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Withdean Years: The 2008/09 Great Escape

By Kieran Cleeves • 10 January 2018

Brighton & Hove Albion’s great escape from League One relegation is now available to watch on Seagulls TV, as Russell Slade arrived late in the season to guide the Seagulls to safety.

It all began with Micky Adams returning to the club for a second spell at the start of the season, following the departure of Dean Wilkins at the end of the 2007/08 campaign.

Bob Booker also returned alongside Albion’s 2000/01 Division Three-winning boss, and the pair made a number of signings before the opening-day fixture against Crewe Alexandra at Gresty Road.

Adam Virgo, Kevin McLeod, Colin Hawkins and Matt Richards all started for the Seagulls that day, while David Livermore settled for a place on the bench.

Virgo, returning to the club after being released by Celtic, made a perfect start to his second debut, putting his team ahead, as Albion fashioned their brand new light-blue away strip.

Crewe equalised with five minutes remaining, but Nicky Forster raced through in stoppage time to fire the winning goal and start the season with three points.

Albion then took a share of the spoils against Bristol Rovers at the Withdean Stadium, but secured another maximum points haul against Southend United, as Glenn Murray and Forster found the back of the net.

A run of poor league form followed, but a League Cup tie against Manchester City came towards the end of September, and it proved to be one of the most memorable matches at the Withdean.

Murray struck late on to force extra-time, before Stephen Ireland cancelled out Joe Anyinsah’s goal that put the Seagulls 2-1 ahead, meaning the match would be decided from the penalty spot.

Michel Kuipers made the crucial save to deny Michael Ball from 12 yards, which allowed Richards to step up, beat Kasper Schmeichel and confirm a headline-making, giant-killing on the south coast.

Robbie Savage and Bradley Johnson arrived on loan, and the latter made a terrific start as he scored twice in a 3-2 victory over high-flying Leicester City - ending Albion’s nine-game run without a win.

Off the field, a ceremony took place at the site of Albion’s new stadium, as work finally got underway at Falmer - 11-and-a-half years after leaving the Goldstone Ground.

Albion’s negative league form continued throughout the winter months, as Adams’s team lost seven out of nine games across November and December, with a 2-0 victory at Swindon Town offering a small glimmer of hope.

A positive string of results in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy left Albion just two games away from visiting the New Wembley Stadium, but a disappointing second-leg penalty defeat at Luton Town finished that idea.

It was the final straw for Adams, and then-chairman Dick Knight moved quickly to appoint Russell Slade as his replacement - giving the former Yeovil Town manager just 14 games to save Albion’s season.

Just one point came from Slade’s opening four games at the club, but a 5-0 hammering against Yeovil offered Albion’s supporters hope in their battle against relegation.

Another four-game spell produced just one point and Albion found themselves entrenched in the relegation zone - leaving Slade with just seven games to turn things around and secure Albion’s third-tier status.

With Murray and Forster both injured, pressure was placed on the shoulders of loan signing Lloyd Owusu, but the forward took things in his stride, scoring the second goal in a 2-1 victory over Hereford United at Edgar Street.

Albion then lost 3-2 to Swindon Town at the Withdean, but Owusu was again the match-winner when he headed home to seal a 1-0 win against Colchester United on the road.

Owusu scored another two in a 3-1 win at home to Oldham Athletic, before Gary Hart played a key role in a 2-1 success at Bristol Rovers, setting up goals for both Owusu and Calvin Andrew.

It was the same goalscorers a week later at Huddersfield Town, as Albion drew 2-2 against Huddersfield Town away, meaning their fate was in their own hands on the final day of the season against Stockport County.

Forster returned from injury for the visit of the Hatters, and the striker notched the winning goals to complete a miraculous end-of-season recovery from the Seagulls, sparking wild celebrations on the pitch at full-time.

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