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