A 5/10 Window Suggests Big Trouble

So the window has now “slammed shut” as they say on Sky Sports and our business – free agents apart – is done. How have we done?

It’s important to state at the outset of this piece that what follows is purely the opinion of me, a long term fan. I have no insider knowledge and I can only summarise what I personally see in front of me. Other people may disagree with my assessment of players. In fact I’d expect that, it’s a game of opinions and that’s one of the things I love about football. Nor do I seek to explain WHY certain things happened. That would be pure speculation.

That said, I posted publicly on NSC on Wednesday to say our window had so far been a 6 out of 10 but that we had the opportunity to make it a 9 on deadline day. Sadly, in my humble opinion, we’ve dropped to a five and, if I was a betting man (which I am) who put money on my own team (which I don’t), I’d have a sizeable wedge on us going down. That’s an opinion that needs backing up, so let’s take a look at where we are, position by position.

Goalkeeper

This is where all our problems begin sadly. For whatever reason (and he’s publicly said it was contract length and “family first”) Stockdale didn’t feel able to sign a new contract (more of this right at the end). From that moment we seemed behind the eight ball. We broke our transfer record on a man who appeared to be third choice at Valencia and has not settled well. While it’s important to stress here that our other new signings have the time and potential to rescue this window, nothing I’ve seen of Ryan inspires any confidence at all. He is too small and parries everything, and the much vaunted distribution seems to be non-existent. Yes he makes good reflex saves but he’s going to have to because we’ll be doing much more defending than last season. It’s no good saving from one striker only to push it out to a second.

Clearly Hughton doesn’t have a lot of confidence either because, on deadline day, we brought in Tim Krul. Now Krul I like, a proven Premier League keeper who knows CH well, and he will immediately challenge for a starting position. However, we had to take him on loan, using up our second loan from a Premier League and meaning the striker deal almost certainly had to be a permanent move.

Defence

This is one area where we now have two players challenging for every position, which is what saw our success last season. I have never seen Schelotto play so cannot rate this particular signing, but having another right back also gives us the flexibility to play Bruno as centre back if injury or suspension so dictates. At this stage I cannot call who’ll be the starting RB. Dunk and Duffy were an obvious area where we already had Premier League class and I’m going to go against some opinions and state that what I’ve seen of Suttner I like. He’s solid rather than world beating but seems to have a decent delivery. Our issue is going to be cards. We’ll pick up a fair few bookings at this level and suspensions could eat in to our depth. Schelotto or Bruno paired with Duffy, Dunk and Suttner looks ok. A four of Bruno, Goldson, Hunnemier and Bong less so.

Wingers

Another area of strength and the one area where the new season excites me. March and Knockaert were born for this level and will create mayhem against the lower sides in our “mini league”. I like very much what I saw of Brown against Atleti, though this is the first instance where our infamous bad luck struck us down, with Brown getting injured less than a half in to the new season. Izquierdo is a genuinely exciting signing. I watched him play against Leicester in the Champions League last season and his pace is electric (he scored a cracker too). No worries so far in this department, with the exception that we cannot reasonably play all four at the same time.

Midfield

Now we come to a grey area, where players are going to have to adapt quickly. Loaning out Norwood wasn’t a surprise and Sidwell brings a wealth of experience at this level. However, Stephens has started off slowly, an issue exacerbated by another unlucky injury to Kayal, who we’ve failed to replace. Propper initially excited me, having seen his PSV form, but he looks like he’ll need time to adapt. Right now he’s a clone of Stephens only without the ball retention skills. He may well be used to having stronger, faster players ahead of him. Oh dear. Then there’s Groß. Is he a number 10 or a number 8? Played in behind the striker (and occasionally alongside so it seemed against City) he may be in the wrong category here. Either way, again there is a bit for me to get excited about. There were some lovely touches and dead balls against Atleti and a lot of running against Man City. Not the quickest but he may well be someone who can unlock the door for a quick striker. Again, oh dear.

Striker

Baldock (injured), Murray (maybe injured) and Hemed. That’s what we have. We got away with it in the Championship, indeed all three scored more than anyone expected at the start of the season. If Baldock was fit I’d even be thinking we could squeak through. Sadly we are going in to one of the toughest leagues in the world with two very similar strikers and nothing else.

It’s here that the buying from abroad strategy looks weakest, yet it’s also here where it might be the most necessary. British players cost and British strikers cost too much. Nevertheless our business here looks risky to say the least. No one had seen Dwamena play and he might have been a revelation. Certainly his highlight reel made the mouth water. But when you come down to plain facts we were offering eight million for a guy who’d cost Zurich a reported three percent of that figure in the previous window and had lit up the Swiss second division. Zurich say the heart defect we found had been found by them also and it seemed there was no guarantee of a work permit. Once this deal fell through, and we have to take our club’s word over Zurich and wish the player well, we were always behind the game – a game we ultimately lost at 1am this morning.

Contracts

Another big positive that people are forgetting. Some of the key players from last season have been rewarded with new long term contracts, cementing them in the team, costing the club (for that read Tony Bloom) money and boosting their sell on value. This is certainly a continuation of #Together and should not be overlooked.

However, all of that said the lack of a striker signing (again!!!!!!) will hang over this window and I simply cannot see us scoring enough goals. If we’re looking relegation candidates come January then it will be even harder to attract quality.

All in all we’ve done what my wife does in Tesco’s when she’s a bit tired and the kids have been giving her grief. We need eggs. Everyone in the house loves an egg and there isn’t one to be had anywhere so a trip to the shops is called for, despite the fact it’s late at night. An hour later she returns with a bag full of things that were reduced by a pound, things that were two for the price of one and things that will “come in handy”. But no eggs. And now the store is closed.

 

 

 

 

 

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Wales Smell Like Team Spirit

I started off last night feeling very Belgian indeed. In terms of produce suitable for in-game consumption this is entirely sensible. The Belgians have strong beer, excellent chocolate and moules frites with mayonnaise. The Welsh have overcooked lamb, leaks and despair. But there was another, altogether more valid, reason.; ninety nine percent of Welshmen would have been supporting Belgium if it was us against them instead.

That support of the Belgies didn’t last ninety minutes though. It turned in to sheer admiration of the success of a squad that contains some very familiar players indeed. Goal number three was scored by Sam Vokes. Remember him? The loan player that couldn’t hit a cow’s arse with a banjo whilst in the stripes? The striker that literally no one wanted back at the end of his spell? Him. True, he went back to Burnley and the Ginger Dalek turned him in to a decent player and regular scorer but, while he was here, did anyone think he’d be scoring a winning goal in the quarter finals of the Euros?

Then there’s Hal Robson Kanu. The sort of player who would be genuinely greeted with our hilarious chant of “Who?” as he was substituted at The Amex. A sort of professional Mr Nobody. An also played, an afterthought. “Was Robson Kanu playing for Reading yesterday?” “Not sure.” Yesterday he scored perhaps one of the best goals I’ve seen at international level. A Cruyff turn that beat the whole Belgian defence, ironic because, in their absence, the Belgians have played the role of Holland to perfection in this tournament.

And England? England were already at home with their feet up / on a flight to Ayia Napa / chasing tail with a shisha pipe in their hand.

A quick look down the respective squad lists is enough to make you cry. Yes Wales have Bale and Ramsey, and both have been excellent in this tournament, but let’s dig a little deeper (and I will return to that theme of one or two star players at the end).

In goal (and this genuinely makes me cry) is Wayne Hennessey of Crystal Palace, a man who’s had what one could call a bit of a mixed season. Compare that to England who possess a man who plays for just about the richest side in the Premier League, a man so famous he dominates a dandruff commercial, a man who started even though he probably wasn’t the best keeper in the England squad, never mind the tournament. A man who had a full on nightmare, costing us two separate goals, including the one that sent us home.

England certainly weren’t the best at the back in this tournament but you would still take the Premier League calibre of our defenders over Chris Gunter, another man who huffed and puffed for an average Reading side, this season just gone. On the flip side, and to be entirely fair, I would play Ashley Williams before almost any of the current England squad. The man’s a monster.

But it’s up front where you see just where England squandered their riches. Vardy and Kane were coming off the season of their lives. They spent August to May terrifying Premier League defences and, while tired (and in Kane’s case quite possibly over played), they must have been brimming with confidence. What did Roy do? Had one of them leading the line between two wide non-wingers (and taking corners) and the other collecting splinters in his arse.

Yes, on paper you would take Kane and Vardy over Robson Kanu and Vokes every day and twice on Sunday but last night was the clearest example yet of why football should never be “played on paper” (or more accurately, never predicted purely based on the personnel on the field).

The difference, firstly, is the managers. I spent most of the campaign (even when people were saying England were playing well and just needed a bit of luck) pointing out how very average Roy Hodgson is as a manager. If anything I over estimated him. This is not a man suited to tournament football or big teams. He is suited to getting Sweden and Switzerland to qualify for a tournament, for keeping West Brom mid table. Not for winning the league with Liverpool or taking England to tournament glory. He makes bad players average but good players average too (I nicked that from a newspaper clipping my mate sent me but it’s 100% true).

His formations were baffling (again while many fans were defending him in the group stages it seems the players themselves were utterly banjaxed by his tactics and selections). His use of Kane to take corners and non-wingers out wide was exactly the reason we looked threatening without ever scoring. You need to be in the right place at the right time to score. Kane was anywhere but in the box, Rooney was too deep and Vardy on the bench.

Compare that to Chris Coleman. The man is different mustard. That, last night, is one of the most together displays of team work I’ve seen since – let’s think – since we were beating QPR and Fulham at home. That infamous video of the Wales boys celebrating our defeat to Iceland had far more bearing on my decision to feel Belgian than their beers or chocolates but it showed a togetherness and team spirit that has persisted and looks like it could go all the way. While Iceland were playing Austria to determine our opponents in the second round, Roy was off sightseeing. You get the impression that the players were tucked away in individual hotel rooms watching FIFA videos on their iPads.

But credit too, to Bale and Ramsey. It would be easy for the team to be them plus nine but they have played their part in this great side that Coleman has assembled and it is for this reason that I will be supporting them in the semi. Yes, it feels wrong. Not quite like supporting Palace but maybe a bit like cheering on Pompey or Orient. Certainly like being all pally with someone that’s just laughed at you in the street. However, they are playing Portugal, a side with not just one but two massive bellends in the starting eleven, a side who have got to the semis without winning a single game in ninety minutes, a walking and running travesty. I’d probably support Scotland or Germany against Portugal at the moment (he choked). It’s Bale v Ronaldo but there’s no doubt which of those two has conducted himself with more humility this tournament (and yes, I’m aware of Bale’s pre-match antics before their game with us).

But more than that I want the team to beat the individuals. To see spirit and togetherness win out. I need to believe in that because I’ve just seen how far that can take you in a whole Championship season and I want to see the same again in the next. Coleman has fashioned something with Wales very similar to what Hughton has fashioned with us and it would be nice to see it succeed. It would make my half Welsh, flip-flopping mate and my all Welsh, old school Cardiff and Wales mate unbearable for a couple of weeks but it wouldn’t half give me heart for the season to come. Right now Sheffield Wednesday are splashing the cash for next season and Newcastle seem to be linked with everyone, but we perhaps need to remember that Hodgson was the best paid manager in the tournament, and look at what he produced.

Why Andy Naylor Is (Mostly) Wrong

Good ratings at the Argus this week as Andy Naylor’s latest piece of clickbait went viral. To be fair to Andy it has also spawned plenty of debate among Albion fans in various other media such as North Stand Chat, Twitter and Facebook. He’s clearly touched a nerve. But does he have a point?

The article can be condensed in to three points, always handy when you’re discussing football. Firstly that to help the team get over the promotion finish line the crowd needs to play its part. Indeed to be the twelfth man. We need to turn up and we need to crank up the noise. I don’t really think anyone is disputing that this would be a good thing. Being at a packed, noisy Amex as we’ve seen for both home playoff games (and indeed all the Palace games) or the Arsenal cup games is far more exciting as a fan than a half dead midweek fixture such as Wigan last season. If it gives us a boost, imagine what it does for the players. His central point is correct, if obvious. But how do you get people to read something that is patently correct and obvious? If you’re Andy then you stab them in the back.

You do so firstly by inferring that Brighton fans are turning their back on the team, just as we’re looking like we have a shot of automatic promotion. Andy labours over the attendance at the Reading game. His second point, and one that goes on for far too long without justification, is that the attendance for that game was “poor” and that pointing it out on Twitter just led to “excuses”. Extraordinarily he compares it unfavourably with the Sheffield Wednesday game and our away turn out against MK Dons without realising these games were a massive factor in the turnout.

The Reading game was Category A – that’s the most expensive. Compared to that the Sheffield Wednesday game had a ticket deal, where many seats in the areas that were deserted against Reading were on sale for just ten pounds. Meanwhile, MK, as we know, priced their away tickets amazingly at twelve pounds for adults and kids for a quid. Seven thousand Albion fans lapped up this offer creating our biggest away day for years. Cheap tickets, Saturday 3pm kick off and a one off event created by both factors and clever marketing. Then you had Reading. Full price, rearranged twice, virtually zero opposition fans to generate atmosphere and a week after the dullest game the Amex has seen all season. If you have a limited budget, or a family or work life that dictates you pick and choose your games, which would you pick? The Reading game attendance wasn’t poor, it was higher than most of our rivals have mustered all season despite less than three hundred away fans and ticket pricing bordering on the insane.

Andy finally twists the knife in a bit further by stating that

“The best example of home support is the most painful of all for an Albion fan, Palace at Selhurst Park.”

Great to see this myth propagated by supposedly one of our own, one whose job means he visits Selhurst once in a blue moon. No Andy, a few black clad teenagers with a drum, a bog-roll display and goal music isn’t atmosphere. It’s a drum and some bog-roll.

That statement, of course, is cynically intended to get the article read and responded to on social media, and since I’m still responding he clearly had a great day at the office. It is, however, insulting to many other football fans, not only of Brighton and should be beneath a proper journalist.

Are Palace really better than the incredible numbers who turn up to Plymouth or Pompey, two teams who nearly died, in League Two? Has anyone watched Leicester this season? Their atmosphere is incredible, showing what can be done with the much derided clackers (no, please don’t resurrect them Paul). Are Palace louder than Stoke, Spurs or West Ham? Not for me. And how many did they have roaring them to Championship success? Fourteen, fifteen, nineteen thousand max. You can argue what you like about the noise coming from bigger clubs but to state that Palace are the best example of home support in the country is laughable. Argus ratings one, reality nil.

Recently I was on The Albion Roar and we discussed timings of games that have been rearranged by Sky to death. One of my points was that, in this day and age, you are on very thin ground when mocking attendance figures. You risk thumbing your nose at fans for not paying sixty or seventy quid for a ticket, or not being able to travel the length of the country on a Monday, Tuesday or Thursday night. You risk deriding people for missing five o’clock kick offs as there are in the Europa league or suddenly not being able to go to a game that has been rearranged twice, as with Reading. It is not the fans who we should be having a pop at, it’s the system and the game, one that is in danger of eating itself.

So yes, Andy, we do need the fans to turn up and make some noise. But in this day and age, what’s needed for that isn’t just a successful team. It’s reasonably and consistently priced tickets and Saturday 3pm kick offs. Maybe someone with a journalistic platform could turn their attention to campaigning for both?

This Window Seems 9/10

So, right now, there is a thread on North Stand Chat asking fans to rate the permanent transfer window that closed yesterday at 6 p.m.

I gave it a solid nine. But…….

Last season, in the middle of this window and on several posts I have argued that the time to really judge the business you have done is just before the next one. The table after half a season will not tell a lie and your team’s new purchases will have, by then, gone up against everyone else’s new purchases. At that point it becomes a case of HAVE done well rather than it LOOKS like we’ve done well.

With that disclaimer in place though I’m confident. A look at the business in and their starts to the season will show why.

Firstly there are those who have already made a first team impact. Rosenior, though mainly used as a sub, showed his versatility on Saturday against Ipswich with a stand out performance in midfield. For a – shall we say – more experienced player he has bags of pace. His open letter to Hull fans shows him to be the same sort of person as Calde (IMO). In other words, where last season we were lacking pace and leadership our initial signing seems to bring both.

Hemed meanwhile looks a genuine number nine. Three goals already, one dubious, but I wouldn’t want a centre forward in the team who didn’t claim a goal if he thought he got half a hair follicle on it. That’s what strikers do. Baldock – as so many said last season – looks a different player playing off him.

Bong is fast. VERY fast. As an attacking threat he is more potent than Bennett from the same position last season and the combination of his pace and reading of passes means he can get himself out of trouble. He can get himself IN to trouble as well, we’ve already seen that, and he will commit the odd howler or two. However, his partnership with Lua Lua is looking as good as Hemed’s with Baldock.

Zamora. I really don’t need to say anything do i?

Hunemeier, aka Uwe, aka the BFG brings more leadership. Already we have seen he will put his body on the line for the team and will stop at almost nothing to intercept or make a tackle. Despite GG being club captain his organisation of the line at Fulham – his debut – was noticeable (with the exception of their goal which he or Bong should have cleared). If he has a weakness it’s in the air with teams already bombarding us long ball stylee (I’m looking at YOU Blackburn and Fulham).

As for the later additions we will have to see on Murphy and Manu. Murphy had a very solid debut without tearing up trees and was sacrificed tactically against Ipswich. Manu has such a flair name I might just forgive him anything. As far as I can gather either of these players could play the Baldock role as well as out wide if needed bringing real flexibility to the front line.

Of the ones bought to develop or play back up I am yet to see Maenpaa in action and cannot comment. However, his signing has had an effect on Stockdale who looks twice as fit as last season and is playing out of his skin.

Hambo and Harper are risks but I’m told Hughton and the team really rate Harper and getting him from Real Madrid is possibly the biggest coup we pulled off in the whole window. Goldson? I’d have to see him first.

Finally it’s goodbye to COG for now. It was inevitable he would go out on loan once Zamora was match fit. A genuinely nice bloke and intelligent man it just never quite worked out for him here. While he can do a job we will never play to his strengths, or even know what those truly are beyond holding the ball up. Sending a COC Cup penalty in to orbit was the final straw.

No loans yet either. Last season’s biggest bugbear has turned in to this season’s relief. I would not be surprised if we did land one or two. Perhaps an additional attacking option if CH felt that we needed one, However, on the evidence of the first part of the season what we have already will do just nicely thanks.