Half Term Report

Back at the start of the season I did a preview both here and on Amex North Stand and reading it back it just goes to show why bookies will always make a profit and The Championship will always be an impossibly league to predict.

We are now exactly half way through the season and it’s time to take stock of where we are and look at how the second half of the season will pan out. Many of you will now have seen every team in this division though, of course, given the blog name I have only seen the ones that came to the Amex and then I missed Millwall and Blackburn thanks to a holiday and the Aztec Two Step respectively.

Watching a team once in this division is, however, absolutely no guide to how they will appear in the table or what their real quality is. From what we’ve seen you would say that Barnsley are world beaters and Burnley are bottom mid table fodder. In fact, at the half way point Barnsley sit bottom and Burnley third. Bolton and Wigan are underperforming compared to my prediction and we’ve beaten both. Derby, having beaten us in our opening home game thanks to some interesting refereeing from a certain Mr D’Urso , then got rid of long term manager Nigel Clough, to the anger of one of the Derby fans on my twitter timeline. They brought in the Wally with the Brolly and guess what? He’s turned these perennial also rans in to world beaters, going on a winning run that sees them second behind Leicester. Talking of Leicester they head the table by a clear four points, yet again they looked distinctly average down here falling victim to our best performance of the season so far. Perhaps we should thank them for starting Dean Hammond who looked as useful as Andy Kennedy in an Ugly Centre Back competition.

Still (and I quote, and yes I’m showing off) my prediction for our own team looks bang on track. I said “top ten – possibly the playoffs if everything goes to plan”. At the half way point we sit eighth, level on points with sixth place Ipswich, whose goal difference is just +2 better than us.

So who have been the star performers who have helped us achieve what is an excellent first half of the season given the Poyet induced uncertainty of the summer?

Star Pupils

Rohan Ince – Number one teachers pet is Rohan Ince, who has been giving teacher his metaphorical apple by smashing away opposition midfielders in the style of Patrick Viera meets Chuck Norris. If Ince plays we get a result, simple as. Surely this is a case to play him every game then? I would say not. In fact I would say Oscar has handled him perfectly, making sure this lad who is still young and developing is given exactly the right amount of game time to make his big impact whenever he does play. Talking of which…

Oscar Garcia – What a great half season from our coach. How lucky we are. Let’s look at what he’s had to do. Adapt to English football and the basket case / lottery that is the Championship. Take on someone else’s squad and later than many of his rivals. Battle the worst injury crisis I can remember at the club. Subtly change the football philosophy at the club. Win over the fans. Bring in decent new faces. By and large he’s done all of it. Yes there’s room for improvement. We could have attacked Barnsley more and not tried to walk it in on a pudding at Charlton, but we are pretty much exactly where I expected and it has been done with a mix of flair and quiet understatedness.

Ashley Barnes – Still Barnes isn’t everyone’s cup of tea yet I’m giving him an A- and putting him in with the swots. For large portions of the season he’s had to play up front on his own with no Ulloa. He’s been kicked, punched and had his shirt ripped constantly by centre backs who know referees go against him and that he has a temper. At no point has he retaliated, He’s held the ball up, got on with his job and scored 6 goals, equal top with Ulloa, including the goal of the season so far at Bournemouth.

Matt Upson – Mr Consistency and the best centre back in the league. Thanks Matt.

Bruno – OLD BRUNO IS BACK! That cocky swagger man, marauding down the wing one minute and winning a tackle he had no right to the next. Halfway through this first half I would have replaced him with Calde and yet his two performaces against Leicester and Huddersfield have been the best I’ve ever seen from a Brighton full back. OK maybe Bridge had a couple better last season overall but there is no doubt that when Bruno’s on form every person in the ground notices him.

Paul Barber – Fair play to the CEO. I certainly didn’t agree with the way the Poyet situation was handled either PR wise or in the length of time it took to get sorted but the Poyet monkey is now off our backs and, it would seen, inexpensively. Meanwhile Mr Barber has overseen a PR revolution, the fans are kept properly informed by him and Tony Bloom and people who take the time to write are replied to in full. The pricing of the Reading cup game is also spot on. If there’s one frustration remaining it’s tendency to talk about FFP when many around us still don’t seem to be taking it seriously, but it’s just the talk that’s frustrating. We will have a viable and sustainable club who may just be *gags* PL Ready *barfs*

Could do better

Keith Andrews – Wasn’t convinced when we signed him, haven’t been since. We win when Ince plays and we don’t when Andrews does.

Kemy Agustein – Injured for much of the season so will be better to judge him when he’s fully fit. But Kemy – what’s with this wearing a snood and gloves when it’s 10 degrees?

The training pitch / The German Doctor – Too many injuries this season. Unexplained.

Referees – Haven’t had a good one yet, as per.

Reading Football Club – There is no way I thought we’d be above them at this stage. Keep Up Nige.

 

Advertisements

Huddersfield – More Damp Squib Than Christmas Cracker

I didn’t bother writing up the Middlesboro game as it was being played at the same time as I had my  Christmas get together with my mum’s side of the family. My following of the game consisted of me and my brother sneakily checking our iPhones for the score a couple of times and pulling satisfied smiles when full time came around.

Huddersfield was going to be different though. Huddersfield was a good chance of a win. It was a Christmas drink with old friends. It was grown men in Santa outfits (I’m looking at you Simon). It was…a bit meh really.

I blame the PA announcer. Still recovering from being corpsed when reading out the teams by a missing photo of Ince and the subs’ pictures flying by at light speed he then said ‘get ready for a Christmas cracker’. If every anything was more likely to make a game end 0-0 this was it (after all I write as someone who credited Chaos Theory with beating Blackburn). 0-0 it was and afterwards I condemned it as workmanlike and average. It seems not everyone agrees.

It’s true there were stand out performances. Bruno was still Old Bruno. The man put on the performance of the day on either side. Apparently only the sponsors didn’t notice. Spanish Dave was also Old Spanish Dave and the link up play on the right between the two was sublime. Unfortunately this meant Buckley wasn’t on the right and this meant he spent most of the game going missing. One can only hope it was return-from-injury-itis. The centre backs were once again as solid as Rohan Ince and Chuck Norris hiding behind a steel fence. Ward had his moments, good and bad.

There were several words to describe Huddersfield including, but not limited to, organised, dirty, negative, unable to shoot and boring. Again some on social media haven’t agreed but that’s the way I saw it and that’s the way I’m calling it.

Most teams this season will now come to the Amex for a point. It is credit in a way to what Oscar and Poyet have achieved over the last two seasons but there are going to be games where we struggle to break these teams down. It most certainly doesn’t help when you miss two gilt edged chances and sadly Barnes did, having been down as my most improved player of the last couple of months. He missed an open goal when the ball rebounded to him too quickly and bouncily (opinion was split afterwards between ‘he couldn’t react in time’ and ‘a natural finisher would have reacted in time’ – I’m in the first camp) but how he missed a clear and unmarked header from about three yards I will honestly never know.

That was it for goalmouth action though. Two chances all game, badly muffed, while at the other end Sexy Pete was barely called on.

Not a huge disappointment. Nothing to get worried about. Other results went for us too. But combined with the PA cock up and the fact there were no staff left to pour beer after the game, rather putting a dampener on the Christmas drink, it was all nothing to write home about. Which is why this is short.

Barnsley and Leicester at home – a tale of two teams

Two home matches in five days. Manna from heaven for this blogger of course. After over a month without a live game, relying on dodgy streams and not being interrupted by the kids during a Sky broadcast, suddenly I could eat all the pies, drink all the beers and shout fairly much what I wanted without missing a minute of the action.

They were, on paper, two very different games and despite an unbeaten run coming in to them, the realistic expectation was three points from the two. Four would have been a bonus. That’s because we were playing a side that were rock bottom, without an away win or a manager, followed by Leicester, big spenders and new league leaders. Football games aren’t played on paper though. Perhaps they should be. You could spend almost the whole 90 minutes laughing at players in bright orange and green boots falling on their arses and, afterwards, the kids could draw on the pitch. Three points is exactly what we got. Just not in the right order.

I’m not going to dwell too much on Tuesday, except to say I should be more careful with my main twitter account. That morning I had almost the perfect commute for the first time since autumn arrived and I wondered what Tuesday had left up it’s sleeve. Immediately my mate Jamie tweeted back that perhaps it held a Barnsley win. Surely not? Tuesday continued to be lovely to me. I was able to leave work early, I met an old friend by accident on the way to the ground, The Swan had an absolutely amazeballs guest ale on and seemed to get my cheesy chips to me in about thirty seconds using their unique ordering system where everyone has number 31. All good. Then the game started.

I honestly haven’t seen a more spineless performance since before Poyet joined us. It was like a return to the bad old days. After about ten minutes Barnsley realised that we a) had no pace and b) had taken them far too much for granted and pushed on and caused us real problems. They kept the ball better and twice they walked through the middle of our defence to score soft goals. Matt Upson got a consolation from a corner but even though there was plenty of time left it always felt like a consolation. I felt for the sponsors having to choose a Brighton man of the match because there wasn’t one. Upson got it for his goal. Subjects covered during a very swift post match pint in the West Lower concourse included ‘why didn’t Ince play?’ ‘wasn’t JFC shit?’ ‘weren’t we shit?’ and ‘why didn’t we play two strikers against the bottom side?’ All perfectly fair, though I suspect Ince was still shattered from carrying the team by himself in the first half at Bournemouth.

Saturday morning dawned. At home games I sit with my very, very good friend Mark and it was his son’s birthday party in Burgess Hill. We were going to get the coach to the Amex straight afterwards. So it was I spent the morning being screamed at by eight year old boys and listening to someone called Ginger Phil play Gangnam Style and What Does the Fox Say while clearing up half eaten cheese sandwiches. The kids had a blast and we made the coach in plenty of time. Now it wasn’t What Does the Fox Say but How Will the Foxes Play? More to the point how will we play? We couldn’t be that bad again could we?

The game started with a minute’s applause for Nelson Mandela, a man who I admire more than almost any other, though I struggle to see the relevance to a Saturday afternoon football match in Southern England. It was a timely reminder, though, that anything is possible. It also reminded me of being herded through the truly uninspiring Nelson Mandela Park in the middle of Leicester after away games at Filbert Street.

Then Mark pointed out the obvious change that I had missed. There was no Pole in Goal. There was a Slovakian. Kuszczak had been injured in the warm up and replaced by Brezovan aka Sexy Pete. I looked at Mark and uttered the stupidest words of the whole of Saturday. “Well, it’s just a case of if we lose three, four or five nil now.”

This opinion didn’t change as Brezovan was called in to action early as Dean Hammond (yes him) started a move that ended with similar toothless challenges to Tuesday and a smart save from the Slovak. It was to be our last bit of toothlessness of the half and also the last time I noticed Hammond touch the ball.

Still early in to the game we broke with pace (yes pace) down the right and found Spanish Dave in space on the flank. He played an almost impossible, perfect, cross on the ground that sliced Leicester open like a particularly accurate and arrogant surgeon showing off to the sexy new nurse and Barnes simply couldn’t miss from about four yards. 1-0.

It got even better. Leicester attacked but we broke it up. They looked like winning it straight back but Barnes won a brilliant 50/50 challenge to get the ball to Spanish Dave and then picked himself straight up to provide a dummy run down the right. SD played an almost impossible, perfect, long ball to Conway who controlled it brilliantly and slotted in to the far corner. 2-0. Two fucking nil against the leaders and we deserved it too.

All over the pitch heroes were being made with the exception of poor Gordon Greer who had to go off injured. Replacement El Abd had one of his best games in a Brighton shirt alongside Upson who was having one of those ‘read everything and win everything’ games. Bruno was the OLD Bruno. You know the one that first joined us? Bridcutt and Ince were dominating midfield, interchanging between pushing up and breaking up. Crofts worried them. Barnes was putting in a shift and a half. Sexy Pete was solid.

Inevitably Leicester took off Hammond and replaced him with Knockaert at half time and 27000 people (ok probably about 24000) wondered why Knockaet hadn’t started as he caused us immense problems. Talking of immense problems though Conway was still targeting Waselweski at right back. Conway was also having his best game in the stripes and exposing some truly dreadfully inconsistent refereeing as the Leicester right back got last chance after last chance after last chance. He should have been off. Eventually Morgan had to come over and cover him.

Inevitably again Leicester had a very bright 10 minutes as we sat too deep and they pulled one back as we left Andy King totally unmarked at the back post. The nerves were jangling. Oscar to his credit brought on Lua Lua as a statement of intent and we began breaking on them again. Having had a clear penalty turned down when Upson was pushed in the box we then earned another one as Barnes was similarly shoved and Mr Inconsistent gave it. He smashed it straight down the middle, Schmeichel moving a fraction too early. I had been doing that ‘Sky Sports hand over mouth’ pose but as it went in The Amex went mental and so did we.

Man of the match? Could have been any of them. Barnes got it, presumably for his goal tally and he certainly worked for it. He’ll be black and blue this morning but hopefully delighted.

Subjects covered during a very long two post match pints in the West Lower concourse included ‘wasn’t Ince immense’ ‘wasn’t Barnes great’ ‘how worried were you during the shaky ten minutes’ ‘wasn’t it great putting on Lua Lua when he did’ and ‘what the fuck happened to Dean Hammond?’

I got the train home happy.

Bournemouth Away – The Rohan and Ashley Show

I think – ok I know – that I mentioned in my Wigan report that there didn’t used to be so much live football on TV. I also recently wrote a rant about Monday Night Football for TSLR during which it became obvious that we now have football on the telly every day of the week. Or at least some weeks we do. Some of these games will sell themselves to a neutral audience of course. Arsenal versus Spurs? Who could resist. Barcelona versus Man United in the Champions League? Telly booked, beers purchased. Fleetwood versus Port Vale in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy (Northern Section) Round 1? Compulsive viewing.

However there are some games that must be a lot harder to sell to the general public. Like, say, a Saturday lunchtime match between the sides lying 16th and 9th in the Championship. You can mention both sides are from the South Coast but then so is Torquay. If they’re not our rivals then Bournemouth certainly aren’t either. I imagine Watford is nearer as the crow flies. My only “encounter” with Bournemouth fans was as a sixteen year old when a coach load of their fans drove past me on its way to the Goldstone. They were all…………..sitting politely reading their papers. A couple of years later I was on a coach to Elland Road, Leeds when another coach full of Leeds fans overtook us and the charmers on that banged the windows and made throat slitting gestures.

You could mention we both play “nice football” and indeed the commentators did during the game but, for me, we are both still a work in progress. You can mention our new investors and new grounds. Ultimately though, you can’t escape the feeling that the game was selected simply because it was our turns. I had no idea how they would sell it to the public. Luckily I didn’t have to listen to them try.

I spent “the build up” in the freezing cold garden of a local gastro pub where two of the mums from the boy’s school were taking photos of the kids with Christmas Face Paint on for a Christmas Card. Yes, I really was having that much fun. I had booked our ‘slot’ specifically so we could get back in time to watch the game. However, as we arrived it became clear that they were a) running late and b) had the game on the tv.

Trying to persuade a face painted three year old that you wanted to stay in the pub for the football is not the world’s simplest thing, however, and so it was that we instead went on a mad dash back home. As I got in and switched on the game it had been going for a minute and it seemed nothing much had happened in that minute. If a goal had been scored, especially by us, this section would have been a bit more ranty.

Talking of Rantie he seemed to be giving us a few problems. As did Matt Ritchie. And indeed anyone with any pace or, for that matter, just wearing a red shirt. Bournemouth came out for the first half with all of their metaphorical guns blazing. We were still in the Guest House, lazily munching on the rest of the toast and baked beans and wondering if the owner, Mrs Cruetbonce, had anything to read that wasn’t the Daily Mail. All except for the Pole In Goal, who made a marvellous reflex save, Calde who had our best chance of the first half, narrowly volleying over from the edge of the box and the Magnificent Rohan Ince. He wasn’t still at the Guest House. He had got up early, gone for a short run to warm up and now wanted to extend himself. Having missed Mrs Cruetbonce’s breakfast he also wanted to devour a few red shirted Bournemouth players as he went. Metaphorically that is.

So dominant was Ince in our midfield that it only showed how weakly the rest were performing. Inevitably we got ourselves in a mess of our own making close to our own penalty area and JFC, who was having a nightmare, committed a fairly obvious foul. Inevitably again, the returning Matt Ritchie was set up to crack a magnificent drive in to the bottom corner with the outside of his foot. Great goal and no more than Bournemouth deserved. 1-0.

Oscar made the needed change at half time, Bridcutt coming on for JFC, and we looked immediately more settled. Not more pacy – this was one game where our lack of pace was to be shown up – but more able to cope. We retained the ball better, broke up their attacks better and actually had a few moments of our own. My wife chose this precise moment to want to tell me something about…something. I’m not sure what it was but by the time she’d finished telling me it was 1-1. I huffily wound back the Sky + to see one of the goals of this or any other season from Ashley Barnes.

Yes, Ashley Barnes. If you read North Stand Chat regularly you’d be forgiven for thinking that Barnes is some kind of evil spirit who’s only function is to take up a spot in the team that someone else deserves, whilst deliberately missing chances. He’s never been anything of the sort of course – he works as part of a team in a formation that is again starting to pay dividends – but his lack of goals are always held against him. So much so, in fact, that I had, only that morning, written a gag about it for TSLR. Let’s just say I had to rewrite the gag. The strike that levelled the match was magnificent. Rarely have I seen a ball better struck. As Tom North said on twitter, if it had been in the Prem people would never have stopped talking about it.

Either side could have gone on to win it. Ritchie should have done much better with one bouncing ball in the penalty box but he shanked it horribly. At the other end Craig Conway finally woke up and crafted a couple of delightful runs and crosses from the left but no one was brave or lucky enough to get on the end of them. The aforementioned Ince eventually came off, looking completely spent, to be replaced by Andrews who again looked completely useless and that was that. 1-1. Fair result in the game they’re already calling ‘the one no one cares about’.