On January 30, 2008, Brighton accepted a bid of £250,000 for the club’s then captain Dean Hammond.
The following day, the midfielder moved to Colchester United and the Albion set about trying to replace a player who had become an integral part of a side he had joined as a fresh-faced teenager before making his way through the youth ranks to first team regular,
Four a bit years later, the Seagulls finally found a player capable of filling Hammond’s centre midfield boots. His name? Dean Hammond.
The one-time pantomime villain (he said some rude words to the fans at Withdean after scoring against the Albion for Southampton) returned to the Brighton starting line-up for Friday night’s face off with Sheffield Wednesday team and produced the sort of match-controlling central stint the Seagulls have been lacking ever since he upped sticks and moved to Britain’s oldest town.
His departure split the fans. Some said he had grown too big for his boots and had held the club to ransom over his new pay demands. Others argued his contract should have been sorted far sooner and that the he had fallen foul of questioning the then Albion chairman Dick Knight, a man considered generally untouchable in the eyes of many supporters.
The truth? Well, we won’t ever know for sure. I tend to lean towards the pro-Hammond camp. What we do know though is that Brighton were a far better team with him than without.
And, with little more than 30 minutes gone on Friday night, Hammond had quickly shown that to still be the case. He simply oozed authority and presence in front of a suitably impressed record Amex crowd, string-pulling and jostling away to his heart’s content. He may have been away, but Hammond was back with a bang.
In truth, Wednesday were never really at the races. A deflected Wayne Bridge free-kick gave the home side the lead their early endeavour more than deserved and for the first hour of the game the Albion produced a performance rarely matched by their efforts in recent seasons.
Bruno was at his marauding best and it was his determined and jinking dribble which paved the way for Craig Mackail-Smith to double the Albion’s lead and end the game as a contest.
The icing on the cake adding third was again supplied by Bruno, with the ever impressive William Buckley providing a deft finish to cap off a superb night.
Tomasz Kuszczak produced a stunning late save from Jay Bothroyd – the QPR striker who Gus Poyet had tried to sign during the transfer window – and had to be smart to pouch another effort from the often isolated one-cap wonder.
Sheffield Wednesday will be OK this season. They were just unfortunate to come up against an Albion side in the middle of an explosive run of form and their 1,600 or so travelling fans shouldn’t be too downbeat about the outcome, even if it could have been five or six.
The temptation though for Brighton fans is to perhaps get carried away and start expecting the Earth from this season. Talk of promotion is still premature.
But that said, if the Seagulls can keep playing like this, it won’t be long until Poyet stops talking of a top nine finish and starts setting his heights a little higher.
Kuszczak 8, Bruno 9, Bridge 8, Greer 7, El Abd 7, Bridcutt 7, Hammond 9, Dicker 7, Barnes 7, Mackail-Smith 8, Buckley 8. Subs: Orlandi 6, Lopez 6, Dobbie 6.