Tuesday, 2 January 2018

1989: Crystal Palace v Brighton

Brighton meet Crystal Palace in the FA Cup Third round this weekend, but the match will have to go a long way to beat the drama surrounding their Easter Monday clash at Selhurst Park in 1989.

If you had switched on Final Score on Easter Monday 1989, or skimmed the results section of your newspaper the following day, then there wouldn't have seemed anything too unusual about one of the scores from the old Division Two. Crystal Palace 2 Brighton and Hove Albion 1 was hardly a surprise; the home team, looking to force their way into the play-offs, saw off a Brighton team that had been hovering around the lower reaches of the table all season. Pretty ordinary stuff.

But Palace's win was far from ordinary. In fact, it was extraordinary. On an afternoon when referee Kelvin Morton took centre stage, five penalties were awarded in the match, three were missed, five players were booked, and ten-man Brighton almost snatched the most unlikely of draws. And amongst it all, Ian Wright would give us an early example of the kind of explosive finishing that became the norm during the following decade.

Fittingly, on an afternoon of constant action, the match was only 12 seconds old when the first incident of note took place. Mark Bright, racing on to a clearance, somehow found himself through on goal with just John Keeley to beat. But not for the last time during the 90 minutes, a Palace player would fluff their lines when faced with the Brighton keeper. Bright lobbed his effort over the bar, yet there would be plenty of chances for Palace to make up for this spurned opportunity.

The first half in particular was chaotic. Tackles flew in, with Brighton's Dean Wilkins first to be booked for a crude challenge on Eddie McGoldrick. The Palace wide man would in turn be another player guilty of a glaring miss, blazing over from close range after a surging run into Brighton's box.

However, Palace's dominance was rewarded after 23 minutes, with Ian Wright lashing in the most difficult of the many chances that came the way of the home team. Wright's left-footed dipper from the corner of the penalty area highlighted his knack of being a great goal scorer, and a scorer of great goals.

The Brighton cause was not helped when they were reduced to ten men just five minutes after Wright's wonder goal. Mike Trusson's reckless high challenge on McGoldrick saw the Brighton midfielder given his marching orders, and for the rest of the first half it appeared as if Palace would take full advantage. They would double their lead before the break, but Palace would fail to put a game to bed despite being handed three penalties in a frantic five minute period after Trusson's sending off.

Bright would convert the first spot kick, drilling home after Larry May had been penalised for climbing over the Palace forward. Yet Bright would not be so lucky with his next attempt from 12 yards out. Wilkins' clumsy tackle on the tireless McGoldrick saw Morton point to the spot again, but this time Keeley saved from Bright. There would be no rest for Morton or Keeley, though. A little under a minute later, Bright was tripped in the box, and given the chance to make amends for his previous miss. 

"I thought Bright should have carried on taking the penalties, but after his miss he didn't want to," Palace manager Steve Coppell explained after the match. Handing the ball to Wright, Bright looked on as his strike partner was given a word of advice from full back John Pemberton. Whatever was said did little to help Wright; his kick came back off the post, and eventually the ball fell to Bright in the box with Keeley again the only player ahead of him. You've probably guessed this; Bright's tamely lobbed the ball back to Keeley, and somehow Brighton went into the break just two down.

If Morton was feeling a little uneasy about the trio of penalties awarded to Palace, then he immediately set about redressing the balance. Jeff Hopkins may well have put his arm across Kevin Bremner, yet Morton had no hesitation in pointing to the spot for the fourth time. Alan Curbishley made no mistake, giving Brighton a glimmer of hope. But Morton appeared to put that light out when he gave his fifth penalty in 27 minutes, after Ian Chapman's handball provided Palace with another chance to kill of Brighton.

Pemberton would confidently step forward to take over the responsibility from Wright. "We had players queueing up to take them," Coppell said. "But once they got over the ball they just lost their nerve." Pemberton's would be by far the worst attempt of the match, rising high and not so handsomely into the Holmesdale Road end, possibly into the street itself. For a brief moment it looked as if Morton would add to the general farce by ordering a retake, but sadly that pleasure was taken away from us all, as Chapman was merely booked for backchat.

Amazingly, Brighton almost capped off the mad day by grabbing an equaliser, with Curbishley denied by a fine save from Perry Suckling. In a match that saw three different Palace players miss penalty kicks, the psychological effect of Coppell's team dropping two points may have had a detrimental impact on the rest of their season. Luckily the misses did not prove costly on the day, and Palace would end the season gaining promotion via the play-offs. They would even manage to score a penalty in their stirring comeback against Blackburn in the second leg of that play-off final. 

But for now, all the talk was of a crazy afternoon at Selhurst Park, that had journalists turning to the history books for clarification in relation to Morton's liking of penalties. "Four have been given on at least five previous occasions," the Times' Paul Newman wrote. "But this was believed to be the first senior match - other than one involving a penalty shoot-out - in which five were awarded." A Northampton-Hartlepool fixture in 1976 had been the last time four penalties had been given in one match, with a 1904 game between St Mirren and Rangers reportedly the only match that had seen four penalties scored.

Most agreed that Morton had been justified in his calls on the day, although Brighton manager Barry Lloyd did comment that "people came to matches to watch players." In fairness to the referee, his performance was far from the "it's all about me" approach that Mike Dean seems to enjoy. You could make a case that all five penalties were justified, with Palace's first and Brighton's penalty probably the most debatable. But had the game happened in the modern era of manager soundbites and television pundits, Morton's decisions would have been analysed endlessly.

But I'm sure if it had existed back then, that we could have all turned to Twitter for some reasoned and sensible views on what happened at Selhurst Park on Easter Monday 1989.....

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