Fight Follows Light on Fright Night – Watford at Home

Jekyll and Hyde. Beauty and the Beast. Esmeralda and Quasimodo. Just six characters that no one dressed up as on Fright Night. But there were more than a few scares before the end of a match for which those characters are the perfect metaphor.

The St Jude Storm that battered Southern England for about half an hour on Monday morning, leaving my neighbour’s front garden in pieces and pictures of upturned chairs all over twitter also accounted for the total cancellation of the trains during the morning rush hour. Trees were cleared from lines, tracks cleared and an emergency plan was enacted. That emergency plan being, presumably, to sit around drinking tea while Network Rail finished the tree clearing job, rather than planning for what went after. Long after the final big gusts blew trains were being cancelled randomly like some small child had been let loose on the timetable with a red marker. I didn’t get the train and neither did Scoffers, which is a good thing as, when we arrived, the Amex was half deserted. There were therefore very few people around to hear his “Inigo Calderon should be renamed ‘Cauldron’ for the evening” gag. Ha ha. Sigh.

But if Mr Barber had missed a trick in not ordering hundreds of commemorative t-shirts bearing our reserve right back stirring up a spell while clutching a cat, it seems Oscar has missed a trick in making Senor Cauldron our reserve right back. Kick off was put back to 8pm to cope with the train SNAFU and it appeared that Bruno had spent the extra 15 minutes having a stereotypical siesta. One he was still indulging in on the pitch. It didn’t help that Watford took the lead after only four minutes. A deflected long range strike may be considered an unlucky way to go behind but it isn’t if you don’t do the basic job of closing down the man with the ball. We allowed Watford to fire at Will which was a little harsh as after that he became our most dangerous player.

With Bruno going in the book early and some fairly flaky distribution from both him and Andrews, as well as JFC looking frankly lost, we still somehow clawed our way back in to the game by way of finding Buckley by any means necessary. The former Watford player was enjoying himself and, for once this season, the crosses were matching the dribbling and pace. One particular scamper down the right led to a tremendous headed chance as the ball threaded through Watford’s three centre backs but Almunia made a fantastic reflex save. I’m sure he never did that for Arsenal.

Too often, however, Watford looked dangerous on the break. The side that gave Poyet’s team a footballing lesson last December may have been shorn of some of it’s dodgy loanees (noticably the magnificent Vydra) but they were still pretty pacy. Too often we were second to the ball. Too often we over complicated our passing. Too often the midfield went missing. Barnes and Buckley apart the feeling at half time was that we had under performed somewhat. Mind you this is the opinion of two blokes who saw the delayed kick off as an opportunity to have an extra pint and tell Fright Night gags.

What would have been a disaster would have been if we had got sliced open immediately from the restart and gone two down. So of course that was exactly what happened. Only a referee I had been berating for over fussiness and under-punishing a late challenge on the Pole in Goal in the first half suddenly became my favourite man on the field. Watford whipped the ball round our static defence but PIG got a touch to the finish and Greer cleared off the line. Then he didn’t. Then he did again. During the ‘didn’t’ bit the Watford fans and 60% of NSC responders saw the ball cross the line but the officials were convinced that the whole of the ball had not crossed the whole of the line and it stayed 0-1.

We woke up. I’m not sure yet if that moment is a turning point in what has been a wretchedly unlucky season but it was a turning point in the game. Barnes MARAUDED. The previously derided Bruno now linked up effectively with Buckley, doubling the threat down our right that had already been our best feature. Ok he also committed a foul that could have seen a penalty and sending off on another night but, that apart, it was the Bruno of old. We finally saw flashes of why we’d signed Conway. The midfield energised itself. And, glory of glories, we equalized with a simply stunning finish from from that man Crofts again following a dangerous corner. Whatever you think of Oscar he has revitalised Crofts, considerably to our advantage.

This being fright night there was still time for one last scare as we needed to clear off our line again but a much improved second half performance secured a draw that would have been a fair result but for the disputed ‘goal’. 1-1 to a team that took us to bits last season with the injury list we have at the moment is fantastic.

At Falmer station afterwards I saw a skeleton. Finally someone had joined in I thought. It turned out to be a bloke who’d been waiting for a direct train to Eastbourne.

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0-0 at Yeovil? Let’s All Get Really Angry (or not)

You may think it’s odd writing about a game I wasn’t at but actually people do it all the time. I first noticed this sensation last season when a poster on the message board North Stand Chat posted player ratings based on what they’d heard on the radio. Then, on the same site, someone posted a link to comments from Crystal Palace fans on the 3-0 loss they suffered to us (the St Patricks Day Massacre as it’s known) based entirely on radio commentary aimed at – guess who – Crystal Palace fans. “Wow” I thought, “this reviewing a game you haven’t seen must be a piece of piss”. Thus suitably deluded I knew this blog would be complete.

There is one thing that is handy if you are to base your assessment of the team on a radio commentary though. That’s a radio. I don’t have a radio at the moment. My old one broke and since then I’ve been too busy doing stuff to get a new one, And ting. Stuff and ting. Lots of it. Also some shenanigans and a kerfuffle or two. I normally realise this lack of radio on the morning of an away match by which time I have so much family stuff and ting to do, the chances of me finding a radio that’s priced to suit my parsimonious nature are approximately the same as those of me winning the 2014 X Factor. Naked.

This meant that yesterday I was once again taking the reviewing the radio concept to a new level of ridiculousness. My impression of what was going on at Huish Park was to be gathered from the comments on the Official Match Thread on the aforementioned NSC.

I clearly wasn’t even taking that very seriously. Having recently resolved (yet again) to get a bit fitter I had been out on one last mammoth bender a bike ride along the seafront and therefore got in at ten past three, seriously worried that I might have missed a goal. Ha ha. As I sat down and flicked between the thread and the text commentary on the BBC one thing became abundantly clear. There was not much chance of a goal from either side and people were quite het up about it. Somehow not having the radio commentary took the tension out of this and made it easier to accept. People at the game may have been worried about conceding a last minute winner (or rather loser) but I had accepted a 0-0 from about half an hour in.

What I hadn’t accepted or anticipated was the reaction on the site afterwards. Apparently this was the worst result and performance in the club’s history (despite getting the same result at the even worse Bristol City last season without having a shot – never mind those last years at the Goldstone or the day we lost to nine man Walsall). Apparently we’re doomed to League One (despite being in 14th place, higher than Reading were at this stage two years ago when they ended up winning it). Apparently Oscar doesn’t know what he’s doing (despite us being the only team this season to beat Burnley, despite having got a similar result at big spending QPR, despite only being in the job three months, despite missing seemingly half the team with injuries).

We got a point away. We will be a different side when our injured players are back. The season is never decided in October. And I still didn’t get a radio.

Nottingham Forest at home – frustration

In John King’s debut novel The Football Factory there is a chapter I relate to more than any other. Much of it is about serious fighting. Other bits a side story about the development of the Southall area by its immigrants. These bits I don’t relate to. But there is a chapter where Tommy Johnson (the Danny Dyer character in the film) describes watching Chelsea when you are sick with a heavy cold. About how it restricts you not just from fighting (which I wouldn’t know about) but from going to the pub, getting in to the game’s atmosphere or basically doing anything at all other than feeling like shit. Yesterday I had a cold that was starting to knock me out. I also had a 6 year old in tow with impressionable ears. Which is a shame because we endured a typical game of two halves and the second half of it was possibly the most frustrating passage of play in what is becoming a very frustrating experience. Ok, so Bolton at home last season was worse but I was feeling fine and had no small person in tow then. I was therefore able to vocalise my frustration. Yesterday I physically and morally couldn’t.

Other things change too when you bring your little ‘un. We get to the ground early to avoid the worst of the train crushes. Does he want to see the team coach arrive? No. Go to the club shop? No. Find Gully? No. He wants a burger. So despite being warned off them on twitter earlier that day, a burger he shall have. He knows the hot dogs are “disgraceful”. For me that’s a pretty apt description of the burger too (they have changed beyond all recognition from season 1) but he enjoys his. In fact he wolfs it down and then wants to go to our seat while I am still halfway down the only pint I have allowed myself. I manage to finish it but we are still in our seats 45 minutes before kick off, making us some of the only people to spend the equivalent of three halves in our seats.

He then starts on a list of at least 100 questions. Most I can answer. Some I struggle with. Such as ‘why do some of the players wear yellow vests when they warm up and others don’t’? No idea son. Answers on a postcode please. Or in the comments box. ‘What happens if a Seagulls fan sits with the Forest fans by accident’ was another good one. Maybe something a bit like something out of The Football Factory. By kick off I have no voice left. He has to sing Sussex by the Sea for me.

We have the better of the first half though. Forest give the ball away too much and don’t look to have the cutting edge up front I thought they would. Lua Lua torments them constantly and Buckley does occasionally. We carve out a couple of early chances. Even better we score when Crofts bravely gets on the end of some flair ping pong in the box. The Boy jumps up. “We scored Daddy”. WE. Then it’s back to the incessant questions.

Unfortunately none of the questions are these:

Who sent our centre backs out after half time with their brains switched off?

How can Nottingham Forest, with smaller home crowds than us, be complying with Financial Fair Play when they’ve spent all that money?

Why have we wasted our own budget on average midfielders leaving us with a strike force of Barnes and Barker?

Why is Craig Pawson such an annoying referee?

Why hasn’t Rohan Ince played at all since being man of the match v Bolton?

How does Lua Lua put up with being kicked SO much?

All of these answers could explain a car crash of a second half in which we watch Forest clinically taking their chances while we waste ours. We go 3-1 down from 1-0 up. Then a passage of play that basically saw our players getting fouled every time we got nearer than 40 years to the goal eventually ends with Chalobah getting a second yellow. Can we get two goals in half an hour against 10 men to save a point? No we can’t. Forest effectively stick players behind the ball and foul less often. By the end our attack is as penetrating as a knife made with jelly – that a toddler’s eaten half of

In the train queue the boy asks why we didn’t score when the fans were cheering so loud for them. I can’t answer. Yes, I have a sore throat but I also don’t know what to say.

*Brighton But Only At Home apologises for the lack of accurate and specific match information as it was being distracted by a small child. Chris Kamara never has to put up with this.

Home to Sheffield “came for a point” Wednesday

Sheffield Wednesday came for a point and got one. But that’s not even the story.

All the good stuff yesterday, for me happened off the field and involved things that you’re not remotely interested in like managing to get to the ground in time for a couple of pints despite it being my son’s Parent’s Evening. All the bad stuff occurred when I was having the first of those pints and saw the team news on my mobile. Bruno. In midfield. Again. WTF?

I really shouldn’t have written this article for ANS praising Oscar. I seem to have jinxed him. How else can you explain Lua Lua and Ince – the two best players against Bolton – being dropped against Ipswich and Bruno playing in midfield? But at least I thought it might be a mistake that wouldn’t be repeated. Wrong. Lua Lua was back but there, in the midfield, was Bruno looking as lost as Jeremy Clarkson at a vegetarian feminist’s rally.

The return of Lua Lua changed the game plan to ‘give it to Lua Lua and see what he does’. Which was a shame as Sheffield Wednesday’s game plan was ‘mark Lua Lua out of the game and waste a lot of time’. The more they double teamed him the more we tried to give him the ball. The more they wasted time the more rushed and less composed our passing got. Oh dear.

Still we should have taken the lead when Ulloa sprang the offside trap to go clear before demonstrating the ball control and balance of Keef Richards before the drugs have kicked in.

What would really have put the seal on a disappointing first half would have been if Sheffield Wednesday scored. Just before the break the ball ended up on the East side of the North goal. It looked like it might have gone out for a goal kick but it was kept in by a fraction. With our defence expecting a goal kick and totally switched off Wednesday walked it through our penalty area before Matty Fryatt scored on the turn from 6 yards.

At half time my brother and I agreed the best change would be Buckley to come on for Bruno. Instead Buckley came on for Calderon but at least Bruno dropped back to right back. With twin pacy attackers supporting Ulloa surely we’d pull the deficit back? Sadly ten minutes in to the second half which, given the speed Wednesday were taking their dead balls at, was actually 30 seconds in play (ok I exaggerate – but not much) Ulloa went down under a seemingly innocuous challenge. As he was stretchered off a couple of bizarre substitutions took place where Oscar seemed to temporarily forget we had Barnes on the bench to replace him. A frustrating second half ensued where we looked like a Poyet team in our own defensive third and a Mickey Adams the Second team in the final attacking third. The ball was pinged round nicely between our defenders, then eventually whapped forwards hopefully.

And so it was that we were discussing how Keith Andrews is a good holding player but no Bridcutt (and he really isn’t – how we missed our creative water carrier last night) and how costly two defeats on the bounce would be, when up popped who else but Keith Andrews to score the equalizer as, for once, Wednesday switched off at the back and we decided to be clinical rather than wasteful or hopeful.

I don’t want to be rude to any Wednesday fan who happens to read this but even though we got a last minute equalizer it felt like two points dropped. Sheffield Wednesday must be the worst side to have visited the Amex yet this season – though I missed Millwall – and when the extent of your ambition is to waste time and complain about everything you deserve to get a thorough beating. That we didn’t says everything you need to know about our finishing, our injury list (which is getting worse rather than better) and about Oscar still getting to grips with his new squad’s capabilities.

If Ulloa is out for a protracted amount of time then our season is in a considerable amount of trouble. I’m not one of the Barnes Bashers (though he was what the Aussies call “pretty average” when he came on last night) but can our Ashley really be trusted to score, not get injured and not get suspended until we have something approaching a full squad back? I doubt it.