Seagulls ready to take flight with their new home finally in sight

If there’s a charming success story to be found anywhere in the Football League this season, then Brighton and Hove Albion’s plucky romp to promotion to the Championship would surely be among the top contenders.

Five years after their relegation from the Championship, the Seagulls are returning to the second tier. Gus Poyet’s side confirmed their emphatic rise on Tuesday evening with a spirited 4-3 win over Dagenham & Redbridge at the Withdean - twice coming from behind to secure a deserved promotion.

If securing promotion alone wasn’t enough, doing so with five matches to spare is quite something, with the likes of Southampton, Peterborough and Huddersfield being left in their wake by Albion’s trail of destruction. 

The tight and unpredictable nature of the Football League means promotion is always a hopeful pre-season possibility for any side, but Poyet’s transformation of Brighton from lower-table scrappers to league golden boys has been quite spectacular. For the man himself, promotion is a new feeling both as a player or manager.

You can’t say they haven’t deserved it either. The Seagulls have hung onto top spot since September, most admirably holding their nerve in the latter stages of the season in some style. Poyet’s side have won 10 of their last 11 fixtures, have not surrendered a point at the Withdean for 11 matches and have managed to keep clean sheets in six of the previous nine.

"There is no doubt that this is my proudest night," Poyet beamed after the victory over struggling Dagenham.

"It is up there with the best times of my career. I believe in myself, I know what I want to do but I needed to prove it and what we have done is much bigger than people think."

Poyet’s dependable squad has produced when it matters. Casper Ankergren has produced form ranking him among the most consistent goalkeepers in the division, while full-backs Inigo Calderon and Marcos Painter have proved to be two of the finest on offer in League One in their first full Seagulls campaigns. 

In midfield the young Elliott Bennett has defied expectations with a stellar year on the wing, and was unsurprisingly the subject of serious interest from Premier League-chasing Norwich City in January. Fellow midfielder and former Chelsea youth product Liam Bridcutt has also enjoyed a wonderful campaign, with the club keen to tie the 21-year-old down to a new long-term contract.

Up front Glen Murray has been unstoppable with 21 strikes to his name, while partner Ashley Barnes has in with 14 league strikes after his permanent switch from Plymouth in the summer.Individuals have played their parts when it has mattered for Poyet’s men, but the team outlook created by the Uruguayan has proved pivotal.

Chairman Tony Bloom has called it the 'perfect season'. And if you weren’t already aware, that’s because next season, the Seagulls will be bidding farewell to the Withdean to pitch up in the swanky new 22,500 capacity Amex Stadium this summer.

And with an incredible 16,500 season tickets already sold, it’s with little wonder that Bloom is a happy man. The current number of Withdean season ticket holders? Around 4,000. He’s not the only one who is delighted either. Away fans need no longer bring binoculars on their trips to East Sussex.

For Bloom, this scenario would have been unthinkable 12 months back. The Seagulls have a lot to thank him for. His takeover in May 2009 signalled the beginning of a financial transformation, so much so that the club was finally able to put into motion its stadium dream after years of hold-ups.

He may be one of the country’s leading poker players, but there are no bluffs here. His interest-free loans to the club have gone straight towards the Amex Stadium to give Brighton fans their club’s first permanent home in 14 years.

Those lengthy 70-mile trips to Gillingham where Brighton were forced to play ‘home’ matches for two seasons between 1997 and 1999 now seem a distant memory.

Brighton’s last match at the Goldstone came against Doncaster Rovers, when both sides were scrapping at the bottom of the old Division Three. Albion avoided relegation on goal difference, while Rovers stumbled to a lowly 19th-place finish. Fast-forward almost a decade-and-a-half and both sides will be preparing to face each other in new grounds in the Championship. Perfect symmetry at its most rewarding.

It’s barely surprising that Bloom is already challenging the troops do emulate the achievements of Leicester and Norwich, both who gained promotion from League One before taking the Championship top six by storm the following year. 

"Next season we will be aiming for the top six. I'm not saying we're going to get there or putting any pressure on," Bloom declared.

"We'll be in a fantastic stadium. We'll aim high and see where we get to."

A new ground, a bright team and Championship football to accompany it. Those long-suffering faces on the south coast have finally got their parties underway. Victory at Walsall tomorrow will confirm the League One title for Poyet’s worthy heroes.

Can they really stake a claim at the big time next season? You just try stopping these Seagulls from taking flight...

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