Pathetic. The performance of a group of people who you’d have thought had never staged Championship football before, let alone just a few months ago. It was dangerous, incompetent and inexplicable. But enough about Southern Trains and Brighton Station. The football, when we got there, was marvellous.
No one should leave their house, as we did, at ten to six and arrive at a venue, specifically designed for public transport and about five miles away as the crow flies, at twenty to eight, five minutes before kick off, but somehow we managed it. With my two regular companions away on holiday The Boy’s oldest friend and his Mum stepped in. I know they both love an Amex home game but the two hour journey that nearly ended in a fight on our train carriage at Brighton Station would have tested anyone. Fortunately we got there just on time and, for once, it was worth it. Journey (nearly) forgotten.
This is a different team. Make no mistake about it. We might have sleep-walked our way to survival last term but there was no sleep walking last night. The manager might be the same but the intent is incredibly different. I was very glad we arrived on time for kick off because the first minute or so may just have set the tone for the season.
We kicked off and moved forward immediately. Took the ball from the centre circle and ran AT Forest where, under any other coach at the Amex, it would have been stroked back to the centre half, methodically and carefully. OK we lost it but that was just the cue for an immense sliding tackle, perfectly executed, to take the ball back off Forest again. In those few seconds we showed we were up for it and that the cowed set of players, reluctantly seeing out a 0-0 for survival, were a thing of the past. Hughton has the 2015/16 vintage in a very different mindset.
A description of the game in chronological order will follow shortly but it is important for now to highlight just HOW we were different. Ostensibly this is the same set of players with five senior additions and several departures. Yes those departures and additions have combined to ensure there are key partnerships throughout the side, and those mean that we are able to play either 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 fairly comfortably. At the back we have that old fashioned pairing of Greer and Dunk who looked revitalised, despite the latter probably only being 50/50 to stay with us. Greer had one of his better games in a while. Down the right Bruno and March combined neatly and dangerously as they had against Sevilla. On the left the immense Bong (quick, with superb instincts, strong, and ours permanently, unlike Bennett) and a super confident Kaz looked, if anything, even stronger. Stephens and Kayal, meanwhile, bossed midfield, looking every bit the commanding, up and down, central midfielders we should have had last season. Baldock played off Hemed in a two up front that many have been crying out for, forcing Forest to drop deep for much of the first half. Poor CMS. Even he’d have thrived playing off Hemed. How we misused him indeed.
The opening exchanges, however, slide tackle and kick off apart, were pretty even. Forest had perhaps the best chance of the match early on from a set piece, the ball curling on to the woodwork from Lansbury. After that though we began to dominate the ball with our wide players causing Forest problems and Hemed putting himself about. This eventually led to a woodwork strike of our own, the ball cut back to Kayal from our left who stuck the bottom of the post from just outside the box. Plenty of pressure was exerted by the men in the stripes with corners and free kicks being won without conversion, but, as the clock ticked down for half time, Hemed was somehow denied from his head by a simply wonderful one handed stop from the Forest keeper de Vries.
It wasn’t to last. Could we maintain that same level at the start of the second? Yes we could. And five minutes in we finally turned our domination of the ball in to domination on the score card. A quick break down the right saw March hit a centre that was too high for our advancing strikers but fell to Lua Lua on the left corner of the box. He found space but, for once did not cut back on to his right. Instead he hit a superb angled drive with his left, just inside the far post with de Vries given no chance at all. Cue THAT celebration.
If anything was like last season it was the fact that the effect of the goal was to bring Forest back in to it. We sat back more, at least allowing us to admire the defensive abilities of Kayal and Bong, and played more on the break (one surging run down the left looked particularly impressive until we all realised the ball carrier was DUNK) and Forest carved out a few more chances. The best of those fell to teen sensation Tyler Walker who completely did our defence from a quick throw in, resulting in a goal mouth scramble which, fortunately, we were strong enough to clear from about a yard out, a scramble that resulted in me yelling my first “GET RID OF IT” since the Withdean days.
Hughton, seeing we were in trouble, made the same tactical switch as against Sevilla. Ince came on for Hemed to make a 4-5-1 or, really, a 4-1-4-1 as he sat just in front of the defence, who must have been glad of the help on a humid night (The Boy – “why do they keep drinking”, Me – “because it’s hot out there”, The Boy “no it’s not, the sun isn’t even out”). It needed it and steadied the ship and, despite bringing Rosenior on at left wing, we looked more assured again. In the end we saw the win out easily. Me, The Boy and our friends celebrated with crisps and our first pint of the night. No £4.35 sausage roll though. What’s that made from, Kobe Pork?
Was it perfect? No. Was it a good, tight Championship game of football? Yes. Was it a million times better than last season? Absolutely.
We’re Brighton and Hove Albion. We’re top of the league (if you read this before 3pm on Saturday).