McShane in the 79th minute – Brighton’s only win at Selhurst Park in a generation

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Selhurst Park hasn’t been the happiest of hunting ground for Brighton and Hove Albion in recent times. The Albion’s record since 1984 when visiting that squalid area of Croydon reads played eight, won one, drawn two, lost five, scored four, conceded 16. Ouch.

That means that an entire generation of fans have only ever come away from Palace with victory once in their Albion supporting lives. The date was Tuesday October 18th 2005, the score was 1-0 and the hero was Paul McShane, scoring his first goal for the club since signing on-loan from Manchester United at the start of the season. Not a bad time to do it.

What made this particular win over Palace all the more special was that it was so unexpected. You’d have had to have been sniffing a significant amount of glue in the lead up to the game to even suggest that Mark McGhee’s side would come away with anything.

Firstly, there were the contrasts in form. We’d won only one league game all season, a 2-0 success over Plymouth Argyle two months previously and even that was misleading given that they basically handed us the points on a plate by playing 72 year old Taribo West at centre back. Palace meanwhile were looking to bounce back to the Premier League at the first attempt after relegation. They arrived in great form, having won three on the bounce for a grand total of eight wins out of 14. Our last eight wins had been spread over a period of 10 months.

Then there were the respective squads. Palace had a current England international striker in Andrew Johnson in theirs, although he missed the game at Selhurst which, given he netted a hat-trick on our previous meeting there, might go some way to explaining why we won. But even without Johnson, Iain Dowie’s ugly mug could still call upon full internationals such as Gabor Kiraly and Clinton Morrison and proven Championship performers like Jobi McAnuff, Danny Butterfield and Fitz Hall.

The Albion didn’t have a pot to piss in and when we did have a pot to piss in, we’d often prefer to stick complete and utter shit in it instead like Federico Turienzo, signed for a six figure fee despite McGhee discarding him after one failed trial in a friendly against Lewes. Two of our stand out performers from the previous season in Adam Virgo and Dan Harding had left in the summer, and we’d replaced them with Jason Dodd and Colin Kazim-Richards. In short, there was not so much a gulf but more a chasm in class between the two sides.

This pretty woeful squad by Championship standards did at least give birth to Mark McGhee Bingo. McGhee had always had a liking for players players out of position with Virgo’s exploits as a centre forward being the main example, but in the 2005-06 season it kicked up a notch. You could just imagine McGhee sitting in a darkened room, curtains drawn, a Scottish film like Trainspotting or Braveheart playing quietly on the television in the background while we swigged whiskey straight from a bottle of Glenfarclas and drew names out of a hat as to who would be playing in what position the following day.

McGhee Bingo at Selhurst gave us Paul Reid – a right footed central midfielder – at left back and Gary Hart – a striker or attacking right winger – at right back. When Richard Carpenter – a central midfielder – was forced off after being hit in the face by Tom Soares after just 25 minutes, we saw Alexandre Frutos – a left winger – replace him.

Actually, that change from McGhee did kind of make sense as Dean Hammond – a central midfielder who had naturally started out wide – came inside, leaving us to play with two out-and-out wingers in Frutos and Sebastien Carole to fly down the wingers and deliver crosses into the box. A great gameplan with a front two of Leon Knight and Jake Robinson, who wouldn’t have enough height between them to go on some of the rides at Chessington World of Adventures.

As is normally the case in derby games, it was low on quality and high on effort. Remarkably, the Albion were the better side with Wayne Henderson only having to make on save of note all evening from Morrison. At the other end, Kiraly’s mother would’ve had a tough time washing all the mud out of his pyjama bottoms as he was kept busy all evening, denying Robinson, Knight and Frutos and sprawling across his goal a couple of times for efforts that flashed just wide.

Scoring goals had been a real problem all season for the Albion and it looked as though it would cost them the chance of a famous win as the clock ticked into the final 15 minutes with the score locked at 0-0. Then the Albion were awarded a corner in front of the Whitehorse Lane Stand. Carole delivered and McShane rose highest to head home. It was a ridiculous header and the sort of goal you only see in derbies, when heightened adrenaline and the will to win means players can often summon something superhuman – in this case the height he had to reach, the way he had to contort his body and the power he got to send the ball flying past Kiraly. McShane would end up being voted Player of the Season come the end of the campaign and that one moment of magic played a signifcant part in the decision.

It was a tense last 15 minutes after that and Palace put the ball into the back of the net with the final kick of the game through Morrison. The Eagles supporters next to us in the Holmesdale – away fans were housed next to the home end in the days before the locals discovered fire and Primark’s range of £6 black hoodies – went mad, taunting the Albion support with some lovely hand gestures and a lot of noise. What they hadn’t noticed is that the linesman’s flag was up, the game was restarting and we were still winning 1-0. And that is how it ended 30 seconds later.

There were wild celebrations on the pitch at the end with the players celebrating as if they’d just won promotion. And who can blame them? A season that was one of the worst in living memory outside of the War Years is still looked back on fondly, purely because of the fact that we won at Selhurst for the first and so far only time in 35 years. Paul Reid said in an article on the official site this week it was the highlight of his footballing career, and he’s played in a play-off final, won the A-League and represented Australia.

That’s what a win away at Palace means and that is why October 18th 2005 remains one of the Albion’s greatest nights.

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