Wolves at Home – Typical

If ever a game summed up our season…….

Let’s be honest, this season has been severely disappointing on the pitch. We have underachieved as a club for a myriad of reasons and, in general, the fans have not had value for money. Twenty seven thousand may have held tickets for yesterday’s game but I doubt there were very much more than twenty thousand inside the ground. Our squad, hastily cobbled together at the last minute has played, most of the time, as if they were hastily cobbled together. We are by no means safe. Our form under Chris Hughton has been much better in terms of points, and I still have no doubts  he’s the man to take us forward, but there are certain football crimes that have characterised the season and yesterday they were all present.

It has not been a season of total loss though. From a personal point of view there have been some highly satisfying and fulfilling achievements. This blog can focus on what a friend and fellow blogger calls “the Brian Johnstone moments” – not so much cakes, buses and young ladies as pies, beers and conversations – but that is because they have been the only satisfying element. My son has gone from keen observer to die hard Albion fan with an away game under his belt, a genuine favourite player, a cynicism towards referees and an understanding that we do not like Crystal Palace. I have made a genuine friend, a friend who has made the trips to and from The Amex (and Charlton) a pleasure. We moved seat but luckily to an area where the people around us, particularly the lads behind us, are funny, engaging and typical old school fans who like a sing-song. Off the field it’s been great.

Yesterday morning we had “a scene” at home as The Boy refused initially to go for a haircut, unfortunate because, if he’d found himself stood up in the broom cupboard people would have turned him upside down and used him as a mop. Eventually, as all parents do, I resorted to bribery, or rather the withdrawal of privilege.  Get your hair cut or no football. The prospect seemed to genuinely terrify him and after more tears than I could imagine he followed me to the barbers. That’s the one that cuts hair. I’m saving Paul for when he’s really naughty. A-ha. Yes, the prospect of missing a match, even in this season, actually upset him. Halfway through the first half the action was so riveting he’d resorted to reading his programme.

So a typically pleasant journey to the ground and pre match pint were followed by a typical Albion performance. The team that had lost pitifully at Reading were hacked apart, Hughton making six changes. A typically shaken up team also contained players typically out of position. With no squad place for Ince or JFC we selected a right back at right midfield (again) and a midfielder, in Dale Stephens, at inside left. Kayal and Holla were to do the water carrying, and CMS was to lead the line with Tex flitting between inside right and tucked in behind. The back four was unchanged.

The reason behind the tinkering soon became apparent. Wolves are not the strongest side in midfield that I’ve seen this season. In fact, despite maintaining a fairy regulation shape they barely seemed to have one. In such a set up Kayal excelled and Holla showed why he’s not been selected as much as a man on a three year contract should be, the former winning and playing intelligent ball, the latter giving it away again, including the dead balls he’s supposed to excel at. We dominated possession and, soon enough, we’d created an excellent chance. Teixeira opened up the Wolves defence and a cross from the right found a man unmarked with a header from six yards. Unfortunately it was CMS, one league goal all season. He headed straight at the keeper. Typical.

Then, despite our dominance, we should have gone one down. Dunk who has been excellent most of the season slipped and fell and presented a clear through chance to Afobe. There was a real chance the game could have been stopped and Dunk dismissed as he tried to handle to ball away but the referee played advantage and Afobe’s run was brilliantly ended by Stockdale, before Greer cleared the rebound off the line via Sako. Phew. Typical though.

At the other end Tex was proving to be a real handful, Stephens was proving he wasn’t an inside left and Holla was proving my initial praise of him premature. Then CMS was put through and though the shot was at a tighter angle than he would have liked, he screwed it wide. Typical. And all season long typical. Right now I’ve given up hope on a twenty goal a season forward. A five goal a season forward would be nice. The rest of the half? Us with ineffective possession. The boy read his programme. The adults talked. Time passed. Slowly.

I don’t know what it is that Chris Hughton says at half time but I trust the club has a good supply of tea cups. Just as we have typically done in this second half of the season, in the second half of a game, we came out far brighter and actually looked to create penetrating chances. A Wolves defence that was tiring of CMS and his eager puppy runs and Tex’s flair were losing the small amount of protection they’d had from a Wolves midfield that was taking tea with its Auntie Mabel. We bore down on goal, turned the screw, but, typically, did not create good enough chances. Until THAT moment. Teixeira shot, the ball spilled loose, CMS tucked in the rebound (who said he couldn’t score) and hared off towards the Family Stand in celebration, only to see the assistant’s flag up for offside, a close call that I wouldn’t mind seeing again on replay. Bollocks. Typical.

Then, with the game seemingly drifting to 0-0, we scored for real, neat work from Calderon forcing space in the box and, when his shot was parried, Bruno arrowed the rebound back in to the far corner of the net. We’d scored, not from our forwards or attacking midfielders but from a defender. Again. Typical. It did not mask the joy however.

So, on this most typical of days, what happened next? “I give it five minutes before we concede” said Steve. “Three minutes” the bloke behind us reckoned. “Two” said the absent Mark, via text message. In fact it was four. Four minutes between scoring and conceding. A-sodding-gain. Four minutes in which we backed off and invited Wolves to attack. Four minutes in which we did not touch the ball. Four minutes capped off by another howler from Stockdale, who somehow contrived to juggle a deflected cross from van La Parra, Wolves’ outstanding player on the day, in to his own net. Typical. With a word beginning with F in front of it.

There was still time for us to make a total hash of a free kick in a dangerous position before switching off at the back and allowing Sako space to receive a cut back. His shot was impressively, outstandingly, impossibly saved by Stockdale. As one of my regular twitter mates commented last night the bloke’s Marmite.

Afterwards we had a quick beer, a quick chat and caught an overloaded train full of people moaning about Stockdale and CMS back to Brighton. Typical.


Derby County at Home 2014/15 – Robbery

Well now.

We never beat Derby. Oh, I know there was a brief period in the BO* years, when they were a perennial mid-table bore and we were the flairtastic side that everyone hated, when we considered a visit from County untaxing – it was them that Vicente waltzed through to nearly score the best goal ever seen at the Amex – but recently, as far as Derby are concerned we have represented a walking three points. And rightly so. While our side of ex-internationals has been decimated Steve McClaren has taken what was only promising under Nigel Clough and sent it in to overdrive. It was only in May last year that I was drooling over them and wishing them all the best in the playoff final. They were easily the best side in the division last season and it was a travesty that they didn’t go up. Since then we have been back to the scene of that playoff disaster and conceded three goals in less than fifteen minutes under Hyypia’s suicidal leadership. I wasn’t expecting much.

*Before Oscar

I got off the train at Brighton. I was heading, again, for The Cyclist. I saw my friend Paul. “I’m not expecting much “ I said. He replied that the fact they’d just lost to Fulham, and that we’d played so well against Leeds meant they were beatable. This seemed to echo a conversation I’d had with The Boy just before I’d left the house. I was meeting my brother in the pub but he wasn’t there. Another friend was though, Andy aka Terry the Trainspotter, a man I’ve travelled the length and breadth of the country with watching Brighton back before marriage and kids. “I’m not expecting much” I said. Andy replied that Fulham had proven Derby were beatable.

My brother arrived and we jumped on the train to Falmer. “I’m not expecting much” I said, to which he replied along the lines of ‘you never know’. Fulham beat them. We had a couple of pints in Dick’s and then met my season ticket buddies in the West Upper concourse. I’ll let you guess how the conversation went.

So I took these low expectations to my seat, like last week during fanzone, and just like last week the stadium was deserted. It seemed no one else expected much either. That extended to the players. And let’s pause here for some amateur psychology (because, just as last week, the Real Ale had flowed and actual match description is a bit, well, sparse). How much of our feelings as fans transmits to the pitch? Genuinely?

Each game this season where we have taken the lead my immediate thought has been that we are about to concede. In fact it took the Leeds game to knock that out of me because we didn’t. Is that because we were all thinking it, and group pessimism somehow transmitted to the players? ‘We mustn’t concede now, we must hold this lead’ they’d think and immediately play within themselves and concede. So were fifteen thousand or more of us now thinking “we’re not expecting much” as the game kicked off, because that’s how we played. Within minutes Derby had hit the woodwork when a nice interchange led to Hendrick curling an effort beyond Stockdale but not in.

That’s right. Hendrick. Not Bent, nor our tormentor in chief Chris Martin, who were both missing. Derby may have been in All Yellow but the longer the Clocks ticked the less chance there was of them weaving some Magic and ending up in Paradise. Sorry. The point is that they were closing us down while we were affording them room. Their passing was slick where ours was laboured (one beauty from Holla excepted, though he tried to repeat the trick five minutes afterwards and played one of the most horrible balls ever seen at The Amex). I can’t name a chance that we had in the first half. Eventually my head and my bladder had had enough and I took myself off to relieve the pressure on it, wash my hands and get the beers in. The TV in the concourse was showing the last minute of the half and Derby should have scored, Stockdale tipping a point blank header over when they would have scored had it gone either side.

I wasn’t expecting much anyway.

If you thought Derby had dominated the first half then they absolutely BOSSED the first fifteen minutes of the second. We barely had a touch as the goal led a charmed (or perhaps a Bent and Martin free) life. They created then they missed. Then we gave them the ball again. They created then they missed. We gave them the ball. It was like groundhog day. And then. We tried a rare foray up their end. The North Stand, seeing some action at last, woke up. We won a long throw. Stephens won a header that was blocked. The loose ball fell to him six yards out. HE COULDN’T MISS! He didn’t. 1-0 us. I wasn’t expecting that.

And that was it really. The goal sucked the life out of them. Their fans who had been remarking on the dubious quality of our home support went silent. We gave it Ring of Fire like we were back at Fulham. The players seemed to realise that we now believed and the game evened out. And then the moment of the match (ok the moment for US, Derby having squandered chance after chance). O’Grady who had been fantastic leading a fairly non existent line and feeding off scraps exposed the space in the Derby defence left by their chasing of an equaliser and put in Lua Lua. In acres of space he did not cut in on his right foot but rather transferred the ball to his left and hit a blistering shot in to the bottom corner. No one was expecting that. We got the full backflip celebration and up in the Gods the four of us, Mark who has suffered the season with me, Steve who I have travelled everywhere with and my brother went stark, staring mental.

That was that. Daylight robbery. Grand larceny. Three points.

This morning, while writing this, The Boy appeared. “We won 2-0” I informed him. “Oh” he replied. “I didn’t expect that.”