Brighton see promotion as key to unlock new stadium

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The Independent Online

"Are you watching, John Prescott?" may be one of the football season's more unlikely supporters' songs, yet it will reverberate through the ranks of Brighton & Hove Albion's followers in Cardiff tomorrow as their side contest the Second Division play-off final with Bristol City at the Millennium Stadium.

"Are you watching, John Prescott?" may be one of the football season's more unlikely supporters' songs, yet it will reverberate through the ranks of Brighton & Hove Albion's followers in Cardiff tomorrow as their side contest the Second Division play-off final with Bristol City at the Millennium Stadium.

City, managed by the former Brighton player Danny Wilson, have "only" promotion on their agenda. But for Brighton, whose manager Mark McGhee coincidentally began his playing career at City, the matter of which level they will be competing come August is intertwined with the issue of their proposed 22,000-seat stadium at Falmer.

Responsibility for ruling on the saga reverted to Mr Prescott after a planning inspector decreed that a provincial club was not of national importance and did not require a new ground in a scenic area. With the Deputy Prime Minister due to pronounce on the issue in October, Brighton fans have been urged by the chairman, Dick Knight, to show what their club means to the city and to Sussex by the scale and volume of their support.

Around 30,000, many wearing cut-out masks of Prescott printed by a local newspaper, will descend upon the Welsh capital in the hope of seeing their team return to the First Division a year after being relegated. It will be Brighton's biggest following since the FA Cup final replay against Manchester United at Wembley in 1983, for their most momentous fixture since they avoided demotion to the Conference at the expense of Hereford United seven years ago.

Even the opposing manager agrees Brighton are a big club being held back by a small venue. "With a big enough arena, they could get 25,000 every game," Wilson said. "There's a fantastic catchment area, with no big teams near them." City do not lack potential themselves and expect 35,000 supporters to make the short trip across the Second Severn Crossing.

While City finished third, five points clear of fourth-placed Brighton, the sides recently drew 0-0 at Ashton Gate. McGhee is anxious, however, that his side perform far better than in the semi-final against Swindon Town, which they won on penalties after being outplayed.

Wilson will hand the task of shackling Brighton's striker of 26 goals, Leon Knight, to the unsung Danny Coles who, recalled his long-serving colleague Brian Tinnion, subdued the much-vaunted Robert Earnshaw in last year's play-offs, even though City lost to Cardiff. "If he can do a similar job, it will give us a real chance," Tinnion said.

McGhee must choose in midfield between Paul Reid, the Australian he rescued from Bradford City's reserves, and Gary Hart, who made his 250th appearance against Swindon. Until the second leg of that tie, Brighton had not conceded a goal in nearly 11 hours.

Such statistics - allied to the fact that they earned a shoot-out only with a last-gasp goal, while City needed two in the last three minutes to thwart Hartlepool United - point to a typically tight play-off final. Extra time should not daunt Brighton, who are already playing it over the Falmer project.

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