David Cameron Walker

Posts Tagged ‘Brighton & Hove Albion’

It’s play-off heartache for Brighton….. again

Saturday, May 31st, 2014


On the surface, this season appears to have ended in exactly the same way as the last one 12 months ago – play-off semi-final heartache followed by a managerial departure. However, look beyond the bare facts, and this season’s demise couldn’t be more different to the previous version.

Firstly, finishing in the top six this time around was a big surprise, and, if we’re being honest, an over-achievement. If you had asked me about our play-off chances following the painful goalless draw at Barnsley in April , I’d have told you they were so slim the naked eye wouldn‘t be able to spot them. Even at half time of the final league game of the regular season at Nottingham Forest, a positive outcome looked unlikely.

We got there though, with our reward a somewhat daunting clash with Derby County. Last season – when we met arch rivals Crystal Palace – defeat was simply unthinkable. But the unthinkable happened, Palace went on to win the final, and then went on to have a brilliant season in the Premier League. This time however, defeat always seemed inevitable. Deep down, the vast majority of Albion fans knew it was going to be extremely tough to make it to Wembley, and so it proved.

A 6-2 aggregate victory in Derby’s favour was probably fair, despite Albion producing a spirited effort in the first leg. In the second leg, we were thoroughly outclassed – the end couldn’t come soon enough. Sadly, Oscar Garcia also thought the same about his tenure at the club.

If Gus Poyet’s spell in the Albion dugout came to a very sour and messy conclusion after the Palace defeat, Oscar’s severance couldn’t have been more different. With Oscar having made his intentions clear, the paperwork was concluded very swiftly – a good move by the club as it gives the board ample time to find their new man, and for him to then bring in his own players.

Very little reason for Oscar’s decision to leave has been made public, but the information that has been released points to disagreements with the amount of money available to spend on the playing squad, and the way the club goes about recruiting their targets. Albion have publicly stated on multiple occasions that they are working within the Financial Fair Play guidelines and that the club’s safe financial future won’t be sacrificed for the sake of short term gain. I agree with this stance – no-one can doubt that football’s finances are spiraling out of control – but I can also see how frustrating this would have been for Oscar, who watched his rivals splashing out of big names to boost their promotion pushes during January whilst he was selling Ashley Barnes and Liam Bridcutt.

Many names have been thrown around when it comes to Oscar’s successor – Tim Sherwood, Chris Hughton and Paul Clement appear to be the current front runners – and whoever takes over will be made fully aware of the club’s stance to prevent history repeating itself once again when next season concludes. But before a ball is even kicked, he will have a large job on his hands rebuilding a squad which has been rocked by a second successive play-off failure and the loss of several key personnel.

Goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak was the biggest surprise when the list of released players was announced – I can only assume this is related to money or Kuszczak’s desire to play in the Premier League rather than his playing ability as he has been one of our top performers throughout his time at the club. He was followed out of the door by player of the season Matthew Upson, who was offered a new contract but decided to give the Premier League another crack with Leicester City.

Stephen Ward, Keith Andrews and Jesse Lingard have all returned to their parent clubs following successful loan spells, and there is mounting speculation regarding the future of top scorer Leonardo Ulloa, with Leicester reportedly having three bids rejected already this summer.

If there is an area where we really cannot to lose top quality players, it is certainly in the striking department. Albion’s haul of 55 goals in 2013/14 was the lowest of the top 17 Championship clubs, with even fourth bottom Birmingham scoring more. Without a rock solid defence at the other end (only Burnley conceded fewer), we could have ended up with a dramatic end to the season at the opposite end of the table.

Therefore, the loss of Ulloa – comfortably Albion’s top scorer with 16 goals this time around despite missing part of the season through injury - could spell disaster for the new manager. Retaining his services is essential if we want to seriously challenge for promotion again, and make that difficult last step, in the coming season. If he is sold, and a quality replacement isn’t brought in, the board are likely to face some tough questions about how seriously they are attempting to mount a serious promotion push in 2014/15.

For now, we’ll all have to just sit and await the club’s next moves. There is certainly one similarity from the previous summer – it’s certainly not going to be dull!

Written by Liam Dawes – We Are Going Up’s Brighton and Hove Albion Blogger

Knight’s memoirs cause a stir at Albion

Monday, November 25th, 2013


Dick Knight will forever be a legend of Brighton & Hove Albion FC, of that there is no doubt. From wrestling control of the club from its previous owners in the mid 90s, to bringing the club back to Sussex after a two year stay in Gillingham, to the seemingly never ending battle to win planning permission for our new stadium, he successfully guided us through the most turbulent and important part of the club’s history. Quite simply, if it wasn’t for him, I’d now be spending my Saturday afternoons watching Whitehawk.

With Knight’s involvement now reduced to the ceremonial title of Life President and a smattering of shares, he has decided the time is right to release his memoirs, and it’s fair to say he hasn’t been entirely complimentary about those involved when it came to Tony Bloom’s rise to club chairman, and some of the decisions Bloom has taken since, including the way he handled the Gus Poyet saga last summer.

In this day and age, controversy sells books and was therefore probably inevitable, but the public mudslinging between the various parties that has ensued is doing no-one any good.

Whilst Bloom has kept quiet, director Derek Chapman has waded into the debate, mainly questioning Knight’s desire to retain as much of the money he invested into the club as possible when he handed over the reins to Bloom in 2009. In a normal business environment this would be perfectly acceptable, but it does seem somewhat strange that Knight would want to take money from the club he has supported all his life, knowing that it was struggling to make ends meet. No sane person would ever put money into a lower league football club thinking they will ever see it again – Knight surely only got involved in the first place to stop the club he supports going to the wall, not to receive a return on his investment.

As well as the sales from his new book, Knight is also looking to retrieve some of his investment by offering his remaining shareholding in the club (less than 2%) to the club’s supporters via a form in his book. He has explicitly said he is only selling them at the face value of £1 per share and therefore is making no profit, and will only look to sell them to genuine Albion fans in a bid to ensure fans retain a right to voice concerns about the club as it moves with the times and becomes more corporate.

All of this seems very noble at first glance, but Knight has to offer first refusal to other shareholders if he wishes to sell up, and the first they allegedly heard of his intentions was when the book was serialised in the local press recently. If the other shareholders now decide to purchase Knight’s shares from under fans’ noses, Knight is going to publicly look very silly, which would be a great shame given how much he did for the club during the dark times.

It is also worth questioning whether it is worthwhile for the club to end up with several hundred new minority shareholders, each with a stake so minor they have no real influence on club matters at boardroom level. We have all seen what can happen when individuals take over football clubs despite having no affinity to it or the local area, but Albion are extremely fortunate in this sense. Our boardroom is already full of genuine Albion supporters, people who can be trusted to act with the club’s best interests fully at heart.

The club has to move on though, as does Knight. He is a club legend for saving the club, just as Bloom is a club legend for providing the funds to build the Amex after planning permission was secured. It is time everyone looked forward together, towards the ultimate dream of promotion to the Premier League.

The possibility of achieving that dream this season is looking more realistic by the week, after an upturn in fortune following an inconsistent start to the campaign. Consecutive victories against Doncaster, Blackburn and Wigan has propelled us from the bottom half to within two points of the top six, an amazing effort when you take into consideration the magnitude of injuries we have suffered. The injury to Leonardo Ulloa against Sheffield Wednesday was a particular hammer blow that threatened to ruin our season, but Andrew Crofts’ goals from midfield, as well as the emergence of youngsters Jake Forster-Caskey and Rohan Ince, have given us every chance of making the play-offs for the second season running.

Written by Liam Dawes – We Are Going Up’s Brighton and Hove Albion Blogger

The Oscar revolution starts here!

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

OscarGarciaThe close season is supposed to be a quiet time for football fans, especially in odd-numbered years when there is no World Cup or European Championships. Clearly no-one told the Brighton & Hove Albion hierarchy that this summer.

Since that fateful night when Crystal Palace visited the Amex two and a half months ago, we have faced accusations of leaving excrement in the away dressing room, suspended our manager and coaching staff, made over a dozen admin staff redundant, re-instated our assistant manager (only for him to leave by mutual consent days later), sacked our manager whilst he was live on national television, announced our first team coach has also left the club, and employed a completely new coaching team for the upcoming season. Only in football could a fan be taken on an emotional roller coaster without his team playing a single game!

With all of that going on, it’s probably fair to assume the club’s PR department has been working overtime, and it’s also probably fair to say they haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory. Confirming Gus Poyet’s sacking whilst he was working as a pundit for the BBC was a particular low point, it’s amazing to think the Board actually sanctioned that. Thankfully the whole sorry saga is behind us now, with the light at the end of the tunnel provided by new head coach Oscar Garcia.

I’d be lying if I said I’d heard of Oscar three months ago, but his pedigree speaks for itself. In his one year in senior management so far, he took Maccabi Tel Aviv from mid-table obscurity to the Israeli title. Before that, he was in charge of Barcelona’s youth team – no-one gets that job without having a fair amount going for them. Alongside Oscar will be his backroom team from Tel Aviv – Juan Torrijo and Ruben Martinez – plus Nathan Jones, whose coaching career has been coming along leaps and bounds at Yeovil and Charlton since he left Albion as a player in 2005. After a turbulent few months at best, we finally have reason to look forward to the new campaign.

If there is one area where Albion have been slow on the uptake this summer, player recruitment is it. With only one completely new face – Adam Chicksen – arriving so far this summer, we are definitely behind other sides in terms of squad strength at the time of writing. However, with Kemy Agustien’s arrival from Swansea all but confirmed, and David Lopez finally signing a new deal with the club after it seemed certain he was going to ply his trade elsewhere, Oscar is clearly beginning to flex his muscles in that department. Our squad right now is not good enough to get promotion this season, but I don’t believe that will be the case in a month’s time.

So, how has our threadbare squad fared so far in pre-season? In truth we’ve done pretty well, with our only defeat coming against a Villarreal side who oozed class last Saturday. There isn’t a team in the Championship as good as the Spaniards were that night, so the 3-1 reverse shouldn’t heighten fans’ concerns too much. What was also apparent was the new attacking philosophy that has already been introduced by Oscar. The tiki-taka principle that was the hallmark of Poyet’s tenure is still there, but the players didn’t appear scared to get forward and shoot as they did on occasions last season. The new 4-3-3 formation Oscar prefers also looks set to promise goals – opposition defences will need to be on red alert!

Oscar’s first challenge though is to prevent any hangover from last season harming our promotion prospects come May. With almost the entire squad having been part of the disastrous play-off defeat to Palace, there must be mental scars still lurking in the players’ minds. The first few fixtures churned out by the computer could certainly have been kinder – Leeds away, Derby at home and a League Cup fixture against Newport that has banana skin written all over it is certainly not the comfortable start we all hoped for. Hitting the ground running is going to be essential if we are to challenge again this term.

As with my pre-season blogs in years gone by, it only seems right that I end by predicting Albion’s fortune for the coming season. I have every faith in the new management team, and will therefore go for a 6th place finish, and another punt at the end of season lottery. Will that prediction look ridiculous in nine months’ time? Hopefully not!

Written by Liam Dawes – We Are Going Up’s Brighton and Hove Albion Blogger

A week is a long time in football….

Saturday, May 18th, 2013

If Harold Wilson thought a week was a long time in politics, heaven knows what he’d think about the last seven days at Brighton & Hove Albion. This time last week we were 90 minutes away from Wembley, favourites with the bookies and pundits to be promoted to the Premier League, and had one of the brightest managerial prospects in the country sitting in our dugout.

All seemed so well, but in the blink of an eye our season has been destroyed by our biggest rivals on our own turf, our manager, assistant manager and first team coach have been suspended for an alleged breach of contract, our most famous player has branded the manager ‘selfish’ and ‘egocentric’, and the country’s most read newspaper has run a back page exclusive alleging an unknown member of Albion staff defecated on the away dressing room floor on Monday night.

So, where on earth are you supposed to start after all that? I guess we should start with the football itself. After a hard fought goalless draw against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park, there was no doubting who had the upper hand in the tie. We had home advantage at a ground where we hadn’t lost in the league since Christmas, and Palace were without their 30 goal striker Glenn Murray following a serious knee injury in the first leg. If only football was that simple!

It pains me to say it, but Palace more than deserved their victory. They were quicker, stronger and – crucially – more clinical in front of goal. Most annoyingly of all though, they just looked more up for it. Whilst Gus Poyet sat in his seat, probably pondering whether he’d rather move to West London or Merseyside, Ian Holloway was like a man possessed on the touchline – kicking every ball and living every moment. The respective manners of the managers was reflected on the pitch – our players looked fraught with nerves whilst Palace’s played with bundles of energy and excitement.

Poyet’s post-match comments also struck me as strange, where he questioned if the club had ‘hit the roof’. We are a club who have gone from League One to the Championship play-offs in two seasons, have a stunning new training complex in construction, and have seen attendances quadruple since moving to our £100m state-of-the-art stadium in August 2011. I’m struggling to think of any team in the country who is quite as upwardly mobile as us right now, and I see this as merely the beginning, not the end.

Without the odd stroke of bad luck and the occasional defensive slip up, we’d have finished second this season and be planning our trips to Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge right now. That wasn’t to be however, but with another season of Championship experience in the bag, and a full campaign with a top quality striker in the ranks (Leonardo Ulloa) for the first time since Murray moved up the A23, there is no reason why 2013/14 cannot be our time.

The next step is presumably going to have to be done without Poyet though, after he was suspended alongside Mauricio Taricco and Charlie Oatway on Thursday as the week quickly descended into farce. Exactly what the alleged breach of contract is will probably be revealed in due course – for the time being we’ll simply have to speculate. Poyet’s refusal to deal with the retained list is bound to have angered Tony Bloom and is probably the most likely reason Poyet is currently suspended from his position. That sort of behaviour is simply not acceptable – any employee who refuses to do such an important part of their job deserves to have the book thrown at them, and Poyet is no exception.

Hopefully this sorry state of affairs can be put to bed sooner rather than later, with both Poyet and the club moving their separate ways. I would imagine Bloom and the board are already on the hunt for a successor to Poyet, and if you believe the bookies, that man will be either Roberto Di Matteo or Darren Ferguson.

No disrespect to Fergie Jnr, but surely there is no contest between the two. Di Matteo is a man who has won promotion from this division with West Bromwich Albion, before winning the greatest club trophy of all with Chelsea 12 months ago. To have someone of that calibre would be a massive coup for Brighton, and I would have every faith in him replicating his success at the other Albion with us.

2012/13 may have ended in traumatic style, but once the Poyet affair is put to bed once and for all, it is time for everyone to forget the past and imagine the future.

Written by Liam Dawes – We Are Going Up’s Brighton and Hove Albion Blogger

Derby Day win reignites Brighton’s promotion push, but is Poyet off?

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

As the massive derby game against Crystal Palace loomed last Sunday, I think I could be forgiven for feeling a little pessimistic. We had just suffered back-to-back defeats, we only had one striker available, one of our best defenders was suspended, and we were facing one of the best strike forces in the Championship.

Frankly, as I woke up that morning, I could only see one outcome – Glenn Murray would score a first half triple hat-trick in front of the North Stand, Wilfried Zaha would destroy Marcos Painter down the wing, Kevin Phillips would come off the bench with a handful of minutes to go to score his customary brace, Leo Ulloa would get sent off and leave us with no recognised first team strikers at the club, we’d get deducted 50 points by the FA for crowd trouble, Gus Poyet would resign and take over at Reading, Tony Bloom would withdraw his investment, Michael Appleton would take over as manager, Crawley would do the double over us next season, and attendances at the Amex would drop to below 1,000.

OK, so I may have got a bit carried away, but it’s fair to say my confidence in the Albion was far from sky high as I approached the stadium. But wow, my pessimism wasn’t half misplaced!

We won 3-0! I’m going to say that again to make sure I’m not still dreaming – WE WON 3-0!!!!! Ulloa’s brace confirmed what many of us had suspected after his hat-trick against Huddersfield earlier this month – we have finally found a quality target man to replace Murray. David Lopez (Spanish Dave to his friends) showed us again why he played for many years in La Liga with an unstoppable free kick, and Tomasz Kuszczak produced a stunning save to prevent Matthew Upson scoring an own goal when the game was still goalless.

It was our first home victory over our biggest rivals in 25 years, and only the second victory at all in my lifetime. Aside from the buzz of beating our biggest rivals, it’s also a huge victory in the race for a play-off spot. After defeats at Bolton and Barnsley, there was a fear that our season would tail off just as it did 12 months ago. One victory later, everyone is suddenly full of belief that this year really could be the one.

If we are to achieve that though, Ulloa cannot do all the work up front. After injuries ruled out Craig Mackail-Smith and Will Hoskins for the season, we were already down to just two fit strikers. Then Ashley Barnes self destructed in astonishing style at Bolton to halve that already minuscule number. A player not being given a last minute penalty and reacting by deliberately tripping the referee is the sort of thing you expect to see in a Venezuelan fourth division game on Youtube, not in one of Europe’s most watched leagues, but trip him he did, and a seven match ban at such a crucial time of the season is crippling for the side. The ban means Barnes will have been suspended for 10 of our last 14 games by the time he returns against Blackpool on April 20th – hopefully the powers that be inside the club have taken a very dim view of this and have fined him accordingly.

Fining Barnes doesn’t solve our immediate striker crisis however. Poyet needs to act quickly to bring someone in, because if Ulloa gets injured, suspended or loses form, we are in deep trouble. I would like to think Gus has been making many a phone call about this very situation.

One situation I hope he hasn’t been making phone calls about though is the one at Reading. As I’ve been writing this blog today, Sky Sports News has said that Poyet has been given permission to speak to the Berkshire club, and odds as skinny as 1/10 have been reported on him becoming their new manager. Right now, I personally can’t see this happening – Reading will more than likely be playing in the Championship next season, and I believe he still has unfinished business with us (namely getting us promoted to the Premier League).

Nothing surprises me in football anymore though, and the move has the potential to shatter our play-off dream for this season. Could one part of my pre-Palace nightmare actually be coming true? If it does, Bloom could do a lot worse than to replace him with Nigel Adkins, a man who knows how to get out of this division at the right end.

Written by Liam Dawes – We Are Going Up’s Brighton and Hove Albion Blogger

Poyet needs time to finish Project Brighton

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

In December 2009, Brighton & Hove Albion slumped to a 2-1 home defeat to Colchester United. The attendance on that freezing night in a stadium more suited to javelin throwing than professional football was less than 6,000, and the result saw Albion cement their place in the League One relegation zone. A few weeks earlier, a Uruguayan called Gus Poyet had been appointed the club’s new manager, replacing the sacked Russell Slade following a nightmare start to the new campaign.

Three years’ later, the club could hardly be more different. The dire surroundings of Withdean Stadium has been replaced by the spectacular American Express Community Stadium, and attendances have quadruped. The playing squad has also changed beyond all recognition – of the 18 players named in the squad for that game against Colchester, only four are still on the club’s books, and only Adam El-Abd and Andrew Crofts are first team regulars.

Within one year, Poyet transformed a team that was 21st in League One into one that led the division by three points, and ultimately won it with four matches to spare. Into the Championship we went, finishing a highly commendable 10th in our first season back in the second tier. As I type, we now sit just two points outside the play-offs in 8th position. However, despite such an amazing transformation, there are a growing number of supporters beginning to call for Poyet’s head.

As Poyet’s good friend Roberto Di Matteo will testify, football management is a very cut-throat profession in which to earn your living. Pressure from fans who demand instant success can lead to chairmen getting trigger happy, but that is the last thing Brighton need now. Gus’ name and powers of persuasion have brought top quality names to the Amex that his rival managers could only dream of, and embedded a style of football which is the envy of the division. I cannot think of another Championship manager that could have lured Wayne Bridge and Bruno to their club, and it’s signings like those which are propelling the club forward at a rate of knots.

The pressure on Gus has hardly been helped by last Saturday’s defeat to arch rivals Crystal Palace. The rivalry may be unfathomable to anyone outside Sussex and south-east London, but it is very real and very passionate. Losing is simply not an option when it comes to this fixture. Losing 3-0 is barely comprehensible.

It’s hard to see how blame for the defeat can be put at the manager’s door though. It is not Gus’ fault that Lewis Dunk mis-controlled a pass 25 yards from his own goal and was sent-off for denying Yannick Bolassie a clear goal scoring opportunity. It is also not his fault that makeshift left-back Andrea Orlandi broke his rib at the end of the first half, leaving his 10 men with only three defenders against the attacking excellence of Bolassie, Wilfried Zaha and Glenn Murray.

If Poyet can be blamed for anything that led to the loss at Selhurst Park, it is his failure to convince Murray to stay at the club 18 months ago, meaning he was scoring against us rather than for us last weekend. But again, is it Poyet’s fault that Murray wanted more money than the club was prepared to pay him? It isn’t, and you only have to look 50 miles along the A27 to see what happens when a football club spends beyond its means. We are very lucky to have a chairman who is sensible with the club’s finances – rather than one that will risk everything for a chance of securing a Premier League berth – even if it did make me want to string myself up from the nearest lamppost at 4.50pm last Saturday!

The defensive crisis we now have as a result of Dunk’s red card, plus injuries to Orlandi, Bridge, Marcos Painter, El-Abd and Bruno, brings me onto our ever increasing habit of conceding late goals. It has happened three times in the last month – against Wolves, Huddersfield and Bolton – and has the potential to ruin our chances of making the play-offs come May. Whilst we still managed to escape with all three points at Huddersfield, we weren’t so lucky against Wolves and Bolton, dropping a total of four vital points. If we had held onto those points we’d currently be fourth, and even defeat at Palace would have seen Poyet under little pressure from those on the terraces.

Margins in football can be extremely slim. Those who want Poyet sacked may crave instant success, but axing him would put us further away from the promised land, not closer. He has already taken us from League One relegation fodder to Championship play-off contenders in three years. If he is here for another three years, who knows where we could end up.

Written by Liam Dawes – We Are Going Up’s Brighton and Hove Albion Blogger

Hammond’s shock return pays dividends

Friday, September 21st, 2012

At around 9.45pm on Transfer Deadline Day, I received a text from my Dad. ‘We have signed Stephen Dobbie, David Lopez and Hammond’ it read. ‘Ah, Stephen Dobbie, that should go a long way to solving our striker problem’, I thought. ‘David Lopez…. I’ve never heard of him, but he sounds Spanish, and every Spanish player Gus Poyet ever signs turns out to be fantastic, so he’s bound to be another astute signing.’ Hang on though, the only ‘Hammond’ I know is Dean, surely we haven’t signed him?!

A quick flick through my mental encyclopedia of British footballers still only revealed the one match. Either Dean Hammond had returned to the club which gave him his break in professional football, or we’d signed the little bloke from Top Gear.

It’s probably fair to say that Dean Hammond wasn’t the most popular man amongst the Amex faithful prior to signing his season-long loan deal three weeks ago. After initially leaving the club to join Colchester in January 2008, he ended up an integral part of Nigel Adkins’ revolution along the coast in Southampton. Given our clubs’ rivalry over the past few seasons, a former Seagull is never likely to be particularly popular when turning out for the Saints, but Hammond secured his status as the ultimate villain during our meeting on April Fools’ Day 2010.

After scoring Southampton’s first equaliser in a 2-2 draw, Hammond ran the length of the Withdean touchline, cupping his ear in the direction of the home fans, and yelling a series of phrases which I won’t repeat on a family website. We don’t forget things like that quickly around these parts – just ask Scott McGleish, who did something similar after scoring for Leyton Orient in April 1997, and still gets booed to this day whenever our paths cross.

Despite all that though, it really was Dean Hammond who signed on the dotted line that Friday evening, not the co-presenter of a BBC motoring programme. You have to admire the guys balls to be frank. Lesser men would have turned their back on the opportunity, and continued to trouser their wage from the St Mary’s bench.

With the fans’ reaction to Hammond’s return lukewarm to say the least, Hammond moved fast to apologise for his previous misdemeanors, claimed he is a changed man, and vowed to do his talking on the pitch. So far, he hasn’t disappointed.

His performance in the 3-0 win against Sheffield Wednesday last Friday was superb, the type of performance only a top quality player could give. He wasn’t exactly shabby in the midweek win at Watford either – even the most unforgiving of Albion fans will soon forget the actions of April 2010 if he keeps this form up.

So, what of Poyet’s other deadline day signings? Dobbie and Lopez – along with Andrea Orlandi who signed on the morning of August 31 – have only made brief appearances thus far, so it would be harsh to judge them just yet. Lopez has the makings of an excellent signing given his pedigree though – no player gets in Athletic Bilbao’s side without being a very decent player. My hunch is that he’ll become another gem of a signing by Poyet.

Scotsman Dobbie may not be the most glamourous of our deadline day signings, but it was no secret that we desperately needed a new striker – hopefully he will become the perfect foil for the born-again Craig Mackail-Smith.

As I’ve written before in this blog, Mackail-Smith was probably the biggest disappointment of last season. That doesn’t look like it’s going to be the case this time around though. Macca has struck six times in his last four games – easily the best form of his Albion career. Suddenly, the £2.5m we paid Peterborough for his services just over a year ago seems worth every penny. Every time Macca scores, we take the three points – his goals and general play have played a massive part in our brilliant start to the new campaign.

If Mackail-Smith has been doing the business up front, Bruno has been the star of the show at the back. I’ve supported Brighton for 16 years now, and this man could possibly become the best player I have ever witnessed. Whether it is snaffling the oppositions threat at one end, or setting up chances at the other, he simply has it all. His assist for Mackail-Smith’s first goal in the rout of Wednesday was incredible. Even with Macca being in the form it is, it was still Bruno’s name that was being sung from the rooftops as the celebrations started on that fine evening. How he is not playing in the Premier League I do not know.

Another recent signing that really should be playing in the top flight is Tomasz Kuszczak. The Polish goalkeeper has been in stunning form already this season – conceding just three goals in six league games is a cracking effort. He simply oozes confidence at all times, a marked change from from the heart attacks Casper Ankergren and Peter Brezovan gave us all last season!

So, it may only be six games in, but Albion seem to have found the perfect combination of strikers who can’t stop scoring, and defenders who don’t give the opposition an inch. Could this really be our year? If we keep up this form, it could be you know.

Written by Liam Dawes – We Are Going Up’s Brighton and Hove Albion Blogger

A promising season beckons for Brighton

Monday, August 13th, 2012

What do the following players all have in common? Raul, Adrian Mutu, Michael Owen, Roque Santa Cruz, Jordan Rhodes, Glenn Murray, Wayne Bridge, Carlton Cole, Fabian Delph, Emmanuel Frimpong, Ross McCormack and Greg Bobkin.

The answer? They’ve all been rumoured to be joining Brighton & Hove Albion at some point this summer.

Obviously, most of these rumours are complete fabrication, a total nonsense. Of the names mentioned above, only Bridge has actually joined Albion. Stevenage ‘player’ Bobkin doesn’t even exist! There is a wider point to these rumours though. The mere fact that a sane person would even give the smallest consideration to a piece of speculation concerning Brighton signing Raul shows that this little club on the South Coast is really starting to become big.

Bridge’s capture on a season-long loan from Manchester City is further proof of Albion’s ever increasing power. With 36 England caps and hundreds of Premier League appearances, he really is a stunning signing, the sort that I feel gives us a genuine chance of gaining promotion to the so-called promised land this season.

Another man who gives us an excellent chance of promotion this season is Vicente. Regular readers of my blog last season will know I constantly waxed lyrical over the Spaniard, and with good reason. ‘The Dagger’ single-handedly won us several games last term, and may well have secured us a play-off spot is he had been fit all season. With his injury problems now apparently behind him, I simply cannot wait to see him tearing Championship defences to pieces for an entire campaign.

Should homesickness ever be a problem, Vicente has a friend to rely on this time around, after his former Valencia team-mate Bruno Saltor became Gus Poyet’s second summer capture. I have to be honest and say that I’ve seen very little of him in action so far, but all the reports I have heard have been extremely positive. He could also be the most attacking right-back I’ve ever seen – in the one game I have watched him play against Reading last week he appeared to spend more time as an attacking midfielder than he did in defence!

Poyet’s first summer action was to rectify the area that had been our biggest problem last season – the goalkeeper. With Peter Brezovan and Casper Ankergren both looking more like decent number two’s than quality number one’s, something needed to be done. Step forward Tomasz Kuszczak – the Manchester United goalkeeper whose name has probably been mis-spelt more times in this country than any other (before you ask, yes, I did just use Google to check the spelling myself!). Whilst he didn’t feature too heavily during his time at Old Trafford, you don’t a contract there without being a quality player, and I’m told he looked very good during a loan spell at Watford last season.

So, with Kuszczak bound to take the gloves this season, the futures of Brezovan and Ankergren seem less certain. Whilst neither deserve the number one jersey ahead of Kuszczak, neither deserves to be a number three either, which is the fate that awaits one of them. Whoever that is will surely need to move on to get a better chance of game time – if you’re reading this as a supporter of a League One team who needs a new goalkeeper, your answer could lie within the Amex’s home dressing room.

Albion’s final new face so far this summer is actually an old face. Andrew Crofts re-joined the club last week on a three year deal, two years after leaving for Norwich City. Crofts is an ideal replacement for the released Alan Navarro in the heart of Albion’s midfield, and will complement Vicente, Liam Bridcutt and Will Buckley perfectly.

So, that’s the goalkeeper, defence and midfield sorted. All we need to do now is find a new striker to complete the jigsaw. After an injury plagued first season at Albion, Will Hoskins looked set to be the answer to our problems, until injury struck yet again. Of course, Craig Mackail-Smith is still here, but he disappointed last season, and talk of him leaving the club has barely stopped all summer. That just leaves Ashley Barnes and rookie Norwegian Torbjorn Agdestein as our firepower for tomorrow night’s League Cup opener at Swindon Town. I’m sure Poyet is on his phone trying to rectify this as I type!

For all of the player’s coming in, one significant name has left the Amex in the last few days. Defender Tommy Elphick made over 150 appearances in the stripes after coming through the club’s youth system, before moving along the coast to AFC Bournemouth on Saturday. It’s a great shame that Elphick never got to play for his hometown club at the Amex after missing the whole of last season with a knee injury, and I think you’ll be hard pressed to find an Albion fan who doesn’t wish him well as he enters a new stage of his career.

Now though, the time has come for me to predict our league finish this season, a prediction that could potentially look ridiculous come May. All bias aside, I honestly think we are going to have a fantastic season, so I’m predicting a 5th place finish. I’m not saying a word about how we might do in the play-offs though!

Here’s to a great season!

Written by Liam Dawes – We Are Going Up’s Brighton and Hove Albion Blogger

An excellent first season at the Amex

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

Well, the play-off dream didn’t happen after all. After tempting fate by checking the play-off dates ahead of my last blog, Albion failed to win another game all season, ending the campaign in 10th place, nine points adrift of that elusive sixth place.

Despite tailing away during the last month of the season, 2011/12 has been a season to remember for everyone involved at Brighton & Hove Albion. The opening of the Amex Stadium has, of course, been the biggest change of all, and has changed the club beyond all recognition.

I’ve watched about 30 games there now, yet I still get goosebumps every time I go through the turnstiles. As someone who remembers all the protests and petitions required to get the planning permission in the first place, it still seems barely believable that the place really is ours. To say it is a different match day experience to Withdean would be an understatement!

The club could never be accused of sitting on its laurels though, proven by the application to expand the Amex’s capacity to over 30,000. The proposal was granted planning permission by Brighton & Hove City Council less than two weeks ago, yet work is already well underway. An extra 5,000 seats will be ready for use by the start of the new season, with the rest completed by the start of 2013. If the Amex is great now, I can only imagine how good it will be when 30,000 fans are packed inside.

It isn’t just the new stadium that has made this season so special though. Our 10th place finish is the highest the club has achieved in over two decades, further proof that the club is moving in the right direction at a rapid pace. We’ve also finished above arch-rivals Crystal Palace for the first time in just as long, which is particularly pleasing for those of a blue and white persuasion!

On the pitch, Albion has signed players of staggering quality. Inevitably, that leads me onto Vicente – a man who has graced the Champions League on a regular basis, and won 38 caps for Spain during a glittering career.

It is no understatement to say the Spaniard has been a revelation on the south coast. The way he can run past opponents with such ease, always have that extra yard of pace, and see passes that no-one else can is a pleasure to watch. Chuck in the stunning goals he has scored as well, and that is some player.

Naturally, all the talk now concerns whether Vicente will sign a new contract with the club, or decide to head back to Spain. My head says he’ll choose the latter option, but then again, I never thought he’d join us in the first place! If it turns out he has appeared in an Albion shirt for the final time, he will leave us with dozens of brilliant memories, including his spectacular solo strike at Ipswich and his match winning strikes against Portsmouth. I feel honoured to have been around to witness him play for my club, as I will constantly remind my grandchildren in about 50 years time!

As well as Vicente, other players more than warrant a mention for a superb season, particularly Liam Bridcutt and Will Buckley. Despite going own goal crazy during our 6-1 FA Cup defeat to Liverpool, Bridcutt has been a rock in our midfield this season, culminating in him being named Player of the Season by the fans. Aside from trying to tempt Vicente into signing a new deal, tying Bridcutt to a long term contract is Gus Poyet’s main objective this summer. It is only a matter of time before bigger fish come sniffing otherwise.

Buckley couldn’t have started the season better when he scored both goals in a 2-1 win against Doncaster in the first ever league game at the Amex. His performances during the rest of the campaign were hardly shabby either, particularly in the FA Cup win over Newcastle where he virtually beat the Premier League high flyers on his own.

For all of the players that have had great seasons, some have slipped below the standard expected, including £2.5m signing Craig Mackail-Smith. Maybe the huge price tag weighed him down, or maybe he hasn’t managed to adapt to our style of play yet – either way, I’m sure scoring just 11 times this season and ending the campaign as an impact sub isn’t what he hoped for when signing from Peterborough.

With the season now completed, attention has turned to who Poyet plans to keep for the 2012/13 assault on promotion. Poyet has already played tough in that department with the surprise release of midfielder Alan Navarro. The Liverpudlian had been a virtual ever present since the turn of the year, so would have been forgiven for being confident over a new deal.

Poyet clearly has his own ideas though, and obviously feels he can bring in players of a better calibre than the likable Navarro. If that is the case, we are set to enjoy another thrilling season in 2012/13. Roll on August!

Written by Liam Dawes – We Are Going Up’s Brighton and Hove Albion Blogger

Play-off push is on at Brighton

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

Throughout Brighton’s first season back in the Championship, I have always been quick to pour cold water on any talk of the club playing Premier League football next season. Every time any talk of the play-offs was muted, I was quick to talk about consolidation in the second tier, and dismissed fans saying it was possible as people who clearly didn’t understand just how tough the Championship is.

Not anymore though. Just one defeat in 16 since the turn of the year has fired Albion into the top six, and left me munching on humble pie. The side that Gus Poyet has assembled is now one of the very best in the division, and has a play-off place in their hands if they can keep this form up.

A huge amount of credit has to be given to Poyet for the work he has done. The Uruguayan, who was rightly awarded the Football League’s Outstanding Managerial Achievement Award last month, has been justified in every signing he has made this season – Billy Paynter aside – and has brought huge strength in depth to the squad at a time of the year when legs will inevitably be getting tired.

That strength in depth is now so strong that over £4m of talent wasn’t even in the 16 for the recent game at Nottingham Forest, a game Poyet’s side led until Joel Lynch’s 94th minute equaliser. As soon as a player becomes unavailable through injury or suspension, there is another waiting to step in.  At this stage of the season that is invaluable.

However, it is only fair and right to exercise an element of caution before we start singing ’We are Premier League’ (wow, I got all the way to paragraph five before turning negative again!) With three of the top four still to play, there is no doubting that the run-in is extremely difficult. I anticipate Brighton will need at least five points from the games with Reading, West Ham and Birmingham to hold onto a top six berth.

The ability to hold onto one of those sought after spots could also depend on the form of Craig Mackail-Smith. After becoming turning down attention from bigger clubs to become Albion’s record transfer signing last summer, it has to be said that his season is becoming something of a disappointment.

There is no doubting his work rate – he will chase after defenders all day long – but in front of goal it just doesn’t seem to be happening. Nine goals in 39 league appearances isn’t exactly what the Amex faithful was expecting when Poyet spent £2.5m on the Scottish international, but if he can find his shooting boots soon and fire us into the Premier League, no-one down here will care one bit.

Replacing Mackail-Smith in attack during the last few games has been Wolves loanee Sam Vokes, another shrewd Poyet signing. The 22-year-old has done a brilliant job at holding the ball up for others over the last few games, and has chipped in with a few vital goals himself, but I can’t help but feel the team would benefit even more if Mackail-Smith was on the pitch to run onto his flick-ons.

The two had a rare chance to play together during the closing stages of Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Middlesbrough, and showed the makings of a very promising partnership. A few assists from Vokes could do wonders for Mackail-Smith’s confidence, and secure that all important top six finish at the same time.

Unfortunately though, I’ve just tempted fate by checking what dates the play-off fixtures will take place on. Fellow Brighton fans, if we miss out, the fault lies solely at my door!

Written by Liam Dawes – We Are Going Up’s Brighton and Hove Albion Blogger