Boxing Day 1979: Ace Ward shatters that jinx

Gerry Ryan in action on Boxing Day

Gerry Ryan in action on Boxing Day

Here is a splendid match report from John Vinicombe from December 1979 covering the Seagulls’ famous mauling of their arch rivals:

As Albion left the Goldstone after their 3-0 triumph over Crystal Palace yesterday, manager Alan Mullery grinned: “I’ve been waiting three-and-a-half years for that.”

In the time Mullery has been Albion’s manager, his side has failed to beat Palace in nine meetings, and he rejoiced: “They are not our bogey team any more! “What I just saw was our sweetest performance in the First Division, although we have played just as well before. This was something different, and has been coming on for the last seven or eight games.”

Underdogs

While Mullery was delighted with Peter Ward’s continuing good form, he preferred to talk in terms of a complete team performance. But the unerring eye for flair and excitement caused him to dwell on Ward, who scored and played a part in the other goals. Said Mullery: “He was superb. He is back to his old, sparkling self. He is playing like we know he can play and have seen him before. I would say the difference between the teams was a bit more than Ward. For a change we were the underdogs and we didn’t give Palace a kick. At the end, John Gregory turned round to Graham Moseley and asked if he had finished his crossword.”

Before the start, Mullery told Ward to go out and prove that Jim Cannon was not his master. Said Mullery, “I knew how it had been in the past, and last season I had Ward as sub because he just hadn’t been able to do anything against him in previous matches.”

When Ward netted after 33 minutes it was his first League goal against Palace. The display drew generous praise from Terry Venables: “Ward was brilliant… outstanding… the difference between the sides.” The Palace boss said he thought the penalty decision when Cannon brought down Ward, and Brian Horton scored from the spot after five minutes, was harsh. “I didn’t think the passing was very good from either side, but all credit to Brighton, they finished well.”

Albion’s first success against Crystal Palace in ten meetings took them out of the bottom three yesterday. A thoroughly convincing 3-0 Goldstone victory raised even further their hopes of staying in the First Division.

A 28,358 crowd witnessed the win that lifted Albion above Bristol City on goal difference. The manner of such a performance was such that Albion may justifiably entertain high hopes of climbing completely away from the relegation zone as the season enters the half-way stage. Ten points from the last seven games is a pretty broad indication that Albion are starting to turn the corner, and the visit of Manchester City on Saturday is awaited with confidence.

Peter Nicholas tries to stop the immaculate Ward

Peter Nicholas tries to stop the immaculate Ward

Inspiration
There is no more improved player than Peter Ward, who continued yesterday where he left off on the frozen Molineux pitch – scene of a famous hat-trick. He has now scored five goals in five games, and tops the scorers with nine. His appetite is growing notably sharper game by game and he scored Albion’s second after being involved in the early penalty converted by Brian Horton. It was Ward who laid the third goal two-third of the way through for Gerry Ryan. In fact, it was a game that bore Ward’s stamp of class, but in no way was this a one-man show.

The application of the entire team was just too much for Palace, and Horton’s inspiration made for a memorable encounter. There was no visible weak link, and yet Alan Mullery was understandably apprehensive at Peter Suddaby starting a three-match suspension. He needn’t have worried. Gary Stevens slotted in to shackle Mike Flanagan who didn’t have a kick. There were just three Palace shots on target, two from the immensely talented Vince Hilaire, and one near the end from Jerry Murphy. None of them gave Graham Moseley any trouble… now does that sound like a description of Albion and Palace?

The side put out by Terry Venables were never allowed to parade their rich plumage, but, to be fair, he had problems. Kenny Sansom started with a thigh injury, and couldn’t continue after 55 minutes, while Flanagan, returning from injury, looked woefully short of pace. So too did Gerry Francis, while Ward gave Jim Cannon, his old gaoler, the run-around from start to finish. You could tell straight from kick-off that Ward was determined to end Cannon’s domination. His first touch, after Gary Williams and Sully had scissored through, ended with John Burridge holding a low shot wondering how long it would take his skipper to catch up with the wraith-like figure.

Expression
Well, Cannon did make contact after only five minutes, but to whip his legs away just inside the box. When Ward bounced straight to his feet, and saw referee John Martin pointing to the spot, his face broke into a broad grin. Instead, Horton’s expression was of grim determination. He had a job to do, and did it perfectly by planting the spot-kick high and to the left of Burridge.

Before the kick was taken, Burridge walked up to the ball and repositioned it – a little piece of gamesmanship, which was entirely lost on Horton, who knew that the next second or two would surely decide the course of the match.

Muzzled
No sooner had Cannon shrugged his shoulders and indicated that he didnt agree with Martin’s decision, than Ward wriggled past him again, this time on a play with Ryan. The shot lacked power, but Burridge was entitled to ask questions of his defence, and it didn’t stop there. As Albion’s confidence grew and grew, Sully and Mark Lawrenson opened Palace down the middle, and Ward skipped in, only to handle before netting. It didn’t count, of course, but no side likes to see players getting through without a challenge.

By way of a change, Ward next appeared on the right, following Horton’s fluent pass. This time poacher turned chance-maker only for Burridge to pluck the ball from the flailing feet.

For a short while, Palace pushed players up, Hilaire threatening to open the floodgates, but, when Dave Swindlehurst tried his luck in the air and on the ground, he found Steve Foster his master. He came off second best in the physical battle that grew more bruising, and with Flanagan muzzled, Palace looked to their midfield, but to no avail.

Torment
They were too busy trying to stem Albion’s increasingly powerful attack and, at 33 minutes, Palace found themselves two-down after giving the ball away from their own corner kick. It was a short one involving Sansom and Francis. When Francis’ outswinger ballooned towards Horton, he didn’t hesitate. Away he went with a sustained burst over 40 yards to belie his years. On the right Ward pulled players towards him, and when the pass came across, Palace’s depleted back four were in disarray. Cannon was nowhere, Nicholas grounded, Burridge left with no alternative but to narrow the angle. Ward wrecked his geometry with a low shot that sent the North Stand into a joyful chorus…

“Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way! Oh! What fun it is to see Palace lose away.”

Euphoria
The solid V-shaped wedge of Palace people in the North-End corner was struck dumb.They had no reply as the Goldstone savoured a sweet moment, and the torment began afresh early in the second half. The boot started to go in, quietly at first, but not too sly to escape Martin’s notice. He began to take names, but Palace weren’t even good enough to knock Albion off their game. Albion knew they could be cracked again, and at 59 minutes Ward pushed open the creaking door that passed for Palace’s deface down the right, and laid on a tap-in goal for Ryan.

Now the mood around the ground was reminiscent of the promotion run-in games. Rapid calculations based on half-time scores had super-optimists thinking in terms of a mid-table spot in the next few weeks. The euphoria was understandable. Albion haven’t played so well at home for a long time, athough the handful who saw them at Wolves declared that stay-at-homers missed the best stuff.

The crowd, rather lower than expected, had been won over long before half-time and, for Palace, the rest was silence.

Men of the match
Horton (Albion)
Hilaire (Palace)

Teams
Albion:
Moseley; Gregory, Williams, Horton, Foster, Stevens, Ryan, Ward, Clarke, Lawrenson, O’Sullivan. Sub: Stille.
Crystal Palace: Burridge; Hinshelwood, Sansom, Nicholas, Cannon, Gilbert, Murphy, Francis, Flanagan, Swindlehurst, Hilaire. Sub: Fenwick for Sansom (injured), 55 minutes.

Referee: Mr J. Martin (Alton).

Bookings: Nicholas (foul), Hinshelwood (foul).

Albion Jackpot: White, 43233 (£125); Yellow, 28820 (£62.50); White, 41966 (£37.50), Yellow 26657 (£25)

If anyone has their unclaimed Albion Jackpot ticket from December 1979, I wonder if the club will still fulfil on the prize. Best to head to the Club Shop to find out!

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