Winning at wet and wonderful Withdean

Glen Little - put the Clarets in front in 2002
With new blood in the side, it must be hoped that the Clarets can get back to winning ways, now that the Burnley fans have had time to get over the recent departure of striker, Ade Akinbiyi. There’s no doubt that the recent speculation surrounding both Ade and Steve Cotterill, hasn’t been beneficial to the club. Yet, the fact that Leicester City so dearly want our manager must be seen as a compliment. One thing’s for sure, one of the best signings that could be made right now, would be for Barry Kilby to wrap up an extended contract for our very talented manager.

This fixture is hardly the most glamorous of our 23 away league games, but in the Withdean Stadium, the away fan certainly is offered something different from many of today’s more traditional, frequently similar and more often than not, half empty stadia. The fact that you must look over a 400m running track to view the play, sit exposed to the elements in a roofless stand and feel more intimidation from the densely packed surrounding vegetation than the home support, speaks volumes for this setup.

However, Brighton and Hove Albion are a good club and they find themselves in the top half of England’s league system on merit, even though they are currently struggling somewhat to keep out of the drop zone. With the Seagulls destined for better things now that their Falmer Stadium plans have been accepted, the club could have a bright future.

Taking a look back now and the away draw taken from the Withdean in the season of 2002/2003 was not a good one. Leading by two clear goals in the 88th minute, the thought of the long trip home to East Lancashire didn’t seem all that bad.

However, two minutes and a bit of injury time later, that trip homeward seemed double the distance, as the Seagulls undid a sloppy Burnley defence twice with Steve Sidwell bagging both in the process.

Sidwell, a product of the Arsenal Youth System, currently plies his trade with Steve Coppell’s Reading side and is currently rated as one of the most highly rated central midfielders outside the Premiership. He had the first chance of the game as Bobby Zamora slotted him through with a neat ball, only to see the final shot sent wide of the post.

Playing in those dreadful amber and black, thick-striped shirts, Burnley quickly got a foothold on the game, creating two good chances within the next five minutes, as Gareth Taylor saw a shot strike the legs of Brighton keeper, Kuipers, before Robbie Blake sent a fine lob just wide. Further chances followed for Burnley but Brighton kept the scores deadlocked. Right on half time though, the Clarets took a deserved lead as a Glen Little broke into the box and created himself a shooting opportunity. His initial shot was poor, but was dealt with terribly by the Brighton defence and this left Little with the simplest of chances, to prod Burnley into a 1-0 lead.

Ian Moore - his goal looked to have clinched the win
The second half began in a similar vain to the first, with Brighton creating the first chance of note; this time with Dean West saving a stationary Marlon Beresford’s blushes with a very timely goal line clearance. Burnley once again slowly started to dominate thereafter and on the 70 minute mark, Ian Moore doubled Burnley’s lead, heading in as Kuipers had failed to keep hold of Moore’s first attempt.

Game, set and match, Burnley? Not a chance! This was the ‘Throw One In’ season after all. As the fourth official was preparing his stoppage time board, Steve Sidwell was given space to make a run inside from off the left wing. He left Dean West with ease and struck a clean shot, low and hard beneath Beresford’s despairing frame. Just as they had done at Valley Parade earlier in the season, Burnley insisted on sitting back and allowed Brighton to push on as the seconds ticked away.

Within a minute of letting the Seagulls have their consolation, they went and got the leveller. This time the action came from down the right as Bobby Zamora made his run. A simple cross wasn’t dealt with and Sidwell was in the right place at the right time to collect his brace and in the process, collect an undeserved point for BHA. It was a bitter pill to swallow, leaving the fans across the athletics track feeling like they had been hit by a wayward ‘hammer throw’.

As we know, this was the season where we shipped goals for fun against the likes of Grimsby, Rotherham, Reading and Sheffield Wednesday. This game though, seemed to epitomise the entire season in a little over 60 seconds play.

Despite having the likes of Zamora and Sidwell in their squad, Brighton dropped into the third tier of English football in May of 2003. A season down the line, they had bounced straight back to the Championship, thanks mainly to the goals from their small, yet pacey striker, Leon Knight.

The fixture for that season saw Burnley travel to Brighton on a very wet November afternoon and it provided the Clarets with their second of three consecutive 1-0 victories and back to back away wins, following a fine display at Elland Road a few weeks previous. Significantly, Robbie Blake scored the only goals in the aforementioned 1-0 wins and in the process, brought Burnley nine very valuable points.

This game again was one that the clarets thoroughly deserved to win. Brighton did have their share of the chances but failed to really threaten Brian Jensen in the Burnley goal, due to the fantastic performances given from Frank Sinclair and Gary Cahill in the centre of Burnley’s defence. In fact, the closest the Seagulls did come to scoring was late on in the game, as Brian Jensen inexplicably dropped a ball whilst under no pressure, presenting Brighton with a very good chance, which was unbelievably put wide.

The game was won midway through the second half as a Tony Grant corner was won by a rising Claret shirt. In what seemed like a scramble in the box, the Burnley players managed to prod it between them a few times before Robbie Blake took over proceedings; turning beautifully and rifling a shot, left footed into the top right hand corner of Michel Kuipers’ netting. It was a great goal, worthy of winning any game and it sent the clarets contingent, sat in the open, into delirium, as they at last got the chance to get off their feet and shake off all that rain. The trip home this time was somewhat sweeter.

Whatever team Steve Cotterill has at his disposal on Tuesday evening, I don’t think anyone would deny that a repeat of that 1-0 scoreline would do just nicely. Here’s to a good performance and three more Championship points ahead of our home fixture with Plymouth Argyle at the weekend.