Palace at Home – Shambles

Thank Christ. With my loyalty points nowhere near enough for the return, should I be interested, which after last night I’m not, that’s that for another season. Frankly we’ll have to draw them in about the semi-finals of the Cup for me to want to bother with all that again.

Something I’ve heard a couple of times on trains and in the ground, presumably from people who share a season ticket in a group, is ‘the one game I really wanted was Palace’. I can vaguely understand this. Yes, if we beat them then you want to be there, yes the atmosphere is febrile, but everything else is a massive pain in the arse. Last night that included the football.

So bad was it that it’s barely worth discussing, so I won’t for a bit, except to say that if you’re as bad going forwards as Palace are then it’s no wonder you end up cheering as a bunch of repressed Mummy’s Boy teenagers from Reigate, dressed as a cross between a Gothic polar explorer and an 8 year old who’s borrowed his brother’s hoodie, throw rook scarers and snort baking powder. This is as exciting as it gets at Palace right now. Last night we went down to their level.

All day I had the feeling I was dreading the evening, for you live on your nerves in these games. I left early and went straight to the ground, avoiding an incident that was later described to me by a friend as “Brighton fans attacking other Brighton fans that they thought were Palace fans”. I’ve no idea if this was actually true but it sums up the general idiocy that engulfed just about everyone involved last night. Arriving on the concourse I was one of the first, though beaten to it by another couple of people heavily involved in Brighton Fan media and also experienced enough to know it’s best to get there early.

Idiocy you say? Well let’s take the security, just for a minute. As kick off arrived some 150 Palace fans were locked outside, some with tickets according to our club statement, as others had taken their seats, unentitled, unsearched and unsniffed. Such a selfish act I cannot imagine and the hope is very much that those ticket holders locked out have a “little word” with those who took their places over the coming weeks. They certainly should do. This whole thing just served to prove several things that we all knew all along:

  • The game should have been a Sunday lunchtime, not an evening
  • Restricting Palace’s allocation was counter productive
  • The “special train” serves only to inconvenience Brighton fans.

The game? Oh, if I must. Talking to @TimJones15 on Twitter last nigh it was clear that the best phrase to describe the midfield action was “inexplicably gave the ball away”. We inexplicably gave the ball away. Then they did. Then we did again. To me, to you, to me, to you. Chuckle.

Duane Dibley was casting a figure as a hilariously bad panto villain, played out of position by Hodgson and accompanying the equally woeful Benteke in not doing much. Still, the one time they did get it right up front they cut us open and Ryan produced an unbelievably fantastic double save, our best moment of the evening. Where Palace did excel was in closing down the space we operated in, shutting down and crowding midfield. Knocky huffed, puffed, twisted and turned but Murray and Gross didn’t have the pace or guile to get on the end of anything. In the first half Stephens shanked a decent looking left footed second ball in to the scum and in the second Murray’s header was cleared off the line by Hennesey from our 565th corner of the half, each of the previous ones having either been adequately dealt with or kicked out before curling back in.

Sorry, this is short but it’s as much as I want to write about a night to forget. As an advert for the Premier League it was up there with those shit Pearl and Dean cinema ads for the corner shop that sold Razzle.

 

 

 

 

 

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Stoke City at Home – The Lee Mason Show

Scene – Lee Mason’s enormous mansion. Lee is watching Homes Under The Hammer in his pants, with his iPhone conveniently by his side. Suddenly it rings.

Lee Mason: Hello?

Mystery Voice: Lee? Lee Mason?

LM: Er, y-y-y-yes, oh God, Jamie, is that you?

MV: I’ve told you never to call me that over an unsecured phone line. Now, anyway, listen and listen good.

LM: Ok, w-w-what’s up?

MV: My bosses have seriously screwed up again. Somehow the idiots have chosen to cover Brighton v Stoke, live, and to make matters worse it’s on a Monday. The audience is likely to literally be two men and a dog. It’s the equivalent of trying to sell Steve Parish face masks in down town Saltdean.

LM: That does sound a bit shit.

MV: It will be. Fortunately, I’ve used my mysteriously persuasive powers on the FA and they’ve appointed you as the ref. Now all I need is something to talk about. A nice controversy, if you get my drift. Something we can recycle over SSN in the morning too would be even better.

LM: O-o-o-or what…….?

MV: Or they get to see that tape of you in the Hartlepool game when you weren’t the centre of attention for 90 minutes, voice overed by “Big Pammy”………

LM: Consider it done…..

Usually conspiracy theories are the preserve of over-herbalised students at a post club “chill out” and orange, chin-smuggling oxygen thieves with a nuclear button at their beck and call, yet so awful was referee Mason’s performance last night that saner men then me were reaching for varieties of the above before even getting on board the hideously inadequate excuse for a “service” that Southern Rail once again served up for the paying (ok, paid in advance via their match ticket) public. Regular readers will have noted the disappearance of The Boy’s Ref Watch. Indeed, regular readers may have notice the disappearance of the blog all together (if you want to stop me writing, play on a Sunday afternoon), but the former is down to the fact that, up to now, the referees at this level have been pretty decent. Yet now, one has taken over the whole report.

It’s a shame because it’s helping to gloss over an inconvenient truth, though Andy Naylor picked up on this on Twitter too. At this level we are good, but perhaps not good enough. Home form, so crucial last season, is ostensibly ok. We’re scoring and we’re not losing. But, we’re also conceding and not winning, and as each draw goes in to the score book, the famous Amex noise levels are decreasing, just a little. It’s a sign of respect that established Premier League sides like Stoke are coming for a draw, yet it’s a sign of frustration that little errors, here and there, are giving them it.

For now we’re winning away, though against basket case teams. I wouldn’t expect this streak to continue on Saturday. But the big league comes up and hits you in many different ways. Playing Man City first and only losing 2-0 almost looks fortunate, Arsenal beat us in second gear, and on Saturday we face Pogba, Lukaku et al. But Stoke City gamed us. They knew Lee Mason was shit and exactly how to play on the edge of the laws, sneaking fouls on the blind side because the baldy porker couldn’t keep up with play. They knew just how much time to waste, just how many fouls to commit, just how many yards to steal, not even respecting the shaving foam lines at a free kick. And when we got frustrated they punished us. Stoke are an established Premier League side. They showed us that we are not.

This is now reading more like a rant than a report, yet it informs everything that went on. But here’s what happened, end to end, like you’re used to.

A filthy Monday night is not the ideal time for going to football, or indeed, doing anything much except sneaking home from work, microwaving an average ready meal and watching something slightly disappointing on Netflix. Commuters will certainly tell you that Monday night is not a time for working railways and a broken rail at Preston Park didn’t disappoint. I left four hours to get to the game from Middlesex and, at one stage at Lewes station, that didn’t seem enough.

Having finally got to the ground and finally found Steve we got a beer and decided that the game would be difficult but winnable. In the seats the rendition of Sussex By The Sea was stirring enough, but the traditional Ring of Fire Mexican scarf twirl thing was cut short by Sky. Therein Mason took centre stage, ably assisted by panto villain Ryan Shawcross.

Not just Mason and Shawcross. One player in red and white was giving a display of creative mastery and that was Shaqiri. For the Albion, unchanged, Propper had a slow start, similar to his Man City match. He was to redeem himself but he nearly played us straight in to trouble early on. At the other end Izquierido was left unfathomably free on the left and did a trademark cut in, his low shot missing the goal by inches, though he should have scored.

We were soon punished for such profligacy, Shaqiri playing an almost impossible through ball to Chupo-Motting who looked marginally offside to the naked eye. Either way Dunk lost sight of both player and ball and the finish was one I could have put away. 0-1.

And then it happened. Murray was released and wriggled ahead of Shawcross in the box, in a race that looked more dad’s race at Sports Day than Usain Bolt. Nevertheless, Shawcross had no chance of catching Murray and blatantly tripped him as he drew back to pull the trigger. A stone-wall, all-day-long penalty. Everyone in the ground could see it except Mason, who’d been too slow to keep up with play, and his assistant who had a perfect view and had, presumably, received a similar pre-match mystery phone call. Shawcross later admitted it was a penalty.

The Amex erupted, and not in a good way. Everything else that happened from then on was informed by that decision. Not only did we not get a penalty, had it been given it was a borderline red card. Now Mason missed an obvious hand ball by them and let Murray off an assault with just a yellow. As the swear words descended from the West Upper only one man was calm, and that was the afore-mentioned Propper. Picking up the ball in midfield he did one of those dribbles you see kids at school doing where they always lose it, only he didn’t. Instead he hoofed it in to space out wide and Stoke stood still. His whipped in low ball was put through the keeper’s legs by Pascal Groß. 1-1. The Amex erupted in a good way.

We should have gone in with that at half time and just needed to survive a corner. To be fair, usually watching corners I’m not too worried, but here I was thinking “don’t mess it up”, something Steve said out loud. Maybe this got in to the heads of our defence because, instead of doing a normal professional job we panicked, screwed up and handed Zouma a gift of a goal. The choreographed celebration went on for a full ten minutes, Lee Mason playing the part of “bemused interloper” at various points, and we went in 1-2 down.

The second half was better entertainment than the first, though just as hopelessly refereed. Stoke fell back on their lead and we began to dominate the ball, though with an approach play that was too slow. It was going to take a mistake by them to equalise and, fortunately we got it. Izquierdo was released by Murray and crossed from an impossibly tight angle. Luckily the ball rebounded off the defence and, with the route to goal cleared, he stuck his second effort in first time.

There was still time for March to come on and act the nuisance, though he did give a free kick away for waving, but at the end 2-2 was a fair result. The Albion need to start turning these home draws in to home wins. We may think we’re “professional” at this level but teams like Stoke have got years on us.

 

 

West Bromwich Albion At Home – Super Saturday

Well, it’s been quite a couple of weeks.

As ever, discussion about football is a matter of opinion, framed by events that are current at the time of talking, writing or tweeting. They are there to be discussed but also disproved. In the event of us failing to add to our strike force in the transfer window many have questioned our ability to hold our own and score goals. As you will see from one of the hyperlinks on the recent posts section I was one of them. Trust Hughton to disprove us in the most emphatic fashion.

There I go, giving the end away AGAIN. But come on, you’re reading this because, for the first time this season, you want to savour the afternoon again, right?

It certainly was one to savour, In fact, it was one of those days where everything went perfectly. Steve was away cycling so I took his son while The Boy’s Oldest Friend and his mum joined us for the game, This involved various junior sports’ teams training sessions endings being co-ordinated, finding of tickets and hopes that Southern would run not one but three trains on time, and that we could all find each other. That this was achieved painlessly proves how well the afternoon went. That it should be in doubt shows the current level of mistrust in our wonderful local rail travel providers.

On the station, waiting for the first of these trains, the discussion was based on if we’d see a home debut for record signing Izquierdo. The consensus was that we’d like to see him, but at whose expense we weren’t sure. March has been one player who has looked a hundred percent at home in this league. I’d send a fired up Knockaert out against any team in the world. In the week Propper had played a fine game in a more advanced role, while Groß has done nothing wrong at all and would potentially have the creativity and running needed against what would be a big, well organised West Brom team.

In the event, having got a beer quickly and painlessly, and had a good old catch up and gossip, I checked my phone to find an unchanged team. The home debut would have to wait.

The team talk was probably easier than normal. It was clear from early on in the game we were spot on tactically but the motivation would all have come from a desire to show us, the League, and more than a few pundits that we mean business. While you can disparage social media all you like that too acted like a team talk for the fans. Let’s put all this behind us and get behind the team was the overriding message, and it had been taken to heart. The noise that greeted the boys was cranked up to at least a 9.5 out of 10, and continued from a lusty rendition of Sussex By The Sea and on throughout a first half, which, it’s fair to say, we dominated.

We were always going to see more of the ball than we did against Man City but the early indications here were that “our league” might not be the hard work that we feared. If City looked like they came from another other-worldly existence, West Brom on this evidence would not be out of place in The Championship. That’s not to disparage our players in any way. West Brom poked hopeful punts up for their lone striker Rondon and Shane Duffy snaffled every one with his head. The hoped for second ball didn’t drop for The Baggies either. Propper, looking every inch the record signing that he briefly was, bossed midfield. Dunk quarterbacked off the scraps. Knockaert and Bruno weaved beautiful patterns on the right and March found space on the left. The much maligned (yes, guilty) Hemed looked far stronger (and this against a centre back who Man City had apparently targeted). And above all was Groß who seemed to be covering every blade of grass going.

Inevitably we scored. Groß was hacked in a poor challenge by Krychowiak. Knocky seemed to slip and under hit the resulting free kick but it span out to March and Foster made a total hash of the shot for Duffy to tap in to an empty net. Only he was offside, a fact not immediately apparent to me, ginning and bouncing with relief along with everyone else, but it did not count.

We survived two scares ourselves. How a back pass from Duffy wasn’t cut out by Rondan I’ll never know, while Ryan (yes, I know) made an unbelievable reflex save from Gareth Barry’s long range drive.

And then it came. A sublime cross field ball from Groß found March on the left and his cross found Groß back again at the back stick, having carried on his run. He seemed to overrun his cut back but stretched and slid it in from close range to send the Amex loopy with delight. Yes, I have watched it back a couple of times. You would, wouldn’t you?

The goal had come on the stroke of half time, and had been missed by Ray’s son who sits behind me, as he’d gone to the bar early. I’d said to both of them before we scored that it would be really nice to go in one up as it would change Pullis’s tactics and I’d got what I’d wanted. Now imagine still being downstairs drinking that beer when we scored a second. He was. I wasn’t. I wanted to savour every minute of this game and straight after half time we were in dreamland. The space was created by Dunk going on the charge, drawing WBA out of shape. Although he had to cut back a quick diagonal ball found Hemed who produced a wonderful touch to free Groß. Knockaert was in yards of space but the German instead turned straight and fired a wonderful low shot in to the corner and everyone who wasn’t still in the bar went nuts. Not as nuts as Ryan, though, who raced the length of the pitch to join a pile of celebrating players. Together, indeed.

A third was impossible right? Not on your nelly. Groß again involved, this time the provider as we exposed space on the WBA right and he had plenty of time to cross for Hemed to score with a perfectly angled header.

We lost Bruno to injury and they brought on Morrison and the game belatedly changed, the latter scoring what would turn out to be a consolation goal after a cross from the right had dropped to him and a tangled up Duffy was lucky not to have handled off the line. Perhaps better to concede the goal than a penalty and a man at that stage. In any case, for the rest of the game we looked as if we had ten men, as a siege mentality took hold and West Brom belatedly upped their possession and territory stats, Morrison at the heart of everything good for them.

Five minutes of injury time started off nervously, March got booked for an obvious dive and then it was over. Applause, songs, hugging, high fives. Beer, then back to mine for pizza. Three excited boys on top of the world. One blogger apologising on Twitter. That one latter thing was different. Everything else was a continuation of last season. We might just be ok.

 

 

 

Manchester City at Home – A Lesson

It’s been a strange summer, football wise. As a Brighton fan, the end of the previous campaign could have left you with any range of emotions. The immense celebrations after clinching promotion against Wigan were followed by the anti-climax of losing the title with a poor display at home to Bristol City, a hungover display at Carrow Road and a last minute mistake at Villa Park. All of which would have been massively deflating had it not been for an extraordinary promotion celebration on the seafront. Derided in some parts, other fans failed to understand that only the promotion mattered. It built the fans and players back up and left things on a high. Then there was the immediate capture of Pascal Groß and the watching of Huddersfield going up via the worst playoff game in living memory and suddenly there was real expectation again.

But the summer break is just long enough to dampen this sort of thing down. With no major international competitions we’ve largely had to guess regarding the quality of some of the touted and signed players. Then the fixture list comes out and it turns out the opening game is against a side who have spent more on full backs than we have on a stadium. Some transfer rumours are rubbished, some players signed from completely left field, one player fails a medical and we have our usual nightmare signing a striker with pace. The feeling, really, was of a side three quarters built, though I always judge at the end of the window. I just maintain that window should close when the league season kicks off, and always have.

But the excitement of a first Premier League game built all week. We’d given Atletico Madrid a decent game and suddenly the BT Sport team were building up the game, flags (actually, what looked like bin bags, not one to keep) were being left on seats and Guardiola, Walker, Jesus, Aguero et al were heading for The Amex. Ready or not, probably our biggest test all season at home was arriving first.

We awoke to palpable excitement. I’d watched Arsenal v Leicester the night before without quite realising this was a game in our division. Now, The Boy and I listened to a two hour Albion Roar breakfast show, watched Premier League previews, I lurked on Twitter whenever I could and we counted down the time to when we’d be allowed to leave the house. And then, everything was a little bit different.

When we treat games as just another game we generally do well. Whenever we build it up, not so much. So it was with trepidation I’d read about the flags. This didn’t really ease when we arrived at The Swan to find a quarter of the outside space taken up with a Juice FM outside broadcast truck and twice the normal number of punters trying to squeeze in to the reduced space. Everyone in new shirts, talking up our chances as the ale hit home. Huge queues for non-existent food at the stadium meaning we were in our seats two minutes before actual kick off. And then the lesson begun.

It’s not that we played badly. It’s not that City, initially at least, played that well. Their passing was sloppy to start and our shape strong and organised. The two banks of four, clearly visible from our lofty perch, were ridged in defence and flexible in the odd break. You could sense a frustration from the City fans, the tension of expectation weighing heavily on mostly silent faces, while the North and West Upper kept up a barrage of noise. A solidity from Dunk and Duffy, a level of comfort from Bruno and March suggesting they had been born for this level of football. Ryan (though he looks small for a keeper) fairly commanding.

Yet, if you looked at highlights of that first half they would be all City from start to end. They must have had over 70% of the ball. Every time one of Bruno, March, Duffy, Dunk, Ryan or Suttner won the ball Hemed or Stephens or Propper would give it back to them. The issues in our central attacking areas I mentioned last week magnified here. Even worse, Brown who once again acquitted himself impressively, had to go off injured. Murphy came on with less than half an hour gone, significantly reducing our ability to play impact subs later on.

First half chances? I lost count. I remember a clever dribble from Jesus down our right with the ball intelligently cut out by Dunk. A free kick rammed straight down Ryan’s throat. A brilliant ball in from the right hand side that Stephens very nearly headed in to his own net – by very nearly I mean centimetres. Then the first goal. Disallowed as luckily it wasn’t scored by the Hand of God but by the Hand of Jesus (thanks for that, mate, a writers dream). Our chances? Only one, a divine cross field ball from Bruno that Murphy would have scored from had he got more than half a touch, having for once eluded Walker. But we knew we’d get this with Hughton. Keep it solid. Frustrate. And hopefully hit on the break.

And in the second half we so nearly did. A break from Murphy, whipped cross from Suttner and a header that looped agonisingly on to the roof of the net. A corner, nonetheless, and here’s where we’ll be dangerous. Mayhem in the box from Duffy and Dunk, proper pinball. From another set piece the ball came out to Propper, twenty five yards out, and his low drive squeaked agonisingly close to the far post, as close as Stephens had been to the own goal.

But mainly it was all City still and you sensed they had another gear. They hit it just at the wrong time. We’d replaced the ineffective Hemed with the busier Murray on the hour and, as Ed Bassford (the NSC “father of the house”, Falmer campaigner and all round good guy) appeared on the big screen for a minute’s applause we played our nicest minute of possession football of the whole match. I think Ed might have found it funny that we then cocked it up massively, unnecessarily passing back to Ryan, losing the ball and shape and being carved open. De Bruyne starting a lovely one touch move that saw Aguero in acres of space in our box with time to pick his spot. 0-1.

A second inevitably followed. Another mistake perhaps? I said so on Twitter, but having watched it back it may be just one of those things. A brilliant cross from the right saw Jesus and Dunk battling. The latter got there first but his angle and momentum meant he could only direct a point blank header through the helpless Ryan. Cruel on the hometown boy who’d been magnificent up to then, but no less than City deserved.

0-2 it ended then and a real set of lessons learned, hopefully. For me the lessons are as follows. Without wanting to sound like some of the more hysterical NSC posters, we need a speedy, strong number 9 and we need him now. Organised football can be our friend but we need to be more careful with the ball when we win it back. This football club has been built on comfort on the ball since 2010. Yesterday Propper in particular treated it like it was an unwanted North Korean nuclear warhead. Mistakes WILL cost us and chances HAVE to be taken at this level.

It’s far from doom and gloom though. Not every team is Manchester City, and I expect them to win the league and do well in the Champions League too. Palace lost 3-0 at home – to Huddersfield! – and Chelsea managed to slip up too so there is hope in any game and thirty seven of them left to play. Propper will no doubt get better once he’s had time to get to know his new teammates. Hopefully Brown’s injury isn’t too serious. Our fears re Bruno are totally unfounded, our best player yesterday along with March. And the noise! Pat yourselves on the back Brighton fans. The Amex was rocking. It’s going to need to all season for us to survive.