Football

Gus Poyet: Thanks for the memories

Poyet sacked as Brighton manager on Sunday. (©GettyImages)
Poyet sacked as Brighton manager on Sunday. (©GettyImages).

So that's (nearly) it then. Gus Poyet has gone, and Brighton are now looking for a new manager, just over a month away from the opening game against Leeds. Bad planning you may say, but only time will tell.

Rumours have been rife concerning an interim manager and the club have acted quickly by appointing Oscar Garcia as head coach, pending the final decision on Poyet. The Seagulls are to be congratulated for this, looking to reintroduce some stability to ensure pre-season doesn't get disrupted too much.

All this nonsense is a far cry from the general scenes of euphoria that greeted Poyet's appointment back in November 2009. For those with short memories, and just for the record anyway, at that time Brighton were 21st in League One with 14 points from 15 games.

This included just three wins, against Wycombe Wanderers, Carlisle United and Gillingham - the seven defeats included a 7-1 thrashing at Huddersfield Town. Things were pretty bleak and although Falmer had just about started to rise from the Sussex countryside, opening the stadium in a higher division seemed a pretty unrealistic prospect.

Three-and-a-half years is a pretty short period of time, but is an eternity when measured against the average lifespan of a football manager. Poyet has taken the club from the depths of League One to the brink of the Premier League in that time. His achievements deserve to be celebrated, irrespective of the circumstances surrounding his dismissal. We are taking a look back on his reign, picking out a few pivotal moments.

Poyet's first league match in charge was against south coast rivals Southampton.  The Saints were also battling against off-field problems but had just started to turn things round on the pitch. They were tucked in nicely in 7th place and looking forward to a routine game against the struggling Seagulls. Over 3,000 fans made their way along the coast to welcome Poyet to their club and the Sky cameras were also there to join in the celebrations. As if this wasn't enough, it was Poyet's birthday!

And what a game it was. The match details have been well documented elsewhere, but when Andrew Crofts smacked in the third goal on 85 minutes to seal a superb performance, the Seagulls fans must have wondered if their club was on the brink of something. They played with a freedom that had not been seen for a long time and right then, Poyet could literally do no wrong.

Results were a bit up and down after that, but did show general improvement. They won 1-0 away at Exeter City for example, where Peter Brezovan saved a penalty and that man Crofts popped up with a last-minute winner. Life was beginning to look rosier for the long-suffering Seagulls.

The FA Cup was also a source of joy, rather than pathetic capitulations to lower-league opposition (as had been seen too often in the past at Brighton). So much so, that 1-0 away win at Torquay in the 3rd round set up a (clich alert) glamour tie against Aston Villa at Villa Park.

A superb pricing policy from Villa meant the ground was full and the 6,500 Albion fans were in full voice. Villa went in front very early on but the Brighton fans were sent into raptures when Tommy Elphick equalised just before half-time.

He doesn't score many but this one brought a split second of disbelieving silence, followed by a good 10 minutes of joyous delirium. The 3-2 final score flattered Albion but again, progress was being made and the fans were liking what Gus was doing to the team.

The rest of that season passed without too much incident, bar a few glimpses of the 'tippy-tappy' style of football that Poyet introduced. Results steadily improved and the Seagulls eventually finished 13th, way off the top six, but massive improvement on 21st!

The return game against Southampton again gave Albion a chance to measure their progress. Saints were still in with a shout of the play-offs, despite their 10-point deduction. The game was at Withdean, Brighton's fortress amongst the trees. As Withdean highlights go, it was right up there. April Fools Day and a pulsating atmosphere from the capacity 7,784 crowd - or as pulsating as you can get at a stadium with no roof and surrounded by trees!

Albion played really well and went 1-0 up through a screamer from crowd favourite Elliott Bennett. The Southampton equaliser, just before half-time, came from Dean Hammond. The ex-Albion player nodded home and then set off in front of the South Stand, making a few gestures along the way.

To say this wound the crowd up is a massive understatement - fans do not like it when ex-players come back to haunt them. Brighton flew out of the blocks in the second half and thought they had won it, when Ashley Barnes headed them in front. True to form though, Southampton grubbed a scrappy equaliser in the 89th minute to snatch a point.

At the end of 2009/10 season, all Brighton fans were fully aboard the Gus Bus. The players were responding to his requests for patient, possession football, and although 13th in League One isn't going to win you too many awards, they were more than happy with the progress.

The next article in this series will look at 2010/11, the last season at Withdean and without doubt, the best season at The Theatre of Trees. Some Poyetry in Motion and some unbelievable highlights.

 

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Topics:
Football
Championship
Brighton & Hove Albion

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