Ian Hart: It was a mixed festive period for Albion

Action from Albion's New Year's Day clash with Bournemouth. Picture by Phil Westlake (PW Sporting Photography)
Action from Albion's New Year's Day clash with Bournemouth. Picture by Phil Westlake (PW Sporting Photography)

It’s been a mixed bag for the Albion since my return from Down Under, four games, one win, two draws and an almost expected defeat at Chelsea – not quite relegation form, in fact far from it, and real room for optimism.

In chronological order, the pre-Christmas home game against Watford was a decent win. Going into Christmas Day mid-table with 21 points was probably a long way from what the prophets of doom were predicting back in August. The visit to Stamford Bridge was an experience. Albion produced a spirited first-half performance but after conceding 50 seconds into the second half, it was always going to be ‘A Bridge Too Far’.

Then the New Year weekend threw up two encounters that encapsulate everything that the Premier League is about.

With Newcastle on a four points from 33 run, a win at St James’ Park looked a possibility, as it turned out a draw was the fair result, with Albion keeper Maty Ryan once again proving his worth. Which brings us on to Monday, an Amex South Coast derby against Bournemouth provided cracking entertainment and unfortunately some comical defending by the Albion resulted, in my opinion, in two points dropped. I still don’t think that come the final whistle at Anfield in May it will be a factor, but not to get all three points was nonetheless disappointing.

The Albion take a break from league action this week with the visit of arch rivals Crystal Palace in the FA Cup, with a live TV date on Monday night. Unfortunately the greatest cup competition in the world has been subject to a degree of neglect over the years. It’s 40 years since the teams met, as Division 3 clubs, in the first round over three games, the Goldstone, Selhurst Park and then Stamford Bridge for a neutral, and extremely controversial second replay, but watched by in excess of 80,000 over the three games.

On Monday the Amex won’t be full, given the TV coverage and the probability that both managers will put out ‘experimental’ line-ups, and at the time of going to press there are still nearly 10,000 tickets unsold.

Perhaps now’s the time, with one eye on the next generation of fans, that the club reach out to all the youth football teams, both girls and boys, the length and breadth of the county, and sell the majority of the unsold tickets for £1 each (competition rules state they can’t give them away). It fills the stadium, builds the atmosphere but more importantly hopefully ‘hooks’ the kids to the excitement of the beautiful game live.

n And finally, I sadly find myself writing a tribute to the late Steve Piper, who passed away on Boxing Day. They say you should never meet your football heroes as they often disappoint. I went totally the other way, Pipes was in the first Albion side I ever watched in April, 1973, and far from disappointing when we later met, we became friends.

There has been a plethora of tributes from many people, one of the most fitting for me was written some 38 years ago in the match programme for Steve’s testimonial down at Portsmouth, when his professional career was cut short by injury.

Speaking about Steve during his brief tenure as Albion manager, the legendary Brian Clough wrote: “They were difficult times and I needed all the help from the players. Unfortunately not too many of them wanted to play for Brighton when I got there, but there was one or two we could rely on, and none more so than Steve Piper, who was one of the most honest and genuine lads, if not the most genuine, we had on the books.”

Says it all, take care Pipes.