Wigan – The Difficulties of the Lone Football Blogger

So, in essence, we lost 2-1 to Wigan, We had 23 shots and they had six making their conversion rate one in three and ours, well, one in twenty three. This is the story of our season, along with injuries and terrible refereeing. While we can’t do a lot about the last two until we fix the finishing we will never be PLR. It really is as simple as that.

Can I flesh out more detail than that? Possibly, but what’s the point. Our passing ability and chance creation are there for everyone to see yet it seems to be beyond us to score more than one goal in any game. Besides, a blog with a single writer who is first and foremost a fan has its own problems. Let me explain.

Scene – The West Stand Upper Pre Match

My Generic Friend: Another pint?

Me: (thinks, I might have to write about this game tomorrow) Oh alright then. Go on. Buuuurrrp.

MGF: Have you seen the team?

Me: Nope. Remember no one’s phone works after 2pm. I doubt you’ve received any of the texts I sent you.

MGF: What texts?

Scene – The Amex press room

Andy Naylor has arrived and is plugging in his laptop. He is brought the team sheets in large font by a model clad in a bikini top and mini skirt, accompanied by a dwarf. Another minion has been dispatched to bring him pie and coffee. He begins to make copious notes in his luxury journalist’s notebook.

Scene – The West Upper. We are in our seats watching the game

My Generic Friend: Lovely tackle by Stephens there.

Me: Are you sure it was Stephens? Wasn’t it Orlandi? These yellow numbers on blue and white stripes are impossible to read.

MGF: Er, well, pretty sure. I suppose. Who’s number 14? It was him.

Me: 14 is Calderon who’s on the bench.

MGF: Are you 100% sure?

Me: No. That club text still hasn’t arrived.

Scene – the press room

Andy Naylor: Lovely tackle by Stephens there.

Fellow Journo: Are you sure it was Stephens? Wasn’t it Orlandi? These yellow numbers on blue and white stripes are impossible to read.

Andy Naylor: Er, pretty sure. On second thoughts it looked like number 14 who shouldn’t be playing.

Fellow Journo: Let’s just both agree it was Stephens. That way our reports won’t contradict each other.

Both journalists write ‘nice tackle by Stephens’ in their notebooks.

Scene – The West Upper. We are in our seats watching the second half

MGF: So we’ve agreed that Bruno is the baldie, Greer is the one with long socks, Kuszczak is the one in goal, Ince is the one running round like Patrick Viera and Ulloa is the only one who can score. And Ward is left back, right?

Me: Just left back. Calderon is the right left back. Anyone, we’re so desperate to claw this back that Orlandi’s playing left back at the moment.

MGF: Who’s the guy who can’t hold it up?

Me: Obika

MGF: Is he also the one who runs like Bambi skating?

Me: Yep

MGF: Who’s the bloke who didn’t bother challenging the keeper on that cross?

Me: Obika again.

(some time passes)

Me: GO ON! GET IN THERE! GREAT TURN. GET IT…..Oh. Bollocks.

MGF: Lovely run. Shame he rolled it straight to the keeper at the end.

Bloke in seat in front: Who was that?

The whole row behind: OBIKA!

Scene – after the game

A large, slightly frantic and very alcoholic circle has formed round the West Lower bar and the match’s deficiencies, today’s travel woes and the first pub in town to be visited are discussed over many beers. Meanwhile Andy Naylor is checking the NSC official match threads for posts by people who followed the game on Seagulls Player and slyly altering his notes.

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Hull City At Home – Unsatisfactory?

I thought about a subtitle for this post but so much was going on I couldn’t decide which to use. What to focus on? That the work commitments that stopped me getting a ticket annoyingly disappeared when the railway line at Patcham flooded? That, in any case, by then I had invited one of our new generation of fans round from crisps and the game on TV in my continued, successful, efforts to brainwash them? No, these are personal. The big debate at the end of the game was around our use of a ‘weakened team’ and the end result, another unwanted Monday night game.

So. Declaration of bad fan-ness first. I watched the game on TV. Yes, I know it’s not the same thing but as soon as the game was moved to a Monday there was enough doubt about me making it to Falmer in time because of work commitments that I didn’t bother getting a ticket. A shame as Reading had been one of my favourite games of the season so far and I had taken the boy and his friend for a very reasonable cost indeed. The same pricing was repeated for Hull but then the game moved to Monday and Monday night football really does stink like a dead tramp’s balls.

Instead I invited the boy’s friend and his mum over to ours for the game on TV. About five minutes after they accepted the news came through that the Preston rail tunnel had flooded and the trains the next day would be diverted and cancelled. Inevitably I worked from home and inevitably the meeting I was worried about disappeared. Never mind. The crisps and beers were bought and arrangements made. At least I wouldn’t miss kick off.

Another thing that happened the day before kick off was the 6th round draw and the result gave us, at least in the fans’ minds, a massive incentive to win. Not only would we be in the Quarter Finals but we would be at home. To Sunderland. Gus Poyet’s Sunderland. Unless he hits the roof in the meantime.

Now no disrespect to Hull. They are a division above us having deservedly been promoted last season. But they are also not Manchester United (mind you, neither are Manchester United these days) or Chelsea.  At home they represented a reasonable chance of us getting in to the next round. But when the teams were announced we had made several changes. Had we selected a weak side and blown our chances of progressing? Not for me. Apparently others didn’t agree, including Robbie Savage. I’ll tell you why I take that view.

Brezovan came in for Kuszczak. The P.I.G. is a better keeper overall but Brezovan has been excellent whenever I’ve seen him deputise and his distribution is better. Calde and Bruno have been vying for the right back slot all season. Dunk is a former Championship regular who had an excellent game. The midfield three almost picked themselves with Orlandi having had a shocker there last time out, Agustien moody and out of form, Stephens cup tied and Bridcutt sold. KLL and Buckley playing just behind Ulloa is about as attacking as we get. Only Chicksen for Ward looked seriously weaker and yet he had excelled against Reading and is an excellent prospect, rapid and organised. He has to play some time. But the point is that it is a squad game. Rotation is vital in an overall season and no one – no one – plays the same side week in, week out these days.

The game itself certainly didn’t look like a Premier League team against a weakened Championship side. The Albion started the brightest though without carving out a really good chance. Then we got lucky. The woodwork has been our enemy all season but, as Sagbo wasted a great chance by hitting the bar, it became our friend. On half an hour we took the lead with one of the best goals we’ve scored all season. Magical interplay between Ulloa and Buckley sent the former scampering clear and Huddlestone knew he couldn’t foul if he wanted to stay on the pitch. A cool finish put us 1-0 up and the cheers from the front room probably woke up our sleepy new street.

The two sides then missed a good chance each. Curtis Davies should have equalised for Hull before Ulloa missed a free header from about six yards out.

Probably the worst result for both sides would have been a draw. So of course Hull pushed on for the equalizer and we sat back. We also tired. Buckley lasted only 45 minutes but was replaced by March who had started the last two league wins. KLL started to exaggerate his falls and got less change out of the referee as the game went on. The centre backs, who’d been excellent all game, came under more and more pressure. And eventually Hull scored. Both sides went for it in the last few minutes but neither could push on and that was it. A (result wise) totally unsatisfactory draw, but an excellent game in which we acquitted ourselves respectfully against the sort of side we will have to match or beat week in, week out if we ever go up.

Was our team selection unsatisfactory? No. Is it unsatisfactory that a TV channel with very few subscribers can make us play an FA Cup 5th Round tie on a Monday night when the trains are wrecked? Yes. Is it unsatisfactory that UEFA rules dictate the replay is again on a Monday, just 48 hours after a big league game against Wigan? Yes. Is it unsatisfactory that the magic of the cup has deteriorated to the point where the semi can be at Wembley but the final is no longer the season finale at the traditional time? Absolutely.

We will undoubtedly play two very different teams against Wigan and Hull. And yet we will give it our best shot possible. After all, Gus still awaits the winners.

Leeds – Textbook

One thing I have attempted to do in this blog is put a light hearted spin on events at the Amex. Doing so this time may be difficult. It was a textbook night at the football, and, as such, not funny at all. It was good though.

The last two home games against Leeds have been excellent for the neutral. Two high scoring draws where the atmosphere has cracked and fizzled round the Amex. However, in both I felt we were unlucky not to win. This time round the atmosphere was a little less on edge, the game a little less open. And we won. To be fair that’s how I’d prefer it.

Everything went right in the Brighton But Only At Home camp. I got out of work on time and caught trains that weren’t delayed. I had a pie and a pint or two in Dick’s in which the main discussion was how much of a coach Oscar Garcia is, how we are benefitting from the wisdom of a man who is essentially a football nerd.

Then the only thing to slightly go wrong happened in that I lost Scoffers, unfortunate given he’s a six foot tall bloke. Blame the rather erratic 3G coverage in the WSU. While I was wandering I did bump in to another old friend, and one who can talk for England. I never successfully extracted myself.

So to the action on the pitch. This was a demonstration of exactly the coaching nerdiness we had just discussed. Despite, at times, giving away silly passes we still retained 61% of possession. When the ball was lost it was generally recovered within Oscar’s target time. The two centre backs had Ross McCormack in their pockets. Ince roamed and ravaged like a colossus. “Our own Ya Ya Touré” the bloke next to me remarked, and he was right.

I can’t honestly remember Leeds having a good chance, though being an amateur blogger, rather than a pro journalist, by this point a fair amount of ale had been taken. Still, I don’t think there was enough beer in the whole stadium to miss our general level of comfort.

What was missing was a goal (again) and Oscar said as much afterwards. Enter Kazenga. Immediately the threat level upped and we went from comfortable to cutting edge. After 64 minutes a typical bit of Kaz trickery found Ulloa on the penalty spot and he finished with a cheeky, and joyous flick of the outside of the right foot. Later the friend who can talk for England would claim it was a shank. He was laughed out of town. It was an incredible finish in a game where Ulloa’s first touch, up to then, had been lacking.

Not lacking in any way was Solly March who gave another brave and tireless performance, and Calde who did the same, still sprinting forward in the 90th minute to will the ball back and keep it in the corner. PIG dominated the penalty area on the rare occasions when the centre backs didn’t. Ward was again solid though his crossing radar was off.

But the night was the Ince and Kazenga show. The beating heart of our engine room and the most dangerous impact player we’ve ever had. As Leeds triple teamed KLL we brought on another pacey winger in the form of Buckley to make them reconsider. Textbook coaching.

Afterwards many of us stopped for a beer and a gloat in the West Lower. It seems beating Leeds is still very satisfying indeed. It just doesn’t produce particularly entertaining writing.

Doncaster At Home – Frustration Relieved Except for Sharp

It’s been a month since my last match report, mainly because, in that time I haven’t gone, or even followed the games much. We have only had one home game in that time but it occurred the day after I moved house and I was under orders to shift boxes and stuff. Same with the subsequent weekends. In fact the only game I listened to was Watford. It was perfectly clear how awful that was from the commentary. It was a battle between Warren and the fans for who was the most depressed.

My contact with the club was therefore restricted to the same channels as everyone else as we tried to follow the transfer window. All channels were monitored. The Argus, The BBC, Twitter and NSC. I really wish I hadn’t bothered.

When I first joined Twitter I followed some of our players. I thought I might get something out of it, and I do, but it’s not what I thought I would. Typically Inigo Calderon’s account is excellent. Spanish Dave was great with the fans when he thought he was leaving. And then there was the time Matt Sparrow insulted the whole of Croydon. But the rest? CMS inanely RT-ing the desperate? KLL reinventing the English language?

But worst of all for me was the way the players used the media during the window. Kemy engaged the fans, firstly to repel some fairly disgraceful spamming after Derby but then to say there was something wrong at the club. A succession of players issued pleas to The Argus for new faces. All, it seemed was not well. Then, just before the Doncaster game, we found out why. Far from hitting the roof we had lost over £14 million pounds backing Poyet to get us in to the Premier League and he’d failed, however narrowly. Those are facts, however uncomfortable we find them. Another fact is that those losses are unsustainable. Not FFP unsustainable – no more club unsustainable, unless Tony Bloom continues to bail us out.

This was the background to the Doncaster game and it made me both delighted and nervous to be back at the ground. Luckily I got there early and had a couple of beers watching Arsenal embarrass themselves at Liverpool. We couldn’t be any worse than that surely? And they were top of the league.

In fact, in the first half we were excellent. Lack of shots and chances had been cited as one of the issues at Watford but, with an attacking line up that included Ulloa, Spanish Rodney, Orlandi and Solly March we had the majority of possession and carved a series of decent chances. Ullloa missed the best with an unmarked header while another cross from a great move down the left was a stud’s width from being slid in. Doncaster created nothing. Sure it was frustrating but we were bound to put one of them away in the second half, right?

Unfortunately we came out for the second half far more toothlessly. Doncaster had reorganised and we’d got complacent. Or, as my esteemed best friend remarked “it’s like looking at someone trying to cut up a steak with a wooden spoon”.

In fact after 74 minutes I had mentally given up the ghost, having just seen us finally score but have it ruled out for offside. And then, finally, Ward found himself in an acre of space on the left and hit the perfect cross. This time we were onside. This time Ulloa did not miss his free header. 1-0. The relief of frustration was palpable, like a champagne cork finally popping over the doorstep of a newly acquired property, or perhaps another kind of popping after never quite being sure in the nightclub if she would. *turns in to Ian Holloway*

And then there’s Billy Sharp. The first ever scorer of a competitive goal at The Amex. Yet he cannot have any fond memories of the place at all. After all his career was ended and his life endangered by Lewis Dunk soon after that goal, or at least it was if you listened to their chairman. Returning to Doncaster, Lazerus like (and if you’d performed such a miraculous recovery would you choose to perform it to return to Doncaster? Really?) he managed to miss a sitter of a free header, easily their best chance, and before we scored. Then he was caught kicking out at Greer and given a straight red, on the East side of the ground. 12,000 pairs of hands in the West Stand waved him off. At least he’ll play again I suppose.

After he went, however, we went in to our shells. We sat back, looked disinterested and gave the ball away. You can’t put champagne back in the bottle but it can be off when you try it. This was the biggest cause for concern all day. We had the game at our mercy and we were trying to throw it away.

In the end we held on. We won. We’re eighth. I celebrated by renewing my acquaintance with both Harvey’s bitter and my friends from the GDC. After dry January that was a relief too. Many others were on the ale too, something that a gang of four teenagers with BMXs were about to regret. Having taken over a set of carriage doors with their bikes and started rolling fags on the train table they were suddenly swamped by well oiled, high spirited Brighton fans who loudly discussed the fate of their tyres and brakes. The colour drained from all but the lairy one, who offered to fight us, but a quick, banter filled, trip to Brighton was one of the most amusing I have ever taken. Everywhere, it seemed, we were determined to enjoy the win.