasn’t likely to be a bed of roses and patience would be required well into Potter’s second season and beyond. But in a year of such uncertainty and anxiety the patience required is understandably thin on the ground. So it should come as no surprise that it now appears whether he is still managing to do a satisfactory job depends on who you speak to.

Whichever side you fall on, I think it’s hard to not appreciate the progression made by the team during his tenure. He took over the most defensive team in the division and in the space of a year and a half has turned them into one praised for its attacking and entertaining style of play, a team that has dominated most games it’s played this season in terms of possession and chances created, whilst albeit also rightly criticised for its wastefulness in taking the opportunities it has created.

You will likely already know about Albion’s incredibly poor performance in comparison to its expected goals measurement (XG), which is the worst in the division this season. But there are many other statistics that demonstrate Albion’s attacking progression not demonstrated in the league table.

For instance (according to FBref.com) in Chris Hughton’s last season in charge Brighton had the lowest number of touches in the opposition penalty box of any Premier league team, but in the following season (Potter first in charge) they ranked 10th with a 32% increase. A trend continued into the 20/21 season with Albion now having had the 5th highest total touches in the opposition penalty box in the Premier League so far this season.

There are plenty of other examples too. Comparing the last Hughton season (18/19) to the first Potter season (19/20), season on season:

• shots were up 23%,

• shots on target up 38%,

• possession was up 23%,

• shot creating actions were up 20%,

I could go on. Ultimately, Brighton have attacked more frequently and more effectively.

An attractive style of play is one thing, ultimately it has to be backed up by results and the relative stagnation of Albion’s league position has frustrated many (17/18 – 15th, 18/19 – 17th, 19/20 – 15th, 20/21 – currently 17th). However as I’ve discussed in more depth previously, Albion are far from alone in what is a competitive field of clubs in the search for the top half of the topflight.

Many have focused on Albion’s recent poor home form having recorded just two home wins in all competitions in 2020 so far going into their final home game of the year against Arsenal on Tuesday night. A fair point, but you can’t focus solely on home form. Away from home it’s now 5 wins 4 draws and 3 defeats (to Spurs – 6th, Leicester – 2nd & Everton – 4th) in the 12 games since the restart, which would have been an unimaginably good record when Potter took over considering Albion achieved just 5 wins in all of Hughton’s 38 Premier League away games.

Nonetheless it is a poor run at home that’s been highlighted by the recent failure to beat struggling West Brom, Burnley and Sheffield United. However, the value of those results depends on your perspective.

Those draws along with the one away to Fulham do make Albion unbeaten against its fellow members of the league’s current bottom five. And whilst they did fail to win all four matches, that lack of a defeat combined with Albion’s away form continuing to improve could mean those results prove to be a beneficial rather than a damaging factor in Albion’s season.

Despite only winning two games so far this season (currently 9% down on its consistent 23% average win percentage across the last three seasons), it’s still fairly early days and Albion have shown through its increased attacking threat detailed above that they are able to give anyone a game. And given they are yet to be beaten this season by a team outside the current top 7 in the league, they can feel confident going into most fixtures.

However, that confidence continuing may well be dependent on Albion capitalising on opportunities to win games more often than they have so far this season, starting with their next three fixtures against West Ham, Arsenal & Wolves respectively. Fortunately all three opponents are ones they have a good record against, taking a accumulated total of 29 points from a possible 48 in the Premier League, whilst recording just 1 defeat in those 16 matches.

Considering their shortage of victories, Albion could certainly do with that run continuing this season. But in order to do so it needs to start turning draws and victories based on expected goals into actual wins and three points. But as the old football adage goes, you’d rather be creating chances and missing them than not creating chances at all. The signs are good, once again let’s give Graham Potter the patience to get it right.

A restart for Albion

After the initial joy of victory had subsided, Saturday’s first experience of the Premier League’s project restart left many yearning for the old ways.

Saturday’s win could be crucial in Albion’s bid for another Premier League season. But as others pointed out, imagine being at the AMEX after an injury time minute winner gives the club its long awaited first win of 2020 over the (not so) mighty Arsenal. Yes, winning is great, but experiencing it together is so much better and I can’t pretend I’m fully bought into this restart just yet.

Maybe if I was an Arsenal fan, I’d feel a bit different. Given their club’s horrific restart and the club’s recent history of a toxic atmosphere at the Emirates, the alternative fan experience of some fake crowd noise and the option to just change the channel and watch Escape to the Country on BBC One when things inevitably go against you would probably be preferable.

We all need time to adjust to the new reality we find ourselves in, and all this squabbling over Maupay’s challenge on Leno that unfortunately lead to the Arsenal goalkeeper to be stretchered off with a long-term looking injury isn’t helpful. Both club’s seemed keen to accept it was an unfortunate accident based on post-match comments, but some of the media coverage and fans comments online would have you think Brighton’s match-winner went at the German goalkeeper with a sledgehammer.

Maupay didn’t help himself of course. His feisty nature more than makes up for his compact stature and when his continued verbal jousting with Guendouzi spilled into physical jousting after the final whistle it only added to the attention on his actions. But then again, it’s exactly this kind of attitude, even within the newly subdued matchday environment, that makes him so difficult to play against.

Brighton manager Graham Potter will have been heartened by his teams display. The inconsistency of his regular choices like Maupay, Webster and Bissouma have led to some, including myself, to call for going back to some form of basics with Duffy and Murray returning to the team. But this performance saw Albion achieve for periods exactly what he has been working for all season, with the winning goal in particular a fantastically well worked team move.

It’s a sign that Potter’s patience may be paying off. But without Albion’s well practiced defensive solidity and Maty Ryan’s continued heroics between the sticks, it may have been a different story. And that’s ignoring the occasion Aubameyang strayed ever so marginally offside.

In reality Brighton rode their luck and then when the opportunity came, they took it. Something we’ve seen little of this season, particularly at home. Without the preying vultures of the AMEX crowd that have become so commonplace in recent seasons when times get tough, the team were able to stay patient and play their game right to the end.

Even in added time within added time, the slow build up before Mac Allister set up a one-two between Maupay and Connolly, which led to Maupay’s winner, was impressive. And no doubt if it was going on with a full crowd in the stadium, it would have led to some counterproductive shouts from the crowd of: “Get it forward!”.

The last few months have taught us much and many are taking the opportunity to review their previous actions and restart in a reinvigorated fashion. One of the most prominent recent lessons many have have taken is the value of being less harshly judgemental and more compassionately appreciative of events. Maybe Saturday’s result was just further evidence of these lessons.

A Resumption of Woe?

As the Premier League season resumes for Brighton on Saturday, the club sit 15th, 3 places and 2 points ahead of the relegation zone.

Whilst there is much excitement of football and many other aspects of normal life returning, this excitement has masked the concerning predicament that the club finds itself in. Still searching for its first win in 2020, only having scored 8 goals in the 10 matches played during that period, and with mounting scepticism over Graham Potter’s leadership. All combining to mean those good vibes could be over as quickly as David Luiz’s chaotic cameo for Arsenal against Man City on Wednesday night.

There are significant concerns over the club’s Premier League status despite bookies making Brighton a relative 3/1 outsider of the bottom six club’s to be relegated. Especially considering the fixture list, which leaves the club with four of the traditional top six still to play plus high flying Leicester.

Lots has already been discussed about the team’s lack of ability to take its opportunities this season. Be it goalscoring opportunities, or game winning opportunities. But most telling is that of the teams five remaining home fixtures, four are against traditional top six clubs. Leaving Albion either needing to significantly improve its away form or pull off some significant shocks in order to survive the drop.

Many have praised the club for its long term strategy, but too often it’s come at the expense of short term success. I’ve discussed the club’s overemphasis on the long term before. The most prominent example of which being the club’s stated target of establishing itself as a top ten topflight club. Something that felt a bit like planning a wedding before having found a partner who has agreed to marry you.

After a few high profile and high value underwhelming transfers from overseas, the emphasis seems to have altered towards encouraging the utilisation of more unproven younger players. With the likes of Lamptey, Mac Allister, Connolly and Alzate all being relied on to fill some gaping holes in the Albion’s squad. And with 5 substitutions now available during matches and those matches now coming thick and fast, this will be the case more than ever.

Graham Potter will get much of the credit/criticism for this approach. But it’s arguably far more as a result of the ever-growing influence of Technical Director Dan Ashworth on Brighton’s transfer policy in the post-Hughton era, as it is down to the appointment of Graham Potter.

Of course, whoever you credit/criticise for Brighton’s transfer policy, it’s worth noting that the club is limited in who it can recruit by its finances. With one of the smallest wage budgets in the division mixed with a huge amount of flux last summer, a relegation battle was always likely. All meaning the likelihood that the club could have brought in significant proven talent in recent transfer windows was small.

If my recent trails through the club’s history teaches me anything, it’s that the current stable leadership and topflight status should be cherished and enjoyed. Nonetheless this season has left many with a feeling of missed opportunities on a number of occasions.

But we do have reason to be optimistic, the return of the likes of Glenn Murray and Shane Duffy to starting births in the recently games before lockdown saw the club gains some vital draws. But with games running out, the team will need to turn those draws into wins.

Much will rely on the team actually taking advantage of the creative talents of Pascal Gross, Aaron Mooy and Leandro Trossard. All of which have deserved better at times than the results have delivered. Along with an increased reliance on other experienced squad members like Ryan, Propper and Dunk setting an example which the younger players can follow.

There is still plenty of game time for Brighton to make up for their lost ground from the season gone by, but time is running out, and the excuses for Potter’s team’s missed opportunities are beginning to run thin.

The game on Saturday against an Arsenal side fresh from Wednesday night’s embarrassment, gives the Seagulls a chance to make up some of that lost ground as well as putting some space between them and the bottom three. But given how many chances have already come and gone, you could forgive Brighton fans for still being pessimistic.