Dear Tony. Please sack our clueless manager now. Thanks.

Table

Sami’s Interview

“If you have a plan, you have an idea it is better to stick with that.”

No. No it isn’t. Call me a moaner, a short termist, a reactionary, a bed wetter or whatever. I don’t care. I’m done with being diplomatic. This season we are absolutely clueless and it’s quite clear now that it’s our on field manager to blame. Look at that table. It doesn’t lie. Three wins all season, one against a team managed by a Non League coach and owned by a psychopath.

The debate on all sorts of Albion media this season has surrounded our league position. Was it a true reflection of our squad? Were we “too good to go down”?  Had we had a particularly bad summer transfer window? The answer to the last question to my mind has been yes and you can find that opinion in other posts. However in fairness Tony Bloom came out fighting in the media but also provided some pretty good ammunition in the loan market. Elliot Bennett returned to a club that would love him even if he scored an own goal in front of the North Stand (he won’t, hopefully) while we also signed exactly what we were missing in a Premier League quality number nine in Darren Bent. Meanwhile CoG, Chicksen and CMS have at least partially come off the wage bill. The personnel is now too good to go down (not that this saved Wolves a couple of seasons ago) and what we are left with as an explanation for this latest defeat is tactics, managerial experience and a side with no belief or discipline.

It all started so well. Both trains to the ground were packed to the rafters and, on exiting at Falmer there was a sea of people rather than a smattering. There was a big crowd for a local game against a team we hadn’t played for eighteen years. The away end was full, the West Upper and North stands were noisy and so many friends and family had made the effort to come the drinks were divided in to mini rounds. The Boy was even more excited, particularly at seeing our new striker. We came out of the traps at full pace and forced four corners in quick succession. True, we’d forgotten to pick a midfield. True, we executed the worst free kick I have ever seen in thirty five years of following the Albion. True also, our new striker was an ankle’s width from giving us a lead with a header that hit their keeper rather than him saving it. True, we lost Lua Lua to injury early on. But we looked more complete with Bent in the side, winning headers and stretching the play.

Kit Symons’ half time team talk, however, must have been a fairly simple affair but it was brutally effective. “Close down the wide players and break in to the gaps” probably would have done it. Again. Or, weirdly, “wait for them to score” for we can hold on to a lead like a snowman clutching an eel. Where we had the better first half Fulham had the better second. And good old Simon Hooper the Bournemouth fan had a nightmare.

Yes, Fulham did indeed close us down out wide. We obligingly gave them the ball as terrible first touch followed terrible final ball. We obligingly took the lead, a lovely ball from Colunga finding Bent down the channel who slotted home on his debut and celebrated in front of the Fulham fans, waking them up as one so that they could get behind their side, a celebration that “Hoops” saw fit only to have a quiet word about. “They’ll equalise in a minute” I said when I’d finished celebrating. In actual fact it took ten. Ten minutes of retreating in to our shells. Ten minutes of an increasingly isolated and frustrated Bent coming deeper and wider for the ball. Ten minutes of bafflingly poor pass choices. Ten minutes of profane anger from the Fulham fans before poor defending allowed Rodallega to fire powerfully in the top corner to bring the game level. And that was us. One or two heads dropped. One or two others went in to overdrive, forgetting utterly their composure. It was only a matter of time before Fulham scored the winner and, fifteen minutes later, Christiansen obliged with a shot that took a massive deflection, leaving an otherwise excellent Stockdale enjoying the day against his old club, absolutely helplessly wrong footed.

There was still time for another bizarre free kick routine. Colunga, having been told to wait for the free kick took it quickly anyway. Hoops booked him. No, me neither. The retake went in to orbit and Colunga lost it totally. Just minutes later, chasing the ball in to the corner, he dived in needlessly and picked up a second yellow. And with us two-one down and in injury time he took forever to get himself off the pitch. This ridiculous behaviour is borderline asking for his contract to be cancelled and yet, what was Sami doing? Sitting on the bench. As usual.

That’s the point. That’s the reason for the attention grabbing post title. The squad has changed but nothing else have and you are left with the fact that Hyypia and Jones are simply too inexperienced to get us out of this trouble. The table doesn’t lie which is why I’ve posted it at the top of this. Our tactics are awful. We can’t hold a lead. The players are variously lazy, undisciplined, trying too hard, confused and frustrated. And we are unlucky and sometimes that’s enough to get rid of managers on its own. What’s Sami’s response? To stick to his guns. To sit on the bench offering less direction than a broken Tom Tom. “We are Brighton and we play only one way. Recklessly.” That’s why he needs to go and go now.

With every game I yearn to have Oscar back. How good were his achievements in hindsight?

Blackburn At Home 2014/15 Season – More of the Same

Another draw. Another 1-1 draw.

Asked before the game for my prediction I said 1-1. It was supposed to be a running joke but it’s not funny any more. Asked after the game what I’d write I struggled. Just as I’m struggling now. Writers block. It happens to us all eventually. But how many ways are there to describe the same thing? Excuse this paragraph. It’s waffle. Maybe a coffee will help.

*pours enormous coffee*

Nope.

Wait. I do that personal touch thing, don’t I? That account of my day. Well that too had a distinct draw-like feeling to it. Again the Amex was not exactly rammed. Again this made for an agreeably short pie queue and toilet queue and probably would have made the trains easier if Network Sodding Rail hadn’t sodding decided to do sodding engineering works meaning there were no sodding trains at all. The usual loveable lunatics behind us weren’t there and they appeared to have passed their tickets on to a group of young lads who spent the game colourfully discussing the uses of Viagra and other less legal drugs. Luckily The Boy and his friends were busy making up their own Lua Lua songs and giving the referee marks out of ten. I just hope he remembers that what is said at football stays at football. The Harvey’s was nice. We sang.

In fact, talking of the referee, he was excellent. Take a bow and have a gold star Mark Haywood. So often bloggers and writers (me especially) only mention the ref when he was terrible but yesterday the game was very well controlled and I couldn’t fault a single decision. It was reflected in a mark of five out of ten from The Boy. Normally he only gives them negative numbers. Andy D’Urso got minus twenty.

Also excellent were the Remembrance touches. From the poppies on the shirts and on the fences between the ground and station to the silence and the bugles, the observance was spot on and a credit to the club and both sets of fans.

But what can I say about the game? We looked good in patches. Tactically we were far better. I think Sami got the team selection bang on. We opened the scoring, once more from a set piece, against a big physical side. Credit to Gary Gardner who has had a hard time on these pages. That’s two in two games for him. Other individuals? Dunk was again excellent. Having gone in to the book early (which unfortunately means he’ll miss Norwich) he timed each subsequent challenge to perfection. Lua Lua worked supremely hard, drawing foul after foul and tracking back admirably. He’ll be shattered this morning. Also all over the place, and my man of the match, was Joe Bennett who caused Blackburn problems all day long. The sponsors, one of who is a good friend, chose Elliot Bennett as man of the match, and though I’d disagree with that I’d also say we have looked  a better, and more balanced side since he’s joined on loan, and some of his runs and set pieces took me back to the Withdean days.

Then we conceded an equaliser early in the second half. Again. And we were unable to go back in front. Again. Thanks to some very sloppy first touches, very sloppy final balls and generally hitting the panic button. Again.

So, Sami in or Sami out? We go in to the international break in 20th but only one point above 23rd, having averaged exactly a point a game. As if I hadn’t laboured the point above. Aha! A point pun. That’ll keep them reading he grinned.

That’s not what I was expecting when the phrase Premier League Ready was coined and the giant Nike poster went up. That’s not what I was expecting when we were told what excellent managerial candidates we had in the summer, or when we were told to judge our summer deals at the end of the window. It has been what I was expecting ever since that abomination at home to Sheffield Wednesday. It has become normal, expected, inevitable. This is why, despite the adjustment to the tactics and the new personnel, I am still on the “out” side of the fence, but only just. We have put ourselves behind the eight ball and we are not overloaded with players who look good in a scrap. There needs to be a big change, and, yes, I am fully aware in writing that we have taken four points from the last two home games and that Blackburn are a decent side.

However, our league position is not just down to Sami. If ever you want an illustration of how far the squad has regressed look at the last minute substitutions yesterday. One time Albion target Gestede replaced by £8 million Rhodes for them (and Gestede was excellent, just the sort of player we are missing). Chris O’Grady on for us. Yes, Blackburn may be a financial basket case owned by crazy Indian chicken farmers but that is the sort of level of finance we are up against week in, week out. Failure to compete against it will result in relegation, and until the Academy is producing regular stars I’m not sure there is an answer that doesn’t involve those of us with very little asking Tony Bloom to write another cheque.

Meanwhile the much maligned (by idiots) Ashley Barnes scored Burnley’s winner in the Premier League. What we would give for a Barnes now?

Will the international break see a change in manager? The rumour mill has been at its peak this weekend. Andy Naylor says Sami is safe and that his information is from an “impeccable” source. Hopefully not the same impeccable source who told him Adam Clayton and Stephen Ward were signing. Another rumour – and it is only that – reached me via an ex pro that Sami’s departure was imminent. I have nothing to back it up other than to say the person who told me isn’t prone to nonsense and barely ever passes these things on. Then again these sorts of rumours almost always turn out to be false.

Then there is the question of whether he, himself, is happy. Asked about bringing in new players ahead of January he replied, after the game, “it’s not up to me.” Is that another manager deeply unhappy with our recruitment policy? Or a resigned excuse for a season that already feels like Groundhog Day?

Christ. I got to 1000 words.

*drinks more coffee*

 

Wigan at Home 2014 / 15 Season – Just Another Game

Recently there has been a good deal of negativity surrounding the on pitch achievements, or rather lack of them, and I freely admit to contributing. I’m a glass half empty sort of chap but what really struck me was not how many people were telling me I was wrong but rather how many were going a lot further. Eleven league games without a win and a point off relegation after 15 league games isn’t a little blip; it’s where you deserve to be.

There will be no negativity this time because yesterday allowed me to fall back in love with football – or rather to fall back in love with going to football. There has been some debate recently around this article on Football 365 by John Nicholson that atmosphere at the football is permanently dead, with attendees (and that’s a deliberate choice of words) who would “rather eat pizza and look at their phones”. Nicholson has a point, a large one at that. Naturally the more expensive and corporate football becomes, the more it loses its edge. But it’s also true that there are more distractions and competition for attention than ever before, from playing at being Rooney et al on X-Box to watching the effing X-Factor at 3 in the afternoon in your pants, because Delay TV allows you to.

So the reason for my negativity is this: if we continue to fail to deliver on the pitch the effing XFactor will win and all that financial prudence and academy creating will be for nothing as we disappear up our own deficit. We needed to win last night, but not for the dedicated fans who go to every game, home and away. We needed to win it for the rugby club types who leave on 82 minutes kissing cheeks and blocking play. We needed to win it for the bloke who can’t quite decide between us in the flesh and Chelsea on the telly. We needed to win it for the City investor who bought his seat and seat licence as an asset, an investment, trusting that we really were Premier League Ready. We needed to win it for the dad taking his son even though he, himself, doesn’t like the game and is taking his issue out of duty. We needed to win it for the sponsors in the 1901. And we did.

For me though it was a night redolent of the old school days at The Goldstone. No, I’m not about to indulge in the ultimate old-timer pastime of donning the rose tinted specs and proselytising about how rocking the Goldstone always was, because it wasn’t. In fact some of my fondest memories of The Goldstone were when it wasn’t rocking at all. I would leave work (at the time in Brighton town centre luckily enough) and go straight for a pint with a mate or two. I would saunter up to the ground in my own time. I would take my regular place about ten minutes before kick off and notice that each stand was about half full. I would sing, but I would have enough room to move around, and no one complaining that I was making a noise. And that’s just how it was last night.

I met a mate who normally goes a couple of times a season with his company who are regular sponsors. We left work (at my own home luckily enough) and we had a couple of beers at Brighton station. We sauntered on to a train, no queue, and then we had a couple more at the ground, having been joined by another friend. We watched a fairly poor game, which I had no expectation of winning, against another side destined for the lower half of The Championship. We got to our seats just before kick off and noticed that the stands were about half full. We made noise and no one complained. It was just like being home again.

And this is the really shitty thing about modern corporate football. If someone had told me that we’d be kicking around mid-table in the Championship, that our crowds would vary as they always have, that I could get to and from the ground easily and drink by the station without being confronted by a line of police I would have said “great, where do I sign”. All of the above I recognise well. But of course, these days you can’t. You have to be “Premier League Ready” and have “one ambition”. There needs to be a mission statement and a strap line, not for the dedicated fans who go to every game, home and away, but for the Rugby Club bore and the plastic Chelsea fan and the dedicated dad and the sponsors, especially the sponsors. So expectations are raised. And when they are not met you are accused of being negative and ungrateful and having a pop when all you’re doing is writing what the sponsors and the rugby club bores are thinking, and voting with their feet.

I liked the Amex last night. The atmosphere was BETTER than normal, certainly for a game against a team who only brought 167 fans. That’s because everyone who was there wanted to be there because they cared about the club and the team and the players, not just whether we’d be playing Man Utd next season.

The game? Don’t expect a serious report. We scored a nice goal very early on. Elliot Bennett showed good touches. Walton was excellent. We were a lot more compact and Wigan, while having a lot of the ball, had far less cutting edge than us. And that’s it. I was paying just as much attention to my friends as the game you see. And I’d had a few. Just like the old days.

Bournemouth Away 2014/15 Season – Blunderland

Poor Sami.

A rare away report from this blog, given that its USP is home games only (along with brutal honesty and brutal flatulence). I’ve said before that watching on the telly isn’t quite the same as being there  but our performance yesterday didn’t need the sort of close up analysis that being there would have afforded (though if I had been there I suspect the beer would have put analysis beyond me anyway). Very simply three defensive errors equalled three goals, no points and a bit of a downer on my fireworks bbq.

I can only imagine Sami tripped over a black cat and fell head first in to a mirror before the game, such was the level of his luck. His side did many of the things we’ve been  crying out for. Calde was given a much needed rest having run like a trouper in the previous four. Holla came back in, CMS was restored to the bench and COG wasn’t even in the squad. What’s more, earlier that day, came the news that fans favourite Elliot Bennett was back for a month. Initially we seemed tighter at the back and we had more of the ball and more of the territory. It was an entertaining and open game, perfect for watching with a hotdog and a glass of Zinfandel which was lucky, because that’s exactly what I was doing. The Boy who had put his new replica shirt on for the occasion looked hopeful.

Then, inexplicably, Bournemouth were ahead. Defensive howler number one took place as Greer, on his own and under no pressure, managed to head a Simon Francis cross straight in to his own net. It was an awful and glaring error and it gave Bournemouth an undeserved lead.  But wait, what’s this? Within minutes we were level with a goal from a striker! Colunga finished neatly after being put clean through by a wonderful ball by Teixeira. It was the sort of link up the two had threatened during the Charlton home game but rarely since. We were back on terms.

Again this didn’t last long. Bournemouth retook the lead just before half time. At first glance it was a piece of acrobatic brilliance from Pugh who twisted to strike the ball home, aided by a slight deflection. However the one thing you get watching at home that you don’t at the ground is instant replays. The Bournemouth player was able to execute such a finish because he was unmarked and in ten yards of space. He had the freedom of the whole back post portion of the penalty area. Once again our defenders had switched off.

By this point Calde was already back in the fray, an innocuous looking clash doing for Aaron Hughes who had replaced him. It looked like a bad ankle injury and he was stretchered from the ground.

Even then we managed to claw it back. In the second half a route one kick and flick put Baldock through and to his delight he finished perfectly. 2-2. Had I mentioned it was open and entertaining? Boy was it. But we really needed to not make another defensive mistake.

Oh dear. Oh deary, deary me. Bournemouth launched a rare attack but it looked to have petered out, Callum Wilson being forced wide to the sort of angle that only Joe Bennett can score from, when Dunk basically assaulted him for no reason. It was one of those challenges that could have been made in a bad Hollywood movie in slow motion as the hero stood up yelling “nooooooooooooo”, voice lowered by its slowing down. So stupid was it that actual village idiots took a break from chewing straw to wonder if their position was safe. Naturally Bournemouth tucked it away.

And that was it. Everything we had hoped for going forward came off. Two goals, both from the strikers. Lovely, neat, entertaining interplay. Good ball retention. Not too much getting caught on the break. The faults of the Rotherham and Middlesboro games corrected. Only to be replaced with other, more serious faults at the back. Like I said, poor Sami. In one way this strengthened his hand and in another it made the case for the P45 even stronger.

Here’s where we are. One point and one place above relegation. A manager who has now gone twelve games without a win in both his current job and his previous one. It’s like watching a junior programmer trying to fix a badly designed system, Fix this bit here and something goes wrong over there as a result. Fix that and something else pops out.  When the system works the players let you down and when the players try the system fails.

We go in to Tuesday’s game with Wigan – a must win – with a loan keeper who can’t play (and whose lack of familiarity with the centre backs may have contributed to the own goal), Bruno maybe out injured (we can’t be sure because the club won’t tell you any more), Hughes definitely out injured, Greer and Dunk a card each from suspension and Calderon exhausted. And it’s our defence we need to work on now. Make no mistake, from now until May we are in a relegation battle. Are Hyypia and Jones equipped to lead us over the top? And do they have the luck?