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2011-12 Season Review Part One

Brighton and Hove Albion were a club one the up. League One champions, one of the best young managers in the country and levels of money to burn that were previously unthinkable to supporters.

Oh, and the small matter of a brand new, state-of-the-art 22,5000 seater stadium that is one of the best in the country.

No wonder hopes were high then for the clubs return to the Championship for the first time in five years. Here's what happened in the first four months of the unforgettable 2011-12 season.

Pre-Season 2011
Your top scorer and one of the players of last season walking out on a free for your arch rivals isn't the best start to pre-season, but that is what Judas Murray did when he decided the grass would be greener at Selhurst Park. Elliott Bennett completed his dream move to the Premier League in a 1.5m switch to Norwich but it was the transfers in that got fans really excited with the clubs record fee being broken three times. Firstly, Will Hoskins (yes, he really did sign, it wasn't your imagination) arrived from Bristol Rovers for 500,000; Will Buckley followed from Watford for 1.5m before the Albion beat off competition from the likes of Leicester and West Ham to sign Craig Mackail-Smith for 2.5m. Romain Vincelot and Roland Bergkamp (remember him?) arrived as well and fan favourite Kazenga LuaLua returned permanently. The Amex opened with Gary Hart scoring the first goal at the new ground as the reserves defeated Eastbourne Borough to win the Sussex Senior Cup. The Seagulls were superb tourists for the second year running as they were involved in a mass brawl and abandonment in Portugal before Dodgy 'Arry bought Luka Modric, Gareth Bale and co to The Amex for the first first team game where, despite Kazenga LuaLua scoring, a howler from Sexy Pete Brezovan gave Spurs a 2-1 win. Not that it mattered - we had a proper home ground for the first time in 14 years and the 2011-12 season was set up to be one of the most promising in 20 years.

 

August 2011
If Carlsberg did first games at a new ground, they would do a cauldron of noise, a sea of blue and white and two goals from a substitute on their debut to secure a 2-1 win including a 96th minute winner. Doncaster = perfect. Gillingham were seen off in the League Cup before Craig Mackail-Smith opened his account to give the Albion a 1-0 win at Portsmouth. The most impressive performance of the season came at the originally named Cardiff City Stadium with Ashley Barnes netting a brace and Will Hoskins on target before Super Kevin Phillips netted two second half goals to end the 100% start to the season after we had sauntered into a 2-0 lead at home to Blackpool. Gus Poyet completed his eight month chase of Ryan Harley as the midfielder arrived for 250,000 from Swansea taking the summer spending to close to an unprecedented 5m, while Mackail-Smith netted to shock Sunderland 1-0 in the League Cup. Peterborough were beaten 2-0 as the Albion ended the month top of the table and an amazing August was rounded off with the signing of 38-cap former Spain star and a man once valued at €30 by Valencia - Vicente.
Record: P7, W6, D1, L0, F12, A4

Results: 2-1 Doncaster H, 1-0 Gillingham H, 1-0 Portsmouth A, 3-1 Cardiff A, 2-2 Blackpool H, 1-0 Sunderland H, 2-0 Peterborough H
League Position at End of Month: 1st

 

September 2011
Top spot in the table was consolidated with Ashley Barnes netting at Bristol City before the unbeaten start came to an end against Sven Goran Eriksson's title favourites Leicester with a 1-0 defeat at the King Power Stadium in which Marcos Painter saw red and Craig Mackail-Smith conspired to miss from a yard. Speaking of Kings, King Kenny bought Liverpool to The Amex in the Carling Cup and left with a 2-1 win although it wasn't as straightforward as it looked. And speaking of Champions of Europe, one of the most entertaining Amex games of the season saw The Leeds United run into a 2-0 lead before a brace from Mackail-Smith and an Ashley Barnes penalty put the Albion 3-2 ahead only for us to concede a last minute equaliser. The first league defeat at The Amex arrived and no prizes for guessing who it was at the hands of as Crystal Palace earned early bragging rights with a 3-1 victory. An inept display from Gus Poyet's men saw them out battled by a side who wanted it more and the misery was rounded off when Glenn Murray scored the final goal in injury time. FFS Murray.
Record: P5, W1, D1, L3, F6, A9

Results: 1-0 Bristol City A, 0-1 Leicester A, 1-2 Liverpool H, 3-3 Leeds H, 1-3 Crystal Palace H
League Position at End of Month: 5th

 

October 2011
Vicente marked his first start with a goal of the season contender at Ipswich before Michael Chopra inspired the Tractor Boys to come back and win the game 3-1 in what set the tone for a winless October. Hull City visited The Amex and the stadium had its first goalless draw as Vicente made his last appearance before the injury curse that had dogged his career took shape and he hibernated for the winter. Two complete cock ups cost three points at The Den as a combination of Ryan Harley taking the worst penalty in the history of professional football and Casper Ankergren conceding a ridiculously soft equaliser meant a 1-1 draw with Millwall as Craig Noone continued his fine early season form with a goal. With no win in seven, Gus Poyet dived into the loan market bringing in Chilean international Gonzalo Jara Reyes from West Brom and goalkeeper Steve Harper from Newcastle. It couldn't stop the rot as West Ham United won 1-0 at The Amex with Kevin Nolan scoring. Another long-term Poyet target arrived in Billy Paynter and he made his debut off the bench in a hard fought 0-0 draw at Birmingham City in a game in which the Albion didn't have one meaningful effort on goal.
Record: P5, W0, D3, L2, F2, A5

Results: 1-3 Ipswich A, 0-0 Hull H, 1-1 Millwall A, 0-1 West Ham H, 0-0 Birmingham A
League Position at End of Month: 10th

 

November 2011
The lack of shots on target, never mind goals, away from home was becoming more than a passing problem as November began with a dismal performance in a 1-0 defeat at Watford. A first win in ten was recorded over Barnsley at The Amex as Gordon Greer got his first goal in the stripes and Ryan Harley offered his last meaningful contribution to the season and Gus Poyet waded into Suarezgate by sticking up for Luis the Racist. It was a horror show for the 3000 Albion fans who made the trip to St Marys as a Rickie Lambert hat-trick secured a 3-0 win for  Southampton with Mauricio Taricco seeing red in just his fourth game back after coming out of retirement for the second time. The reaction was the first back-to-back wins since the opening weeks of the season as Coventry side were defeated 2-1 thanks to an own goal and a stunning header from Romain Vincelot, which was followed four days later as Craig Mackail-Smith ended his goal drought with a superb strike from over 30 yards to secure a 1-0 win away at Derby County in another memorable defensive performance epitomised by a man-of-the-match display from the returning Capser Ankergren.
Record: P5, W3, D0, L2, F5, A5

Results: 0-1 Watford A, 2-0 Barnsley H, 0-3 Southampton A, 2-1 Coventry H, 1-0 Derby A
League Position at End of Month: 7th

 

December 2011
December began with another last minute winner from Will Buckley as Nottingham Forest were robbed of a deserved point as the Albion won 1-0. Seagulls fans were rewarded for making the longest trip of the season to Middlesbrough with another away game in which they failed to have a shot on target, losing 1-0. Gonzalo Jara Reyes became the first Seagulls player to be arrested in the season for driving while banned and having no insurance. Referee Craig Pawson completely lost the plot as Romain Vincelot and then Ashley Barnes were dismissed in the first 12 minutes of Burnley's visit to The Amex and despite a spirited display with 9 men, the Clarets won 1-0 in the best atmosphere the new ground had seen with Adam El-Abd excelling in his first start since returning from injury. There was no Christmas cheer at Reading on Boxing Day as the Championships form club ran out 3-0 winners and one of the best years in the history of the club was rounded off with the worst performance of the season as bottom of the table Coventry strolled to a 2-0 win at the Ricoh, leaving the Albion 16th in the table and wondering where the season was heading.
Record: P5, W1, D0, L4, F1, A7

Results: 1-0 Nottingham Forest H, 0-1 Middlesbrough A, 0-1 Burnely H, 0-3 Reading A, 0-2 Coventry A
League Position at End of Month: 16th