It was time to stop the rot. After opening with three successive defeats, Gordon Smith converted a penalty as relieved Brighton under Jimmy Melia picked up a very welcome 1-0 victory against Derby County at the Goldstone in September 1983.
At the time, the Rams had seasoned players of the calibre of Roy McFarland, Archie Gemmill and John Robertson. However, they were all past their best. County were managed by ex-Albion boss Peter Taylor, who had returned to the Baseball Ground in November 1982, having ended his long partnership with Brian Clough by quitting Nottingham Forest six months previously. Together, Clough and Taylor had shocked the world by leading the Midlands side to the League Championship in 1972. However, going it along a decade later, Taylor struggled, although he did put one over Ol’ Big ‘Ead when the Rams beat Forest in the FA Cup in January 1983.
By the return match between Derby and Brighton at the Baseball Ground in March 1984, County were on their way towards Division Three and Taylor heading towards the sack. Helping them on their way was the Rams’ emphatic defeat to Cattlin’s Brighton side. Here’s how John Vinicombe of the Evening Argus reported it at the time:
Chris Cattlin’s rebuilding programme, aimed at promotion next season, continued apace at crisis-ridden Derby.
A wholly satisfying 3-0 victory also stilled any criticism at selling Steve Foster and Tony Grealish. Dissenting voices, always a minority, must now be faint echoes in the light of this latest performance.
Displays like this beat out Cattlin’s promise that the last two and half months of the campaign will not be allowed to peter out.
Amazingly, Peter Taylor axed four key players, including skipper Archie Gemmill and, before Gordon Smith scored the third and best goal of the match after 75 minutes, the Baseball Ground was a scene of bitter rancour.
Peter Taylor, who with Brian Clough, threw Albion a precious lifeline a decade ago, is himself in need of rescue.
Second from bottom, this grad old club, a founder member of the Football League, face relegation to the Third Division for only the second time, in their centenary year as well as today’s Inland Revenue winding-up petition in the High Court.
Perhaps Robert Maxwell will save Derby after all, but the prospect of charing a Third Division club cannot be that attractive. If he were to pay the preferential creditors in full, Derby could be had for under £1m.
Vinicombe blamed Derby’s poor financial affairs on poor housekeeping and contends that Brighton will never suffer such problems under Chris Cattlin, whose financial acumen was being demonstrated by his opposition to long-term contracts and the sale of senior players. Their opponents had the look of a veterans’ side, with Kenny Burns and Dave Watson also recruited to fight Derby’s relegation battle. Of the Rams, Vinicombe wrote:
Derby, this time shorn of not only Gemmill, but Paul Futcher who says he never want to play for Taylor again, John Robertson and Steve Cherry, had only endeavour to offer.
This is really only a polite way of saying their football was nothing but kick and rush, but there was a moment in the first half when the game might have gone their way.
That is did not was entirely due to Perry Digweed rectifying Willie Young’s mistake and preventing a certain goal by Bobby Davison. Digweed smothered the ball at Davison’s feet after Willie’s ill-timed pass back, and a few minutes’ later, when there didn’t appear to be a call, collecting one of Eric Young’s size 11 boots in the face.
For at least ten seconds, Digweed didn’t know what time of day it was. This was his first game for Cattlin, and only re-affirmed the manager’s high opinion of his second-string keeper.
Brighton took the lead on 54 minutes when Alan Young’s header found Steve Penney. The Ballymena-born winger turned Steve Buckle inside out and finished off the far post just as goalie Yakka Banovic tried to close the angle.
Striker Alan Young turned from provider to goalscorer eight minutes later, latching onto Gary Howlett’s pass to fire the ball home off Banovic’s foot.
Finally, Gordon Smith wrapped up the match with his last ever goals for the Seagulls, and it was a good one too. Danny Wilson caught ex-England defender Dave Watson at sixes and sevens and fed the Scotsman who rifled the ball into the roof of the net.
At the end of the season, Brighton finished ninth and Derby in 20th. However, it was a brief stay in the Third Division for the Rams and they returned to the Second Division in 1986 under the canny leadership of Arthur Cox.