Yet another Albion home draw

Monday’s game against Everton started as a good opportunity to ease the club’s relegation worries and get back to back Premier League home wins for the first time in 17 months.

Whilst West Brom’s win prior to kick off was a reminder that Albion could not rest on their laurels on 32 points and still probably require at least another 5/6 points to be safe. So this match against an out of form and injury ravaged Everton team was an opportunity for Albion to get a much needed win.

It was a game that yet again highlighted Albion’s core strength in controlling games by building the play out from the back through its ball playing defenders. With Yves Bissouma sitting in front controlling the midfield and nullifying the opposition.

However, it’s Albion’s lack of quality in areas higher up the pitch which continued to cost it a victory in a game it dominated. As Albion created more missed chances from its strikers and more hesitant play from its creative, attacking midfielders.

That and a combination of brilliant defending from Everton means they were left with another draw, its twelfth of the season. Eight of which were at home, 50% of Albion’s home matches this season.

Teams seem to know how to stop Graham Potter’s team at home. This wasn’t the first time Albion have come up against an effective rear guard action at home and it works, as proven by the fact that despite dominating most of their 16 home league matches this season they have failed to score in 5, scoring a measly total of 16 in that time. More goals and more quality in the final third is required if they are to turn more of those draws into wins.

However, it’s too easy to just blame Maupay, Welbeck or Connolly for poor finishing, the whole process needs to be quicker. Albion’s play out of the back is often crisp, sharp and quick, but too often once the ball get into the opposition half players have hesitated on the ball, allowing the opposition to get into their defensive shape, which in turn allows less space and makes it harder for Albion’s strikers.

The Premier League’s record goalscorer and Match of the day pundit Alan Shearer said recently about Albion’s attack that: “it would definitely frustrate me as a player, because of that extra pass. The ball could come into the box a lot earlier.”

And he has a point, by the time the ball gets to strikers in the box it’s often gone side to side two or three times, allowing time for the opposition defence to close down the available space.

Albion have had more touches in the opposition third than any other team in the bottom half of the Premier League this season so far. With Trossard the king of touches in the opposition third, having had a total 631 touches in the attacking third this season or 22.5 per match.

However, whilst Trossard is a talented young player, this is not a stat I think he will be overly proud of. Albion often dominate the play, allowing Trossard more of it. But, he too often dithers on it, taking that extra couple of seconds and that extra touch or two, which allows the opposition defence to get into better positions and close the options down for Albion’s strikers.

Just as has been the case too often at home this season, once Albion did get the ball into a shooting position the space had been closed down by the Everton defence and the shooting opportunity diminished. Albion need to be sharper and quicker in the final third to win games like last night.

But, there were plenty more positives than negatives for Albion in a game where they were rarely threatened by the opposition. Everton came to defend and make it hard for us. They seemed happy with a point from the off, so it was always going to be a struggle to break them down. And so it proved.

But it’s a sign of the progress made under Graham Potter by this Albion side that so many teams now come to the AMEX to defend, expecting a tough game and believing a draw to be a good result. As opposed to what we saw previously where the opposition more often saw a trip to the AMEX as a chance to attack and win an easy three points. Unfortunately it’s that change in approach too that has largely been the reason that we have struggled to break teams down.

As the first half wore on and Albion pushed for an opening goal to break the deadlock, the game began to become worryingly stretched and open. If it weren’t for some good defensive exertions from certain individuals like man of the match Yves Bissouma, we may have been caught out.

But the second half saw Albion again dominate in a more controlled manner as Everton struggled to counter against a more disciplined and organised Albion team, whose clean sheet rarely looked in doubt.

In fact it highlighted an improvement in Albion’s defensive play, with it being their fifth clean sheet in their last seven home league matches since that wild 3-3 draw with Wolves. Lessons have been learned and the defence has been giving away less sloppy opportunities and goals to its opponents, the Palace and Leicester games aside.

Whilst there is an understandable level of frustration after yet another draw at home and yet another blank in front of goal, a point is a good result, which takes Brighton above Burnley on goal difference into 15th and edges them closer to that all important safety mark and a record 5th consecutive topflight season.

But if Albion are going to begin their push up the table in their quest for an established top half place, winning more of these games at home is the first place to start looking for progress. After picking up 3 wins in his first 6 home games as Albion manager, Graham Potter’s side have now managed just 4 wins and mustered 13 draws in the subsequent 29 home games.

Brighton v Everton (1924)

Brighton and Everton aren’t teams who’ve come up against each other much in their respective histories. Prior to Albion’s promotion in 2017, and aside from their other brief spell in the topflight between 1979 and 1983, you have to go back to 1924 when the sides had last met, in the second round of that years FA Cup. A game that saw one of Albion most famous victories prior to the Second World War.

Brighton had played their first season after the First World War in the Southern League in 1919/20 finishing 16th, before joining the expanded Football League with the rest of the Southern League’s best club’s for the 1920/21 season.

Charlie Webb, who had scored the winner in Brighton’s 1-0 1910 Charity Shield win over Aston Villa, had since retired and taken over as manager in 1919, a position he would hold until 1947. And his first task was rebuilding the team after the horrors of the First World War.

Webb was known for his shrewd transfers, but this was in part forced upon him due to circumstance because of a relatively limited budget at the club. Restrictions which at times during his tenure led to bad relations between him and the board, and which were made worse due to accusations of undue influence on team affairs.

Until the 1920’s, Football Managers had been little more than trainers who picked the side and did little to influence how they played. But this was the decade of the emergence of the modern manager, largely influenced by Herbert Chapman’s success with Huddersfield in the 1920s and later more notably at Arsenal in the 1930s.

However, at the time Everton were still managed by the club’s secretary manager Thomas McIntosh, and it wasn’t until Theo Kelly was appointed in 1939 that the club appointed their first manager in the modern sense. Whilst for Brighton, Charlie Webb oversaw a period of great modernisation in the role, but the tales of conflict suggest it wasn’t a quick transition.

Although consistently in the upper half of the Third Division South table, Albion’s chief successes during the 1920s and 1930s were in the F.A. Cup, with its first and one of its most notable giant-killing successes coming when they beat Everton 5-2 in the second round at the Goldstone Ground.

Albion had already knocked out higher ranked opposition at home in a first round replay in the form of Second Division Barnsley, and the visit of Everton brought a then record crowd of 27,450 to the Goldstone.

Everton were a regular in the top half of the First Division before the war, which they had already won twice. But the club’s performances since the end of the First World War and the resumption of the Football league had been inconsistent. Their 7th placed finish that season being one of their better seasons until the great Dixie Dean was signed from local Third Division North side Tranmere Rovers and transformed their fortunes.

Nonetheless they were strong favourites and named no less than six internationals in their line-up. So it was no surprise when they opened the scoring through John Cock and despite Tommy Cook quickly equalising the visitors were back in front through Wilfred Chadwick on 25 minutes. However, Albion were giving as good as they got and a Wally Little penalty made it 2-2 at half time.

After the break the game turned quickly in favour of the hosts as Albion dominated the second half. Tommy Cook scored two in the first twenty minutes to complete his hat trick, before Andy Neil made it 5-2 to add a bit of extra gloss on a magnificent result for the club. A display manager Charlie Webb described as “the best Cup exhibition of any Albion team under my management”.

The Sunday Post exclaimed: “Brighton surprise Everton.” Going into state that the result “was one of the biggest surprises of the round, but none would deny that it was deserved.”

The Liverpool Daily Post said “Brighton’s best were Wilson, at outside left, Nightingale, in the second half, at outside right, and Coomber [Albion’s captain], at centre half, together with the snap-chance artist Cook” The aforementioned Ernie “Tug” Wilson had joined the club in 1922 and spent twelve years with the club in the inter-war years going onto become Brighton’s record appearance holder with 566 appearances, a record he still holds.

And he wasn’t the only prospective club record holder playing that day. Albion’s hat-trick hero Tommy Cook would go onto become the club’s record goalscorer with 123 goals, once again a total yet to be beaten. He had joined the club on an amateur basis in 1921 and became a regular in the first team the following season. Part of the reason for Cook’s prolific record in front of goal was that this hat-trick was one of eight for the club, his first coming against Gillingham in only his third appearance, after which he never looked back until leaving the club in 1930.

Cook was described that day by the Sunday Post as “one of the most dangerous centres in England”. And despite playing for Albion in the regionalised third tier he went on to win an England cap, in a 2-1 win against Wales in a Home International in 1925. However, despite being praised he was never chosen again for his country.

The Liverpool Daily Post said of his performance that day “Cook did not stand out on his own in spite of his three goals. He just kept his position, kept the ball going, and shot instantly the chance showed itself. That was why Brighton scored so heavily.”

Albion went onto host another First Division team in the next round of the competition in Man City, but this proved one step too far as they were heavily beaten 5-1. They went on to finish 5th that season missing out on promotion to the Second Division by 8 points. And it would be another 34 years before they achieved their long awaited promotion into the second tier in 1958.

Everton and Brighton would have to wait 55 years before they met again, this time in the First Division, after Brighton were promoted into the topflight for the first time in their history.

Exhausted by xG?

An economics professor at my university once stated in a lecture that “economic forecasts are only right half of the time, so we may as well just flip a coin!” Whilst this was a throw away comment meant not to be taken particularly seriously, the comparison between complex statistical models used to measure probability and pure chance is a compelling one and one that I often think back to when I see statistics used in such a definitive way as they have often been to analyse Albion’s Premier League woes this season.

Albion’s season is one where the narrative has become overwhelmed by one particular complex statistical model. xG, A model used to show the expected goals scored by each team, but one that has often not been matched by the end result in Albion matches this season. There have been multiple games that xG predicted that an Albion victory was most probable, but which wasn’t achieved. Mostly because of so many missed goalscoring opportunities and a fair amount of sloppy goals given away at the other end.

This was most dramatically highlighted in Albion’s home defeat to rivals Crystal Palace who beat Albion 2-1 after managing just 3 shots, 2 of which were on target, compared to Brighton’s 25 shots yielding just one goal. That this defeat was then followed up with a defeat to West Brom where Brighton missed 2 penalties and a host of other guilt edged chances after their opponents scored early on from a corner, one of only two shots they managed on target, only increased the attention on Brighton’s misfiring strikers.

Furthermore, Brighton have had an xG advantage over their opponents of more than 1 expected goal 7 times this season, but have only beaten their fellow relegation strugglers Newcastle (twice) by a winning margin of more than one goal. The numbers tell a clear story, Albion have underperformed in front of goal this season.

We could pull these kinds of stats out about many more of Brighton’s games this season till we are blue in the face. But I’ll stop there because you’ve probably read this kind of stuff a number of times before. And yet it keeps getting discussed, mainly because it’s an easy explanation as to why Brighton have looked so good during much of the season, yet this isn’t reflected in the league table

However, despite Albion’s lack of clinical edge in front of goal, goalscoring isn’t actually a massive issue relative to its nearest rivals. After 29 games plays Brighton had the second best goal difference, had scored the third most, conceded the least and lost the least times of all the teams in the bottom half of the Premier League table.

But whilst these stats highlight some positives and improvements in Albion’s play, it is not being seen in an improvement in points gained and league position. Despite xG suggesting Albion have been better than they have managed to achieve in terms of results, they remain in their common Premier League standing just above the league’s bottom three. So the consistent and dramatic deficiency when compared to XG is raising some eyebrows, but possibly points to a deficiencies in the model itself.

We could go into detail about the ins and out of the model itself, but I don’t know how much value that would have. But in general I think that Albion are showing up the flaws of placing a lot of merit in a weighted probability model such as xG to measure the likelihood of goals being scored in a low scoring game such as football. And to a degree the weight we place on statistics generally in football.

We can all get pulled in by data analysis at times, especially when they argue for a point that we believe to be true. The increase in the use of statistics and analytics has helped us to understand the game in ways we previously didn’t. But they don’t often tell you the full story of an event, or the full reasons as for why a team dominates a particular game or a particular period of play. Maybe an early goal, an in-game injury, a number of minor tactical shifts, physical conditions or the connotations a certain result has on their league position, or simply individual errors makes a team change its approach. There are many things these generic weighted probability models simply don’t account for.

For Albion, their accumulated xG performance after 29 games puts them better off than Man United and West Ham and 4th in the xG table. In reality they are 22 points and 12 league places worse off. However only five of the 20 Premier League teams sit in their xG projected position, with 9 more than 2 positions different than this projection. Including Everton, who according to xG would sit 17th rather than their existing 8th position.

So it’s not just Albion’s whose variation compared to xG is far from accurate. But many have taken these statistical anomalies and run with them. Some have said that simply if Albion signed a £40/50m striker then they would start taking those chances and qualify for Europe, which is a huge simplification. Especially considering Albion have thrown away 17 points from winning positions this season. Albion’s problems go much further than simply not scoring enough goals.

In reality Brighton have constraints in terms of their aspirations. In particular its wage bill, which has consistently been one of the lowest in the league during its time in the topflight and yet they have spent most of their time at the top level out of the relegation zone and are not far from securing a club record fifth consecutive topflight season. Focusing on individual statistics like xG can at times mask the bigger picture. One which shows in reality Albion and Everton are probably about where they should expect to be rather than at opposite ends of the table.

Whatever the opinion, statistics don’t tell you how to solve a problem, at best they tell you how it was created. And that’s only if they data has been collected and analysed accurately and is then interpreted correctly. Much of which leads into areas of judgement and subjectivity rather than fact.

The solutions for these problems the data highlights are created by the experts. The creative minds like Graham Potter and his regular tactical switches. Minds that most football fans deep down wish they could pit their wits against, but in reality are greatly inferior to in this context.

Football is a game of opinions, not statistics. Moments of ingenuity and creativity, moments that aren’t created by data analysis of historic points in time alone, but by the invention and astuteness of those at the very top of their profession in the moment.

Whatever the data does show, the fact that Albion are sitting six points and two places above the Premier League relegation zone in their fourth consecutive topflight season should be considered an overperformance rather than an underperformance. We should stop focusing on xG and focus more on what a remarkable period of Albion history that we are currently watching.

Dan Burn – conveniently unconventional

He may not be the most technically gifted player in the team and probably doesn’t get into the Albion’s first eleven when everyone is fit, but Dan Burn has been pivotal for Brighton this season.

He is one of only five players to have featured for Brighton in all six of its league wins this season (along with Yves Bissouma, Lewis Dunk, Ben White and Neil Maupay). And he is also the only Albion player to have featured in all nine of Albion’s wins in all competitions that were inside the normal 90 minutes.

Some may be surprised to hear of his record, but it is a sign of Burn’s positional and tactical versatility, which gives Graham Potter something most others in the squad do not. An attribute that makes him so important to the squad, especially for a manager like Graham Potter who regularly alters his teams system and approach.

In Jonathan Wilson’s book about the evolution of football tactics – “Inverting the pyramid”, he ends it by foreseeing that the next stage of football’s tactical evolution would be universality within a team, leading to increased tactical fluidity and the end of set roles. Graham Potter’s management approach and Dan Burn’s adaptability are good examples of this beginning to come to fruition. Burn’s positional adaptability under Potter has turned him from a rarely used fringe player under Hughton to a key member of the Brighton squad under Potter.

Even during the early periods of the current season where Burn spent much of his time on the bench for league matches, he was often brought on as a substitute. Being used by Potter to switch the formation and adapt to the issues that were arising in the match.

But of late he has taken advantage of the opportunity that injuries to other teammates has given him, starting the last eight games in a row, his best run since last season where he was near ever-present, starting 33 of the 38 league matches.

The first of those eight matches was a perfect example of his versatility, which was used to the team’s benefit to surprise the opposition in the victory over Liverpool at Anfield. In that match, rather than in the more defensive role he is accustomed to, he was used more as wide target man/left winger.

Jurgen Klopp said after the match that his team struggled to deal with Albion’s attacks which he described as “Chipping the ball to Burn and go from there.” It certainly wasn’t a role Burn had played often before if at all, so it’s not a surprise it caught Liverpool out and was so effective. And Burn’s role in subsequent matches has seen him stay in that position further up the pitch than he’s played previously, filling in for the absent Solly March.

This trend goes back to Albion’s defeat at home to Southampton during the early stages of the 2019/20 season, when after starting the season in a back three alongside Dunk and Duffy, he was switched to left back after Florin Andone was sent off and Potter switched to a back four. Despite the defeat, his marauding and effective full back performance was a real positive and was a role Potter went onto use him in for much of the rest of the season.

Former Fulham manager and Man United coach Rene Meulensteen said of Burn last season: “He’s an ideal player for a manager because he can play in multiple positions. He’s decent on the ball with his feet for a big, tall lad. Skill-wise, he’s very well equipped.”

However, it’s not been plain sailing for Burn this season. Most notably his first half performance against Wolves when he struggled to deal with Wolves winger Adams Traore so much that he gave away a penalty, got booked and scored an own goal as Albion trailed at half time 3-1 and he was eventually subbed off part way through the second half as Albion recovered to draw the match 3-3.

But Potter was defensive of his utility man saying after the game: “Dan Burn a couple of years ago was at Wigan in League One. Rather than being critical of Dan Burn, we should be proud of him. He puts himself there, he gives his best every day, gives his best every match. It’s easy to be critical in this world and he is a fantastic professional, a fantastic person.”

Graham Potter is clearly conscious of the criticism his players are getting, particularly after making mistakes whilst being asked to fulfil at times unfamiliar roles and take big risks defensively, such as the amount of space sometimes left in defence by Burn’s marauding runs forward. And is keen to not be overly critical of his players.

But Burn is a player Potter has regularly had to come to the defence of, saying after his eye-catching performance away to Liverpool “Anyone that criticises someone like Dan Burn doesn’t understand football… I wouldn’t listen to them. It’s irrelevant to me”.

As well as the criticism, Burn has drawn praise from many areas, not just from his manager. Last season Premier League pundit Adrian Clarke said “Burn does not look like a left-back, but he has taken to his new role wonderfully” Going into say “He is comfortable moving the ball through the lines…Meanwhile, his height and defensive ability are assets out of possession.”

Even prior to March’s injury which saw him return to the left hand side, he had made the left back role in a back four his own last season and has often been used in games this season as a left sided centre back in a back three able to switch to a left back in a back four if Potter makes one of his regular in-game formation switches. An adaptability that has regularly allowed Potter to save using a substitution.

Indeed he has had to adapt and find a less conventional route throughout his career to get to the point of playing regular Premier League football. He was initially on the books of Newcastle United but was released at the age of 13 and had to work his way through a more obscure route via the youth team Blyth Town and onto Blyth Spartans. From there he was picked up by League Two Darlington before moving to Fulham in 2011.

Whilst at Fulham two loan spells followed in between a handful of appearances for the club in the Premier League. Before playing more regularly for them in the Championship after their relegation in 2014. A move to Wigan followed in 2017 where he caught the eye of the Albion scouts despite their relegation to League One and was signed by Brighton under then manager Chris Hughton in 2018.

Hughton described Burn upon joining the club as having “a wealth of experience” going into say “He’s an imposing figure and had an excellent season helping Wigan to the League One championship”. And yet Burn was initially loaned back to Wigan for 6 months before being used sparingly by Hughton mostly in cup matches, as he favoured the tried and tested partnership of Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy.

Indeed it’s been a long road for Burn who admits he initially struggled during his time at Newcastle, saying: “I wasn’t very good… I was struggling to grow into my body and a little bit all over the place.” To add to the difficulties he faced whilst he was still growing into his body, he also lost one of his fingers on his right hand, when it caught on a spike while he was climbing a fence.

Yes there are many things about Burn’s development and career that are unconventional, which in many ways makes him very suited to Graham Potter’s Brighton side.

Graham Potter’s own route into Premier League management is similarly unusual. Having started as a lower league footballer, he studied at the Open University and then at Hull University before working as an administrator for Ghana’s women’s team at the 2007 women’s World Cup. He then had his first chance in management in the Swedish Fourth Division, where he took Ostersunds into the top tier and then into European competition before he moved to Championship side Swansea and then onto Brighton in 2019. An experience which means he is clearly not overly influenced by a players track record, as his treatment of Burn shows.

It’s often the case that criticism of individuals in team sports comes from the audiences confirmed bias of that individual and an ignorance of the bigger picture. I think this is often the case when it comes to Dan Burn.

For example you hear it said a lot that “Dan Burn can’t win a header despite being so tall”. This simply isn’t true. Dan Burn has won 71 aerial duels so far this season, the most in team and the 19th most in the division. Whilst last season he won 141 aerial duels, again the most in the Albion team and the 10th highest in the Premier League.

The Secret Footballer has spoken about how ignorance from supporters often leads to unfair criticism of players, including how on many occasions when a misplaced pass is made, it’s often that a teammate didn’t make the right run off the ball rather than the player passing the ball being at fault.

Potter’s Albion are a team that takes more risks than many of its competitors, particularly the players in Burn’s current role at wing back. Graham Potter seems unafraid of his teams making mistakes and is happy to place his trust in those who have made them on multiple occasions previously. In fact, it would be hard to find a player in the Brighton team that hasn’t made a few mistakes this season. But at 6”7 and playing as an eye catching marauding wingback, Dan Burn stands out more than most when they do occur.

When players reach their late 20s as Burn now has, it isn’t unusual for them to reinvent themselves positionally to adapt and maintain their position in the game. However, it isn’t as commonplace that you see a centre back doing so as an attacking wing back, let alone one that is 6”7 tall. But if history has taught us anything it’s that neither Graham Potter nor Dan Burn are conventional.

Monday musings – Mistakes and mentality shifts

Saturday’s home match with Leicester saw another good performance from Albion in an entertaining game at the AMEX. But once again, a positive result was snatched at the death by opponents Leicester City after yet more mistakes from Albion when defending set pieces.

And it was yet another game that highlighted how this Albion team is so close to being very, very good, and yet dangerously close to being relegated. But those are perils of topflight football.

Just look at Southampton. They were top in November. Then at the start of February after losing 9-0 to Man United they were beginning to look over their shoulders and worrying about getting dragged into a relegation battle until their win on Saturday.

The defeat to Leicester did show once again however that this Brighton team is more suited to playing the better, more attacking teams in the division. It was a game in contrast to the recent defeats where the opposition dominated possession, with Albion having only 37%, but where Albion were arguably closer to winning than some of those recent games where they had nearly double that proportion of possession.

In fact, in the games Albion have won lately they have played a hugely contrasting style to the three matches prior to Saturday’s defeat, which saw them pick up just one point. Brighton’s average possession in those 3 games was 68% but their average possession in its last 3 Premier League wins was comparable to Saturday at 38%, again almost half.

Albion have had over 60% possession four times in a Premier League game this season, and yet they have failed to win all four, accumulating just 2 points.

Meanwhile, they have had less than 40% possession 4 times, winning 2 and accumulating 6 points.

The trend is arguably more striking when you look at the bigger picture. With the team having had more possession than their opponents 14 times this season, winning just one (away to Newcastle) accumulating 10 points in that time, an average of 0.71 points per game. When they have had less possession than their opponents (10 times this season), they’ve won on 4 occasions and picked up 14 points, an average of 1.4 points per game.

Fortunately, our fixture list means there’s a fair few games left where we can expect the opposition to take the game to us and Albion can play a style that has been more fruitful for them in terms of points this season.

Unfortunately, they are the teams in the division that will punish you just like Leicester did on Saturday.

Especially if you drop off as Albion did in the second half on Saturday. As Adam Lallana said in his post match interview “If you drop your levels you get punished, it feels like we didn’t perform well enough.”

A big part of that was Albion’s lack of attacking thrust as the game went on, which has been significantly hampered since the injury to Solly March that has ruled him out for the rest of the season. Since Solly March came off in the 67th minute in the win over Liverpool, Albion have scored just three times in 563 minutes of football, losing 4 and drawing 2 of those matches.

I think it’s easy to assume now, that if Albion are to stay up we need to beat Newcastle. But I don’t think that is necessarily the case given who we’ve beaten this season and the record outlined above. I would class that match as a must not lose instead.

But there is still plenty of hope on the remaining eleven league fixtures. The Newcastle win earlier in the season now seems more of an anomaly, with all of Brighton’s other league wins coming against teams currently sitting 6th-11th in the league table. So I’m more optimistic about some of the later fixtures against teams who will come at us more, rather than that return fixture against Newcastle in two weeks time.

However, this style isn’t fool proof and didn’t see Albion pick up any points on Saturday, with the Leicester winner another example of Albion’s risk in throwing in so many youngsters this season.

These are the players who more often have been culpable with errors at the back. First there was Sanchez’s flailing punch, then Alzate losing his marker. It’s been a running habit of the season and to be fair to those mentioned above we’ve seen many others like Ben White often similarly culpable from defending set pieces. It is a part of the process of blooding so many youngsters unfortunately. But one the team really can’t afford to have many more examples of if they are to survive this season.

Whilst I like Alzate, I don’t think bringing him on late in the game with the score tied made much sense. With the game as it was our midfield needed a bit more stability and experience, but he is a player that Graham Potter has shown plenty of trust in during his tenure, maybe before he is quite ready for it.

I would have preferred Davy Propper to come on instead, a player with a little more nous and plenty more experience. The Dutchman’s lack of playing time this season remains a real puzzle to me and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him figure more than Alzate in the run in.

If you can criticise Graham Potter for one thing this season, it’s his over reliance on the young players. It’s admirable and exciting to see, but I think that he’s shifted out the likes of Duffy, Ryan, Stephens and Murray whilst barely using Propper when fit has been a huge factor in the key moments that have gone against the team.

That said, this is the route the club has chosen to take and whatever happens, I really hope we keep hold of Graham Potter and stick to it. As I discussed at the beginning of the season, this mix of youth and experience was always going to be a tough balancing act for Potter and is one he isn’t always going to get right. But let’s wait until the end of the season to make a final judgement.

Two days on we’re all still reeling from that late Leicester goal, but nonetheless let’s take a moment to appreciate what a player Adam Lallana is. He was fantastic against Leicester, his first Premier League start since the draw away to West Ham in December. If he stays fit I think we’ll be fine.

Fulham’s win over Liverpool has since left Albion only above the dreaded dotted line only on goal difference by a mere three goals. Albion’s time in the Premier League has partly been defined by its ability to avoid being in the relegation zone, but that may have changed by the time we next play.

It will be a huge shift in mentality for this team from constantly keeping the bottom three at arm’s length to being in it. What is clear is that unlike in the 2018/19 season, when Cardiff City failed to take advantage of a faltering Albion team, this time we cannot rely on the bottom three to get us out of trouble.

This season began with many talking about progression rather than just mere survival for the team after Graham Potter’s first season in charge saw green shoots of hope in that direction. But for this progress to continue mere survival is imperative.

I suspect 38/40 points will be required for that after this weekend’s results. That’s just over a point a game from here on, which is very achievable, but this bad run needs to end fast.

Temperament and Temper Tantrums

I took great joy in Brighton’s run to the FA Cup semi-finals in 2019 which ended with that grand day out to Wembley. Yes we’d lost 1-0 but we’d still enjoyed a wonderful occasion. The moments after the final whistle where 35,000 Albion fans stayed behind to applaud and cheer their side, drinking in every last moment of the day, will stay with me for a long time.

As an Albion fan, days like that are rare and I was hopeful that many would share my enjoyment of the day, but much of the media coverage of the game was negative. I felt many had missed the point in their comments, in particular Jermaine Jenas who in Match of the Day’s live coverage described it as a “missed opportunity” for Albion.

A few days later I listened to the Guardian’s football podcast, a regular on my podcast listening list. Their panellists were also less than complimentary about the match, with it being described in the introduction as “a game of walking football”, and the disparaging comments went on from there.

I once again felt the media was missing the sense of occasion and in the heat of the moment I took exception to their scorn and sent a critical message on Twitter. However, I was subsequently, and rightly, put in my place by the Guardian journalists I’d called out. Who in the space of a couple of hundred characters made me look like a real wally.

To me it wasn’t just any old game, this was the game I’d been waiting to see for the past two decades. Albion at Wembley in the FA Cup. Who cares if it was only a semi-final, this was Wembley in the cup! After all like many Albion fans, I was still sore from missing out on a trip to Wembley for the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final after losing on penalties to Luton Town in the semifinals ten years previous.

But for everyone apart from those 35,000 Brighton fans, it was just another game and a not very entertaining one at that. Anyone still needing more convincing just need look at our opponents Man City’s tickets sales from that day, who left whole blocks empty with some being handed to Brighton to help fill the stadium.

Life as a football fan often has a habit of making us behave irrationally, letting our emotions get the better of us. Whilst social media can have a habit of reinforcing our shaky opinions the more we post them, getting likes and retweets from our fellow ignorants. You’re either in or out, and never in between, let alone changing your mind. Whether that’s with Brexit, Graham Potter’s competence or anything else, we all end up finding reasons in the things we see to reinforce our own confirmation bias and berate those who dare to disagree.

One area there has been a lot of emotion invested in of late is the aforementioned Graham Potter and his role in the Albion’s season. It’s been a bizarre season for many reasons, and the week just gone for Albion which saw defeats to rivals Palace and West Brom is yet another chapter in that story. Despite controlling on average 72.5% of possession and having 40 shots, they scored just one goals and managed to lose both games. And whilst much of the scorn has been poured onto Albion’s front line, Graham Potter has yet again taken a fair amount of flack.

It was, to a degree, just the same old story for Brighton this season. More missed chances in front of goal and more sloppy goals conceded at the other end against the run of play, all despite dominating the play. On this week’s Guardian football weekly podcast Barry Glendenning spoke about how one Albion fan had described this Albion team as equally the best and the worst in his 40 years supporting the club. I wouldn’t go that far, anyone who remembers the 1-0 defeat at home to Walsall under Micky Adams doomed second tenure as manager in 2008 would probably agree that this team is at least better than that one! And let’s not even delve into the Gillingham years.

Despite Graham Potter’s assertion this summer that he wanted to work with the players he had and coach more goals out of this team, particularly Neal Maupay, the team remains goalshy and ever more continue to justify the loud calls in the summer by many supporters to bring in a “silver-bullet” striker. Maupay himself was bold in his claims of him solving Albion’s longstanding issue with scoring goals before the start of this season, stating his hunger for more goals in his second season just as he’d done at Brentford previously.

Graham Potter has refused to publicly criticise the £20m striker, or any other players. But he didn’t shy from the wider problem of scoring goals in his post-match interview after the defeat to West Brom, admitting that “clearly” scoring goals is the issue. But went onto stress that “this is elite top level football… you’re going to suffer sometimes that’s how it is”.

We shouldn’t be surprised that whilst many fans like myself have expressed much frustration, Graham Potter stayed grounded. It’s what he does, never too high, never too low, never giving much away. Just like his predecessor Chris Hughton, and a quality seen in many Albion managers since Gus Poyet’s eventual sacking. A quality which I believe has helped consistently keep the relegation zone at arm’s length, so far that is.

Poyet’s time at the club was often tainted by his sometimes-absurd media outbursts and his relationship with the board of directors was often strained by his constant criticism of the club’s transfer policy and threats that he would leave if he felt the club had “reached its ceiling”. This rollercoaster ride culminated in a fittingly chaotic climax, which began with the play-off semi-final defeat to rival Crystal Palace. After the game Poyet made several comments suggesting he might resign and with the ultimately unrelated story of human faeces being found in the away dressing room at the AMEX hanging over the club like a bad smell, both literally and metaphorically, Poyet was initially suspended and later sacked for Gross Misconduct.

He was a brilliant manager, and a revolutionary one in many ways for the club at a time when it really needed it. Having been close to relegation to the fourth tier shortly before his arrival and with the new stadium soon to arrive, he put the club on the path it continues to follow. But his off the pitch behaviour left a cloud over his on the pitch achievements and brought unnecessary attention to the club when it often wasn’t beneficial.

So it’s no surprise that since the club have stuck with more considered personalities as head coach/manager. First the quiet Spaniard Oscar Garcia was brought in, then the unassuming Finn Sami Hyypia, before Chris Hughton and then Graham Potter were brought to the club.

Graham Potter is the next step in the evolution in terms of mentality at the club. This is in many respects, including a job title of head coach rather than manager, a degree in Social Sciences, masters in Leadership and Emotional Intelligence and a track record of working with and developing youngsters at his previous clubs he really fits the bill on paper. And the potential is there for it to be realised in practice too.

However, he has come under some warranted criticism this season. But the players have really let him down in recent matches, a subject I discussed earlier this week. However, Graham Potter kept his cool and remained calm in his recent post-match press conferences under no doubt intense questioning. I know many will disagree, but I’m pleased to see him not criticising his players in public, god knows he’d be entitled too!

As Chris Sutton said in this week’s Monday Night Club on BBC 5live about the Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel’s public criticism of some of his players since taking over recently, “[criticism in private] that’s the game, everybody has to accept criticism” but said “as soon as you go into the public arena with that, what’s the positive which can come out of that?”

Club captain Lewis Dunk told the Club website after the match at the Hawthorns – “it doesn’t help to dwell on the past – we look ahead to next Saturday against Leicester City now.” – I’m sure words will have been said in the dressing room and that’s where it should stay.

Some will point to Fulham’s recently promoted squad who may have been seen to have reacted positively to being publicly criticised a few times by their manager Scott Parker this this season. Yet they are still in the relegation zone and struggling to win games just as much as Albion, which suggests there has been little positive effect.

I also doubt if Albion’s young and inexperienced team would have reacted in a positive way to such criticism. Particularly the likes of Aaron Connolly who has recently had to delete his Instagram profile for the second time in quick succession after a torrent of online abuse. Given the amount of criticism some have had to deal with lately, the last thing they need is their coach turning on them too.

Graham Potter has his work cut out to turn around Albion’s season and avoid it from nosediving after a terrible week on the pitch. So the last thing he needs is a demoralised group of players off the back of some unwise and emotive comments that he’s made in the media.

Us supporters will no doubt continue to get into a frenzy about this Albion team, for good and bad, whilst pundit will no doubt continue to wilfully dissect the at times comical aspects of Albion’s performances. But Graham Potter will no doubt continue stay as cool as a cucumber right to the end, and we are all the better for it.

Monday musings – Got spirit? let’s hear it!

The sun is shining, the first signs of spring are here, the cherry blossoms are beginning to flower, the tide of this terrible pandemic that we have been experiencing for a year now appears to be turning in our favour and Albion have one of the most talented teams in its 120 year history. And yet you’d be hard pushed to find any optimism amongst Albion supporters after a frustrating 1-0 defeat at the Hawthorns on Saturday.

It will have come as no surprise to most that Saturday saw yet another promising Brighton performance which saw plenty of scoring opportunities created, be again spoilt by poor finishing and poor defending from set pieces. Groundhog Day. Well, I did say it was the first signs of spring.

This has been a season built on the gutting and slicing up of Albion’s promotion winning side. Yes we’ve replaced those individuals who many saw as surplus to requirements, with a group of arguably higher quality players. But, have we built a team with the replacement parts? The fact Albion keep coming up short in games suggests not quite yet.

This is clearly a very well coached, talented group of players with a clear idea of how they want to play. But, that they keep getting found out in the key moments in matches suggests that as a collective there is still something missing.

One of the key attributes of the existing group of players that Potter inherited and has overseen a clear off of, was its unity and team spirit. A quality that was so consciously and carefully cultivated by his predecessor Chris Hughton.

Hughton held great stock in ensuring the team was full of the right types of personalities, or as Maty Ryan once famously put it – “no Dickheads”. So much so that there has been suggestions made that part of the reason Hughton was sacked was for his disagreements with others about transfer policy in order to protect the teams bond.

We have seen examples of it still existing at the club from this group of players. Most notably in the second half comeback at home against Wolves and the hard fought 1-0 win away to Leeds United. But this kind of collective performance has not been evident enough this season. Albion’s key players now need to step up and be counted.

Grit, stoicism, that intangible quality which comes largely from failing and having to pick yourself and go again, call it what you want. Hughton’s team had it by the bucketload. And no wonder after it had been to hell and back together both professionally in terms of the way it missed out on promotion in 2015/16, and in some cases personally, such as with Anthony Knockaert’s well documented personal issues. But in both cases they collective stood together and came out of those situations stronger because of it.

However, this team and set of players do not appear to have the same collective industry. The fact we’ve seen ex-players not be exactly complimentary about the club and existing ones use their agent to attempt to embarrass the club in order to get the right deal they want, is hardly the sign of a harmonious collective spirit.

Another example of this is its defending from set pieces, where we have regularly seen players find space in the gaps and score. This to a degree is an inherent problem with zonal marking when the ball drops between players ‘zones’, but man to man marking has its fallibilities too.

For me this isn’t about whether we use zonal or man to man marking, it’s about individuals taking person responsibility to stop the opposition scoring. Too often we’ve seen examples like Kyle Bartley’s goal on Saturday, where players run around one man and into a gap between two or three static Albion defenders to score.

Albion’s team is relatively young team and contains players who you’d somewhat expect lapses in focus and concentration throughout the season. This is where you need your players with more experience to be constantly communicating and reminding players of their jobs.

Brian Owen from the Argus stated earlier this season that “Adam Webster’s is one of the voices we hear quite clearly up in the stands during these behind-closed-doors matches (like Lallana and Ryan).” Three player not on the pitch at the time of the West Brom goal.

It’s not a surprise that Adam Webster’s absence, who is becoming a real leader of this team, saw an end to Albion’s clean sheet run. He’s been Albion best defender this season and talk of an extended absence is a really worry for Albion’s hope of turning this bad run around.

When it comes to spirit, it’s hard not to notice Neil Maupay’s is waning. Albion’s number nine started the season with 4 goals in 5 games, but his subsequent 3 goals in the last 22 tells its own story.

Clearly he’s lacking confidence, otherwise he’d have taken at least one of his recent chances, as well as possibly stepping up to take at least one of the penalties against West Brom. Especially when you consider he has an 80% penalty conversion rate at Albion and 3 of his 7 goals this season were penalties.

The football coach and analyst Harry Brooks spoke about the Maupay conundrum after the game on Twitter and stated that he believed “there’s a reason Brighton players keep missing these types of chances. They can’t take them. So therefore, Potter has to change the type of chances they create”.

And whilst I think we can all agree this is a harsh assessment and I don’t take his criticisms of Potter too seriously, the fact Albion have beaten teams like Leeds, Villa, Liverpool and Spurs this season when playing on the break with less possession and getting more runs in behind suggest that he’s got a point.

In fact, in the games Albion have won lately they have played a hugely contrasting style to their last three matches, which saw them pick up just one point. Brighton’s average possession in its last 3 games was 68% but their average possession in its last 3 Premier League wins was 38%, almost half!

Saturday’s defeat was the fourth time that Brighton have had over 60% possession in a Premier League game this season, and yet they have failed to win all four of those games, accumulating just 2 points. Meanwhile, they have had less than 40% possession 3 times, winning 2 and accumulating 6 points.

The trend is arguably more striking when you look at the bigger picture. With the team having had more possession than their opponents 14 times this season, winning just one (away to Newcastle) accumulating 10 points in that time, an average of 0.71 points per game. When they have had less possession than their opponents (9 times this season), they’ve won on 4 and occasions and picked up 14 points 1.56, an average of points per game.

The Premier League’s record goalscorer Alan Shearer also commented in a question and answer session for the Athletic this week about the team’s goalscoring problems. Saying that “it would definitely frustrate me as a player, because of that extra pass. The ball could come into the box a lot earlier.”

Going onto say “I’ve always said the time to worry is when you’re not creating chances. But when you’re missing as many as they are it has to be a concern. You have to look at the ability of players to be at this level.”

I’ve spoken as recently as last week about the importance of giving Graham Potter the time and patience to get it right and accepting that during this process, mistakes will happen and that very much stands. But, following these last two defeats I think that this is now far beyond a successions of individual mistakes and has become a real issue that the club has to overcome.

Patience goes both ways and Potter also has to accept that he needs to be patient in making these changes. I think some of the problems this season have come from the club trying to do too much too soon. Particularly in regards to some of the changes in personnel referenced earlier. However, it’s admittedly a tough balance and one most teams struggle with at this very competitive level.

Potter managed to get the balance right last season. A damming 1-0 defeat at home to Palace left the team one point above the drop zone with just ten to play and saw many drafting Potter’s managerial obituary. But he trusted his team, slightly switched the teams approach to a more back to basics style and Albion got the results they needed to get over the line to safety.

But regardless of your opinion on style, the players are the ones carrying out the work and need to repay Potter’s trust. Albion should have beaten Palace and West Brom this week, take those opportunities and no one is critical of Graham Potter.

Last week and frankly too often this season the players have let down Graham Potter and his coaching. And what some of the above criticism of him obviously doesn’t excuse is the two penalties that were missed on Saturday.

This is no longer Chris Hughton’s solid and reliable, if often unimaginative outfit. Graham Potter has successfully evolved this team into a very different outfit with a very different set of players. One that is arguably Albion’s most talented squad of players ever, and yet this is arguably the most perilous position of its time in the Premier League.

These are the moments that make or break a season. Where legends and villains are formed. It’s time for the current Albion team to show their spirit and earn their stripes.

Andy Petterson – the loan ranger

Despite it not being a particularly long list of names, Andy Petterson is probably not the first Australian who played for the Albion that supporters would think of. Partly because he was part of a run of defeats which most fans would to choose to forget.

He first arrived from Australia in 1988 as a teenager to join Luton Town but played just 19 games for the Hatters in five years. During that time he was loaned to Ipswich Town in 1993 after they had an injury to their first choice ‘keeper Craig Forrest. A spell that saw Petterson make his Premier League debut on the last day of the season in a 2-1 win against Nottingham Forest.

Having not played for the club in his spell there yet, he only found out 45 minutes before the game that he was due to make his debut. And far from being an end of season dead rubber, this was a game which Ipswich needed to win to avoid relegation.

Petterson admitted “I’m driving to the game and I’m late… I dash into the dressing room and before I could even put my bag down, I was told number two keeper Clive Baker was out sick. And I’m starting… So I run out and obviously I’m very nervous to start.”

A year later he made a move to Charlton where he initially continued his life as back up, with his first 2 seasons involving four separate loan spells, including another loan spell at Ipswich.

But on New Year’s Day 1997 he was brought into the side, kept his place and went onto impress so much that he won the club’s player of the season award as they finished a disappointing 15th in the First Division.

As a result, for the first time in his career he began the following 1997/98 season as his club’s number one goalkeeper. All seemed well as the team pushed for promotion to the topflight. But he soon lost his place in the team in February of that season and had to watch from the bench as Charlton won that iconic playoff final on penalties against Sunderland after the game ended 4-4 after extra time.

He would later admit: “although we got promotion, that day at Wembley wasn’t quite as special for me as if I had played in the game. At the time when Sasa saved the penalty we had just won at Wembley in such dramatic fashion and it was fantastic for me. But a few days later it sort of sank in that I missed another opportunity to play at Wembley, like when I was at Luton and we got to an FA Cup semi-final that was played at Wembley.”

After featuring just twice for Charlton in the topflight, both of which games they won, he was soon demoted to third choice keeper and loaned to First Division Portsmouth. But injuries to Sasa Ilic and Simon Royce saw him return for another run in the team. However, at the end of the 1998/99 season he was let go and returned to Portsmouth who offered him a permanent deal.

Despite not being a regular under him, Petterson has mostly good things to say about his Charlton manager, the former Albion player Alan Curbishley. “He was a really good coach and a really good guy who treated players really well and he wasn’t like other managers who come across as being a bit of a bully sort of thing.”

Despite his issues there, the five seasons he spent at Charlton would end up being his most successful spell in football. At Portsmouth he started as first choice but by November he’d lost his place in the team and admitted later: “The loan spell [at Portsmouth] went well. The permanent move didn’t, unfortunately. It was the beginning of the end when I went back to Pompey. My career never really recovered.”

Petterson had lost his place in the Portsmouth team, in part after a row with assistant coach Kevin Bond. And after loan spells at Torquay and Wolves, he left for West Brom on a free transfer, where once again, he was surplus to requirements.

However, he would make a comeback by signing for Brighton in August 2002 on another free transfer when Albion’s number one keeper Michel Kuipers suffered his first of a number of injuries that season.

But it was another false dawn for the Australian, as he played only nine times for the Seagulls. Which included playing in six of the club’s run of record equalling 12 consecutive defeats. And things began as they meant to go on for Petterson, when on his debut he was at fault for Walsall’s first goal as the team lost 2-0.

He was not initially perturbed and still seemed to be relishing his opportunity with the Albion, with the next game seeing him face his old club Portsmouth. By then he was an old hand in the English game and with his new team struggling with the step up to the second tier, he felt he could make a difference in that area, telling the Argus before the match: “I would like to think I could help some of the younger lads build in confidence.”.

However, he let in a further four against the league leaders as Albion lost an entertaining game 4-2, and conceded a total of 15 goals in his 7 league appearances for the club, with all bar one ending in defeat.

That included another 4-2 defeat, this time at home to Gillingham. With the game still in the balance at 3-2 and Albion pressing for an equaliser, a quick Gillingham counter saw Petterson experience probably the nadir of his spell at Albion. As the Australian fell over his own leg whilst rushing back to his goal, it left Gillingham’s Kevin James to put the ball into an empty net.

Further defeats to Stoke and Rotherham followed before Michel Kuipers returned from injury to save Petterson the ignominy of any involvement in Albion’s further five defeats, which included a 5-0 defeat away to rivals Palace.

He did have one final involvement as a late substitute in Albion’s record avoiding win away to Bradford, after Michel Kuipers had been sent off. But his first job was to pick the ball out of the net after Andy Gray had blasted in the resultant spot-kick to set up a tense finale. Thankfully, Brighton held on for a long awaited win.

Petterson made two more appearance as an unused substitute at Albion before he was let go to continue his nomadic career in the lower reaches of the English Football League.

He next signed a short-term contract with Bournemouth, before spells with Rushden and Diamonds, Southend, Walsall and Notts County, during which time he made only a smattering of appearances.

Petterson admitted after retiring that “[I] maybe mentally didn’t have the belief in myself enough. I’m a bit of a laid-back, casual sort of guy. Sometimes you have to be that pushy arrogant sort of person for the coach to take notice of you a bit more. I tried to do it, as a footballer you have to be a bit of an actor, but it just wasn’t in my nature.”

Graham Potter and the succession of missed opportunities

For many last night’s defeat to Crystal Palace will have only reinforced their opinions of Graham Potter’s Albion team being an almost comically wasteful football team, but his persistence with the project he continues to carry out is nonetheless something to admire.

Just as many times before, last night saw an Albion performance with plenty of youthful exuberance in attack, but one which was mixed with just enough youthful inexperience and naivety to spoil it.

These have been the defining characteristic of the club’s season so far as well Potter’s entire tenure in charge. So it’s easy to conclude that the team aren’t learning some of those lessons Graham Potter often talks about after a disappointing result.

But amongst the frustration it’s easy to overlook that Graham Potter has done a great job over the last year and a half and that he’s not a magician, despite his surname. Albion’s wage bill is reportedly just over half that of last night’s opponents, but it certainly didn’t look it despite the result reflecting that.

The club’s transfer business over the last year has been widely admired, with the signings of Lamptey, Lallana and Veltman now looking like absolute bargains. But, the lack of investment in the squad has often been evident where it counts this season, in the opposition penalty box.

Many have criticised the club for not signing a top class striker, but manager Graham Potter has stated on numerous occasions that he is happy to work with what he has. Bringing through a roster of largely young and unproven talents, all of whom have had their difficulties in front of goal.

But it shouldn’t come as a surprise that some of the limitations of this Albion team are ones they seem to be unable to overcome. This is a relatively young Albion team, one which over Potter’s tenure has replaced some of the key experienced members of its squad like Shane Duffy, Dale Stephens and Glenn Murray with players with no previous topflight experience like Neil Maupay, Yves Bissouma and Adam Webster. With others like Robert Sanchez, Ben White, Steven Alzate and Aaron Connolly being brought through from the club’s U23 team to fill other gaps in the squad. Players who other than U23 football only have varying degrees of experience on loan at lower league clubs to their name.

Some have done better than others. Adam Webster in particular is a true gem of Potter’s persistence with the younger and inexperienced members of his squad, but this was too after a difficult first season in the topflight. However, he has since become arguably Albion’s best centre back.

Webster’s performance in last season’s defeat at home to Sheffield United left many Albion fans audibly expressing their disgust at the centre backs performance and place in the team. As the man voted the club’s player of the previous season that he was keeping out of it, Shane Duffy, was sat on the bench. But Graham Potter defiantly stated in his programme notes ahead of the teams next home game against Bournemouth that: “mistakes will happen” and that it was “all part of the process”. And the subsequent win that day along with Webster’s progress since certainly support that claim.

So to see him consistently stick by his roster of young strikers is no surprise either. One of the main reasons Graham Potter got the job at Brighton was his ability to work with youngsters, something which was so evident from his time at Swansea.

The signings of younger more inexperienced players like Trossard, Connolly, Zeqiri and Maupay, either for the first team or initially for the U23s is a huge part of the clubs recruitment strategy and something many Albion fans have lauded. And Graham Potter’s job is to coach them into being better players, but he needs time and patience to do that.

Giving Graham Potter patience doesn’t mean to direct your ire elsewhere, ire that many of the names mentioned above have experienced over Potter’s tenure. It means, as he previously stated, to accept that mistakes happen, especially with the club’s chosen recruitment strategy to focus on this young talent.

Games like last night’s are an inevitable part of the process for this Albion team. But Graham Potter and more broadly the entire management team at the club have a clear idea of how they want this team to progress. The evidence of the progress of Adam Webster can serve as a template for Albion’s roster of misfiring striker to follow. What is clear is that Potter will stick by them, even if many others have lost their patience.

Palace 5 – 0 Brighton

It was somewhat fitting that Ms Dynamite performed in Brighton the evening after the cities football club had been on the end of an explosive and damaging defeat.

Palace’s 5-0 win that day was described by the BBC as humiliating, the Guardian as a hammering and the Argus as a nightmare. All Albion fans that remember it will know that it was all these things and more.

For Albion it was a season that had started with optimism after two consecutive championship winning promotions that had seen the club rise from near oblivion to the second tier in the space of just five years. But one that quickly descended into misery. A run of 10 straight defeats had seen manager Martin Hinshelwood quickly demoted back to the youth team coaching role he’d previously held and former Palace manage Steve Coppell appointed in his place to do a job of firefighting.

In Coppell first game in charge, despite plenty of promise, the same fallibilities and bad luck were again shown as Albion lost a dramatic game 4-2 at home to Sheffield United, which made it 11 straight defeats. So the last thing Albion needed at the time was an away game with its arch rivals and Coppell’s former club Crystal Palace, but that’s exactly what they got.

This was the first league match between the sides for 13 years and their first meeting since a 1991 Zenith Data Systems cup match, when Steve Coppell was managing Palace, and so was highly anticipated.

For some that anticipation boiled over into violence. The Guardian’s report from that day said: “By lunchtime, there was heavy fighting around Thornton Heath train station and elsewhere. The kick-off was delayed for 15 minutes, helicopters buzzed overhead and riot police marched alongside mounted colleagues. There will be a few children who made their first and last trips to football yesterday.”

In contrast to their hosts, this was an Albion team well out of its depth in Division One. Bobby Zamora’s goals had propelled the team from a mid-table Third Division side into the First Division in the space of just two seasons, but his injury in the first of the eleven straight defeats that had preceded this match had exposed Albion’s over reliance on their star striker.

Despite Zamora having since returned from injury, this would be a day where the oppositions main marksman would star as Andy Johnson scored twice from corners either side of Zamora spurning a half chance to equalise for Brighton.

But a two-nil deficit at half time for Albion would get much worse in the second half as they continued to gift their opposition sloppy goals, something that had defined their season so far. And just like in Coppell’s first game in charge, it was also the second match in succession in which they gave away two second-half penalties.

Albion captain Danny Cullip brought down Johnson for the first, before Brooker was sent off for bringing him down as the last man for the second. Both penalties were dispatched, the first by Freedman and the second by Johnson for his hat-trick, before Julian Gray capitalised on the home sides numerical advantage to score Palace’s fifth goal and a third in six minutes, cementing the home sides victory.

This result ensured that Albion’s run of now 12 straight defeats equalled the run of defeats they had suffered under Pat Saward in the 1972-73 season. Coincidentally, that season the club also went on to be relegated after winning promotion to the second tier the previous season. After this defeat it was clear to even the most optimistic of supporters that Albion would go onto replicate that feat this season.

Steve Coppell did manage to go on to improve things remarkably, particularly defensively. Additions like defender Dean Blackwell, who made his Albion debut that day and went onto play 20 of the remaining 32 league games, certainly helped. Along with Coppell’s intricate attention to detail, which saw long-term players like Kerry Mayo play some of the best football of their career during his tenure.

Moreover, the result was a necessary wake up call for the team that season. After picking up 4 point from their first 14 games, Coppell led a revival that saw them win 41 from the remaining 32 games to keep the fight for survival going until the final day of the season against the odds, but the damage had already been done. Crystal Palace ultimately finished 14 points and 9 places higher in the table and were promoted back to the topflight the following season via the playoffs.

At the time of writing 19 years on, the sides are separated in the topflight by just three points and one position, sitting in the same league positions and separated by just one more point than they were at the end of the previous season. By contrast back in 2002 the 5-0 result was exemplary of the huge gulf between the sides.

In the thirteen years that the sides had not played each other in a league match, Palace had been to an FA cup final and three other cup semi-finals whilst yoyo-ing between toe First Division and the topflight. Meanwhile Albion had plummeted down the Football League and almost out of it entirely. All while fighting off a succession of winding up orders, directors intent on pulling the club to pieces for their own gain and the threat to the entire existence of the club.

Despite the much needed stability brought in by Dick Knight’s subsequent chairmanship and the club’s move back to the Withdean Stadium in Brighton, it was still far from ideal circumstances. The instability of the club’s ongoing search for a permanent stadium and the financial restrictions which that brought with it, limited the club’s ambitions on the pitch. Something that would last for a number of years to come.