The Sellingest of Selling clubs

Thursday was a frustrating evening, as the soap opera that has been the future of Leandro Trossard’s came to a head as his pending transfer to Arsenal was all but officially confirmed, along with stories surfacing that Albion’s midfield talisman Moises Caicedo looked like he may well following him out the door too before the month is over.

As I’ve written about before, this is the transfer strategy the club has chosen, to date and it’s worked wonders. We just have to get used to this.

However, losing both Trossard and Caicedo would most definitely dent out hopes of European football that I ended my last blog dreaming about. However well we’ve already adapted to life without Trossard, and the array of talent that’s previously left before him.

But, whilst there’s a genuine opportunity for European football this season, or even a FA cup run, I don’t think the club are primarily focused on it, their focus is on the bigger picture. And begrudgingly we have to admit, quite rightly.

Paul Barber said to in the Argus last week when referring to European qualification, “We have not looked at it in a lot of detail.”

At the same time Barber named a number of clubs Albion are above in the table, stating their (in my view) greater publicly ambitions, contrasting that with Albion’s more realistic mindset. Saying he believed the fans were on board with that.

Sensible mindset, that’s how you run a football club at the top level, I guess? But it does go against the football fan mindset of constantly dreaming of better and ultimately, seeing your club win something.

It’s certainly true the club recognise it’s a possibility. With Barber also saying, “You can’t afford to come off the gas at any point because points are crucial if you have ambitions to play at the highest level.

And the highest level for us is winning silverware, obviously, or playing in Europe.”

But there are other clubs who are bolder and more explicit (publicly at least) with their ambitions. Something inarguable really when you look at club’s like Villa, Leeds and West Ham who have (inexplicably) talked about Champions League qualification.

Barber is realistic. But it can be rather dispiriting at times like these.

Some will say, we’ve just thrashed Liverpool 3-0, what have you got to be dispirited about?.. But moments like this are dispiriting BECAUSE we’ve just beaten Liverpool, look at what’s possible!

Does Caicedo now leave too? Well, all I’d say is we’ve seen this story before and we know how it ends.

After all, whilst we don’t have another Caicedo, we do have a number of options in in his area of the pitch, particularly since the signing Billy Gilmour, and soon to be reinforced with the return of Jakub Moder from a long injury lay off, and that’s not to mention the array of talented youngsters threatening to break through too or return from loan this summer.

Furthermore, whilst some say Albion will hold off for a better time to sell, Albion have 30 points on the board already, with little-to-no risk of relegation. So the board may in fact decide: what better time to sell, particularly if they get a ‘silly money’ offer…That’s my worry anyway.

And even if Caicedo doesn’t go, his head’s likely now been turned. The infamous Fabrizio Romano been reported earlier this week that he’s got himself a new agent… as I said, we’ve seen this story before.

Look at Bissouma last season after the club rejected a bid in January for him, there was a clear subsequent drop off in standard. And you could easily expect the same to happen again with Caicedo if we hold off on selling.

Are this weekends opponents Leicester City, currently struggling at the wrong end of the table, showing us the alternative? Here’s what happens when you do actually try to avoid selling players?

Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers said in the build up to this weekends game that there “have been challenges here that are invisible to people which you might not see unless you were working with them”.

“But it’s just about reinforcing the qualities of the players,” he added. “Some of them have been here a long time. Maybe some thought they would get moves to bigger clubs, but it hasn’t happened for whatever reason.

“My job is to work with the players and to maximise their talent. We’ve been able to do that for the majority of the time we have been here. It’s about consistency at this level. You need to be mentally ready and committed.”

The example of Leicester shows the other side of the coin. It is a warning to Albion of what can be a tricky balance of maximising the potential of the team in the short term and doing what’s best for the longer term. Something Albion have done pretty well so far to their credit.

Right now, it feels like we are the most sellingist of selling clubs. The reality is, like most clubs, we are a selling club, and always have been.

Name a great Albion player of the modern era, and there’s a good chance that they were eventually sold to a bigger club too…

But not to this extent. West Ham made £23m from last seasons European cup run, an amount by far overshadowed by Premier League TV & prize money. So whilst us fans would love to see it, when in addition you take account of the larger squad often required, and the challenges qualifying for Europe places on domestic commitments, the short term benefits of this from a “business” perspective start to look small.

Showing that while Brighton remain in the Premier League they can make far more profit from selling their players at peak value than holding on a bit longer in hope of making Europe or winning a domestic cup competition.

Just look at team selections for cup competitions, over the years us supporters have just had to learn to accept that clubs now see potential glory as less important and don’t share our priorities.

Many have said (once again) Albion latest sale represents good business from the club. Buying a player and selling him on for double that value in just a few years.

Fine. That’s all well and good, I don’t disagree that it’s good business.

But as another one of Brighton’s best player is sold, I can’t help but feel a bit of frustration. Is “business” what we want our club to be truly best at?


The end of an era, or maybe not

It’s been 20 weeks since that amazing late summer afternoon when Albion put in a spectacular, Alexis Mac Allister inspired performance to beat Leicester City 5-2 at the AMEX.

It was a game which turned out to be more significant than we realised at the time too. As we know now it turned out to be Graham Potter’s last game in charge of the team before he and half of the men’s senior team backroom staff headed off to lead Todd Boehly’s new project at Chelsea… I wonder how that’s working out?

Following his departure, some assumed this would be the end of an era of progress for the club. All while the clubs much spoken of succession planning was put into action. And if the last few months have shown anything’s, it’s that it’s passed with flying colours and once again confirmed that Albion’s hierarchy really know how to recruit well.

Dan Ashworth, Yves Bissouma, Marc Cucurella, Neal Maupay, Graham Potter, Bruno, Ben Roberts, Paul Winstanley (I could go on) … all departed, and were all replaced swiftly with adequate replacements, if not enhancements, and so this team just keeps on improving regardless.

In particular David Weir’s appointment as Technical Director looks inspired. A person who deputised for Dan Ashworth during his later years with the club and who Paul Barber admitted the club had to convince to stay after a job offer from another Premier League club. It was Weir after all who led the recruitment process of Roberto De Zerbi as First Team manager.

De Zerbi’s appointment excited many and has been increasingly praised as time has gone on, with the teams’ performances continuing to impress.

In particular in front of goal, an area Albion notoriously struggled with under Potter.

Under De Zerbi Albion have scored 35 goals in 15 games, scoring at nearly double the goalscoring rate under Graham Potter’s tenure.

However, we had already started to see an improvement. In Graham Potter’s last 12 Premier League games in charge, with Albion scoring 24 goals accumulating a massive 24 points, which compares to 27 goals scored and 17 points accumulated in De Zerbi’s first 12 Premier League games in charge.

The recent situation regarding Leandro Trossard has been one of the first a big tests for De Zerbi at Brighton. And his approach has been a change in public disciplinary issues from what we’re used to under Graham Potter, who would much rather criticise media or fans than his own players publicly.

Given what we know about the club’s financial model being built on selling its best players for a profit, I wonder if this approach will cause some concerns among Albion’s hierarchy.

Trossard’s agent has stated that he does genuinely want away, and he’s fallen out with management, which clearly devalues Albion’s negotiating position.

Whilst De Zerbi has said what I think a lot of fans were thinking, Trossard hasn’t been putting enough work and effort in. A very popular statement to make. But again, potentially devaluing the players sell-on value by suggesting that he’s a problem.

And arguably you could say that’s why De Zerbi somewhat clawed-back on some of his scorn in his comments after the Liverpool game when he said that he is “ready to open the door” to Leandro Trossard… you’d expect so too given he’s Albion’s top scorer this season despite not getting on the scoresheet since the win over Chelsea in October, and arguably has been one of the clubs most consistent performers for a long period prior to the recent World cup.

Many will disagree with me on that point, particular given Trossard’s rather petty public statement via his agent. But it wasn’t long ago that after his hat-trick at Anfield in De Zerbi’s first game in charge that some were describing him as one of the best ever players to pull on the blue and white stripes. How times change.

You could fairly argue that it’s his fault. It certainly looks so from what we’ve heard. But that doesn’t change the positive impact that Trossard can have on this team, as that day at Anfield so brilliantly highlighted.

Yes, we’ve been brilliant without Trossard in recent games. But if he doesn’t reconcile with De Zerbi, I suspect the club will need to strengthen in the next couple of weeks as I’d question our depth in that area of the pitch, particularly with games set to come thick and fast, especially if we go on an FA cup run.

When you compare that to Graham Potter’s tenure and the multitude of players with big egos, ambitions beyond our club and rumours of interested parties, (along with a generally lower league position) it’s striking and commendable that this situation never arose under his tenure.

But in Trossard’s absence it’s given an opportunity for others to flourish. And no player has done so more than Solly March, who has become a transformed player since the League Cup defeat at Charlton, where he missed a multitude of goalscoring opportunities along with the potential winning penalty.

Subsequently, both he and De Zerbi have publicly expressed their admiration for each other.

De Zerbi said of March after his man of the match performance against Southampton which followed the Charlton defeat, where March scored his first in the Premier League since November 2020: “I trust him a lot and I want always more because I think he’s a good player. He can play better, he can improve. He can be more important for us. I want him to believe more in himself.

Three further goals and two more assists in the following four matches have followed. Solly is playing like a man reborn and is clearly loving life under De Zerbi: “I love playing for Roberto de Zerbi. He’s great. He puts his arm around you and tells you you’re a good player and maybe that’s what I needed.”

Interesting comments indeed. For all of Graham Potter’s thoughtful and intellectual reflection, Roberto De Zerbi certainly comes across as a more enthusiastic, cuddly character. But what appeals to one player, won’t necessarily appeal to others.

March may have caught the headlines the most, but a number of players have excelled of late since De Zerbi’s appointment, Mitoma, Colwill, Ferguson and the evergreen Pascal Gross to name just a few.

This looks like a team enjoying their football under the new boss and that’s the case according to Alex Crook who said on TalkSport last week: “I don’t think Potter’s been helped by De Zerbi coming in at Brighton and actually propelling them to a new level. I speak to people at Brighton all the time and there are players in that dressing room that say ‘De Zerbi is better than Potter’. 

Let’s not get too carried away, these are early days for Roberto De Zerbi. The Graham Potter comparisons are inevitable, but after a tricky start of no wins and only 4 goals scored in his first 5 games, it now looks like he’s picked up where Graham Potter left us, or, as Alex Crook and others have argued, even taken the team to a new level.

Ever since that faltering start, De Zerbi has begun to put his stamp on this team. His Albion have been free scoring, freewheeling, and are now dreaming of European football. Now that dream feels closer than ever.

Up the Albion X

Monday musings – Mistakes and mentality shifts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twenty things from twenty seasons (part 1)

According to the World Health Organization, twenty years equates to around a fifth of the average life expectancy in the UK. It is also a period of time that equates to around a sixth of the history of Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club.

So on reaching the culmination of the twentieth season since I decided to start following the Albion, and as the club approaches the twenty year anniversary of moving back to Brighton and making Withdean Stadium its temporary home, it feels like a good time to reflect. So here’s a few memories from times gone by.

1999/20 – You never forget your first game. But by 1999, I’d already been a football goer for a few years, having been sporadically taken to Arsenal and England games by my parents. But it wasn’t until Saturday 6th November 1999 when I first experienced the Albion live. A day which saw an unspectacular 1-0 win over Hartlepool at Withdean Stadium.

I remember little of the games aside from Jamie Campbell’s headed goal and the subsequent firework that followed. Something that became a regular celebration of Albion goals at Withdean for the majority of the club’s time there.

It was a game Albion Manager Micky Adams described as having a “dead” atmosphere. No wonder really considering the quality of the match and the fact it was such an incredibly cold day. I still remember my brothers’ complaints ringing in our ears, so if you’d told him then that we’d be regularly frequenting this place for the next twelve years I expect his response would have been far from friendly.

Yes, the Withdean wasn’t a place to be when the weather wasn’t on your side, with no protection from the elements. And on this day the wind swept through the newly upgraded converted athletic stadium with a fierce harshness. But nonetheless this was a place we would grow to begrudgingly love over the coming years.

2000/01 – The next season a man arrived at the club who for a while defined my love for it. And when Bobby Zamora signed for the Albion from Bristol Rovers for £100k I think the majority of fans thought we’d go on to win the league. So much so that on the first day of the season away at Southend the Albion away end sung chants of ‘Championes’ before the game, only for the team to embarrassingly then lose 2-0.

But nonetheless the team did win the league with Zamora the league’s top scorer on 28. We all know the rest, those three seasons with the club go down as one of my favourite periods over these two decades. A period that began and ended with the transfer of Bobby Zamora.

2001/02 – In the third season at the Withdean it got even better for the Albion. The team continued their supremacy and marched on to a second consecutive title and promotion. With a little help from that man Bobby Zamora, who once again top scored with 28.

Even the departure of manager Micky Adams couldn’t derail the Albion’s journey onwards and upwards. After he left for Leicester City, Peter Taylor moved in the opposite direction and got the team over the line. But, he then left in the summer after realising the club’s plans for a new stadium and the financial resources available to strengthen the team, weren’t quite what he’d been hoping for.

But for me the moment of the season was that Swindon game at home. The worst 0-0 you’ll ever see, but a result that secured yet another championship title. There’s nothing like seeing your team win a title but seeing them do it two seasons in a row is particularly special.

The club had won two titles winning promotions in my first three seasons as an Albion fan, but what I was soon to find out was that there would be just as many ups as there would be downs.

2002/03 – And inevitably after such a sharp jump up the leagues, the following season was one of those downs. Whilst the season started brightly with four points from the first two games, a run of 12 straight defeats followed and the writing was on the wall for the Albion.

But after Steve Coppell was brought in to replace the hopelessly out of his depth Martin Hinshlewood as manager the team put up a great fight and almost survived. At one point remarkably lifting themselves out of the relegation zone.

And a game that summed up this fight was a 2-2 draw at home to Burnley. The club’s had met on the first day of the season a day which saw a 3-1 win for Brighton at Turf More, a win that had preceded that losing run. And when the clubs met again in the December of that season there would be more Albion celebrations.

But first the Albion once again found themselves behind. Burnley were dominant in the first half and finally took a deserved lead through Glen Little. Then after many chances came and went and with less than twenty minutes to go, Burnley first goalscorer Little found Ian Moore with a cross who doubled the Clarets lead.

I like many Albion fans had seen this story too many times before that season and assumed that was that. I was close to giving up and leaving when unthinkably the Albion mounted a comeback through a 20-year-old young rookie on loan from Arsenal named Steve Sidwell.

And it was that man Zamora who was to turn provider this time. First, he found Sidwell with a cross who pulled the deficit back to one with three minutes left on the clock. Then the duo combined again for Sidwell to equalise and cue bedlam in the rickety South Stand in the Withdean rain.

It wasn’t just that the Albion had got a result by scoring two late goals, but also that it was done so despite being second best for long periods. But after a successful spell on loan Chairman Dick Knight made a futile attempt to sign him when Steve Sidwell’s loan soon ended. But instead Sidwell went to Reading where he was later a key player as the club achieved promotion to the topflight. The Albion’s main marksman Zamora would also leave at the end of the season for topflight Tottenham. I wonder what that side could have gone on to achieve if it had held the same pulling power that the club does now to enable it to hold onto its best players.

2003/04 – So a new season brought a new dawn for Brighton back in the third tier. As following the resignation of manager Steve Coppell who left in the September of that season to join Steve Sidwell at Reading, there was another new manager in the shape of Mark McGhee.

Whilst Coppell didn’t save Albion from relegation, he had at least ensured there was a fight and that the Albion were ultimately only relegated on the final day of that season.

When McGhee came in, he built on the organisation and experience that Coppell had instilled, constructing a solid defence-minded team that conceded only 43 goals in 46 games, the third best in the league that season. McGhee also added a much-needed injection of Scottish Charisma to post-match interviews, something Steve Coppell’s dry monotone nature lacked.

And it was McGhee’s charisma and wit that pushed the Albion over the line into a playoff place for promotion back to the second tier at the first time of asking.

After being drawn against Swindon in the playoff semi-final and winning the first leg 1-0, the Albion were poor in the return home leg. After going 2-0 down in extra time they needed a late goal from defender Adam Virgo to take the game to a penalty shootout, which they won to get to the final.

That Virgo equaliser still goes down as a favourite Albion goal of mine. We thought we were beaten; some fans had already begun to leave, and it really was the last throw of the dice to get as many players forward as we could and launch the ball into the box. The scenes when he scored and then when we won the shootout were like little seen at the Withdean.

Then came the final, one of the great Brighton and Hove Albion days as nearly 30,000 Albion fans descending on the Welsh capital of Cardiff, a following about four times larger than the average attendances the club were getting at the time at Withdean.

Ultimately, we won the game when we were given a penalty through a foul on Chris Iwelumo and as soon as he won it, there was little doubt that Leon Knight would put it away. 1-0 Albion and that’s how it ended.

But the build up to the game, in fact the season as a whole, had been dominated by the campaign to get planning permission to build our new stadium at Falmer from the then Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott. Most notably the postcards saying: “We’re pleased to be here (with a picture of the Cardiff Millennium Stadium), but we wish we were here (with a picture of the design for the new stadium)” the club gave out with the playoff final tickets and that fans were encouraged to send to John Prescott’s office.

At that time, it was always a balance between fighting for the new stadium and focusing on matters on the pitch, and the requirement to fund the continued legal battle was stretching resources at the club. Former manager Steve Coppell said during his time as manager whilst the club struggled against relegation: “The football has almost been a sideshow. If that money had been spent on the pitch, we wouldn’t have found ourselves in this position.” But this was to continue for some time yet.

2004/05 – Given that the planning permission battle was to run on for a few more seasons, the fact the club avoided relegation from the second tier for the only time during the Withdean era is a testament to the good work Mark McGhee was doing at the club.

His style wasn’t to everyone’s taste though and would eventually be his downfall a couple of years later. One of the best examples of his approach was the switch of Adam Virgo from Centre Back to Striker to play him as a target man, eventually becoming the club’s top scorer that season.

I remember the surprise when I first saw that he was playing up front. Like most I first thought it was bizarre, but this exemplified the makeshift nature at the club that McGhee had to work with at the time.

This was first tried in what was a notable 1-0 win for the Seagulls away to recently relegated from the topflight Leicester City, who were incidentally managed by former and also future Albion manager Micky Adams.

And it was just as bizarre of a winner as the Leicester defence’s failed offside trap left Virgo with so much room, he had plenty of time to set himself and slot the ball home past former England goalie Ian Walker.

And he wasn’t the only former England international on show for Leicester as up the other end Dion Dublin wasted a few opportunities to peg back the seagulls. In fact, this was a Leicester team full of players with plenty of topflight experience and the three points were a real coup for the Albion.

Virgo admitted the forward role wasn’t one he relished saying after the Leicester win: “I wouldn’t say I am enjoying playing up front. There is a lot of running involved” and McGhee was clear that it wasn’t in his long-term plan saying: “Adam is a better centre half than centre forward or right-back and eventually he will be a terrific centre half for us.”

But Virgo never really did get the chance to do that. He played most of that season as a make-shift target man, top scoring with eight. In doing so he caught the eye of Celtic manager and former teammate of McGhee, Gordon Strachan, who signed Virgo for £1.5m. A deal Dick Knight described as “the best deal I ever did”.

Things didn’t work out though for Virgo at Celtic as personal issues and broken promises counted against him. After a knee injury during a loan spell at Coventry he found himself back at Brighton in 2008. When despite being a fairly regular face in the team over those next two seasons, he never looked like the potentially great centre back he had under McGhee pre-injury. And when his contract ran out, he left the club in 2010, subsequently ending his playing days with spells at Yeovil and Bristol Rovers.

2005/06 – The following season Brighton couldn’t repeat the feat of survival again, ultimately succumbing to relegation as the bottom placed team sitting a whopping 12 points from safety. Whilst the club had made a huge financial gain on the sale of Virgo, much of that money went into keeping the club and its fight for a new stadium afloat and as such the on-pitch matters suffered.

But there were still some high points. In particular when Albion won a meeting between themselves and rivals Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park 1-0 through a Paul McShane header. A win that to a degree dispelled the ghosts of the 5-0 defeat there that bookended the 12-game losing run in 2002.

Brighton were favoured by the fact that hat-trick hero of that day back in 2002 for Palace Andy Johnson started on the bench due to injury. But it was Albion’s strike-force which looked like it was missing something as an out of form Leon Knight and a young Jake Robinson spurned a number of chances until McShane became the unlikely goalscoring hero to earn Albion a morale boosting victory.

But later that season Palace came to our place and got a late winner through Jobi McAnuff and beat the Albion 3-2 to even the score. It just seemed like they always got the better of us and always had the last say. How things change.

2006/07 – So with the club back in the third tier and with everyone still stinging from the horrors that they saw over the previous season; Mark McGhee was sacked in September only a handful of games into the season.

In his place came former club captain and more recently Youth team coach, Dean Wilkins. Once in charge he put his focus almost entirely on developing the young players at the club. But unfortunately, as Dick Knight says in his autobiography: “a good coach doesn’t necessarily make a good manager.”

The first season he had in charge was far from a success as the Seagulls finished only six points and three places above the relegation zone.

But as always in the darkness, there is still light. And that came with a humongous 8-0 win over Northwich Victoria in the FA Cup first round that was played in front of just four and a half thousand dedicated souls at the Withdean Stadium. With Brighton 2-0 up at half time the Conference side crumbled as they went on to concede six second half goals.

This was a win that would end up being Brighton’s equal third highest winning margin in its history. A margin that is only beaten by a nine-goal winning margin over Wisbech Town in the FA Cup first round in 1965 and a twelve-goal winning margin over Brighton Amateurs in the FA Cup first qualifying round in 1902.

Jake Robinson scored a hat trick, Dean Cox scored a brace and there were also goals for Alex Revell, Sam Rents and Joe Gatting. Notably, Alex Revell was the only one of the five goalscorers that wasn’t a product of Dean Wilkins work with the youth team.

In fact, one of those youth products Jake Robinson is a man associated with another Albion record as being the youngest ever goalscorer for the club, a feat he achieved three years earlier against Forest Green in the Football League trophy.

But Dean Wilkins partiality towards his youth team products went far beyond that of a run out for a highly rated sixteen-year-old in a neglected and low priority cup competition. The scorers that day were a sign of the work Wilkins did whilst manager that was at times foolhardy. Dick Knight admitted in his autobiography that a number of potential signings were turned down by Wilkins whilst others that did materialise, like a young Glenn Murray, would often be used as bit part players to make room for Wilkins youth team players.

Whilst his overall vision of a team fill of Sussex born players leading Albion out at the AMEX was a noble one, it almost certainly could not have been achieved whilst gaining Brighton promotion back to the second tier as Poyet would achieve four years later.

2007/08 – The following season saw a significant upturn in fortunes as the team finished 7th and were ultimately unfortunate to just miss out on a playoff place to Leeds United. This was all-but confirmed the night before a trip to Bristol Rovers for Albion’s last away game of the season. Nonetheless they took a good away support with Wilkins referencing this saying: “It is the best in the division by an absolute mile… After Leeds won on Friday it looks like we have missed out on the play-offs, so the amount of fans turning out here today was quite phenomenal.”

I remember it being an unusually sunny day for a football match and I ended up with a quite rosy-red sunburnt shade to my facial skin-tone due to the uncovered away end. I’m not a regular at away games, mainly due to a general laziness when it comes to committing to the long journeys involved. But on this occasion living a 10-minute walk down the road from Bristol Rovers’ Memorial Ground it wasn’t as huge of a commitment as usual.

And it was a game the travelling support who had made the journey from Sussex wouldn’t regret doing so, as goals from Ian Westlake and Glenn Murray earned Brighton a 2-0 win.

The game was advertised as the last game at the Memorial Ground for Bristol Rovers, but we returned their next season after redevelopment of the ground was delayed and then later scrapped altogether. They still play there to this day.

It’s been a while since Rovers started talking of moving stadium and have since lost significant ground to city neighbours Bristol City who’ve redeveloped their previously run-down Ashton Gate stadium into a modern stadium fit for the purpose of topflight football. Rovers story is one that really makes you appreciate the AMEX.

That day in 2008 turned out to be Wilkins last away game in charge of the Albion as he was demoted back to a first team coach over the summer. In his autobiography Chairman Dick Knight admitted that he’d “lost confidence in Dean Wilkins abilities as a manager.”

2008/09 – So the summer of 2008 then saw another new manager, this time it was the return of the man who built the team that I had initially fallen in love with back in 1999, Micky Adams. As a result, the excitement and optimism at the club seemed to be on its way back. And it was enough for me and my brother to get season tickets again, which considering I was still living in Bristol made it quite a personal commitment, but Micky was worth it.

However, despite a decent start repeated home defeats followed. One home game that remarkably didn’t end in defeat was the visit of Premier League Man City in the League Cup. Unlike now the visit of a topflight team was a real novelty but living and working in Bristol meant evening games were a no-go for me and I had to settle for watching Sky Sports News for score updates.

So I was left jumping around my living room amongst my slightly bemused housemates as the winning penalty went in that gave Albion a victory at the end of an engrossing 2-2 draw. It’s a shame that the team were otherwise so dreadful that season. The return of Micky Adams didn’t work out at all, but as well as this moment of glory there was also the run to the semi-finals of the Football League Trophy, where the Albion were a penalty shootout away from a final at Wembley, but it was not to be.

Not long after that game Micky Adams was sacked, and Russel Slade came in as his replacement. The change was needed, the team looked hopeless and doomed to face relegation under Adams towards the end of his reign with him stood seemingly helpless on the sidelines.

However, under Slade’s leadership the Albion did stay up on the final day of the season thanks to a 1-0 win over Stockport that bookended a truly great escape from relegation by the team.

In doing so they had managed to avoid falling into the football league’s bottom tier, which considering we were now two years from the opening of the AMEX, feels like a pivotal moment in the club’s recent history.

To read part two click here

2018 – The year of the Murray

As we have had our lot of 2018, I thought it was about time we praised the man who for many, including myself, has been Brighton & Hove Albion’s man of the year, Glenn Murray.

For Glenn Murray 2018 is a year that started with two goals in two games, one each against two of his old clubs and ended up with him having scored 17 goals in all competitions, becoming Albion’s highest post-war goalscorer and disproving well and truly any doubt over his ability to score goals at the top level of English football.

The first goal he scored in 2018 was against Bournemouth in a 2-2 draw on New Year’s Day, finishing off a good move created by last season’s player of the season Pascal Gross. Then came a late winner against Palace, a game Murray started on the bench. It was a goal that caused confusion over whether VAR, which was being trialled in the match, had been used to clarify the legality of the goal, but replays showed it came off Murray’s knee and not his hand and the goal stood.

But whilst 2018 started with a flurry of goals, 2017 ended with what had been a mixed start to the Premier League campaign for Albion’s number 17. A flurry of four goal in three games at the end of October and the beginning of November aside, he’d struggled to continue his great goal scoring record from the Championship promotion campaign.

In fact, the 2017/18 season didn’t start well for Murray, with a preseason injury meaning Tomer Hemed instead started up front in the first few games of the season. Hemed’s good performances even earned himself a new contract and kept Murray out the side for a while, but that all changed when Hemed received a retrospective three game ban for a stamp on DeAndre Yedlin in the home 1-0 win against Newcastle at the end of September. A game in which Hemed scored the only goal and received the Sky Sports Man of the Match award. This meant that as the season entered October, with Hemed absent Murray would get his chance to shine.

But in the first game of Hemed’s suspension, Murray was on the bench with loanee Isaiah Brown starting up front. But with the team going 2-0 down, Murray and the 2016/17 Championship player of the season Anthony Knockaert came off the bench and barely moments after coming on the Frenchman’s cross found Murray who headed just over in what was the best chance Brighton had created that day. Murray then started in the 1-1 home draw with Everton, but it was the next game away to West Ham where he would score a brace in front of the Sky Sports camera’s and re-establish himself as the Albion’s first choice frontman.

So Murray went into 2018 as the Albion’s main man and after starting January with two goals against two of his former clubs, he was on the bench as the team played their fourth round FA Cup tie away to Middlesbrough. This is despite the shadow of an ongoing tax fraud investigation hovering over him, an investigation it had been widely reported that he and his wife were arrested in connection with just days before the match. But despite this he again came off the bench in the second consecutive cup game to score the winner, which put the Albion into the fifth round of the cup for only the ninth time in its history. He in fact responded to the off-field issues by scoring a further two goals in the next two games. One from the penalty spot in a 1-1 draw away to Southampton and one in a spectacular 3-1 home win over West Ham that also included one of the best Albion goals of the 2017/18 season from Jose Izquierdo.

I bring the tax investigation up not to revel in the supposed scandal as some media outlets did at the time of his arrest, but to contextualise Glenn Murray’s wonderful year. It reminds us that footballers, are individuals who have to deal with the stresses and strains that life brings just like anyone else. Glenn Murray isn’t just an Albion living-legend, he’s a father, a husband and someone who at the same time must deal with the complexities of life in a globally scrutinised, highly pressurised job. Putting what Murray has achieved on the pitch this year in this context makes it all the more impressive.

And yet what I’ve loved the most about watching Glenn over his second spell at the club, and over the last year in particular, is that he is playing with a smile on his face. A smile that suggests he’s loving playing for the club. Murray’s enjoyment of his recent years at the club is something that he’s spoken about being due to a greater perspective that comes with his age and experience.

In a recent interview with the Telegraph he stated just that. “You just never know. I am taking each game as it comes, enjoying it and taking that little bit of extra time to look around a full stadium, because I know it’s not going to last forever. But I will try and make it last as long as possible.”

But it wasn’t always this way. Murray said in the same interview that: “When I was young, I would dwell on games and beat myself up about a result,” he said “I would lock myself away in the house, almost punishing myself and those around me. My family, they did not see the best side of me. I went to see somebody who helped me, a sports psychologist, and he said I need to get out, that it is more important to get out of the house when you have lost, rather than when you have won. When you have won, you are content in whatever you do.

“He said to try to get out when I lose. To go to the cinema, go out for a meal. It has caused quite a few arguments in the past — people saying to me, ‘what are you doing out? What are you doing showing your face?’ — but that is what works for me. It might not work for everyone, but for me it does.”

Murray signed for Brighton the first time around in January 2008 at the age of 24. He impressed instantly, scoring nine in the second half of that season, including two on his home debut, in a 3-0 win against Crewe.

He then missed much of the 08/09 season with a hernia injury and when he did play often did so whilst clearly not being fully fit. Nonetheless he impressively still managed to score 12 goals in what was a struggling side.

The following 09/10 season he would play more regularly, but only better his goal total by two, often at this point gaining criticism about his work-rate and discipline. A subject spoken about by Dick Knight in his autobiography ‘MadMan’ where he stated that even then manager Dean Wilkins called out Glenn Murray for his work rate, but Dick defended the striker saying: “His style is languid and unhurried but certainly not lazy.”

The frustrations towards him mostly arose from the fact that he was clearly the most talented player in the team but often didn’t show it. Manager at the start of the season Russell Slade comments showed that he agreed with that line of thinking. At the beginning of the 2009/10 season he called Murray the “best striker outside the Championship”, but then in October Slade publicly criticised Murray for a sending off in a home defeat to Tranmere stating it cost the team the chance of a comeback. As such it was the case amongst some that Murray was getting a reputation as a bit of an unreliable enigma.

But Slade was sacked soon after because of an unsuccessful start to the season and Gus Poyet came in as his replacement. Gus transformed the club’s prospects and the team started to look like one worthy of the impending move to the new state-of-the-art stadium being built down the road at Falmer.

And the following season Glenn Murray and the Albion would both live up to their potential with Murray top scoring with 22 goals as the Albion won League One in its final season at the Withdean. Whilst there were still a few dissenting voices, as there always will be, Murray was now rightly regarded as Albion’s best striker and one of its best assets.

But unfortunately, Murray’s contract was up at the end of that season and with a step up required after promotion to the Championship was achieved, manager Gus Poyet appeared to earmark the signing of the energetic, if as it turned out comparatively goal-shy Craig Mackail-Smith at the expense of Murray. Gus Poyet said of Murray that the club “couldn’t pay him within our budget” and that the club couldn’t afford both players, but given the fact he left to join our arch rivals and lead them to great success at our expense, it’s fair to say that at least in hindsight, the club should have found a way to balance the books so to pay Murray what he was rightly worth.

When Brighton signed Mackail-Smith, Poyet spoke of his “unbelievable” work-rate and that, “he will always give you something. Even on a bad day, he doesn’t stop running. Now we are going to be a more competitive team.” It seems that it may have been in part at least, the perceptions of Murray’s so called ‘laziness’ that led to his move away.

Crystal Palace did just that, and a few months later he would score twice as they became the first opposition team to win a league game at the AMEX. He scored 47 goals whilst at Palace in four years, which is all the more impressive considering he missed much of the 2014/15 season through a knee injury sustained in the first leg of the playoff semi-final win by Palace over the Albion. Palace won and would go on to win promotion to the Premier League.

At full time in the second leg of the semi-final Murray celebrated with his team, the Albion’s arch rivals, on the pitch at the AMEX in front of the away end. Just three years later he would re-sign for the Albion and it wasn’t long before all was forgotten and hero status was resumed. Murray was a goalscorer, and when the goals started flowing even the most dissenting of voices came around. After opening his account with two goals in a 3-0 home win over Forest in front of the Sky Sports cameras it felt to many, including myself, that he’d never left. That season he went on to score 23 goals as the Albion secured promotion to the Premier League.

The intervening years after that play off semi-final and his return to the Albion were initially spent at Palace with mixed success under a variety of managers. This was followed by a short loan spell at Reading where he scored eight goals, including two goals at the AMEX against Brighton on Boxing Day in a 2-2 draw. Which was then followed by a year at Bournemouth where his game-time was limited and as a result he scored just four goals, albeit one of those being a memorable winner at Stamford Bridge for the Cherries over Chelsea.

But his return to Brighton showed he hadn’t lost any of his wit and skill, nor as the Albion fans knew to their cost, his eye for goal. And as 2018 rolled on, somewhat inevitably so did the Murray goals.

Next up came another brace, including a goal from the penalty spot in a 4-1 win over Swansea. And in the following game Murray scored the crucial second in a memorable 2-1 win over Arsenal. Murray’s goal that day was yet another example of his growing relationship with Pascal Gross, with the German’s cross hanging in the air invitingly for Murray to head home in between two accommodating Arsenal defenders. These two wins lifted Brighton up to tenth in the league table and seven points clear of the relegation zone, safety was now looking likely.

Murray’s role leading the line was a big part of this. Not just scoring key goals but his ability as a target man to hold the ball up and link up with Pascal Gross, continuously producing results. Even though his only other goal to come in the remainder of the season was a consolation goal away to Palace, in a 3-2 defeat, he played a key role in the run-in as the Albion reached the coveted 40-point mark and comfortably secured another season of Premier League football.

Murray was asked during last season by the BBC what was the reason for his success and he answered simply, Pascal Gross. Last season’s Albion player of the season was high up in the charts for assists and goals, ahead of some perceived bigger names within the division, and his relationship with Murray was a big part of that. In fact, Murray and Gross between them contributed 19 of the 33 league goals Brighton scored last season. Demonstrating the importance of their combined impact.

For instance, the Albion’s lack of success from set-pieces last season demonstrates this best. Scoring a total of 5 goals from this method, which was the lowest in the Premier league last season. This is despite Pascal Gross creating more chances from set-pieces in the Premier League last season than any other player (36).

As the Albion prepared for their second season in the Premier League there were signings and optimism aplenty. But Murray still started the season as the main man up top. And after a bad day at the office all round in a 2-0 defeat away to Watford on the opening day, Man Utd came to town and the Albion caused a shock by beating them 3-2.

The Albion got off the mark that day with a sublime chip from Murray. This is a goal that has to go down as one of his best for the Albion, whilst it was from close range, the skill and technique to flick the ball up and chip the ball over United ‘keeper De Gea was a sight to behold.

Next up at the AMEX were newly promoted Fulham and it was another game where Murray was the star of the show scoring twice, his second a late equaliser, again from the penalty spot and in doing so earned the Albion a late comeback draw from 2-0 down. This was a game where Murray’s partner in goals Pascal Gross came off injured with the team 1-0 down and after a period out through injury, he has since struggled to recapture his previous season’s good form. But nonetheless Murray has kept on scoring goals regardless as the new signings that were made in the summer gave the Albion an attacking threat from other areas.

Next up was Southampton away on a Monday night game in front of the Sky Sports cameras. And Murray scored a late penalty to make it 2-2 in the second consecutive game. A penalty that demonstrated Murray’s calm confidence in front of goal, even in the most high-pressure of situations.

There were then two 1-0 home victories courtesy of Glenn Murray’s 99th and 100th goals for the club, with a hard fought 1-0 victory away to struggling Newcastle sandwiched in-between. A game where Murray was carried off with a worrying looking head injury, but one which he quickly recovered from to play the following week and net that record-breaking milestone goal.

The goals against West Ham and Wolves were classic Murray goals. The type of goals that had cemented Glenn’s place as only the second ever player to score one-hundred goals for Brighton. He also became the highest post-war goalscorer, taking over from Kit Napier on 99 goals.

He spoke in Nick Szczepanik book ‘Brighton Up’ about how he would often find space in the box by standing still, whilst others moved around him, and these goals were no different. For example, for his century goal against Wolves, as the ball fell to Bruno on the right side of the box, the Wolves defence shifted in his direction. In the same motion Murray stayed almost stationary but alert to find himself in acres of space at the far post to score his century goal, when the ball went slightly fortuitously in his direction. As Bruno later admitted his ‘pass’ to Murray was intended to be a shot on goal.

This style of Murray’s goals is where the comparison to the man Gus Poyet replaced him with Craig Mackail-Smith is telling. Whilst other strikers like Mackail-Smith energetically run around somewhat thoughtlessly. Murray is more deliberate in his movement and his running and whilst a layperson-fan like myself can’t always see it, Glenn Murray is usually one step ahead of most defenders, even at the top level.

His next goal against Leicester showed that level of alertness and wit in the box perfectly. As Murray nipped in at the near post to get Albion’s goal in a 1-1 draw.

Then came that win against Palace, which started with Murray scoring a 24th minute penalty and ended for him shortly after due to a shoulder injury in the build up to the corner that led to the second goal.

It is well known that after Glenn Murray left The Albion to join Palace in 2011, he remained living in Brighton. Not surprising considering it’s the city where he met his wife and the city where they started a family together. The city appears to work for him, and he appears to work well for the city’s football team too, continuing to break records and increase in size his already secured legend status at the club.

2018 was a year where he made the whole country sit up and take notice of a 35-year old player previously written off as only Championship-standard. So much so that Glenn is now a periodic voice on BBC Radio 5 Live’s football coverage, he was an answer to a question on the BBC’s Question of Sport recently and even popped up on Michael Macintyre’s Christmas Day special.

It’s odd to say due to his relative veteran status within football, that it’s been something of a breakthrough year for Glenn, but us Albion fans know it’s more a fact of him finally being appreciated for the player he is. I’m sure that at the age of 35, many will continue to write off Glenn Murray, just like others have done before, but his continued success highlights that he shows little signs of deterioration.

18/19 season review – halfway

If the first ten games gave us optimism for the season ahead, then the next nine have consolidated all those good feelings. In an article about mid-table teams in the Premier League Adam Hurray aka @FootballCliches on twitter described Brighton as “the team that people will most likely forget if you challenge them to name all 20 Premier League teams in under a minute.” Some will take this as an insult but not me personally. It’s a long way from that terribly forgettable 1-0 home defeat to Millwall just over four years ago that all-but signalled the end of Sami Hyypia’s reign as Albion manager and ultimately, the beginning of the success that Chris Hughton has gone onto lead us to. So yes, I will take competent forget-ableness over incompetent forget-ableness every day.

Matchdays 11-13 – Frustration and refereeing controversy

Talking of forgettable, let’s overlook Everton away. A bad day at the office, in which we were outclassed by a better resources team. There’s no shame in that.

Not that this stopped one fan phoning in BBC Radio 5 Live’s phone-in “606” and calling for Hughton to be sacked. A call described by host and one time Albion loanee Robbie Savage as “One of the most ridiculous things I’ve heard in my life”. You know you’ve got it wrong when Robbie Savage is taking the common sense high-ground. Thankfully the vocal minority that phone into programmes like 606 are not speaking for the majority of sensible football fans who appreciate Chris Hughton as one of the best managers currently working in the English game.

Whilst from an Albion perspective it was a demoralising defeat, it was one that we could have anticipated. However, the game was notable for at least two positive things:

First, it saw another set-piece goal from the Albion, something we lacked last season, scoring only five all season. But something that is becoming increasingly part of our attacking armoury, scoring eight already in only half the amount of games.

Second, it saw a debut from the bench for a certain Florin Andone, someone who we will come to later.

But first, next up was a Saturday lunchtime kick-off at Cardiff. And if we were honest, it was a game we expected the team to win, but it was not to be.

The team made a good start, with Lewis Dunk getting his second goal in two games, another one of those goals from a set piece and another assist from Solly March. But quickly the Albion’s fortunes began to turn as soon after Callum Paterson equalised for Cardiff. Then the Albion’s Dale Stephens saw red for what was at best an overzealous challenge. And one at which I, unlike many other Albion fans, won’t argue against.

With nearly an hour left what then followed was an extended period of Cardiff pressure, one which the ten-men Brighton team fought hard against, but it was a fight that was ultimately to no avail as a late winner from Sol Bamba meant Cardiff took all three points. Upon review Sol Bamba appeared to be offside in the build up to the goal. But in the melee that was the Brighton penalty area that preceded the goal it’s no wonder the officials weren’t sure. So near but yet so VAR…

After a couple of frustrating results we hoped for a Hughton-side-like instant positive reaction against Leicester at home. And with Albion taking the lead via yet another goal from Glenn Murray, it appeared we had just that. A goal that added to the Albion’s ever-growing set-piece goal tally. And when Leicester and England’s rising star James Maddison saw red for a silly second yellow card for diving, things seemed to be evening up for the Albion very quickly. But the Albion couldn’t capitalise on their numeric advantage, and this wastefulness would prove costly. As after Beram Kayal sloppily gave away a penalty, Jamie Vardy equalised for Leicester.

It was an afternoon of frustration for the Albion. Frustration in a lack of attacking intent, frustration in a lack of quality in possession, and frustration in sloppy, panicked decision making. The amount of long distant pot-shots and wild hit-and-hope(less) crosses made it hard to watch. It was a performance described, as level-headedly as ever by manager Chris Hughton, as “below the standard required”.

Many Albion fans were less level-headed and a small amount of boos could be heard at the end of the game. Whilst the Argus’s Andy Naylor continued his never-tiring battle on twitter with those who deem Hughton too ‘negative’ tactically, and who he deems the “moaning minority”. Some other were coming around to the idea of our previously disgraced Albion fan on 606, but that perspective would soon flip on its head.

Matchdays 14-15 – Andone stars as we win away and beat the scum!

The frustration that was brewing meant that the trip to Huddersfield had more riding on it than our league position relative to our hosts along with our solid start to the season granted. Which was unfortunate given our recent bad record away to the Terriers. And as many feared the Albion got off to a bad start. But oddly it was a spectacularly miscued overhead kick from Albion captain Bruno, one which he unintentionally kicked the ball into the Brighton defensive six-yard box, that set up a goal for Mathias Jorgensen to give the hosts a 1-0 lead. Bruno’s second unintentional assist of the season after his miss-hit shot set up Murray’s century goal.

Panic could have ensued, but that’s not the Hughton way, and after a slightly shaky first twenty minutes the Albion started to get back into the game. Then when a Huddersfield red card gave the Albion the initiative, soon after they equalised, just before halftime. Bruno made amends with an intentional and impressively acrobatic piece of ball control that led to an Albion corner. From the corner Solly March found Shane Duffy who equalised before halftime, another set piece goal and another Match assist.

After half time the Albion continued to step up the intensity in search of a winner, one that would this time against ten men prove fruitful. As Solly March continued to prove his doubters wrong by finding Andone with a great cross, where the Romanian nipped in ahead of the Huddersfield defence to put the ball home and give Albion only their fourth away win since promotion.

Up next was the derby game against Palace, which after all the nonsense of last season’s game at the AMEX had once again been scheduled on a Tuesday night, great. Nonetheless, with the gap between the sides at only six points the teams had to put all the sideshow of the rivalry out of their mind and get the three points.

And it was the Albion who struck first, with Murray emphatically scoring a penalty against his old side after Izquierdo went down in the area. A soft penalty but we will take it.

Next chaos ensued, after Murray was brought down in the box by James Tomkins. The ref ignored calls for another penalty and pointed for a corner. A melee ensued, one which saw Shane Duffy headbutt Palace’s Patrick Van Aanholt in front of the referee, I’m sure he had it coming, however, the referee had no choice but to send off Duffy leaving the Albion handicapped for the rest of the match.

But fear not, things were only getting started for the Albion. Pascal Gross was quickly sacrificed for Leon Balogun to partner Lewis Dunk in the back four, but before he resumed defensive duties he quickly doubled the Albion’s arrears. Balogun sending the ball home with a spectacular half volley after being unmarked in the box. An extra man and they still left the big centre back unmarked!

So, with a two goal lead the Albion attempted to hold onto what they had and defend for their lives. But rather than memorable defensive heroics, the game will forever be synonymous with a piece of individual brilliance from Florin Andone that followed.

As Brighton sat deep defending their lead, they had only one player in a remotely advanced position, Florin Andone. As the ball was pumped long and diagonally by Bernardo, remarkably Andone got to this speculative pass near the East stand touchline about ten yards into the Palace half, meaning he had a lot of ground to cover. But cover it he did, slaloming his way around the Palace defence as he did so and then finishing well to make it 3-0.

As the game went on Palace continued to probe without much penetration of the Albion defence. In a resultant moment of frustration, Palace talisman Wilfried Zaha attempted a tackle on hero of the day Florin Andone, which he seriously mistimed. Andone was fortunate to walk away unharmed and Zaha was fortunate to walk away with only a yellow card. Saving Palace further frustration and embarrassment on a bad night at the office.

And whilst Palace got a goal back via the penalty spot to make it 3-1 nothing would take the shine off this win for the Albion. What a victory, what a night. And it was a special night for Albion not just given the circumstances of the victory, but also the novelty that a win over Palace has been in recent years. In fact, this was only the second home league victory by the Albion over Palace since Boxing Day 1988. It’s the kind of win many fans would give a lot away for, and for the Albion it was a victory that preceded the worst run of consecutive defeats to date this season.

Matchdays 16-19 – A winless run – with promise

It was a winless run that started on a miserable wet and grey day in Burnley, one that at least went without last season’s deplorable behaviour from some of the home support.

The goal that ultimately cost the Albion the game was largely as a result of poor defending. As a cross from the right came into the Brighton box, it was headed to the far side of the box and headed back into the six-yard box melee by a Burnley shirt only to be headed clear by Lewis Dunk. But unfortunately, the ball fell kindly for James Tarkowski on the edge of the box to drill it home, scoring a goal that would ultimately give the home side a narrow 1-0 win. It was the type of 1-0 win that they prided themselves on last season, but the type of win that has been harder to come by this season.

If we are honest, it was a poor piece of defending from the Albion, two fairly measly clearances, which coupled with Ryan’s failure to get anywhere near a cross he came for, left Tarkowski with a simple finish. But Ryan’s error was a type of error we’ve not seen much from the Australian number one, which considering his relative lack of height is a testament to him, the management of Chris Hughton and coaching of the head goalkeeping coach Ben Roberts.

Nonetheless this was an error of judgement, but one of a type he’s been encourages to avoid. Maty Ryan spoke to the Independent last season of how before he signed for the Albion he was a much more proactive goalkeeper, with the coaches at Brighton now encouraging him to be less proactive and in situations like this stay on his line and leave the initial defensive duties to the defence, primarily due to the heading prowess of Dunk and Duffy coupled with the incredibly deep defensive line that the Albion often deploy, leaving him little option other than staying on his line.

So, maybe partly due to a concern over the missing Shane Duffy, Ryan uncharacteristically (or characteristically for him two years ago, old habits die hard) came for a cross that he didn’t win leaving a virtually open goal for Tarkowski to shoot into. And no wonder Ryan was nervous, Shane Duffy has been brilliant for the Albion since promotion and as such was justifiably given a contract extension recently. In fact, he is widely being regarded as Albion’s best player so far this season, and primarily is someone who knows how to defend a cross into the box.

As the game went on the Albion threw on Murray and Locadia to go with two up top and try to get an equaliser. And they would combine for the Albion’s best chance of the game. As Murray peeled off wide, something he has grown accustom to doing much less of as a sole striker, he found himself in a position to cross a ball into the box from a deep position. Cross he did, and what a cross it was, landing in a perfect position for Locadia to run onto and head home to equalise, except he headed it over. Cue bedwetting of the highest order, including some Albion fans calling for Locadia’s head, which is frankly ludicrous, more on this later.

But first, up next at the AMEX was Chelsea, and fresh from their victory over champions Man City it was an imposing prospect. In fact, for sixty minutes they showed exactly why that was. They controlled possession with such ease, toying with Brighton and creating enough chances to win a handful of games.

Eden Hazard in particular was brilliant. I’ve already said last season that he was the best opposition player I’d seen at the AMEX. After this day it was clear to me that he’s the best player entirely.

The first goal was of his making. After Chelsea somewhat casually sprayed the ball around the Albion defence, it came to Hazard. Out of nothing he took virtually the whole Albion defence out of the game with only a few touches, then with one more he found Pedro at the far post in space who prodded the ball home and give them the lead.

They then extended the lead as the Albion’s continued the evidence of some growing indiscipline when Balogun gave the ball away, leaving Hazard free to stride forward and pass the ball past a helpless Ryan in goal.

At half time I texted my wife, a Chelsea fan, joking that it would be nice if they could even up the teams by letting Hazard switch and Chelsea almost justified the lack of confidence that I had shown in my team as they almost scored again when Azpilicueta’s low teasing cross fell to Pedro, but his overhead kick went well over.

Then Alonso received the ball on the edge of the box but despite his well-hit shot across the face of goal beating Ryan in goal, it hit the post. It was as if the sound of the smack of the ball against the woodwork woke up the atmosphere in the stadium from its slumber and livened the home team into life.

The Albion had just brought on Florin Andone for the unusually ineffectual Glenn Murray. It was this change that would instigate the livening up of the team’s attacking play and it would quickly produce the intended impact. Propper played a cross-field pass to Gross, Albion’s player of last season then crossed to the on-rushing Bernardo who’s nodded the ball down to Solly March at the far post who tapped it home. A nice move that kept the Albion in the game, somehow.

It wasn’t just Andone who made an impact from the bench, the ever-improving Yves Bissouma came on and his pace and power from midfield put Chelsea under more pressure. Particularly when a cross-field diagonal pass looked to put Solly March through on goal, but he was brought down by Alonso who appeared to be the last man. But Alonso received only a yellow card and ultimately Chelsea held on to take all three points in a manner that was far closer than their dominance for an hour deserved.

It was Bernardo who was the Albion player who took the most plaudits as man of the match. He’d had a great match at left back and was beginning to show his worth after a tough start to the season, particularly on the opening day when his debut against Watford left some already calling him a flop. But like a few other new signings he is beginning to prove the doubters wrong.

The fact Bernardo has replaced Bong, a man who was a mainstay in the team last season, demonstrates his impressive impact on the team. I see the reason being that Bernardo is a much more proactive attack-minded full-back, and it’s no coincidence his move into the starting eleven has coincided with better performances away from home and in general more attacking football from the side.

His more proactive nature is shown via a range of stats, having totalled 5 more interceptions (18 to Bong’s 13), totalled 17 more tackles (28 to Bong’s 11) and totalled almost double the headed clearances (15 to Bong’s 8). All this in 9 appearances to Bong’s 13. It’s no doubt that Bernardo would suit the more offensive-minded and high pressing Brighton team that Hughton has started to encourage, materialising for at least periods in games if not yet for a full ninety minutes.

Game 18 was a trip to Bournemouth and a rare start for both Andone and Locadia, with Murray dropping to the bench. And unlike many other away performances since promotion, this led to the Albion matching if not bettering the home sides attacking intensity, at least for the first 45 minutes. But in their way stood an inspired goalkeeper in Asmir Begovic. First saving from the previously mentioned Locadia low down to his left and then from a Dunk header, again low down to his left.

But at the other end the home side were also creating chances and a man who is proving to be one of the best Premier League signing of the last summer, David Brooks (signed for £10m from Sheffield United) was providing the biggest threat. And it was him who opened the scoring with a wonderful shot into Ryan’s bottom left-hand corner.

But despite the Albion’s attempts to equalise, no goal was forthcoming. And after Lewis Dunk received a red card for a second yellow card it was all but over. The first card Dunk received was for a foul on the prior mentioned David Brooks, one that many believed had gone to Bissouma. So when he got his second yellow and subsequent red for a cynical trip of Callum Wilson from behind, many thought it was only his first card, but off he went and with it went any hope the Albion had of taking a point from the match.

Bournemouth sealed the points when David Brooks made a run to the near post and looped a header back over his head and over Ryan into the goal. A wonderful goal that capped a wonderful performance from the Welshman who is no doubt already worth significantly more than the £10m Bournemouth paid for him over the summer.

So, after three straight defeats it was Arsenal at home that would take us to the halfway point. And it was the visitors who started the brighter, with Aubameyang’s chipped shot forcing Ryan into an early save. And it was Aubameyang who would break the deadlock barely a few minutes later, when after Balogun kept the ball in play only to give the ball straight back to Lacazette who after interchanging with Ozil, worked his way around a static Albion defence to find Aubameyang in space who passed the ball into the top corner to give the visitors the lead.

It was Aubameyang who then forced Ryan into another great save, this time down to his left with the game still 1-0. Further evidence that Ryan is a player the Albion will greatly miss when the Australian goalkeeper now goes to represent his country at the Asia cup in UAE.

Those saves would prove vital as the Albion not long after equalised through the seemingly ever-criticised Jurgen Locadia’s first goal of the season. It was somewhat fortunate circumstances that led to it, but he deserved a bit of luck after some of the less fortunate moments he’s had this season. Davy Propper’s hopeful long diagonal pass forward from level with the Albion penalty area looked meant for Gross but was unintentionally headed into Locadia’s path by Arsenal’s Stephan Lichtsteiner. Locadia then simply had to round the keeper and pass it into the empty net to put the scores level, which he did.

Locadia deserved his goal, he was fantastic in the left-wing role and with better finishing could have given the Albion all three points in the second half. Locadia didn’t deserve the vitriolic abuse he received after his miss at Burnley and he doesn’t deserve to be held up as an Albion great quite yet either. But this was a stepping stone towards him fulfilling his potential.

When we signed Jurgen Locadia we knew he wasn’t the finished article, we knew he was a raw talent coming from a league that is below the standard of the English Premier League. For every Van Persie or Van Nistelrooy that has been a success in the Premier League after signing from Holland, there is a counter example of a Jozy Altidore or an Alfonso Alves who were not a success.

Whilst it’s a lot of money for Brighton to spend, £14m doesn’t buy you a proven goalscorer at this level. It buys you a Jurgen Locadia, a player who’s shown promise, shown he’s competent, shown he’s got a lot of ability, but also shown he’s not perfect, at least not yet. So, if he has a bad game and misses a big chance against Everton or West Ham, I won’t be getting carried away, he needs time in the team to settle and show what he can do.

In fact, it wasn’t Locadia this time being maligned for missing a good chance to score, it was Solly March or Davy Propper, or both, depending on who you spoke to after the game. As the Albion pushed forward and created chances both could have scored, but neither did. I’m happy to state that I’m not concerned with this, both players have potential to be a more significant goalscorer for the team than at current, and if they’re getting in the positions to score that’s the hard part. If they keep doing that then taking those chances will naturally come next.

A halfway point summing up

The draw with Arsenal leaves the Albion with 22 points at the halfway mark of 19 games, ahead of schedule in our search for another year of Premier league status. And 8 points from the last nine games is a reasonable return given the amount of tough away games and games against top six teams that were included in that run, along with the self-induced handicap that the three red cards we received created.

One real positive so far this season is the increased impact of Hughton’s substitutions and varied team selection. The continued impact of new signings like Andone, Bernardo and Bissouma along with regulars like Murray, March and Duffy show the evidence of the increased squad depth.

Hughton still doesn’t make change for changes sake though. And as such the consistency of approach and defensive organisation remains a true strength of the team. Burnley’s Sean Dyche has spoken before about how it’s often braver to stick with what you’ve got and easier to panic and twist when it comes to substitutions and in-game tactical decisions. Hughton shows trust in his players, hence why many have and are continuing to fulfil their potential in this team under his tutelage.

Take Anthony Knockaert as an example, someone who was almost ever-present last season and has looked reinvigorated when he has played recently but is still struggling to get a game, such is the increased competition for places.

But with the added versatility has come some frustrating moments as the team experiences some growing pains. No more so than the frustration and indiscipline that lead to the three Albion red cards. A trend that needs to end.

In my ten games in summing up, I said I thought the fact that Brighton had the second most shots conceded, and the least shots taken would reverse to the average of our league position once the season went on. Well, it hasn’t yet. We currently have the second least total of shots taken and the second highest conceded, with only Burnley totalling lower and higher totals in both areas respectively. Even more anomalous is that the Albion post fewer shots per game at home than anyone in the division despite totalling the joint 9th highest points total accumulated at home.

Whilst stats don’t necessarily tell you everything, for me this one does illustrate two things. Firstly, the Albion’s well-known reliance on their defensive solidity. And secondly, the reliance on Glenn Murray’s reliability in front of goal. In fact, in Murray’s case his conversation rate of shots taken is about as good as it gets for a high scoring forward in a top-flight European football, sitting currently at 36.4%.

The next run of matches starts with a tough visit of Everton who gave us a footballing lesson recently, followed with an away trip to West Ham who are a better team now than the one we beat 3-0 at the London Stadium last season. Which is before another trip to Bournemouth this time in the FA Cup, followed by the visit of leaders Liverpool and a trip to a revitalised Man United. So, it could be a while until we see the next Albion win. But as the recent run shows, the team is capable of giving anyone a game and if we keep beating the teams below us that gap between us and those bottom three places should remain in place.

The Albion sit 13th, a position if which we remain in come May will match the club’s highest ever league finish from the 1981/82 season. In the following season the manager Mike Bailey was sacked after growing pressure on his safety-first approach contributed to the team’s worsening performances. Despite the change of manager, the team were ultimately relegated at the end of the following season in the summer of 1983, albeit being relegated along with the memories of competing in that season’s FA cup final, one which was ultimately lost to United in the replay. Maybe we should take some lessons from history before we moan about Hughton’s ‘negative’ tactics.

When the team was in the fourth tier nearly twenty years ago, then Brighton chairman Dick Knight borrowed a phrase from an album title of DJ and Albion investor/fan Fatboy Slim aka Norman Cook to describe the club’s status, “Halfway between the gutters and the stars”. Today we are one of those stars, albeit one that some could forget about amongst the brighter Middle Eastern or Russian oil illuminated stars.

As we approach 2019, we do so with promise, hope and anticipation of another 19 games to come. Ones which if the last 19 games were anything to go by, should give us a lot of excitement to look forward to. Up the Albion, Merry Christmas and a happy new year.

ITV Digital – A tale of greed and speculation

It’s been 18 years since the digital television provider owned by television companies Granada and Carlton, originally known as ON Digital then subsequently better known as ITV Digital was granted the rights to Football League and League Cup live TV coverage. What began with optimism and spending levels in the Football League of an unprecedented nature to that date, ended in chaos and outrage. But how did it all happen and what lessons can be learnt?

The infamous tale began as David Lister put it with “a rush of blood to the head”. A fee of £315m was agreed with the Football League for which ITV Digital were getting exclusive rights to show live Football League and League Cup games for three years starting in the 2001/02 season. A monumental sum compared to the current deal at the time, and in fact only £14m a year less than the 5-year deal just agreed with Sky due to start in August 2019, nearly 17 years after the ITV Digital deal started.

In David Lister’s Independent article, he talks about how the ITV Digital venture was “doomed to fail from start”. He goes on to detail a long list of mistakes that led to the ITV Digital failure. For example, how in November 1998 there were not enough set-top boxes to meet the demands from the Christmas period. Lister also details how “in three-and-a-half years, ITV Digital consumed £750m of the ITV companies’ cash to attract 1.2 million subscribers. The break-even figure was 1.7 million. Sky has 5.5 million”. ITV Digital’s intention was to provide competition to Sky, but it ended up only reinforcing its dominance in the market.

By the end of the first season of the new TV deal ITV Digital had collapsed and the Football League was in crisis. As the crisis came to a head the late Tessa Jowell, then UK Government Minister for Culture, Media and Sport spent time encouraging the company to keep going, but it was to no avail, leaving the Football League without its main income source.

Subsequently Minister for Sport Richard Caborn warned financially troubled clubs that the Government would not mount a rescue operation. In fact, going as far as stating that there were “four very famous clubs who will probably not be in existence at the end of the season”. But this was a threat that proved untrue, but a threat that was spoken of a lot at the time.

Then Manchester United chief executive Peter Kenyon spoke out on behalf of the top clubs in the country in favour of halving the number of professional clubs in the league pyramid. Amongst others the PFA and Football League objected and ultimately won out, but Kenyon wasn’t alone in calling the current Football League structure “Unsustainable”. John Williams, the director of the football research unit at Leicester University agreed with Kenyon, but the number of full time clubs in England remains as high today as it was then.

The argument of reducing the number of professional clubs is an old recycled argument from the dark days of English football during 1970s and 80s, one that was driven by the top clubs wanting a larger share of the TV revenue and went away when the introduction of the Premier League markedly increased the size of the market and the proportion of revenue going to the top clubs.

However, it’s no wonder that the Football League has survived as it is when you consider the breadth and depth of support for Football in the UK. You only have to look at stories like that of my club Brighton to see how the threat of a local community losing its football club can pull everyone together in a show of support.

Many saw the deal with ITV Digital and the subsequent chaos that followed largely because of clubs speculating on money that they had not received yet. But as former Barnsley chairman, John Dennis put it clubs like his saw it as “perfectly reasonable to assume the terms of a properly negotiated contract with a properly constituted company would be honoured”. Barnsley who hadn’t long been relegated from the Premier League were one of the clubs who subsequently went into administration to stave off the threat of extinction.

How wrong they were and with many clubs left with players on relatively lucrative long-term contracts, many players were released, some players like those at Watford and Grimsby instead agreed a pay-cut and many other clubs were left with financial difficulties to manage for years to come. According to one Guardian report at the time 30 of the Football League’s 72 clubs were at risk of going under and 12 went into administration in the immediate aftermath.

Those 12 teams included Bradford City, who were also suffering from a recent relegation from the Premier League and the accompanying subsequent fall in revenue. As a result, they found themselves unable to meet the contractual demands left over as a legacy of their Premier League days and also went into administration.

At this time Leicester were another recently relegated team who coupled with Premier League debts, the collapse of ITV Digital pushed them over the edge and into administration. And it wasn’t until a Gary Lineker headed consortium enabled the club to exit administration in 2003 and secure its long-term future.

Administration is a tool used in business for an organisation to restructure and keep running as an organisation under a new directorship whilst paying a reduced amount to its outstanding creditors, and as such appeals more to football clubs than other businesses. This large influx of football clubs entering administration was also partly so they could utilise loopholes in British law under the “football creditors rules”, which prioritises other football organisations and staff over non-footballing creditors.

This trend led to clubs succeeding under administration being heavily criticised for utilising this loophole as a financial advantage. In particular Leicester City, who after exiting administration in 2002 achieved promotion at the end of the 2002/03 season back to the top flight. Subsequently the Football League brought in rules meaning clubs would be subject to penalties such as points deductions if they were to utilise the administration route in future.

Of course, many clubs like them should and did take their fair share of the blame for financial mismanagement. For many clubs, ITV Digital’s collapse was simply the final straw in a long list of evidence of financial mismanagement. And considering what has already been said of ITV Digital and its flawed business model it’s surprising clubs were as fast and loose as they were with the money that was to be never forthcoming.

Stories like the demise of Bradford’s fortunes and subsequent stories like that of Portsmouth have led to the introduction of greatly increased parachute payments for clubs relegated from the Premier League and financial fair play regulations for all Football League clubs, including a salary caps.

The issues that clubs had financially were exaggerated due to a temporary collapse of transfer market. With many Premier League clubs like Leeds and Chelsea along with many of the Football League clubs experiencing financial difficulties, the financial trouble couldn’t be fixed as easily as it could now by a club selling off their top players for a quick injection of cash and reduction of the wage bill.

Unlike now where the Premier League riches filter down the English football pyramid via the transfer market, it simply didn’t exist at the time. For example, due to their own financial difficulties the pre-Abramovich Chelsea stated they would concentrate on home-grown talent, how times have changed.

The transfer market is often a get out of jail card clubs use to paper over the cracks, much as my club Brighton did in the late 80’s. And is ultimately often just a tactic used to delay the inevitable effects of this mismanagement. Many shared this view, for example David Taylor, then chairman of Huddersfield Town said: “Many clubs have been guilty of paying out silly wages in an effort to get success. The demise of ITV Digital brought home that you have to be more realistic in the wages you pay.”

At my team Brighton, the chairman at the time of the ITV Digital collapse, Dick Knight reassured fans that the club’s finances were secure. In fact after stepping down, in his book ‘Mad Man’ he wrote about how he and Leyton Orient chairman Barry Hearn were both sceptical from the start. So much so that Dick Knight said he told the board of directors that they weren’t going to rely on the money turning up at all, but as it has already been shown many other club chairman didn’t have the same foresight.

However, to a certain degree it’s hard not to sympathise with the football clubs and their owners given the circumstances they are working in. If you consider the pressure they are under it’s no wonder clubs speculated to make the most out of the anticipated financial windfall. It’s a well-accepted culture in the Football League for clubs to sail close to the wind financially and rely on windfalls from generous benefactors to make ends meet. Just look at my club Brighton in the Withdean years and imagine what the club would have achieved without the generosity of some of the directors at the time, I suspect a much more modest period in the club’s history would have followed.

It’s also true that fans believe this is the duty of the board of directors to part with their cash for the better of the club. Dick Knight, now a club legend and a man who took the club from a perilous position in exile to stability and success during the years at Withdean Stadium, was nicknamed ‘Dick Tight’ by many of the fans on the website North Stand Chat because of his perceived lack of willingness to get his chequebook out. The ambitions of fans are often forcing owners to take financial risks whilst at the same time not being irresponsible with regards to the club’s financial sustainability. Two requirements that have little correlation with each other and create little synergy.

Sky benefited from all this chaos, with the Football League returning after only one season away. In some ways it saved the day and, in the process, got a cut price deal for Football League TV rights for the next four years totalling only £95m. Many complained of Sky’s opportunism, but they’d been supportive and constructive partners of the Football League for a number of years up to this point. In particular, helping in no small part to make the Football League playoffs, the highlight of the English football calendar it is today. It was the Football League that decided to walk away from this partnership in search of better things, something that in hindsight looks greedy and foolish.

Furthermore, unlike ITV Digital, Sky have always met the contractual financial demands they have agreed with footballing authorities for TV deals. And they were the established market leader in digital TV. So, it’s fair to say that the Football League and its clubs deserve some criticism for entering into this deal with a company that instead were without a proven track record or established subscriber base, even with the backing of the ITV brand.

To add to this, it became clear the Football League had not ensured the contract was as watertight as it should have been. When they later took their claim for damages against ITV Digital to the high court, the judge ruled against the Football League’s claim. The judge said that it had “failed to obtain the necessary written guarantees”, because the final contract hadn’t been signed. Which was further damming evidence of the Football League’s incompetence in this whole fiasco.

Around the same time as the ITV Digital collapse, a Scottish football pay-per-view tv deal known better as “SPL TV” was being planned for the Scottish top flight but at the last minute the idea was scrapped due to the high risk of the venture. Once again, the club’s greed got the better of them and after rejecting a much larger deal with Sky had to accept a far less valuable deal with BBC Scotland. As well as the initial financial loss this deal also meant Scottish football has been out of sight of much of the UK ever since.

There could be lessons in this story in the current discussions surrounding the deal just agreed with Sky for Football League (now better known as the EFL) TV rights, with talk of a breakaway by some of the top Championship clubs. The bigger clubs such as Leeds, Aston Villa and Derby are said to be unhappy with the deal and in particular the affect the increase in live midweek fixtures could have on attendances.

The problem is that these same clubs were happy to take Sky’s money when it suited them. Now Sky knows it’s TV rights deal for the EFL games constitute such a high proportion of those club’s revenue, it can hold the clubs and its fans to ransom and to hell with the consequences for anyone else. In fact, the cynic in me says it would be encouraged by the potential of decrease in attendances as it would only increase dependence from those same clubs on Sky’s TV rights deal revenue. It’s hard to see anything but a Sky win here.

And whilst BT Sport seem to have established themselves as a secondary party to Sky in the fight for Premier League TV rights, the latest round of bidding was overshadowed by rumours of their financial insecurity. Furthermore, any substantial deals with new partners that were spoken of like Amazon (who after rumours of grander intentions bought only the smallest TV rights package, showing only two full match-days), will likely be ignored due to the risks played out in the story of ITV Digital.

And ultimately that’s the main legacy of this story, as well as the increased financial regulation that exist for English football clubs today, is the increased power and influence of Sky in British football.

Additionally, and unlike many predicted at the time, the number of professional football clubs didn’t fall, in fact the Football League has the same composition now as it did then and after years of recovery is in as strong a position as ever.

Just look at the recent England squads and the number of players involved with Football League clubs on their CV (like Brighton’s very own Lewis Dunk), or the number of Premier League teams who were not that long ago playing in the lower divisions of the Football League. There are plenty of examples which show that the Football League’s influence on English Football is still very strong, and long may it continue.

Second Season Syndrome – Fact or Fiction?

Second Season Syndrome – Fact or Fiction? A blog looking at the effect of Second Season Syndrome in the Premier League #bhafc #htfc #nufc

So as Brighton approach another season in the Premier league a topic that will no doubt be discussed at length is the concept of “Second Season Syndrome”. For those who are unaware of this concept “Second season syndrome” is simply put: where a team fails to match the achievements of the first season after promotion in the season that follows, usually leading to relegation. The reasons for this occurring have been hypothesised as ranging from increased pressure resulting from heightened expectations to decreased motivation and complacency after achieving or exceeding a club’s expectations in its first season.

To be clear a “syndrome” can be defined as: a group of symptoms that are consistently occurring together. Suggesting Second Season Syndrome would equate to a regularly occurring trend for teams in their second season. Therefore, in this blog I will analyse the historic data to see if this syndrome exists, specifically within the Premier League.

According to anecdote the examples of this theory appear to be numerous but for me there are two that stick out. First Ipswich town who finished 5th in their first season in the top flight in the 2000/01 season and qualified for Europe, only to finish 13 places lower and be relegated the following season. Furthermore, Reading finished 8th in their first ever top flight season back in 2006/07 but dropped ten places to finish 18th the following season to be relegated back to the Championship.

However, there are of course examples of teams who have by contrast drastically improved on their first season performance in their second season. Leicester City famously won the league in their second season after promotion, whilst last season Burnley finished 7th and qualified for European competition. Both improving significantly on their first season league position.

But are either or both of these examples of anomalies or a rather sign of a greater trend?

Findings and analysis

I have looked at the performance of teams in their second season in the top flight following promotion to see if we can prove or disprove this theory, basing a team’s overall performance on their end of season league position. I looked at this using two fairly definitive measurements of second season syndrome. The proportion of team that were relegated in their second season, and the movement in position of a team from its first to its second season.

To do this I looked at the Premier League from 95/96 to date. The reason I did this was because for this period the top level contained 20 teams and 3 were promoted and 3 were relegated. I appreciate football began before this period but it would be an unfair year-on-year comparison as a result.

Furthermore, much has changed since the start of the premier league, particularly with the factor of ever increasing Sky tv revenue, which makes comparing the current day performances to performances before the advent of the Premier League difficult.

My analysis shows:

  • Since 95/96 – 13% of teams relegated were in their 2nd season (compared to 42% in first season).
  • In the last 10 years – 13% of teams relegated were in their 2nd season (compared to 33% in first season)
  • Since 95/96 – teams on average finish 1 place lower than they did in their first season (0.86) with a median movement of a one place drop.
  • In the last 10 years – teams on average finish 1 place higher than they did in their first season (1.22)
  • Standard deviation is a statistical measure which shows the spread of data within a dataset, the higher the deviation the higher the number. The standard deviation of the change in second season performance compared to the first season is just above 5 (5.4).


Whilst the examples of teams performing significantly worse in their second season are apparent, there is no clear evidence of a trend. Furthermore, there are as many examples of successful second seasons as there are unsuccessful.

The generally accepted hypothesis appears to be that a team’s second season is harder than the first, however the data here shows you are almost four times as likely to be relegated in your first season as your second.

Whilst a small decrease in average position of teams in the Premier league from first to second was found over the course of the period studied, there was no clear trend.

In fact, the standard deviations of the change in second season performance compared to the first of 5.4 shows there are large swings in 2nd season performance from one team to another. For instance during the period studied, whist Ipswich dropped 13 places year on year, Leicester went up 13 places year on year. As you can see from the final graph there are as many outliers on both sides of the deviations, which ensures this doesn’t skew the average significantly enough to affect the findings.


Ultimately Brighton, Huddersfield and Newcastle fans will be glad to see my analysis shows no definitive trend either way. The data shows a team’s 2nd season performance is ultimately more dependent on each club circumstances and the fact it’s their 2nd season doesn’t necessarily equate to a drop-in performance.

Ipswich for example had to contend with the additional strain on resources of extra games in the form of European competition in the season they were relegated. Leicester and Burnley however, went from a first season of relatively narrow survival to a second season of great success. Second seasons appear to only be a hinderance in certain circumstances.

These are of course outliers, the more common movement year on year was a fall of one place, with 50% of the year on year movement between a three-place fall and a one place rise in end of season league position. Whilst a small fall in average final league position suggests a second season may be on average marginally harder, a small movement such as this in a game of small margins such as football, hardly equates to a “syndrome” of such widespread notoriety.

In fact, in the last ten seasons the trend of second season performance has moved from a small decrease in year on year league position to a small increase, something that seems logical to me. As a team’s become more experienced and established in the top flight you’d expect their league position to rise. Furthermore, with the level of analysis that takes place at Premier league clubs now it’s not unexpected that the surprise factor of newly promoted teams may have been lost or at least diminished.

So, whilst some will refer to second season syndrome it appears to me to be a fictional concept designed in an attempt to try to create the narrative of a trend that doesn’t really exist. Many clubs in fact perform similarly or better to how they did in their first season and as already mentioned, where this isn’t the case there are often extenuating circumstances.

The clear trend is if you survive your first season you are between three and four times as likely to survive relegation in your second, many Premier League teams key goal. A trend that should fill Huddersfield, Newcastle and Brighton fans with confidence. Furthermore, the general trend is that every season you survive you’re then more likely to survive the following season.

My club Brighton appear to me to be a stable club that picked up points consistently over the course of the previous season and one that is more than capable of meeting and even improving on last season’s performance. Ultimately though the Premier league is a toughly fought division and time will tell where we end up come May and whether my hunch is correct.

The Leo Ulloa story – Who’s that man for Argentina?

Leo Ulloa signed in January 2018 for his second spell with the Albion. However, after Glenn Murray’s great form since the previous Christmas (despite the odd missed penalty against Leicester) it was easy to forget the Albion even signed the striker in the transfer window.

In his first spell with Brighton, Ulloa proved himself to be a talented striker with strength, power and the ability to score goals, scoring 26 goals in 58 appearances. Never more so was this shown than in his first game for the Albion, where he announced himself to the AMEX faithful with a great performance and a goal in a dramatic FA Cup tie against Arsenal, which the Albion ended up losing 3-2.

Following this, Ulloa quickly became a cult figure for the Albion and then went on to have great success with Leicester. That said, that element of his career is well known but we still ask the question; who is that man from Argentina?

José Leonardo Ulloa Fernández was born on 27 July 1986 in General Roca in the Rio Negro province of Argentina. He started his football career in modest settings, playing for a small local team Deportivo Roca and after a short period he signed for Argentinian Second Division club CAI in 2002. A club based in the province of Chubut, some 700 miles further south at the age of just 15. Leo’s first team opportunities were limited due to his age and he only only has one goal to his name from his time at the club.

Being from a smaller less populated province in the south of Argentina and far from the hub of football activity that is Buenos Aires made it harder for Leo to get his break. Furthermore, playing for a team based in Chubut, with most teams in Argentina being based within close proximity to Buenos Aires, means an away trip for CAI would often require a 24-hour coach journey each way.

It’s true credit to Leo though that he was one of the few that made it from outside this Buenos Aires football bubble. He persevered and got his break when one of the Buenos Aires giants of Argentinian football San Lorenzo, signed him 3 years later. There he was part of the team that won the 2007 Clausura Tournament. (Literally translating as closing tournament, one of two league titles on offer each season, at the time. But the complex and ever-changing Argentinian league system nothing lasts very long.)

However, he didn’t settle there and played only 31 times for the club, ultimately going out on loan. First to Arsenal de Sarandí where he won the Copa Sudamericana (the South America equivalent of the Europa League), then to Olimpo de Bahia Blanca where he was part of a team that was relegated from the top flight.

So far it was a start to a career full of swings and roundabouts, with a mere 10 goals to his name from his time playing in Argentina he had not made much of an impression. Therefore, little fuss was made domestically when he moved to Europe and Spanish Second División club Castellon. As a result of his Spanish ancestry, Leo had an easier way in to Europe than some other young South American prospects, which may have aided his move despite his modest record to date.

Whilst at Castellon, Ulloa got regular first team football for the first time in his career and began to show what he was really capable of. He scored 16 goals in his first season and 14 goals in his second. An all the more impressive record considering Castellon’s relegation from the second tier in that second season.

The goals he scored increased his reputation in Spain and his transfer valuation, leading top-flight club Almeria to pay €900k and give him a 5-year contract, a big commitment considering their relatively humble standing within Spanish football. A commitment he quickly made worth while as he continued to score goals and showed more and more belief in his own ability. In his first season with Almeria, the club were unsurprisingly relegated from the top tier but reached the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey, losing only to Barcelona (albeit 8-0 on aggregate). With the club back in the second tier he scored 28 goals in 38 games and those goals meant he drew the attention of many clubs, not just from inside Spain but from all around Europe.

Gus Poyet, the then Brighton manager took a particularly strong interest and Brighton signed Leo in 2013 reportedly for £2m. The express quoted Poyet as saying: “We had competition from a few clubs so we needed to be lucky to get him. Stalking is the word as we were there every day.”

After a successful nearly 5 years in Spain, he’d become a key figure with both Castellon and Almeria. Rio Negro journalist Cristian Helou, who has watched his rise for CAI and followed his career with interest afterward is quoted in the Independent as saying “Everything that didn’t work out for him in Argentina began to work out for him in Europe”.

His successful rise continued at Brighton and Leicester, where he became a cult figure at both clubs. After the success of his first spell with the Albion, with Leicester he continued this success. He was a key part of the team that achieved the ‘great escape’ in hist first season and made some key impacts (though mostly from the bench) as the team went on to remarkably win the league title in his second season and get to the quarter finals of the UEFA Champions League in his third.

Despite this success his reputation in Argentina is still one of relative anonymity outside of his native Rio Negro. During his first season with Leicester, the presence of the veteran Argentina international Esteban Cambiasso’s by far overshadowed his, and even after Cambiasso’s departure the competition for places up front for the Argentinian national team means he was never really on their radar for selection, despite some suggestions at one time that he may be.

That said Leo’s story shows he is a special character. His perseverance and hard work have meant he’s achieved a great deal over the last decade in Europe after a tougher start than most. And whilst the form of Glenn Murray meant his impact in his second spell at the Albion was limited, it was these qualities which lead the Albion to bring him back to the club where he is thought of so highly.

The mentality of losing and dealing with defeat

On 31st Match 2018, Brighton lost 2-0. Losing to a Leicester City team that includes some of the best players in the league and that won the league title two years ago. Yet if you’d read some of the views on social media from Brighton fans after the game you could have believed the Albion had lost 6-0 to Mansfield! In response I wrote this:

Learning how to lose and dealing with defeat can be nearly as important as winning itself. You only need to look at Chelsea and the contrast of the 2014/15 season and the 2015/16 season to see that losing can build up as much physiological momentum as winning can.

In both seasons Chelsea had very similar personnel that were playing a very similar tactical system, but clearly had very different mental attitudes leading to contrasting outcomes. The perspective of a teams performance can change on the basis of small marginal moments and seemingly trivial decisions leading to a huge swing in fortunes. This is particularly true for a low scoring game like football, where one moment during a 90 minute game can be decisive and can potentially make vast amounts of time spent during the game of utter irrelevance to the scoreline.

The Chelsea team of 14/15 weren’t losers and didn’t need to know how to lose when they comfortably won the title. Though that changed in 15/16; after the fiasco of the 2-2 draw at home to Swansea and the row that ensued between Mourinho and Dr Carneiro, suddenly nothing seemed to be going right for Chelsea leading to a calamitous and awful season.

The focus then became based on the negative rather than being based on the positive the season before. The logical reality for both seasons is probably somewhere in the middle however, but outlook changes everything and is often led by emotion rather than logic. A change in 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.”

Football fans often demonstrate this with their 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 an individuals mentality and in turn their performance.

Football is won and lost on small margins. On Saturday if Glenn Murray had scored the penalty he missed and The Albion defence had stayed firm and kept out Leicester’s first goal scored only a few minutes later, the outlook for both teams then changes vastly. A result ultimately based on a handful of decisions in a game of thousands. But not just the outlook on that game changes but the outlook on the whole season too. These small moments can become of far greater significance than they should and (an albeit understandable) overly emotive response can lead to a very different outlook on circumstances than they did prior to the game.

If a change in mentality effects a persons decision making, even marginally, then drastic changes in outcome no doubt follow. Humans are complex individuals, and modern football clubs are large complex organisations full of complex individuals. Football managers like Mourinho and Hughton have the difficult job of managing every single individual psychologically as well as just picking the best 11 players that fit within their desired tactical system.

On top of this they are also expected to manage the expectations of the fans through the media and again if you read some comments on social media throughout the season you’d see that many Brighton fans had consigned the club to relegation on multiple occasions already. And some would have had Hughton sacked after almost every defeat if they had the chance. Thankfully Chris and the team have a level of composure and focus that sets them apart from the average fan.

Hughton does appear to have built a side with a great deal of mental strength and focus. Many teams and many individuals within it would have been destroyed by the type of disappointment The Albion experienced at the end of the 15/16 season. A draw on the final day to Middlesbrough would cost the Albion automatic promotion to the top flight on goal difference and this was closely followed by defeat in the playoff semi final to Sheffield Wednesday.

Hughton and his team picked themselves up and quickly regained focus, demonstrated in the first game of the following season with a 4-0 thrashing of Nottingham Forest. They then went on to win automatic promotion that season at the first time of asking following the disappointment of the previous season.

Hughton himself has had personal disappointment to deal with as well. As manager of Newcastle he did a good job, leading the club to promotion to the top flight only to be sacked soon after the club got there.

And In hindsight Hughton’s pragmatism whilst manager at Norwich appears to have been undervalued and written off as an overly defensive approach. But after each disappointment, Chris, like The Albion at the beginning of last season, was able to show great mental strength and regain focus on the new task ahead.

We now know so much more about the Human mind than ever before and managers need to ensure they utilise this knowledge in order to keep their team and their club as a whole from mentally collapsing just like Chelsea did during the 15/16 season. With 7 games to go and 21 points still to play for, it’s crucial for Brighton to stay mentally strong and focused to ensure that survival in the top flight is achieved.

Given Chris Hughton’s track record and the overwhelming evidence of his impressive character, I trust him to deal with the Leicester defeat with his usual composure and treat each individual with the necessary consideration required.

In the words of William James “The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind.”