Whenever Brighton and Burnley face off you can expect a battle and down the years there have been some great games between the sides as well as a fair few feisty moments. But it’s not a fixture with a great deal of history, occurring only nine times before the Premier League era began in 1992, with the club’s not meeting in a league match until 1972. As the top echelons of English football revelled in Sky TV’s investment in the game both Brighton and Burnley were less prosperous. Whilst Brighton continued their demise down the league that followed the success of the early eighties, Burnley had survived falling out the league themselves in the late eighties and both found themselves meeting in England’s third tier.
Whilst Brighton won both fixtures that season including a 3-0 win at the Goldstone Ground on Boxing Day, Burnley were the club on the upwards trajectory. So whilst four Kurt Nogan goals across the two fixtures did the job for the Albion that season, a sign of the contrasting futures of both clubs was that he moved to Burnley in 1995 before the Albion continued their demise into the bottom tier of the Football League the following year.
So knowing what was to come it won’t surprise you that when the club’s met during the 1993/94 season Burnley won the home fixture and secured a draw at the return match at the Goldstone Ground on their way to promotion to the second tier. And whilst relegation followed the season after, they were establishing themselves as an aspiring second tier club, whereas Brighton were the bare bones of the club who’d got to the FA Cup final whilst playing in the first tier a little over a decade before.
The clubs faced off twice more in the third tier in the 1995/96 season before Brighton’s relegation to the basement division meant the clubs didn’t meet again until after the millennium, by which point the Goldstone Ground had become a retail outlet and Brighton were playing at Withdean Stadium.
After years apart the club’s met again in the second tier in the 2002/03 season and were scheduled to face-off on the first day of the season. After a 3-1 win for Brighton on that day at Turf More, the clubs met again in the December, when a 20-year-old young rookie on loan from Arsenal who went by the name Steve Sidwell scored two late goals to earn Brighton a dramatic late draw.
In recent years, close battles between the sides have become a trend, with 5 of the last 6 meetings ending in a draw. Most of which were tight, often scrappy, low scoring affairs. With the tension and feistiness at times spilling over into some unsavoury behaviour. During the first top flight meeting between the sides at Turf More in April 2018, Brighton’s Gaetan Bong was booed throughout by the home support for allegations he had made towards former Burnley player Jay Rodriquez of racially abusing him.
Another recent battle between the sides was an Albion home game in April 2016, which ended in a 2-2 draw and is possibly the exception to the tight and cagey affairs. Although nonetheless, three of those goals came from corners and even this game was most notable for a fiery midfield battle between Burnley’s Joey Barton and Brighton’s Beram Kayal, a battle which saw neither booked but both (and Barton in particular) treading a fine line between a warning and a dismissal.
But for me when it comes to facing Burnley, I always think first of a day when Brighton lost 1-0, ended the game with 9-men, but yet with a feeling of pride mixed with what could have been. It was 17th December 2011, Brighton had been promoted to the Championship that summer as champions of League One and at the same time were still getting used to their new surroundings of the long-awaited AMEX stadium that had only opened that summer.
In fact it was the sides first meeting in five years. Whilst the Albion had spent the intervening years in League One, Burnley had secured an unlikely promotion to the Premier League via the 2009 Championship playoffs, only to (as expected) be relegated in their first season at that level. Following relegation, they finished 8th in the Championship and just outside the playoffs in 2010/11, so were hoping to go one better this season but went into the game at the AMEX in mid-table and adrift of those all-important playoff places.
In contrast, the Albion were acclimatising to the second tier after promotion from League One. The team had started well picking up 16 points from a possible 18 from their first six games, with the only points dropped via a dramatic Kevin Phillips inspired late Blackpool comeback from 2-0 down, a comeback instigated by a second-half triple substitution from then then Blackpool manager Ian Holloway. But this good run wouldn’t last, as the side won only four in their next fifteen games in the run up to this clash, finding themselves falling down the table and outside the playoff places.
So this was a game both sides were keen to win to keep up with the promotion race, and it started with incident from the off as after only six minutes Brighton’s Romain Vincelot was sent off. It was a dismissal that left everyone in the ground mystified including the player himself, but it turned out to be for a retaliatory punch to the ribs of Burnley midfielder Marvin Bartley. No complaints there.
Then only five minutes later the sense mystification amongst the Albion faithful turned to anger as Ashley Barnes was also sent off. He went into a 50/50 challenge with Chris McCann and initially many in the home end cheered as they thought the red card brandished by referee Craig Pawson was for the Burnley man. But it was instead for Barnes who was dismissed for stamping on Chris McCann after reacting violently to his aggressive two-footed tackle, which escaped unpunished. Again upon reflection it was a red card there should have been little complaints of.
Yet Brighton manager Gus Poyet said after the game: “I don’t want to comment on the sending off incidents, it’s up to the club whether they want to take it further but I’m not because I don’t want to spend any money. Some people in games like this may lose their jobs. It was a really bad day at the office.”
The Albion appealed the Barnes red card, but it was unsurprisingly unsuccessful and he and Vincelot both served three match bans. On the appeal Albion Managing director at the time Ken Brown told The Argus: “Personally I thought both sending-offs were harsh, but I think in particular Ashley’s was not justified. I think we have footage that indicates that and hope we can support that in written form to the FA.” Sadly for the club few others agreed.
The reality was neither had any complaints, and both reds were clearly moments of indiscipline and stupidity from the players involved. The moments of madness that would cost the Albion that day occurred more regularly throughout Poyet’s leadership than you’d usually expect, and the team got something of a reputation as a dirty side. In fact the team had the worst disciplinary record in the league that season accumulating 83 yellows cards and 8 red cards.
In reaction, aside from his predictably brash and at times vulgar antics on the touch line, Albion manager Gus Poyet made a double substitution, bringing on Craig Noone and Alan Navarro for Kazenga LuaLua and Ryan Harley to attempt to stabilise things for the Albion, but 80 minutes with 9-men would be too much of a challenge.
Referee Craig Pawson was busy throughout a frantic match. Not long after he turned down appeals for a Brighton penalty after Craig Noone went down in the box. Poyet’s response was predictably impassioned as he threw his coat down in anger and disappeared down the tunnel, returning to the touch line five minutes later after presumably calming himself down.
And it got worse for the Albion when then Man City loanee Kieran Trippier opened the scoring. The defender was starting to make a name for himself playing at full back for the Clarets for his ability to get up and down the flank and put dangerous crosses in, but it was his goalscoring ability that would be most prominent that day. Trippier had caught the attention of the better informed scouts with a successful loan spell the year before at Barnsley, scoring twice in 41 games. He added to those goals here by hitting a powerful effort from the edge of the box after Ross Wallace’s low corner to score his first league goal of the season and give Burnley the lead. Trippier has subsequently become better known for his ability to score from set-pieces, most notably in the World Cup semi-final for England in their defeat by Croatia, but he was not known for this then and caught the Albion defence off-guard.
Tempers continued to flare as Burnley striker Martin Paterson and Brighton defender Adam El-Abd clashed, with a yellow card given to Paterson as well as Brighton defender and assistant manager Mauricio Taricco in the aftermath. Taricco was much like his former Spurs teammate and manager Gus Poyet regarding his poor temperament and despite his senior status was often in disciplinary trouble whilst at the club, which sums up Poyet’s lax control of the team’s discipline during his time in charge. In only 19 appearances he accumulated 4 yellow cards and two red, hardly leading by example.
Despite this the atmosphere in the AMEX was great. Spurred on to support the team in adversity, the tune of the great escape rung around the AMEX as Brighton fought on. And despite Burnley seeing much of the ball, the Albion would create chances on the break via the pace of Craig Mackail-Smith. First a quickly-taken free-kick set Mackail-Smith away just before half-time, however Burnley’s Michael Duff got back to clear.
Burnley manager Eddie Howe summed up the situation saying: “It’s sometimes harder with a numerical advantage… We didn’t want to sit too deep and our defensive line wasn’t great at the end. I can’t recall playing for such a long time against nine men, but the atmosphere the Brighton fans created was terrific and if you stand off for one second someone like Craig Mackail-Smith will punish you.”
But Mackail-Smith had chances and didn’t punish the visitors. Next shooting wide from inside the box and then as time went on and Burnley sat back on their lead, they were fortunate when David Edgar denied Mackail-Smith in injury time with a desperate goalline clearance. Mauricio Taricco also tested Lee Grant with a long-range effort, but the Albion couldn’t break Burnley’s resistance, and in the end it oddly felt like a missed opportunity.
The feeling of missed opportunities would continue for both clubs as Brighton finished the season 10th, three places and four points ahead of Burnley, with both missing out on the playoffs. As the season ended both clubs would look back on days like this one was for the Albion, an examples of how they fell short of those playoffs.
Poyet said after the Burnley game: “The lads were outstanding. We were 100 per cent sure we would have a chance and what a chance, the best chance in the game. It didn’t go in, but it doesn’t matter. We did everything we should.”
Whilst this is true, for me this game summed up the issues that trouble the Albion throughout this season, and in many ways Poyet’s management after moving into the AMEX stadium. Whilst we were ‘F***ing brilliant’ as we won the League One title, the two seasons in the championship that followed were mixed, especially when the amount of investment in the team is considered.
One example of this is Craig Mackail-Smith, his signing was met with great fanfare as the Albion beat teams including West Ham to his signature, but if we are honest even considering the injuries he never lived up to the hype. His goalscoring record says it all, worse than a goal in every 5 games, so bad that he ended his time with the Albion playing out wide as the club bought an alternative front man in the form of Leonardo Ulloa, a man whose goalscoring record was far more impressive.
This day personified Mackail-Smith, lots of running and hard work, with little end-product. He was bought to the club to replace Glenn Murray, who’d scored 54 goals in his previous 118 appearances with the club. But Mackail-Smith never filled the goalscoring void that Murray left. In fact, this summed up a lot of the players in that team who played that day, like Ashley Barnes and Lewis Dunk who were young, inconsistent and wouldn’t fulfil their potential until later years, or Kazenga Lua and Craig Noone who despite possessing great talent never seemed to be able to deliver the goods consistently.
It would be wrong to say that the same was true of the following season, the team’s disciplinary record improved (relative to the atrocious record of the previous season) and the team ended up only a handful of points off automatic promotion, only missing out on promotion to Palace in that playoff semi-final. But even that night was defined in part by Poyet’s failings. In a tight game the emotion of the occasion got the better of the Albion, chances came and went and the fact the Albion had made a mistake to let that season’s Championship top scorer Glenn Murray go on a free transfer only two years before to their semi-final opponents was for all to see.
In fact Brighton scored only 69 goals that season in their 48 games, fewer than any of their play off rivals, and the season’s was in part notable for the amount of games the club failed to win despite dominating possession, drawing 18 times that season, more than any team in the league with half of those coming at home.
The negatives of Poyet’s period in charge now seen in hindsight feel particularly true of that day back in December 2011. What felt at the time like a proud moment of heroic defeat, now feels like a day when the failings of the Poyet era were on show for all to see, we were just choosing to ignore them and enjoy the ride.
But this was because, despite Poyet’s failings, we chose to ignore them because this was a great time to be an Albion fan, which the great atmosphere that day attests to. Whilst Poyet was a flawed manager in many ways, he built a team that inspired us and and a team that put the club into the national consciousness for the first time in decades, and for that at least we should be grateful, despite the failings that were shown throughout his management, and in this match in particular.