Paul, good to catch up with you. What are your overall memories of our 2004/05 season back in the Championship?
The main thing was that we stayed up, even though it went down to the wire. During that season I remember we had some really good undefeated spells but then some really poor runs. We beat some highly regarded teams but struggled at times to beat teams in the lower half of the table. One thing I do remember clearly is putting ourselves in a great position going into to the last quarter of the season but then only scraping home on the last day.
We lost the season opener at Reading and failed to win any of the next four games – did that affect confidence?
Not many people expected us to win at Reading and we lost 3-2. That was the day that a good friend of mine, Maheta Molango, scored from the kick-off to put us 1-0 up. His first start in English football! We lost in the League Cup [at home to Bristol Rovers] during that spell so it was not a great start. I wouldn’t say it affected our confidence though; we knew it would be a tough season where teams would probably have more possession than us so we had to build our game around a strong defence. We also had a great bunch of guys who got on really well, both on and off the pitch, and this definitely helped us when results were not going our way.
Who were the guys keeping the spirits up?
There were numerous players who helped drive our goals and led by example. The experienced players in the squad including Danny Cullip, Richard Carpenter, Guy Butters, Nathan Jones, Charlie Oatway, Kerry Mayo, as well as Gary Hart, were all great servants who knew what it meant to be playing for the club in the Championship.
We ended August with back-to-back wins against Preston and Leicester. How important was that?
The win at home against Preston [1-0] was huge but the away win at Leicester was really important as it showed the players what we could achieve by working hard for each other against one of the highly fancied teams in the division. Adam Virgo [who scored the only goal] was put up front by Mark McGhee for the very first time and it worked a treat.
Mark was an experienced gaffer, so what was his approach that season?
He was the sort of manager who made it a very enjoyable environment and there was a great culture among the players and coaches. We all knew collectively that it was going to be a season where we had to work extremely hard for each other defensively and we approached most games in this manner. I would not be surprised if we were the lowest scoring team that season. We predominantly played 4-4-2 and this suited the players we had.
Which brings us on to the memorable 1-0 win at West Ham. What are your memories of that game?
Great memories. Big crowd, amazing atmosphere and there were plenty of Albion supporters at Upton Park that day. Then there’s the mighty Guy Butters with the winning goal! We were under the cosh for most of the game but managed to get the win which was vitally important as it gave us a bit of a kick start that season. That was the game where Danny Cullip was feeling really unwell on the drive up. We arrived at the stadium, Danny rushed into the dressing room and vomited all over the floor. He immediately felt better and played the entire game, which is what we needed as we were quite thin on numbers.
We also had the narrow 2-1 defeat at Tottenham in the FA Cup. Another memorable day…
A great day out for the club, players and supporters. We actually played really well and took the game to Tottenham. This was during a spell after Christmas and throughout January where we played a 3-5-2 with myself as right wing-back and went on a great run, picking up some valuable points in the league. Even though we lost at White Hart Lane, our performance really reflected the way we were going in the league during that period.
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The first win of that sequence was against Gillingham on Boxing Day...
If I recall, the game was in doubt because there were parts of Withdean that were frozen, but we wanted to play the game which ended up being the right call [Albion won 2-1]. Some teams complain about the schedule over the Christmas and New Year period but I used to enjoy the number of games over a short period. You get in the zone where you play a game, then have to recover and plan for the next games coming up in quick succession.
Did you fear the worst when we lost six in a row in March/April?
It was a very disappointing run that nearly cost us our survival. There were some really tough games in that period but losing six on the bounce is poor for any team. We were actually cruising on 44 points after 35 games and they always talk about the magic 50 points to be safe in the Championship. We might have become a bit complacent thinking the remaining points would just come. Fifty points would have actually got us relegated due to our inferior goal difference.
As you mentioned, we remained unbeaten in the last five games. What are your best memories of the run?
All five ended up being very important. Our last away game against Rotherham was very ugly but we won [1-0] which left it in our hands on the last day at home to Ipswich, who were third and still in with a slight chance of automatic promotion. We were three points clear of the relegation zone so all we needed was a draw. Adam Virgo equalised early on after Ipswich had taken a very early lead and I am sure Darren Currie, who we had sold during the season, set up the goal for them. We held on for a point and thank goodness we did as a defeat would have seen us go down, given the results elsewhere. An exciting way to end the season to say the least.
You played 35 times that season so pleased with your own step-up to the Championship?
Definitely pleased as it was my first full season at Brighton. I played at right-back for quite a bit that season. I wanted to play in the centre of midfield but Mark wanted me at right-back which I was happy to do. I did not care where I played as long as I was playing. I remember when I was first shifted into the right-back position, Mark McGhee was yelling out, “Reidy hit the channel!” I wanted to play out from the back but then thought I should start listening to him otherwise I would not be in the starting line-up the following week! The feeling after we stayed up was amazing and the sense of relief among everyone at the club was evident. Good times!