Brighton & Hove Albion travel to Cardiff tomorrow for our first ever meeting in the top flight.
Historically, Albion just shade things, with 23 wins to Cardiff’s 22, with 22 games ending in a draw. Hopefully, game number 68 between the clubs will result in us extending that record.
For our nostalgic look into Albion history, this week we travel to the other end of the Football League, and a game in the wind and rain of Withdean in February 2001. It was our second season at the Theatre of Trees and the pitch was giving the club cause for concern. Appalling weather in the previous few weeks meant we had not played a home game for nearly seven weeks.
That break had enabled the club to relay large areas of the pitch, as well as install a new drainage system. Albion manager Micky Adams makes mention of this in his programme notes: “We’ve seen cost incurred with the pitch, which I am sure was not budgeted for”. He goes on to talk about the relative gulf in spending power between the two clubs, describing Cardiff City as “the fat cats of the league”.
It was a mouth-watering prospect, as we were battling it out at the top of the table. Chesterfield were top on 67 points from 31 games. Both Cardiff City and ourselves had four games in hand and were 13 and 15 points behind respectively.
It was another horrendous day weather-wise and as we turned up, many of us were wondering if the new pitch would stand up to the combined force of 22 players and all the rain.
Despite the conditions, the game turned out to be a classic between two teams desperate for the three points on offer. Withdean was criticised over the years for a lack of atmosphere but on that February Saturday, the crowd of 6,922 made themselves heard. It was billed as a game between the rich kids and the poor upstarts, which gave the game extra bite.
Albion, of course, had one of the division’s most potent strikers in Bobby Zamora. He broke the deadlock in the first half, slotting home after out-pacing the Cardiff defence. In the second half, Cardiff threw everything they could at the Seagulls defence but we stood firm. As City grew more frustrated, Albion goalkeeper Mark Cartwright was clattered by Gavin Gordon, sparking a free-for-all. The Cardiff player received a red card but despite this, they continued to batter the Albion goal, but we held on for a memorable victory.
This gave us valuable impetus for the rest of the season and we lost just three more games out of the 18 that remained. We pulled clear of Cardiff City and on a memorable night at Withdean in May 2001, finally clinched the league title with a 1-0 win against Chesterfield.
We have come a long way since that battling performance in the Withdean rain, but similar qualities at The Cardiff City Stadium on Saturday will hopefully deliver three points again, this time in the top flight.
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