Another mid week game. Another night without The Boy. Beer then. Quite a bit of beer.
Pubs in a station shouldn’t be good. They should, in fact, be the sort of pub you run screaming from unless you’re the sort of chap that needs an 11am eye opener of Tramp Juice or you are a group of thirsty football fans. And of course, like any two sets in a Primary School maths lesson there’s a subset of both in the middle. But I digress. Every pub I’ve ever been to in a station has been horribly shit. The old one on Brighton Station most definitely was. Even we stayed out of it and I’ve drunk down Ditchling Road and in The Clyde. So it was a rather bizarre experience to bookend my trip to the Leeds match with a nice pint of West Pier for me, a Cruzcampo for my friend who is very fond of such things, some honey and bacon peanuts (say that out loud without drooling) and a group of familiar faces in the corner in a pub in a station. The Cyclist, it turns out, is rather nice. Yes, Brighton But Only At Home was on the sauce.
I mention this because when it happens (and it’s happened just few enough times this season for my regular readers to recommend the AA) any real sense of football reporting goes out of the window. What makes it even harder to report on the game is that, even through my morning paracetemol and coffee I can’t really think of a single negative to dress up in disasterous metaphors. It was a regulation win by a good looking team. I haven’t said that all season. I remember them in the past. Leeds last season was one. Wolves under Poyet another. Not a thrashing. Not a lucky win. Just a professional job where we score more goals than the opposition without looking worried.
A Cruzcampo, a pint or two or three in Dick’s and we took our seats at 7.35 to Fanzone and an empty stadium. The roads round the Amex had been chocka and many people were still getting to their seats ten minutes after kick off. They had missed the ostensibly puzzling news that the front line was to be led by CMS and Baldock. And here’s the first thing I love about Chris Hughton. Sami, bless him, used to tinker with the side for no apparent reason and to no apparent effect. Leeds, however, looked ponderous and one paced at the back. Even a man four Real Ales down could see that and our management team had clearly studied their weaknesses. CMS and his running bothered them immensely and we used it to good effect as Tex and Baldock found gaps and Kayal and Ince bossed midfield. In such circumstances your defence is rarely troubled and Leeds sat on the back foot with us dominating possession, or at least as much as I could see before I had the sudden urge to start telling silly jokes or starting a song.
After twenty six minutes it paid off with CMS breaking down the right and slotting a lovely ground cross for Baldock to provide the deftest of finishes. Normally this is the cue for us to retreat in to our shells and concede almost immediately. Not last night. Perhaps it was finally getting the 4-3 win over Birmingham or perhaps the new management team had finally got though to them, I’m not sure. But we continued to press, Kayal and Ince continued to dominate, Stockdale who had used the second period of the first half to save a one on one and a penalty on Saturday remained untroubled.
A half time pint. A smiley, happy, bloody hell we’re actually good half time pint.
More of the same in the second half. Leeds couldn’t cope with Baldock’s pace and CMS’s energy. They couldn’t cope with Kayal’s box-to-box-ness, Ince’s legs or the fact that Calde may actually be the second coming. They couldn’t cope with Dunk’s height or Greer’s new found desire to pass it forwards. We made several chances, firstly a pass coming when a shot should have when clean through before CMS shot straight at the keeper. Then we doubled the lead through Calde’s beard, Tex having put Kayal through for a chance which their keeper palmed on to the Lord’s facial hair where it nestled pleasantly in the corner of the net. That’s the ball not his beard. There was still time for a game of goal ping pong and for us to hit the post when scoring was easier but that, essentially was that. Game wrapped up by 65 minutes. Relaxed people in stands. Who’d have thunk it?
So I may have had my blue and white beer goggles on but in the cold light of day I can still say every single player deserved the win. It was a professional performance, devoid of panic, cock up or scapegoat. The hundredth game at the Amex took me back exactly two or three years to time when such a win was the norm. I’ll drink to that.