It was one of the shocks of the season in 1979/80. Nottingham Forest, European Cup holders, had been unbeaten at the City Ground in the League since returning to Division One. Brighton, newcomers to the top flight, had endured a difficult start, without a win in their last nine League matches, and at the bottom of the table.
Well, you know the rest. It proved the turning point as the reshaped Seagulls, Suddaby in defence, with Lawrenson in midfield and Clarke up front, embarked on a run that took them clear of the relegation positions by Boxing Day. However, it all began with this result at the City Ground, as reported by John Vinicombe in the Evening Argus:
The astounding result at Nottingham was certainly no fluke and may hopefully hoist morale to cope with the critical situation facing the club. If Albion can go from their worst performance to upset the European champions in such sensational fashion, there is, surely, reason to hope for better things.
After a week of intense activity at the Goldstone. including abortive transfer deals concerning Peter Ward, the signing of Peter Suddaby and suspension of Teddy Maybank, it looks as though Albion are getting down to the essential task of putting their own house in order.
And not before time. Alan Mullery made four changes for the Forest game, having satisfied himself that Mark Lawrenson was fit and Suddaby was the man to step into the breach.
In almost no time at all, the team has changed dramatically, and the new spirit brought about by the shake-up was much in evidence at the City Ground.
The return of Lawrenson, to play for the first time in midfield made for greater fluency, but Mullery still has not got the side quite right. A training injury prevented John Gregory from turning out.
Almost without exception Albion were unrecognisable from the outfit that conceded 11 goals in the previous three matches.
They thrived on Gerry Ryan’s 12th minute goal, and, while Forest dominated territorially, we were treated to the spectacle of every man jack battling to keep Forest out instead of abject surrender.
At 31, Suddaby has brought a much needed wise old head to the defence. On the evidence of this one game, he did well to contain Garry Birtles.
Alongside, Steve Foster needed no second bidding to give his all. For a 21 year old, Foster reads a game well, and he encourages by example. He is one to watch for the future, and I don’t just mean Albion.
Good enough to be selected for England Under-21’s last season, he is better placed in First Division to display his improving talents to advantage.
The way Ward has been play!ng lately has given him and his admirers less satisfaction than usual. But at Forest he teased and tormented the club whose manager, Brian Clough, pulled out of last week’s deal.
The way in which Ward turned the defence, took players on and lasted the pace in heavy going suggested that he wanted to prove Clough wrong again and again and again.
Why Ward did not go to Forest is not at all clear after a week of bitter recriminations. There was indignation from chairman Mike Bamber, and a remark by Clough on ITV that he had tried to contact Muliery: “I could never get through to him.”
Afterwards, Bamber proferred his hand to Clough and thanked him for not signing Ward. “‘You have done us a great favour.”
Yet. only a week previously Ward’s morale was low after a swap with Gerry Daly had fallen through, and the chairman dropped the broadest of hints that there was no place at the club for disenchanted players.
Now, after the Forest victory, the mood has changed, which is nothing surprising in the kaleidoscope world of football.
All managers don’t lie and cheat in the manner suggested by Tommy Docherty, but some peculiar strokes are pulled. I hope now that we have heard the last of the will he – won’t – he – go stories surrounding Ward.
He has a vital role to play in Albion’s battle for survival, and I don’t think it wilt take much now for Mullery to get a settled side.
For a start, the goalkeeper question is resolved, and Graham Moseley is undisputed No. 1. It was Moseley’s penalty save a minute from the break that changed the course of the entire match. Had he not taken a hint from Lawrenson, who thought John Robertson’s kick would go to his left, then we might have seen a different result.
Albion never gave Forest an inch, but the stimulus of an equaliser might well have buried them at the bottom. Now they have handed that unenviable place to Bolton.
Only one step up, maybe, but vital progression. At last, there is a ray of light, although Ipswich and Derby, second and third from bottom, are three points clear.
The selection of Lawrenson for right midfield poses the question of where Gregory will slot in. It is unthinkable that a fully fit Gregory could not command a place, and the arrival of new faces and emergence of the tremendously promising Gary Stevens means there is fierce competition.
This is a vital ingredient, and now the squad, numerically speaking at least, is more in keeping with a First Division roster.
So, the age of miracles is not past. It was Forest’s first home licking in 52 League matches since April 1977, in the Second Division when Cardiff did the trick.
A so-necessary first away League win for Albion was their first since they clinched promotion in the final match at Newcastle. The rapture then was matched by the sheer incredulity at Forest.
The sight of Ryan wrong footing Peter Shilton and just giving the ball enough pace to carry over the line left Forest numb.
The decision of referee Alan Seville in awarding Forest a penalty rendered Albion speechless; well. almost. It appeared to me, both at the time and watching Match of the Day, that Foster made a legitimate challenge and did not push Larry Lloyd down.
Judging by Lloyd’s size, it would need a steam shovel to knock him off balance.
Martin O’Neill sandwiched between them, and when Seville blew and pointed to the spot Lloyd walked away pondering the unpredictability of football.
It was a moment when all that Albion had striven for could have been erased with one grotesquely harsh decision.
Fortunate!y, Moseley heeded Lawrenson’s advice, and Albion went in ten-get tall. He had earlier saved one-handed from David Needham, who hit a post shortly after Ryan goal.
At half-time, Clough withdrew Tony Woodcock whose last appearance it was before joining Cologne in a £650,000 transfer.
The arrival of Ian Bowyer. the sub, improved Forest’s urgency, and two-thirds of the way through they slung everything at Albion.
It was then that Stevens cleared virtually off the line from Birtles, and as the climax boiled Foster’s head was everywhere.
When Albion went off, they were greeted on the touchline by Bamber, while Mullery roared his appreciation from the stand, where he must remain by FA decree until the end of the year.
Perhaps when he comes down, Albion will go up.
Twelve minutes: The fleet-footed Ward pierced Forest, and the move was carried on by Lawrenson and Horton. From the chip, Clarke headed down to Ryan, who withstood a heavy challenge from Lloyd. Having wriggled through, Ryan placed his clincher to perfection. The gentleness of the touch only increased Forest’s agony. 0-1.