Watford At Home 2014/15 – End of Season Dinner and Awards

Every good club has an end of season dinner and awards and here at Brighton But Only At Home we’re no different, with the rather glaring exceptions that a) the awards are coming after the dinner, which was last night and b) I doubt the winners will ever know they won it. It’s not like there’s a trophy or anything. I’m a starving writer* FFS.

The awards take place today because I have run out of ways of saying the same thing. If ever there was a season to forget, on the pitch at least, this was it. So much has to change in the summer and the early announcement of the retained list suggests that it will. That’s not to say the season has been a total write off because, on a personal level it has, at times, been highly entertaining. More of that later.

So – the game. What is there to say about a game like that? Firstly it was terribly, appallingly refereed. I honestly haven’t seen as pathetic a display of officiating here this season and Andy D’Urso’s had a go. It wasn’t quite Pawson against Burnley but the extraordinary thing was that the Football League Show chose not to show a single one of the incidents. In general Watford were cynical, getting in little blind side nudges, all of which were missed, before throwing themselves to the floor. We had two penalty shouts, one good and one dubious, and there should have been a red card for an all out assault on Dunk. Why none of this was shown I don’t know. The timing of the refs departure from the pitch was unfortunate as the boos for him mixed with the applause for a departing CMS and possibly departing Calde (please don’t go Inigo!). Hughton was in his ear as he left and rightly so.

Other than that, well, we competed. The tactics were right (forcing Watford in to an early substitution), we had more of the ball and much of the territory. We created chances, Joe Bennett going close with a volley and O’Grady with a long range shot that was well saved in the first half. O’Grady narrowly missed with a header in the second and Stephens should have put away a brilliant low cross from Calde, who had also teed up the header. Yet we drew a blank. Worse, we lost as Watford demonstrated why they are top and we should be down. We are still carrying too many passengers and, unfortunately one of them is the club captain. Two of our three centre backs for the day conspired to set up Watford’s opener, a poor header straight up by Halford rolling down Greer’s shin in a display of control that would have disappointed an under nines’ coach, for Deeney to pounce and stick the chance away. Other than that Greer looked lost in the three as his lack of passing and pace was again exposed. I’m really not sure why we extended him but he needs to be a back up next season. We need a young, fresh , skilful centre back a bit like that Cooke chap we let go to Bournemouth. Rea might fit the bill, I’ve not seen him enough, but if we are to play three centre backs then we can’t have two of them liable to comedy moments.

With Watford leading one nil we pushed and pushed them until, inevitably, we pushed too far and they scored a second on the break. I don’t mind this given we were safe before kick off and, as other results came in later, it confirmed Watford’s promotion. Congratulations to their fans who were magnificent. However, if the players are a cynical as that next season they’ll end up as hated as us under Poyet.

By the time the results came in the dinner was in full swing. As I said, it’s been a write off on the pitch but off it I’ve had a blast. At the start of the season I agreed to travel over with another dad from The Boy’s school and his son and we have become firm friends with lots in common. This – friendship and community – is why I started going to football in the first place. Banter in the pub and sticking together on the terraces is my background and we are rediscovering it now as we take our kids. Yesterday they played happily in the pub and ate chicken nuggets (only we were in a gastro place so they were called goujons) and pasta (only it was my daughter so what she actually did was cover it in ketchup and then say “yuk”) while we had a pint and reflected on a poor season and an excellent friendship. Elsewhere I have taken The Boy to his first away game, got heroically pissed in corporate hospitality, ranted emotionally to the official twitter account and left The Cyclist at closing time to find an elderly Leeds fan pissing himself. Some of these things deserve an award. *squeezes klaxon*

End of Season Awards

The Unluckiest Player Award

This year and every year this goes to CMS. Nothing winds fans up more than players not trying. CMS always tries. There are beads of his sweat that are already permanent features of The Amex. Yet never was there a player who I have said “unlucky” to quite so often. First touch – unlucky. Header just missing our player – unlucky. Finishing – unlucky. And, as Barry Fry pointed out, being bought by Poyet and used in completely the wrong way – unlucky. Good luck with your next team Craig, you deserve some.

The Unluckiest Fans Award

I may just “out” myself here but it’s too good a story not to share. The Unluckiest Fans award goes to the two blokes who sit directly in front of me. Against Leeds – our best game of the season – I took a friend whose drinking exploits know no bounds. The second goal went in and said friend – who is not small – lost his balance celebrating. I looked up from my own celebrations to see a game of human dominoes taking place with several large men on their arses looking bemused. It was an old style surge. Apologies and brief Anglo Saxon opinions were exchanged and that – I thought – was that. Until yesterday when The Boy decided to berate the referee with a full bottle of water in his hand. A bottle that had no lid on, soaking the same two blokes. They were remarkably decent about it as I wished for the earth to swallow us up before three rows of fans collapsed in laughter.

The Piss Up In a Brewery Award

Goes to Sodexo who couldn’t organise one. They certainly haven’t organised one in a concourse anyway. Yesterday was a story of “no pies” from all around the ground. I am quite happy to go without eating from 3 to 5 on a Saturday but running out of food at lunchtime or evening kickoffs is criminal.

Wish I Was Here Award

As I sat listening to the radio with a mince pie and a beer just after Christmas it became clear that I really, really should have gone to Fulham. I could have but chose not to, my mojo being at its lowest ebb. That game effectively kept us up.

Favourite Game of the Season

So as I wasn’t at Fulham I have to say Charlton away. First away game for the two boys, cracking atmosphere, a win, the goal right in front of us and funny on very many levels. And we did it sober.

Best Away Fans

Goes to Watford. As noisy as Arsenal without being nearly as nasty.

Fattest Bastard Award

Goes to Steve Evans again.

The Andy D’Urso Award for Refereeing Ineptness

So many candidates. So little column space left. Yet, just when you thought Andy would retain it for the third year running in came Keith Stroud yesterday with a performance of such mind boggling ineptness that a foreign call centre operative was heard to exclaim “at least I’m not as bad as that referee there sir”.

The Wonderful Readers Award

Thanks for reading this season. There are lots of you who read regularly and give excellent feedback. Writing a blog is a weird thing to do. On the one had I enjoy it and get a buzz from chatting with you all on Twitter. I’ve even had comments from a couple of proper writers. On the other hand I get the feeling that if I stood on a soap box outside The Amex after a game and shouted this I’d get pelted with beer. That I’m not metaphorically pelted every Sunday genuinely cheers me up. I’ll hopefully be covering a busy transfer window this summer and adding more Opinion and silly stuff to the site to keep it fresh. Thanks for reading again. Enjoy the summer.

*not actually true

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Opinion Piece – Lucky Safety At What Cost?

So there you have it. Championship football – bar Millwall overturning a goal difference deficit of twenty four when they have only scored thirty seven times so far all season – is guaranteed for next season. We. Are. Staying. Up. Woohoo. Excuse me while I go and open some chocolates.

Oh no, wait.

This has been the most awful, turgid season since Mickey Adams part two fiddled about with poor quality signings and too many loan players, some out of position. Sound familiar? It should. But in some ways even that season was more fun. Until Russell Slade and Lloyd Owusu rode in on their white horses and raised the roof we looked dead and buried, but how much fun was that April for those who were there? Improbable win followed improbable win until we took on Stockport at Withdean with at least a couple of different permutations of staying up, the main one being in our own hands. A sold out Withdean followed and, for me, a pub that was nearly as packed with my old mates as before the Doncaster opener at the Amex. We won easily – it was never in doubt – and my pub friends chaired Slade high in the air off the pitch. Compare that to this April. One goal scored the whole month, one point attained in the most awful match I can remember at The Amex in terms of quality. We have survived because Blackpool are a basket case and Wigan and Millwall have been just a bit more consistently awful than us.

Since that day at Withdean in 2009 we have mainly been on the up, while our opponents that day, Stockport, are currently playing pub football. Slade couldn’t repeat his form but Poyet came in and steadied the ship before we went in to overdrive in the following season. Then came the Amex, the first two seasons a whirl of excitement as we got used to our new home and signed a mixture of exciting young prospects (Buckley, Mattock), ex internationals (Bridge, Upson and Vicente), relative unknowns (Ulloa, Spanish Dave) and Swansea cast offs, plus the odd crap loan striker. We had a style, we had an identity, we had a massively out of control expenses bill. Now we’ve got a slogan and it’s all gone a bit wrong.

So where? Where have we gone wrong? Can we rescue any crumb of comfort from an abortion of a season? What are our prospects for next term?

Where Did It Go Wrong?

Managerial Revolving Door

To lose one manager at the end of a season may be regarded as a misfortune; to hack through five in three seasons looks like carelessness. Especially when two of those seasons were relative successes. Already there are “Hughton out” tweets and posts on NSC but they miss the point. Right now we are at about square three on the metaphorical Snakes and Ladders board, but going back to square one AGAIN would not seem to be the right way to move from that position. Chris Hughton will have been given one objective and one objective only when appointed and that was to keep us up. He did it, no matter how. We were second bottom when Sami left with less that a point per game average. The current run we are on is devastatingly poor but, at one point, Hughton was on a 1.6 point average and the team were sailing up the table. It’s not that long ago we were putting three past Ipswich and four past Birmingham at home. I think there are other factors to the slide which I’ll come on to.

The point to take from this particular misfortune is that the club were briefing hard against Oscar after his resignation. It is beginning to look like both he and Andy Naylor had a very good point indeed. Not least because of…..

Recruitment of Players

What. A. Shambles. David Burke’s sacking mid season would seem to confirm that the club agree. The list of players we were supposedly after – according to transfer rumours and another Naylor report – included Stephen Ward and Adam Clayton, now plying their trade in the Premier League and top of the Championship respectively. What we ended up with was Joe Bennett (another loan left back, a liability in defence all season), Danny Holla (in and out of the side since Christmas), Toko (who?), McCourt (quickly shipped off to Notts County when it became obvious he only had ten minutes in him), Colunga (a worse quality Baldock who got home sick in two seconds flat), Aaron Hughes (barely played), Chris O’Grady (nice bloke but REALLY?) and David Stockdale (marmite). We made a great loan signing in Darren Bent, played him in isolation, got him injured and lost him again, replacing him with the vastly inappropriately named Leon Best.

There were one or two successes. Teixeira has been mostly excellent and very good to watch, but as a result tried to win games for us single handed. I’m not convinced that’s what Liverpool would have had in mind when they loaned him to us. Kayal was a great signing. Baldock, meanwhile, was just coming really good when he got injured. For me it is no coincidence that the goals dried up once he was out. A forward choice of CMS, O’Grady or Best is never going to score you goals. Talking of which….

No Goals From Strikers

If you’re going to play one up front make sure it’s Leo Ulloa and not, say, COG or Best. The stats bear this out, horribly.

Sami

Sorry, nice and honourable bloke he might be but it takes a great chef to make a decent meal out of scraps. Sami made scraps.

Calderwood

We have had two really bad runs this season. The first under Sami and the second currently. The reasons for the first are above, the reasons for the second are slightly more nebulous. Baldock getting injured certainly didn’t help but, for me, we became far too defensive once Colin Calderwood arrived. Under Jones and Hughton together we looked like we had real belief. Recently we are going through the motions in a desperate attempt not to lose.

Dreadful Performances Against Poor Sides

Our record this season against Blackpool, Wigan, Millwall and Rotherham says it all about the above. One win, having now played each of them twice. And yet it looks like we will survive on forty six points, eight less than Peterborough went down with just a couple of seasons ago. We have not had any quality when it has most been needed and that is really what has depressed the fans throughout the season.

That Massively Out Of Control Expenses Bill I Mentioned

Even Tony Bloom doesn’t have bottomless pockets. Whatever you say about this season the man has kept us alive. But have we targeted that money in the right way? Early on we overspent on facilities AND players. That was unsustainable. With an Academy to build we had to make the choice between one or the other and we chose to focus on the facilities in my opinion, certainly in terms of quality. FFP is a factor for sure but a massive increase to the playing budget would have killed the golden goose.

So What Next?

The good thing is that we have stayed up and that the club has miraculously achieved a near ninety percent renewal rate of season tickets. Many players are playing as if they are already at another club next season which can only be a positive. We have great young prospects in Dunk and Ince who we really need not to sell and Kayal looks an excellent player. Baldock will return. The major overhauls in the summer need to be at both full back positions and up front. I would also rather see Halford, not retained and Aaron Hughes (out of contact) replaced with a single quality centre back. Sell COG to Sheffield United, get rid of Best (PLEASE) and do not retain CMS. This should free up budget for Hughton to bring in his own men up front. Oh, and PLEASE again, as few loans as possible.

Long term let’s hope that spend on the Academy works and we become another Southampton. We need to stop relying on Tony Bloom’s money, not because of any jokes he may have made about being skint on Wigan station but because it’s not fair.

Meanwhile, don’t forget to enjoy the 3-0 defeat to Watford on Saturday and pray that Millwall don’t win by nine at the same time. Joke. Maybe.

 

Huddersfield At Home 2014/15 – Bore Draw

Sometimes, having a Twitter account is a bad thing. Posting to something that restricts you to 140 characters in the heat of the moment can be a bad idea. Luckily I have this blog here where I can try to explain myself a bit further. Last night, on about 80 minutes Teixeira made a lunge for the ball that he couldn’t possibly hope to win without fouling, and in doing do picked up an injury that looked very nasty indeed. Andy D’Urso booked him anyway as he lay in agony, prone on the turf. My comment on the incident was not meant as a slight on Tex but rather the way he has been used and developed by the club. Let’s make that clear.

Players can be loaned out for a couple of reasons. The first is to get some dead wood off the wage bill, which is how we ended up with Leon Best. The second is to give a young player experience and return them to their parent club better and stronger, which is how we ended up with Tex. There are many games this season where he has pretty much has to be the single creative force in the team, the only one with a bit of spark. This can often lead to him over complicating a move, holding on to the ball for one dribble too many or shooting too late. When he does, to his credit, he always tries to win it back. He can be a little lightweight in the tackle going forward and, at times, the winning back attempt can be ill advised. So it was last night that he got injured. The tweet was not meant in any way to slight the player himself but rather to question what he will have learned by having to carry the side all season. Lovely facilities we may have but at Liverpool he will not be asked to be the only creative force. We will be sending him back in a cast I would think, a result not of his inability but rather his over excitement. We may well have Category A facilities but if I was Liverpool I’d be furious. Meanwhile, those same facilities are being wasted on another loan player who so despises the side he’s ended up with that he trudges off at snails’ pace when substituted with the game still needing to be won.

The Category A status will, of course, start to come in to its own in future years. This is a long term investment and, by all accounts, we already have a very promising group of youngsters. Southampton have had on field success and financial success using this model and there is no doubt in my mind that a man as shrewd as Tony Bloom will get this just as fantastically right over time. If only the present wasn’t so depressing. This is, collectively, the worst group of first team players we’ve had since Mickey Adams Part Two, an era that had also had too many loan players in common. It is producing a truly woeful spectacle that is being played out in front of an ever shrinking audience.

So what was last night good for? Just the pub really. Writing this is becoming like Groundhog Day. A couple of friends mentioned they were looking forward to what I’d come up with, which was nice, but I was thinking “I haven’t got a clue”. Nothing original anyway. Back in the pub after the game, Boy-less as I was, we did indeed have a fine old time and many agreed they wished they’d been there all evening. When that group includes a well known friend of the club, another who gave up more during the Gory Years than most and a third who used to tramp all over the country with me in the 90s you know something is wrong. These ARE the die hards. The latter of the three had left twenty minutes early to go back to the boozer. Can you honestly blame him?

Can anyone remember a more wretched, poor quality game than this at this level? We had all of the ball but did not manage to produce a single shot on target. The closest we came being a mis-hit Bruno cross that brushed the woodwork. Huddersfield had none of the ball at all and yet Stockdale was still our man of the match, because, on their very rare forays forward they at least managed to target their chances. The one exception being a woeful period of play late in the second half where they left our defence for dead before missing a series of opportunities my eight year old could have put away.

Visiting aliens, coming across the game would not have come to the conclusion that this was an end of season game between 17th and 19th in the league. They would have come to the conclusion that the people involved, all of them, were crazy and irredeemably backwards before heading off to find a rock concert and some hot chicks.

The bad news is that we are still not safe. Should Millwall win their game in hand there will only be a four point gap between them and us. We still have to play Watford and Middlesboro, neither of who will be as woeful as Huddersfield were last night. True, Rotherham have to play Fulham and may yet be penalised for fielding an ineligible player against us. True, next up are Wigan and we may scrape a result there. But we are not out of the woods, thanks to our inability to break down a barely average side that parked the bus.

No wonder our one bright, creative spark got frustrated.

Bournemouth at Home 2014/15 In Quotes

A game where before, during and after, other people summed things up for me just perfectly. So I’m going to join with them here to do so. This is last night, not only in my words, but reflected in the words of others. Warning – contains swearing from the off

“In my opinion, parachute payments undoubtedly provide an advantage – regardless of league positions or bounce-back promotion records.” Paul Barber quoted by North Stand Chat.

Let’s go back two and a bit years to a hypothetical 2013, around January. Brighton have just drawn Bournemouth at home in the FA Cup Fourth Round (hypothetical remember) and due to a hypothetical lack of other interesting ties this “South Coast Derby” (ridiculous catchphrase copyright Sky Sports and no one else) has made the Friday night television game.

High flying Brighton are certainly a TV draw. High in the Championship thanks to their ex-internationals like Bridge, Upson and Vicente they are playing a brand of mostly entertaining (but sometimes crab-like) football and pushing for the Premier League. Bourenmouth, meanwhile, are having a very decent season themselves, albeit in League One. To be fair to the hypothetical TV executives it’s a mouth watering tie, containing the likelihood of either a thrashing or an upset, all with a chance of some flairtastic attacking play. When plucky Bournemouth and their travelling army of 1800 loyal fans beat us 2-0 it is regarded as a major shock of the round and Gus Poyet blames everyone from the referee to a small sparrow that alighted on Vicente’s knee at five thirty that afternoon, putting him out for eight weeks.

Fast forward two and a bit years. That’s all. Less than our current manager’s contract length at inception. Brighton are certainly at home to Bournemouth on telly on a Friday night but the general consensus is that their band of ageing pros and loan mercenaries don’t stand a chance against a fast, fluid, attacking Bournemouth side managed by a superb young manager. And, indeed, the correct result is played out, thanks to two pieces of killer finishing in an otherwise, by Bournemouth’s standards, below par performance. The only disappointment is that the away side have only brought 1800 down. Didn’t Norwich bring over 3000 a week ago?

I have to be careful here, given a couple of spats with Sheffield Wednesday sites over their perceived big club arrogance. But come on. We’re not talking about a side like Norwich or Ipswich which is probably about the par I see us on, club size wise. We’re talking about – to quote Gaz again – fucking Bournemouth. To put it in context the only side that were constantly shown on Meridian Tonight after us. As they cut to the sport it would be 10 minutes fawning over Pompey and Southampton, forty five seconds of Brighton highlights and then the words “and Bournemouth lost at home to Northampton Town”.

Not any more. With no top flight experience let alone parachute payments, Bournemouth are showing the whole division how to do it. They have a massive goal difference, they sit on the top of the table and they thoroughly deserve it. They have officially done it within FFP. They have managed to attract back a manager they thought they’d lost, and keep in the face of a fierce managerial merry-go-round in December and January. They have attacking players who can score from anywhere. They have two centre backs, two of the best in the division, that we let go as not good enough. We could yet go down. So when you’re told it’s not do-able don’t believe it. It is. Just not by us.

Bournemouth have been poor but then they know they only need to score once

– my mate Trev at half time

This was as true a quote as there was all night. I actually think we played well in the first half. We had more of the ball and created opportunities for opportunities which was at least better than against Rotherham or Norwich. In the second half we created three cracking chances and put away none of them. We have – by goal tally, ability and effectiveness – three of the worst strikers in the whole division. The moneyball replacement for Ulloa who wasn’t. The happy puppy with similar ball control. And Leon Best who might as well fuck off back Up North now for all the use he is (ten points for scaring linesman, none for taking chances, minus five for effort). By contrast I called both Bournemouth goals just before they went in. A text book free kick from Kermorgant and a thoroughly composed finish by the outstanding Callum Wilson.

Do we have to go Dad?

– The Boy on 83 minutes

Yes, son. Yes we do. It actually took till 85 to get out but I left early. First time this season. Normally The Boy and my writing and the fact that I only ever left The Goldstone early if there was a protest or boycott mean I will stick it out to the bitter end. Last night getting back home at a reasonable time seemed to be the decent long term option. Being Easter holidays and a Friday night it was The Boy’s first evening game. Getting him back home at a decent hour means he’ll get another one. It was an investment.

“We were the more likely to score in the first half but in the last period we tried to push forward and they capitalised on it.
I’m majorly concerned by the lack of goals. The facts are there to see – we haven’t scored in our last three games.”

– Chris Hughton

Sorry Chris. I’ve been a champion of your appointment. When you came in we were dead and buried, and you have taken us out of the relegation zone, but those two lines contradict each other. We cannot be both more likely to score and yet so inept in front of goal. You picked Lean Best, Chris, for Christ’s sake. The realistic thing to say would be “if we’re going to stay up we’re going to need to draw our next four games 0-0” but I doubt that will get the game-by-gamers in. There is Clear and Present Danger.

” carrying on the film theme ‘clear and present danger’ for the next blog?”

– @AEBrownings after the game.

See? Told you.

There is still a clear, present and worrying danger of going down. Millwall, rejuvenated under Neil Harris, have two games in hand and the bit between their teeth. Luckily we don’t need snookers but we may need own goals. Talking of which……

Things better at football than Leon Best. Go…

– Brett Mendoza on Facebook

Suggestions so far include an Owl Cushion, some Kleenex and a bag of shite. To which I’d add Yann Kermorgant, Callum Wilson and even unused* Bournemouth sub Kenwyne Jones.

How times have changed.

*apparently only unused while I was in the ground after which he made a cameo. Thanks twitter friends!