Ipswich At Home 15/16 – A Prawn Sandwich in Three Parts

Writers, bloggers, journalists and generally opinionated people should not be stuck for words. It’s like a chef who has forgotten how to boil an egg. And yet I have sat down this morning (with a large coffee and two paracetamol) with the distinct impression I have written this all before. How do I make original the fact that I once again used one of the best views in the entire ground to get a bit pickled and miss the only goal (or at least its build up) because I was busy talking? Yet that is what happened.

So the match report part of this will be necessarily short but the blog won’t. This is a time of year when everyone takes stock and reviews and BBOAH is no different. Plus, this week, I had a close up look at why we are truly Premier League Ready.

The Match / Day Out

Christmas. It’s a great excuse for getting out there with your friends (or indeed, on Christmas Day, sitting at home) and getting absolutely smashed. There’s a multitude of excuses and mine (given that I work from home for a company with two Jehovas Witnesses as PAs and quite a few Muslim employees) is catching up with friends rather than the office Christmas Do. I had already had one such session up a QPR though I’d had no intention of covering that game with any sort of report. But you guys expect a home report right? Some of you poor sods have actually been waiting for this to come out. Which is  a shame as I’m still trying to piece it together.

I know we went to Brewdog. I was catching up with a very good friend and we hadn’t had a boys night in a long while and then never in Brighton so we took the opportunity to visit one of the newer pubs with its delicious craft beers and crisp packets full of dried ham type snacks. When my mate checked in on Facebook another friend suggested we should attempt the six pint walk off to which we replied we’d rather see the football. On balance we probably should have stayed in the boozer.

My mate’s company occasionally lets him use their 1901 tickets and so, for the second time since we moved in to The Amex I did something that in general goes against my grain and went corporate. I talked about this in last season’s Brentford report. I’d rather wear trainers and no collar. I’d rather be singing. But that said there are a number of advantages. No queues at the bar (except for half time and even then we got served quickly), beer out of a glass, a seat at a table and the best view in the house.

We had one of those sessions that only good mates can have. We put the world to rights over a pint and then we put it to rights again over another. I had TWO pies. I justified all this excess with the slightly terrifying thought that I am signed up for the Brighton Marathon in April and will by “dry” from 1 January. So it was sort of like a prisoner scoffing a last meal. What this meant though, was that my judgement was slightly clouded, key moments wise. The opening exchanges seemed even enough, certainly compared to Middlesboro. Ipswich were not as fast on the  break and our five man midfield had tightened that up anyway, but it did mean we sacrificed the penalty box presence that has characterised most of our home games this season. Then we took the lead. Or at least I thought we did, a good cross from the right being turned on to the bar before Murphy put the rebound in to an empty net. What the rest of the ground had realised, however, was that he was offside. Whoops.

A minute later or so and I turned to my mate to opine that I didn’t think Ipswich were all that. I picked a moment when we were comfortable passing the ball around at the back. I turned back to the action to see Darryl Murphy clean through. How the actual HECK did that happen? Of course I have since seen the replay of Mr Dunk making his one point costing error that he does every game. It was unforgivable. Murphy slotted home via a post and despairing dive. 1-0 them.

To be fair though Ipswich probably deserved to go in one up at half time having hit the bar before any of this happened through a cracking long range shot from Bru, while the same player also hit the post later on. We forced a couple of good saves but we looked nothing like the side that had seemed certain to score in most of our other home games.

Then we had a pint at half time and the rest of the game passed in a blur. I’m pretty sure Bobby hit the bar for us from a decent VLP centre (though at that stage it could have come from Bruno as far as I could see) while Stockdale made a couple of decent saves, but by then I had reacted to what I saw as an inevitable defeat by chatting to and laughing with my mate. That seems to be what one does in corporate hosp anyway. It ended 1-0 to them and even through my beer sozzled blue and white spec wearing eyes they probably deserved it. So what next? And how have we done so far?

Grounds for Optimism

The day before The Boy and I had finally got round to taking a ground tour. The other great thing about Christmas is that I can normally get away with a big amount of leave and so we booked the tour as one of his Christmas presents (I know, maybe next year I’ll get “him” away tickets somewhere) to be taken on one of my days off.

It’s easy to mock the phrase “Premier League Ready” when you’re at the wrong end of the table and indeed everyone did, including me. However, here was an opportunity to see what a prospective new player sees in front of him on match days. In fact it’s only half the story as they now also get to see one of the best training facilities in Europe. Everyone – the media, players, officials and coaches are afforded state of the art facilities that blew me away (not hard given that when I played our pre match warm up was a smoke behind the changing shed).

If you haven’t done it do. The finishing touch is the museum and this has been done utterly brilliantly. The Boy could not believe my formative football watching years happened behind an eight foot fence with spikes on.  His eyes opened wide as I told him about York City, Hereford and Doncaster, going to Gillingham and winning back the club. He seemed more impressed with that than with the fact we’d played in a Cup Final. All of it was beautifully and carefully illustrated with memorabilia.

The point? We have history and we have quality facilities and, now, we have money and a chairman who claims we are going to strengthen from a position of strength. We will need to. There was something eerily familiar about last night, something very last season and that’s not a surprise because, with the exception of the rookie Goldson (who looked decent) and the front three it WAS last season’s team. OK, the second half because we had Kayal and Stephens but both of those players are now looking jaded. They could do with a rest.

So we need to bring in quality. No offence to legends like Calde and Crofts who will always have a place in our supporters hearts but not only was last night’s team not good enough for the Premier League, it was not good enough for The Championship, which is a shame given our facilities.

Happy Anniversary Chris

Finally a word about our manager. For all the negatives above, if you’d told me we’d reach the turn of the year in fourth place with 44 points I’d have bitten your arm off (well ok, I’m not a sushi loving cannibal and anyway that seems to be cruel to a bearer of good news so I wouldn’t have but I would have taken it there and then).

Tomorrow is Chris’s one year anniversary with the club. He has kept us up with very little to work with. He has brought in quality. He has made the first three months of this season some of my most enjoyable ever with the club. He has been incredibly unlucky with injuries. He’s done all of this with dignity and intelligence. Thank you Chris. In an era of managerial turnover here’s hoping for many more years.

 

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Middlesboro At Home 15/16 – Inevitable

So that’s the unbeaten run done then. It was always going to happen at some point and, with us, it normally happens live on Sky, to the delight of Ian Holloway and the away fans who can no longer make the stupid kick off time that always make up their entire audience.

There were a number of contributing factors of course. Injuries were one. The fact Boro look by far the best side in the league was another. And the portents weren’t good. I don’t like my routine being disturbed at the best of times and yesterday it was as disturbed as Spike Milligan on LSD. But, for me, the seeds were sown at Loftus Road. Mr Dunk may well make one howler a game but his stupidity in getting sent off not only cost us two points there, we have now conceded four goals without him, all in the air or from set pieces.

Our regular group was halved yesterday, meaning less conversation on the train. The kick off time meant lunch was at the ground and The Boy wanted chips rather then pie, another routine changer. Then he decided that these and the Maltesers he always stuffs down had made him feel sick. He spent the game moaning not about the ref (well ok, he moaned a bit about the ref but then it was Craig Pawson) but about his stomach.

Within four minutes we’d conceded but, unlike Charlton, there was no obvious way back.  Middlesboro broke swiftly down our right and, with Bruno missing from the right back position it was left to Van La Parra (who had a shocker all game) to close down Adomah. He didn’t and a perfect cross found Kike who headed home. It was not the first time we were to be beaten in the air.

We gave it a go after that. A lot of territory but no real chances. There seemed to be an obvious free kick that Mr Pawson mysteriously failed to give but our penalty shout wasn’t. Boro are incredibly organised and closed us down quickly in midfield and on the wings, where Friend is probably the best full back in the division. Going forward Stuart Downing pulls the strings as I expected, so that you can never relax. We were restricted to hopeful pot shots and never looked safe when they broke.

Just before half time we failed to defend a corner and Ayala’s free header was deflected in to the net by Adomah. 2-0 down but none of us felt the miracle come back was on this time.

Indeed it became a case of how many we’d concede. More comedy defending at a set piece allowed Stuani a free header from six inches and the inevitable third had been scored. Boros excellent turn out of 1800 fans celebrated, but otherwise the Amex was silent.

I have to admit we left early. Another routine change – we NEVER do this normally – but we had a family Christmas meal to go to and probably would have left at the same time had we been three up instead (though if it had been close I know I probably would have stayed).

In the week there were clear signs Mr Bloom will be getting the cheque book out in January. He will need to but not necessarily where people think. On the evidence of yesterday VLP is not the March replacement I thought he was and further strengthening is needed to a creaky defence that has now conceded ten goals in our last five games.

As we got off the train The Boy’s tummy got the better of him and we had to visit the public Kermit for number twos. He reported when he came out that someone had written CPFC on the back of the toilet door. “That offends me Daddy” he said. It was that sort of day, son.

Charlton Athletic at Home 15/16 – Game of Two Halves

         

Spoiler alert. I’m going to talk a little bit about the end at the start today. You all KNOW the score right? You’re just reading to relive one of the most incredible matches yet seen at The Amex right? Good. Because I don’t quite know where I’m going with this. At the end of the game I was adding another thousand words to my predicted total every time I talked to someone. That won’t actually happen, because I’d end up publishing a bad novel on Thursday having been sacked from my actual job but there is an AWFUL lot to cram in.

Then there’s the format. One Facebook friend suggested one blog for the first five minutes and another for the rest. A Twitter friend suggested a blog of two halves. Both are good ideas to represent what happened yesterday but, ultimately, this has to be one piece. The only way to describe how we felt at the end is to weave a narrative around the day as a whole. There are people who don’t get to feel that much emotion in their entire lives. Sport haters. The teamless. Poor buggers. A whole story is needed so they may understand a fraction of what we know.

I’m never sure whether people are happy to be mentioned by actual name (unless they’re well known anyway like Jem and the Roar lads). I guess I should ask them really. But anyway, our normal four or five were added to by good family friends who I called Boy’s oldest friend (because they met when he was a baby) when they came to the Forest game at the start of the season. A couple of weeks ago we had watched the Burnley game on television in the pub over a roast and The Boy and his two travelling companions yesterday had colonised the pool table after that game. Yesterday they were sat, three together on the train from Brighton to Falmer urgently discussing the team that had just been announced (Zamora up front with Wilson) and other matters Brighton. In a blink of an eye I can see them meeting in the pub without us, playing pool and going by themselves, the next generation of noisy Albion youth. Sniff. One thing they were all convinced about was that we would win easily. 3-0 and 4-0 were mentioned. I remember thinking “careful lads”.

A slightly delayed train journey and the usual catering ineptness meant we could only squeeze a couple of drinks in (and then quickly). Last week’s chat with Jem was replaced by a hundred mile an hour review of Thursday’s Albion Roar Live with Al himself. There was enough time over these couple of beers to mention the phrase “potential banana skin” but no one did. Inwardly I think we were all as confident as the boys. The players, it turned out, were over confident.

Here I need to go off on another tangent again to explain something. When I write this it normally goes one of two ways. If we’ve had the boys then I will be relatively sober and attentive and try and bring attention to detail. If we haven’t got them you will get about eight hundred words describing me drinking. One rule is I never watch the highlights back before I write in case it clouds my judgement or opinion. I write this on Sunday morning because I find it a more productive time to write but I try to write what I felt and saw myself on the Saturday.

What follows is not going to be attention to detail. No “so and so passed to so and so and opened them up via so and so”. The range of emotions I went through simply did not allow my brain to record much of who was actually touching the ball when. And I have so far watched the highlights back at least five times. Go on – you have as well right? So the remainder of this is a mixture of emotion and analysis.

The first analysis part is down to the fact that we found ourselves 2-0 down after four minutes. The last time I can remember anything similar was away at Derby last season, a game we went on to lose 3-0 and which magnified the mutterings against Sami. This time though – for me – we were both overconfident and under prepared. Twice Charlton broke on us quickly. We were attacking but we took poor care of the ball – mistake number one. Way too many players were pushed up, leaving just Calde and Bruno back and a massive gap of some forty yards between them and our attackers – mistake number two. We expected their pacy players to attack the limited Calde – mistake number three.

Twice they broke at speed in to that massive gap. Twice they attacked Bruno. Twice they scored. Stockdale also has to take responsibility for the first. There is no way on earth you should be beaten at your near post like that. But having been over confident, to our detriment, at the start, now we looked like total strangers. My theory for that is that, simply, we have not been two goals down all season. We did not know how to play when two down. Going forwards we were over eager, trying to get the Hollywood goal back. At the back we didn’t know whether to twist or stick, leaving more gaps. Charlton could and should have gone four nil up, but for that man Stockdale making amends.

Meanwhile Charlton’s fans, who in the week had asked for our support in regards to a protest against their board, endeared themselves to nobody by throwing the ball among themselves behind their goal to waste time. Their team went down, contemptuously, like they were shot at each challenge (one nasty clash of heads that did for their player and had March sporting a Fozzie head band aside). The keeper wasted so much time he was booked. Eight added minutes went on at the end of the first half but, luckily, no more damage was done. We went in two down and I tweeted that we would be lucky to be thrashed. Ahem.

WE might not know how to play when two down but two men did; Chris Hughton and Colin Calderwood. What exactly they said I don’t know but it wasn’t the tearful, soul searching pessimism The Boy and I were indulging in on our way to the WSU bogs. We came back out a different side. True, we were still searching for that highlight reel goal but BOY did we get it.

Someone posted a set of James Wilson goals on NSC when he joined. Many have him twisting and turning through goals of sheer individual brilliance. Now Charlton broke out of defence again but they mis-controlled the ball and we had a midfield presence to break it up this time. A short ball was slipped to Wilson about halfway in to their half. He twisted and turned in a moment of sheer individual brilliance, running into space, keeping it away from defenders and putting a low finish past the keeper like he was a boy tapping in through two jumpers in the park. The Amex erupted. It was the turning point. Or one of two.

Next we broke and found the canny Zamora who played Bauer like a cheap violin, backing in, holding and turning away to be clear on goal. Bauer hauled him back and the red card was inevitable. Charlton’s on field antics continued as they disputed one of the most stone-wall reds I’ve seen. Next to me The Boy was going mental. “DADDY! I’VE NEVER SEEN THE OTHER TEAM HAVE SOMEONE SENT OFF BEFORE!” he yelled. From the free kick Kayal nearly levelled. Now we were going to camp out in their half. An equaliser was a distinct possibility.

Hughton now threw the kitchen sink at it. On came Hemed to make three up front. On came Van La Parra for Calde, allowing March who’d been brilliant (and nearly equalized with a barnstormer) to play left back. And in went the goal, March raiding on the left and the ball playing ping-pong before Zamora AGAIN tucked in from very close range. What a sniffer the man is. What a genuine addition to our squad. The Amex looked like the roof was about to come off. I do believe there was some cavorting.

Even as Charlton were licking their wounds and we were reminding their fans that they’d messed it up (though we used another word) we broke down their right and a perfect centre came in. At that point, for me, the game turned in to slow motion. At the Albion Roar live there had been talk of Hemed’s confidence and his need to get one in off his backside. On twitter that morning I’d said the same. Now he had a clear header from four yards out and he headed it straight at the keeper. Only it span up in the air, bounced backwards and was carried in to the North Stand goal on a swirling wind. What a way to break your fast. What a way to go 3-2 up. Bedlam.

And that was that. We toyed with them as a cat does a wounded mouse and then it was over and we had three points. I had another two pints. Often we’ll just talk among ourselves after a game but not yesterday. I met a guy who has been really helpful with my running and marathon training. I met the NSC mods and the group I used to drink in the Welly with. We shared an accidental train home with Ade from the Roar. That train was buzzing too. Under the radar my friend unleashed his new Bong song that includes a word that he changed to say “effing”. At that moment one of those pauses descended. “Couldn’t you say something even cleaner than effing” said The Boy to the whole train.