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.