Rotherham at Home 2016/17 – Comfortable

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.

 

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Nottingham Forest at Home 2016/17 – Clinical

So, a new season whirls around, seemingly instantly and off we go again. Yeah, I’m perfectly aware we played Derby last week but look at the blog’s title. And that we played Colchester in mid-week but I was, er, babysitting my neighbours goat, yes, that’s it, goat sitting, so I couldn’t possibly go. So for me – us – yesterday was day one. And what a day it was. Even if it snuck up on me like a particularly silent three year old, a phenomenon we were discussing on the bus on the way over. BUS you say? But you always go on the train. And so I would have, had there been any sodding trains to go on but there weren’t because SASTA are being twats and the RMT aren’t helping matters either.

But why so unprepared?

The previous football season – or rather, OUR season –  finished on 16th May, less than three months ago, on a night of disappointment that nevertheless made me as proud as I’ve ever been to be a Brighton fan. If there was an award for glorious failure given out we’d have won it by a country mile last season.

England were knocked out of the European Championships or Euros or whatever they’re called on the 27th June by Iceland. In case you’re reading this several years later that’s not a typo, nor have I juxtaposed my blog writing with my list of shops to visit in order to purchase the kids’ pizzas. We lost to Actual ****ing Iceland. It seems like yesterday.

The Euros themselves carried on without us until Sunday 10 July. That’s just over a month ago. God help me I carried on watching them too, despite the availability of 567 other channels, some of which aren’t about cookery.

And then I was on my summer holidays and, when I got back, the season had started, we’d signed Oliver Norwood from nowhere, our reserves were about to play Colchester, we’d missed out on Alex Pritchard, Burnley were sniffing around our midfield and there were no trains running anywhere at all. The new season, and the transfer window, and the train strike attacked me like a very unsubtle mugger and I felt about as prepared as Sami Hyppia managing a team of dwarves in a basketball match.

So I booked a bus and hoped for the best.

It was good, the bus from West Hove Sainsbury’s. In fact, it was quicker than our usual train. It should be retained for all evening games IMHO. Me and The Boy (resplendent in new black away shirt) got to The Amex quickly enough for me to risk dragging him to The Swan to try and get some beer garden action but it was so full when we got there that we turned straight round and went back to the Amex. Walking’s good for nine year olds anyway. There we waited and soon the usual crew and a couple of temporary replacements began to arrive.

In fact this was a great omen. Last season we had opened up the whole thing against Forest on a Friday night. Steve had not been able to make it and Boy’s Old Friend had come with a parent instead. We had won in front of the Sky cameras and gone top of the league, by dint of having played on a Friday. This time round Steve had not been able to make it and Boy’s Old Friend had come with a parent. Sky were here. We could go top. Was there ever such a good set of omens?

Footballers may or may not believe in omens but ours started a little slowly anyway. Forest had the best of an opening five minutes that barely saw us get out of our half but soon we grew in to it and two things became clear right away. The first was that playing wing backs against Knockaert and Skalak only worked if you WERE constantly pressing and the second was that we were No Longer Shit At Corners. We might not have been Shit At Corners for a while now but we spent so long being Shit At Corners in the past that my summery, wine addled brain had assumed we still were. We weren’t. Dunk very nearly scored from one.

A few minutes later, though, and we should have gone one down. Sidwell gave it away in the middle and the speedy Burke skinned Dunk despite being outnumbered four to one by defenders and found himself through. Luckily for us he dragged his shot wide.

On thirty five minutes, though, we took the lead with a quite brilliant goal. Bong played a hopeful aerial ball up the left which looked like a 50/50 but Murray, who up to then had shown less than impressive touches, won the ball brilliantly and moved it on to Skalak. When there was no room for him to cross he knocked it back up the line to the following up (and untracked) Bong, who whipped in a first time cross. Knockaert also hadn’t been tracked cutting in and he tapped in the cross from close in, unopposed. The Amex looked rather pleased with itself.

One nil at half time then, though Bruno had nearly made it two from a corner right on the stroke of the break. Boy’s Old Friend won the half time correct score sweepstake proving further that he was a lucky omen. I checked my recently purchased Heart Rate Monitor (it’s part of an improved running watch I’m using for next year’s marathon) and it seemed to suggest that I was relaxed, though I get far too excited when we score.

If the first half had been a little tense (and certainly there were periods where we weren’t totally in control, Burke’s clean-through moment being the worst) it had been clear why Forest had conceded three goals to Burton the previous week. The whole wing back thing wasn’t really working for them and, as we grew in to the game, there was probably only going to be one winner. In those circumstances it is always good to score a second though, just to cement that feeling. And, having pressed and pressed, on sixty eight minutes we did.

A word about Glenn here. The Boy asked me about him while we were walking from The Swan back to the ground. Did I mention (sorry) the Palace game? No. Poyet preferring CMS to him? A bit but not much. All that is history and it matters not. I’ve been to Selhurst a number of times, I’ve stood on the Goldstone North Stand terraces joining in the “we hate Palace” chants as loud as anyone. I’ve teased them on NSC. I still remember every minute of the St Paddy’s Massacre. But Murray is our player again, a damn good one, and so, what I told The Boy is that he will score goals in this division. He is a finisher. So it proved.

Another set piece. Forest switched off completely (God, their defending was poor) and Skalak’s free kick was headed, unopposed, back across goal where Murray tapped in. Did he do that hand-on-head celebration. No, he did not (what WAS that all about Glenn?). Did I go fairly potty? Yes I did.

The game was all but won but there was still time for more drama. Dramas have sub-plots, as you know, and this one’s were the constant tangles between Skalak and Pereira that were turning the latter in to a new Amex pantomime villain. The Boy hates panto villains and this was threatening to damage his voice more that our brilliance. The other sub plot was that Knockaert was ripping Forest to bits whenever he got the ball. This soon became main plot again as we scored our best goal. Forest lost it in our area and we broke quickly, Knockaert tearing up the field and finding Baldock who’d made an intelligent diagonal run. He couldn’t score from that angle but he unselfishly tapped back for Murray who could. It was clinical. WE were clinical. That’s what our old friend FFS brings.

There was still time for him nearly to get his hat trick and for Stockdale to have to go off injured, to be replaced in goal by Dunk, luckily not for very long. Forest had created one or two chances in the second half, in particular a rebound off Stockdale from a long shot that was inexplicably squirted wide, but we were good value for the win. With Knockaert making them and Murray taking them who knows where we’ll end up this time?

The Boy and I ended up back on a bus. I was home earlier that I ever had been using the trains. Hint, hint The Club.