Preparations for Wembley will be put aside for a few days as Brighton & Hove Albion return to Premier League action, with two games coming up before the showdown with Manchester City.
The first of these is on Saturday against Southampton, three points and one place behind the Seagulls.
We were regular opponents in the 1950s and again in the late 1970s, before our paths diverged in 1983. The league rivalry was renewed in the late 2000s, and who could forget the scenes at St Mary’s in Gus Poyet’s first game in charge.
For this week’s column however, we are going back to February 1981, with Albion struggling at the foot of the Division One table. Saints were riding high in fifth, behind league leaders Ipswich Town, Aston Villa, Liverpool and West Bromwich Albion.
The fixture was first scheduled for earlier in the month, but had to be re-arranged twice, due to Saints’ involvement in the FA Cup. Our involvement in the competition was ended by Manchester United in the third round, after a replay. We were in the middle of a poor run of form. Including the two cup games, we had not won a game since December 27, 1980, a 3-2 win against Crystal Palace.
Manager Alan Mullery made just two changes from the creditable 2-2 at home to Liverpool just three days previously. John Gregory was injured, so Gary Williams came in at right back and Neil McNab was recalled.
Domestic football didn’t stop for international breaks in those days, and three Albion players missed out on an appearance for their country. Mark Lawrenson and Michael Robinson would have played for the Republic of Ireland, and goalkeeper Perry Digweed had been called up for the England under-21 side.
All three played against Southampton, with Paul Clark, Steve Foster, Gordon Smith and Peter O’Sullivan giving the Albion side a familiar look.
Southampton, under Lawrie McMenemy, were enjoying what would be a successful season and against Albion, fielded a team made up of ten Englishmen. The odd man out was Ivan Golac, the popular full-back from Yugoslavia.
The attack-minded McMenemy employed three strikers, Charlie George and Steve Moran partnering Mick Channon, and the team’s 60 goals in 30 games was the best in the division at the time.
After a scoreless first half, Albion got the breakthrough when Williams scored but pressure from Southampton towards the end of the game made it a nervous last 20 minutes.
One Albion player making just his second appearance then made the points safe. Giles Stille had been on Albion’s books since 1979, but only made his full debut in the game against Liverpool.
The 22-year-old was a busy, tenacious player who, despite his sporadic appearances, never let the team down. With 16 minutes left against Southampton, he made his way forward as Albion broke from defence, Neil McNab received the ball out wide and sent a pinpoint cross into the penalty area.
Stille timed his run to perfection, powering the ball home with a bullet header in front of the South Stand. It was just reward for his 100 per cent commitment and Albion closed the game out to claim a valuable win and two points towards our quest for survival.
This season’s battle is just as important and let’s hope an Albion player steps up in the same way for an equally valuable win.
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