Reading at Home 2016/17 – Winning Ways

That’s as good as it gets.

Ohh, look at me, giving the end away at the start again. But come on. If you’re a Brighton fan reading this blog this morning you almost certainly have the warm glow of satisfaction and the overwhelming desire to relive last night one more time. After a shaky period recently it was very much back on message.

But stories do have to start at the beginning and it was one of those days that went well from the start. A decent training session with The Boy’s Under 10 team in the morning, a leisurely lunch and time for the kids to do something together in the afternoon for a change all made the evening kick off far less stressful than a 3pm one in some ways. None of us were quite sure when the right time to leave was but we met at the station for a train that seemed reasonable. An old face turned up out of the blue as we waited. “I wasn’t quite sure when to leave” he said. See?

It turned out we’d picked exactly the right time. We linked up perfectly with a Falmer bound train before the train queue had really got going. There were plenty of people around when we got there but enough time for the boys to lazily get a programme and Steve, who had not dressed for the occasion, to really appreciate how cold the wind was. What’s more, our arrival on the concourse was greeted by a huge cheer.

It turned out that the whole West Upper wasn’t pleased to see us but that Barnsley had just equalised at home to Huddersfield. There followed some very urgent watching of the telly and staring at the phone. One thing’s for sure when you kick off at 5.30 on a Saturday, you will know exactly the result you need. On the train Bristol City had been two up at Newcastle. The wise Vicky aka @ThickBlueLine had tweeted to remind us all of how they’d blown a three goal lead at Derby and it turned out to be prescient. Nevertheless, with just injury time to play, both our rivals were dropping points and four out of five of my accumulator picks were correct with the cash out option now removed. If only Brentford could score. Score they did – twice – and score no one else did. We hadn’t kicked a ball yet and already both our nearest rivals had dropped points and I’d had a five result acca come in. If that doesn’t get you up for it nothing will.

I’ve no idea if our players had been glued to Soccer Saturday and Paddy Power – though I doubt it – but they emerged similarly up for it. The additional couple of hours of voice lubrication that a late kick off allows was present in a gutsy rendition of Sussex by the Sea and Steve, as he often does, spotted something I didn’t. “Knockaert looks well up for it” he said. This can sometimes not be a great thing as the adrenaline can affect his touch but it turned out the players were just the right side of pumped.

You can usually tell how we’re going to play within the first few minutes and this one settled in to a pleasing pattern very early on. In possession we looked zippy. Without the ball, determined. Reading knocked it around nicely at the back but never kept it in dangerous areas looking a little like an undercooked Garcia special. We pressed at exactly the right times. Hughton had done his homework.

One thing that was true when we were playing tippy-tappy was that we would often struggle to come back from a goal down, plan B being sadly lacking. Here it looked like we’d stroll it if we could take the lead and early on we very, very nearly did. Reading were attacking down our left but a pulled back cross fell neatly to Murphy on the edge of our area and we broke in a wave. Baldock found himself in acres of space on the left and cut inside behind a defender, before rasping a brilliant curler towards the far post. It hit said post to an Amex groan. However, it was clear to see how Reading could be undone. It didn’t take long for Baldock to snap open the bra strap.

Having the ball any higher than ankle height seemed to perplex this purest of footballing teams and they headed the ball straight to Bruno on the halfway line. He immediately lobbed it in behind them, a perfectly weighted ball that Super Sam killed stone dead with a mix of skill and good fortune. Now he was the wrong side of the defence with McShane desperately fighting for the ball. With The Boy screaming for a penalty Baldock instead kept his feet and lashed the ball in to the roof of the net before scaring a cameraman. 1-0, thirty five minutes gone.

It wasn’t quite scare-free though. A good break down the left and excellent cross saw Danny Williams with a free header at our goal from eight yards out. Duffy, somehow, acrobatically cleared off the line in our best piece of defending of the game, early in the second half. Reading were also afforded two free kicks barely on the edge of the area but put both straight in to our wall. Other than that, though, it was a watching brief for our defence and the whole ground knew a second would kill them off.

It came, again, on the break. Another toothless Reading attack was broken up and the second ball fell to Knockaert who drove at their defence before finding Stephens on the centre circle. A beautiful pass – Lennon and McCartney song beautiful, Monet painting beautiful, Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation beautiful – split the Reading defence and Murphy maintained the theme with a gorgeous chip over Al-Habsi to make it 2-0.

That was it as a contest. Knockaert should have put it beyond doubt but lashed it in to the side netting. Just as Baldock had made up for his post-strike so Knocky made up for this. Another quick break found him in space on the left and a brilliant drive nestled in the far corner. The Amex was going potty.

To be truthful days don’t come much better. Back to top and it is now Newcastle and Huddersfield looking nervously round each other. Get a result on Tuesday and the run in looks relatively innocuous. The players must know this, Hughton knows this, and with “we’re on our way” echoing round the Amex and Falmer station long in to the night, the fans most certainly do.

The Boys Ref Watch

So little did referee Banks get involved that The Boy was unable to come up with a rating. This was a game that was all about us rather than the ref (Roger East take note) and he left mark-less. For me that is the very measure of decent refereeing and I’m going to give him a nine.

 

 

 

Burton Albion at Home – Easy

“Easy”.

I mean no disrespect. The phrase or adjective included within the title often describes the day as a whole, just as the post itself is supposed to, and this is no exception. It was a very easy day, especially considering the number of potential banana skins.

For one, we’ve not exactly been covering ourselves in glory recently. Huddersfield took us to bits and a loss up there by four or five would not have been an injustice. We’ve conceded three goals in each of our last three away games and we did our best to go three down last Sunday, David Stockdale’s penalty save probably being the difference between an amazing come-back draw and another miserable defeat.

We were also taking one of The Boy’s mates to his first ever Albion game. This is something I genuinely love, the chance to brainwash another poor sod in to the ways of the Albion (or “create another lifelong customer with an excellent match day experience” as I’m sure Paul Barber would put it) but there’s always risk associated with it. What if he hates the crowds and the train queue? What if it’s a terrible game? Will they ever want to come back? Have I over hyped this?

And then there was the ruddy British weather. It was cold. And snowing. These are two of my least favourite weathers in the world. I’ve never been able to understand people who go on holiday to ski down a snowy mountain. I’d much rather live my life on a tropical beach. But, I digress. It had the potential to be rubbish, that’s all I’m saying. It wasn’t.

Everyone turned up on time and there was therefore the chance for a very swift half in our family friendly local. There were a lot of people waiting on the platform but the train was on time and we got on easily enough. There wasn’t much of a queue at Brighton either and we even got a seat on a fast Falmer-bound service, which was on time and seemed to have no issue with its doors being closed.

The boys rushed to get a programme each and a big match atmosphere was building as vast numbers of home fans circled The Amex. We went straight up to the WSU (where the boys this time counted 122 steps, it’s different every time and at some point I’m going to count them myself as surely this will be the definitive answer) and our many and varied snack and drink requests were immediately and efficiently dispensed by a Sodexo employee who seemed to know what they were doing. What WAS going on? Steve and I chewed the fat over the last couple of games, I bumped in to Chaily Jem and we put the world of grass roots football to rights, and then we took the boys up, one of them for his first look at the hallowed turf from our lofty perch.

Easy.

We’d agreed in the build up that an early goal would be very good for the nerves. Guy, who sits behind us, wanted it in the 11th minute as that’s what was on his Seagulls Lotto ticket. It certainly looked like we might oblige as we started brightly, but then all our key men were back.

The recent run of poor results and performances has been achieved totally without Stephens and Baldock and largely without Dunk. Here they were all back while Hemed was preferred to the recently misfiring Murray. There was an early scare when Knockaert went down for a very long time (“he’s gone” Steve had said, thank goodness he was wrong) but as the clock precisely changed from eleven to twelve minutes Le Petit Magicien found himself in space down the right and drilled a low cross in to the box. Various limbs were thrown unsuccessfully at it before Hemed neatly converted at the back post. 1-0. I was pleased to observe our new convert jumping with joy. A collective sigh of relief went round The Amex.

If there was one thing that wasn’t easy it was getting an atmosphere going. In some respects you need something or someone to compete with. Three hundred odd Burton fans, all sitting down politely, isn’t going to do it. Yes, I know how far they’ve come in a short time and how few they get at home, and how far it is, so kudos to those who did travel. However, seething cauldron the Amex wasn’t. The goal and an impressively comic referee had to make do as atmosphere conduits.

To say we were comfortable in the first half would almost be to understate it. We were as comfortable as a well-worn fluffy onesie in front of a roaring fire. As comfortable as that pair of trainers you always go when your feet need a treat, no matter how smelly. Burton did not have a shot, never mind a corner, and barely found themselves in our half. Meanwhile we carved out half chances without ever really exerting ourselves, Knockaert sashaying his way up the middle before hitting a tame long range shot and March providing crosses from the other wing that were just not quite precise enough. Second gear for the home Albion.

At half time we all agreed another goal would kill it off. Meanwhile, to Guy’s disgust the first goal time was given as twelve minutes.

That goal came a couple of minutes after the restart. A gorgeous ball over the top down the left from Sidwell found Burton’s right back on a tropical beach (or possibly skiing in Val D’Isere) and March in acres of space. He advanced and put in a teasing low cross and Baldock got in front of McLaughlin in the Burton goal to slide in. Two nil and very much game done.

Ten minutes later and the level of comfort was very much at “Norwegian Fisherman’s Jumper” setting. March waltzed through the middle with some tidy footwork and was tripped in the box. Referee Martin got a decision right for a change and Hemed put a trade mark penalty in the bottom corner the keeper having been sold a bigger dummy than the window dresser at High and Mighty.

Of course this is The Albion so we found a way to put ourselves through a few minutes of ringer. Baldock, Hemed and Stephens were taken off to preserve them for later endeavours and Kayal, Murray and Akpom came on. Kayal still looks ring rusty and while we were still adjusting Burton got a free kick on the edge of our area which was brilliantly converted by Michael Kightly. Top bins as The Boy would say.

There was a short point where they looked like getting an uncomfortable second but then we found our feet again. Knockaert popped up on the left and hit a superb cross that the unmarked Murray couldn’t fail to head home for number four and Akpom should have done better when clean through. An easy win.

Afterwards we had an easy celebration beer, walked straight on to a train and got The Boy’s mate home half an hour earlier than I said we would. A good day then. And an easy one.

The Boy’s Ref Watch

Referee Steve Martin was as comic as his namesake. He sprayed so much of The Amex pitch I think he might actually be Banksie in his day job, and he signalled for full time with an action that reminded me of a bear taking a shit in the woods. Didn’t give a card and barely gave a correct decision. But that’s my take on it. The Boy reported described him as “OMG he was TERRIBLE. TERRIBLE! Minus two hundred million!”. Then he lost his hat a flipped a bottle.