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The Withdean Years Part Two - 2003-2007

In 1999, Brighton and Hove Albion moved into their temporary home at the cities athletics venue, Withdean Stadium. Having redeveloped the ground significantly, the stay was only meant to last for three years only work on a new permanent home at Falmer was completed. Unfortunately, delay after delay meant that the stay ended up being for twelve seasons.

Before that first game in August 1999, nobody could have envisaged the success and disappointment that would follow in nearly equal amounts among the trees in that leafy suburb of Brighton. Three league titles, four promotions, two relegations and two last-day escapes from demotion will mean that despite all the soakings and the appalling record between 2005 and 2010, Withdean will always hold a special place in Albion fans hearts for being their when the club desperately needed a home.

Part two of our look back at our stay at the stadium focuses on the beginning of the wilderness years 2003-2007

2003-2004 Season. Withdean Record: P26 W19 D4 L3 F45 A14
Back in Division Two following their relegation after one season in the second tier and minus Bobby Zamora, the Albion were hopeful of an immediate return. It looked on the cards as they streaked six points clear at the top by October, but Steve Coppell's departure for Reading saw a collapse. Mark McGhee lead the team into the play-offs, and Adam Virgo's last minute goal against Swindon in the second leg set up a penalty victory followed by a win at the Millennium Stadium to secure promotion.

Best Match: Swindon Town 1-2 20/05/04
With Swindon leading 2-0 with 120 minutes gone and heading to the play-off final, Adam Virgo pops up with a last minute goal to tie the aggregate score. Brighton's penalties are perfect and the woodwork and Ben Roberts conspire to give them victory and a place at the Millennium Stadium.

Worst Match: Stockport County 0-1 25/10/03
With Bob Booker in temporary charge following Steve Coppell's departure, another abject display ensured a third defeat in a row without scoring against a side who arrived in the relegation zone. The loss knocked the Albion off the top of Division Two.

Wettest Game: Swindon Town 1-2 20/05/04
It's that Swindon game again. Despite the Sky cameras being present for the play-off semi final second leg, the rain that pelted Withdean before and during the game meant it was nearly postponed. Not that anybody cared how wet they were after the thrilling conclusion.

Best Performance: Leon Knight v Queens Park Rangers 2-1 18/08/03
Bobby Zamora's replacement marked his home debut for the Albion with both goals as Leon Knight tore QPR apart. The performance made such an impression on Rangers boss Ian Holloway that he tried to sign Knight, but luckily the striker decided to turn his Withdean loan into a permanent deal.

Best Goal: Adam Virgo v Swindon Town 1-2 20/05/04
"Well, the thirty minutes of added on time are almost up but you're not there yet Swindon fans. In it goes. Oh it's gone in. Brighton, in added on time, have snatched a goal through Virgo. Incredible. Once again, there is late, late, late drama in the play-offs".

Funniest Moment: The squirrel invader v Leicester City
There have been many memorable pitch invasions down the years, but one of the most bizarre took place during a pre-season friendly against Leicester when a squirrel appeared on the pitch and easily outpaced Nathan Jones down the left flank, much to the delight of those who had bothered to attend.

 

2004-2005 Season. Withdean Record: P24 W7 D7 L10 F25 A31
Back in the Championship, the Albion were naturally made one of the favourites for relegation. After a poor start it looked like the bookies would be right, but Mark McGhee's inspired decision to turn Adam Virgo into a centre forward paid off as he netted eight times to lead the Seagulls to safety despite a disastrous run of form through March after selling and not replacing assets such as Darren Currie and Danny Cullip around the turn of the year.

Best Match: Sunderland 2-1 19/02/05
Richard Carpenter gave Brighton the lead but it looked like game over when Adam Virgo was dismissed on 30 minutes. Mark McCammon added a second though and an inspired second half display from debutant keeper Rami Shaaban saw the Seagulls hold on against the eventual champions.

Worst Match: Bristol Rovers 1-2 24/08/04
Five games into the season and the Albion were still without a win. A morale boosting victory over League Two Bristol Rovers in the League Cup was just what the doctor ordered then. A shame it never materialised as Brighton were outplayed by the visitors and crashed out 2-1.

Wettest Game: Leeds United 1-0 23/10/04
Leeds fans had gone from the Nou Camp in the Champions League to Withdean in the Championship in four short years. There mood wouldn't have been improved as they got completely soaked watching Clarke Carlisle head home an own goal to give the Albion a precious 1-0 win.

Best Performance: Jimmy Bullard, Wigan Athletic 2-4 15/03/05
Those who arrived two minutes late for the match against Wigan had already missed the Latics score two goals, one of which we'll discuss next from Jimmy Bullard. It was the floppy haired midfield player who tore Brighton apart helping the visitors go in at half-time already 4-1 up.

Best Goal: Jimmy Bullard, Wigan Athletic 2-4 15/03/05
Blink and you'd have missed it. Miss kick off to get a burger and you'd have missed it. With thirty seconds on the clock, Bullard picked up a loose ball 35 yards out and hit a stinging volley straight over the head of Shaaban, leaving the Albion keeper with no chance.

Funniest Moment: Craig Brown's sending off, Preston 28/08/04
Craig Brown was a man under pressure when Preston visited a Brighton side looking for a first win. The last thing he needed was a 1-0 defeat coupled with a sending off that turned the former Scotland boss so red there was genuine concern he would explode. He was sacked 24 hours later.

 

2005-2006 Season. Withdean Record: P24 W4 D8 L12 F21 A35
With the departure of Adam Virgo and Dan Harding, Mark McGhee was facing an even greater struggle to keep his side in the Championship for a third consecutive season. A number of high-profile fallings out with the likes of Mark McCammon, Leon Knight and Michel Kuipers didn't help the cause, and when the only arrival to help during the January transfer window was Doug Loft from Hastings the writing was well and truly on the wall - as it proved with the Albion propping up the table coming May

Best Match: Leeds United 2-1 14/01/06
There only four Withdean wins throughout the entire campaign, which made this category very easy to pick. Despite Andy d'Urso doing his best to ensure a Leeds victory, goals from Gary Hart and Paul Reid gave the Albion a much-needed win over the eventual losing play-off finalists.

Worst Match: Stoke City 1-5 30/04/06
Mark McGhee said it didn't matter as we were already down by this point, and his players certainly carried out that message. 5859 were inside Withdean despite the fact the ground could now hold 9000, and they were treated to a final day 5-1 defeat by the Potters.

Wettest Game: Luton Town 1-1 25/03/06
April showers arrived a week early as Withdean was once again turned into a lake, which was summed up nicely by the infamous Richard Carpenter slide tackle when he aquaplaned around thirty yards across the pitch on the seat of his shorts.

Best Performance: Adam Rooney, Stoke City 1-5 30/04/05
The team may have showed a similar amount of care to that that is afford to Colonel Gaddafi by the Libyan people, but it still took a special performance from 19-year-old Stoke striker Adam Rooney to net a hat-trick and earn a standing ovation from Withdean.

Best Goal: Chris Eagles, Watford 0-1 18/02/05
The Withdean crowd got an early glimpse of future Premier League player Chris Eagles' talent when the on-loan Manchester United player hit an audacious first time lob from inside his own half over the head of Wayne Henderson and straight into the Albion net.

Funniest Moment: The South Stand supports Stoke, 30/04/05
At 3-1 down, most Albion fans had had enough to the point where the South Stand began cheering for opponents Stoke. Thankfully, the Potters duly obliged by adding a further two goals to the total, while Stoke fans themselves got to celebrate an Albion consolation when Doug Loft netted.

 

2006-2007 Season. Withdean Record: P28 W10 D7 L11 F41 A35
Relegation was followed very quickly by the sacking of Mark McGhee just a month into the campaign. Dean Wilkins took over the first team reigns, with many of the squad now made up of his FA Youth Cup quarter finalists from the previous season. The Albion looked like they may be embroiled in a relegation battle but a few smart signings such as Bas Savage ensured that lower mid-table mediocrity was the result as crowds plummeted to a Withdean low average of just under 5500.

Best Match: Northwich Victoria 8-0 11/11/06
A tricky looking FA Cup First Round tie against Conference side Northwich Victoria was navigated with relative ease to give them a first victory in the competition for five years as Jake Robinson grabbed his second hat-trick in a fortnight

Worst Match: Blackpool 0-3 08/10/06
There many embarrassing results, but this particular embarrassment took place in front of the nation on Sky. Not even the debut of Andrew Whing could sure up the defence as the Seasiders ran rampant and the miserable day was rounded off when Alex Frutos saw red for an elbow

Wettest Game: Boston United 1-0 23/08/06
Only 2,533 people turned up on what looked like being a decent enough evening following earlier rain when Boston United visited in the League Cup. Unfortunately, a first half downpour meant that everybody returned home soaked after Paul Reid gave the Albion the win.

Best Performance: Nicky Maynard, Crewe Alexandra 1-4 27/08/06
The Crewe striker earned the penalty that got Kerry Mayo sent off before adding two second half goals of his own. And if it wasn't for three superb stops from Wayne Henderson, he could have had a double hat-trick as Crewe put one of the final nails in Mark McGhee's coffin.

Best Goal: Dean Cox v Swansea City 3-2 05/12/06
The diminutive wide man gave the Albion the lead against promotion chasing Swansea when he collected a clever knockdown from Alex Revell, proceeded to cut inside and ghost past a couple of men before smashing home an effort that swerved it's way past Willy Guerret in the visitors goal.

Funniest Moment: Dean White's tactics board
Dean Wilkins was a young manager with lots of modern ideas. One which was a total disaster was Dean White making the 150 metre walk from changing room to dugout carrying a gigantic tactics board, which he then proceeded to attempt to use to direct players during breaks in play

What were your best memories of the middle period of our spell at Withdean? Share them with us using the comments form.


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