The first part of these reflections on Gus Poyet's reign at Brighton & Hove Albion looked at the half season of consolidation, and highlighted some promising signs for his team.
2010/11 represented glorious vindication of Gus' footballing philosophy. The promise of the season before was transformed into a triumphant surge to the League One title, leaving even the nauseating arrogance of Nigel Adkins and his Southampton team floundering in their wake.
A fairly quiet start in August gathered pace in September and after going top at the end of that month, Albion never looked back. The Seagulls could even afford to lose two and draw two of their final four games.
The fact that they were saying farewell to Withdean lent a sense of completeness to the whole campaign, and gave Poyet even more targets to aim for. The Theatre of Trees was a joke of a ground but over 12 seasons, Albion fans saw four promotions, two relegations and a host of memorable nights in the wind and rain. Poyet was the latest Brighton manager to recognise the unique qualities of Withdean and in 2010/11, it again became something of a fortress.
Most regulars were getting tired of the long walk to the South Stand seats, the almost inevitable drenching and the execrable food - horses walked in fear of their lives around the Withdean Caterers. Poyet brought hope that Brighton would leave Withdean on a high, and move to the magnificent new ground at Falmer as a Championship club.
August came and went without too much promise of what was to come, but the fans were beginning to recognise the patient, measured style of play that would surely enable the Seagulls to see off most League One opposition.
Against Walsall at the end of the month, goals from Marcos Painter and Ashley Barnes, two Poyet signings, gave Albion a comfortable 2-0 lead before a late consolation. Also in the Albion team that day was Radostin Kishishev, a Bulgarian international who fitted into Poyet's blueprint seamlessly, bringing an international pedigree to proceedings.
Two wins and a draw in September took Albion second behind Huddersfield Town, before the visit of Oldham Athletic at the end of the month. The game was heading for a slightly disappointing draw before another Poyet signing, the on-loan Fran Sandaza, popped up with a 90th minute winner. Albion went top, a position they were determined not to relinquish.
October brought two of the most memorable performances of the whole season, alongside one of the most frustrating. Frustration was evident in the televised home game against Bournemouth. A debatable penalty for the visitors and an (unpunished) kick in the face for goalkeeper Casper Ankergren meant dropped points before visits to Charlton and Peterborough United, both of whom were challenging for the top places. Seven unanswered goals later, and Albion fans were beginning to believe that the season really was going to be a memorable one.
Into November, and a defeat at Hartlepool, a frustrating home draw against Bristol Rovers, and the doubters once again had some ammunition. The final game that month was against South Coast rivals Southampton, whose manager, physio turned coach Nigel Adkins, was doing his best to stir up the mind games.
He seemed oblivious of the league table as he suggested teams would find it difficult 'keeping up' with his team. Brighton, still top, approached the game as any other, with attacking intent, in front of over 26,000 at St. Mary's. The 3,000 Brighton travellers were rewarded by an excellent away performance, which included a missed penalty for Ashley Barnes that would surely have sealed three points. No matter, Albion were still top and it was Southampton that were left wondering how to catch up.
December saw only two league games, a draw and defeat, as well as an FA Cup replay victory against FC United of Manchester. Brighton welcomed in the new year with a 5-0 thrashing of Orient on New Years Day, including a hat-trick for Glenn Murray, who was having a great season at the front of Poyet's attacking formation.
FA Cup heroics continued with a 3-1 demolition of Premier League Portsmouth, in a performance that did not flatter Albion in any respect. Brighton were on a roll and a 1-0 defeat at promotion rivals Bournemouth was the only blip in the month. FA Cup glory beckoned after the 4th Round win at Watford, with another Premier League test to come against Stoke City.
Despite scoring 12 goals in February, Albion stuttered slightly, with draws against Orient and MK Dons. The FA Cup run was brought to an end by a typically Stoke performance. Although Albion acquitted themselves very well at The Britannia Stadium, they had no match for Tony Pulis' more direct style.
Into March then, and surely Poyet's finest hour so far as Brighton manager. Played eight, won eight, with 13 goals scored and only four conceded. Three of these came in an amazing match against Carlisle United, themselves just outside the play-offs. A real see-saw game saw Albion lead 2-1 after going behind, then again 3-2 with 90 minutes on the clock.
A breakaway by Carlisle saw them snatch a last-gasp equaliser, only for Albion, in the form of a thunderous 20-yard volley from the increasingly influential Liam Bridcutt, grab the points, deep into stoppage time.
That run of results put Albion on the brink and Poyet's influence was being seen across the league. The possession football that he imposed on his players was now fully embraced by the team and they were seemingly unstoppable.
A win at home to Sheffield Wednesday early in April set up a promotion clincher the following Tuesday against Dagenham & Redbridge. That was another roller-coaster of a game, before Barnes fittingly smashed home the winner to send Withdean into raptures.
The title was wrapped up a few days later amid joyous scenes at Walsall, as Seagulls fans took over the ground for a massive party. The next target was 100 points but the party mood carried on for the final four games, as defeats against Southampton (they still couldn't catch up) and Huddersfield were mixed with draws at Colchester and Notts County.
The Huddersfield game saw the League One trophy presented to Poyet and his men, as well as allowing the fans to bid an emotional farewell to Withdean. The season ended in the perfect way.
Gus Poyet's attacking philosophy, backed up by the talented squad he had assembled, meant that the opening of Falmer Stadium, the 'Promised Land' for Albion fans after 14 years of planning applications, marches, setbacks and incredible hard work, would be as a Championship club.
Poyet's first full season in charge of Brighton could not have gone any better, but they had to be better still to compete in The Championship, full of parachute payments, big budgets and quality players.
The next article in this series will look at that first season, and whether Poyet and his players were able to step up.
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