Date: 12 September 2006
This would always be an historic game because it was the first one without Sean in charge. What would confidence levels be like? How would the team react to Joe's leadership? How many changes would Joe make to the line-up? Well, the last question was answered first as the new management team opted for an unchanged side, and even an unchanged bench, for their first match in charge - a tribute to Sean's legacy. And it has to be said that the team performed very well indeed. Away from home, with a smallish group of supporters out of sight and out of hearing distance (most of our team didn't even seem to spot us!), and having to play more than half the match with just ten men, 2-2 was a laudable result.
The most noteworthy aspect of the first half hour or so of the game was what poor accommodation we'd been offered in return for a £22.50 entrance fee (not to mention the £3 programme or the £4.50 burger and chips). If the 'old' away stand was bad, with the seating being at 45 degrees to the pitch, this was much worse. The new away end has no roof. ("You may need that later" remarked a Brighton steward as he searched my backpack and spotted an umbrella; fortunately I didn't actually need it until 11:30 PM when I was nearly home.) The away stand is also miles behind the goal because of the need to accommodate an oval running track. This results in the kind of distances from the action for which the behind-the-goal seats at the old Wembley were famous, but without the height advantage you used to get there. So it was hard to even pick our players out. We were behind the goal Bournemouth was attacking in this half, so we saw quite a lot of Best (who had numerous chances early on including one shot on target), and a certain amount of Hayter, Foley and Cooper. The latter two swapped wings with great regularity; maybe to confuse the opposition, or perhaps just to confuse themselves!
But at least this meant we were in a good position to see Foley fire the ball into an open goal just after the half hour mark to give us a deserved lead. We were, however, in an impossible position to see why Browning was sent off just before half time ("stamping", we later learned), and this seemed all the more odd because Bournemouth, not Brighton, were awarded a free-kick at the re-start. No-one would have expected us to retain a 1-0 lead after that, but neither would anyone have anticipated the eventual 2-2 scoreline. Browning watched the match from the stands in the second half, and responded well to the Bournemouth supporters (even standing when he heard "Stand up if you love Bournemouth" sung). Worryingly, quite early in the second half, Howe collided with the last Brighton striker and the Brighton fans called for another sending-off. There was huge relief in our stand when Howe was only yellow-carded.
But even before that incident, Brighton had scored twice. Stewart - standing motionless on his line - has to take some responsibility for at least their first goal, but in my humble opinion he still worked hard enough and made enough good saves to justify his ongoing selection. In fact I wouldn't change the team much. Fletcher and Hollands both gave very good accounts of themselves when they came on, but that in itself doesn't mean they should start on Saturday. (Having said that, Hollands probably will if Browning is suspended.) The substitution of Fletcher for Best was a fairly inevitable one given the need for someone to hold the ball up; and it certainly improved our play just in advance of Howe's equalising goal. Howe, who'd had a great game and whom I'd selected as Man of the Match already, rose in the box in the 74th minute to meet a long ball and head it into the net for a 2-2 scoreline. There can be little doubt that if we'd had eleven players for the whole ninety minutes we'd have won this match, and an away win under a caretaker manager is not something to sniffed at. Neither is eighth place in the league table, two points behind the play-off positions, just one month into the season.
Just one grouse: the team didn't even come to us, or acknowledge us, after the final whistle. Supporters stood and applauded their team for some time, but the players were more interested in the 'warm down' procedure with Joe. Hopefully they will remember to 'support the supporters' at Brentford on Saturday. Meanwhile, Tuesday night ended with a very dark walk back to the train station. If we thought the view at the stadium had been bad, it was even harder to see our way round the puddles on a pitch-black footpath through the woods.
The starting line-up (with my scores out of ten) was :
Young (7), Broadhurst (6), Howe (9), Cummings (5);
Foley (8), Purches (7), Browning (7), Cooper (7);
Hayter (7), Best (7).
Broadhurst, Young, Howe, Cummings;
Cooper, Hayter, Purches, Foley;