Gus Poyet: Thanks for the memories, part III

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After storming to the League One title in 2010/11, Brighton & Hove Albion and Gus Poyet faced a whole new set of challenges the following season.

Not only were they returning to the Championship after an absence of five years but they were doing so in the magnificent new Amex Stadium at Falmer.

The pressure was on Poyet to produce a team capable of consolidating and challenging at the top of one of the  most competitive leagues in Europe.

The fans arrived at the first game at the new stadium on a tidal wave of emotion, fuelled by 14 years of battles with the Planning authorities.  

Their first opponents were Doncaster Rovers, who, coincidentally, were the last team to visit The Goldstone Ground.  

Albion welcomed new record signing Craig Mackail-Smith, with another new recruit in Will Buckley. Doncaster threatened to spoil the party but two goals, including the 97th-minute winner, from that man Buckley, ensured the Brighton fans would remember the day for a long, long time.

Five wins and a draw in their first six games, sent Albion to the top of the league and even at that early stage, fans were thinking of higher things.  

A run of three massive games at the end of September however, gave an inkling of what was to come. First up were Liverpool in the Coca-Cola Cup and Poyet's first big test against quality opposition.  

Brighton were given the runaround in the first half and found themselves two goals down as Craig Bellamy ran amok among the home defence.  

The second half was a different story but all Albion's pressure was not quite enough and Ashley Barnes' penalty came too late. 

Next up were Leeds United in a Friday night and a real thriller ended 3-3, with Leeds equalising in injury time at the end of the game. 

Two goals for Mackail-Smith showed what he was capable of and fans were looking forward to the following Tuesday, and a renewal of hostilities with Crystal Palace.  

The rivalry with Palace meant so much to the fans and they were hoping that Poyet would feel the same. It was not to be however, as Palace scored three goals in the last 10 minutes, as Albion failed to build on Mackail-Smith's opener.  

To rub salt in the wounds, one of the Palace goals was scored by Glenn Murray, sold in the summer to make way for the man from Peterborough.

A dismal October followed and Poyet started to come under pressure, the first of his reign at Brighton.  

Mackail-Smith was misfiring and the home form of August deserted the Seagulls. Just four wins in the rest of 2011, including a capitulation at Southampton, sent Albion to 16th.  

Was the dream about the unravel for Poyet? The first game of 2012 saw the Seagulls entertain Southampton, who were clear at the top of the league and coping much better than Brighton with life in The Championship.

As so often happened in Poyet's time in charge however, his team stepped up the mark and a brilliant team performance saw them win 3-0 and silence (once more) some of the doubters. 

A terrific FA Cup win against Newcastle at the end of January set up a fifth round tie against Liverpool at Anfield and 6,000 fans travelled in the hope that the heroics of 1983 could be repeated. 

Liverpool brought the Seagulls firmly down to earth with a 6-1 hammering and Albion's season was once again in the balance.

Inconsistency was the theme for the remainder of the season and a final position of 10th, although it represented progress, was a disappointment after the early-season promise. 

Fans were frustrated at the way the team was set up at times, and Mackail-Smith's first season on the south coast did not produce the goals that were expected.  

Could Poyet move the team on in 2012/13 and get the best out of his talented squad?

The summer transfer window saw a lot of activity at The Amex, with some additional Spanish flair added.  

David Lopez and Bruno Saltor came in but more controversial, was the return of Dean Hammond on a season-long loan from Southampton.  

The PR machine went into overdrive, as his antics when scoring against Albion at Withdean, were brought up once again.

The season again started well, with a run of five wins in a row in September. This again  brought hope to Albion fans and the team seemed to be playing with a freedom that was lacking in some of the previous season's performances.  

Once again, October and November were bleak for Brighton, with just two wins. December was even worse, starting with a 3-0 defeat at Crystal Palace and ending with a 3-1 home reverse against Watford.  

The Watford game was particularly depressing, as the Hornets gave Poyet's men a lesson in slick passing and swift counter-attacking football.  

Home form was a cause for concern and Poyet was drawing criticism in some quarters for a lack of attacking intent. 

2013 started well, with a good performance at Ipswich, but the old problem of inconsistency was still re-surfacing.  

Poyet showed a reluctance to play Vicente, despite his game-changing substitute performance against Hull City and a master class against Blackburn Rovers.  

Into March and although Albion were well-placed, it seemed likely that they would again miss out on a play-off place.  

The FA Cup brought another good performance in the third round against Newcastle, then a 3-2 defeat against Arsenal.  

Albion matched the Gunners until 15 minutes from the end, when Wenger's was able to bring on game changing substitutes in Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott.

So to March, and a run of 11 games without defeat was brought to an end by consecutive losses at Bolton Wanderers and Barnsley.  

Next up was Crystal Palace, four places and 14 points ahead of Albion. Poyet's men needed a performance to restore their hopes of reaching the play-offs and restoring some faith in the system.  

This was duly delivered as Albion thrashed their rivals 3-0 with a performance full of verve, flair and passion.  

Poyet himself was in an effusive mood after the game, proclaiming himself a fan of the club and finally understanding the rivalry.

Four draws after that game were not enough to halt Albion's charge to the play-offs and they finished in fourth place, their highest finish for 30 years. Their opponents in the play-offs? Crystal Palace.

The first game at Selhurst Park ended in stalemate and Albion fans were hopeful that a 30,000 full house at The Amex would roar them to Wembley. 

The dreams of the season were unravelled however, in a catastrophic 45 minutes that saw Wilfried Zaha score twice to ruin the dreams of Poyet's men.

Some ill-advised post-match comments hinted at unrest at Brighton and subsequent events that resulted in the suspension of not only Poyet, but his backroom staff, gave credence to this.  

His sacking, some three weeks later, brought to an end a three-and-a-half year period of progress, excitement and success for Brighton. 

Despite the circumstances surrounding his sacking, Poyet will be remembered for taking Brighton from the prospect of relegation to League Two, to the brink of promotion to the Premier League.  

He leaves behind a legacy of a style of football that many supporters had never seen before. Brighton are now well placed to push on and make that final leap into the top flight.

Thanks for the memories Gus.   


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