Brighton: Please Gus, Please Don't Leave Us

As Brighton are knocked out of the playoffs by bitter rivals Crystal Palace, I can't help think there's more to come - just as long as we can keep Gus Poyet.
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As Brighton are knocked out of the playoffs by bitter rivals Crystal Palace, I can't help think there's more to come - just as long as we can keep Gus Poyet.

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I remember sitting in the sunshine at the Withdean frustratingly watching on as Brighton and Hove Albion lost 3-2 to Southend United after an injury-time winner. Having not been to many Albion games beforehand, it dawned on me rather quickly that being frustrated was part and parcel of being a Brighton fan. This match in particular culminated in a despairing long ball over the top that the opposition scored from, leaving me totally devastated.

Over the years, I began to feel less stunned as I grew more accustomed to the nearly-but-not-quite feeling surrounding the club. Mind you, it was miraculous that we were fighting as hard as we were and even in those despairing moments, I still felt there was going to be a way out, a way up. Step forward Gus Poyet.

It is well-documented, at least I hope so, that he turned us from a side ridden with sporadic moments of flair that tended to play long into a short, patience and aesthetically engaging side. It was that football that won us the League One title, put us just short of the play offs last year and then confidently in them this year.

After last week’s nervy goalless draw, I sat with my housemate and a Spanish (suitably) colleague of mine to watch what felt like the biggest game in the last decade for the club. I was anxious and it took me the whole game to realise why.

For the first time in as far as I can remember, we had been labelled the favourites. Sky even decided to label us the “nation’s favourite to progress.” There’s no denying that we, as a fan base, have embraced and revelled in the new-found style of play that we Seagulls now boast but “favourites” is something we have never really had to deal with before. We’ve always just been Brighton.

In Ian Holloway, Crystal Palace have a man who is not only someone who thrives under the underdog banner but is also at his best in the playoffs. The combination of both, and a slightly nervous performance from us, spelt the end for Brighton.

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As the game entered its latter stages, my Wembley dreams were still very much alive and the three of us began to discuss the logistical nightmare that was going to be a weekend trip to Wembley, whilst bearing the Champions League final in mind (of particular interest to us in Germany). I was by no means getting ahead of myself but bear in mind we, Brighton and Hove Albion, the side I had seen lump balls forward for years, the side that had scraped with extinction (but miraculously won), the side that had ultimately made us believe again, was one game away from playing in the Premier League. The Premier League. A chance to kick it with the big boys.

With all of these thoughts dancing wildly around my head, Wilfred Zaha headed Palace into the lead. Aside from my obvious sadness that the scoreline had changed and not in our favour, it also left me disappointed that Zaha had stolen the headlines when Brighton had actually kept him fairly quiet all game (arguably in both games). Speroni’s saves appeared to hold more resonance. Whilst Zaha’s second goal was one of individual quality, it left me wondering where our big players had been all evening. David Lopez was disappointing and Leonardo Ulloa had hardly been in the game. Liam Bridcutt was his usual busy self in the centre but on far too many occasions, there just weren’t enough positive, attacking options for him. As much as Palace deserve their dues, I was left bemused that our fantastic home support hadn’t been utilised to greater effect.

In fact, one of our most inconsistent performers looked full of fight. Ashley Barnes was denied the heroes role thanks to Speroni after, ironically, a long ball set him up. His desire was plain to see but sadly, that positive momentum felt far too patchy.

The epidemic fear that surrounds us all on the south coast now is that he will leave. Not that I, we, begrudge Poyet a move. He has certainly earned one but after all he has done for the club, it will be hard to lose him. After tonight, I just get the feeling if he did leave sooner rather than later, he would leave feeling he hadn’t done all he had wanted to.

Once my beer had been emptied and my friends had run out of consoling things to say, I realised how bloody well we had done to get to this stage of the season. We had reached our target but there was a still of taste of discomfort left over. I guess that’s what the eventual product of Poyet and Brighton creates, belief. Given the form we were in, we felt we had it all in place to be that third arrival in the Premier League next year, or at least have a chance at it on the 27th of the month. Despite my disappointment, I was proud that we hadn’t lost to a long ball over the top in injury time. We’ve come a long way, baby.