Albion Nostalgia: Brighton’s quick start sank Bournemouth at Withdean in 2004
With two home games coming up, we are approaching a crucial period in Brighton & Hove Albion’s second season in the Premier League.
For my column this week, I’m going back 15 years to a season that brought success via the League One play-offs.
Bournemouth travelled to Withdean in February 2004 with the sides separated by just two points. Albion were just outside the play-off positions, having picked up just one point in the three previous games, all away from home. It was therefore vital we got back to winning ways against the Cherries.
Manager Mark McGhee was under no illusions as to what was required: “After returning from Grimsby (a 2-1 defeat) the main aim was to refocus. The boys have worked hard and we believe we know what’s at the root of the difference between Plymouth and the other three games”. He also went on to talk about the nightmare journey back from Grimsby: “It was five-and-a-half hours of misery but one thing I did take heart from was when I looked round the bus and saw the likes of Adam El-Abd, Dan Harding, Adam Virgo, Leon Knight and Jake Robinson. These are all very promising young players.”
Any successful team needs a mixture of youth and experience and McGhee could certainly call on both. Ben Roberts was in fine form between the sticks, despite recent results and in front of him, the back four of Virgo, Harding, Guy Butters and Danny Cullip was becoming the settled choice.
In midfield, Charlie Oatway and Richard Carpenter provided the ammunition for Nathan Jones and Gary Hart to feed Leon Knight and the on-loan Trevor Benjamin up front.
The manager couldn’t have asked for a better start from his team. After just 24 minutes, Albion were 3-0 up. Early on, Hart galloped past Warren Cummings in the Bournemouth defence, before smashing a perfectly-placed shot beyond Neil Moss in goal.
Bournemouth then pressed the self-destruct button. First, Lewis Buxton, on loan from Portsmouth, played a poor ball behind his defence and Benjamin latched on and gleefully hammered the ball into the net. Then, the same player brought down Jones in the penalty area. He was lucky to get away with just a yellow card and Knight gratefully accepted the chance from the penalty spot.
After that, there was only going to be one winner. Roberts was almost redundant in the Albion goal and his only real save came late on, when substitute Williams sent in a cross shot. It was a woeful performance from Bournemouth, who did not deserve anything from the game.
For Albion, it was a welcome boost to our promotion chances. Following that game, we went on an undefeated run that stretched for seven games before a 2-1 defeat at Sheffield Wednesday.
After that, just one defeat in the final seven games saw us into the play-offs, from where we beat Bristol City at the Millenium Stadium to earn promotion.
The stakes are somewhat different 15 years later, but a similar performance from both teams will surely give Albion three vital points in our quest for Premier League survival.
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