Shoot Cover: Michael Robinson (31 January 1981)

Here’s Michael Robinson out-jumping Southampton’s Dave Watson at The Dell in September 1980:

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Despite Alan Mullery’s Brighton drawing 1-1 at Southampton on the opening day of the Division Two campaign in 1977/78, by the time both clubs were in the top flight, The Dell provided a much more challenging hunting ground. The Seagulls capitulated 5-1 in 1979/80 owing to some shocking defending. A season later, new signings Michael Robinson (above) and Gordon Smith (below) could not prevent their side going down 3-1:

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Fast forward to 1981/82 and Alan Mullery was gone. The open, attacking approach favoured by his sides was also gone, to be replaced by the tighter, more defensive approach of ex-Charlton boss Mike Bailey. The clash at the Dell on 8th December 1981 proved a triumph for the methodology of Bailey’s tactics against the flairniacs across the South Coast. The Seagulls won 2-0. Here’s how Steve Curry reported it in the Daily Express:

Brighton breezed into Southampton last night like a gang of gate crashers. But for a team hoping to stage an exclusive party, the Saints left the door invitingly open for intruders.

The victory that would have put Saints proudly on top of the First Division for the first time in their history never seemed a remote possibility, the occasion proving more inhibiting than inspirational.

The style and the skill that brought them victory over Manchester United last Saturday seemed like a dim and distant dream on this disappointing night.

Brighton, of course, were a different proposition to United, first frustrating Saints with the depth and meanness of their defensive football and then breaking out to steal the vital goals in the second half.

Even so, one did not expect players with the experience of Chris Nicholl, Alan Ball, Mike Channon and Kevin Keegan to buckle under the significance of the night.

Manager Lawrie McMenemy said: “If it had been the FA Cup Final, I would have blamed the occasion. But it was just a disappointing night at the club for everyone.”

But Brighton manager Mike Bailey pointed out: “People tend to underrate us a bit. I think the fact it was a local derby motivated us and I thought we played very well.”

A hardening pitch on a sub-zero night and the inconsistencies of Oxford referee Dennis Hodges are hardly adequate excuses for Southampton’s failure.

A side chasing the championship should have shown more imagination and inventiveness when it was so obvious that the long high ball into the middle was courting frustration.

For centre-half Steve Foster, increasingly an international candidate, picking off the centres like a kid raiding apples from an orchard.

Perhaps Brighton are sometimes excessive in their handling of opposition forward lines but an away record this season of only two defeats underlines the effectiveness of their policy.

Last night they had three players cautioned – Foster, Gordon Smith and Sammy Nelson – and if Foster is to make the grade at the highest level he must not prod referees in the chest with an outstretched finger when the book comes out.

In a goalie’s first half both sides had a scoring chance. Southampton’s Steve Moran and Brighton’s Gerry Ryan both being denied by good saves.

But in the 63rd minute Brighton took the lead from Andy Ritchie, only in the side because of injury to Michael Robinson.

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Three minutes later Brighton put the game beyond Southampton’s grasp. Mike Thomas crossed from the left and when Foster’s header rebounded of a defender Steve Gatting prodded the ball home.

In denying Saints their moment in history, Brighton made history themselves by moving up to sixth place in the First Division – the highest they have achieved.

The result actually put Albion in their second highest ever League position, having occupied fifth spot in Division One in August that season, when an Andy Ritchie goal put Wolves to the sword. While one place off, sixth was a welcome place to be and gave rise to the hope of securing a UEFA Cup spot.

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