ALBION fans said it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter that we lost our Withdean unbeaten record. It didn’t matter we lost 2-1 to Southampton. It didn’t matter because we are PROMOTED and WE ARE CHAMPIONS.
But I’m afraid, speaking personally, it DID matter. It hurt because going unbeaten in our last season at Withdean would have been fantastic (in case you’ve missed it we are going to the beautiful new AMEX Stadium in August).
It hurt because the 100 points target is now in jeopardy. It was bad because we were winning 1–0 with only eight minutes left. But worst of all it was Saints who beat us.
I had opposing emotions. It would be good to have another south coast team going up with us into the Championship. We have the marvellous prospect of several southern sides to visit next season - Portsmouth, Crystal Palace, West Ham, Millwall, Reading, and yes, Southampton.
But I was unhappy to lose the bragging rights over the Saints who have been reluctant to express respect for what Gus Poyet’s team has achieved.
They failed to give the traditional guard of honour on Saturday and manager Nigel Adkins has made less than generous comments when talking about our Seagulls.
With Withdean full (Attendance 8,169), the sun shinning and our team champions with four matches still to go there was a tremendous atmosphere at our “Theatre of Trees”.
After several seasons struggling there in the last decade it is strange now to have happy memories.
Forgotten are the wet afternoons with water dripping down the plastic ponchos into the plastic bucket seats. Forgotten are the half empty stands and dire battles to avoid relegation.
Trudging away after losing this match did bring back unwelcome memories. But hey, as the Saints fans celebrated we knew we are this season’s best team and are the Champions of League One.
Saints had to win to keep their hopes of automatic promotion on track. They started fast and wanted the ball more. We looked as though the long campaign had left us weary. We survived early pressure and took the lead just before half-time when Ashley Barnes nipped in to steal a weak back pass by big defender Radhi Jaidi.
Into the second-half all was well until Glenn Murray ran onto a through ball, one-on-one with their keeper. We had a loud “penalty” shout as Kelvin Davis brought down our top scorer.
To be fair it was 50/50 and the Saints’ keeper probably touched the ball first. Ref Scott Mathieson said no penalty. The worse news was that Murray had injured his shoulder and had to be replaced by Chris Wood. Our attacking force was diminished.
It was end-to-end stuff with a narrow win looking likely. Then it went wrong.
David Connolly fired home in front of the happy Saints’ fans. There was only six minutes to go. You have to give Saints credit. They wanted the points and got them in the last minute of normal time. A free-kick was headed in by Josse Fonte enabling Southampton to snatch the three points. There haven’t been many disappointing ends at Withdean this season, but this was one.
Sky TV probably thought selecting Brighton’s game for the Bank Holiday Monday would cover our winning the league. Fortunately for us we had done the job two games earlier.
Nothing rested on the result of the Seagulls’ trip to Colchester. Gus Poyet took the chance to rest Liam Bridcutt, Glenn Murray, Matt Sparrow, and Adam El-Abd. With skipper Gordon Greer still suspended it wasn’t our strongest side. In came Alan Navarro and Lewis Dunk whilst Craig Noone and Chris Wood started.
I’m afraid that for the first 45 minutes we didn’t look like champions. Colchester’s goal was embarrassing. Our keeper Casper Ankergren had been hurt early on but didn’t go off.
A few minutes later he made a mess of a routine save, Tommy Elphick tried to smash clear but hit Inigo Calderon. Facing the wrong way he attempted a clearance across the face of goal but passed it to Colchester’s Ian Henderson who gratefully tapped in.
Ankergren was then replaced giving sub keeper Peter Brezovan a rare game. There were only 16 minutes on the clock. The watching millions wouldn’t have been impressed. Colchester enjoyed the gift.
Poyet was understandably cross at half-time. The Brighton players responded well and came out much improved. They found their passing game and controlled possession.
Noone had the home defence panicking whenever he had the ball. It was Elliott Bennett who sent over the perfect cross for Ashley Barnes to knock in from close range. Brighton were then favourites but couldn’t find the winner as it ended 1–1.
So only one point but at least the loss to Saints was forgotten. Two games left and Albion’s lead at the top of the table was 11 (eleven) points - two wins would give us the magic 100 points.
Saturday is the FINAL game at Withdean. The League One Trophy will be presented and a full house should enjoy the party celebrations. Gus Poyet and his team have given us a miracle.
The reward is Championship football and playing at the AMEX Stadium in just four months.