BBOAH’s Alternative End of Season Awards

Ah, season’s end. The point where hope or despair finally crystallise and you realise there’s nothing more you can do about it until August. Where you can strut about the beach at Ayia Napa in your replica shirt like a peacock or stuff it in to the bottom of your suitcase, never to be seen again. And – of course – where one of your players picks up a lovely new Redifusion Television to recognise their efforts. You young people should Google that and then give thanks you were born in the era of 4K and Kodi sticks.

Anyway, we (ok, me) at BBOAH are no different in wanting to hand out some rewards and brickbats though we (ok, me) have no Redifusion Televisions to give out, let alone a Kodi stick. The winners and losers below will just have to make do with the kudos or shame that comes from knowing that a couple of hundred people have read something vaguely humorous about them. So, without any further ado, let’s go.

Player of the Season

See, here’s where I’m different. Everyone else builds up to this award. I start with it. Get me.

The thing is this may be the only sensible award in the whole piece and the jury (me and The Boy) are very much split. You would think it would be a shoe-in for Knockaert having won the award at both club and Championship level and, indeed, he is The Boy’s PotS of choice. I, on the other hand, am an old pub centre back. Players who tried that sort of fast-feet, drag-back, twisting and turning were shown two pairs of studs and kicked all the way back to the Dog and Duck. Our defence has been outstanding all season – well most of it – and its beating heart is Lewis Dunk.

He’s so much more than that though. He’s a major threat from set pieces, his passing is absolutely outstanding (let me tell you, all that flashy beating players to standing ovations doesn’t happen unless some big lump has won the ball back and given it to you) and he formed, with Duffy, the best centre back pairing in the division. I’m not having this Pontus Jansson nonsense. Leeds didn’t even get in the playoffs.

But, ultimately, the award has to be shared with Knockaert. Yes, I know I’m copping out, or at least compromising, but to not recognise the Albion’s player of the season, the Championship’s player of the season and The Boy’s favourite Albion player ever seems wrong. Fifteen goals, eight assists (http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/teams/brighton-and-hove-albion/top-scorers) several full backs dumped on their arses and more heart and soul than a rugby team on steroids singing the national anthem. Plus he led the celebrations down West Street.

Anthony and Lewis, we salute you.

The Sami Hyppia Award for Alternative Tactical Genius

Goes to Colin Wanker of Cardiff for having his centre forward man-mark Lewis Dunk. Outstanding innovation. Shame it didn’t work. Talking of Cardiff………..

The Mike Bailey Award for Dullest Match of the Season

Goes to Cardiff away.

I don’t get to go to many away games so I pick the ones I do go to carefully, or should that be Caerphilly. Honk. I chose Cardiff because a good mate of mine is a proper Cardiff fan and promised to show us the sights. Indeed, leading up to the game it was a proper day out and no mistake. He had a shit on the English side of the bridge and me on the Welsh. We walked it to a pub at 10.50 in the morning and it was rammed, not a table to be had. I got a breakfast and a pint for less than I tip the dustmen at Christmas. We saw some superheros and we survived a bar where everyone had a shaved head and had been in the Soul Crew. Except me – I just had the shaved head.

A huge amount of beer was taken which was just as well as literally nothing happened in the game. It had 0-0 written all over it after 5 minutes. Three pigeons that had taken roost on top of the grandstand died of actual boredom. Substitutes warmed up because it was colder than Theresa May’s heart and because they’d have dozed off otherwise. Stockdale nearly got frostbite. The share price of the company that makes their goalnets dived by fifteen percent.

In those circumstances the only thing you can do is sing and jump around like a looney, and the Brighton fans did for 90 minutes, so much so that Chris Hughton came over to acknowledge us afterwards. Or he might have been apologising.

The thing is, though, that it was another fantastic day in a whole season of them, and much more typically Brighton. A good session ruined by 90 minutes of football is my default setting. Great friendships were also made that day. And that’s what it’s ultimately all about, isn’t it?

The “You’re Not Quite Your Mentor Are You” Award for Getting English Football Wrong

Goes, of course, to David Wagner.

People like Klopp. Hell, I love Klopp. There may even be Man United fans who like him. He’s funny and smart in a slightly scruffy way and has the air that he’s just jumped off the terraces. His teams play attractive football. Journalists dine off his soundbites for weeks. And he GETS English football.

His protegee, David Wagner, on the other hand has held a one man pitch invasion, had a fight with Gary Monk and got the whole “intimidating a team in to bottling promotion” so wrong that his quotes will still be fed back to him with a sliver of German mustard and lashings of schadenfreude in July.

Game of the Season

Here’s where I really struggle. How can I pick ONE? And – it might not even have happened yet!

So here’s my shortlist. Norwich at home, Sheffield Wednesday at home, Fulham away, Wigan at home, Brentford away. What to choose, what to choose. A thrashing, an astonishing, against the odds, victory, an unlikely comeback win, the day we won promotion or a last minute equalizer with Tony Bloom going spare at the front of the terraces?

I honestly can’t pick. If ever there was a collection of games that summed up the perfect season then this is them. Goals galore, totally unreal penalty saves, last minute drama, mental celebration scenes and hilarity levels off the scale. How do you choose? These, quite simply, were the games that framed the season for me. You can stick your easy wins over Derby or Reading or your hard fought three points at Barnsley. Football is all about those fleeting moments where you’re lost in utter rapture or where you’re toying with a supposedly good opponent who are making Mark Farrington and Richard Tiltman look like football geniuses, to the extent that you can’t stop laughing. Those games delivered it in spades.

But, if we win the title with a last minute winner at Villa off Stockdale’s arse as he’s come up for a corner kick? Well, frankly, I might not cope.

The Frank Spencer Award for Comedy Gold

Honourable mentions again to the Norwich games, both for their defence at the Amex and Stockdales total lack of luck, and phlegmatic acceptance of same, at their place but there is only one winner here; Leeds.

Thank you Leeds. Let’s just remind ourselves of that moment at Elland Road where Liam Bridcutt stated, without any irony, that they were on for the automatics. Twitter was full of predictions that they’d do the same, at our expense, because “Brighton bottle it”. At this point the current chairman of the irony club has just sold his gaffe and moved lock, stock and barrel to West Yorkshire.

Not even in the playoffs. Fans across the division joining each other in matey renditions of “Leeds are falling apart”. And, of course, it’s all so damn UNFAIR.

That this MASSIVE club are once again bereft of Premier League football is a crime against everything the game’s about. After all, having huge attendences (four times a season), selling out away ends all over the land (never mind how close your opponents are or that you have a large London supporters club because lots of people love Leeds so much that they left it the second they could), and having every game moved by Sky (oh, wait, no, that’s us) should be enough. Forty Six games of football and keeping your nerve under pressure shouldn’t even enter into it.

I am slightly disappointed though. Only the other day I paid about twelve quid to see Stephen C Grant, Steve North and Atilla make me laugh. I could have spent the night on the #lufc hashtag and got the same amount of hilarity for free.

The Boy’s Award for Referee of the Season

And finally, it’s the one you’ve all been waiting for. This season has seen several rants, a few marks of minus several million and genuine OUTRAGE at the end of Brentford at home, but there has been nothing – so far – to compete with The Shyster (who we may well get next season, who said this promotion lark was good?).

There have – incredibly – been a couple of positive marks. Such things are almost unheard of. So it is, without further ado, that Chris Kavanagh, who reffed the Derby home game, strolls home with an astonishing 7 out of 10. We shall never see the like again.

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QPR at Home 2016/17 – Incident Packed

In this most joyous of seasons (I mean the Albion’s in the Championship, not Christmas) there has been only one thing that has been inconsistent, and that’s our method of arrival at the ground. Look back at the blog from last season and you will see conversations on the train and on station platforms between our group, the boys and, at times, away fans or fellow Brighton fans unfortunate enough to be sitting near the boys. But this season we have used train, bus, park and ride and now car and we’re only halfway through. But then if we didn’t have the rail mess and some woefully inconsistent catering we’d have nothing to moan about at all. Frankly that would finish some Brighton fans off.

Just because Southern Railways advertise a full match day service It doesn’t mean that’s what you’ll get. It’s about as trustworthy as Donald Trump in a room full of supermodels. So we booked The Bridge car park and Steve drove. Typically the trains looked fine but we’d booked it by then. It meant that our pre-game predictions were carried out within the confines of a car but they were no less telling, The boys thought we might go behind early before equalising and winning with a late goal. Frankly, that was less “prediction” and more “replaying the last game”. As fun as The Miracle of St Andrews was I had no desire to repeat it. Instead, the adults agreed it would be far better if we scored early on and had the sort of easy win that would have our resting heartrate at vaguely normal levels. No point exciting yourself with several days’ worth of rich food and exotic booze in the system.

In the end it was both easy win and not and, had I had the time to check my heart rate, it would have resembled a man in the gym in the first half before slowly heading towards a good night’s sleep. But I didn’t have the time to check it. The phrase “incident packed” was more or less invented for game like this.

I’ve said before I try not to watch the highlights and base this, instead, on memory, gut feel and minimal notes and tweets. That’s not the case here. I’ve watched them twice and, like anything reduced from over an hour and half to just about two minutes they convey everything and nothing. They certainly show the brilliance of our opening goal, on just eleven minutes, but I’d been replaying that in my head all day anyway. For the record Bruno won a tough challenge on the right from a QPR throw and Murray flicked it quickly to Stephens in midfield despite a very solid tackle coming in. Stephens shifted it to Baldock. His first touch was sublime, switching the ball between his feet and clear of the stationary Onouha, while still fully in control of it, before hitting an unstoppable shot in to the top corner with his supposedly weaker foot. I made that “Wooooaaaaah” noise you only make when someone scores a really, really good goal, then the high fives started. “Top bins” I said to The Boy to prove I’d mastered ten year old vernacular. He looked at me the way one would a granddad that’s just gate crashed a teenage birthday.

But what the highlights don’t show so well is that we then fell apart, collectively, players and fans. It was almost like everyone had come to the same conclusion Steve and I had in the car, that an early goal for us would seal it, and it was already job done. Off the field our noise level went down while QPR carried on singing. On it we just couldn’t get out of our own half. We had no time on the ball, dropped too deep, were careless with both passing and tackling and had no one around for the second ball. If QPR had had anyone decent up front they’d have equalised. Stockdale twice made brilliant saves at his near post, firstly with a strong hand to a rising shot and then, brilliantly, with a foot to a low one. Then a cross from the Rangers left and Sylla controlled the ball deftly with his chest before volleying wastefully wide.

Rangers weren’t the only wasteful ones though. Murray should have made it two-nil with a free header from a corner after Duffy had knocked it back across for him and Baldock contrived to square a pass to no one when shooting would have been easier. But overall, had you arrived at the game on twelve minutes not knowing the teams or score, you’d have said it was Rangers who were the league leaders and one up.

We scratched for positives at half time and they were as follows; we were still one up (and top of the league), QPR had done a lot of chasing and might not have the fitness for a pressing game and Hughton would be quietly pointing out where we’d gone wrong. Indeed he must have.

A different team emerged for the second half and we began to impose ourselves. March was released more often on the left. Knockaert began tormenting on the right. Baldock ran the channels with growing success and Norwood began to ping passes like a master quarterback.  The two wingers nearly combined for a second goal, Knockaert quickly switching play to March who twisted and turned before unleashing a shot that Smithies somehow saved one-handed.

The second seemed to be coming though and it finally arrived through another penalty. We’ve had a few this season and I’ve seen tweets from opposition fans complaining that we get all the decisions. However, the simple fact is that if you spend a lot of time in your opponent’s penalty area you’re going to create chances and, sooner or later, fouls. That’s what happened here, Bruno and Knockaert combining to get the ball in to the box where it was laid back to Stephens who was scythed through. A stone wall penalty and Murray buried it.

That nearly served to kill the game off but the next major incident was to finish it as a contest. Another high quality through ball down the channel saw Baldock get the wrong side of Onuoha again and go down. And here’s where I hate myself for ploughing through the highlights. At full speed we were off our feet, part disgusted that another goal scoring chance had been ruined, partly hoping for a red card as Onuoha had looked the last man. No doubt in any of our minds. “YOU DIRTY ……….OFF, OFF, OFF!”. All around the WSU the same chant.

Watching it back it’s a little harsh. The initial coming together is shoulder to shoulder and then there’s a tug, nothing more. But referees don’t get endless replays and angles and neither should fans. I should have just revelled in the glorious moment of the red card going up.

QPR were shattered and Knockaert punished them before producing one of the most emotional and iconic moments yet seen at The Amex. Stephens and Murray (again) combined to set him up in acres of space on the right and he cut back in before drilling home a left footed shot that Smithies should have done better with. The players went to celebrate with him but he waved them off and, instead, celebrated with a photo of his late father on the touchline. A touching moment for sure but also a reaffirmation of why we love him as a player, because he’s emotional, instinctive, righteous and dedicated. If he wasn’t all those things then the skills his father gave him wouldn’t mean nearly as much.

So that was it for the highlights but we had highlights of our own that never made it near a Sky show reel. Knockaert chasing back in the first half to win a crucial tackle in defence and using his skill to evade their attackers and win us a free kick to clear it. Bruno in yards of space in their penalty area controlling a cross but seeming to have no idea what to do with the ball in that situation. Bong winning a masterly tackle the one time Dunk and Duffy ended up the wrong side, one that would have seen him have an early bath too had he miss timed it. Stockdale making another great save from a header towards the end. Brighton stringing God knows how many passes together to shouts of “Ole”, like watching a youngster playing FIFA17 at Beginner level with they’re competent at World Class. A ridiculous training ground free kick routine that Dunk nearly walked in. QPR fans celebrating an imaginary goal and the North Stand responding with “3-1 to the Albion”. These were the things we went home talking about as much as the goals and sending off. As I said, incident packed.

And then it went weird. Holloway had a bizarre rant about Brighton fans not showing him respect (hello, Ian, you’re losing EVERY GAME) before a couple of QPR fans showed no respect at all for the dead on Twitter. God knows why they’re trying to stir up a rivalry. Many more of these results and there’ll be two divisions between us next season. And we didn’t even play that well.

The Boy’s Ref Watch

Keith Stroud got 0/10. This is, admittedly, much better than the usual huge negative score, but a little inexplicable given we got a penalty and sending off our way and no cards at all for Brighton players. I can only assume he was so consumed with events on the pitch he forgot about the ref.

 

Huddersfield At Home 15/16 – The Magic Returns

Mojos. They’re funny things and they can come and go like a vaguely familiar jobbing actor in East Enders. One minute your Albion mojo is at such a low ebb that you miss the Wolves game in favour of an impromptu New Year’s Day get together and watch bits of it through your fingers as your young, promising centre back scores the only goal at the wrong end, the next you’re texting friends wildly with the message “can’t wait for the game”. All it takes is a few weeks off and a Bobby-inspired away win in the snow at a Northern grief hole.

However, in that few weeks off it is just possible to lose, temporarily misplace or forget your season ticket card. I didn’t but a friend did (honest guv). Don’t do this, for you will be charged a whopping five pounds EACH ticket to have a paper one printed. In the case of an under ten that’s only three quid less than a match day ticket. Outrageous. At least this season it’s paying for something decent. Last year it would simply have paid Kemy Agustien to conduct a one-man plus size modelling career on Twitter.

Tickets finally purchased we went to the concourse. The eagle eyed among you will have noted my running post and will now be assuming I had a Bovril. WRONG. Rules – particularly self imposed ones – are there to be broken. There is no doubt I am going to have to observe some temperance, particularly in March and April, but having gone nineteen days dry in January I got ill and had a hot toddy or two in the bath, then helped clear a beer mountain (mostly self purchased) at a cards night. A quick Harvey’s before a much anticipated home game didn’t seem too bad an idea. I thought people would castigate me for my weakness. Instead there was tacit approval. “It won’t do any harm” said Steve who joined me in a couple of pints. “Drink, schmink” said a well known podcast presenter. “I seem to be the only one who has to do this” opined Mark, an official marathon running expert.

So I got the two pint glow while watching something worrying. Huddersfield’s form had improved immensely since appointing David Wagner as manager. Wagner has known Jurgen Klopp longer than his wife. And Klopp’s Liverpool were on telly coming back from 3-1 down to win 5-4 at Norwich with the last kick of the game, Norwich having pulled back to 4-4 in injury time. There was fighting spirit, attacking instinct and comedy defending. Would that be what we were up against too? It seemed a mile away from mild-mannered Chris Powell.

In discussing the game on the train we had mentioned Anthony Knockaert’s highlight reel, particularly the two worldies he scored for Leicester against, yes, Huddersfield. The Boy, who is becoming a nine year old sage, thought it would be Wagner against Knockaert and he wasn’t really far wrong. In fact, though, Huddersfield were scarily recognisable. With better ball retention, excellent closing down and very little cutting edge they didn’t half remind me of us, particularly the Oscar era, but with nods to every little nuance we’ve displayed since moving in to The Amex.

Though Huddersfield had much of the ball there was an early chance for each team. First Lynch (remember him?) had a header cleared off the line for Town. Then Murphy skipped free down the left and cut inside, but with three waiting in the middle he instead chose to shoot for the far post, the ball rolling inches wide. Hemed, once again in need of a goal looked particularly annoyed. Still, on thirty minutes it was all forgotten as we scored from our opponent’s corner with a lightning fast break. Now WHO has that happened to all season? Huddersfield’s corner was headed out of danger by Zamora and controlled neatly around the midfield by Kayal who found Knockaert who had sprinted into yards of space. He legged it off down the right. Meanwhile the veteran Zamora had hauled his legs the length of the pitch on the blind side. Knockaert’s superbly chipped ball found him and he cushioned a volley home, first time, in to the far corner. A cracker.

Inevitably Huddersfield came back in to it (which is just what a Poyet / Oscar / Hughton hybrid would have) and after a spot of head tennis on the edge of our area Wells blasted a glorious chance over from about eight yards. Still, though, our defence can’t keep clean sheets at home. With less than a minute to go till half time a cross was threaded round the jockeying Ridgewell and Harry Bunn (and why isn’t a player named that playing Rugby Union?) rose to nod in. Good work all undone.

The second half was the Knockaert show. Firstly he hit a free kick on to the outside of the post. As we ran at their defence they took turns in fouling us. A look at the card count shows almost all of the cards to them, yet the ref got so many 50-50s wrong in their favour that The Boy had him marked at minus five hundred by the hour mark. They were as niggly as us under Poyet in other words.

And then, just when you could ignore their blue and white home kit, Vault away kit and distinct lack of striking options no longer they went the Full Brighton and gave away a defensive howler. A harmless ball was somehow cleared at snail’s pace out to our right. Knockaert spotted he could keep it in and did so, beating their defence and teeing up Wilson for a wonderful header that he had to twist his whole body to reach. 2-1. Much dancing, air punching, jumping and high fives.

Having had to take the injured Stephens (dead leg, shouldn’t be dramatic) off at half time, Hughton had recognised they could not cope with pace. Wilson had come on for Zamora before scoring and now Lua Lua arrived to torture a tired defence. Inevitably they fouled and, inevitably, Smith lost count of his total and hauled Lua Lua down for a second yellow. Reduced to ten men Huddersfield were more or less finished, a single free kick from twenty five yards aside, which they wasted, Brighton like.

So all hail the new hero Knockaert (can we call him Knockers? We’ll see). All hail Zamora the Scorer. All hail pace and endeavour. All hail teams with great technique but not much finishing. All hail beer.