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.

1971/72 season – Aston Villa and Brighton secure promotion from the Third Division

The 1970s began with a heady optimism after the swinging 60s had breathed new life into post-war Britain. In 1970 the self-made builder’s son Edward Heath was elected prime minister promising a “quiet revolution” that would improve the fortunes of the country. However, the combination of an energy crisis, a financial crash and a second miners’ strike in two years would scupper any optimism.

At Albion things were somewhat following that trend. The investment of Property developer Mike Bamber (who would become club chairman in 1972) heralded an era of great ambition at the club. However, that ambition wouldn’t be fulfilled until the end of the decade.

Aside from a brief dalliances with the Second Division between 1958 and 1962 and the Fourth Division in 1963 to 1965 Albion had spent 39 of their 45 seasons as a Football League club in its third tier since joining in 1920. Promotion back to the second tier had been an often unachieved goal for the club.

In contrast Aston Villa had joined Brighton in the Third Division the season before and started the 71/72 season as promotion favourites. Prior to the Second World War Aston Villa had won the First Division six times since being a founding member in 1988. They won the FA Cup as recently as 1957, but their league standing was on the wane and they had a brief spell in the Second Division in the late 50s.

They appeared to have recovered after promotion back to the topflight was coupled with winning the League Cup in 1961, but they subsequently underwent a dramatic decline which resulted in them being relegated to the Second Division in 1967 and then again to the Third in 1970. But fortunes at the club were to take a turn for the better, in no small part down to the sale of the club at the end of 1968 to a group which installed Doug Ellis as chairman.

Albion manager Pat Saward was a former Aston Villa player himself and was part of the 1957 FA Cup winning side and also part of the team that won the Second Division title in 1960. But after retiring he became Albion manager in 1970 and was now going up against his old club in the Third Division.

Saward had been second choice for the managers job when it was given to his predecessor, Freddie Goodwin 18 months earlier. But when Goodwin left the club at the end of the 1969/70 season for Second Division Birmingham, he left a vacancy that Saward would this time fill.

In Saward’s first season, 1970/71, Albion wore an all-white kit with a blue collar. But as part of Pat Saward’s drive to build a stronger bond with supporters, he listened to supporters, and brought back the famous blue and white stripes the following season.

I suspect part of the lack of appeal for the white kit was that Albion were not a success on the pitch in it, as they finished a disappointing 14th. Meanwhile, Aston Villa pushed for promotion but would ultimately miss out finishing 4th in their first season as a Third Division club.

The games against Aston Villa were a rare highlight for Albion that season. A stalemate at Villa Park saw the club earn a respectable point whilst a winner from Kit Napier saw them shock their visitors to take all three points in a 1-0 win at the Goldstone, as Albion pulled away from relegation trouble and put a dent in Villa’s promotion hopes.

A change in kit wasn’t the only change in style at the club as Saward introduced a new attacking style to improve the club’s fortunes. Most prominently, alongside Albion’s star striker Kit Napier was new signing Willie Irvine signed from Preston. With Bert Murray and Peter O’Sullivan providing additional attacking threat from the wings.

Saward spoke confidently about this team’s attacking prowess in the programme of the first home game of the season against Bradford: “I know that all of you who attend the Goldstone regularly will want to see many more goals from the team this season. I don’t think we shall disappoint.” And they didn’t, winning 3-1 that day and going on to score 39 goals in their 23 home games that season, 11 more than the 28 scored in Saward first season in charge.

Kit Napier would go onto notch 19 of the 82 goals Albion scored that season, the 5th and final season he would end the season as the club’s top scorer, the most seasons from any Albion player in its history.

Albion started the 71/72 season well and after drawing their opening game with Port Vale won three games in a row. But the first meeting with Aston Villa was preceded by a 2-0 defeat at home to York, which would become two in a row as Villa secured a 2-0 victory over them at Villa Park which left Villa 5th and Brighton 7th, both on 7 points.

Despite early promise, Albion’s poor form continued and after winning only one of their next seven they fell to twelfth in October. Villa also had a mixed start to the season with a run to the fourth round of the League cup distracting them from their Third Division duties and a defeat away to league leaders Bournemouth saw them fall to fourth and four points behind the Cherries, which given this was in the days of two points for a win amounted to a decent gap.

Despite only being promoted from the Fourth Division the season before, Bournemouth had started the season well and many were now taking them as a serious promotion contender. Along with Notts County they would cause both Albion and Villa the most to worry in their search for Second Division status.

For Albion, it was an Irvine winner at Walsall which instigated an eight match unbeaten run and an upturn in fortunes. This included a 2-0 win over fellow promotion chasers Bournemouth on 27th December in front of a bumper crowd of 30,600, a win of intent from Albion. Indeed Bournemouth started that day in second on equal points with leaders Notts County, with Villa in third just two points behind.

But Albion’s good run was ended by a 1-0 defeat to the league leaders Notts County, which saw Albion fall five points back and down to fifth, with Villa just a point behind the leaders in 3rd. It was the sort of result that left many focusing on the Club’s around Albion as promotion favourites. But a brilliant second half of the season would see Albion surprise many.

Meanwhile Villa really turned up the heat in the second half of the season. After losing to Rochdale the week after Albion’s defeat to Notts County, they would only lose a further two games that season, romping towards the Third Division title.

Albion responded to that defeat to Notts County by winning eight of their next twelve games, a run that including an entertaining 5-3 win away to Shrewsbury, where all eight goals were scored in the space of 27 minutes. But that run of games was ended with two defeats ahead of the visit of now league leaders Aston Villa, with Albion sitting 3rd, six points behind them and four points behind Bournemouth in 2nd.

But despite Villa’s loftier league position and good form, it was Brighton who would run out 2-1 winners in a match that was so anticipated, it was featured on Match of the Day.

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Fortunately for the cameras, the game saw one of Albion’s most iconic goals of that period, a spectacular team goal which was finished off by Irvine after being set up by John Templeman and was featured on that season goal of the season competition, and was voted into third place. With the other Albion goal that day being scored by Kit Napier, who else.

It was a win that instigated an unbeaten run of 13 games which helped to secure promotion for Albion. The thirteenth of which being a home game with Rochdale on final day of season that saw a crowd of 34,766, the third largest at home in the club’s history, as Albion got the draw they required to secure promotion and instigate a wild pitch invasion.

John Templeman had given Albion an early lead, but Rochdale managed to score a shock equaliser on the hour. Then suddenly what was up to then a fairly ferocious game is said to have stopped dead in its tracks. With the result suiting both teams, it appears they informally agreed to play the game out as a draw. Something Albion players Willie Irvine and Ken Beamish both attested to in their autobiographies.

Willie Irvine said “Neither side had a shot on goal in those final minutes; nor did either team look to penetrate each other’s defence. It probably wouldn’t happen nowadays because the final matches of the season are all played on the same day, but back then we were playing after the end of the season and so both knew what we had to do.”

Whilst Ken Beamish stated: “We’d played this game at 100 miles an hour until the score became 1-1. At this point I’d noticed Saward and the Rochdale manager talking on the touchline. Somehow the game seemed to slow down dramatically”

As such Albion had pulled off an unpredicted promotion. Manager Pat Saward said of his sides success: “I spent only £41,000 in getting my promotion side together so we were very much Villa’s poor relations in that sense. Notts County were the team that surprised me (Who finished 4th). I just don’t know why they fell away so badly in the end for they had all-important matches in hand. Bournemouth were the most skilful side we faced.”

Saward put down his team’s success to: “Dogged determination to succeed from all the players. We stamped out inconsistency. I got rid of ten of the players I inherited and got together a team built on character. That’s the key quality, apart from skill of course, as far as I’m concerned.”

However, after Kit Napier was sold to Blackburn that summer whilst Willie Irvine was sold to Halifax midway through the next season after falling out with Saward, the Second Division proved too much for Albion. As they were relegated back to the third tier the following season after finishing bottom of the league.

That season Mike Bamber invested a further £700k into the club to take a majority 51% stake and improve the facilities at the Goldstone. He was initially supportive of Saward but in the October of the following season with the club back in the third tier and finding themselves near the bottom of the division, he was sacked and one of the most famous names in the game Brian Clough was appointed as Brighton manager. A story told brilliantly in Spencer Vignes book “Bloody Southerners”

In that book Spencer talks a lot about how Clough’s presence put Albion on the map and helped attract supporters that followed the club during its glory years of the late 70’s and early 80’s, which is true. But this 1972 promotion winning side deserve a lot of credit, pulling an average attendance of 17.6k, the club’s highest for seven years and 8k higher than the season before.

The appointment of Brian Clough may have put Albion on the map nationally, but Pat Saward’s 1972 promotion winning side had already done a lot of the groundwork even if the season and a bit which followed it diminished some of that work.

In contrast Aston Villa finished the following season 3rd but were a significant 11 points behind QPR in the 2nd promotion place so missed out on a return to the topflight until two years later, where Albion would join them a further four years later. But by then Villa had gone from strength to strength, winning two more League Cups (75 and 77) and getting to the quarterfinals of the UEFA cup in 78. Going on to win the First Division in 81 and European Cup in 82.

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”.

Social Media and Scapegoats

This week saw Albion striker Aaron Connolly deactivate his Twitter account due to the amount of abuse he had received from other users after missing a clear cut chance to score a second goal for Albion in Sunday night’s win over Tottenham.

Whilst examples of this are becoming all too common, social media has become a useful tool for football club’s and their players to engage with supporters in an increasingly detached industry. Particularly at Premier League level where the lifestyles of its players have become increasingly diverged from that of its supporters as a result of the increasingly eye-watering salaries that players are now paid.

But Social Media platforms, like the rise of Internet forums prior to their mass adoption, have also given football supporters a much larger audience to voice the vociferous criticism of their team.

It’s often the players who are on the receiving end of this fury, and has led to many example of them being scapegoated by fans expressing their fury in the heat of the moment, which can sometimes lead to the kind of deplorable abuse that Aaron Connolly recently received.

Of course this isn’t a truly modern phenomena, Scapegoats have always existed. Going back into the English football archives prior to the Internet gives you plenty of examples of fans targeting individual players on the terraces, or in fanzines and even by journalists in professional sports media.

A notable example is the late Ray Wilkins, who had a prestigious career for both club and country. Albion fans will remember him as a part of the 1983 Man United FA Cup winning team, as well as for making 84 appearances for England, which included playing at two world cups as well as making ten of those 84 appearances as captain. Yet his career was played with criticism as he was unfairly typecast as “Ray the Crab” for his perceived tendency to play too many sideways passes.

Scapegoats like Ray are often picked out for criticism not necessarily because they are doing their job particularly badly, but because it defines something about the style of the team that the fans don’t like.

Dale Stephens, a midfielder who plays a similar role, received similar criticism to Ray Wilkins during his time at Brighton and certainly fell into that category. He often played as Albion’s one or one of two holding midfielders in a very defensive team that lacked much forward invention. As such he was often unfairly picked out for not playing the right pass or giving away the ball, despite having one of the best, if not the best, passing accuracy records during his time at the club.

Glenn Murray defended Stephens during their time playing together for the Albion saying: “I think Dale Stephens is a footballer’s footballer. He does a job that goes very unnoticed, especially to the untrained eye.”

Stephens’ fellow Burnley teammate and another former Albion player Ashley Barnes was also picked out for regular criticism during his time at Albion too. In fact, fans of another of his former club’s Torquay thought he wasn’t even good enough for league 2 during his time there, yet he has since gone on to recently score his 100th goal in senior football in Burnley’s win over reigning Premier League Champions Liverpool, a goal which was also his 40th goal in the Premier League.

Unlike Stephens, Barnes at times made a rod for his own back through his lack of discipline, but despite that and his occasional wastefulness in front of goal, he was valued by then Albion manager Gus Poyet for his versatility and selflessness, an underappreciated attribute common with that of many scapegoated players.

The animosity directed toward Ashley Barnes was at times so high that you’d be forgiven for forgetting that he was top scorer for the Albion in the 2011/12 season, ahead of Albion’s then record signing Craig Mackail-Smith and helping to fill the gap left by Glenn Murray after his move to Crystal Palace the previous summer.

It’s interesting that both of these players have found a place at Sean Dyche’s Burnley, a proudly unfashionable side who are not afraid to play a style of play which is more physical and less easy on the eye, but one that values these usually underappreciated players like Barnes and Stephens.

Sean Dyche seems confident in his own mind with what he wants from his side and unapologetically unconcerned in trying to please supporters. In 2019 he commented after receiving some criticism for his teams style of play that: “I’m always a bit confused with what the masses want now…But I don’t mind a tackle, I don’t mind a challenge. Maybe it’s me, maybe it’s a thing of society. If you get touched now, it’s like everyone’s dead, everyone’s properly dead. I just find that peculiar, I don’t know where that’s all at.”

It may not please people aesthetically, but Dyche’s Burnley sides more physical style of play and squad of underappreciated players have consistently been overachieving since promotion to the topflight when you take into consideration their relatively meagre resources.

Maybe Dyche’s own career has shaped his views in this regard. In his own career he earned a reputation as a no-nonsense centre back and made a move to Bristol City at the age of 26 in what was a big move for both him and the club at the time. Unfortunately, during his time there he struggled with injuries and was often singled out by supporters for criticism when he did play. After 20 appearances in 18 months he was first loaned to Luton before being sold to Millwall, where he was far better accustomed.

However, it’s often the strikers like Barnes and Connolly which tend to get the brunt of fans criticism as they are the ones who miss the game changing chances to score goals. Score and you’re a hero forever, as the likes of Glenn Murray, Bobby Zamora, Peter Ward or Tommy Cook show. But as the contrasting examples of Connolly and Barnes show, this is far from always the case.

Some players are able to deal with the criticism better than others. Former Albion striker Mark McCammon once called into the BBC Sussex’s post game phone-in to argue his case after feeling unfairly criticised by supporters and the phone-in host Ian Hart. Whereas most others choose to do their talking on the pitch.

Whilst, McCammon actively went out of his way to listen to the phone in and take on the criticism he was receiving before infamously phoning in, players are now being directly contacted by users for abuse, simply as a result of having a social media presence.

As Sean Dyche admitted back in 2017 things are very different now. “The game has radically changed off the pitch. It is a whole different profession now, even to when I was playing. I just think it (social media) opens up an unnecessary moment… Unfortunately with life, often people want to vent. And if they have got a chance to vent directly at you… well, I just wouldn’t put myself up for that. That’s my view on social media.”

If more people don’t learn to cut out the online abuse and social media platforms don’t start introducing more severe punishments for those who don’t, we will likely see more footballers go the way of Sean Dyche and Aaron Connolly and just not engage with it at all. Which would be a huge negative for an industry which is becoming more and more detached from its consumers by the day.

Albion make things too three-sy for bottom of the table Bristol City

It was a huge game for Albion in the WSL on Saturday away to bottom of the table Bristol City. A win for Hope Powell’s side would have taken them up to 8th and a massive 10 points clear of their opponents who started the day bottom in the WSL’s relegation place, with just 2 points collected from the 11 games they’d played so far this season. Instead a defeat has meant Bristol climbed to within 4 points of them.

A recent Covid outbreak among the Albion team left among others key player Fliss Gibbons still serving an isolation period. All of which has limited Hope Powell’s options of late, but she was still able to reshuffle things at the back after that 7-1 hammering at the hands of Man City last time out. Namely dropping Kerkdijk and bringing in Williams at centre back with the young Bethan Roe also coming in at right back for only her second appearance for the first team, with Nora Heroum dropping out and Kayleigh Green reverting to her usual position higher up the pitch after deputising in defence their last time out.

Roe had been on a season long loan at Charlton in the Championship until earlier this month, but after the Covid outbreak limited the players available for selection, she was recalled. As a result of which, Powell could only name six out of the eight possible substitutes. Still, this is one more than the five they named last weekend away to City.

Powell was optimistic ahead of the game with some players now beginning to return from COVID isolation periods. Saying “it is nice to see players coming back, not possibly at full fitness, but I would take that rather than not having them at all.”

But this somewhat makeshift Albion team made possibly the worst of starts. When trying to play the ball out of the back, Albion gave it away on an admittedly heavy pitch and after failing to sufficiently close down Bristol’s Yaya Daniels, went behind after her slightly speculative shot caught out Fiskerstrand inside the first three minutes. Powell was critical of her keeper saying: “The early goal really put us on the back foot. I question our goalkeeper’s positioning, she was probably a little bit too high.” Albion’s defence should take their fair share of the blame here too, first for giving away the ball, and then giving Daniels too much space to get the shot away.

In response Albion put Bristol under plenty of pressure but failed to really test the keeper and get an equaliser. But it was Bristol who looked the most dangerous on the break and they caught Albion out again when a simple long ball through the middle of defence beat Le Tissier and allowed Ebony Salmon in behind to make it 2-0.

As half-time came a two-goal deficit was already a hard task for Albion to overturn, and it would get even harder after the break when Williams was penalised for what looked like a harsh handball decision and from the resultant penalty Salmon scored to double her tally and make the game safe for City.

Things got even worse shortly after when Kayleigh Green was given her marching orders, losing her head in all the frustration and stamping on Bristol’s opening goalscorer Yaya Daniels. Hope Powell said after that game that Green was “disgusted with herself”, and so she should have been. City’s interim manager Matt Beard’s comparison with Green’s actions and WWE wasn’t unfair.

Green did apologise after the game and Daniels stated that all was forgiven, but that was only after her red card was followed by Green having to be held back by her team-mates during what was described by Tom Garry in The Independent as “an expletive-ridden exchange with a furious Bristol City bench.”

But at least things didn’t get any worse after that, Albion only losing by three on this occasion compared to the six goals deficit the week before. Nonetheless this is a damaging 3-0 defeat, which leaves Albion right in the middle of a relegation dogfight and with many of the teams around them having games in hand, it may get even worse as the weeks go on.

Saturday saw Albion have lots of possession but struggle with their ball retention all afternoon on a bad pitch. They can’t just blame the pitch though, their average passing accuracy on Saturday of 69% is on par with their average all season and is the third worst in the division. In contrast, Bristol adapted far better to the conditions, with their far more direct style allowing them to create the better chances despite having significantly less possession.

Absences haven’t helped, both Gibbons (71%) and the Denise O’Sullivan (79%) have averaged higher passing accuracies than the team and tend to be far more reliable on the ball. Denise O’Sullivan’s in particular, who has now returned to her parent club North Carolina Courage after her loan period ended last month, has a passing accuracy that is the best at the club this season and her absence has been keenly felt this month.

It was ultimately the basics in defence that cost Albion here. Caught out by a speculative long range effort after giving the ball away in their own half and then again by a fairly straightforward long ball down the middle, making the game all-but out of reach before halftime.

In contrast, there was lots of possession and lots of promise going forward but simply not enough bite up front from Albion who have struggled for goals all season, scoring just 8 in their 13 WSL games. In fact it’s been an issue all season in the WSL, whilst they have averages over 10 shots a game this season, more than 4 of the other 5 teams in bottom half of the WSL, they have only scored a goal every 0.04 shots, the worst conversion rate in the division this season.

As Powell admitted after the game: “We weren’t good enough by our standards,” going onto say: “With how much we’ve developed, it feels like we’ve hit a brick wall and we have to go again.”

Especially given this was such a heavy defeat to a Bristol City side who hadn’t won in the Super League for nearly a year and who since the start of the season had amounted just two draws along with nine defeats in their eleven games played. A job recently taken on by interim manager Matt Beard, which he described after their 4-0 defeat last time out to Everton as “a big challenge”.

All making for a miserable day in the West Country, which mean they have lost 6 from their last 7 games and find themselves in a really bad place at the moment. The aforementioned hammering last weekend at the hands of Man City is unfortunately one of those things for Albion at the moment in what is becoming an increasingly top-heavy WLS, but taking a three-goal hammering from bottom of the table Bristol City who’d only scored six goals all season prior to kick off is another thing entirely and a huge setback for Powell’s team.

With Albion now being only 4 points above Bristol in 12th, the home games coming up against West Ham and Spurs later this month are now huge, especially if they are to avoid the season finale rematch with Bristol being a relegation decider. And just the little matter of a trip to league leaders Chelsea up next weekend.

On that prospect manager Hope Powell said “we’re gonna have to [be better]”, and she’s not wrong. If Albion are going to get out of the slump they find themselves in, they have to look after the ball better. Giving the ball away for Bristol’s opening goal here shows just that. Poor passing out from the back gifted possession to Bristol far too often, and if they keep doing that against better opposition they’ll be punished again and again, just like they were against City last weekend. Chelsea are likely be just as ruthless.

Was FFP to blame for the failed Sami Hyypia regime?

In 2013 Gus Poyet, ever the dramatiser, described Albion’s predicament as “now or never” due to the recently introduced FFP restrictions in the football league. Speaking to the independent he said: “The problem is that after this season it’s going to get even more difficult in the Championship especially with the new Premier League TV money and the parachute payments,” Poyet said. “More and more [former Premier League] teams are going to have more money and the others will have the Fair Play system without that money, which is going to make a difference.

“People think it [Financial Fair Play] will make teams more equal, but it will make things worse. Ten teams will be spending fortunes over three years of parachute payments and 10 teams will be under Financial Fair Play rules. So there will be two Championships: the ones that have been in the Premier League, and the rest. So you’ll have to be unbelievable – very smart at recruitment, players playing at their best, lucky with injuries, and then be a good team on the pitch.”

As we all now know, Albion were promoted to the Premier League four years and three playoff semi-final defeats later. But could the lessons of Sami Hyypia’s failed tenure as manager in 2014 be an example of the difficulties that Poyet pointed to and which Albion would face after not winning promotion that season?

Starting from the 2012–13 season, the Financial Fair Play (FFP) arrangement was put in place across all three divisions of the Football League. FFP rules were introduced after a number of clubs had reported financial difficulties, so that all EFL clubs would become self-sustainable and requires them to limit their losses on operating activities.

The definition of losses on operating activities excludes expenditure on Youth Development Expenditure, Women’s Football Expenditure, Community Development Expenditure and the depreciation of expenditure on long term assets such as the stadium and new training ground. This has still allowed Tony Bloom to heavily invest in the club without increasing its FFP defined losses, but this investment is more for the benefit of the club’s long term gain than in the short term.

It goes without saying that it has been of huge benefit to the club that Tony Bloom has been willing to make such a huge investment in it. The hundreds of millions which he has invested in the new stadium and subsequently on the new training ground have helped to take the club from one struggling in League one all the way to the topflight. But by the time Hyypia had taken charge, many, including one of his predecessors Gus Poyet, had expressed doubts as to whether this investment could take the club that next step and into the topflight.

Bloom’s investment could give the club an edge in terms of infrastructure, but the club was fighting hard to control its operating expenditure so it was FFP compliant. A process mainly confined to the first team players wage bill, which as many studies have shown, the size of which relative to your opponents has a significantly positive relationship with the team’s performance on the pitch. Indeed, even when the club was finally promoted to the Premier League its wage bill was the second lowest in the division and lower than some Championship clubs at the time, including Aston Villa.

There has been recent discussions around the introduction of an £18m a year salary cap in the Championship, proposals that have so far been rejected. How it would work and how it would account for teams coming down from the Premier League with players on topflight contracts is unclear, and whether it would be able to be implemented without some allowances that would potentially give relegated clubs a further advantage over the rest of the league is as yet unspecified. But the fact discussions on this even exist years on from the introduction of FFP show it has not had the desired effect on financial sustainability within the EFL.

The introduction of FFP also had a huge impact on the club’s transfer policy but the club were still bullish about being able to meet its goals. Paul Barber spoke about this over the summer of 2014 saying: “we’re not in a position where we have to sell anyone. We’re in a position where we have to progress, we’re in a position where we want to mount another challenge for getting into the Premier League and that requires us assembling a very, very good squad of players. That’s exactly what we’ll do.”

But in the previous January Albion had already let go Ashley Barnes to Championship rivals Burnley and Liam Bridcutt to Premier League Sunderland, whilst that summer winger Will Buckley and star striker Leo Ulloa were both soon to be sold to Premier League sides Sunderland and Leicester respectively. Furthermore the contracts on first team players like Matthew Upson, David Lopez, Andrea Orlandi and Thomas’s Kuzczak were all not renewed as the club cut its cloth to meet the financial restrictions.

All this meant the team that had reached consecutive playoff semi-finals was not the same team that Hyypia was inheriting. Only three of the players who started the first leg of the playoff semi-final against Derby started the opening day 1-0 home defeat to Sheffield Wednesday.

Some of those that were released didn’t come as a surprise as their influence on the team since Gus Poyet’s departure the year before had reduced. Whilst, Matt Upson was actually offered a new contract but decided to go Premier League Leicester City instead. But the appointment of Sami Hyypia was still a clear move in a different direction, in contrast to Oscar Garcia’s appointment the year before, which was very much trying to build on the work and team that Poyet had built.

This isn’t necessarily an issue in itself, players do come and go and as Paul Barber went onto explain all those who left were either near the end of their contract or keen to move on. The big problem was that in their place arrived an array of sub-standard talent, mostly arriving on loans and free transfers as the club made around a reported £8m net profit from its transfer activity that season.

The two players who were brought in via substantial transfer fees were David Stockdale (who was signed from Fulham) and Sam Baldock (who was signed from Bristol City) and would go onto be key parts of the promotion winning side of 2017. However, many of the others were signed on the cheap, like target man Chris O’Grady who was signed for £500k from Barnsley or the Dutch midfielder Danny Holla who was brought in on a free transfer and would fall by the wayside in the subsequent clear out that followed the nightmare of the Hyypia era.

Ahead of the new season the Bleacher Report described Albion’s transfer business as giving the club “a new lease of life” under Hyypia. Unfortunately that life was one as a team battling against relegation to League One from a team previously challenging for promotion to the Premier League.

Whilst the likes of Holla and O’Grady were signed to quickly fill the gaps that were left by the departure of key players, many others were subsequently brought in on loan to compensate for theirs and others shortcomings.

In comparison the recruitment under the management of Chris Hughton was far more proactive rather than reactive and saw the club make a reported £12m net outlay the following season, the club’s highest ever until promotion to the Premier League markedly changed the club’s finances.

One of the key developments around that time at the club was the establishment of the recruitment team and the appointment of Paul Winstanley as the head of it. Hughton benefited from this just as much as the previous regime had let Hyypia down. They have since gone on to consistently get good value and bring in players who have gone on to become Albion heroes.

Winstanley’s effective predecessor, the Head of football operations David Burke, was sacked on Christmas Eve 2014 for his part in Albion’s poor transfer business just a matter of days after Hyypia had handed in his resignation. Owner and chairman Tony Bloom, a mathematician by education and big on statistics, was moving the club towards a more analyst-driven recruitment policy. And the establishment of the recruitment team was another step in that direction, but one that came too late for Hyypia.

However, it was seen that Hyypia’s lack of knowledge of English players in the Football League didn’t help the club’s recruitment. Ultimately the manager has always had final say and his sign off was not as valuable as it was by any of his predecessors or would be under Hughton. Under Poyet’s management, the club had relied hugely on the Uruguayan’s contacts across from European football and beyond. But with him gone the club has been failing to replicate that transfer-market success.

But you still need to work with what you have and the development of certain players in the Hughton’s era who failed to excel under Hyypia suggests his coaching wasn’t as effective. The likes of Stephens, Dunk, March, Stockdale, Baldock and Bruno, who were all key players under Hughton failed to improve the clubs fortunes under Hyypia.

It didn’t help Hyypia from a coaching perspective that his first choice assistant Jan Moritze Lichte turned the job down for family reasons. This situation was then exacerbated when his second choice Sami Lee, who had previously worked in the Premier League under Sam Allardyce and Rafael Benitez, decided against taking the role just days after agreeing a contract with the club in favour of taking up the post as assistant to Ronald Koeman at Premier League Southampton. This left Hyypia in the awkward position of promoting Nathan Jones to his assistant, after initially demoting him to first team coach upon Lee’s appointment.

But despite all this Hyypia still has his supporters. On the podcast “Football, the Albion and me” Albion player at the time Craig Mackail Smith believes this was because “maybe his style of play was a little bit ahead of his time”, going on to compare it to the current system used by reigning Premier League Champions Liverpool and that “maybe we didn’t have the players to play that system.”

Another guest of that podcast, former Albion captain Gordon Greer defended Hyypia, saying “People don’t really appreciate how good of a manager Sami was” and echoed Mackail-Smith saying “We didn’t have the players to play in the system”. Maybe not, but with a few key additions Chris Hughton soon showed this team was capable of much more.

Mackail-Smith reference a notable win of the Hyypia era away to Leeds, where the won 2-1, Hyypia’s first league win as Brighton manager where they scored their first goals of the season after two consecutive defeats.

Hyypia that day praised Albion’s opening scorer Joao Teixeia who had signed on loan from Liverpool saying: “We have a quality player and I am very happy to have him with us.” And Teixeia then scored the winner in Albion’s next game on his home debut, a 2-1 win over Bolton.

But for every Hyypia performance that backs him up, there were plenty more to counter that. Those two wins on the bounce were not to be replicated under Hyypia, in fact the team won just one more league games under his tenure.

The match which sticks out to me is the 1-0 defeat to Millwall, his last home game as manager and a game that was being broadcast live on Sky Sports. Albion were awful, so bad that there were even rumours linking Tony Pulis with the job.

By this this point Hyypia has accumulated over 20 games in charge including a run to the 4th round of the League Cup and there were few signs of anything but regression from their Albion side. In contrast, over a similar period of games Hughton subsequently steered this Albion team to a comfortable survival from relegation and they started the following season with a 4-0 win at home to Nottingham Forest, going on to only miss out on automatic promotion on goals scored and win promotion the following season.

For Hyypia, having won just one game in their last 17 league matches, that defeat to Millwall left Brighton in the Championship relegation zone, while Millwall moved five points and five places above them. And after a draw away to Wolves next time out Hyypia resigned having won just three of his 22 league games in charge.

Whilst Guy Poyet’s statements in 2013 turned out to be proved dramatically incorrect by Albion 4 years later, he did have a point. FFP was making it tougher for Albion to compete in the Championship and smart recruitment was key to the success which followed after Hughton was appointed as Hyypia’s replacement on New Year’s Eve.

It’s a testament to the smart investment decisions of Tony Bloom, as well as the work of those behind the scenes like Paul Winstanley, that Brighton did go on to defy the odds. But it is also fair to say that whilst Hyypia was found wanting during his time in charge of the Albion, it wasn’t entirely a mess of his own making. The combination of Poyet’s management ending and FFP being introduced required the Albion to now work in a different way and Hyypia unfortunately got stuck in the middle of that transition.

Aldershot v Brighton (2000)

November 2000 was a busy time for sport in Brighton. Whilst Micky Adams’ Brighton side were beginning to flourish following the move to the Withdean Stadium, the newly rename Brighton Bears Basketball team were attracting significant crowds for their games at the Brighton centre, a venue which also hosted the 2000 Samsung Open indoor tennis tournament, which featured Great Britain’s top two men’s tennis players of the time Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski. Brighton was very much in vogue at the time and would be granted City status the following month by Queen Elizabeth II as part of the millennium celebrations.

So it was apt that it’s football team was on the up. As well as flourishing in the league, Albion were beginning to get national attention for the team which Micky Adams was building. Following the clubs demise in the late 80s and 90s, the early 2000s were glorious for Albion fans and Adams’ teams, which was spearheaded by a young goalscorer named Bobby Zamora was a key part in their rise out of the abyss.

After a slow start to the season, the 1983 FA Cup finalist had lifted themselves to 2nd in the Third Division. So, when they were drawn away to Isthmian Premier Division side Aldershot in the first round of the FA Cup, it was no surprise that it was the chosen tie to feature on the BBC’s Match of the Day.

Especially given Brighton were the first league team to visit Aldershot since the club went bust in 1992, after a number of years of winding up orders and mounting debts at the club. It’s a similar story to that of Brighton in the late 80’s and 90’s and they could have followed Aldershot out of the football league or even out of business just 5 years later.

For Albion it was the investment of Dick Knight in 1997 that meant they avoided this fate. And just two and a half years on from being a game away from losing their league status, they were now back in Brighton at their new home Withdean Stadium and with some much needed stability.

Despite those similarities in the recent histories of their clubs, some fans were evidently not interested in unifying over their kinship. As evidenced by some trouble between a small number of opposition supporters in Aldershot town Centre before game.

But the game itself was played with a well-mannered spirit by both teams and most supporters who witnessed would enjoy a captivating cup tie.

It was Albion midfielder Richard Carpenter who opened the scoring in the first half with a trademark free kick, of which Match of the Day’s commentator Tony Gubba said that David Beckham “won’t have scored many better himself”. It was Carpenter’s third goal in seven games and he would make a name for himself at Albion for the spectacular goal from distance scoring 22 times in 279 appearances for Albion. He was particularly well known for his ability to score from set pieces and perhaps most famously scored in that manner for Albion in an FA Cup Third round tie away to Spurs in 2005 that ended in a 2-1 defeat.

But despite Carpenter getting Albion off to a good start, there was still a threat of an upset. And when Danny Cullip brought down Wayne Andrews to concede a penalty, which Gary Abbott scored to level the scoring, many will have feared the worse.

Even more so after Abbott’s strike partner Wayne Andrews then gave Danny Cullip another fright as he had the Albion captain scampering to stop his run into the penalty area to no avail, but Andrews’ resultant shot hit the side netting.

Andrews certainly caught the eye for Aldershot that day, he had been released by Watford the year before and ended up playing for a handful of non-league clubs before being given a second chance in the football league by Oldham in 2002. He would go onto make nearly 200 appearances in professional football for a number of clubs, including Colchester United and Crystal Palace, for whom he made 9 appearances in the Premier League.

Albion had a difficult recent history coming up against non-league sides in the FA Cup, having lost to conference side Hereford at this stage of the competition as recently as 1997. The 1990s saw the club have a spate of defeats to non-league sides in the FA Cup, of which Hereford was the last and least embarrassing. There was the 2-1 defeat away to Isthmian Premier League side Kingstonian in 1994. Then there was a defeat to Southern League Premier side Sudbury Town in a replay on penalties in 1996. As well as fellow non leaguers Canvey Island taking the club to a replay in 1995.

But despite a spirited performance from Aldershot, today wasn’t to be another repeat of Albion being on the wrong end of a cup upset. They took the lead again when the Shots ‘keeper Andy Pape brought down Bobby Zamora and Paul Watson scored from the spot to give them a 2-1 lead at half time. But it was in the second half where Albion would show their superiority.

They quickly extended their lead through future club captain Charlie Oatway. Whose fine side-foot strike from outside the box left commentator Tony Gubba exclaiming, “Oh well done Oatway!.”

Then the Shots ‘keeper Andy Pape was in the thick of the action again as he brought down an on rushing Nathan Jones to give away a penalty, a decision the BBC match report described as “controversial”. But from the highlights, it is more a case of clumsy and ill-advised goalkeeping. So for the second time Albion’s right back Paul Watson stepped up and scored from the spot.

Paul Watson scored 19 goals in total for Brighton over his 221 appearances, an impressive record for a right back. He was also a key avenue for Albion goals via his fabulous crossing ability that was a key part in Zamora’s goalscoring for the Albion, having assisted more of his goals than any other player during Zamora’s Brighton career.

Whilst the 4-1 lead Albion now held had all but won them the tie, Aldershot kept pushing and had a goal ruled out for a foul by Aldershot substitute Adedeji on Michel Kuipers.

But it wasn’t long before Aldershot’s woes were to mount after a Gary Hart cross was put away by Bobby Zamora. As well as Watson, Gary Hart was another regular assister for Zamora and the number of goals he went onto score would be in no small part down to his strike partner Gary Hart doing a lot of the legwork that allowed him to shine. In Spencer Vignes “A Few Good Men”, Bobby recognised this himself when he said “I was scoring a lot of goals. But that was down to the running of a lot of other guys in the team… ‘my bitches’ I used to call them!”

And Gary Hart turned provider again for Albion’s sixth goals when he knocked on a Oatway corner which was turned in defender Matthew Wicks, son of the Chelsea and QPR defender Steve Wicks.

Aldershot did pull another goal back through Gary Abbott’s second of the game when he turned in Jason Chewin’s cross, but it was far too little too late for the non-leaguers. Abbott was a prolific non-league goalscorer and managed a remarkable 120 goals in 156 appearances for Aldershot, scoring an impressive 45 goals that season alone, but the Shots problems at the other end of the pitch meant his goalscoring that day was in vain.

This was an impressive victory for a brilliant Brighton side who went onto win the Third Division that season. But despite their success in the league a defeat to fellow Third division side Scunthorpe followed in round 2, the club’s eighth successive failure to make the third round of the FA Cup, the club’s longest run since joining the football league in 1920 and a record that has thankfully since much improved.