With ten games to go this season, Albion aren’t quite in ‘great escape’ territory, but the game on Saturday against Crystal Palace is vital for both clubs.
A win for either will see any relegation fears eased, with defeat meaning there is much more work to be done.
Back in the 1980/81 season, with just four games to go, we were in grave danger of slipping into Division Two. Palace were already down, their ‘team of the eighties’ failing to live up to the expectation heaped upon them by the media. We travelled to Selhurst Park on Easter Saturday knowing that four victories might not even be enough for survival.
We were without a win in five games, and manager Alan Mullery decided to shuffle his pack slightly for the game. Perry Digweed had taken over in goal from Graham Moseley and he retained his place after a run of games stretching back to the new year. The back four consisted of Chris Ramsey, Gary Williams, Steve Foster and Mark Lawrenson. It was Ramsey’s debut for the Seagulls, the 19-year-old being given a start after steady progress for the reserves.
In midfield, skipper Brian Horton was partnered by John Gregory, Gordon Smith and the recalled Peter O’Sullivan. Gregory was enjoying a new lease of life after being moved into midfield.
Mullery had criticised some players earlier in the campaign, but Gregory’s boundless energy and eye for goal complemented perfectly the class and poise of Gordon Smith.
Up front, Michael Robinson and Andy Ritchie provided more energy, with Robinson’s goals ensuring we were still in with a chance of avoiding the drop.
It really was ‘do or die’ for Albion and we set about Palace right from the very first minute. We took the lead when good work out wide on the left by Smith set up Williams for a cross. The ball was headed back across goal for Gregory to sweep the ball home.
Shortly afterwards, another low cross from Smith evaded everyone before reaching that man Gregory, lurking at the far post. He made no mistake and the score stayed at 2-0 until half-time.
In the second half, Palace came into the game a bit more, but failed to break down the resolute Albion defence. After another corner was headed clear by the commanding Foster, Albion broke forward at pace. Swift passes from Horton and Robinson saw the over-lapping Williams collect the ball on the corner of the Palace penalty area. His pinpoint cross was expertly directed into the net from 12 yards out by Smith.
Albion were content to knock the ball around from then and it finished 3-0.
Palace were down but a win for Norwich City at Spurs left Albion still in trouble and needing a miracle. Three more wins meant we survived by just two points.
The situation isn’t quite as dire this season, but another win at Selhurst Park will go a long way to ensuring our safety, as well as setting us up nicely for the games to come.
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