I’m sitting with a strong coffee and a head that feels like someone is trying to tunnel out through my eyes while Brian Blessed yells directly in to my ears in Finnish. My throat is a rough as a January ferry crossing from Harwich. There is a kebab wrapper in my bin. I must have been out with the boys. On a school night too. Tut, tut.
This will not come entirely as a surprise to regular readers. Last season I spent the entire Brentford game in a fug of confusion after my first afternoon in 1901 hospitality and regularly documented how the social side of following our great game was the one thing that was keeping me sane. A mini tradition is emerging where Saturdays are social but sober with small people to look after and on Tuesday night games in term time I get let off the leash.
For this sort of escapade you will need a partner in crime. The sort of friend who holds splendid parties to which it’s compulsory to bring two bottles of wine. Each. The sort of friend who starts accidental mini surges in the West Upper. The sort of friend whose initial response to you posting your runs on Facebook is to ensure that you are not turning vegan or teetotal. The sort of friend who makes sure you are in The Cyclist by 5.30 on a match day drinking Cruzcampo. I have just such a partner in crime.
So it was that we were in The Cyclist by 5.30 though they have taken the Cruzcampo off, much to his disappointment. Not mine though as an ale drinker but we decided not to hang around anyway and to make our way to Dick’s Bar for the first time this season. Here I finally gave in to the temptations of the £4.10 sausage roll. I’ve gone on about that on these pages before and I’ll just invite you to read the previous sentence again and assure you it doesn’t contain a typo. Any serious AMF activist worth their salt should be crying at the thought of shelling out such a sum for such an item but here’s the thing. £4.10 may be outrageously expensive for a sausage roll but it is quite cheap for dinner, and dinner is what it became. Besides, I needed the meat at that point. Refreshed by its porky goodness (and it is a VERY good sausage roll) I informed Partner In Crime that we were off to meet another mate, and that the first thing we’d be required to do would be to place a pound in a kitty and give a correct score prediction.
We got to the concourse, which was as quiet as Dick’s had been heaving and met another friend who did indeed invite us to put a quid in for the correct score. 2-0 had already gone so I reluctantly went for 1-0. Partner In Crime took 3-0. No one really thought Rotherham would score but the competition’s instigator, going last had to take 2-1, the only realistic score left. It turned out to be very realistic indeed.
So to the game. Saturday’s passed me by in a blur of emotion. It’s hard to concentrate on the finer details with tears still in your eyes. Here though, the beer was ensuring that I concentrated harder to make sense of the thing that was, after all, the reason for us being here. Two changes were made from Saturday, March coming in for Rosenior and Murphy for the suspended Lua Lua as we went more attacking, having presumably gleaned intelligence that Rotherham would park the bus and waste time. We certainly went at them early on and Baldock and Murphy both came close with a volley and a dragged shot respectively. At the other end, however we should have gone one down as Rotherham escaped from Bong down our left and Derbyshire put a free header wide of Stockdale’s left hand post. However, in general we were in charge again. Murphy, in his first full game in the stripes was a menace. Kayal and Stephens were again bossing midfield, Hemed was once again putting himself about and Bruno was once again as dangerous going forward as he was organised in defence. The pressure was always going to tell and on twenty seven minutes Murphy wriggled free and crossed and Hemed put a superb finish in to the corner. We went as crazy as we could without starting a mini surge.
It would be important, having got a lead and played so well in the first half not to immediately surrender it. Rotherham would be fired up as Steve Evans would certainly have threatened to sit on anyone giving less than 110%. And, indeed, we were nearly caught out immediately as they found a gap in our defence again straight from the restart. Luckily for us it was hit high over the bar. Undeterred and with the threat of twenty five stone of Scottish lard mangling their six-packs Rotherham pressed deeper, had more of the ball and generally looked like a side trying to equalise, rather than one trying to keep it to 1-0.
Sometimes though, when you go in search of an equaliser, fate, football or a decent break will kick you in the guts (which is presumably why Evans has so much padding). Yep, we hit them with a sucker punch and a great goal it was too, Murphy and Bong again lively down the left before the ball broke to Stephens, just outside the area, who hit a crisp shot in to the bottom corner. More going mental. Handshakes all round. A general acceptance that it was game done.
That acceptance, though, got as far as our defence who switched off again. Hughton will certainly not have been pleased with aspects of our defending last night and Rotherham finally capatalised on seventy one minutes from a free kick as Clarke-Harris put a lovely header in to the corner. 2-1. On came Sir Bobby to replace Baldock who looked to have been struggling and then Ince came on for Hemed as we went to five in midfield again.
It had the desired effect with the midfield tightening and Zamora winning everything. He does not play a bad pass, ever, something he has in common with that other marquee signing Vicente and Rotherham looked terrified of him.
There was just time for Bruno to nearly score the goal of the season, a magnificent volley brilliantly saved by Lee Camp and then, after six mysterious minutes of injury time we could celebrate.
There were again some stand out performances. Kayal obviously, Hemed for his goal, Zamora when he came on. But our group agreed unanimously with the sponsors that our man of the match was Murphy. It was quite the full debut.
We did indeed celebrate with more ale and a late night stop for a whisky or two in Portslade’s Only Decent Pub. Hence the kebab.