Those of you who have read for a long while (thanks, Mum) will know that the description of a home game by one word or a short phrase in the title – “comfortable” in this instance – is a relatively new thing. I do it because I’ve always been rubbish at titles and restricting it to a word or two helps me condense the night’s events in to a single phrase or feeling which, in turn, helps me to write about it the following morning.
For last night’s game I seemed to have a lot of choices however. I could have picked “clinical” again but I’d just used that for the Forest game. “Thrashing” is probably too much though at one stage it did look like we might bag five or six. “Light” could have been used, about which a bit more later. But I settled for “comfortable” as, for me, this was never in doubt. The final word that occurred to me was “happy”.
Happy because when I’m old(er) this is exactly the sort of night I will look back on when I tell myself, the kids and grandkids and anyone else in the street at the time who was too close to me dribbling and shouting that I had a good life. A few pints in the sunshine. Some cheesy chips. Good friends, a sing song and an easy win. Rarely has it been so easy being a Brighton fan. Maybe never.
If you include the League Cup (and, yes, that’s what I’m still calling it) that’s four games in and not a goal conceded. Not one. In our three home games meanwhile we have scored ten goals. As I type we’re top of the league. And this has been achieved with our right back at makeshift centre back, with our reserve keeper playing two of those games and without Kayal and Stephens really pairing up at all, at least at home. But I AM a Brighton fan, I haven’t forgotten so while I understand that we have looked comfortable and I have been happy my first thought is still very much “it can’t last, can it?” Let’s think about that for a moment.
There will be tougher games than our opening encounters. Forest were awful at the back and looked like any decent set piece would undo them. Last night Rotherham were back to what you would mostly expect of them, a poor side huffing and puffing but comprehensively failing to blow the house down. Two away games now loom, however, at Reading and Newcastle and neither will be easy. At home I would expect Newcastle again, Villa, Norwich, Derby, Wolves and Sheffield Wednesday, to name but seven difficult teams in this league, to offer very challenging games indeed and I would expect most to be tougher than the Millers. An eighth game without a win condemned them to 20th place at the end of the evening.
But the talk in the pub and concourse before this match had been about whether we could repeat Friday’s performance. The phrase “potential banana skin” might even have been used, just three games in to the season. How many times in the past five years at the Amex would such a game result in the tensest of narrow wins for us, an unexpected defeat (to a deflected long range shot or a goal from a set piece) or a disappointing draw? There was simply no chance of that last night.
Or, to be fair, not MUCH chance.
Rotherham did have the first decent chance of the evening, the Albion failing to deal with a long range free kick that was pumped in to the box, leading to their opponents lashing the loose ball just over the bar. We started a little slowly again (and by that I mean the first five minutes really) but, as on Friday, all thoughts of that were banished as we took the lead midway through the first half.
This time it was twenty three minutes rather than twenty seven and the goal came out of absolutely nothing. If there is one phrase I tend to overuse during a game, to the bafflement of most others, it is “seconds”, used after a 50/50 challenge. It’s a habit from when I first started playing pub football as an adult and refers to the ‘second ball’ and was shouted every game, every challenge, by one of my team mates. Meanwhile, Guy who sits behind me is a “hit it” man. Any chance of shooting at all and he’ll yell “hit it”.
Well, Rotherham cleared an initial ball in to the air but managed to head it in to no man’s land just forty or so yards from goal. “Seconds” I inadvertently exhaled and Bong dutifully won the second ball, knocking it forward to Knockaert. “HIT IT” yelled Guy and Knocky obliged almost instantly, controlling and smashing a shot in to the bottom corner. The benefits of winning the ball in your opponents’ half, as I keep telling my Under 10s.
Three minutes later we were two up and looking, well, comfortable. When I was a kid playing football another overused phrase was ‘first to the ball’ (one manager used it as a catch phrase for an entire season, going Radio Rental if we lost any sort of footrace). Clearly this was something that Lewis Dunk had listened to for he really stated this move, though you will not see that part on the highlights reel.
Once again Rotherham made a poor clearance forwards and Dunk, anticipating the ball, gained the jump on his opponent and was first to it. Suddenly he found himself bursting forward, Bruno and the excellent Norwood tucking in, and exchanging slick one twos with Knockaert. The first one went extremely well but the second one did not and the move broke down. However, the big centre half had stretched the play (not a phrase I can see myself typing a lot) and the ball was knocked back in to midfield. Before Rotherham could regroup it had gone out wide to Rosenior, via Knockaert, and his excellent cross was brilliantly volleyed in by Sniffer Murray. How having a genuine 20-goal-a-season striker is helping.
Hughton had started with Norwood and Stephens in centre mid but we did not seem to quite be playing a conventional 4-4-2. Knockaert had more of a free role than a conventional winger while the gaps were covered by Norwood, sitting in front of the back four, sweeping up and playing careful short passes. I’m not sure he missed one all night. Yet still the danger mainly came down our right and we could have scored from a cut back just before half time.
On fifty eight minutes the game was done. A quick free kick released us down the right once again and, with Murray charging down the middle for the cross, he was taken out. Even “Hoops” had to award the penalty. Hemed stuck it away with ease.
A word now about Maenpaa. A catch early in the second half had my friend Mark quipping “that’s two touches” after which, naturally, he got a little busier. We relaxed, Rotherham pushed forward and our stand in keeper made two excellent full length saves. It seems we have decent competition for the number one spot this season too.
Also decent was the atmosphere. Perhaps a legacy of the Sheffield Wednesday game, or a function of our easy win, but last night the North and West seemed to be in full voice until about seventy minutes when we joined the players in chilling out. A West Stand / North Stand boys competion that went on for a good while, a rousing “we all follow Brightonovealbion” and a light show. This I didn’t understand. Sheffield Wednesday parody? New trend? Whatever I’m aware that I’m old and miserable but while this modern day equivalent of banana inflatables or celery might be strange it lit up the night sky like our play. On a comfortable night there was nothing to moan about at all. Good times.