Almost there!

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John Vinicombe’s report from the Evening Argus on Brighton’s 2-1 victory over Blackburn Rovers, in their last home match of the 1978/79 season:

The crock of gold that is the First Division is shimmering up there at St James’ Park, Newcastle.

It is there to be taken by Albion, who must not only win the battle on the pitch but prevail in a war of nerves that took a heavy toll of their rivals while they overcame Blackburn Rovers.

The last match at the Goldstone of this marvellously exhilarating campaign set Albion up to snatch the prize of prizes – a place among the coveted elite.

Brian Horton led his players in a lap of honour. Blackburn most sportingly clapped their conquerors from the pitch. These were memorable moments. Now Albion prepare for the final hurdle. At St James’ Park, they will be cheered by an army of admirers travelling by air, rail, and road. A win will take them into the First Division without any arguments: anything less must depend on other results.

In their present mood, Albion are perfectly capable of winning in the grand manner. The championship could be theirs by twenty-to-five on Saturday.

They have shrewdly taken matches one by one, and were well aware that beating Blackburn was absolutely vital.

This was the game that could have gone horribly wrong (shades of Blackburn’s recent wins at Stoke and Sunderland), but Albion never looked like losing although I wouldn’t care to relive the last ten minutes.

Great credit must go to Albion for keeping their heads after the Easter Saturday defeat at Cardiff City. Subsequently, Cardiff spoiled a few cards, culminating in the sensational win at Sunderland that dispelled City’s relegation fears.

Newcastle will not yield without a fight, and I cannot take seriously the story going the rounds that they might be a pushover because Sunderland in the First Division would affect their gates.

Of course, there is no love lost between the traditional rivals of the North – East but can you imagine a manager like Bill McGarry demanding anything less of his players than 100 per cent?

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There has been stress on Albion, who have been in the top three since the 3-0 win at Charlton on December 23. Manager Alan Mullery has proved an inspirational motivator and Brian Horton quite the most outstanding captain the club has had, certainly since the war.

These redoubtable qualities were fully tested when Blackburn arrived no longer tortured over doubts of staying up. They came knowing full well that Division 3 is their scene next season. It ever a team stood to upset the favourites, it was Rovers.

Fears of a slip-up were partially justified as Albion were without Peter O’Sullivan, and had to re-jig with a new formation on the left. It didn’t quite come off, but in terms of chances created Albion outclassed Rovers.

Instead of being consumed by their own fears, Albion took early command, and the work rate of Teddy Maybank, who chased everything and won most of the balls in the air, typified the spirit. Tiring players found that extra half yard, and rovers were unable to stage a third sensation of the season.

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The 18th minute opener by Maybank that bulleted through a cloud of smoke was grabbed with tigerish tenacity. Whoever hurled the canister from the South Stand may have distracted goalkeeper John Butcher but it would have taken a wonderful save to have prevented Maybank scoring.

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From that point on, Rovers thrashed about in a fog of they own making. They hadn’t a clue about picking up Peter Ward, who had a splendid match, while their star man, Duncan McKenzie, seldom shook off the shackles imposed by Paul Clark.

Watching Andy Rollings it was difficult to believe that here was the player who needed assistance in boarding the train from Cardiff a fortnight ago. Then the head was temporarily down! Rollings feared a break, and in the next match Mark Lawrenson snapped an arm in two places.

The rapid return of Rollings to fitness has been an important factor. He not only read the game well but scored the all-important clincher early into the second half beyond Rover’s reach.

The foraging of John Bailey, one of the best left-backs we have seen at the Goldstone, and Noel Brotherstone’s fondness for varying the point of attack often spelled danger, but in all honesty the 2-1 scoreline let Rovers off rather lightly.

Quite early on, Ward was unlucky to hit the bar, and he might have scored at the half-hour, only Butcher blocked bravely. Malcolm Poskett on the left wing for the first time got into many good positions, but just couldn’t finish. But he never gave up, and on effort alone was worth his place.

And for sheer brilliance of reflexes Eric Steele once again proved why he is first choice goalkeeper at the Goldstone. There had been one nail-biting moment when a pass back from Rollings bobbled just past the post. And another two-thirds of the way through when Mike Rathbone’s shot deflected off Horton and against the far post where Peter Sayer pounced to clear.

Steele’s moment of brilliance came at 78 minutes when Martin Fowler’s shot clipped off Maybank’s backside. In a split second he changed direction to turn it round.

He hadn’t much chance four minutes from time with John Aston’s beautifully curled free-kick.

For ITV’s footage of the match, watch this:

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One thought on “Almost there!

  1. Steve Cowdry says:

    Remember the match well – and sweating on whether the FA would take action on the smoke-bomb…..!

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