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WITHDEAN YEARS: 2003/04 SEASON ON SEAGULLS TV

1 December 2017

After being relegated from England’s second tier, Brighton & Hove Albion were challenged with the task of bouncing straight back at the first time of asking in 2003/04, and Mark McGhee’s team didn’t disappoint as the season climaxed at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.

It all started with Steve Coppell in charge after the final-day relegation at Grimsby Town - and with star-man Bobby Zamora going to Tottenham Hotspur for £1.5 million in the summer, the Seagulls had it all to do.

The frontman was replaced by Leon Knight and Darius Henderson ahead of Albion’s opening game of the season at Oldham Athletic, and the pain of Zamora’s absence was eased when the pair scored goals in a 3-1 victory on a roasting day at Boundary Park.

Knight bagged his second brace in as many league games when Queens Park Rangers visited the Withdean Stadium the following week, as the Seagulls ran out 2-1 winners on the south coast.

Albion strung together three successive victories starting in October, as loan signing Zesh Rehman scored on his debut in a 3-1 victory at Rushden & Diamonds, before back-to-back 3-0 wins over Blackpool and Grimsby at the Withdean.

But just as the Seagulls were building momentum, Reading came in for Coppell - which left Albion without a manager. Dick Knight called upon Mark McGhee to take over the reigns, with his first game a 2-2 draw at Peterborough United.

A 4-1 loss to Bristol City at the Withdean proved just an off-day for McGhee’s team in his early weeks in the job, as they bounced back with six points out of six.

Off the pitch, Albion’s bid for a new stadium was dealt a huge blow when it came out that the government were set to reject the club’s plans - and this prompted a string of publicity stunts that put the campaign for a new ground into the national spotlight.

Dubbed as ‘seven days to save the Albion’ - both fans and players joined forces to support the campaign, as a number of signs were memorably held by Albion’s players after the 1-1 draw with Wycombe Wanderers at Adams Park.

The likes of Des Lynam, Norman Cook and Paul Samrah took the 61,000-signature petition to 10 Downing Street, as Albion’s case for Falmer was put to deputy prime minister John Prescott.

Back to the football - Trevor Benjamin arrived on loan from Leicester City and the striker wasted no time in making an impact, as he scored five goals in his ten appearances before returning to his parent club.

Benjamin’s first goal came in Albion’s 2-1 home victory against Plymouth Argyle, who were then top of the league table, with Knight adding a second goal before a jubilant celebration in front of the Sky cameras.

The Seagulls replaced Benjamin with another loan signing, and Chris Iwelumo hit the ground running with a stunning long-range strike in Albion’s 2-0 win against Chesterfield at Saltergate.

With Danny Cullip and Guy Butters protecting Ben Roberts in the Albion goal, McGhee’s team produced six consecutive clean sheets to secure their place in the Division Two play-offs.

Richard Carpenter scored the winning goal in a 1-0 victory against Swindon Town in the first leg - a game that the hosts dominated - but the real drama was to unfold in the second leg at the Withdean four days later.

Nine minutes from time, Sam Parkin scored for the Robins to force extra time, before Rory Fallon put the visitors in front on a stormy evening, which threatened to end Albion’s dreams of promotion.

But with just seconds remaining, Adam Virgo arrived late in the penalty area to find the bottom corner with a diving header from Cullip’s flick-on - and quite remarkably, the dream was still alive.

Roberts saved from Tommy Mooney in the shootout that followed, and with all four of Albion’s penalty-takers finding the back of the net, Andy Gurney struck the woodwork to confirm the Seagulls’ place at the Millennium Stadium.

Around 30,000 Albion supporters made the trip to Cardiff for the play-off final - which proved a nervous affair - but after Iwelumo was fouled inside the box, Knight found the bottom corner from the penalty spot in the 84th minute to fire the Seagulls into the second tier.


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