One thing that’s different for me this season is taking my son to each home Saturday game. A friend of mine also takes his son from the same station and so we travel over to The Amex together. The night before the game this friend and I had gone out and got rather the worse for wear as I believe they still say in polite circles. Thus we met feeling a little delicate as I also believe they say in polite circles. My friend is ex Royal Navy and explained on the way over that, were we to attempt to ease the delicate feeling with another beer it would have been known on his submarine as “equalizing”. Equalizing turned out to be the theme of the day. Well, that and rollercoasters.
Rollercoasters? As in rollercoaster ride. Ups and downs. Following The Albion has always been one and the current transfer window has been no different. We’d gone from selling our best assets and being jilted at the alter by Sammy Lee, Adam Clayton and Stephen Ward to an influx of seemingly quality signings I was itching to see in the flesh, a turnaround that had taken about three weeks. My Albion mojo was up and down like a persistent toddler on an over inflated space hopper. Having quickly equalized in the WSU concourse, as we took our seats it was most definitely up. Sadly it only took around five minutes to deflate, another thing in common with a heavy night on the drink.
The West Upper is excellent for seeing shape and tactics. The Boy is learning (very slowly since he takes after me) to play football. Thus I was trying to explain the differences in our shape to him, particularly our high defensive line with Bruno and Bennett pushed right up, when Charlton broke at pace in to exactly the huge gap I was describing. We scrambled back but to no affect as a deft layoff from the excellent Buyens found the equally excellent Vetokele and his shot went through a crowd of players for the opening goal. Stockdale appeared to be wrong footed at full speed and I’ve not yet had the appetite to watch it back to check if he was at fault. No matter. We would be playing catch up again.
That the rest of the first half quickly restored my early damaged hopes, even though we didn’t score, says much about the quality we have brought in and the way Sami wants to use it. We may not yet have agreed on an acceptable pronunciation of Teixeira but we were all agreed he was excellent in the first half. He takes up awkward positions just behind the front players and, in the first half at least, seemed to have the ability to create his own space at will. What I really like is that, if he loses it, he fights back for it immediately. So many skilful players who operate in a free role end up as ‘luxury players’. Portuguese Tex puts in a shift. We look lucky to have landed him. With his help we dominated the rest of the first half in terms of possession, territory and chances. A combination of one piece of great keeping and our inability to fashion a killer final ball meant we did not turn this domination in to a goal.
At half time friend and I agreed that it was only a matter of time before we scored, probably through some Teixeira genius. We just wouldn’t score from a set piece we agreed, due to the lack of height up front. And so it was that on 67 minutes, the minutes’ applause for Tony Langridge, chairman of the REMF who sadly passed away, was started with a cheer as Lewis Dunk headed in from a Danny Holla corner, a route we needed to use because Teixeira was now being closed down and double teamed. Yeah, what do I know?
And that should have been it. The North Stand woke up. The West Stand woke up. All over the park the players looked lifted. Surely now we would take our dominance of the ball and turn Charlton over. Er, no. Instead, in a move I suspect we’ll see quite a bit of this season, the gaps down our flanks were exposed by one more break and we backed off Vetokele who disappointingly scored at the near post. It felt like two shots, two goals for our visitors. Enter Baldock for JFC to complement Colunga and Lua Lua. We were going for it still.
I return to The Boy. He had asked quite early on, when he’d seen Stockdate standing half way between our box and the centre circle, if he ever went up for corners, to which I replied ‘only if we’re really desperate for a goal in a Cup match or something’. The Boy, at seven, is already disgusted with early leavers. ‘The game’s not finished Daddy’ he says. The Boy’s favourite player is Lua Lua. And so, as the Amex evacuated around us with less than a minute of injury time left, we got a corner. Stockdale came up for it and caused mayhem. The loose ball fell to Lua Lua. The Charlton defence seemed mesmerized by the luminous vision scrambling back to his goal and Lua Lua picked out the unmarked Dunk who headed deftly home for his third of the season. Lewis Dunk, top scorer.
The final whistle was greeted by a Charlton player throwing himself to the ground in mock exhaustion and disappointment. Up in the West Upper The Boy and I were still going barmy.
EDIT – I have now forced myself to watch the goals back on iplayer. The deft touch that set up their first was, in fact, off the back of the heels of one of our backtracking defenders, leaving Stockdale unsighted as well as wrong footed. All in all a very unlucky goal.