The Vicente-Factor provides the spark for Brighton’s Play-Off charge

Last night’s virtuoso performance from Vicente may not have seen him get his own name on the score-sheet but the constant threat he provided in the role of playmaker was something rarely seen at Championship level.

Vicente Rodriguez Brighton

Vicente's return to fitness has lit up the AMEX

His footwork and vision was the cause of much indecision and worry for the Derby County defence on the night and this performance was just the latest Man-Of-The-Match performance from the Spaniard, which helped to extend the impressive run that the Seagulls are currently on.

With just one defeat in their last fourteen league games Brighton have pulled themselves back from a mid-season slump and right into play-off contention. They currently reside in fourth place which, of course, would see them contest the end of season play-offs but with a queue of teams lining up just a point or two behind them and with a game in hand a-piece ‘Good Old Sussex By The Sea’ know that they are just a couple of slip-ups away from mid-table mediocrity again.

This is why Vicente’s timely first run of fitness and regular action for the Albion is proving so crucial. Manager Gus Poyet has been keen to emphasise the impact of ‘Vice’s’ return to fitness and has gone on record several times in the past few weeks to highlight how he and his squad know that they have a “special player” on their hands.

Sadly though for Vicente, Brighton, and in-fact the football community as a whole, his career has been plagued with injury. His previous club Valencia enjoyed several high profile successes in his time at the club but eventually they were left with little option other than to let him go.

Though he had contributed strongly in every stint of his Valencia career where fitness and injury problems were briefly put to one side, in his last couple of years in Spain he was left so short of match fitness that he barely managed a run of games.

Had his fitness held during the most crucial time in his career it is entirely possible that he could have had several more domestic Spanish titles to his name and that he may even have become a World Cup and European Championship winner with Spain. As it is though, injury has robbed him of his prime  and all the opportunities that would most likely have accompanied it and now he finds himself as the poster boy for a Championship club.

Vicente Rodriguez

Vicente has a decent amount of international caps, but could have had many more

This isn’t to belittle Brighton as a football club or the fantastic recent progress that they’ve made, but Vicente’s fleeting return to form and fitness on the South Coast has highlighted just how special a talent he once was and just how sad it is that his still very present technical abilities have been constantly undermined by the fragility of his body over the past decade.

Poyet has said this week that he thinks Brighton would be ten to fifteen points better off this campaign if Vicente had been fit for the majority of it to date and these additional points, as it stands, would have seen the Albion challenging for the title.

It is rare to witness such a quality player plying his trade outside of Europe’s top divisions but all Albion fans will be hoping that these current circumstances are soon to change.

If Vicente maintains his fitness for Brighton’s remaining games then Poyet believes they have “a great chance” of making the top six and this sentiment is being echoed from the stands at the Amex.

If only Brighton can keep their prized asset out of the Physio’s room and instead have him out on the pitch on a regular basis for the next two to three months then the South-Coast fairytale may continue to grow. Not only could the delight of promotion back to the Championship last year be coupled with the relief of finally moving into and enjoying their first season at their new home in Falmer, but they could also soon be a Premier League side.

If they do reach the play-offs then it will surely be, in no small part, down to the inspiration provided by the return of ‘Vice’ to their side just as they’ve started to hit the home straight and perhaps their star player could once again get the chance to exercise his on-field powers in one of Europe’s most prestigious leagues if Brighton were to go up.

A couple of years ago the thought of Brighton becoming a Premier League side by 2012 seemed beyond ridiculous, as would the thought of Vicente strutting his stuff in the blue and white of the Albion. Now though, Vicente is lighting up the Championship and the play-offs are within touching distance.

What a difference a couple of seasons can make.

 

Advertisements

Southern Football Back On The Map

For many a year now the football league has been dominated by London based and Northern based clubs but finally Southern football seems to be returning to prominence. In the not too distant past the likes of Portsmouth, Reading and Southampton were going head-to-head in the Premier League whilst Brighton and Hove Albion were plying their trade in the Championship. This brief era of hope was sadly followed by a major decline in the region and in the space of just a few years each of the aforementioned sides had slipped down at least one division.

At last though it does appear that the region’s football clubs are on to something rather good. At the forefront of this resurgence are Southampton, Brighton and Crawley Town. Each of these clubs have gone from strength to strength in recent times and have each been climbing up the football league hierarchy.

Southampton experienced a torrid time following their Premier League exit in 2005 and in fact came very close to becoming involved in a second successive relegation battle. Luckily at the time a late season surge of form and results saved them from the threat of dropping even further down the football league, but sadly for them this luck wasn’t to continue for too long. In 2009 Southampton’s slump years got even worse when they had to go into administration. With this change in club status came the punishment of a 10 point deduction which sadly ensured another relegation for the club. Even in spite of the club’s continuing failure to meet expectations they were labelled as favourites to lift the League One title. True to form though the Saints once again flattered to deceive and missed out on a return to the Championship.

Adkins has been guided Southampton through a successful past year or so

Finally after five successive years of disappointment Southampton have made a turn in the right direction. Last year saw manager Nigel Adkins inspire his side to a second placed finish and automatic promotion back to the Championship. Upon their return the club’s good fortune has continued and they currently sit pretty in second place after five games. In addition to their good league form they have so far also had great success in their only Cup matches of the season. Their opening round match in the Carling Cup saw them thrash Torquay by four goals to one before a second round victory over fellow Southerners Swindon by three goals to one helped add to the feel good factor around St.Mary’s at present.

The only team to better the Saints in last year’s League One table were Brighton, and they too are enjoying a fantastic start to life back in the Championship. They have also endured a tough last few years including a few non-event seasons of League One football where they found themselves locked in either mid-table mediocrity or battling just to avoid relegation. Gladly though these years appear to be behind them and they are currently staking a very good claim to being the happiest club in World football.

The past year has been nothing other than sheer delight for the Seagulls and their fans as manager Gus Poyet has managed to mastermind a perfectly timed promotion back to the Championship, which has been marked by the long awaited unveiling of their new stadium.

Brighton's glorious new ground

The trials and tribulations of Brighton’s stadium dream have seemed to last an eternity, but finally they have their new ground, The Amex Stadium, and the start of this season has suitably reflected the excitement surrounding the club at the moment. Five games into the league they are yet to have lost a game and are flying high at the top of the Championship. They have also advanced to the third round of the Carling Cup with a thrilling victory after extra time at home to a near full-strength Sunderland. The packed ground raised the roof after record signing Craig Makail-Smith’s winner and their Premier League conquest has furthered the Seagull’s ever-growing ambitions for the rest of the season.

As if the feel-good factor wasn’t already booming at the Amex, Poyet this week tied up a deal to bring Spanish international Vicente to the club on a free transfer. Though his career has been blighted with injury, he was once regarded as one of the finest up and coming talents in World football and it is understood that Brighton fended of Premier League and La Liga interest to land their latest recruit. If he manages to keep fit then they may well have signed a seriously good player capable of impressing not just at Championship level but at Premier League level also. It is an astonishing statement of intent from the Seagulls to have signed a player of such a high calibre.

Could Vicente inspire Brighton to the Premier League?

Sussex is a county that has had very little to celebrate on the football pitch in recent times and Brighton’s resurgence has left many reeling, but it isn’t only Brighton that are drawing attention to the area.

Crawley Town have also been beginning to cause a stir in the football league and they are becoming notorious for their recent influx if finances into the club. Having been taken over, the club then went on to enjoy great success last season resulting in a famous FA Cup run that saw them travel to Old Trafford as well as storming to the Conference title. A combination of recent success and their considerable financial backing has seen them touted as favourites to win League Two this season and if they are to achieve this feat then who’s to say that they can’t go on and make it three promotions in a row next year?

Crawley's big day out Vs. United last season

All in all, things are beginning to really look good again for Southern football’s big hitters. There is an awfully long way to go still this season but the likes of Southampton, Brighton and Crawley have all made hugely encouraging starts upon their arrival into their respective divisions. Speculation of greater things to come is rife around the stands at a lot of Southern football grounds at present and it would be fantastic to see such expectations being met. If clubs such as Portsmouth, Reading, Bournemouth, Swindon and Plymouth can turn their form and off-field strife around then this era of positivity could gain even greater potential.