Brighton Season Review 2013/2014

“The club will always have a place in my heart and I hope very soon they will be competing at the top level in English football.” [Oscar Garcia, former Brighton manager, 2014]

I am both surprised and saddened to be writing an end of season report which, just one week ago, was looking oh, so different. Oh, so positive. Not so much now. Today is three days after the Play Off semi final 2nd leg defeat to Derby. They were the better team by far. We looked fragile. Out of sorts. Out of luck. In the 72 hours that have passed the club has gone into meltdown. Again.

Garcia goes

Oscar Garcia during happier times

For the second season running we are now without a manager and about to lose some of our best players. Oscar Garcia handed in his resignation on Sunday night. By Monday afternoon the club confirmed it had been accepted. As his letter to the fans shows, he’s not got a new job lined up and he certainly has not been asked to leave. So the big question is why has he decided to go; a decision, apparently, which has been thought over for the past few months? This is the man who joined only last summer after Gus Poyet left the club in such clouded circumstances, again so soon after losing in the Play Offs.

It doesn’t make sense and points to bigger problems behind the scenes. I thought the days of managers leaving due to budget constraints and lack of ambition were left behind at Withdean along with temporary seating, waterlogged pitches and terrible chips. Selling excellent players in January in Bridcutt, Barnes and El Abd and not replacing them was a major blow, two of whom will be in the Premier League next season. We won’t. But that’s not so bad. I was never expecting to be there. The Play Off defeat this season was so much different to last year’s. This was a magnificent bonus that was secured in the most dramatic, last-gasp fashion at Nottingham Forest by Leo Ulloa. What a great day that was for me; dressed in full Harchester United kit, it really was like something out of Dream Team. Since then only nightmares.

Dream Team

Harchester kit amongst Brighton and Berlin

The most disappointing thing now is that it looks like we’re having to start again despite picking up the pieces so well from the mess of last summer. Back to square one. No manager to make the decisions on signings; who to keep, who to bring in, who to get rid of? This morning the retained list was announced. Star goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak and flair midfielder Andrea Orlandi are the big names out of contract and, amazingly, won’t be offered a new one. What madness. The goalkeeper is the second most important part of a Championship team after a goalscorer. Kuszczak is amongst the best in the league. He’s now going somewhere else for free.

It’s a real shame to be starting this in such a negative tone because again it’s been an incredible season with so many highs. It took a while to get going at the Amex but once we did it was well worth another season in the back row of the North Stand. Key wins over champions Leicester, promoted Burnley and Play Off finalists QPR showed we could beat the best on our day. Yet that was countered with a frustrating draw with Blackpool, which nearly ended the dream of promotion, an against-all-logic defeat to Wigan and back to back catastrophes against Ipswich and Middlesbrough. At times the home form seemed to be costing us but we’d soon go and pick up a vital win. Consistently inconsistent on the South Coast.

The North Stand

The North Stand at the Amex

Away from Sussex there were some wonderful days out as ever. If Forest on the final day was the cherry on top of the clichéd cake, then count the Christmas jumper-infested surprise win at Middlesbrough as the icing, Port Vale in the cup as the necessary but nostalgically brilliant jam and overnight party trip to Bournemouth as the sponge all good cakes need. I think you can tell that I’m no Gordon Ramsay so I’ll leave the food analogy there. Special mentions also to great days at Wigan and new forays for me into Reading, Blackburn and Yeovil. All genuinely enjoyable in their own ways and reminders as to why football is the greatest game in the world.

Middlesbrough away

Christmas jumpers all round at Middlesbrough

On the pitch exceptional seasons from player of the year Matthew Upson (another one worryingly out of contract), Andrew Crofts (his season cruelly cut short half way through by injury) and top-scorer Leo Ulloa who had the unenviable task of having to win flick-ons and then chase it down all on his own. He seems to have mastered the trick of both creating the assist for, and scoring, his own, unstoppable goals. Fingers crossed the sniffing dogs of Leicester and their millions of pounds will be kept at bay over the summer as we cannot afford to lose him. Rohan Ince, or Ronan Since as my autocorrect keeps trying to put, has been a revelation in the midfield and is going a long way to replacing Bridcutt. Solly March is featuring and impressing more and more. Stephen Ward has replaced Wayne Bridge in the role of ‘excellent on-loan left back who for some strange reason won’t be around next season’ brilliantly. And finally, after more than a year out, Craig Mackail Smith has returned and will hopefully lead the line when we go again in August.

We were defensively amongst the best in the league but going forward left a lot to be desired and ultimately too many draws cost us cementing a higher finish. Still though, 6th place is excellent. It’s better than I could have hoped for. A remarkable achievement to have steadied the ship and guided it round that iceberg when many thought we were heading straight for it. It seems there may be a different obstacle this summer with no manager to guide us just yet. If bookmakers are to believed, and of course they aren’t, then gilet-wearing, borderline maniac Tim Sherwood will be in charge or, failing that, former never-say-die defender and friend of idiot owner Vincent Tan, Malky Mackay. Either appointment would be a clear step in the right direction. As would anyone on the supposed short list apart from Alan Curbishley. Or Alan Pardew. Or any Alan. It’s just a name synonymous with poor management.

Sherwood's famous gilet

Is Tim Sherwood next in the Amex dugout?

So the World Cup is around the corner. The fixtures for next season are out in five weeks and I start a new job at Sky in four. I’ve renewed my season ticket and only a dozen grounds away from ticking off all 92 league clubs. Exciting trips to Norwich, Brentford and Wolves await the Albion and for me some extra journeys across to Swansea, Everton and further north with a bit of luck. Seasons come and go and tend to be remembered for how they end. The season just gone is defined by further play off heartbreak and managerial uncertainty but throughout the campaign there were more than enough reasons to do it all again next season. So I’ll see you back here for pre-season in less than two months. You just know it’ll be here before we have time to draw breath.

Fan made YouTube Season Review video by jmac8

About Mark O'MEARA
I am Mark O'MEARA.

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