Billy Lane

Billy Lane is a name those of you who have some knowledge of Albion history will no doubt have heard of. Having managed the club for ten years, the second longest tenure in Albion history, he achieved the club’s first Football League promotion and steered the club through one of its greatest eras. One recently recognised with a smart new clothing range in the club shop.

The fifties was a decade of great transition in the UK. The times of rationing and fear of war were ending, and the freedom, prosperity and excitement of the swinging sixties were just around the corner. And there was possibly no team that represented this change better than Billy Lane’s swashbuckling Albion side.

Billy Lane was born in Tottenham in 1904, starting his playing career at his local team where he made a limited impact on the first team, before spells and Leicester and Reading where he had similar difficulties to get playing time.

It wasn’t until be move to Brentford where he scored 84 goals in 123 appearances that he was able to demonstrate his talents. And then again at Watford where he scored 70 goals in 125 games, including a hat-trick against Clapton Orient in two-and-a-half-minutes.

His playing career was ended abruptly by the outbreak of the Second World War, in which Lane served as a Physical Training instructor.

After the war he took this penchant for goals and his experience from the war into his managerial career, to turn Albion into a swashbuckling side that would pull in huge crowds and lead to ground-breaking success on the pitch.

Billy Lane was initially appointed assistant manager to Don Welsh and was put in caretaker charge when Welsh left the club to take the Liverpool job.

Albion had been going through some tough times in the Division Three South. A division they’d been in since joining the Football League in 1920 and a division Billy Lane would eventually see them promoted from for the first time.

The past two seasons under Welsh were about rebuilding from the low ebb of the club finishing bottom in 1948, which required it to seek re-election to the Football League. Don Welsh, brought stability and steadiness, albeit with a rather defence minded side.

But Lane’s attacking style was quickly effective, overseeing a 9-1 win against Newport County, a club-record for the biggest ever Football League victory. A result that helped get him the job full time and a decision that led to him spending ten years with the club.

With Lane now at the helm on a permanent basis, attendances continued to rise, and goals continued to flow throughout the 1951-52 season, with the club scoring 87 goals that season, equalling their then best ever football league total, one they’d soon break.

Albion would break the 80 goal-scored mark in six of their next seven seasons, a mark they’d only broken three times in their previous 25 Football League seasons.

Albion were embarking on an unprecedented period of success, which culminated in the winning of the Division Three South title in 1958 at the 31st attempt.

Lane wanted his team to play with the purpose and flair that had characterised his own game. And that style was regularly demonstrated by some of the great names in Albion history that represented the club during this time. His message to the players was simply “go out and enjoy yourself.”

One of those greats was Albert Mundy who was Albion’s leading scorer for three seasons from 54/55 to 56/57, but who missed out on promotion after leaving for Aldershot midway through the promotion season. In total he scored 90 goals in 178 outings in his four seasons at the club. Putting him equal 6th with a certain Bobby Zamora in Albion’s all-time goalscoring chart.

Another player who thrived under Lane was Johnny McNichol, considered by those who saw him as one of the best who played for the club. He was made club captain by Lane in 1951 and was a huge part of the initial improvement in the club’s fortunes during Lane’s early seasons at the club, before McNichol left for Chelsea where he would win the First Division Championship.

In his place came Jimmy Leadbetter, who signed from Chelsea as part of a £12,000 deal for Johnny McNichol. Leadbetter scored 33 goals in 115 appearances at Brighton beginning with a debut goal in the 4-1 home win over Crystal Palace. But he also proved too good for third division football and moved on after three seasons at the Albion, going onto play an important part in Alf Ramsey’s successful Ipswich Town side.

Throughout the 1950s the club played attacking football, attracted big crowds, and made several bids for promotion under manager Billy Lane. In 1955/56 they won 29 league games, scoring 112 goals, but could still only finish second to Leyton Orient, missing out on promotion by just a point.

The breakthrough finally came in 1957/58 when promotion was secured in spectacular fashion, with a bumper crowd seeing Albion go 5-0 up by half time.

Appearing in only his seventh League match, Adrian Thorne, scored five goals in this famous 6-0 win over Watford. A win which sent Albion into the Second Division for the first time.

Adrian Thorne recalled to the Argus that Billy Lane adopted a fatherly approach in his early days at the club. “I had come from a sheltered environment and when I first went into the senior dressing-room and heard all the swearing I thought, what have I got into? Billy was aware of this and would ask the players not to use bad language when I was there. That was rather embarrassing for me but Billy could be a bit touchy about language.”

Glen Wilson, Albion’s record goalscorer who was a key figure during Lane’s tenure described Billy Lane in the Book ‘Albion – The first 100 years’ as “a very shrewd man”. Going onto say: “He could frighten the life out of you, but he could also be very nice. He never gave any tactical talks, he felt players should know their opposition. He would only come into the dressing room before kick-off to shake everyone’s hand.”

Lane gave his promotion winners the chance to prove themselves at the higher level, and they did just that finishing a respectable 12th in their first season in the second tier.

But Lane’s swashbuckling free-scoring style was not as effective at the higher level and the four seasons that followed saw Albion’s goalscoring ability diminish.

After two seasons of relatively comfortable mid table finishes, Albion started the 1960/61 season badly with a 4-1 defeat away to Derby County the first of six defeats in their opening nine games. And by the end of October Albion were bottom and staring relegation in the face.

In response, Billy Lane persuaded the board to pay a club record £15,000 fee to Chelsea for inside forward Tony Nicholas, who had fallen out with Chelsea manager Ted Drake, along with the signature of centre forward Dennis Windross from Middleborough.

But the season continued to go badly for Albion. While Nicholas boosted the attack, Windross’s move from Middlesbrough to the Goldstone left the crowd unimpressed and relegation worries persisted all season.

A 3-0 win at home to Liverpool in January provided some joy, but no wins in the next ten games meant Albion were right in the relegation mix and only a 2-1 win at home to Huddersfield in their penultimate game secured Second Division football for the club the following season.

Nonetheless, at the end of the season Billy Lane decided it was his responsibility and after ten years in the job, the club’s close-shave with relegation prompted his resignation. The players were not happy to see him go, and many were shocked. But the club reluctantly accepted his resignation.

When he left, he was fourth longest serving manager in the Football League. His longevity at the club meant Billy Lane is one of the oldest to manage the club in its history. He was 57 when he left in 1961. Only Chris Hughton (60) and the great Charlie Webb (60) have been older as Albion managers.

It was somewhat fitting that Billy Lane’s final game in front of the Goldstone faithful secured another season in the Second Division. A League Billy Lane spent so much of his time at the club fighting to get into.

He was replaced by George Curtis who in the face of a very restricted budget, led the club to relegation back down to the Third Division. And worse was to come in his second season, which saw Albion again struggle. Not helped by the number of experienced names who had left and were being replaced by youngsters. A trend which led to his team being dubbed “Curtis’s Cubs”, but unlike Man United’s “Busby Babes” of the previous decade this Albion side contained nowhere near a comparative level of quality or talent and continued to struggle on the pitch leading to a second consecutive relegation.

As Tony Nichols said to the Argus, “There is a complete difference between managers and coaches and George was definitely a coach. When George took over he told all the players, ‘any problems, don’t see me, see Joe Wilson’. George just didn’t want to know. Once, when I went to see him for the refund of a taxi fare of 9s.6d., he handed me a ten shilling note. I started to walk out of the office and he called me back and asked for the change. He wasn’t joking.”

In many respects Billy Lane was indeed regarded highly and is regarded higher than most Albion managers, not just his unfortunate successor.

This was even the case with some of those who he rejected. Gordie Howieson was one of those and on getting the news he dreaded, said: “Billy Lane was very kind. After telling me that I couldn’t really kick a ball properly he said I should make my way commercially. Later he offered me £6 a game to play on a match basis. Some of the senior pros were not easy on the likes of us. I used to knock around with Peter Martin and Don Bates and we were resented for using the courtesy facilities available at Brighton Tigers matches.”

Sadly, following the subsequent demise in the wake of Lane’s departure it would take Albion a further decade to return to the Second Division, after which they were immediately relegated back to the third tier.

In some ways you could say this shows the frail legacy of Lane’s time in charge at Albion, with his great side quickly undone. But that would be an unfair summary of his time with the club.

In many ways this contrast in fortunes instead highlights the assured and shrewd nature of Lane’s leadership, which ensured the club achieved great things during his time with the club. All whilst doing so in an exciting and entertaining way. His time as manager truly is one of the great periods of Albion history.


Reading vs Albion Preview

Sunday’s trip to Berkshire will see Albion face arguably their biggest game of the season so far. As sitting in 11th place, they travel to face 10th placed Reading.

Just 2 points separate the sides in a tight WSL relegation battle, with both nervously looking over their shoulders at a Leicester side, now just one point below Brighton, after initially failing to pick up any point from their first 9 games.

Albion’s defensive issues have blighted their season, but their run to the semi-finals of the FA Cup has provided an (albeit temporary) release from their relegation worries. Whilst possibly papering over the cracks shown in their 9 WSL defeats this season.

That said, Albion had to defend long and hard against Birmingham last weekend to earn a clean sheet and cup progression, which will give them some much needed confidence, even if the woodwork came to their rescue on multiple occasions. Especially so, after losing to Birmingham at St Andrews 3-2 in the League Cup earlier in the season.

Interim boss Amy Merricks said after the game, “I’m really proud of everyone, I feel that it was a good performance. I’m particularly proud of the clean sheet, that’s something big that we’ll take with us going forward.”

Albion’s opponents Reading were also in FA Cup action last weekend but came out on the wrong side of a 3-1 defeat to holders Chelsea.

The Royals now have Canadian international attacker Deanne Rose back on the training pitch, having only featured once this season, but she is several weeks away from regaining full fitness. Her absence has been a blow give how key she was last season as they finished 8th, just one point and place below Albion.

In her absence Charlie Wellings in particular, signed from relegated Bristol City last summer, has provided some much-needed quality to their attack, and has been directly involved in 5 of their 16 WSL goals this season.

Whilst having one of the smallest budgets in the league and being the only club in the top tier who do not have a Premier League side as a counterpart, Reading have continued to punch above their weight in the WSL. With their respectable 8th placed finish last season actually matching their lowest league finish since promotion in 2015. Finishing as high as 4th in 2018, followed by consecutive 5th placed finishes in 2019 and 2020.

Reading boss Kelly Chambers told Reading Today recently that this was down to the high standard of coaching at the club. Saying “We pride ourselves on our coaching. We know we can bring any player in and make them better.”

Going onto say: “Every year has been a challenge here. I think me and Emma Hayes are the longest serving managers in the league so that’s an achievement in itself.”

In contrast, Albion are currently back in the hands of interim boss Amy Merricks for the second time this season following the recent sacking of previous manager Jens Scheuer, whose tenure of 68 days is the shortest in WSL history.

Tom Garry of the Daily Telegraph reported that the club relieved him of his duties due to concerns over his management style. Garry said: “According to multiple sources, several of the staff and players at Brighton were unhappy about the way Scheuer had been allegedly speaking to colleagues in meetings, on the training ground and in the dressing room and his dealing with players and other club employees, to such an extent that there was general concern around the club that his appointment was simply not going to work out in the long-term.”

An interesting insight given the hugely positive comments in the media from him and the team during Scheuer’s reign. And to be fair to him, as I discussed recently, given that many of Albion’s issues this season pre-date his time at the club. So, for anyone to suggest he’s the reason for the clubs WSL struggles this season would feel like a piece of misplaced scapegoating.

However, despite this rather negative backdrop, Albion’s recent record against Reading will give them some hope. They’ve won the previous two meetings between the clubs, despite losing 7 and drawing 1 of the prior 8 meetings. Those two victories included a 2-1 win over Reading at the AMEX back in September. One of just two WSL wins for Brighton this season.

That win in their first home game of the season was a false dawn for Albion. Only one win has followed in their subsequent 11 WSL matches. And Albion now face a difficult final 9 matches of the season fighting to retain their WSL status and maintain their bold ambitions of establishing themselves at the other end of the WSL table.

But as Amy Merricks pointed to after last weekend’s FA Cup win over Birmingham, there’s reason for hope: “It’s about momentum and I really felt that we had that coming into this game after the performances that we’ve had [against Chelsea and Manchester City] in the last couple of weeks. We’ll take this with us and fully focus on the league, we’ve got a big week of work to do before playing Reading next Sunday.”

Albion shouldn’t fear failure as they approach the run-in

This week saw Albion’s first win over Crystal Palace since 2019, and the first win over their arch rivals at the AMEX since 2018. A truly special evening capped by the Sussex born and bred Solly March scoring the winner.

So now with 13 games to go Albion sit primed for a European place challenge, along with a first home FA cup quarter final since 1986 this weekend. This is shaping up to be one of the most remarkable seasons in the club’s history, but how good can it get?

Roberto De Zerbi was quoted by Andy Naylor in The Athletic this week talking about how his Brighton players are regarding themselves as Champions League contenders, saying: “I speak as a coach and I’m proud of their words, because to fix a high target is right.”

Stating high targets are somewhat Albion’s thing too (Premier League ready, anyone?) and remarkably they have a good record of achieving them, but not always. In 2015 Albion’s women set a target of Champions League football within 5 years. 8 years later they still haven’t achieved that and are currently more concerned with maintaining their WSL status, as opposed to competing at the top-end of the table.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t aim big. Let’s go for it, let’s dream big. But, let’s also remember targets and achievements often vary.

Just as RDZ went onto say in The Athletic this week. “It isn’t a problem if we don’t arrive at our target, I repeat, the most important thing is to fight to arrive at our target when this target is higher, because it’s important for your way.” Sadly, that kind of nuance is often lost on people.

And when he says it’s not a problem, it’s not to say it’s not disappointing, but rather that it’s not a failure to not always break new ground. Losing is as much a part of sport as winning after-all.

Whilst we make aims of breaking further ground, we should still celebrate the more modest successes, even ones we’ve maybe begun to take for granted.

For example, one thing that shouldn’t be lost among everything else following Wednesday’s win over Palace is that it meant Albion passed the 40-point mark. And that’s with 13 games still to play. With that foundation now set, so much is still possible.

But history shows us to be wary of disappointment. In the 1981/82 season, the club were right in the mix for Europe until 7 defeats in the last 8 matches of the season meant they missed out and finished 13th. The following season Albion famously and narrowly lost the FA cup final, in-turn again missing out on Europe (along with their topflight status). Europe’s not been on the clubs radar ever since, so the fact that we are here again competing for it should be celebrated.

In contrast to my more reserved attitude, Warren Aspinall said on this weeks Albion Unlimited for BBC Sussex that we should “forget” the struggles of the past and “focus on the future” rather than being led by history. However, changing our outlook when so much of that history is ingrained in the culture and traditions of the club, is easier said than done.

Warren is right though in many ways. Outlook and mentality have a huge impact on a teams success or failure. A pessimistic or negative outlook can lead to a self doubt and anxiety that then leads to hesitation and poor decision making. In the words of Shakespeare’s Hamlet “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

Us football fans often demonstrate how the fragility of outlook and mentality with our reactionary opinions after a good or bad result. If enough people express an opinion on Twitter it appears to then become fact in some circles and I have no doubt that this can affect a teams mentality and in turn their performances.

Look at Solly March’s recent turn-around. Suddenly he’s the best thing since sliced bread. But prior to the return of the Premier League, and especially after that disappointing defeat to Charlton in the League Cup, of which his misses were a huge part of, he was a pariah for many Albion fans.

This can particularly be true for a low-scoring sport such as Football, which is won and lost on such small margins. Who knows what would have happened had Odsonne Edouard found the corner of the net with his early header on Wednesday night, which instead went wide of the post. It is moments such as these that games are decided upon and at times it’s these moments that the momentum of a season can also hinge upon.

The American Philosopher William James once said “The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind.” And maybe it’s that discovery which we are witnessing at Albion right now, the next few months will be a significant test of the club’s mental development.

If Albion can go into their final 13 league games and this Sunday’s FA Cup quarter final believing they have a genuine opportunity as well as an ability to make club history, that could make all the difference. Especially with the peace of mind that if they fail to do so, this season will still likely be considered a relatively success.

Chelsea add to Albion’s relegation worries following Scheuer’s sacking

Following the sacking of Jens Scheuer on Monday, Wednesday nights trip to Kingsmeadow marked the beginning of the second spell of the season as interim-manager for Amy Merricks.

My initial reaction upon hearing the news of Scheuer’s sacking was shock, but not surprise. After all Albion’s heavy defeats to Leicester and Villa, which recently took place under his management, have left them with real relegation worries. But, whilst he made some questionable decisions during his time in charge, like dropping reigning player of the season Megan Walsh, many of Albion’s problems originate from before his appointment.

The problems spawn from the summer and it’s been catch up ever since. After failing to retain their best players, failing to replace them adequately and failing to build on the momentum of the Lionesses last summer.

Altogether this season feels like a huge missed opportunity, an opportunity that Albion were uniquely placed to build on, having hosted two sell out matches during England’s run to becoming European Champions.

When you look at some of the results this season it’s pretty damming. Losing 8-0 to Spurs, 3-0 to bottom placed Leicester (who hadn’t even earned a point prior to then all season) and the more recent 6-2 defeat to Villa. These aren’t WSL clubs Albion should be considered inferior to like Chelsea. Those are clubs they should see as their competition, but instead Albion are being made to look like relegation fodder.

There’s been a great deal of positivity coming out of the camp since Jens Scheuer’s appointment back in December. But the reality is, despite the abundant optimism and copious talk of hard work, unfortunately for Scheuer Albion didn’t demonstrate that enough on the pitch.

So, with all that going on in the background, a trip to Champions Chelsea was the last thing Albion needed. And if we’re honest, the subsequent 3-1 defeat was probably better than many feared. Especially after going 2-0 down so early on.

Chelsea dominated from the off and would have taken the lead earlier had a shot from Kaneryd not been cleared off the line. As it was, Chelsea were two-nil up in around twenty minutes. The first scored by Guro Reiten from the penalty spot, with the second scored from close range by Jess Carter off of a corner.

Trailing the mighty Chelsea two-nil away from home at half time, you’d be forgiven for fearing the worse. But Albion came out and made a game of it in the second half, most notably Terland hitting the bar with a somewhat speculative shot from outside the box.

But soon after Chelsea, not for the first time in the second half, found space in behind the Albion backline and Sam Kerr played the ball across the face of the goal for Kaneryd to make it three-nil. A third goal that was a real sucker punch just when Albion were coming back into the game.

The aforementioned Terland was substituted shortly after for Danielle Carter, who then became the second Carter to get on the scoresheet and score a late consolation goal for Brighton. One that gave a much-needed boost to their goal difference, which following this defeat is now the worst in the division.

This defeat takes Albion’s total conceded goals tally for the season in the WSL to 42. More than any other club so far this season and more than they’ve conceded in the entirety of either of the last two season, and that’s with ten matches still to play.

The previously discussed mass departure of first team players last summer has certainly taken its toll: Departures that have left huge issues which Albion are still trying to resolve.

Whilst Victoria Williams, who played her 100th game for Brighton last night, has given the defence some steadiness, the loss of the defensive talents of Kovisto, Le Tissier, Gibbons and Kerkdijk have been noticeable this season, as Albion continue to struggle to rebuild their defensive stability after this summer’s mass exodus.

At the end of Sky Sport coverage, Karen Carney said she thought that Brighton would stay up, but fellow pundit Kelly Smith said she wasn’t so sure.

And you can see why. Albion’s defensive frailties were on show again. If Albion are to stay up, their defence needs to shape up. That will be the number one task for whoever is given the reigns to take over as manager from interim Merricks.

Albion sit second bottom of the WSL, just two points above the relegation place. And their task doesn’t get easier as they play Man City this weekend and then don’t next play in the WSL until the 26th, when they face a huge six-pointer against 9th placed Reading.

With bottom placed Leicester playing twice in between now and then, they may well find themselves bottom going into that six-pointer against Reading, which would make it even more of a must-win for Albion, a game that may well be the first in the WSL for their new manager. A baptism of fire awaits.

A look at Albion’s Pathway to the WSL Top 4

It’s been a tough season so far for Albion’s women, their senior team sit 10th in the WSL and are caught up in a real relegation battle. Whilst Brighton’s Academy sit bottom of the WSL Academy League Southern Division, with 11 defeats and no wins out of their 13 games so far this season.

But as is often the case, results at Academy level don’t always equal success at senior level and the last decade of investment by the club at academy level means, in contradiction to the academy team’s league position, that there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic about the future of Albion’s women’s team.

A bigger sign of the success of Albion’s youth system is the success of its products at senior level. But it has to be said, there are currently only a small number of first team members who have come through Albion’s academy, most prominently Libby Bance. The 19-year-old has played 8 times so far this season, 4 from the start. Whilst fellow academy products Lulu Jarvis and Chelsea Ferguson have made first team appearances from the subs bench.

Nonetheless, Albion are still very much focused on youth, but more prominently right now through talented young players brought in from other clubs. Most notably demonstrated on Sunday when Katie Robinson made her first start for England’s senior team, along with another former Albion youngster Maya Le Tissier.

And it’s not just at senior level where Albion are being represented by England in international Football. Jorja Fox (on loan from Chelsea) and Poppy Pattinson both featured for England U23s in their goalless draw with Italy last week.

Whilst Albion’s academy is a key part of its strategy, it must be noted that the thing that connects all these players is that they didn’t start their footballing journey with Albion, but all joined Albion at a young age. With Poppy Pattinson aside, all joining the Albion as a teenager, not necessarily signed as players initially intended as first team starters, but players who would soon become that.

Pattinson spoke in an interview with Live Score recently about the motivations to join Brighton this summer being in part to help her overall ambition of playing for England, saying: “It’s just about getting that consistency in my game. I’ve been at different clubs, gained different experiences and I’m still relatively young.”

Going onto say: “Hopefully getting regular game time with Brighton, in a team beginning to find their flow, will help to do that.” The ability to offer young talented players regular football is certainly something the men’s team have benefited from in enabling it to attract top young prospects, and it seems the women’s team are following the same model.

Last summer Andy Naylor spoke about the “three layered player development strategy” for the men’s team. And whilst the third element of “buying young players not yet ready for the first team, but who can quickly be loaned out at a good level” is not apparent or particularly feasible in the operations of women’s football right now. The first two elements he described of nurturing academy talent and bringing in players identified as having potential are very much apparent in its senior team’s recruitment model.

That said, it’s not all about youth. Whilst Albion have an average squad age of 26.6 compared to a WSL average of 27.1, there’s still plenty of experienced players, some of whom were recently added to the squad which goes against the club’s trend of focusing on budding young talent.

Albion’s recent January signings have brought up the age average of the squad significantly and reduced the reliance on youth. Namely Bergsvand (28), Morse (24), Williams (34), Stefanovic (25) and Visalli (27), who all add some much-needed experience to a previously young and weakened squad following a long list of summer exits by senior players.

This focus on youth is instead a part of a long-term project for the club. Albion launched its first-ever female specific football academy in conjunction with Worthing College in 2015, opened up to 16–18-year-old budding footballers. Set up to help the club secure a WSL franchise license.

Then in August 2022, the club officially opened the “Elite Performance Centre 2”, which is the main hub for the women’s team. The result of a £8.5million investment by the club, giving the women’s set up world-class training facilities, including space for its various age-group academy teams, which go as young as U12s, with plans to expand that to even younger age-groups in the future.

When opening the new facilities, the then first team manager Hope Powell told the Daily Mail: “I would like to think we’ve got one of the best facilities in the country and we’re hoping players come in.”

Adding: “The better players in the world expect to play on good pitches and have good facilities accessible. I think we can show them that and say, ‘this is what we’ve got’ and that is really appealing.”

As part of this investment in the women’s and girls’ set up at the club, a new strategy was announced: “Pathway to top 4”. With its investment in the academy a big part of that, designed to aid the club’s aims to become a top-4 WSL side.

The club have had a great deal of success in developing a pathway for young, talented players to thrive in its men’s senior team. The difficulty with the approach, as this summer demonstrates, is that in women’s football contracts on offer are of less value and of less length than in men’s football, meaning transfer fees are rarely paid and players often leave clubs at the end of a season on a free transfer.

A recent investigation by The Telegraph showed that in the WSL “current salaries range from as little as £20,000 per annum to as much as £250,000, plus bonuses, across the 12 top clubs.” And whilst Albion pay more than many, they can’t compete with the top clubs. So, if a big club comes calling, the differing opportunities of earning potential would have far more effect on a player than it would on a Men’s senior team player leaving the club.

But despite these difficulties, Albion’s new Elite performance centre is an investment for the future, and the future of Women’s football looks bright. Matt Dorn, CEO, at Albion in the Community, said to Sussex World last year: “Women and girls’ football has had a huge boost this summer. We’ve seen a 100% increase in girls football participants compared to the same period in 2021; double the amount of girls wanting to take part in our activities. On top of this we’ve seen a 73% boost in girls joining our Talent Pathway and Advanced Centres – girls who are taking a serious interest in football and want to play at the highest level.”

When the club opened their new Elite Performance centre, they were fifth in the WSL and had an FA Cup semi-final with Arsenal to look forward to. Today they sit 10th in the WSL and are at real risk of relegation.

Some would therefore assume Albion find themselves at a potential crossroads in terms of its Women’s team. Especially when you compare the opposition and stature of the WSL, to the Championship. Albion’s senior teams potential home next season.

But what is clear from Albion’s investment in the Women’s set up and the way they have constantly spoken about its equity with the Men’s team, is that this is a long-term investment of passion and belief, rather than a sprint for success that could quickly be derailed.

It is often said, but is always worth repeating that this is the benefit of having an owner like Tony Bloom in charge of the club. He’s a fan of the club, one who’s followed the club all his life and whose family have been involved in it for decades. There is no reason to doubt his intentions, which are always good and unwavering.

He said to the Argus last summer amongst the turmoil of the large number of first team players leaving: “It is tough. The top three, particularly the top four clubs in the WSL are very strong and they have got big club names behind them.”

Going onto say of the club’s top 4 ambitions: “We don’t change. It is a long-term ambition for us. We aren’t changing it. We know it’s going to be tough, but it is always good to aim very high. Being realistic, it is not going to happen in the short to medium term but certainly that is what our aim is, and we will continue to have that tough ambition.”

Albion’s investment in its academy for women’s and girls’ football is important, and a huge community asset as well as a huge asset to the club.

The model at Brighton to attract young prospects is an exciting one and could see the club develop into a top side in the future, particularly in Women’s football. It’s a model that has given the men’s team so much success in recent times, but the unique characteristics of the women’s game will make it harder to replicate that success in the WSL, in the short term at least.

Albion’s defensive problems and relegation worries worsen

Sequels are usually worse than the original, and this was certainly the case for Albion’s second consecutive meeting with Aston Villa in the WSL on Saturday. As following last weekend’s commendable 1-1 draw in the midlands, a 6-2 defeat saw them stumbling towards a potential relegation.

It‘a a result that’s left some serious questions to be answered, one in particular regarding Jen Scheuer’s team selection.

In their previous match, Albion put in a top defensive performance to earn a point away to Aston Villa. With goalkeeper Megan Walsh putting in an immense display to keep an impressive Villa team down to just one, helping earn Albion a vital point.

This week Albion manager Jen Scheuer surprisingly dropped her and brought in new signing Lydia Williams. A shocking selection before the result, and one brought under greater scrutiny afterwards following the scale of the defeat.

To be fair to Lydia Williams, this wasn’t a one off, this was yet another heavy defeat by Albion in the WSL this season, with 39 goals conceded so far. That’s an average of over 3.5 goals conceded per game.

And with bottom placed Leicester City beating Liverpool, Albion are now just 2 points and 2 places off the relegation spot. So, these are indeed worrying times. This was such a huge defeat and felt like a massive step backwards in Albion’s season.

Albion have definitely made progress in recent weeks under Scheuer and the noise coming out of the club has been hugely positive. But it feels like much of that good work could be undone by this result, following a return to the sort of defensive performance the club hopes were behind them following his appointment.

Scheuer certainly made some very questionable decisions on Sunday. But I can’t place too much blame on him despite him still searching for his first WSL win, it is still early days. Two defeats and a draw, ten goals conceded. Especially given their record up to that was of 5 defeats in their first 8 WSL games this season, with 29 goals conceded. This is a problem that’s been building for a while.

If Albion survive relegation this season, it will be as much by luck than by judgement. I don’t enjoy saying it, but it’s hard to not conclude that the women’s team have somewhat been let down by the club this season.

Yes, the club has recently brought in a flurry of new signings, a new manager, and even a new managing director of Women and girls’ football, but it may well be too little too late.

The problems spawn from the summer and it’s been catch up ever since. After failing to retain their best players, failing to replace them adequately and failing to build on the momentum of the Lionesses last summer. Altogether this season feels like a huge missed opportunity, an opportunity that Albion were uniquely placed to build on, having hosted two sell out matches during England’s run to become European Champions.

Part of this is down to the nature of the women’s domestic game, and the nature of players being under short contracts. But when you look at some of the results this season it’s pretty damming. Losing 8-0 to Spurs, 3-0 to bottom placed Leicester, and now the 6-2 defeat to Villa. These aren’t WSL clubs Albion should be considered inferior to, unlike the likes of Arsenal or Chelsea. These clubs should be their competition, instead Albion are being made to look like relegation fodder.

I understand why these comments may come across as harsh, given the commendable investment made by the club in women’s and girls’ football in recent years.

The infrastructure that the club has built both in terms of its new state of the art training facilities, the growing number of personnel running the show at the club and the specific commercial deal with American Express for Women’s and girls’ football, have all enabled the Women’s senior team to excel and achieve club record league finishes of 6th and 7th place in the WSL in the past two seasons respectively. All of which makes this season’s performance more striking.

But if we look at the club’s first teams, and compare the success of the men’s team, which has been built on its widely praised strategic planning and attention to detail, and compare it to some of the recent events surrounding the women’s first team, it’s clear that the standards set are worlds apart.

When you look at the investment made by the club and look at its stated ambition, it’s clearly not a lack of vision. The club have huge ambition for the women’s team, with its “Pathway towards top 4” strategy.

But there doesn’t appear to have been a sufficient operational strategy in place for the team to meet that ambition ahead of the new season.

That said, as previously mentioned, at least the club has made changes at the top of late in the shape of the appointments of Jen Scheuer as the new first team manager and Zoe Johnson as the new Managing Director of Women and Girls. The summer was clearly a disaster, so bad they weren’t able to name a full bench for much of the season so far, naming just 5 out of a possible 9 subs for their first two fixtures.

Zoe Johnson said in an interview for Sunday’s matchday programme about meeting the club’s goals, that: “There is a lot of work that needs to be done off the field to make sure that happens, and there is a lot of work that needs to be done on the field”.

Going onto say: “The facilities definitely give the club a platform to go and perform; there are no excuses when they’ve got these facilities to use every day. They should relish that opportunity and it will help them put in the performances that we need to achieve that top-four vision.”

But then again, given all these top of the range facilities, playing so many games at Crawley and not at the AMEX (a subject I wrote in detail about last summer), does begin to undermine some of that good work to a degree.

On a day like this, particularly on a weekend where the men’s team were playing away from home, it could have brought in a decent crowd at the AMEX. And consistently doing so over the course of a season would no doubt build momentum and could make a huge difference to the prospects of the women’s team.

Women’s football is probably going to be THE growth area in football over next decade. If we want to be at the forefront of it (and we can be), we have to make the investments now. Or be left behind. The club have gone a significant way in doing that, but let’s not leave the women’s team in their current state of limbo.

Just look at the examples of big crowds other WSL teams are getting, like the 21,940 at Tottenham on Sunday for their WSL game, or better yet, the sell-out Lionesses games at the AMEX this summer.

Let’s be level-headed about things however, as far as thing go for the women’s team, they aren’t on their own in playing most home games away from their club’s main stadium and given their track record on the pitch in recent seasons, if the results turn around in the second half of the season these past few months will just be written off as a minor blip.

That’s not to undermine the severity of the situation. As Zoe Williams pointed out in her interview, given the top of the range facilities at the club, there is a lot of reason to be optimistic about this team and no excuse for this level of underperformance. So, the team need to start repaying that investment on the field or risk it being all for nothing.

Megan Connolly said in her post match interview that: “Everyone is disappointed especially after last week. We’d had a good week’s training and were ready for the game.” But the reality is, despite the abundant talk of hard work on the training field and optimism in the camp, if Albion don’t start demonstrating that on the pitch, it’s all for nothing.

Moreover, last summer was not just a huge advert for women’s football in the country, but for Brighton and Hove Albion as a vehicle for it. Making the potential of relegation feel all the more like the first team are missing a huge opportunity.

We are lucky to have a club that had invested so heavily in Women’s football and wants to treat it as equal to the Men’s team. And in Paul Barber as CEO, the club has someone well versed in the intricacies and importance of Women’s football. But, even with all that Albion could very well find themselves relegated from the WSL this season.

Following the three-week international and FA Cup break, it’s Chelsea and Man City up next in the WSL for Brighton respectively. So, they could well be bottom and in that dreaded relegation spot by the time their massive trip to fellow relegation threatened Reading takes place at the end of March.

As Albion manager Scheuer admitted after the Villa match: “We have got some harder games coming. We know the situation now [in the table]. We have to stay together and make it better.” And he’s not wrong to put things as frankly as that.

Albion will be many people’s favourites to go down right now, the momentum is against them. And with only half the season gone, it says a lot about the severity of the situation that Albion find themselves in, that the upcoming game with Reading already looks like a must win.

Brighton vs Hull (2014) – A missed opportunity for cup glory

When it comes to missed opportunities for cup glory, Albion have their fair share of tales to tell. Lest we forget, that the most notable moment in Albion history is one of the most famous moments of missed cup glory in English football history.

Included in that history of missed opportunities for cup glory is their FA Cup run from 2014.

This was an Albion team that had missed out on promotion to the topflight via the playoffs the season before, and were building up another (ultimately fruitless) promotion push that season.

Albion entered the competition in the third round, winning at home to fellow Championship promotion chasers Reading 1-0. And followed that up with a comfortable 3-1 away to Micky Adams’ Port Vale side in Round 4.

Round 5 saw them get another home draw, against then Premier League side Hull City. A draw which led Albion centre back Matt Upson to claim that Albion could go “all the way” in the FA Cup.

The former England centre-half said to the Argus: “We can go all the way, why not? There’s no point us thinking otherwise, or else don’t turn up for the tie and we all stay at home.

“We can win and we can keep winning. It’s a one-off game and on that day or night anything can happen.”

Some will find this idea rather far-fetched. But when you consider that Wigan were the current FA Cup holders, who had been relegated from the topflight the same season and would finish just a place and a point above Albion in the Championship table that season, it becomes a far more plausible outcome.

Hull were then managed by Steve Bruce, a manager who has more recently become a bit of a pariah, particularly with Newcastle fans. But back then his work at Hull, as well as with a number of his previous clubs was well regarded, and he’d even recently been on the shortlist of the England job, a job which ultimately went to Sam Allardyce.

Under Bruce, Hull were promoted to the top flight the previous season and eventually finished a respectable 16th in this their first Premier League season back, alongside a memorable cup final appearance (spoiler alert).

The Hull Team that night included the now Hull City manager Liam Rosenior, a player who’d go on to sign for Albion the following year.

Rosenior played 51 times for Brighton and became a firm fans favourite despite only making 16 appearances across his second and third season with the club.

Albion built up to the game with a 1-0 win at home to Leeds the Tuesday before, courtesy of a Leo Ulloa goal, which put them into 7th and just a point off the Championship play-off places.

With Premier League strugglers Sunderland awaiting the winners in the quarter finals, there was an incentive for both clubs, especially for Brighton given who the Sunderland manager was. A certain Gus Poyet, who’d left the club under something of a cloud the previous summer.

In his place came Spaniard Oscar Garcia. A manager who whilst relatively young, came with pedigree, having both played for Barcelona and then go on to manage their youth team.

He’d joined Albion straight from a season with Maccabi Tel Aviv, where they’d won the Israeli Premier League, qualifying them for that season’s Champions League. But instead of staying and enjoying their European football adventure, he took the managers job at Brighton in the second tier of English football.

His team selection that night included 7 changes from the win over Leeds, including rare starts for Peter Brezovan, Adam Chicksen and a certain Lewis Dunk.

Dunk hadn’t featured for Albion in the league all season, and had spent some time early on in the season on loan at League One Bristol City. He’d in fact only played twice for Albion in the league since getting sent off at Selhurst Park early on in what ended up being a heavy 3-0 defeat to rivals Crystal Palace in December 2012. A period that probably not coincidently coincided with him being embroiled in a sexual assault trial, before later being cleared of any wrongdoing.

Dunk had played in the previous two rounds and was trying to use the competition to rejuvenate his Albion career, featuring a further eight times for Albion that season before being reinstated as a first team regular the following season upon the appointment of Sami Hyypia.

Albion took the lead in the first half with a Leo Ulloa goal. Will Buckley started a quick breakaway, running through the middle of the Hull defence, before slipping the ball in behind for Ulloa to run onto. Ulloa calmly took it in his stride and coolly chipped the ball over Allan McGregor in the Hull goal.

Hull hit the woodwork either side of Albion’s goal, with Sagbo hitting the upright from a spectacular overhead kick just before and Curtis Davies hitting the bar shortly after with a header from a corner.

Just before half time, that man from Argentina Leo Ulloa headed a chance to make it 2-0 wide of the goal just before the break, but Albion held onto the one goal lead and were good value for it. However they would live to rue that missed chance.

Will Buckley, who created Albion’s goal, was replaced by a 19-year-old Solly March in what was primarily a tactical change. But given this was Will Buckley’s first start since the turn of the year, his fitness problems will no doubt have had an effect on Oscar Garcia’s decision making.

Will Buckley, the first million pound signing in Brighton history, was a player who regularly stared for the Albion down the wing, before Gus Poyet tempted him with a move to the Premier League with Sunderland, that coming summer for £2.5m. However, his time with the club was regularly inhibited by injury and despite his talent, he only contributed three goals and four assists that season.

The game continued in a tight and tense manner with both managers making attacking substitutions to try to make progress to the next round. With Hull bringing on George Boyd and Matty Fryatt whilst Albion’s goalscorer Ulloa was replaced by the on-loan striker Jonathan Obika.

Obika didn’t particularly impress during his time with the Albion, scoring just once in their 3-1 third round win over Port Vale. In total Obika had eleven separate loan spells during his time at Spurs, but failed to make a first team appearance at the London club. This was his 10th loan spell and if his performances in blue and white were anything to go by, he was probably sick of all the loan moves.

And it was Hull who benefited most from those substitutions when Sagbo shrugged off a helplessly sprawling Lewis Dunk to fire home a late equaliser. The goal came from a Sone Aluko’s cross, picking out Sagbo, who controlled the ball in an instant before drilling a low shot through Brezovan’s legs and into the back of the net.

In stoppage time Hull almost won the tie when David Meyler climbed highest from a corner to direct a header at goal, only for Forster-Caskey to clear off the line. That after Lewis Dunk had deflected a Robert Koran shot over the bar.

And with that went Albion’s best chance of having a cup run that year and a first FA Cup quarter final since 1986. In the replay Hull took a two goal lead inside the first half and despite a Ulloa goal twenty minutes from time, Hull held on to advance into the quarter-finals.

They went onto beat Sunderland 3-0, then beat Sheffield United 5-3 in the Semi-finals at Wembley. They even took a 2-0 lead in opening ten minutes of the final, before succumbing to Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal, losing 3-2.

Getting to be the final also meant Hull qualified for Europe the following season. An albeit a brief European adventure, which was over before the end of August.

They beat AS Trenčín of Slovakia in the Europa League third qualifying round 2-1 on aggregate, before drawing 2-2 and losing on away goals to Belgian side Lokeren, and so missed out on a place in the group stages.

Whereas for Albion, this game somewhat summed up where they were at this time. “Premier League ready” (as Paul Barber’s famous mantra went), but not quite managing it, and they would end up losing in the playoff semi-finals once again come the end of the season.

Albion once again caught up in a County Cup storm

Brighton have once again ended up in the middle of a County Cup storm after the Sussex FA ordered their Sussex Senior Cup Quarter Final tie against Littlehampton Town to take place on Thursday 23rd February.

With this being less than 48 hours before Littlehampton’s next League fixture, it’s caused some understandable consternation from the non-league side.

Particularly given this move was following a request from Albion for the fixture to be moved from the originally suggested date of Wednesday 23rd for the same basis. Due to their u21s having a Premier League 2 fixture against Blackburn on the preceding Monday night.

Littlehampton Town released a statement saying – “We are baffled by this disappointing decision made by the Sussex FA. With such a big game at Ashford to focus on, we will now consider whether this Senior Cup tie will even be a first team fixture for us.”

If the Sussex FA make allowances for Albion, they must then also do so for Littlehampton. Otherwise how can you claim it’s a fair playing field?

I can appreciate how decisions like these happen. At risk of being big-headed, Albion are of course the big draw in the competition and host the final, so I understand why the Sussex FA would want to keep the club onside.

But the competition and the Sussex FA more generally, lose integrity if these things keep happening. As do Albion to a degree.

So, whilst Albion are well within their right here to make the request that to move the fixture with two games in 48 hours. They have ended up in the middle of a storm, once again.

Of course, this isn’t the first time a Sussex non-league club has taken a swipe at Sussex’s Premier club. In 2019, Albion were given the right to postpone their Semi Final against Bognor, which caused a bit of a stir. To quell the frustration of the Rocks, they allowed them to host the Semi final, which would usually played on neautral ground.

Brighton were not winning themselves any friends in the Sussex Senior Cup that season. They’d already been allowed to delay their quarter-final with Eastbourne Town, much to the dismay of Town’s manager – who pointed out that earlier in the competition, Seaford Town had been unable to get a team together to play at Bognor on the given date and were instantly removed from the that years competition.

Steve Bone said in Sussex World said at the time: “This just stinks of preferential treatment for the county big boys. Wonder why? Perhaps it’s because the Sussex FA are scared to upset Brighton.”

I’ve never been a fan of Albion’s involvement in the Sussex Senior Cup anyway. In my view it devalues the competition, along with the Sussex non-league scene, every time we win it, which all just adds to a sense of decline in the Sussex Senior cup.

Some may think “who cares”, but it’s a competition which I remember not that long ago being being a highlight in the Sussex football calendar.

I used to love Sussex Senior cup when the final was on a bank holiday Monday and at a packed Sussex non-league ground, as it was prior to it moving to the AMEX.

Don’t get me wrong, the AMEX is a fantastic venue, but any venue as big as that, which is 90% empty AMEX on a weekday evening, as has been the case in recent years, is going to struggle to produce the excitement of a final.

I have particularly fond memories of the 2002 final at a packed out Priory Lane between Eastbourne Borough and Lewes. That’s what the County cup as it should be, not as it is now, a glorified reserve team competition, prioritising the interests of a professional sides youth team.

I’m not criticising the club here, more the management of the competition by the FA. Something that I don’t think does Albion many favours. The Sussex Senior Cup is hardly the club’s priority. Neither is it Littlehampton’s, as their threat to play a reserve team in the quarter final shows. Both teams could do without this aggro.

This will be a big blow for Littlehampton too. Getting Brighton in the Sussex Senior cup for a club of their size can produce a significant increase in attendance. And for clubs like them who usually rely on a couple of hundred people paying entry fee as one of its main sources of income, that’s a huge bonus.

We shouldn’t forget either that the world of Sussex football is a small one and one Albion regularly use as a source for talent and as part of its loan network. Many of Albion’s young prospects have, are or will be cutting their footballing teeth in the Sussex non-league scene, you just have to take a look at Mr Solly March as an example of what’s possible.

So whilst to many this may seem like a storm in a tea cup , the preferential treatment from the Sussex FA does Albion no favours. And counter intuitively may ultimately lead it to deciding that the County Cup isn’t worth its trouble.

Since publishing, Littlehampton filed and won an appeal with the Sussex FA over the date change of the tie and it was reinstated to its originally agreed date of Wednesday 22nd Feb.

The Cult of the individual

It goes without saying that Roberto De Zerbi is doing a fantastic job at the Albion, with the team currently sitting 6th in the Premier League table and picking up a number of notable scalps of late.

Since he joined the club, the team have been maintaining a level of performance that could see it qualify for Europe, a feat unprecedented in Albion’s 122-year history.

But that being said, the rather excessive level of devotion to the club’s new manager from day one has been rather striking.

There is a flag with his face on it that has covered the North stand pre-match at the AMEX since his arrival, whilst the unanimous acclaim for everything he said and did was practically instantaneous. It’s almost cult-like and makes me feel a tad uncomfortable.

He’s the manager of our club, so us Albion fans will support him, that’s a given. Especially during periods of success such as this. That said, plenty of managers have been taken to heart by the Albion faithful in the Bloom era and that devotion has been quickly transferred to the next incumbent.

If recent history has taught us anything, it’s not to overvalue the impact of individual staff, as Paul Barber recently said: no one is indispensable.

When Graham Potter left many were panicked and thought it might spell the end of Albion’s progress, but the club have gone from strength to strength.

After all, the club was already doing very well before De Zerbi’s arrival. Under Tony Bloom’s ownership there has been a near continuous period of progression. In my eyes, De Zerbi’s managerial reign is the next chapter in that progression.

This success has been built on Tony Bloom and the board’s leadership, strategy and vision. Of primary importance to that strategy is its recruitment policy and more recently, its succession planning, which has been seriously tested.

Each manager has come in and fulfilled their brief, continuing the progression from where Tony Bloom’s ownership began, as League One relegation battlers, up to where the club is now, as Premier League European place challengers. At the time, many of his predecessors had felt indispensable, but with time we can now see that they were far from it.

Bloom’s first managerial appointment Gus Poyet, professionalised the culture and transformed attitudes, both on and off the pitch, nearly taking the club into the Premier League in the space of three and a half years.

Oscar Garcia, then took that good work on and continued the club’s push for promotion, whilst maintaining the team’s entertaining football. But again, the club narrowly missed out in the playoffs.

Chris Hughton later came in and finally took the club to that next level. Creating a consistent promotion worthy side that went onto maintain topflight status for two consecutive seasons.

Most recently Graham Potter then came in and took a team that was just about managing in the topflight and transformed it to one that was mixing it with the best. Achieving a club record-breaking ninth placed finish last season, along with the club’s first ever wins away against Arsenal, Manchester United, Everton and Aston Villa along the way.

Roberto De Zerbi is now next in line; his job is arguably the hardest. To take Albion to that next step. A step unprecedented in Albion history, establish it among the top ten and challenge for Europe. It’s still early days, but so far so good.

Alongside all the recent on-pitch success, I can see why De Zerbi has garnered such a dedicated following. As in addition to his obvious coaching talents, he is an enigmatic personality. And that goes beyond his wild and emotive touchline celebrations.

In his pre-Bournemouth press conference, De Zerbi made a point of saying he was being “honest” in his comments about Moises Caicedo. Not for the first time explicitly stating his sincerity, and you can feel that sincerity in his words.

There were some pointed and firm comments from De Zerbi that day too: “I spoke a different way for the other players, but for Moises it is different. We need the performance of Moises… and I don’t want to listen to criticism.”

I suspect it’s partly as a consequence of speaking (and only recently learning) English as a second language, but he doesn’t mince his words. He certainly did speak differently about Trossard, who claimed De Zerbi “humiliated” him after he stated Trossard left training before it was finished without permission, adding: “I explained this attitude [and] behaviour, I don’t like.”

It was level of criticism that led to Trossard’s representatives putting out an equally firm rebuttal of their own, criticising De Zerbi’s treatment of the Belgian international.

And yet, despite it being only a few months after Trossard scored that iconic hat-trick at Anfield and that he still remains the team’s top scorer so far this season, it was De Zerbi who has received unwavering support from the fans rather than the Belgian international.

In part, because in a world of media training and evading the question, De Zerbi’s attitude with the media is very refreshing. And also, because he was on the right side of the argument in us supporters’ eyes, being the loyal party to the club over personal ambition.

But we shouldn’t forget that, just as appears to currently be the case with Albion’s first team stars, the shelf life of a football manager is often short.

The average Premier League managerial tenure is about 2 years, whilst the average of permanent Albion managers appointed by Tony Bloom is around 2 and a half years.

On the face of it De Zerbi should outlast those timespans given the team’s success. But, when you consider the turnover in personnel of late, along with De Zerbi’s public criticism of the club’s transfer policy and his public fallout with Leandro Trossard, so early on in his tenure, then you could argue things are less stable than results suggest.

Despite that public criticism from De Zerbi, the club didn’t abandon their recruitment model in January. But if the current level of performance continues, will they show the same resolve in future? And if they do continue to show that resolve, will De Zerbi stick around? I doubt he will be short of offers in the near future if Albion’s recent form continues.

This is all rather speculative of course, but either way the lifespan of a managerial reign is forever uncertain and as the last 12 months have shown, things can change significantly over a short space of time.

Whilst I’m all in on the current level of excitement surrounding the club, I find it hard to get into this growing cult of De Zerbi.

A cult probably best summarised by a recent Dogma article which said of De Zerbi: ”How many managers bring with them an entire ecosystem of devotees, followers not of a football club but of a man, a tactician, le divinità? Six months on from Roberto’s arrival I understand why. Who can resist worshipping at the church of De Zerbianism?”

All rather over the top for my liking. In fact I’ve never known anything like this cult-like fever surrounding Roberto De Zerbi at the Albion. But then again, we’ve rarely, if ever, seen days like this at the club.

But context is everything. Just as with his predecessors, De Zerbi is indebted to the work of others, which has enabled him to carry on the club’s expectation-defying levels of success. Even owner Tony Bloom is indebted to his predecessors for their stewardship of the club, well most of them.

It’s easy to get caught up in the emotion of it all, particularly when your team is doing so well and scoring dramatic late winners. But there is only one cult for me. The cult of Brighton and Hove Albion. Up the Albion.

Albion’s huge point at Poundland

On Saturday Albion travelled to the midlands to face Aston Villa, their first WSL game since losing to Leicester three weeks ago. And with Saturday afternoon also seeing bottom placed Leicester in action, this would be a big day in this season’s relegation battle.

Despite that crushing defeat to Leicester last time out and getting only two WSL wins so far this season, the new Brighton manager Jen Scheuer appears to have gained a renewed sense of optimism. With the manager saying pre-match: “Every day I can work with my girls are exciting days, every day I am really happy to be here, because I see a team that is willing to be better and that makes me happy.”

There was a first start for Rebekah Stott in the WSL since 2020, after scoring the opening goal in last weekend’s 7-0 FA Cup win over West Brom. A match which was Stott’s first start in any competition for the club since her diagnosis of stage 3 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and subsequent remission.

Stott re-joined the club last year after leaving in 2021 to return to Australia for treatment. And its little surprise that her return to the side has seen a stiffening up of Albion’s backline.

Whilst Albion have struggled at the wrong end of the table this season, opponents Villa have started the season strongly, including notable wins over both Man City and Man United, and were sitting in 6th place, which represents a serious improvement on their 11th and 9th placed finishes in the previous two seasons respectively.

And looking at the line up pre-match you could see why. It was intimidatingly strong, including Lionesses Jordan Nobbs and Rachel Daly.

So, it should have come as no surprise that Villa controlled early proceedings. However, they were limited mostly to long range efforts early on. And just when it looked like Albion were getting a foothold on the game, Villa took a somewhat fortuitous lead.

A short corner routine from Villa saw the ball floated all the way to the far post after Albion ‘keeper Megan Walsh failed to get anything on the cross, ultimately ricocheting in off an unsuspecting Kayleigh Green to give the home side the lead. It’s been that kind of season for Albion…

In the end, that Albion managed to get to half time just 1-0 down was a huge positive. And in part thanks to some fortune that Kirsty Hanson failed to turn in a menacing Rachel Daly cross, along with a number of important saves from Megan Walsh, including turning a Kenza Dali shot onto the bar.

As the second half began, the unfortunate Green along with Danielle Carter (who’d largely been a spectator given the dominance of Villa in the first half), were replaced by Emma Kullberg and Veatriki Sarri to switch Albion from a 343 to a 4231, with manager Jen Scheuer saying after the game he asked his team to be “more brave”.

Sarri in particular made a noticeable impact, forcing a useful save from Hannah Hampton, after her deflected shot appeared to be heading for the top corner. But as the second half continued, Albion were still having to hang on in there.

Villa’s quality was showing. But not enough to kill off the game. Rachel Daly uncharacteristically missed two good chances. The first volleying a simple chance over the bar from six yards. The second running onto a ball played in behind the Albion defence, but failing to beat Walsh in a one-on-one, who blocked her tame effort.

And with 15 minutes to go, Albion made Villa pay for all those missed chances, when Julia Zigiotti Olme pounced to put Albion level on the rebound.

An initial attempt from Veatriki Sarri, one-on-one with the Villa keeper Hampton, was well saved, but the loose ball was not dealt with by the Villa defence. Katie Robinson pounced to win it back, playing it into the path of Zigiotti Olme, who drew Albion level. Her first goal for the club since joining just over a year ago.

And that’s how it ended. It’s massive goal in Albion’s season that secures a vital point, one which didn’t look like it was coming for long periods.

Given Albion’s poor defensive record this season and Villa’s overall control of the game, keeping the home side down to just one goal is also a huge positive to take forward.

In particular, this was credit to another fantastic game from Megan Walsh, who at times kept Brighton in it. She could have done better with the cross for Villa’s goal, but her supreme shot-stopping abilities were on show for all to see. Once again showing why she’s made the most saves in the WSL since it began, and for my money, is one of the best shot stoppers in the women’s game.

With Walsh’s competition for the number one jersey, Australia international goalkeeper Lydia Williams, signed from PSG last month, making the goalkeeper position at Albion one to keep an eye on.

It was a performance from Albion, which BBC Sport described as “Gutsy”, but also admitted: “this was a largely uninspiring display, but as long as they pick up gifted points as they did here, they can avoid dropping into the Championship.” A statement as damning of Albion’s season so far as it is reassuring, for a club with stated ambition of becoming challengers at the other end of the table.

Jens Scheuer was more positive in his post-match comments. Whilst admitting that the home side were the better team in the first half, he stated this was without creating “really big chances.” And after that tactical switch at half time he said, “the girls did really, really well. I saw an Albion team which were in the second half the better team, and for me the point is really deserved.”

This game certainly did demonstrate evidence of the work the team has been doing on the training ground to improve its defensive record. Albion gave away fewer chances, limited the opposition to lesser opportunities, and the draw was a just reward for all that hard work.

This was a point they didn’t look like getting for long periods of the game, but a result that lifts them five points above bottom placed Leicester, who lost 2-0 at home to Man City.

In a league where there’s only 12 teams, and only one relegation spot this was a hugely important set of result for Albion. With any points won away from home always being particularly crucial.

It’s a result that puts Albion above Reading and up into 10th. There is still a long way to go, but you wonder if Leicester have left themselves with too much to do to catch Albion now, even after their win at the King Power last time out.