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04/05: Reports:

Football League Division Two, 03/01/05, 3.00pm
Brighton and Hove Albion
The Beginning of Time
By Matt Rowson

There's a natural temptation to view the world's events according to your own location in time. For example, I can just about remember 1981, "Ghost Town" by the Specials and Adam and the Ants on "Top of the Pops". These are real, have an anchor in my life. But 1971, two years before I was born, might as well be two hundred years. "Coz I Luv You"? "Maggie May"? "Get it On"? All tracks that I'd recognise, but all from the indefinite vacuum before my consciousness. I know from books'n'that that they came after Beethoven and before punk, but this has no real relevance to me. And frankly, I've only got the rest of the (older) world's word for it.

Ten years now of course is no time at all. I can remember the not inconsequential events of my life in 1994/1995 as if they were yesterday. Hell, Monday marks the tenth anniversary of my arrival with my current employers, which was only a few weeks ago in my mind's eye. This warped perspective of the world is particular to me and to people my age; the office colleagues in their mid-twenties who blink stupidly when Live Aid is mentioned live in a different universe.

As do Sky, evidently, whose world begins in 1992 and who consistently refuse to acknowledge that football ever existed before this point... except, implicitly, via the weaselly and tiresomely careful wording of their hyperbole: "That's six Premiership defeats on the trot for Bolton, their worst ever run". Not Premier, not a ship. I don't give a flying f*** about records since 1992; the only relevance of this landmark is the financial wedge that was driven into the crack between the top flight and everyone else. As a consequence, feats of achievement such as Arsenal's unbeaten run mean less, not more, than they would have done pre-Prem. The pitch is now sloping in their favour. One can only speculate how desperate for a buck and some credibility the likes of Best, McLintock, McQueen and the other ex-players that Sky stick in a suit and get to commentate on relayed pictures must be, working for an employer that parades them as experts whilst denying that the eras in which they made their reputations ever existed.

They're wrong, obviously. Football didn't start in 1992. It actually started in the 1979-80 season and although my Football 80 album has long since, criminally, departed to the big bookshelf in the Sky, this is a point that I'm prepared to argue quite vigorously.

Brighton were a top flight side in 1979-80. In fact it was their first ever season in the top flight (in anyone's consciousness, not just those of us incapable of remembering any further back). They lasted four seasons and haven't been back since, but as the chance timing of my fateful collision with football would have it, there's a bit of me that still thinks of them as a top flight side, even if the logical bit looks at league tables, not to mention every encounter with them since (Raphael Meade in 1992? Nnnngggh!) and says differently.

They're not, at any rate, a Premiership (not Premier, not a Ship) club, as any visitor to the Withdean will surely have appreciated. As the Falmer saga rumbles bafflingly on, the financial pressures that playing in such a tiny, inadequate arena bring to bear are beginning to tell. Gone are long-term talisman Danny Cullip (to Sheffield United for 250,000) and winger Darren Currie (to Ipswich, for 250,000 that the Seagulls probably feel a little less resentful about). Gone too are Steve Claridge (to Brentford, who were prepared and able to offer him more than a month-to-month deal) and manager Mark McGhee... should the eventual Falmer verdict later this year go against the club, whose fans in an on-line poll rate the club's chances of avoiding relegation at no better than fifty-fifty.

Lack of goals is the major failing on the field; Leon Knight's twenty-five were significant last season but he's only managed two so far this term; along with the three he managed on loan at Sheffield Wednesday two seasons ago, these are the only goals he's scored at this level. He's started the last couple of games on the bench following a suspension; Albion, meanwhile, have managed only twenty in the league all season. Only Division Two's version of constipation, Stoke City, have fewer.

Mark McCammon has arrived on loan from McGhee's former club Millwall: "works hard to very little effect" is one assessment, Millwall fans were slightly less kind. As an aside, those who remember the numbingly dull pre-season game at Brentford a couple of years back might recall his high-pitched squeak...

McGhee has experimented with formations over the last few weeks, employing 3-5-1-1 to grab a point at Wolves on Tuesday but apparently reverting to 4-4-2 in earning a slightly fortunate draw at Loftus Road on New Year's Day. Other attacking options include attacking midfielder Gary Hart, in the team for the first time this season during Albion's relatively successful Christmas spell, bright youngster Jake Robinson and Adam Virgo, scorer of the incredible equaliser at the Vic in September but more comfortably a defender. Maheta Molango, much trumpeted over the summer, hasn't featured since before our last encounter.

In midfield, the experienced old clogger Charlie Oatway and Richard "Chippy" Carpenter should both play, despite the latter's disappointing game at Loftus Road. England U21 left back Dan Harding has been featuring on the left of midfield but is badly off form amidst rumours of a transfer window move. Other midfield options include Alexis Nicolas, on loan in September but now a permanent recruit from Chelsea, Nathan Jones and Dean Hammond.

Brighton's successes this season have been based on a tough defensive record, which isn't altogether encouraging given our lack of success against more robust opponents. This appears to be a persistent theme in Cullip's absence with both Guy Butters and the impressive Adam Hinshelwood testing the patience of the ref on Saturday with the close attention afforded to QPR's forwards. Virgo is another obvious option at centre-back. On the right, Australian Paul Reid, rejected by Bryan Robson at Bradford last season, is holding off Paul Watson and Adam El-Abd at right back, whilst long-serving Kerry Mayo is on the left.

In the absence of injured Ben Roberts, Dutchman Michel Kuipers is impressing in goal with nineteen year-old Chris May on the bench.

For ourselves, Gavin Mahon's suspension is significant given his impressive form over the last couple of games, but also in the added responsibility afforded to Brynjar Gunnarsson, whoever partners him in central midfield. If he's yellow carded, he'll miss next week's trip to Anfield.

As for Monday, we'll be needing to dismiss both the memory of the atrocious performance on our last visit here and our forthcoming Cup excitement by trying to turn Saturday's welcome win into something approaching a decent run. We're due one. For Brighton, the bigger result comes later in the season.