A season which flattered to deceive ended on an encouraging note in the glorious Gloucestershire sunshine.

Nathan Elder showed he could provide some of the firepower Albion so desperately need to avoid another flirtation with relegation next time around.

A full debut of considerable promise, embroidered by a superbly taken goal, left us all wondering what could be and, indeed, what might have been.

We will never know but had Elder been unleashed on unsuspecting League One defences a little earlier, then the Seagulls may not have been waiting until the penultimate match of the campaign for safety to be confirmed.

He arrived from Billericay in December with a prolific record at non-league level and was soon scoring regularly in the reserves. Dean Wilkins preferred to persevere with a misfiring Jake Robinson as Elder was restricted to a series of substitute appearances for the first team.

It is not as if the other front men, with the exception of Bas Savage, were doing their stuff. Albion had drawn a blank a dozen times and scored only 15 goals in 22 matches this year prior to Elder's first start on Saturday, four of which came in one game at Leyton Orient. So why the long wait?

Wilkins explained: "I knew he had got the ability in the air and we have been trying to work on his fitness. When he first came he was at a level of fitness that enabled him to play non-league, nowhere near the standard that we need.

"We have also been trying to improve him technically and in terms of his movement. We tried to be patient and to introduce him now and again. This was the ideal opportunity to give him a full 90 minutes."

Elder has no complaints about his kid-gloves treatment. He said: "When I got down here and spoke to the gaffer for the first time he told me it was going to be a long process, he wasn't just going to throw me in at the deep end.

"To put me in for the last game was the icing on the cake and the goal was a thank you to the team for helping me out.

"I've been scoring for the reserves but that is completely different. Maybe it was just a case of getting in the rhythmn of scoring.

"The gaffer has been amazing with me. Even before I got here my heading was all right but I have been working a lot on different aspects in training to reach this point.

"There are still parts of my game I need to build on but I have made loads of progress since I came here. If I had known three-quarters of the stuff I have learnt I would have scored 50 goals a season in the Ryman League."

Of course, it is only one game and a pretty meaningless one as well, given that Cheltenham had also secured survival in their previous match at Rotherham.

But Elder looked as if he has every bit as much to offer as 15-goal Kayode Odejayi, the hosts' big Nigerian spearhead.

He is much better in the air than Savage and more of a physical presence. He won a lot of headers and, even when he didnot, was a muscular nuisance to defenders.

His first senior goal, midway through the first half, was an absolute beauty too. Okay, the Cheltenham marking, or rather lack of it, was charitable but Elder still had plenty to do. A firm, angled header looped over keeper Scott Brown into the far corner.

Wilkins exploited Elder's aerial prowess by restoring the midfield diamond. Adam El-Abd occupied the holding role rather than Alexis Bertin, who moved out to the right, with Gary Hart at the advanced point and Dean Cox on the left.

The personnel may not be the same but it could be the shape of things to come next season. Wilkins said: "It encourages me, because I now know if we go with that shape we have got the right sort of player (Elder) to cause people problems."

That is not all. Imagine Elder or Savage partnering a regular goalscorer in a 4-4-2, with Alex Revell on the right and Dean Bowditch on the left if Albion get him back on loan from Ipswich and Cox probing from central midfield? That sounds a whole lot more threatening.

Elder's goal looked like being a winning one until a cruel coincidence for Albion;s other newcomer, Tommy Elphick, with three minutes left.

Paul Taylor spotted a handball by the young centre-half, making his first away start, as Rehman nodded away a header by JJ Melligan and captain John Finnigan beat the rarely troubled Michel Kuipers from the spot.

Taylor was also the referee when Elphick's older brother Gary, now trying to get back into the league via St Albans, was sent-off on his full Albion debut at Reading 18 months ago.

Tommy was strong and sound. Wilkins said. "I thought he was outstanding. Over the season there have been more pluses than negatives.

"Don't get me wrong, I am not happy being in the position we were in but there are a long list of pluses - Dean Hammond's goals and the influence he's had on games, the goals Dean Cox has scored in his first year, Alex Revell coming out of non-league, Jake Robinson has hit his best tally ever.

"We have introduced Sam Rents, Tommy Fraser, and Doug Loft's had games. I can look back on so many we should have won or drawn which we drew or lost so I think there is a lot to look forward to.

"If we had been more mature in the second half we would have seen the game out comfortably and sometimes maturity comes with experience. That is what we are hoping will happen."

What needs to happen is that Albion cut the quantity and raise the quality by bringing in four or five established players to help the kids and the likes of Elder. They might then just have a chance of finishing with only six teams above them next season instead of only six below them.

ALBION (4-1-2-1-2): Michel Kuipers (GK), Zesh Rehman (RB), Tommy Elphick (CB), Guy Butters (CB), Sam Rents (LB), Adam El-Abd (DCM), Alexis Bertin (RM), Dean Cox (LM), Gary Hart (ACM), Alex Revell (CF), Nathan Elder (CF). Subs: John Sullivan, Jake Robinson, Joe Gatting, Doug Loft, Tommy Fraser (for Cox 87). CHELTENHAM (4-4-2): Scott Brown (GK), Jeremy Gill (RB), Michael Townsend (CB), Shane Duff (CB), Craig Armstrong (LB), John Melligan (RM), John Finnigan (CM), David Bird (CM), Gavin Caines (LM), Kayode Odejayi (CF), Steven Gillespie (CF). Subs: Keith Lowe, Adam Connolly, Andy Gallinagh, Craig Reid (for Caines 73), Paul Connor for Odejayi 70).

Should Nathan Elder have been introduced earlier to the first team?