Jimmy Case seemed to have built a team of very good players and the supporters expected Brighton to figure amongst the promotion contenders.
Because of protests against the Board of Directors, Bellotti and Archer, the atmosphere at the ground for most home matches was apalling. This began to have an affect on performances and it certainly contributed in reducing the attendances to an all time low.
Two points were deducted by the League after a mini crowd invasion in a home defeat against Lincoln City.
Brighton found them themselves at the bottom of the bottom division (at one time 12 points adrift) in 1996-97 going into the new year, and faced going out of the League. Jimmy Case lost his job after a humiliating home FA Cup replay defeat against non-league Sudbury Town, followed by another home defeat against strugglers Darlington.. Steve Gritt was appointed Manager.
Director David Bellotti announced a contract had been signed for Brighton to play at the Priestfield Stadium, Gillingham, next season, to the complete display of all the fans. Gates plunged to an all time low. The Goldstone East Terrace was completely closed.
Steve Gritt was appointed Manager on ** December 1996, when Albion were 11 points adrift at the foot of Division 3, with one club to be demoted out of the League if the Vauxhall Conference Champions fulfill the League Ground requirements (most likely). The crowds and atmosphere at the Goldstone were at an all time low.
At the end of Janaury after Albion's 3-0 home victory over Rochdale
before a poor 4,468 crowd, Albion had 19 points and were still 7 points
adrift of Doncaster Rovers at the bottom of the League.
Talks to start between the new Richard Knight Consortium and the hated Chairman Bill Archer announced.
After gaining a rare away point in a 1-1 draw at Mansfield, Albion go back to 9 points adrift at the bottom, and this was the position they were in before the 8 February "Fans United" game against Hartlepool United which Albion won 5-0, with an attendance of over 8,412, which was the largest for all clubs in Division 3 for the whole of the season so far. By the end of the day, hopes were beginning to be raised that Albion would achieve the impossible and avoid the drop as they were now 6 points adrift of Doncaster Rovers. Experienced supporters realised that if Albion could maintain there home form and pick up a few points away, it would go right down to the wire to the last minutes of the last game of the season (as it proved to be).
"At the time of writing (11/2/97) and their prospects of staying in the Football League, (3 points adrift at the bottom), on the face of their record this season, look very difficult. However, Division 2 contains at least half a dozen clubs near the bottom are also likely to face serious financial constraits and if any of them have a bad run they will end up at the bottom and will be in worse position than Brighton at avoiding the drop. The team that Jimmy Case built should be capable of challenging for promotion, so avoiding the drop should be within their abilities. The downer was the behaviour of the fans that sapped the important ingredient of morale. The gates will not improve until the fans have confidence in the Management, and the Directors must hold a lot of the blame."
Chairman Bill Archer was still pursuing his ill-conceived plan of
a stadium at Toad's Hall, Hove.
February continued with a 1-0 home win over Exeter City, when although they had played an extra game, Albion were now only 3 points adrift of Doncaster. Away form was awful with a 1-2 defeat at Carlisle. The proposed fans boycott was abandoned for the home 3-2 victory against Swansea City. The first meeting between Richard Knight and Bill Archer took place on 23 February 1997.
March began with a 0-2 defeat against fellow strugglers Darlington. However, Albion's home victory 2-1 against play-off contenders Northampton Town made it five home wins on the trot.
A look at the fixture list showed that the remainder of Albion's game were all difficult with the possible exception of the next home match against Leyton Orient. Albion's run of successive victories came to an end with an incident packed 4-4 draw which included a skirmish between some Albion spectators and Orient players, before one of the most volatile Albion crowds ever of about 9,000 spectators. Hereford United drop into the relegation zone with only 3 more points then the Albion with the same number of games played.
Albion then went down 0-3 at Hull City. Home form continued to be excellent before a crowd of over 9,000 for a 2-0 win over Cardiff City. With seven games to go the situation still looked grim for the Albion. None of the bottom clubs went on a bad run and they were all doing much better than expected.
Just Two games to GO!