Seagulls Scene

Saturday afternoon and a Withdean crowd of 6,000 saw Bristol Rovers as the visitors in League One. The sun was shining and all was well with the world. Brighton just needed goals, a win, and three points and they would be soaring up into the play-off zone.

Unfortunately things didn't go to plan. Albion dominated the game but failed to score. Rovers kept their unbeaten away record but were lucky to do so. It was another clean sheet for Brighton's defence but being restricted to just the one point was disappointing. As a result they ended the day in 9th position.

Of course it could have been so different if! The first "if only" was in the very first couple of minutes when Alex Revell was given a great opportunity from a Matty Richards' free-kick. His downward header was too downward and bounced up over the bar. There weren't many other chances in an uninspiring first-half although Dean Cox forced a good tip over from the Rovers' goalkeeper with a strong drive.

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It was a much better second-half with the Seagulls creating several good chances. If only Revell's close range volley hadn't been straight at the keeper. If only Jake Robinson's tap over the goalie hadn't drifted inches the wrong side of the post. If only Cox's long range volley had been slightly off centre.

But it could have been worse. Part way through the first-half veteran central defender Guy Butters was forced off with a calf problem. Adam El-Abd came on and his first touch was a disastrous pass that left found Rovers' Walker running through with Albion's defence nowhere.

Walker was able to pass to unmarked Andy Williams in front of goal. Luckily, for us, the striker miss-kicked horribly. We were able breathe again as the ball was scrambled away to safety. That was the West country's side only decent chance.

Manager Dean Wilkins looked for positives from the game and was happy with the third clean sheet in a row. He thought it a good performance but recognised the need to score in such games where we are on top. The Brighton fans trooped away from Withdean in a fairly subdued mood, thinking "if only".

With hindsight there are reasons to be cheerful. Brighton are looking a much more balanced side these days. The comparatively new pair of full-backs, Whing and Richards, look promising. Young Tommy Elphick could go on to be an outstanding central defender and has formed a reliable partnership alongside Guy Butters.

Perhaps the biggest influence on the overall team performances has been from George O'Callaghan. At last we have a midfielder who wants and looks comfortable on the ball. He is the play-maker that has been missing. With Dean Cox and captain Dean Hammond the midfield is no longer a weakness.

Upfront the problem is finding the best combination from Bas Savage, Alex Revell, Jake Robinson, Nathan Elder and currently injured Nicky Forster. Bas Savage was played wide right and largely underused. He wasn't involved in the game much of the time. I think he could be better used in his "super sub" role.

In completely different conditions Barnet came to Withdean on Tuesday night for the second round of the Johnstone's Paint Trophy. Prior to the game there had been typical Withdean weather '“ buckets of rain. The result was a very wet, skiddy pitch. The weather and the nature of the match, the first stage of a JPT Southern section knockout game, meant a crowd of only 2,000. But it will become deadly serious if, or when, we get closer to a final at the New Wembley! I reckon we could take 20,000 plus to that game!

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Brighton beat 2nd Division Barnet by two goals to one. All things considered it was a good, exciting game. The Seagulls always looked like winners, especially after Jake Robinson's opener after 20 minutes. His wasn't a clean strike but did enough to go over the goal line.

Barnet are not a bad side and are currently near the top of the Division below the Albion. They made for a spirited game always providing an attacking threat.

The game was as good as won immediately on the restart. Little Dean Cox fired in a great shot which cannoned off the bar. Robinson reacted well and returned the ball to the centre for Cox to head home '“ two nil to the Seagulls and coasting.

At this point Brighton had gone over six hours of football without conceding. Michel Kuipers in goal was not best pleased when the run was ended by a Barnet goal. With just 16 minutes left a slight loss of concentration saw the lively Birchall break clear through the centre to keep the game alive. But Brighton had done enough and go through to the quarter-final draw to be made this coming weekend. A couple more wins in this competition and things will get interesting. (The FA Cup run starts in November!).

Next up is Port Vale away Saturday with a convenient 1 o'clock kick-off. England have a rather important game a little later that day! The next Withdean game is a monster. Leeds United will no doubt be bringing their unbeaten 11 match record to us. They have clawed their way up to the top half of the table having started with minus 15 points!

They have a positive goal difference of 15 and without the penalty reduction would be nine points clear at the top of the division! Somebody has to be the first to beat them '“ and I'm naively suggesting it will be the Seagulls!