Fulham at Home 2016/17 – Singing the Blues

I’ve never felt more like singing the blues / When Brighton win, and Palace lose / Oh Brighton…….you’ve got me singing the blues

There I go again, ruining the ending with spoilers. Yet for much of the day it seemed another type of blues would be far more appropriate. I would not sing them. I would have them. Such is the beauty of football. This is why we do it, right?

But back to the beginning. A different pre-game approach to last time out, just as well as I suspect you’re heartily sick of hangovers, pubs and a scribe who claims to report on home matches, yet struggles to recall chunks of them. No danger of that this time as I was the responsible adult in charge of not one but two ten year old boys. Steve was away at a friend’s birthday so I took his son and The Boy.

Now I know this is only going to resonate with a fraction of you but do you know what sounds ten year old boys make these days? The first is “but what if” and the second is “CACHUNK”. The “but what if” is the standard ten year old boy’s response to you answering a question in a reasonable manner. Example:

“Do you think we’ll score today?”

“Yes, I think with our attack and Fulham’s wobbly defence we probably will”

“But what if the referee gets captured by space aliens when we’re clean through?”

“He won’t.”

“He could….”

And so on.

CACHUNK, meanwhile is the sound of water bottles being endlessly flipped on to the floor in an effort to land them on their base or, the holy grail, on the cap. “Stop flipping those water bottles”. “But what if there’s a youtuber videoing the concourse?”.

Luckily we saw a toddler in an elf hat on the station, so I paid them back by insisting it was a real elf and doing dad-quality elf jokes all day. Small pleasures…..

Anyway, I was sober and apparently in charge of two boys who really wanted a bottle of water instead of Fanta or Coke so for once I was winning at parenting. Would we be winning on the pitch? We would see but it was not the brightest of starts.

In fact we had a horrible first half, as bad a performance as I’ve seen under Hughton. For what felt like the first five minutes we hardly had a touch of the ball, nor did we get out of our own half. Yet the first two shots on target were ours, Murphy sprinting down the left, cutting in but hitting a tame shot straight at Button in the Fulham goal. Then a neat interchange in midfield led to Knockaert spotting Murray free in the box and finding him with a clever reverse ball. The angle was always tight and, while the shot was struck powerfully it was never going to go in. After that though, we fell apart.

More pressure and dominance from Fulham. Stephens and Sidwell could not collectively cope with Cairney who was running the game. The former, in particular, seemed lacklustre, all careless passing and second in to the ball. On our left Bong was being given a torrid time. As we struggled to cope with a side keeping the ball and pressing for it back we conceded one of this season’s freak goals. A corner on their right was swung in close to Stockdale who, unfortunately, was on the floor, having been tripped over by Stephens. McDonald had a clear header for them from the tightest of angles but, with no keeper, it bounced over the line before we cleared it. 1-0.

That we did not go two down was down to three players; the aforementioned Stockdale and Duffy and Dunk. Without our centre back colossuses it would have been much worse, but with Fulham continuing to dominate the ball and the territory they certainly had a lot of practice. Stockdale too. Easy to blame him for the first but watch the replay back and you’ll see it wasn’t his fault. It certainly didn’t knock his confidence. First he produced a magnificent one handed save from a wickedly dipping shot from Aluko, then stood up firm to a drive from Malone. Either could easily have seen us go two down.

Meanwhile Duffy was winning every tackle and putting his whole body on the line, time and again, while Dunk seemed to want to be playing centre midfield, given what a poor return our actual centre midfielders were getting. Without these three it would have been very, very ugly. But we got to half time just one down and it was a chance to regroup.

We didn’t exactly regroup. In fact the statistics will tell you that we had only 41% possession in the whole game, while your eyes were inevitably drawn to Cairney whenever Fulham did anything of quality. But this team doesn’t know when it’s beaten and this team can get a goal from anywhere, even if the referee is captured by space aliens when we’re clean through. And so it was that Super Sammy Baldock struck one of the goals of the season out of the blue. A set piece produced a spot of head tennis and Fulham failed to clear cleanly, the ball dropping on the volley to Baldock on the edge of the area. He struck it superbly in to the corner. An awful lot of tension was lifted and I don’t mean like that you mucky sods.

Fulham pressed back, a good passing interchange down their left forcing Stockdale in to another great save, but now we were their equals and Baldock hit the post from close range soon after. As the game inevitably stretched it became apparent that Fulham did not quite have the fitness for the high pressing, possession game they’d been playing. The longer it went on, the better we looked.

The it happened. Baldock had the ball on the left and got a step free to swing in a cross. Half the Fulham defence marked up and half played offside. Murray had the freedom of Falmer to tap the volley in to the corner for 2-1. Absolute SCENES.

As we went in to a tense five minutes of injury time Guy and Ray behind me gave me the sad news that Palace had gone 4-3 up against Swansea. “At least that’ll keep Pardew in a job” I replied, then I got on with five minutes worth of nail biting. From behind me the noise CACHUNK started up again. At last the ref blew the whistle. More scenes. How had we won that?

As I left the ground a bloke I’d not talked to before gave me the happy news that Palace had lost 5-4 to Swansea. We high fived.

Back at the ranch, Steve was home and I delivered his son in one piece and with a new firm belief in elves. We cracked open the wine and talked over the dinner table of everything good about the Albion, Chris Hughton and football in general. I definitely felt like singing the blues.

The Boy’s Ref Watch

“He was actually pretty good dad. Gave most of the correct decisions, just not enough cards. CACHUNK”.

A mark of minus 150 which, as they say in Bargain Hunt, could be a winning score.

Aston Villa at Home – Point Rescued

Sometimes the words for these reports just pop in to my head. It can be a curse, because it can happen at four in the morning or when I’m out on a run, miles away from a laptop but more often then not I know what I’m going to say. Today however it’s not happening because I have a massive hangover writer’s block.

The cursor has been blinking at me for approximately forty two minutes and thirty seven seconds while I ingest Berroca (other vitamin type supplements are available) and coffee and ponder a bacon sandwich.

The thing is, I write this sort of report far too regularly now and people are going to start suspecting me of mild, functioning alcoholism. In my defence, this was the game nearest to my birthday and a boys’ night out had been in the diary for some time. The Boy also has his birthday around the same time and he had his mates round for X-Box and the game on the telly, leaving the adults free to do a bit of guilt-free drinking. And that’s where we’ll begin, not because I want to dazzle you with the thirty fourth different synonym that I’ve thought of for beer drinking, but because the atmosphere in town was proper.

Five o’clock, the time that most people pile out of the office on a Friday, and the pub we were in was heaving. Brighton shirts, people I recognised from the Amex and Goldstone, and a big group of Villa fans who appeared to have been drinking since last Thursday. A proper night at the football was on the cards.

After a couple of beers we decided to get the bus to the ground for a change, a wise move given the reported “train carnage”, and then headed to the Student Union bar. The bar itself had no queue at all, or so we thought, until someone pointed out the queueing system where you order from one place and pick up from another. The “order” line was considerably busier and your reward at the end seemed to be a pint of one of those weak lagers brewed under licence by a bloke called Dave from Romford. We left again. An hour before kick off we disgorged ourselves out to the perimeter of The Amex and there were people everywhere. Yep, a proper atmosphere was definitely on the cards.

So, not bad for a bloke with a massive hangover writer’s block. Nearly four hundred words describing our journey to the game, hopefully setting the scene nicely for you. You’ll have got the impression it was busy and that the majority of fans were well oiled. Now I have to write about the game and that’s where the problems begin.

It’s not that I don’t remember anything. In fact, if at any point during it I made an observation through Albion tinted beer goggles, my old friend Mark would gently correct me and I’d make a mental note of the reality of the situation. It’s just that the reality of the situation was that we were being snuffed out.

Villa knew our weaknesses. They closed us down very well and were organised throughout. Much of our passing was careless as a result. The understandably subdued Knockaert was well martialled by the impressive Amavi. Even Gary Gardner looked vaguely ok. It was almost like someone close to our first team had tipped Steve Bruce off on how to play against us. Hmm.

And they took the lead with the first real chance of the game, Adomah swinging in a wicked free kick and Baker glancing in a header that Stockdale might have done better with. We’d offered nothing up to that point and neither had they. Just a cancelling out and a lot of chasing. Their fans had been noisy up to that point and now they went in to overdrive and we went silent. It desperately needed a pick up.

Luckily we got in to the game and spent twenty or so minutes playing like the real Brighton. At the end of the half it paid off. We broke quickly and Sidwell fed Murray whose one-two with Baldock gained him some space. A low shot from twenty yards and we were level. A lot of craziness up in the WSU.

“A great time to score” I mused, thinking we’d kick on from there, but no. If anything Villa were even more impressive in the second half. We had a couple of headed chances, while Sidwell put a well worked corner over with the ball just behind him and that was that. The rest was all Villa. They took off Gardner and put on Grealish, which was really taking the piss, They had corner after corner after corner and should have scored from one of them. Adomah and Kodija combined to set up the best chance of the half but Stockdale atoned for his earlier error. And that was that. Easily the best side to come to The Amex this season and, for me, a point gained for the Albion.

And then the night went downhill, or uphill, depending on your point of view. A beer kitty. A very large Villa fan who we christened “Tiny”. Jaeger shots. Some sort of rambling conversation about God Knows What, over and over again. Good friends, good times, a typical Friday night out with the boys. I needed it. The previous ninety minutes had shown how much work we still have to do.