It began like one of those parties where you are standing there, feeling a bit awkward and envious of your host, thinking, ‘this is how the other half live’. It ended with us feeling rather comfortable dining at the top table.
In between, there were plenty of highs and lows in Brighton’s debut season in the Premier League – and never a moment where we felt safe from relegation until survival was actually sealed.
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But this was a wonderful season in the history of Brighton and Hove Albion and a 15th place finish with 40 points was an achievement which few people would have believed possible at the start of the campaign.
Let’s face it, Brighton were among most people’s favourites to go straight back down to the Championship, based on past survival rates of clubs coming up and the resources at our disposal. Our most expensive signing last August, Jose Izquierdo, cost a fifth of what Chelsea paid for Alvaro Morato at the same time; all our summer signings put together cost just over half the fee the Blues paid for the Spanish striker.
That, of course, is the Morato who plays for a Chelsea side that only finished fifth in the final table. Don’t start me on what Manchester City spent!
It all started for Brighton at home to Manchester City last August and, bearing in mind what Pep Guardiola’s men went on to achieve, a 2-0 reverse was highly respectable. By the time we played City again – a 3-1 loss in the penultimate game of the season – Brighton were safe.
The highpoints of the season were the wins at home to Arsenal and Manchester United. The 2-1 win at home to Arsenal on a Sunday afternoon in early March stretched Brighton’s most important run of the season to five Premier League matches unbeaten, with 11 points out of 15. It also gave everyone connected with the club real belief that we could defy the odds and stay up.
A run of six matches without a win followed that, a sequence which started alarm bells ringing as it included a lacklustre draw at home to fellow strugglers Huddersfield and a 3-2 defeat away to our fiercest rivals, Crystal Palace. But the 1-0 victory at home to Manchester United in early May – a performance that was full of heart and passion – ended any worries about relegation.
Pascal Gross scored the winner in that game to cap an outstanding campaign when earned him our Player of the Season vote. With seven goals and eight assists, the German playmaker was surely the bargain of the season in the Premier League at £3million.
Lewis Dunk finished second in the Player of the Season voting and rightly so. Forget the fact he scored a few own goals, Dunk was immense throughout the campaign and I still don’t understand why Gareth Southgate has not given him a chance with England.
Glenn Murray, who like Gross cost peanuts in Premier League terms, finished the season with 12 league goals – one more than Morato – to spark talk of an England call-up for him at the age of 34.
Goalkeeper Mathew Ryan was the other standout player, proving such an astute signing to replace David Stockdale, whose decision to swap Premier League football with Brighton for a season with Birmingham looked more and more baffling as the campaign went on.
With the likes of Ryan, Gross, Davy Propper and Jose Izquierdo, Brighton’s recruitment team need a huge pat on the back, but the biggest one goes to manager Chris Hughton who calmly steered us through choppy waters and is surely a manager of the season contender, if not a winner.
Come next August we will start going through the joys and pains again – and it will be another huge battle to stay up. But sometimes too much emphasis is put on the past and the future. Instead, you should enjoy the present and right now I’m a very happy Brighton fan.