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 The dire surroundings of Withdean Stadium has been replaced by the spectacular American Express Community Stadium, and attendances have quadruped.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