Bored on a Tuesday evening, Joel Lynch’s late equaliser at Forest still bugging me, I decided to search through my Sky Planner. ‘Southampton v Brighton – Live’. I paused for a while, trying to remember if I had recorded our 3-0 defeat to them earlier this season, that would only wind me up more! I eventually manned up, took the risk, and clicked on the programme. ‘League one may be the third level but it is full of top quality names and reputations and Gus Poyet joined the list this week. He starts his career as a number one with Brighton today’. If this wasn’t going to cheer me up, nothing was.
Looking back Gus’s intentions were clear right from the off, big decisions were made and 20 year old Jamie Tunncliffe was thrown in at centre back over the skipper Adam Virgo. A complete clear out and change in mentality was about to take place for The Albion. El-Abd, Navarro, Dicker and Elphick are the only four players from the squad that evening still under contract with the club. At the beginning of this cold November evening Brighton were sitting 20th in League One, whilst Southampton 22nd, two points away from safety – how that has changed! These two teams are now sitting pretty in the top 4 of The Championship with Southampton looking a dead cert for Premiership football next year (Nigel Atkins, you are still no more than a physio though!) Not only did this obvious change in league position start to ease the pain of Lynch’s late equaliser at The City Ground, but the change in the standard of football widened my smile even more. Tommy Elphick hoofs, Dean Cox using his left leg simply for standing purposes and Andrew Whing rugby tackling an unsuspecting opponent in the penalty area.
These are all things I won’t miss about the old days and they all summed up, what I would now call, a shocking performance from the Albion. That in mind, at the time, I felt like I was watching Champions League football. Watching it back I honestly felt like I had transformed. Transformed from a 14 year old teen drinking Lambrini in Preston Park to a middle aged wine connoisseur, I can now appreciate great football. The change really was that obvious. This change was encapsulated no more so than through the performance of a certain egg headed individual looking very uncomfortable at left back for The Seagulls. This just so happened to be same egg headed individual that has played a pivotal role in the heart of The Albion defence this season, a certain Adam El-Abd. Improvement beyond belief.
Amidst some pretty woeful defending and long hoofs up field there was Murray and Forster. The silver lining to this blue and white ball hoofing cloud. The two put on some performance, playing off each other like any two natural goal scorers would. This is where Gus and Tarricco really could learn something from the Brighton of old. The new regime may have blocked up the goal leaking defence they inherited but, it seems, this has come at the expense of finding a natural goal scorer. We currently have lots of good strikers: Vokes – great target man, CMS – top work rate, Barnes – Gus’s love child, but a natural goal scorer? No. If I was given a quid for every time this season someone has said ‘Brighton are just a Ricky Lambert away from promotion’ I would be applying for a suave 1901 season ticket next year, rather than watching from cattle class (West stand lower). And that is the truth, a Ricky Lambert, a Grant Holt, a Kevin Phillips, a Danny Graham, a… dare I say it… Glenn Murray. That is the difference between us and the Premiership this year. It pains me to say it, but in my eyes it is the truth. Gus has taken the squad he inherited on that cold November evening and turned them into a side that are sitting 4th in The Championship, and for that I thank him. But, even Gus isn’t infallible and his squads weakness is clear, we need a 20+ striker. We need a Ricky Lambert, a Grant Holt, because without one we will never bridge that gap to the Promised Land.
I hope I am wrong. I hope this season is the year we’ve all been dreaming of ever since we first slipped on a blue and white strip. Nevertheless, even if it isn’t and next year this 20+ man still doesn’t turn up, I know full well I’ll still be queuing outside the Amex come August 2012. I also know I’ll be more than happy to saunter through the turnstiles in the August sun and sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride. Now that is something to smile about. Another season of champagne football, no more Lambrini for us.
In Gus we trust.