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Two Steps From Glory (A Short Story)

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Wednesday 30th January, 2002

Withdean Stadium, Brighton – 7:42pm

Joris Houtton stood on the touchline, his arms folded and sweat dripping down his brow. He had only been manager of Brighton and Hove Albion since June 2001, and had quickly established himself with the fans. Free flowing, attacking football, a no fear, never say die attitude, and a chance of promotion – however, it was this moment here that had him more nervous than he had been all season

His side were just about to kick off their first leg of the League Cup Semi Final – yes, a Semi Final of a major cup competition. Not since the FA Cup 18 years previously, when they were beaten in the final, had they been this far in a cup. Then though, they were a side in the top flight – now they were riding high in Division Two

He was awoken from his thoughts by the shrill blast of the whistle, and Dirk Lehmann got them underway…

--

August 21st, 2001

League Cup Round One – Norwich (H)

It had started back in August, with no ambitions of success, when they welcomed Norwich to the Withdean. It was an open game, Lehmann and Brooker both testing the visiting ‘keeper early on, before Agustin smashed a thirty yarder onto the bar, but it was Marc Libbra who opened the scoring, racing onto a long ball and slotting home past Omar Johansson. However, Lehmann used his strength in the air to level it up right on the break, the big German powering home a header. The second half was much of the same, waves of yellow and then waves of blue and white, but a crazy sixty seconds saw the next two goals, Llewellyn scoring on 76:23, before Geoff Pitcher slammed home from the edge of the area on 77:45, and that minute meant extra time. This was a little more subdued, both teams cautious, but it was just before the half time changeover that the game was won, Charlie Oatway volleying home from a Brooker cross to send them into the next round

Brighton 3-2 Norwich (aet) (Lehmann 45, Pitcher 78, Oatway 104)

Wednesday 19th September, 2001

League Cup Round Two – Crystal Palace (A)

If the first game had been hard work, then this one was more so, and required all of their defensive qualities and fighting spirit as they could muster. Lehmann was injured and Zamora tired from the game three days previously, so Lee Steele started up front, and it was the striker who opened up the scoring, collecting Helder Rosario’s long ball, playing a one two with Brooker and dinking the ball over the ‘keeper. They battled hard through the game, and just when it looked nailed on that they would hang on, Fan Zhiyi levelled, capitalising on a slip by Hugo Rodrigues and sliding home. The defender was distraught, but he was saved by his team mates, a scramble in the box falling to Melton, who hit the ball as hard as he could into the top corner, sealing the game

Crystal Palace 1-2 Brighton (Steele 14, Melton 90+2)

--

The visitors had shown why they were two divisions above, as they created early chances, but after 10 minutes, the game was still 0-0. Chances had been mainly Liverpool’s, but Lehmann had tested the ‘keeper once. However, a lovely little passing move saw the visitors take the lead, Fowler latching onto the pass and smashing the ball into the top corner. It made no difference to how they played, how they fought and how they got back into the game – even though they were still 1-0 behind at half time, Lehmann and Oatway both testing Dudek and Agustin rattling the post

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Posted (edited)

Wednesday 31st October, 2001

League Cup Round Three – Huddersfield (H)

Dominant. That’s the only way to describe this performance. 2-0 up after nine minutes, 3-1 at half time. Lehmann thumped home the first inside three minutes, before a lovely move resulted in a ball pulled back to the edge of the box and Carpenter fired it in low into the corner. Chances came and went, and the game could have been out of sight by the time that Andy Booth headed his side back in to the game. It made no difference as Wicks responded likewise, heading home from a corner and sending the team in at half time 3-1 ahead. They took their foot off the gas early on in the second half, but the visitors almost looked resigned to defeat. Two more goals followed, as Crosby and Joni secured a passage through with ease

Brighton 5-1 Huddersfield (Lehmann 3, Carpenter 9, Wicks 45+1, Crosby 75, Joni 85)

Wednesday 28th November, 2001

League Cup Round Four – Manchester United (A)

This was the game that everyone thought they would be losing and end their great run – well, not only were those people wrong, but what a game of football. United were runaway leaders of the Premier League, and were fully expected to wipe the floor with their visitors. It wasn’t to be, and after 57 minutes of defensive heroism, Lehmann fired the ball into the roof of the net, toe poking it high and shocking Old Trafford. It lasted less than a minute, Andy Cole heading home an equaliser. The striker put United ahead fifteen minutes from time, but five minutes later, the game changed, as John O’Shea fouled Lehmann, earnt himself a red card and Joni curled home the resulting free-kick. This ensured extra time, but still the Division Two side wouldn’t give in, and Luke Chadwick’s 104th minute goal was cancelled out by Agustin, meaning they had scored three at Old Trafford, a feat not achieved by many, and penalties ensued. Misses from Denis Irwin and Paul Scholes, accompanied by a 100% record of all four Brighton players, and United were out. Inexplicably, knocked out at home to the Division Two leaders

Man Utd 3-3 Brighton (aet) (Lehmann 57, Joni 80, Agustin 113 – Brighton won 4-2 on pens)

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The second half kicked off with their manager’s words ringing in their ears. Keep going lads, we’re still in this. Whether the visitors took their foot off the gas or not is a debate to be had, but the home side were fantastic for the next 45 minutes, Mickey Standing had been brought in on loan to replace the departed Richard Carpenter, and had started like a house on fire, and it was the Villa loanee who equalised, powering forward with strength and pace, brushing Henxhoz off the ball on the way, and sliding the ball home past Jerzy Dudek. This shell shocked the Premiership side, they were completely caught unaware, and this showed, as that man again collected the ball from Joni, cut inside from the left and curled home a wonderful effort into the top corner – This prompted a look at the scoreboard, and after 56 minutes, it read, amazingly, Brighton 2-1 Liverpool, Incredible…

Edited by sherm

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Wednesday 5th December, 2001

League Cup Quarter Final – Aston Villa (H)

Still expecting to go out, after what had already been a brilliant cup run, the game that saw Villa visit the Withdean was, probably, the dullest of the run thus far. The visitors started slowly, but JLloyd Samuel got himself sent off for deliberate handball, pushing the ball away from a through pass to stop the attack, and this led the way for the unexpected. Slight signs of tiredness were creeping in on the small and threadbare squad for the home side, but their heart and determination shone through. Chances were few and far between but it only took one goal to settle the tie, as Charlie Oatway curled home a brilliant effort from the edge of the ‘D’ and secured a second successive win against a Premiership side and advanced in to the two legged Semi Final stage

Brighton 1-0 Aston Villa (Oatway 64)

--

It was a constant wave of red bombing forward, with Owen, Fowler, Heskey and Murphy all forcing saves, Gerrard firing wide and Berger missing a glorious opportunity. It was backs to the wall time, but they held on, and after 94 long, hard, arduous minutes, the whistle finally blew. Joris Houtton had masterminded a third successive victory over a Premier League side – mind you, with a trip to Anfield for the second leg, it still meant they had hard work ahead

Wednesday 27th February, 2002

Anfield, Liverpool – 8.34pm

The Brighton players sat in the dressing room, water in hand and listening to their charismatic Dutch manager

“Boys we are 45 minutes away. You’ve worked so so hard to get here, and you only have 45 more minutes to put effort in – that’s one half of football. I’m not going to sit here and tell you how to play football. I want everything you have left out there – that’s all I ask. Whatever happens, you can be proud of yourselves. I know I'm proud of you. Now let’s give it our best!”

They had worked so hard to stop the home side scoring, but Joris was a realist – he knew they would have to face a barrage in this second half, and eventually, players of the quality of Liverpool – Owen, Fowler, Heskey, Berger, Litmanen – would score a goal. And what do they say about buses? When you wait ages for one, two or three come at once. However, he had not reckoned on the sheer brilliance of his goalkeeper Michel Kuipers. He flung himself at everything, tipping balls round the post, over the bar, collecting crosses. He was sensational – not only that, but he got three kicks to the face going for loose balls, but he did it all in the cause of the team

Joris eventually took a look at the clock, to see 88:46 on the board – with the four minutes of injury time they were due to have, it would be heartbreaking from here to lose it now. Every man back, and resilience ringing in their ears, and 4,000 Brighton fans cheering them on, they held on…and held on, and held on, and held on, even surviving a late penalty shout, before the final whistle of Uriah Rennie sounded. The shrill blast sent Joris sinking to his knees, with his staff around him and his players in ecstasy on the field. Lowly Brighton, Division Two Brighton, had beaten Liverpool, had survived four games against Premiership clubs, and would now face a trip to Cardiff at the end of March for the League Cup final. Utterly incredible

Edited by sherm

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Cheers Matt - glad you're enjoying it

---

The papers had been a buzz over the next few days, words like miracle bandied about regularly, but to be honest, with over a month to go, and his team riding high in the league, Joris was paying no attention – he focused on his side’s league form. However, he knew that whether they won or lost, they had achieved something special, something that every Brighton fan would remember forever – and nothing could take that away

Sunday March 31st, 2002

The Millennium Stadium, Cardiff – League Cup Final

Home Dressing Room – 2.30pm

Joris Houtten stood with his players round him, ninety minutes away from the biggest game of their lives – he sensed nerves, sensed excitement and sensed his players were ready

“Boys, this is it. You have worked so hard to be here and made me so proud. Ninety more minutes, and I want you to go out there with nothing to lose, play your hearts out and show the world that we are to be reckoned with”

He had a routine before games, and this didn’t change before this game. His team did their usual warm up, and eventually filtered back into the dressing room at half past three. Everyone was ready, and he walked out side by side with Claudio Ranieri, the jovial Italian smiling as always, and Joris took in the atmosphere – he may never experience this again

The game kicked off, and as expected, the Premiership side took early control, and they sent one half of the stadium into silence within four minutes, Zola laying the ball off to Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and the Dutch striker powering a bullet of a shot past Kuipers. He could have doubled the lead less than two minutes later, racing through but hitting the shot straight at Kuipers. His side could have been forgiven for throwing the towel in but that was the last thing they did, and Dirk Lehmann was inches away from an equaliser, heading just over the bar, This gave the crowd some hope, and maybe made the Chelsea players just wary that they could cause problems

The game went into a slight lull for the next ten minutes or so, but then it went berserk. Gudjohnsen fired a shot in, an easy save for the keeper, but from the long throw, Brighton broke, Agustin collecting it and spraying it wide to Oatway. Oatway flicked it down the line to Adolfo, who squared the ball across the box, Celestine Babayaro getting tangled up in his own feet and Lehmann, the big German, slotted the ball into the corner and sent the Brighton fans ballistic. Joris sensed something in the Chelsea players demeanour, and hoped his players did too, but he didn’t need to worry, as they did. They controlled the game for the next few minutes, before a simple Route One goal, saw them take the lead, a long ball from Danny Cullip headed down by Lehmann, and Ernest Chirwali, our anchorman, smashed it in from the edge of the box. Brighton led 2-1, and the place was going mental

Chelsea were stunned, and they seemed to have lost the ability to pass the ball, as a mistake from Jody Morris allowed Adolfo in, and the Spaniard rounded the ‘keeper to slot the ball into the empty net. 32 minutes played, and Brighton lead 3-1. Wow. The whole stadium was in shock by this point, but eith still just less than an hour of football to play, Chelsea still had a chance. Mikael Forssell and Eidur Gudjohnsen both had opportunities to get them back into it before half time, before Mickey Standing blazed over just before half time, but nobody expected the 3-1 scoreline

As expected, Chelsea had been given a rollocking at half time, and came out all guns blazing, Zola, Hasselbaink and Poyet all testing Kuipers in the first five minutes of the half, but the ‘keeper stayed strong. Joris was frantically trying to calm his players down, getting them to keep the ball, and eventually it did, and incredibly, they managed to extend the lead, a bit of luck allowing the ball to fall to Agustin, and he poked it home into the net to, everyone thought, seal a remarkable victory. The problem now was, having never played on a pitch this size before, they were starting to tire, and Chelsea could easily take advantage

It took less than two minutes for this to happen, Forssell heading home Zola’s cross, and six minutes later, it was almost 4-3, and in reality it should have been, Hasselbaink collecting the ball, turning inside and firing wide, inexplicably firing wide. Once again, the Brighton players managed to get a grip slightly, keeping the ball, and eventually they carved out an opening, Adolfo getting the chance, but his heavy legs started to show and he hit it straight to the keeper. That was a big chance and one they could regret. They did a few minutes later, Forssell scoring a second, tapping in from a lovely Poyet lay off, and suddenly, Chelsea were favourites for the game.

The next fifteen minutes was utterly crazy. Mickey Standing scored the goal of the game, smashing a thirty yard shot into the top corner from out of nowhere to once again extend the lead, before Forssell completed his hat-trick a few minutes later to make it 5-4. If it went to extra time, Chelsea were hiugh favourites, but Joris told every man to head back except Zamora, who stayed on the halfway line. This is what led to the game changing moment, a hoof allowing Zamora to attack the goal, and he was brought down by Carlo Cudicini to eanr a penalty, The referee was lenient and didn’t send him off, but the Italian ‘keeper saved Agustin’s spot kick to make the nerves even more visible. Chelsea had two more chances to seal the game, Zola striking the post and Hasselbaink firing at Kuipers, but after 93 minutes, the whistle blew. Brighton, and Joris Houtten, had pulled off a miracle. They had won the League Cup, an incredible achievement for a Division Two club. Ranieri was gracious in defeat, and after less than a year in football management, Joris had lifted a trophy – and a major cup competition at that

Brighton 5-4 Chelsea (Hasselbaink 4, Lehmann 23, Chirwali 29, Adolfo 32, Agustin 52, Forssell 54, 69, 79, Standing 72)

--

 

And so, ladies and gents, that brings to a close this short story. I wanted to share it with you all as I have never, on any version of CM or FM, had a cup run like that with a lower division team. The final was amazing and probably one of my best achievements on the game to be honest

I still have this save, and play it regularly, although I am slightly further ahead now. I hope you all enjoyed the read and hopefully, I'll be back at some point with another story I've been working on in the near future

Sherm

Edited by sherm

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I've always really enjoyed reading your work Sherm, and what a story to follow, a superb cup run like that. Well done. :brock:

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I've always really enjoyed reading your work Sherm, and what a story to follow, a superb cup run like that. Well done. :brock:

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Cheers Gav. Glad you enjoyed it. I genuinely couldn't believe it when we kept winning and that final was one of the best games I've ever had a team involved in on any version!!

Edited by sherm

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Thanks Rien!!

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