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