They were heady at the Albion in December 1979. When the decade had started, the side was in the Third Division and now it had rocketed up to the giddy heights of the top flight. When the then current campaign had started, the Seagulls looked like relegation fodder. However, in the Christmas season, a resurgent Brighton played like nothing short of champions. Having trounced Wolves and Crystal Palace, two top-half sides, they proceeded to wipe the floor with Manchester City.
Here is a piece from the Daily Express that perfectly captures the delight in Sussex at the magnificent turnaround at the club:
As the decade draws to a close it is fitting to reflect on the fortunes of Sussex’s only League club whose First Division lifeline has grown progresslvely stronger over Christmas.
When the seventies were new Albion enjoyed a brief flirtation with the Second Division.
Once again they resumed an all too familiar Division Three tag, but as the influence of the incoming chairman, Mike Bamber, began to be felt a fresh picture took shape. The management team of Clough and Taylor halted a headlong plunge towards the Fourth Division and achieved vital breathing space with a crash programme and Taylor, alone, had a near miss in 1975-76.
The Alan Mullery touchstone brought unprecedented success with two promotion seasons out of three and then, inevitably, came the slump.
Anything less on merely a nodding acquaintance with the best company in the country would be expecting too much.
As Mullery said during the darkest moments: “Our mistake is in treating famous clubs on reputations, and not as 11 players.”
Albion are no longer overawed in their present suroundings. It has taken them half the season to acclimatise and pick up very much in the same fashion as last Christmas – maximum points from three games, and ten goals.
Last year the spurt sent them towards promotion; this time they have taken a further important step away from the rock bottom strugglers.
The yawning chasm of relegation has receded, but Mullery knows that the fight must continue, and any relaxation at this stage could be fatal.
Nevertheless, these last three games have seen Albion play more like a team better suited among championship contenders than down among the no-hopers.
In nine days they have demolished Wolves, Crystal Palace and now Manchester City, all clubs in the top half of the table.
Once might have been a fluke, but we have seen enough lately to measure Albion’s growing stature. On current form they are in a grossly false position, and while the prevailing mood is with them, they need fear no side.
In a splendid match, particutarly a memorable first half, Albion outclassed City who may yet feel the chill breath of relegation waft through the plush carpeted corridors of Maine Road.
For Mullery, at Albion’s helm, could well come the accolade of Manager of the Month.
He has motivated his players to work out their own salvation and instilled that priceless asset – self-confidence.
Even bearing in mind some of those high scoring Second and Third Division days, I cannot recall seeing Albion play so well as a team-as that opening 45 minutes against City.
Malcolm Allison, declined to grant interviews and preferred to keep his own counsel. Just as well.
There was nothing he could fairly say after his team succumbed to Albion’s fluency. In fact, they could have gone down by a good siX goals such was their lack of method and application.
The impetus of a goal inside half a minute leaves its mark and once Ray Clarke had profited by terribly slack marking to convert Mark Lawrenson’s centre, the crowd and team became as one.
For the first time this season the Goldstone really got behind Albion.
They had been wound-up by the Palace defeat, and suddenly here, was a killing thrust before many had time to settle.
City went to pieces after Clarke’s first goal. Eager to drive forward Sully missed from Brian Horton, and Joe Corrigan saved point blank from Peter Ward.
Then he got down well to the irrepressible Ward on two occasions. Next it was Gerry Ryan opening the way for Ward again, but his finishing let City off the hook.
A player with such a thirst Ward now has for goals eouldn’t keep missing, and at 27 minutes he scored his fifth in three straight outings.
The build-ups were coming from all points of the compass, especially a series of penetrating long passes and centres by John Gregory.
Just past the half hour, Clarke whipped in a third when Ryan, Ward and Sully were involved, and the North Stand chorussed: “You’re worse than Palace.”
There haven’t been many occasions when the fans have been able to rub it in, and they made the most of it this time.
They were momentarily silenced by Stuart Lee pulling one back for City, and just before the break, Graham Moseley made a daring save that prevented the lead being whittled to one.
A rare miscue by the normally composed Steve Foster let Gary Power in, and Moseley raced from his line to make a brave stop on the edge of the box.
Fears that Tommy Caton’s tackle on Lawrenson in the dying seconds of the half would prevent his reappearance were assuaged.
Early in the restart, Ward laid on delightful pass for Lawrenson to surge through the cloying mud and hit Corrigan’s bar.
There were still enough City heads still held high to make a game of it, but the result was put beyond doubt by the best goal of the match.
It was scored by Ryan who ran half the length of the pitch after gathering a throw from Moseley.
Had a Liverpool player scored it, I’ve no doubt it would be hailed as the goal of the century or some such exaggeration.
This was a masterly effort from a player who contributed much by strong running and intelligent passing.
He collected nine in 34 outings as a winger last term, but hasn’t had much luck so far.
When one player, in this case, Ward, starts to buzz, it rubs off.
The positions he reached prompted Sully to spray a series of fan-tailed passes from midfield, and Clarke, after nine games with Ward, now has settled to becoming an intuitive partner.
Ward kept turning the defence at will long after Ryan’s goal had passed Corrigan.
He was after another hat-trick, but I reckon he has done enough to prod England manager Ron Greenwood.
The Hortons of football, don’t gain international honours, but he’s as good a pro as you’ll find anywhere, and better than most.
Albion: Moseley; Gregory, Wiiliams. Horton. Foster Stevens. Ryan, Ward, Clarke, Lawrenson, O’Sullivan. ‘ Sub: Stille for Horton (injured), 76 minutes.
Manchester City: Corrigan; Ranson, Donachie, Bennett, Caton, Booth, Henry, Daley, Power. Reid, Lee. Sub: MacKenzie.
Here is the first and last goal from the match:
I hope to get full highlights of this game soon. When I do, I’ll share here!
One accolade that came out of the glorious form was that Peter Ward ended up receiving the Evening Standard player award for December 1979. Here he is with chairman Mike Bamber and two bottles of bubbly:
Well done, Wardy!
In the meantime, I’d like to wish you all a Happy New Year. Roll on the 1980s!