Three. That’s the magic number. Last night it represented our goals, our points and our margin of victory but some of you will remember it’s also a rap. Now why on earth am I putting in a tenuous link to a rap about the number three? As ever I’m jumping to the end of the story at the beginning of the post so you’ll have to wait while we explore the rest of an extraordinary day.
It started unpromisingly. If winter brings disease then February surely brings epidemics and my kids’ school has been hit with a couple of them. By far the worst is a flu one. Not the jokey “it’s a cold really” man-flu but actual influenza that leaves you with a temperature, aches and zero energy, unable to rise from bed for days. I haven’t had this (yet) but both kids and my wife has and my regular train and game buddy @BrightonStevieP was right in the middle of it and bailed for the comforts of sofa and Now TV.
When it goes it leaves you with a barking cough, deep in your chest. Both kids have had this too. And the great thing about winter is that, even if you are immune to the death flu you can still get the cough bit on its own. This I have. Right now. I figured I could get through a game ok just so long as I didn’t have to sing or shout anything at the ref. In this respect fate was to mock me and save me too. It’s a funny old game.
As we travelled over The Boy kept up a monologue (because I was struggling to speak) about the success (or otherwise) of Chris Hughton as Brighton manager. The gist of it was that he had done amazingly to keep a poor side up last season (check) and that this season was exceeding every expectation in terms of games won (check again). Then he caught me with one of those really earnest nine-year-old looks. “Where he really needs to improve though Daddy is winning games by more than one goal. We haven’t done it all season and I never quite relax.” A pundit’s career awaits son.
I might have been missing my regular travel buddy but we were not alone up in the West Upper gods. The Cheese-Eating Poker School were heavily represented and this meant one thing and one thing only. Ok two things. First and foremost it meant putting a quid in and drawing a correct score bet at half and full time. These were written out on a ripped up pie wrapper. And there you were lamenting the demise of the branded box. I put in for The Boy, thus corrupting him for all time (look away now social services), and drew 1-0 us for myself at half time which seemed like the second most reasonable bet after 0-0. The other thing it meant though was singing. Lots of it. You can undoubtedly hear the leader of the Cheese-Eating Poker School on match nights even before you see him and I was going to need to sing, voice or no voice. Here again fate came to my rescue as our mate in the row behind produced a huge packet of something called Voice Tablets which I believe are banned in several major countries. They did the trick.
This was just as well as there was actually plenty to shout about. The game started off as openly as possible with either side looking to hit on the break at pace. Brighton looked to use the wings, getting Knockaert and Murphy involved from the first minute, while Brentford had some early success with long balls over the top or in to the gap between Ridgwell and Dunk. Knockaert had come close before many had taken their seats after a final pre-game pint while Dunk got his error in early, presenting Judge with a chance that he wasted. The latter then profited from one of those balls over the top but Stockdale was alert to a goal-bound shot that was nonetheless straight at him. With 10 minutes on the clock we looked at each other and agreed that 0-0 was the worst ticket to be holding. So it proved.
As the game moved in to maturity several things began to unwind. The first of these threads was that Zamora was clearly not 100% fit and was using the offside rule to get a regular rest. The second was that Brentford abandoned the one tactic that was working for them in favour of “nice” football that was totally ineffective. And the third was that Knockaert was having the time of his life. He was a total pest from minute one and, inevitably, he eventually opened the scoring.
Murphy had been set free down the left and did very well to keep in a ball that looked to be going for a throw. Knockaert sat on the edge of the area looking for a cut back that in my mind’s eye took about ten minutes to reach him. When it did the pace was too great and the ball bobbled in front of him, seemingly losing the chance. But somehow he managed to turn the lack of balance in to a skilful defender-beating move and slide a shot along the ground in to the far corner. I needed more Voice Tablets.
After that it was all us. As fast and skilful as Brentford, and particularly Judge, had been going forward, they were equally slow and ponderous at the back. The Albion’s wingers smelled blood like particularly hungry lions and while Zamora continued to struggle, Hemed wanted in on the action too. Not long after we’d taken the lead he wasted an arguably better chance as he was put clear in down the left channel, but his shot hit the side netting. Soon though he would have his restorative goal, an all Israeli affair. Kayal received a free kick centrally and used it to break neatly down our right. His cross was perfect and Hemed bulleted the perfect centre forward’s header home in to the corner. Two –nil and the West Upper was rocking.
That pretty much did it as a contest. As the pre-match whip round was handed to the recipient with supposedly the least likely correct score, I spent half time praying that we didn’t do a QPR. Luckily Brentford don’t have Charlie Austin and we have a far stronger squad than December’s injury ravaged affair (I really need to write an opinion piece about how good our window was but hopefully even the moaners saw what a player we have in Knockaert last night).
Wilson for Zamora at half time. Injury or not the right move as the former’s pace troubled Brentford far more. Later Crofts and Sidwell would come on to strengthen the midfield with Knockaert and Murphy (also having an excellent game) rotating around a buzzing Wilson. Brentford had a lot of the ball in non-dangerous areas but kept giving it away at crucial moments. We sat too deep, as is our wont, without causing ourselves too many issues. The Boy clutched his correct full time pie wrapper score bet of 2-0. He was probably a minute or so off it when we broke and Murphy brilliantly beat the offside trap and raced clear before finishing coolly in to the corner. 3-0. A THREE GOAL WIN! Told you it was the magic number.
A sensible father would have got his son home then to beat the traffic. We stayed for one celebratory beer. It turned out to be the decision of the night as old-school and new-school Brighton merged (and here’s the number rap link). My friend’s wife who has been working in Africa was in front of us in the beer queue (she needs to stay here for good luck). An old mate from my local when I was young and stupid was in front of us on the train platform. And the Cheese Eating Poker School turned out to know Sid from CBeebies. I thought the boy was handling it particularly well until we got in the cab at Brighton Station that our post match beer had necessitated. “OH MY GOD THAT WAS SID! Why did everyone call him Gary?”