QPR At Home 2015/16 – Together

We could beat anyone right now. We’re going to have to.

Sorry, there I go again, bad writer, putting the end before the beginning but you know the above to be true, right? So how did we get there? For me we got there with beer and sore legs and potential travel disruption and Knockaert and Goldson and the whole team as one. Let me fill in some detail.

It was fair to say that my legs were a little achy, having got over the line at the Brighton Marathon in five seconds over four hours, The mixture of pleasure and pain I got out of this is pretty much indescribable which is a pain in the rear for someone who thrives on describing stuff but the pertinent points are these; I had a little sniff of how to exceed natural thresholds when cheered on by a crowd, something the players must be feeling every home game right now, and I left earlier than usual to get to the pub, since I was walking like an eighty year old with rickets.

Eventually get there I did to meet my friend Mark who is now in Big Training himself for the Reykjavik Marathon in August and Gary who founded North Stand Chat many moons ago. Palmers and cheesy chips was the order of the day and a long discussion about the permutations at the top of the table. Though all we have to do is win our remaining game the consensus was that neither Burnley or Boro would want to lose, and their most likely result was a draw, leaving us third at the end of the night whatever. Prophetic eh?

Then a hobble to the ground and the nightmare of the WSU stairs. Stairs are my enemy right now, particularly going down, and so a Harvey’s anaesthetic went down too, along with a pie. A chat with the Roar chaps, a meeting with the Cheese Eating Poker School and upstairs to see the full crew in full voice.

In fact the whole ground was in full voice. There were fewer fans present than Fulham, far fewer in the away end, but somehow the noise was better and more together. It’s a word that’s been used a lot this season, it is our hashtag and adopted motto, but finally it was happening in the stands. Songs bounced from one side of the North to the other and across to the West but, rather than be ignored, they were picked up and carried on the breeze. It made my hair stand of end (what’s left of it) and the pain in my legs disappear. We were Brighton and Hove Albion and we were going to give this a damn good go.

The first half, though, was fairly even. The ball seemed to be shared between the two teams and our chances were few and far between. Philips and Washington carved their best ones, Stockdale making another brilliant save from a low drive. We prized Rangers open with a Knockaert cross from the left which Hemed put just over with a trademark overhead kick  and we nearly scored from a corner that was headed straight at Smithies in the QPR goal. Potentially, though Rangers were having the better of it.

At the back we stuttered a little, particularly down the right where player of the season candidate Bruno was, for once, getting a little flustered. Luckily he was being eased through the game by twenty three year old Connor Goldson. One misplaced pass aside the Championship rookie was showing everyone, including the ex-Valencia veteran, how to play football. What a second half of the season he’s had. And talking of second halves of the season we all know that Knockaert can produce something spectacular at any point. On the stroke of half time he did.

An innocuous looking challenge that really didn’t need to be made got us a free kick on the edge of the box. Knockaert and Skalak were over it. Who would take? The debate raged around the WSU while my friend Dom would later admit he was adamant it should be Skalak but it wasn’t. Our Flairtastic Frenchman stepped up and hammered it through the gap in the wall we’d created and in to the top corner. The Amex exploded and it was all I could do to stay upright, my friends temporarily forgetting my paper legs. The players celebrated as one. This is a team with incredible spirit.

It’s fair to say the second half was quite unlike the first. Just as we’d dominated Fulham more and more as the game went on, now we dominated Rangers. God knows what Hughton said at half time but it was incredibly effective. Rangers again had to change their game plan, the high press and break being far more risky at one down and we pounced on the space.

Just six minutes in to the second half though and whatever JFH had said to QPR became redundant in a moment of brilliance. Bruno launched a hopeful ball forwards and QPR headed it out in to no man’s land. It bounced a couple of times and Skalak pounced on it, smashing it as it sat up invitingly in to the top corner from over thirty yards. We went full-on batshit mental. The pain in my legs was gone now and on the field the players once again piled on each other in joy.

Now it was all Brighton. It was no longer were we going to win. Like Friday it was how many were we going to score? Half an eye was turned to the Burnley v Boro game but only to know where we’d be at the end of the night. The worst result all round would probably be a Burnley win. They were still at 0-0 as our metaphorical horse was striding away in to the distance flicking V’s at his beaten opponent. Yes I know horses have hooves and would actually fall over doing this but it’s a metaphorical horse, remember? Think cartoons.

Soon it was three. Our two players of the night combined from a corner, Knockaert crossing for Goldson to loop in a header. More team bonding. The Amex got louder. As the second set of London away fans in four days streamed out of the Amex we added a fourth, Knockaert shooting in a daisy cutter past Smithies and a suspiciously offside looking Baldock who had come on at half time for Wilson who was presumably sick again.

We bounced. Legs that I wanted to cut off that morning jumped up and down. The North Stand sang a very good song with quite a sweary word in to accompany the bouncing. On the pitch the players swaggered. QPR looked like they wanted the Amex to swallow them up and spit them back out straight in to the team bus where they could listen to some RnB and pretend it all never happened. Boro were one nil up, putting us second.

Inevitably, as we streamed out for the bars Burnley equalised with a thuggish scrum of a goal from a corner. The Anti Football had squeaked back ahead of the Total Football in the table. No matter. As I said on the way to the Star for more beer, if Burley and Boro hadn’t been playing each other, and had both drawn their games, we’d have taken it all day long.

We need three wins. Those are the bare facts. With the team spirit and skill that we have in every area currently I believe we could win all three, run a marathon and give a decent account of ourselves in University Challenge. Nothing is guaranteed, nothing is taken for granted but this is a special bunch of players. We are together.

Fulham at Home 15/16 – Destruction

The phrase “big weekend of sport” was used in many of the papers last week but it left me cold. Or, rather, it didn’t mean anything to me personally. Sure, there was the Grand National on which I duly lost a tiny amount on Tony Bloom’s no-hoper and a slightly larger amount on my own badly advised choice, but the rest was a bit m’eh. The Joshua fight? No way was I paying per view for that given my propensity to fall asleep before ten o’clock in the evening, the eventual two-rounder justifying my parsimonious decision. And the GOLF? A good walk spoiled. IMHO like. But most of all there was no Albion game. How can it be a big weekend of sport without US?

So instead, this has been a big week of sport. On Monday I went to the pub but stayed sober (yes, really, I have witnesses including a well respected children’s tv actor and a flummoxed barmaid) and we watched the Forest game, initially with pride and latterly with our fingers over our eyes, until that glorious and thoroughly undeserved late winner from some Knockaert genius. On Tuesday I did my last pre-marathon training run, a very ploddy three miles with my coach for final instructions, and that night The Boy and I watched Citeh knock PSG out of Europe in what no one at all calls El-Middle-Eastern-Moneyco. On Wednesday we watched Atleti do a number on Barca. The only things to cloud a glorious week of sport were that Boro got three points out of their game in hand and our home game against Fulham was coming ever closer in a concertinaed schedule.

What was also coming closer was the Brighton Marathon, at least for me, and this will explain my rather odd pre-match preparation. So preoccupied have I been with the race that I found myself literally forgetting about our game, which is not a good thing for an Albion blogger to admit. Friday dawned and I headed to the Expo to pick up my race number and timing chip, a journey which could have gone a little better. My bus over was delayed by a recalcitrant chav getting caught with a saver ticket from last week by an inspector and refusing to pay or get off. “I’ve gotta get ta school innnit” she whined which was unconvincing given it was 10.30 in the morning and she was in full make up, t-shirt and jeans.

Then I failed miserably to buy a single banana from Waitrose before eventually arriving at the queue in a horrendous rainstorm. I let the women who arrived at the same time in front of me and two minutes later a seagull took a massive shit which landed all over her. So it could have been worse.

Once in the Expo I finally met two of the guys from the NSC running thread I will be running with and ‘St Leonards Seagull’ admitted he had not thought of the marathon at all. “I’m much more worried about tonight”. “What’s tonight?” I absent mindedly replied. You may shoot me now.

But just as the marathon had banished thoughts of the football then, by half past five the football was banishing all thoughts of the marathon. Despite needing to remain sober I managed to engineer us all on to a slightly earlier train. Thank Christ I did. We got to the stadium in plenty of time but, after we left, the system went in to meltdown because the people charged with running our trains haven’t got enough people to run them properly.

Thus we were at our seats with huge gaps everywhere as the game kicked off. The regulars in front were missing. My promised seat buddies were missing. Eventually they arrived in drips and drabs. To be fair they weren’t missing anything.

We were – let’s face it – woeful for the first twenty five minutes or so. It was like the second half at Forest all over again as they pressed and dominated the ball and we obligingly pinged it back to them. Though no damage was done score wise the psychological battle was being lost. An edgy crowd at first fell silent and then lapsed in to that “come on Brighton” chant. The Fulham fans delighted in our silence and their players in our hesitancy.

But – and it’s a bloody big but, not dissimilar in size to the one I’ve spent a year running off (parp) – we were clearly waiting for there to be a full house before we started properly. On twenty eight minutes, with the train SNAFU finally over, we came to life.

A through ball down the left channel put Wilson in the clear against a ponderous defence for the first time and he dribbled neatly round them in to the box whereupon he was shoved over. Referee Woolmer pointed to the spot, to Fulham protests led by Scott Parker. A tip, lads. If you’re going to protest it then the initial reaction by the pusher shouldn’t be the ‘hands on head, what have I done?’ gesture. Hemed stuck away the spot kick majestically. 1-0.

Five minutes later it was two. How good is Skalak’s dead ball delivery? (EDIT – David Guile has pointed out this was Knockaert and he’s right. How good are BOTH wingers dead balls is what this should read). We won a free kick in a position that would have been innocuous for most of this season but a delightful floated, curving ball banjaxed a static Fulham defence and Hemed rose above them to head his second. Two nil to the Albion. NOW the crowd bayed. Fulham fell silent. Their whole game plan had been to press us high and hope to find a goal out of either prolonged possession or a forced error. Now that plan was redundant. They had nothing else.

Most assuredly they had no back four. I do not want to blow my own trumpet (sod it, of course I do) but, my pre-match prediction of 3-2 was based equally on my worries about McCormack and Dembele and my knowledge that Fulham’s defence is utterly woeful. Now only the latter was having an effect. After fifty four minutes the game was effectively over. We forced chance after chance with some sparkling interplay and footwork and, eventually had a corner from the West Stand side. Skalak took again, a Fulham player DUCKED and Bruno had the freedom of the back post. He needed two touches to finish it but was given all night to do so. 3-0 and that lovely man, stand in captain and magnificent beard had got a goal in front of the North Stand. The Amex went crackers.

To keep this a readable length means I cannot describe every single incident because there were too many, but it would be lax not to mention the save of the night from former Fulham keeper Stockdale. Freed of the need to actually win the game, Fulham briefly came to life down our left and the ball was cut back for a close range shot that really should have been 3-1. Stockers not only made a magnificent one handed save, he then pawed the ball away while on the ground, like a beach volleyball player stuck in the sand. Then it was all us again.

Hemed was on a hat trick. He nearly got it as a rampaging Wilson put him in from ten yards but Bettenlli came up with a point blank save. But soon it came. Another attack down the right from Knockaert saw the ball squirt all the way across to Skalak who laid it back for Stephens. His shot played pinball in the box and Hemed tapped it in. At full speed he looked a good yard offside but it wasn’t given and Fulham’s defence went mental at the officials again.

Fulham were destroyed. There’s no other word for it. Mentally from the 4-0 score line and their fans evacuating early to London (at least they’d probably have a train running). Physically from the first 28 minutes of pressing and from the bad back induced by picking the ball out of the net so many times.

We took the mickey though actually the North Stand used a different word. Another magnificent save was drawn and they cleared one off the line. Then it was five, Knockaert curling one in to the corner through three defenders. The last of the Fulham fans either left or celebrated with us.

There was still time for Lua Lua to fire in to the side netting before we were sent on our way. All three boys were madly excited, Steve and I shook hands like long-lost old friends and the Amex saluted an exuberant Bruno on a lap of honour.

As we waited in the train queue a sudden thought struck me. “How the heck am I going to run a Marathon on Sunday?” I wondered. If you want to find out I will be in a bright white REMF t-shirt slogging round with the North Stand Chat running group. Give us a cheer. And your ****ing money. Link below.


Burnley at Home 15/16 – Annoying

When I write these, given I do it on a Sunday morning, I make the assumption that most of my readers are a) Brighton fans and b) aware of the result. It’s therefore hopefully not a spoiler to start off by saying how frustrating it was to come out of yesterday with only a draw. Was a draw a fair result? That’s an often-asked football cliché but it doesn’t ever mean much to me. If that’s the result at the end of the game then that’s the result and you’re better off focussing on the next task in hand rather than claiming “we woz robbed”. We could point to dominating much of the game, the lovely football we played in a first half full of chances and a couple of obvious red cards not given. Burnley could point to a disallowed goal that was yards over the line. The bottom line is that we were one piece of lax defending at a corner away from three points and that can feel like a defeat.

But I’m at the end before I’ve started again. The start this time was really on Friday night for the REMF quiz, an excellent night out that raised over £2000 for the charity and was thoroughly enjoyed by our team who by no means disgraced ourselves. It did end in the upsetting sight of a tax man parading the trophy like the FA Cup but fair play to his team who stormed ahead at the end.

An early kick off with the night before in your legs is never ideal but that’s what we had to face, and for once I didn’t have The Boy who elected to play Minecraft and Nerf Guns at his mate’s birthday party. Being freed from the shackles of parenthood I did what anyone who has a marathon to run in two weeks would and went for beer and bacon rolls at the REMF Vice Chairman’s new pub. Then, rather than waiting for the usual gang at a station, Tim and I walked the short distance to Brighton Station which was already heaving. The big match atmosphere had started and it was barely quarter to twelve in the morning.

An arrangements cock up meant that I wasn’t reunited with my usual partners in crime until just before the game kicked off but when it did the Amex was not only full but providing the sort of atmosphere you only get if a local journalist asks for it (or the ground is full to the rafters for a first v third clash at the business end of the season). Songs fizzled from North to West stands and back again. The North sang as one. The West Upper was the loudest I can remember since Palace. And the players responded.

When we are “on” we are a joy to watch. Not only has Hughton assembled a tight knit, all-for-one squad but he’s packed it full of players who delight with their touch, pace and commitment. Goldson has been unshakeable at centre back since taking over. Bruno must be one of the most exciting right backs in the land, at thirty five years old too. Kayal was all touch, energy and tackle, giving Burnley’s midfield a torrid time. Baldock was all over the place until having to go off with an unfortunate injury. On the wings Murphy teased on one side while Knockaert provided a master class on the other. One touch he produced was simply Cruyff-like in the week the great man passed away. Craig Pawson gave a foul against him for being too good. It was not to be his worst decision of the match.

Burnley, to their credit, are well organised though, particularly at the back. They defended tight and kept Hemed quiet as he was the eventual recipient of all this flair. Once won back they hit long balls for the speedy Andre Grey to chase. Such ding-dong battles for a long balls often result in set pieces,  a free kick from a long way out or a corner. Like us they have no real stars, save Grey and Barton, but are a tight knit team with an excellent team spirit. They are also flat track bullies. Those aren’t my words but the words of a friend of a friend, a Burnley fan who was in their end who we had a pint with afterwards. Their success has been built on the fact that, of the bottom nine teams, who they have now played twice, they have won seventeen of eighteen. Here they gave early indications that a draw would be just dandy thank you.

Obviously, given all that, we took the lead from a set piece.

I’m still not sure how Dale Stephens curled the ball in from an almost impossible angle following a corner that was flicked on by a Burnley defender, but it wasn’t quite the lying-down overhead kick he produced at QPR. Indeed the ball seemed to go in off his thigh. There was a second of disbelief in the WSU as we thought it was wide before we all realised we’d scored and pandemonium ensued. One nil and, trust me, it was deserved.

Typically, though, we conceded in a similar manner, set piece defence not being our strongest suit. Burnley took a corner and again they flicked it on before it cannoned in to the leg of our ex player Stephen Ward who was conducting an all-in wrestling match with Bruno. Gray smashed the loose ball home from a couple of yards. At full pace it looks sloppy from our defence. On replay Bruno is giving Ward a bear hug. The latter then sits on the former. A goal, penalty, free kick or clearance could equally have resulted but 1-1 it was.

Still the game was on fire and it wasn’t long before we took the lead again. This time Burnley were on the attack when we sniffed it back and fed Baldock. Knockaert ran in to acres of space on the right and was found but Burnley got numbers back and the chance seemed to have passed. Not so for Knockaert. He dribbled it forever like the really good kid in the school playground before finding just enough room for a shot. It went in via a deflection and the Amex went potty once more.

These were not our only chances. We created plenty and Burnley normally had the numbers back to just about defend them, making us shoot or head from tight angles. It was nevertheless a very satisfying half and a great one for the neutral. The second half, though, was to be swathed in controversy.

There is no easy way to say this. Joey Barton – thug, wind up merchant, cheat and cod-philosopher extrodinairre – stamped on Kayal’s leg. A couple of inches lower and he’d have broken it. Craig Pawson – a referee who, let’s remember, sent off Romain Vincelot in the corresponding fixture when Poyet was in charge for inflicting less damage on a blade of grass – didn’t even show a yellow. It was the first of many mistakes to effect both sides. Later on Barton would again try to knobble Kayal with his elbow.

This sets in to context the worst decision of all. At this point Burnley should have had ten men, and if they had they might well not have been pushing us back to play on the counter. As it was they got another corner and we failed to win it in the air. Keane’s header was initially cleared but it bounced along – and clearly over – the line, before Sidwell cleared it. 2-2 in any game except this, Pawson and his assistants inexplicably missing a genuine goal. In the aftermath Kayal got a bit of retribution in on Barton but again no card of any description.

I say the above not in the spirit of fairness. After yesterday I can’t stand Barton or Dyche. I say it to demonstrate that Craig Pawson isn’t fit to referee at this level and should be returned to a park game forthwith.

Inevitably, having got away with it once, we didn’t again. Five minute of injury time came up and, in the first of them, Keane did it properly, breaking our hearts with a free header in to the net. And so on to that debate about fair results. If we’d taken our chances, if Pawson had acted on the stamp, we’d probably be sitting in second right now and it would be squeaky bum time for Dyche. Had the clear goal been given we may have lost – or we would have had more time to attack at the other end again.

But as Cloughie said, if my Auntie had balls she’d be my Uncle. A draw it was and I can live with that at this stage, given the fixtures each team has to fulfil. I just never want to see Craig Pawson or Joey Barton at the Amex again.