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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Gandhi, Brandy, and a Waldorf Salad

Nobes on why Brighton & Hove Albion's title success is not only good news for the Seagulls but for the lower leagues in general.

Under Gus Poyet, Brighton have achieved success with a stylish brand of football

The match was a 1-1 draw in October against South Coast rivals Bournemouth, and some Brighton fans had expressed their unhappiness from the stands about their team's patient style of play.

After the game, Seagulls boss Gus Poyet said he wouldn't be listening to supporters calling for balls to be launched forward more quickly, and warned any player doing so that they'd be out of his starting line-up.

Some criticised his stubbornness but, in the end, the Uruguayan has been vindicated in his approach, with Brighton's weekend win at Walsall clinching them the League One title as convincing winners of the third tier with games to spare.

For Albion, a club moving forward both on and off the field of play, it's an achievement which will be celebrated and cherished, especially in the manner it has been achieved.

Brighton's taking of top spot should also be a cause for celebration for all purists and advocates of playing the beautiful game the right way though.

For too long the myth that you must fight and scrap your way out of the lower divisions has been perpetuated by the media. The publicity Poyet's men have attracted this season has now put paid to that.

However, they are by no means the first side to do so, following in a line of managers who encourage their side to play the ball on the deck, rather than hitting it long and playing percentages.

True, not all of them have played in such a patient style as Albion, but they also haven't relied on brute force and physicality to get them out of the lower leagues and into the Championship.

Surely Brighton's success now must herald the start of a new approach. It's time to
boot the idea of having to play direct, rather than the ball itself, into touch.

When our own Turls criticised Sheffield Wednesday for the appointment of Gary Megson, he was bombarded by Owls fans with some telling him that playing Megson's long ball style was the only way they were going to get out of League One.

Nonsense. True, Paul Sturrock may have led Wednesday to promotion in 2005 playing that way, but since then a new breed of team have found success at that level.

Indeed, the likes of Southend, Scunthorpe, Swansea and Norwich were all good footballing sides who won League One. Particularly the Swans who, under the guidance of Spaniard Roberto Martinez, played a sublime passing game to sweep to glory in 2008.

Likewise when Sean O'Driscoll took Doncaster into the Championship playing a slow paced, passing game which has subsequently seen the South Yorkshire side compared to Arsenal.

The likes of Bristol City, Blackpool, Barnsley, Peterborough, and Leeds were all preached to pass the ball by their respective bosses and achieved success in the the third tier.

Roberto Martinez's Swansea were attractive League One winners in 2008

All of this season's top six under Brighton are footballing teams too, with Nigel Adkins at Southampton having played his way out of League One with Scunthorpe in the past.

Darren Ferguson, too, advocated such a style winning back-to-back promotions with Peterborough between 2007 and 2009 and is now back at London Road looking to make it a hat-trick of elevations.

Karl Robinson has enjoyed a dream debut in charge of Milton Keynes Dons, and the rookie boss was in no doubt that a passing style would, despite with a reduced deficit, see him improve on Paul Ince's record last term.

One of the surprise packages, Rochdale, are a club transformed under Keith Hill too. When the Boltonian took over at Spotland in 2006 the club were struggling towards the foot of League Two.

Now they're enjoying some of the finest years in their history - and it's made all the sweeter by their approach to the game. Hill's ability to produce attractive and winning football to a budget marks him out as one of England's most promising young managers.

Exeter City too, a club with some of the most meagre resources in their division, are comfortably holding down a spot in mid table and sticking true to the principled slick passing play laid down by boss Paul Tisdale.

It makes a mockery of Wednesday supporters, or fans of any lower league club, who claim that only by playing direct can they achieve success. Even more so given the huge resources on offer at places like Hillsborough.

The story is echoed in the lower leagues where the front runners for promotion are all footballing sides. John Sheridan's Chesterfield, like Brighton, have been head and shoulders above the competition.

Along the way they've entertained fans at the new b2net Stadium with their attractive, attacking approach. Alan Knill had instilled similar virtues in his Bury team before leaving to take control at Championship Scunthorpe.

Graham Turner at Shrewsbury took Hereford up playing football in 2008,
and is looking to do the same with Salop this term. Gary Waddock even achieved promotion from the Conference with Aldershot Town by passing their way to success.

The likes of Waddock, Hill, Tisdale, and Poyet are the new breed of lower league manager in a landscape which has changed almost beyond recognition.

When sides in the past scaled the ladder and dared to take on the big boys it was usually achieved by sides like Watford, Wimbledon, and Cambridge United - bullying their way to the top.

True, they could point to poorer pitches - although anyone who has been to Accrington's Crown Ground this season may disagree - but the fact is that lower league teams need no longer take Route One for success.

With any luck, Brighton's title triumph provides the final nail in the coffin for this myth. We should thank Poyet for his stubbornness.

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