Middlesboro at Home – Omnishambles

I nearly didn’t make this match. On the Thursday preceding I had a dose of what’s colloquially known as “man flu” these days but with the addition of a cluster headache to wake up to. By Friday my throat was so sore I could barely talk, let alone shout, and I was sweating like a mouthy Palace fan at the end of Coward’s Walk.

Fortunately by Saturday I was about 70% human and I passed a late fitness test by taking The Boy to football training and tidying the house on my return. I was nearly metaphorically injured in the warm up but I’ll come back to that at the end.

A seamless journey to the Amex for a change was perhaps the one thing that went right all day. I got a pint and checked the team news. Once again Ulloa up front on his own. Once again no start for Lua Lua. The thing is, if you want to make it more attacking, you probably have to play Buckley and Lua Lua wide and Lingard in behind Ulloa. That only leaves you March and Rodriguez to come in if, say, Buckley’s hamstrings go again. My late January post was wrong. We are under resourced for this division, though in my defence I had expected Rodriguez to be our first true “Oscar” player and for one of CMS or Hoskins to be back. So we’re paying strikers. We just can’t use them.

Where do I start with the game? We started brightly enough, earning several corners, one as a result of a brilliant save from a scuffed Spanish Dave point blank shot after good work from Buckley. Another time Lingard broke with pace to set Ulloa away on the break but he elected to shoot straight at the keeper. Boro on their occasional forays in to our territory showed a willingness to shoot from anywhere that was keeping PIG busy, if not exactly at full stretch. And then the inexplicable happened.

On 33 minutes Buckley went off injured. Let’s play guess the injury. Twisted foot? Nope. Cut knee? Not on your nelly. Slight scarring to the shoulder blade? Wrong. Chickenpox? Not even close. What’s that you say? Hamstring? Don’t be bloody ridiculous. Of course it was his hamstring. As predictable as the half time music.

So we stuck Lua Lua on right? WRONG! We put Spanish Dave, who up to then had been doing alright in a more central role, out to the right and brought on Forster-Caskey to have yet another average game in the middle. Almost instantly the back passes started coming, more and more, and not of any quality. PIG who is to kicking what I am dieting twice looked like he was about to let in a soft own goal as he struggled for the angles being created by the outfield players.

Over and over again we passed across the midfield and then back to the keeper. In fact after the game I got this tweet from one of the writers from Reading’s Tilehurst End showing exactly what our problem is, as if we didn’t all know. Obsessed with attacking football my arse.

All Boro had to do was sit back and make something of their own occasional attacks. Up to half time these were fairly tame. The game was looking nailed on 0-0.

If only. Newport at home this season. Barnsley at home this season. Palace at home (well, the last 70 minutes) the first season we moved in and the second half of this game are all competing for the worst football from us seen at the Amex. The second half yesterday may even win due to its comedy element and tragic outcome. Shakespeare would have loved us.

We gifted Boro a goal. I don’t mean we sat off them, I mean we went shopping, found the nicest present in the store and spent half an hour gift wrapping it, a bit like Rowan Atkinson’s smarmy shop assistant in Love Actually. Pretty fucking bows and everything. And who was the main culprit? Greer. “Here, have this beautifully giftwrapped ball with pretty fucking bows and everything. Feel free to score from three yards.”

We didn’t look like getting back in to it and then, out of nowhere we got a penalty as a result of Boro’s only defensive lapse of the day. I honestly thought Leadbitter was going to have a coronary as the ref pointed to the spot. Or cry. He needn’t have worried. None of our players wanted to take it. Not one. IT’S OUR BIG CHANCE TO GET BACK IN THE GAME FFS AND YOU STAND AROUND LIKE THE OPPOSITE OF MY SON’S UNDER SEVENS ARGUING ABOUT WHO’S NOT GOING TO TAKE IT.

Ulloa stepped up reluctantly. It missed by so much it was still going up as we left. Reports of a cabbage patch in Durrington destroyed by football may, or may not be true.
There was still time for Boro to score a second, one that looked suspiciously offside with the naked eye, though I’d like to see it back. It didn’t matter. The plain fact is we could play on till Wednesday and not score. We’d just pass it back to the keeper. Or spend as long arguing over who wan’t taking a free kick as we did the penalty. Agh.

A quick word on the Middleborough fans. Having clashed keyboards with Sheffield Wednesday fans in the week I have to praise these. Over 900 down when their side had no form and nothing to play for and they made a noise too. If you’re looking for an example of proper fans these are some of them.

Afterwards I decamped to the West Lower where we once again exchanged rants. On NSC in the week I had offered to drink a pint of Fosters if we won 5-0. I had to anyway. They’d run out of decent ale by 5.10.

When I finally got in my wife was wearing that “you’re going to be fucking divorced by Tuesday you scumbag” look. It turns out as soon as I left that my three year old daughter, known as the Whirlwind, had painted the bathroom floor with mint flavoured hand soap. This, my wife had discovered by going to see what she was up to and slipping arse over tit on to an already injured back. “I thought about phoning and getting you to come back but it’s slowly getting better” she told me mournfully. I wish she had.

Sheffield Wednesday Away – A Rant About Homophobia and Missed Chances

Tuesday night and, having barely had time to digest our defeat to Ipswich, it was time for “The Massive Club” v “The Bummers”. That’s how http://www.owlsonline.com/ previewed it anyway. Though not in that order. They originally went for Owls v Bummers before settling on Big Club v Small Club while predicting a crowd that’s smaller than the number of season ticket holders we have. Homophobia, delusions of grandeur and ninja editing before issuing a grovelling apology claiming the writer didn’t mean it. Classy.

In case you missed it Sheffield Wednesday fans invented football. Also banter, 1970s comedians, ale, pie, being a lad and moaning about modern football whilst sitting in an overpriced ex deathtrap next to a novelty band.

So they’d love me. Metropolitan liberal democrat plastic that I am I listened to the game on the radio with a glass of Malbec and Twitter on the laptop. I pretty much live tweeted it. How very moderne darling. In the dull bits (and given the lack of noise coming over the airwaves from Sheffield, trumpets excepted, there were quite a few) I knitted a new pink sweater for my boyfriend Nigel*.

Years ago I did go to Wednesday away mid week. It was one of those trips that you rarely forget. Having tipped up in town mid-afternoon we found the only pub open had a flat roof and one of our number was foolish enough to stay there for a drink. He got mugged. The rest of us explored town for somewhere to drink that didn’t look like it had been designed by a prison officer on his day off before getting a bus to the ground full of people moaning about the 10p round trip. We lost (we’ve never won there) and spent eight hours getting home via a mail train from Derby to Bedford and a seriously dodgy kebab that put me in bed for three days. Of course since then I’ve seen the light, bought myself a Man Utd shirt and a permanent Sky subscription with the clubcard points I earned buying Babycham and Abba records online**. If I fellate Nigel early doors I can watch all the Premier League footy I want.

*put the kids to bed

**had kids and got the sort of job where you actually have to turn up

Yet these professional Yorkshiremen had the last laugh, and to such an extent that the above could be regarded as sour grapes rather than a satirical response to the worst piece of football journalism I have ever read (and I sometimes read The Argus blogs). We lost. We lost 1-0. We lost 1-0 in the ninetieth minute. And, whilst it’s hard to do an actual match report from the radio, it’s clear that we again blew a large number of chances.

Before the radio  commentary of our game had even kicked in Manchester City had scored at Manchester United. It was the sort of goal we’ll never score under Oscar unless a serious review of tactics and / or personnel is undertaken. They attacked early on and converted a rebound you see. Despite nominally using a similar formation to us they charged forward from kick off and forced an opening straight away. When they hit the post from the opening someone else was following up to tuck the rebound away.

When, all season, have we done this? When do we ever have enough players in the box to think that if we miss the first bite at the cherry there’s another one coming? When do we get out of our own half in the first ten minutes? When do we look like taking a team apart?

In case you think this is an attack on our tippy tappy approach to football, or the top down and bottom up approach to having one club with one identity it is not. That I support wholeheartedly. But does anyone remember when Gus first took over at Withdean? When he won us over by saving us in season one and storming League One the season after? Regularly we would play two of Glenn Murray, Ashley Barnes or Chris Wood. Look at that striker list and salivate. Last night Ulloa had to drop out with a similar problem to the one caused to me by my late night kebab in Derby and we were left with a starting eleven who had seven goals between them all season. In March. Ulloa is almost all we’ve got when it comes to scoring goals.

It has been a season long problem. Yes you can have bad luck but missing chances match after match, week after week, month after month isn’t bad luck. People say we failed to take chances last season yet at the same stage we had scored far more goals. In the last couple of months of the season we were putting three past Palace and six past Blackpool with the manager supposedly in turmoil. Can you see us scoring three in a game at all this season? No. Now we’re paying millions for a team that couldn’t finish a bowl of Frosties.

Something’s got to give. I have no idea what but if you do then send it on a postcard to Paul and Tony. And while you’re at it send Owlsonline one with a drawing of an old skool cock and balls on. They’ll appreciate that.

Ipswich At Home – Another Bad Day at the Office

I was thinking what to call this report and I thought ‘bad day at the office’ had it covered. I also had the nasty suspicion I would have used it before this season so I did a quick search and guess what? I had used it for Ipswich away. That report had been garnered from a mixture of listening to the radio, reading reports , talking to friends and watching the highlights so, to be fair, it was a bit of a punt (yes that was deliberately spelled with a P, we’re not on to talking about Johnny Williams yet). Yet I watched all the game yesterday and it seemed an apt enough description. But given it applies to both Ipswich games perhaps there’s a bit more to it. I shall return to this at the end.

Where to start with this game? Unbridled optimism, that’s where. We came in to it on the back of two 2-0 wins. The Boy has recently started playing football. He broke his leg when he was three in a trampoline accident. It zapped his confidence, making him think everything would hurt and has left him with an unusual running style. I have never been able to teach him football and yet the coaches at his club have shown a remarkable improvement in him in only three weeks. They are miracle workers. They are also Brighton fans. So are a few of the dads. The feeling at Saturday morning’s training was that we were in for another win. So while they might be miracle workers don’t ask them for the lottery numbers.

On Twitter everyone seemed confident. There hadn’t been a doom and gloom thread on NSC for seemingly ages. On the train over it emerged that lovely Billy Davies was being smashed by his old club in the Brian Clough derby. There was a chance a win in the afternoon would put us in the playoff places. Plus I had my lucky hat with me. The hat that mesmerised QPRs millionaires in to a team that couldn’t shoot for toffee. Game on.

Also, there’s nothing like beer to raise your confidence levels. Different things need different beer levels I find. I am an excellent pool player after two pints. After three my darts skillz are at their peak (I’ll never quite forget that reverse 120 checkout with pike at the Three Jolly Botchers the second the last of the third pint of Old Grunter hit the spot). Five pints is necessary for me to talk sense and about eight is sufficient for talking to a girl or strangers which is why I spent most of my twenties single and friendless.

Two pints is ideal to give you confidence that Brighton will win a football match and so I took my seat knowing, just knowing, we were about to smash the Tractor Boys. Sure, after the first pint I had predicted a 1-0 loss but now I was at optimum. Oh dear.

Ipswich are big and organised, the sort of side we often struggle against. Each deficiency in our game was mercilessly exposed. I will now conduct my match report in the form of going through how our players were exposed (or not in just a couple of cases). PIG’s distribution was again terrible, two of his kicks could easily have set up another Ipswich goal. He was also at fault for their goal, showing a Brezovan-esque lack of wanting to come and claim a corner. Lingard was a powder puff, constantly knocked off the ball and panicking when clean through on goal because he could hear a defender somewhere. The real Rohan Ince was off helping Chuck Norris save the world so he sent along his twin brother Simon who spent the afternoon giving the ball away. Ulloa was constantly offside, either mistiming runs or making ones which were too good for the rest of the team. JFC was average. Again. Bruno played some sublime passes but also picked up another silly booking. Ipswich’s second goal came from an area that any decent right back would have dealt with.

Positives? Upson and Greer were mostly solid (but shame about the first goal). Andrews showed why he had replaced Stephens. But if you could pick out a MOM (and it was hard) it would have been Stephen Ward who looked untroubled at left back and regularly set Lingard away to get knocked over. Ipswich? You have to say they took their goals well and they rarely looked in trouble.

*spits feathers*

Afterwards I went down to the West Lower bar for the traditional putting the world to rights over beer. “It was Garcia’s fault” said friend one (though you could substitute the names Poyet and McGhee in his analysis after almost any defeat under those managers). Maybe today he had a point? Certainly for someone who is ‘obsessed by attacking football’ we don’t do a lot of it. I theorised that perhaps we don’t have players who are quite good enough to carry out the instructions of a manager who has spent more or less all his career around Barcelona and Johan Cruyff. This is Brighton not Brazil. Someone else said the same thing had been suggested of Roy Keane’s managerial career. What is certain is that, just when we seem to be on a run that will finally make a difference we blow it. We are inconsistent, frustrating and, at home, too defensive. Eighth place looks a certainty.

As I walked back to Falmer station after an entertaining conversation that had at least cheered me up another thought occurred. Ipswich had done the double on us and done it comfortably. Perhaps Mick McCarthy had our number. After all, if I was an Ipswich blogger I would have described the game as a good day at the office.

QPR At Home – Robbery

“And that, folks, was Grand Larceny”

This is likely to be short and poorly researched. Like the unattributed quote up there. *points*

It’s likely to be both because I’m writing it on the train on my way to work and I’m not important or clever enough to have a wireless dongle (not that I’m quite sure I’d want a wireless dongle anyway, it sounds painful). Thanks to the Amex travel system I got in at 11pm last night. Thanks to my job I have a 9am meeting in London today. I should be sleeping but I need to tell the tale of how we robbed Harry Redknapp. Because it’s funny.

Pre game a friend rushed in to Dick’s Bar and regaled us with a tale of something he’d said to Britain’s second greatest bulldog impersonator (the greatest, of course, being the famous Peter Canning). He’d bumped in to their coach unloading and a group of fans were taking pictures of ‘Arry. Our friend jumped in to get one. “Why didn’t you wait?” the affronted QPR boss asked him. “Why didn’t you pay your tax?” came the retort. Now, of course we ALL know that he did really, oh yes, but still it was an indication of how the evening was going to go for Rosie’s owner.

At Championship level QPR have a star studded squad. We may have looked at Reading on Saturday, easing the famous Royston Drenthe back in, without our beloved Wayne Bridge, and envied their resources but the truth is the money is running out at the Madjeski. It never runs out at Loftus Road. It flows like water in the Somerset Levels and it’s just as obtrusive and ugly. Thus they could play famous names like Joey Barton, Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Ravel Morrison and Richard Dunne (48k a week someone told me after though of course I can’t check. No dongle you see). They could afford to have Benayoun and Kranjcar on the bench – not even bring them on – and yet they still lost. Oh how they shouldn’t have.

We started compactly. We always start compactly under Oscar. He may sing of his love of attacking football but you get the impression that he fines the whole team if they concede in the first twenty minutes. Bruno was digging in defensively but didn’t seem to be allowed forward at all. Not only did we barely trouble QPR but we didn’t have a shot. Green was another spectator, though unlike over half the away support he had to watch the whole match. Not only did QPR dominate territory but also possession. And yet they did nothing that was utterly terrifying with either. It was like watching us in reverse.

Rangers looked just as dominant in the second half, PIG forced in to a couple of sharp saves, one a brilliant tip over after Ravel Morrison had found himself in space, Upson and the revitalised Lewis Dunk defended stoutly, backs to the wall. We seemed determined to give QPR’s experienced centre half pairing heading practice. PIG may have been absolutely commanding in his area and with his shot stopping but his distribution was appalling. Following one particular sequence of events I finally lost it with the team. One of our rare attacks broke down. Green rolled it straight in to sixty yards of space that the overcommitted (and again shocking)Keith Andrews had left and QPR sprinted in to the attack. Though it came to nothing we had a similar break on a few minutes later. By now KLL had been belatedly brought on as an impact sub and this looked to be his moment. Instead he and Lingard lingered (yay! I got to use that!) and got in each others’ way. I could take it no longer and berated the side to put some bleeping effort in on the break. A minute later we scored. Don’t thank me. Just send me money.

As the game opened up so Bruno was released and he played a lovely interchange on the right wing before freeing himself to unleash the perfect cross. Ulloa, for once unmarked, couldn’t miss from a few yards. The Amex went mental.

At this point we had had two shots, one on target, and scored one. IT WAS THE ANTI-WIGAN! Naturally I turned to my chum and said how great it would be if we scored a second with our only other shot on target. On 85 minutes we did, KLL’s wicked corner kick brilliantly converted by Stephen Ward’s left foot. The Amex went mental again. The away end emptied. Don’t thank me. Just send me lots of money. Did I mention I was wearing my lucky hat?

Did we deserve it? Not really. Have we played better and not won? Undoubtedly. But for anyone who moans about Oscar and tedious football we have now played 180 minutes against a side of Premier League players on Premier League money with a manager who the tabloids were screaming for to manage England not so long ago and we haven’t conceded a goal to them. Four points is a more than acceptable haul against such a side.

One final mention has to go to Joey Barton. If the pantomime villain that is Adkins played his part on Saturday then Joey, to his credit, played his down. Getting merciless stick for just being Joey Barton he got on with his job professionally, never playing up to the taunts or committing a bad tackle. At the end he shook hands with everyone and trudged off to acknowledge the 25 or so QPR fans who’d stayed to clap off their team. Meanwhile Mr Redknapp was exchanging pleasantries with the West Stand. Two years is an awfully long time in football.