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02/03: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 05/10/02, 3pm
Brighton and Hove Albion
By Matt Rowson

Why is it that certain things just don't sink in? I can name the Watford starting line up on the day of my first ever game, May 3rd 1980, but so many other nuggets, some of them so very vital, just slip right through the sieve. Like the perilous consequences of not approaching a Free Bar on a works do with a degree of restraint and caution. Bloody hell.

It's not just me, though. The world is full of people refusing to learn from the lessons of history and experience. Our own board, indeed many of us, welcomed with open arms the arrival of Vialli and his army of variously talented but highly paid and safely contracted players...without apparent consideration of the possibility that it might not all work out, despite all historical examples to the contrary. Derby, in particular, spring to mind... their pursuit of just such of a policy led to a stagnant failure to gain promotion in the early nineties until the decks of overpaid misinvestments (Short, Johnson, Kitson) had been cleared.

Brighton serve as some small inspiration in our current predicament. Yes, their problems were very different and caused by different things to our pressing situation...but they came through it. Fans pulled together, the club was hauled from the brink of oblivion and survived...albeit with no permanent home and a still far from stable financial footing, but still there and fighting and against all odds achieved back-to-back promotions over recent seasons to find themselves back in Division One for the first time in ten years.

Perhaps not surprisingly, they're finding it a bit of a struggle...a situation not abetted by Peter Taylor's decision to walk out during the summer (a move mystifyingly described as "brave" by one Talksport pundit at the weekend...a new interpretation of the word "brave" that I'm not aware of perhaps. Monty Python's Brave Sir Robin springs to mind). New incumbent Martin Hinshelwood, ex-youth team boss, joked after his side's hugely pleasing and encouraging opening day win at Turf Moor that "perhaps I should resign now".

With bitter irony, Brighton have proceeded to lose nine league games on the hop... their most recent, at home to Grimsby last weekend, saw the Mariners record their first win of the season and switch places with the Seagulls, sending them bottom. Consensus seems to be that Hinshelwood is a nice enough guy, but really doesn't know what he's doing with catastrophic performances, involving an outrageously philanthropic attitude to possession, every bit as poor as the run suggests.

The one shaft of light offered to Brighton fans at the moment (other than Tricky Trev weaving his magic up at Selhurst) is the gradual return to fitness of Bobby Zamora... perhaps understandably rushed last weekend, there are still doubts going into Saturday. The rest of the squad appears to be a hotchpotch of kids and journeymen, with the stamp of Mickey Adams still very much in evidence.

In goal for the Seagulls will be former Dutch Marine Michel Kuipers, who also recently returned to fitness to replace on-loan Andy Petterson. Regular deputy Will Packham is injured.

Former Pompey man Robbie Pethick has been turning out at right-back but a broken foot keeps him out this weekend. Paul Watson, a former charge of Mickey Adams at Old Skool Fulham, moves over from leftback - he is decent from set pieces. Long serving Kerry Mayo is in at left-back... he has an unfortunate aversion to tricky wingers. In the centre, Danny Cullip is the rock around which the defence is built; rumours in the summer suggested that Adams at Leicester was to sign him for the fourth time. Cullip is presently partnered by nineteen year old Adam Virgo, with the chunky Guy Butters injured. Manager's nephew Adam Hinshelwood is another option.

In midfield, Charlie Oatway is the chief destroyer... he plays every week, apparently independent of form, and his eyes are too close together. He should be partnered by Richard Carpenter who, like mercurial left winger Paul Brooker, is another of the old Fulham mob. Former striker Gary Hart should play on the right. Options from the bench include 37-year-old veteran Paul Rogers, who played for Sutton United in their 1988 conquest of Coventry and latterly for Sheffield United and Notts County, and youngsters Dean Hammond and Steve Melton. Left sided Nathan Jones is out with an injury. Geoff Pitcher has also reappeared in League football, but Albion don't seem to know what he's for either.

Up front, Zamora seems likely to start, fit or otherwise. Amongst the candidates to partner him are lively Arsenal loanee Graham Barrett and former Spurs reserve captain John Piercy, back in Brighton's stiffs this week after injury. Paul Kitson, once of that embarrassing Derby side, has a perpetual back injury but it might be worth keeping an eye on young striker Daniel Marney who, according to Brighton's Official Site, has somewhat implausibly been voted as Division 1 PFA player of the month for September as a result of that most corruptible of barometers, a supporters' web poll.

After some increasingly inspirational performances, particularly in difficult looking away games, we are now faced with a different sort of challenge. Three of our next four games are at home to the sides currently in the bottom three; if we can be as ruthless and patient at disposing with this sort of opponent, we have the makings of a very good head of steam building up going into the second quarter of the season.