Rod Thomas lasted less than five minutes at Mansfield in February.

Albion's 5ft.6in. winger was sent off for head-butting Andy Roscoe in the face.

A few minutes of first team action would be an unexpected bonus for him when the Seagulls go back to Field Mill on Saturday.

Thomas has not started a match this season and has not been on the bench since the start of November.

He didn't make the squad when Micky Adams fielded a makeshift line-up last week for the LDV Vans Trophy tie against Cardiff.

He featured instead for 45 minutes in the reserves the following day in a 6-0 defeat at Norwich. It has been a spectacular fall for the 'People's Player', bought in October 1998 from Chester by fans for £25,000.

So where has it all gone wrong for the former Watford wonder kid, who made his debut as a 17-year-old against Arsenal at Highbury and played alongside Alan Shearer in England's under-21s?

Liz Costa and Tim Carder, vice-chair and chair respectively of Albion's official supporters' club, attach no blame to Thomas for his slump in form or to Adams for leaving him out of a team thriving in his absence.

They believe Thomas has simply been the victim of an unfortunate set of circumstances. Fans staged sponsored walks, charity matches and collections to bring the 30-year-old Londoner to the south coast.

Their efforts were rewarded immediately with a dazzling debut goal at Cambridge United and some inspirational displays as Thomas helped Brian Horton's Albion into play-off contention.

Then it all began to go downhill.

Thomas suffered a double fracture of the left ankle in a training accident the day before the Seagulls appeared live on Sky at his old club Chester. It turned out to be Horton's last match in charge. He left for Port Vale and the injury ruled Thomas out for five months.

Costa said: "Since the injury before the Chester game Rod has never been the same player. That was the beginning of the end. He never came back as strong and as nippy.

"He would have stayed in the team if he had not been out for so long. The style of play then changed under Micky, which didn't really suit him."

Thomas was in and out of the side last season. Adams stood by him after that moment of madness at Mansfield, but he wanted a wide man who would get crosses in.

Paul Brooker arrived, initially on loan, from Fulham, and Thomas was made available for transfer during the summer.

Albion have received no offers for him. His contract is up at the end of the season and in the current situation it is difficult to see him playing for the first team again.

Were the fans wise to splash their hard-earned cash on Thomas?

Costa said: "There are one or two who regret it, but you cannot please everybody. What else would we have done with it?

"I think it was money well spent at the time and I still do. It put bums on seats at Gillingham.

"Rod has given us a lot of pleasure. At the time the club needed money and we needed a player who would lighten our lives up.

"He has been a fantastic ambassador for us. There have been one or two hiccups. We still marvel at how he managed to head-butt somebody when he can only reach their knees. But he is still a gentleman and a lovely guy. He was the same sort of charismatic character on the pitch then as Nathan Jones is now."

Carder said: "I have no regrets. Rod was a great player when he joined us. "I think injuries have taken their toll and he has lacked something since then. He always had a good rapport with the fans and that is still the case."