There are times when I yearn for the innocence of youth. Most seasons have their breaking points. This is Brighton after all, not Real Madrid or Celtic or Chelsea. Last season I hit maximum frustration at the Middleborough home game as, faced with a chance to really cement our playoff position we capitulated in our worst, and most frustrating, performance of the season. This season it seemed it was going to be yesterday. Up to then I had watched us win twice all season, both one nil. Wigan at home and Charlton away, which according to the blog title I shouldn’t even have been at. I had missed the Bolton home game (holiday) and Ipswich home game (work). And so it was that I was looking forward to the Birmingham game the way Gordon Ramsey looks forward to a KFC.
Not The Boy though. Thanks to school and being eight he hadn’t even seen the Wigan game. One win, all season, scrapped out away in South East London. Yet he is a natural born Brighton fan. Not once has he asked to go and watch Man United on the telly instead. Not once has he complained we won’t win silverware. Yesterday he eagerly donned his replica shirt over his sweatshirt and grabbed at his scarf, twirling for purposes of. I left mine at home in a desperate nod to superstition for I’d not had it to twirl at Charlton either. All the way to the station we talked of the game. Who would start and in what formation? Who would be on the cover of the programme (I still cannot say Matchday Magazine, at least with a straight face)? Would we score first then immediately concede again (yes)? The same wide eyed wonder. The same conversation.
One change though was that my companion for much of the season was meeting us but without his son, The Boy’s mate from school, due to an away weekend with Cubs. Installed in a concourse bar we discussed over a couple of pints, not the game, but some frankly unrepeatable stories from his days as a submariner in the Philippines. Every now and then The Boy would look up from his programme to tell us about our scouting network or Gully’s puzzle, but between the two of us there was barely a mention of the football. Twenty minutes before kick off we went to our seats, The Boy springing and me trudging. It turned out he was right all along.
I’m assuming that if you’re reading this you were either at the game or at least know the result so spoilers are not really an issue. As much as it pains me as a writer to put the ending in the middle the score frames every bit of commentary that follows. There were seven goals and more thrills and spills than Shaun William Ryder on a Waltzer. It’s not possible to draw in a seven goal game. But what is possible, in fact definite, in such a game, is that if those goals are shared as closely as possible, which they were, you are talking about two of the creakiest defences this side of the San Marino national side. Yet that is not what I’m going to talk about (and not just because I promised @TheMrGrumpy on twitter). Frankly, there are times when you have just got to accentuate the positive. And there were plenty of positives.
We came out of the gates like, well, like a submariner released in to Subic City. That we went one up after eight minutes, following two successive goalless draws on the road was surprising. What was not was that we had already spurned a better chance, Kayal playing one of the through balls of the season only for the chance to be screwed wide of the post. But it took next to no time to make amends as Teixiera cut in from the left and squeezed a shot under Randolph in the Birmingham goal who should have done better. Of course I don’t need to tell you what happened next because I think, Wigan game apart, it has happened every time we’ve taken the lead at home. Within five minutes the visitors were level. Somehow they whipped in a cross from their left despite three players round the winger (none of them tight including Bruno who’d been done like a kipper) and, while we cleared the cross we didn’t clear it far enough. A speculative shot came from long range from the untroubled Gleeson and went in via a Donaldson deflection. How. Many. Times. Sorry, this is meant to be positive. *clears head*
So positives (mainly). From there on in we bossed the midfield and the ball. Kayal was outstanding. Ince was, once again, colossal. Best, unfairly maligned by some, put himself about. Teixeira teased and prodded, almost never losing the ball. We fashioned chances that we didn’t take, noticeably Baldock taking an extra touch when through that lost the chance before Best shot first time when he could have taken a touch. Yet the two best chances of the half fell to City. Stockdale – yes him – pulled off an amazing reflex save on a one on one before normal, Brighton controlling it, service was resumed. One minute of injury time came up on the board. Birmingham attacked our right flank again. Bruno got done again. Shinnie was immediately picked up by other defenders but Bruno’s head had gone. In one of those slow-motion NOOOOOOOOOO moments from a movie I could see him diving in a second before he did. Stonewall penalty. Cue those of us who were not in the bar already holding our heads. Cue a smokebomb from the Birmingham fans. We had bossed the game and we were going in 2-1 down.
Well, lucky for us Stockdale didn’t think that way. Paul Caddis stepped up to take. I watched through my fingers. Stockdale saved it. What was left of the Amex went mental. The ref immediately blew so we didn’t have to acknowledge the smoke bomb. I do believe me and The Boy high fived. Down on the pitch Bruno jumped on Stockdale who had got him out of jail. The actual score was still 1-1 but it was our players who went in on a high.
I’ve just looked at my word count. This is already the most I have written about a game in a long while and we’re only at half time. I have five more goals to go through. If I described each in detail this may end up as war and peace. Suffice to say we needed to score next and we did. Two goals from Saint Calde, both lashing in from close range. A sublime finish from Teixeira after Baldock had a shot finely saved by Rudolph. Plenty of going mental. Plenty of confetti. Singing. Smiles. Good God it had been a long time. Of course we didn’t make it that easy. Kayal’s magnificent efforts (seriously, what a player he looks for £300K) saw him drained by the seventy second minute and Stephens came on to rapturous applause. To me, though, he didn’t look match sharp, bottling his first challenge and generally leaving a Gardner or JFC shaped hole in our midfield that Birmingham exploited. Having got more of the ball they used it to good effect to spray down our open left side, cross back in, hold it up in the penalty area and score two fairly identical goals themselves. One of those was in injury time, meaning no one quite knew when the final whistle was coming. Shrill whistles rang from every stand. And then he blew. 4-3 us. A WIN! ON A SATURDAY! AT HOME!
There are many players who will not want to see the highlights reel. All of Birmingham’s defence for one. Most of ours for another (Stockdale excepted). Yet here’s the final positive note. On most Saturdays my personal man of the match choice has been impossible due to no one earning it. This time it was impossible due to the number of candidates. Was it Ince who was all over the place? Kayal who only every made intelligent runs, played intelligent balls, bossed the game three hundred times more than our actual captain? Teixiera who scored twice, ran himself in to the ground and was a total menace. Two goal Saint Calde? Or Stockdale, without whom I suspect we would have spiralled in to another rancorous home defeat. Take your pick.
We left smiling.