Ah, Leeds. Welcome at The Amex any time. In the naughty years gone by, the seventies, eighties and early nineties a visit from Leeds was about as welcome as one from your mental Auntie Vi with a crowbar in one hand and a gattling gun in the other, but not now. They come in numbers, boosting Mr Barber’s revenue (pretty much what it’s all about now if you believe that Argus interview about Sky), they provide a decent atmosphere, there are always goals and they never win. So it was last night.
It was a fitting way to celebrate my last alcohol for a month and a half. Hobbling, with DOMS coursing through my legs after a PB at the Brighton Half I mentally made a note that this game would provide my last beer before the big one in April. I headed first to The Swan where there was a gathering of the old school, home and away crowd I’ve known for years. I wasn’t the only one to have run the day before and, where the talk would previously have been of pubs, train times and away stewards it was all of times, pacing and training. At least for a bit. Then we got started on a game preview and we wondered aloud when the last time we had a penalty at home was. We concluded it was Ulloa’s effort that had cleared the North Stand and damaged several satellites. “Wonder when we’ll get another one?” we collectively asked.
I headed to the ground to meet the Cheese Eating Poker School, who had arrived with one of the anti-Sky banners being handed out by Leeds fans. I gently pointed out that we had the only seats in the entire ground that were behind the cameras. Such a banner would have been as much use as Sol Bamba. I supposed it could be rolled up and used as a telescope but instead it was gently abandoned.
Don’t get me wrong, I agree with its sentiment. I can’t stand Monday Night Football, an invention from the States that was purely to increase advertising revenue over there. Attending a game on a Monday is wrong, as is having to write this in half an hour before work with a hangover. So what follows may be brief. But inconveniencing fans, many who would already have booked train travel or a weekend stay to our City is way more wrong. Brighton / Leeds games have always had a good atmosphere since we moved in to our new home. Credit to the Leeds fans who did turn up and kept singing despite what was occurring on the pitch, but there were less of them than in previous years and some significant gaps on our side of the fence too. Monday football sucks balls.
Gathered in the roost we made the now traditional draw for the quids in correct half time score. I believe eight of us now had a piece of the action, necessitating some fairly creative and outrageous scores to be included. I got 2-0 Leeds. Nobody, though, got 4-0. I mean, when have we ever been four up at half time (a game against Barnet at Withdean is the Tim Carder answer by the way)?
It didn’t start promisingly. The singing battle from the stands was excellent but much on the field was being concentrated in midfield. In hindsight this is where Leeds excel. They have a nice midfield. A decent, Liam Bridcutt at sweeper-ish, type of midfield. Luckily for us they can’t defend and they can’t attack, so when they had an early penalty shout denied that was it for the half in terms of their threat.
We’d been snuffed out in midfield but suddenly we were in front out of nothing. Rosenior went on the overlap down the left, cut in to the box through two players and was hauled down. We had our first home penalty since the Ulloa affront. This one was nearly as bad. If any of my under nines had taken a kick like it I’d have made a mental note that they were off penalties for a month. Tomer Hemed chipped it, very gently, right down the middle. But let’s be generous and say that he saw Silvestri move as the Leeds keeper generously dived out of the way for us to take a 1-0 lead.
Worse – much worse – was to come for Leeds. Bamba, who had a nightmare, gave the ball away to Baldock thirty five yards out from their goal with all their players out of position. Baldock seized the gift like a six year old at a birthday party and exchanged passes with Stephens to go in to the box, where his attempt at a finish took a massive deflection off Liam Cooper and in. 2-0. Fatty Evans was about to burst.
Last season we beat them 2-0 and it was the easiest home game of a difficult season. Though we are at a different end this season we haven’t had many games where we’ve cruised to a win, Brentford excepted. At this point the game was actually safe, given that Leeds’ attack had the accuracy and potency of a blind man hurling ping pong balls in a gale. We didn’t yet know this though as they failed to get out of their half. And, while they had succeeded in keeping Knockaert quiet this only left room for Murphy to attack on the other flank and Baldock and Hemed to torture their ponderous back four.
Next Murphy went clean through but Silvestri produced an excellent save. But then a long ball over the top was only half cleared and it fell to Hemed on the edge of the box. If anyone will have appreciated the Leeds defence parting like the Red Sea it would be him. A simple, low shot and it was 3-0. Now there was real tension among the Cheese Eating Poker School and Other Assembled Guests. 3-0 was one of the held tickets but we didn’t look done yet. Gallows humour took over the Leeds fans. The North Stand went in to shock. How Evans didn’t have a heart attack I’ll never know.
The inevitable fourth came from a corner. Leeds switched off and Dunk climbed highest of all to head home. Bedlam up in the roost. More puce-ness on the touchline. Poor old Leeds. Dragged down here on a Monday night to watch that. The half ended with us stroking the ball around like Barcelona and the whole thing was very neatly summed up by Steve. “I’m not sure how to deal with being this comfortable – I’m at a Brighton game and I’ve got a resting heart rate of 60.” All round the ground similar thoughts were being aired. No one had a winning ticket. Half time scores went in to a roll-over.
I had a sneaking suspicion that, while Evans would have been demolishing the away changing room, many tea cups and several Piglets Pies, Hughton would already be closing the game down. Don’t get booked or injured or do anything silly seemed to be the mantra. Leeds had much more territory in the second half, but so useless were they with it that the first save from Stockdale was celebrated like a goal by their fans. We still nearly added another one, Skalak on as a sub going clean through but rounding the keeper the wrong way and finishing with an exaggerated dive as he was robbed. But that was it as a contest. “4-0, and you still don’t sing” taunted the Leeds. Sorry, lads. Mentally we were already on the bus home.
4-0 it finished. Such wins deserve to be celebrated with a pint or two and so we did. This morning I am facing a month and a half of sobriety. What a way to go out.