Tag Archives: Sussex

Keeping Up With The Daggers….

 “Well, if they can keep with us, maybe.” – Nigel Adkins 23rd November 2010, having been asked if Saints and Brighton would be battling it out for promotion come the end of the season.

Brighton were eight points clear of Saints at the time.

“They play the same kind of football as Dagenham and Redbridge. The only difference is they’ve got (Rickie) Lambert. If you gave Dagenham and Redbridge (Lee) Barnard and Lambert they would be in the top six.”  – Gus Poyet speaking on the 23rd April 2011 after Saints 2-1 victory at the Withdean ended Brighton’s undefeated home run.

Southampton were being praised from all corners of the media and opposition fans for their attractive flowing football under Adkins.

Poyet v Adkins. Mouths of the South?

Last season something funny happened between the respective prides of Hampshire and Sussex. Almost as a sub-plot to the season, a rivalry (many fans will insist that it wasn’t a rivalry , but it was) developed between two of League One’s South coast clubs. Saints fans had never really cared about Brighton (and vice-versa I am sure), in fact I’ve always kind of liked them, but the events of last season brought about a new outlook on each other, that was fuelled mainly by the quoted comments above.

The great thing about rivalries is that they are the added to spice to any season, and last season’s campaign saw both teams without games against their real rivals. In fact both had been starved of regular derby games for a few years, so when a side reasonably local becomes your main promotion challenger things are likely to hot up. Add to that a sprinkling of former Brighton players now turning out for Saints and there was already enough reasons to see some full blooded encounters between the two.

The fanning of the flames though, didn’t come from the terraces, but from the clubs respective managers.

Nigel Adkins comments, following the 0-0 draw at St. Mary’s were unwise to say the least. Perhaps said tongue in cheek, as we all know Adkins likes a little joke with interviewers, but when you are eight points behind, it was enough ammunition to make the Saints boss a figure of hate for the Seagulls faithful. The disdain from the Saints fans point of view came from events on the pitch in that game. I was never a fan of Poyet as a player, and what I saw that night was a team very much influenced by their manager. Time wasting, play acting and imaginary card waving seemed to be the order of the day from the team in blue and white and incensed the Saints fans.

So the scene was set for the rest of the season.

The build up to the return match at the Withdean was almost comical, mainly because despite the months of ‘banter’ between the two sets of fans, both claimed to not really care about the other. The banners made especially for Nigel Adkins by the Brighton fans and the wild celebrations of the Saints fan after Jose Fonte’s winner would suggest nothing could be further from the truth. Another incident surrounding this match, that was blown out of proportion was the non-guard of honour. A contentious issue no doubt, but one that was spoken about far more because of the bad blood that had already built up between the clubs. Brighton were deserved champions, and under any other circumstances I am sure that Saints would have obliged, but I backed Adkins decision then, and I do now. Guards of honour are usually provided by teams with nothing left to play for in a season, and when the game means nothing to either side. That certainly wasn’t the case for a Saints team still chasing automatic promotion and the game clearly did mean a lot to both teams, managers and fans.

Adkins gets a warm reception from the Withdean Crowd. Image courtesy of Russell Masters.

If Saints fans had cringed in November when Adkins had made his vocal faux pas, it was time for the Brighton fans to put their fingers in their ears, as a clearly disappointed Poyet came out with his uninformed and factually incorrect rant after the game. A man who had also claimed that the game wasn’t important to him, but had withdrew the ball boys with twenty minutes to go when 1-0 up, Poyet’s South American passion had clearly got the better of him.

The comments may have been fair had they been aimed at Saints under Alan Pardew, who did like to go the direct route often, but it was now a weapon that was used only rarely by Adkins, albeit effectively to seal a last minute winner at the Withdean. The most insulting thing about it though was the disrespect to the Saints squad, dismissed as pawns for Lambert by Poyet. Many Saints fans (myself included) have since take glee from the reports of opposition fans in Brighton’s last few games, which suggest that since the signing of Billy Paynter, Poyet himself has mixed it up a bit with some punts to the big man, style is one thing, adapting to situations is another…..

Fonte celebrates the Withdean winner. We didn't care though honest.

So where does it leave us this season? As Saints and Brighton prepare to face off for the first time in the new campaign, things have very much died down. Brighton have found the step up slightly tougher than Saints, but neither has looked out of their depth. We both have our ‘real’ rivals to worry about now.

Saturday will have some needle though, there is no doubt about that. Poyet won the war last year, but didn’t win any battles and that will hurt him. Nigel Adkins and the Saints players will be fuelled by the Dagenham and Redbridge comments, and both sides will be looking at a possible reverse of the unbeaten home record situation.

It will be a good game, of that I am sure, and a little bit of rivalry and friendly banter never hurt anybody. We will rib Gus, and the Seagulls fans will rib Nigel, but I expect it will all be done with an undertone of begrudging respect for the fantastic jobs both men have done.

Both teams play nice football, and there are some great players in both sides. The additions to Brighton’s squad this season, particularly Mackail-Smith and Vicente are impressive and this could be Saints toughest home game so far. Let’s hope that the talking points all come from the pitch though, and not the post match interviews.

I for one can say honestly, that I have enjoyed the online battle of wills with the Brighton fans, and found it to be humour filled and fun, and long may it continue. Can you keep up?

Spare a thought for poor old Dagenham & Redbridge though. Staring non-league football in the face, but  for a Rickie Lambert they would be on the brink of the Premier League….

Chris

Sussex for Success…..

As we near the end of the 2010/11 season, there is an area of the country that will be happier than most, and it isn’t London or the North West, but somewhere a little less traditional.

Two clubs have dominated their way to promotion this year and both are from the relative footballing backwater of Sussex. In fact both of the more modern East and West Sussex administrations are represented, Brighton & Hove Albion from the East and Crawley Town from the West. This can only be a positive for South Coast football, an area that has been long starved of success. It often amazes me that the South Coast hasn’t produced a bigger force in English football, it is a nice big catchment area, the main clubs all have big potential fanbases, but they so often get close to rubbing shoulders with the big boys, but don’t quite make it. Portsmouth’s relegation last year broke an uninterrupted thirty two years of South Coast representation in the top flight, but barring a few exceptions, neither the red and blue halves of Hampshire pushed on to be silverware manufacturers.

But now the South Coast is on the resurgence it would seem. Portsmouth have beaten a rocky start to cement their place in the Championship, Brighton will be joining them, and both Saints and Bournemouth both potentially could. Add to that the promotion of Crawley Town to the football league for the first time in their history and several money men getting involved with the areas clubs, it can only be a matter of time before we are represented again.

Crawley Town have been an unmitigated success story this season, and they set out their stall early. Having had the debts of the club written off by new owners, the club was even in the position to give manager Steve Evans transfer funds to rebuild the squad. In what is staggering amounts of money to be spending at Blue Square Premier level, the likes of Matt Tubbs and Sergio Torres, players with football league experience (Torres having played in the Championship with Peterbotough United last season) and others cost the club in the region of £500k.

Some non-league fans were critical of Crawley’s spending, but the outlay has paid dividends. Not only have the “Red Devils” stormed their way to the league title, but also put together a money spinning FA Cup run which saw them take the football league scalps of Swindon Town, Derby County and Torquay United before being felled by just one goal at Old Trafford. Such has been the impact of Crawley’s impressive performances as they were propelled into the public eye, that many are predicting the possibility of a second successive promotion for the Broadfield Stadium outfit, and if the financial backing continues who would be surprised?

While Crawley may have been the surprise package in the Blue Square Premier, their East Sussex neighbours Brighton weren’t about to let them steal the show. When Gus Poyet took over the “Seagulls” in November 2009, they were a club in trouble, struggling for results and looking in serious relegation danger, they were a far cry from this season’s win machine. Poyet steadied the ship and they retained their League One status comfortably by nine points. Nobody though was tipping them for anything more than consolidation this season. A good example of this was the scoffing from Swindon Town fans, when Brighton reportedly made a move for their previous season’s play off final captain Gordon Greer. Perhaps Greer could already see what the Swindon fans or anyone else couldn’t, as he chose the Withdean and the Robins went into freefall.

Poyet also re-signed Spaniard Inigo Calderon, fighting off interest from Southampton and brought in experienced keeper Casper Ankergen along with others, as the Brighton ownership also decided to show their Sussex clout. Like Crawley, the results were almost instantaneous, Poyet had created a tight and efficient unit who it soon became clear were not going to be easy to beat.

The style of play Poyet has them playing, is not every bodies cup of tea, but it is certainly effective. Clearly influenced by his South American roots, Brighton established themselves as the League One keep ball masters, a slow and patient build up with Elliott Bennett and Glenn Murray providing the attacking potency. The real key to Brighton’s title win however, is the same as all good champions. Consistency. While, as a Saints fan I am sometimes bemused as our talented pool of players come a cropper against beatable opposition, Brighton are getting results week in, week out, and here lies the key to a somewhat controversial PFA League One team of the year. Five Southampton players and only three from Brighton. Seems wrong, and perhaps it is, but Brighton’s dominant team unit is far more of a threat than five great individuals.

The crazy thing is, that in any other season the “Seagulls” fans could be forgiven for bemoaning bad luck. Brighton have developed a knack for earning then missing penalties, were they not going up, that might have put a serious downer on their year.

With Albion, it is case of double celebration this summer too, as they will start their Championship campaign in a stunning new facility at Falmer, the Withdean has long been holding this potentially big club back, and with their shiny new ground, and season tickets selling fast, it makes you wonder what might be in store for them.

So what we have with these two clubs is two dominant and deserved champions. Yes, it does pain me to say this as a Saints fan, Brighton are doing what perhaps we thought we might have done this year, and for me personally, as not a fan of Gus Poyet it is doubly frustrating. But there comes a time when you have to hold your hands up and say the best team won. Congratulations to both Brighton & Hove Albion and Crawley Town.

Team P W D L F A W D L F A GD PTS
1 Sussex 85 34 6 2 103 35 23 14 6 64 27 105 191

Chris