As the business end of the season unfolds I thought it might be a wise time to reflect upon some statistics. So here they are:
Brighton Top Scorers / Position / Goals
Lewis Dunk / Central Defender / 7
Joao Teixeira / Midfield / 6
Sam Baldock / Striker (played as inside left) / 4
Inigo Calderon / Defender (sometimes played as right midfield) / 4
Team position 16th (43 goals in 40 games)
This is not an accidental correlation. This is the story of our season. And yesterday it was the story of the game. We were as toothless as an eighty year old Creme Egg addict. We were mostly harmless.
“Mostly harmless” is the description Douglas Adams gave as the entry for the Planet Earth in The Hitch Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. It is supposed to convey an air of humorous relative unimportance in the same way as Luxembourg would be described in an extensive global guide, or Southwick in a UK one. It also sums up this game and parts of our season. Of course, under Sami we were heading towards the metaphorical Yemen or Moss Side so it’s an improvement but it demonstrates the changes that the nearly 20,000 faithful who have renewed their season tickets for next season should expect. That’s if the Vogons don’t want to knock The Amex down to make an inter-galactic bypass.
So, firstly, why the high renewal rate? Well, to kick off, contrary to reports on NSC and the BBS, our support is not at all made up of Premier League fans watching their second team. Since I have been going unaccompanied we have managed to pull in the big crowds for the big occasion, just as you would expect from a side that is neither “massive” (c.f. Man U, Arsenal, Liverpool and, er, Pompey (LOL)) or tiny. 19,000 for a promotion clash against Bristol Rovers in the old third division, 26,000 against Arsenal in the cup in the same season. We took nearly 35,000 to Wembley in 1991 and just below that to Cardiff on Leon Knight day. For the more important games, even in this mostly harmless season, we have sold well over 27,000 tickets, most of who, as with yesterday, have turned up. The point being that many of the people in yesterday’s bumper crowd were recognisable from those other games I mentioned. It’s not all JCLs.
But, if you’re me, it’s also the social side. Yes, I harp on about it, but my memories of yesterday will not be the frankly stultifying game of football, but of having a laugh and a beer with my friends. The regular scene was set pre-game with the boys sat under a shelf reading their programmes while I had a beer and a chat with Steve when two other friends arrived, member and host (among many other things) of a monthly civilised poker school which features dinner, a spread betting quiz called Wits and Wagers and a cheese break. Five minutes rarely pass in that group without a wager of some kind and so it was we had a sweep on the half time score. I went for 1-1. After five minutes I was kicking myself.
Was Chris Hughton’s final instruction as they left the dressing room “make sure you run around a lot and make some tackles”? It might as well have been. We made admirable block after well timed lunge. We had to because we were treating the ball like the bar of soap it may well have resembled in the drizzle. We could not keep it for longer than ten seconds, Greer being annoyingly profligate, but luckily for us, for all their possession, Norwich displayed the killer instincts of an Amish man who’s been slipped some fairly potent skunk. When it wore off Stockdale kept first Johnson and then Hoolihan at bay with ease.
And then, circa ten minutes from half time we emerged from our tackling frenzy to produce a couple of chances, a few corners and some general danger and entertainment. If only our own instincts hadn’t been so similarly blunted. Kayal created a super chance for himself, winning the ball deep in Norwich territory and keeping it until far enough in the box that any tackle would have been a massive risk. Did he shoot? No. He laid it off to a surprised Teixeira who could only scuff wide. A further expansive move down the right saw the ball fall to O’Grady, unmarked in the penalty area but he chose to shoot tamely first time at John Ruddy, who looked like he’d borrowed a pair of shorts from our club shop for the occasion. Ince and Tex again missed further chances, to take us in at 0-0. A further sweep was organised and this time I got to choose a 1-0 defeat. So shoot me. It paid for a pint.
How do I describe the second half? Perhaps by referring to the stats at the start of the piece. I should have mentioned early doors that we had left our top scorer, Centre Back Lewis Dunk, on the bench, while Baldock is out for the season. There was no threat at all, not even a Stoned Amish one. I could say O’Grady worked hard but, in fact, the only times he touched the ball was when he was offside. I could say Kaz came on and created space on the left and it would be partially true, but he started off too centrally and then, when belatedly shifting wide, his crosses were wasted. Leon Best looked as interested as Joey Essex at an Oxford Union debate. Never mind, I expect he went back to the massive luxury house he sported on the recent BBC programme on trading. In short, we wouldn’t have scored if we were still running around now.
Inevitably, in the middle of all this, Norwich did score. Joe Bennett again demonstrating why he isn’t even the best tackling left back in Sussex as he was skinned. We failed to deal adequately with the ensuing cross and the ball fell to Bradley Johnson, in form, who lashed gratefully in to a semi-empty net. Oh well, they needed the points anyway.
As it turns out we didn’t. Wigan lost. Rotherham lost. Fulham were battered in the West London derby. Status quo was maintained. Mostly harmless then.