Blackburn At Home 2014/15 Season – More of the Same

Another draw. Another 1-1 draw.

Asked before the game for my prediction I said 1-1. It was supposed to be a running joke but it’s not funny any more. Asked after the game what I’d write I struggled. Just as I’m struggling now. Writers block. It happens to us all eventually. But how many ways are there to describe the same thing? Excuse this paragraph. It’s waffle. Maybe a coffee will help.

*pours enormous coffee*

Nope.

Wait. I do that personal touch thing, don’t I? That account of my day. Well that too had a distinct draw-like feeling to it. Again the Amex was not exactly rammed. Again this made for an agreeably short pie queue and toilet queue and probably would have made the trains easier if Network Sodding Rail hadn’t sodding decided to do sodding engineering works meaning there were no sodding trains at all. The usual loveable lunatics behind us weren’t there and they appeared to have passed their tickets on to a group of young lads who spent the game colourfully discussing the uses of Viagra and other less legal drugs. Luckily The Boy and his friends were busy making up their own Lua Lua songs and giving the referee marks out of ten. I just hope he remembers that what is said at football stays at football. The Harvey’s was nice. We sang.

In fact, talking of the referee, he was excellent. Take a bow and have a gold star Mark Haywood. So often bloggers and writers (me especially) only mention the ref when he was terrible but yesterday the game was very well controlled and I couldn’t fault a single decision. It was reflected in a mark of five out of ten from The Boy. Normally he only gives them negative numbers. Andy D’Urso got minus twenty.

Also excellent were the Remembrance touches. From the poppies on the shirts and on the fences between the ground and station to the silence and the bugles, the observance was spot on and a credit to the club and both sets of fans.

But what can I say about the game? We looked good in patches. Tactically we were far better. I think Sami got the team selection bang on. We opened the scoring, once more from a set piece, against a big physical side. Credit to Gary Gardner who has had a hard time on these pages. That’s two in two games for him. Other individuals? Dunk was again excellent. Having gone in to the book early (which unfortunately means he’ll miss Norwich) he timed each subsequent challenge to perfection. Lua Lua worked supremely hard, drawing foul after foul and tracking back admirably. He’ll be shattered this morning. Also all over the place, and my man of the match, was Joe Bennett who caused Blackburn problems all day long. The sponsors, one of who is a good friend, chose Elliot Bennett as man of the match, and though I’d disagree with that I’d also say we have looked  a better, and more balanced side since he’s joined on loan, and some of his runs and set pieces took me back to the Withdean days.

Then we conceded an equaliser early in the second half. Again. And we were unable to go back in front. Again. Thanks to some very sloppy first touches, very sloppy final balls and generally hitting the panic button. Again.

So, Sami in or Sami out? We go in to the international break in 20th but only one point above 23rd, having averaged exactly a point a game. As if I hadn’t laboured the point above. Aha! A point pun. That’ll keep them reading he grinned.

That’s not what I was expecting when the phrase Premier League Ready was coined and the giant Nike poster went up. That’s not what I was expecting when we were told what excellent managerial candidates we had in the summer, or when we were told to judge our summer deals at the end of the window. It has been what I was expecting ever since that abomination at home to Sheffield Wednesday. It has become normal, expected, inevitable. This is why, despite the adjustment to the tactics and the new personnel, I am still on the “out” side of the fence, but only just. We have put ourselves behind the eight ball and we are not overloaded with players who look good in a scrap. There needs to be a big change, and, yes, I am fully aware in writing that we have taken four points from the last two home games and that Blackburn are a decent side.

However, our league position is not just down to Sami. If ever you want an illustration of how far the squad has regressed look at the last minute substitutions yesterday. One time Albion target Gestede replaced by £8 million Rhodes for them (and Gestede was excellent, just the sort of player we are missing). Chris O’Grady on for us. Yes, Blackburn may be a financial basket case owned by crazy Indian chicken farmers but that is the sort of level of finance we are up against week in, week out. Failure to compete against it will result in relegation, and until the Academy is producing regular stars I’m not sure there is an answer that doesn’t involve those of us with very little asking Tony Bloom to write another cheque.

Meanwhile the much maligned (by idiots) Ashley Barnes scored Burnley’s winner in the Premier League. What we would give for a Barnes now?

Will the international break see a change in manager? The rumour mill has been at its peak this weekend. Andy Naylor says Sami is safe and that his information is from an “impeccable” source. Hopefully not the same impeccable source who told him Adam Clayton and Stephen Ward were signing. Another rumour – and it is only that – reached me via an ex pro that Sami’s departure was imminent. I have nothing to back it up other than to say the person who told me isn’t prone to nonsense and barely ever passes these things on. Then again these sorts of rumours almost always turn out to be false.

Then there is the question of whether he, himself, is happy. Asked about bringing in new players ahead of January he replied, after the game, “it’s not up to me.” Is that another manager deeply unhappy with our recruitment policy? Or a resigned excuse for a season that already feels like Groundhog Day?

Christ. I got to 1000 words.

*drinks more coffee*

 

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Barnsley and Leicester at home – a tale of two teams

Two home matches in five days. Manna from heaven for this blogger of course. After over a month without a live game, relying on dodgy streams and not being interrupted by the kids during a Sky broadcast, suddenly I could eat all the pies, drink all the beers and shout fairly much what I wanted without missing a minute of the action.

They were, on paper, two very different games and despite an unbeaten run coming in to them, the realistic expectation was three points from the two. Four would have been a bonus. That’s because we were playing a side that were rock bottom, without an away win or a manager, followed by Leicester, big spenders and new league leaders. Football games aren’t played on paper though. Perhaps they should be. You could spend almost the whole 90 minutes laughing at players in bright orange and green boots falling on their arses and, afterwards, the kids could draw on the pitch. Three points is exactly what we got. Just not in the right order.

I’m not going to dwell too much on Tuesday, except to say I should be more careful with my main twitter account. That morning I had almost the perfect commute for the first time since autumn arrived and I wondered what Tuesday had left up it’s sleeve. Immediately my mate Jamie tweeted back that perhaps it held a Barnsley win. Surely not? Tuesday continued to be lovely to me. I was able to leave work early, I met an old friend by accident on the way to the ground, The Swan had an absolutely amazeballs guest ale on and seemed to get my cheesy chips to me in about thirty seconds using their unique ordering system where everyone has number 31. All good. Then the game started.

I honestly haven’t seen a more spineless performance since before Poyet joined us. It was like a return to the bad old days. After about ten minutes Barnsley realised that we a) had no pace and b) had taken them far too much for granted and pushed on and caused us real problems. They kept the ball better and twice they walked through the middle of our defence to score soft goals. Matt Upson got a consolation from a corner but even though there was plenty of time left it always felt like a consolation. I felt for the sponsors having to choose a Brighton man of the match because there wasn’t one. Upson got it for his goal. Subjects covered during a very swift post match pint in the West Lower concourse included ‘why didn’t Ince play?’ ‘wasn’t JFC shit?’ ‘weren’t we shit?’ and ‘why didn’t we play two strikers against the bottom side?’ All perfectly fair, though I suspect Ince was still shattered from carrying the team by himself in the first half at Bournemouth.

Saturday morning dawned. At home games I sit with my very, very good friend Mark and it was his son’s birthday party in Burgess Hill. We were going to get the coach to the Amex straight afterwards. So it was I spent the morning being screamed at by eight year old boys and listening to someone called Ginger Phil play Gangnam Style and What Does the Fox Say while clearing up half eaten cheese sandwiches. The kids had a blast and we made the coach in plenty of time. Now it wasn’t What Does the Fox Say but How Will the Foxes Play? More to the point how will we play? We couldn’t be that bad again could we?

The game started with a minute’s applause for Nelson Mandela, a man who I admire more than almost any other, though I struggle to see the relevance to a Saturday afternoon football match in Southern England. It was a timely reminder, though, that anything is possible. It also reminded me of being herded through the truly uninspiring Nelson Mandela Park in the middle of Leicester after away games at Filbert Street.

Then Mark pointed out the obvious change that I had missed. There was no Pole in Goal. There was a Slovakian. Kuszczak had been injured in the warm up and replaced by Brezovan aka Sexy Pete. I looked at Mark and uttered the stupidest words of the whole of Saturday. “Well, it’s just a case of if we lose three, four or five nil now.”

This opinion didn’t change as Brezovan was called in to action early as Dean Hammond (yes him) started a move that ended with similar toothless challenges to Tuesday and a smart save from the Slovak. It was to be our last bit of toothlessness of the half and also the last time I noticed Hammond touch the ball.

Still early in to the game we broke with pace (yes pace) down the right and found Spanish Dave in space on the flank. He played an almost impossible, perfect, cross on the ground that sliced Leicester open like a particularly accurate and arrogant surgeon showing off to the sexy new nurse and Barnes simply couldn’t miss from about four yards. 1-0.

It got even better. Leicester attacked but we broke it up. They looked like winning it straight back but Barnes won a brilliant 50/50 challenge to get the ball to Spanish Dave and then picked himself straight up to provide a dummy run down the right. SD played an almost impossible, perfect, long ball to Conway who controlled it brilliantly and slotted in to the far corner. 2-0. Two fucking nil against the leaders and we deserved it too.

All over the pitch heroes were being made with the exception of poor Gordon Greer who had to go off injured. Replacement El Abd had one of his best games in a Brighton shirt alongside Upson who was having one of those ‘read everything and win everything’ games. Bruno was the OLD Bruno. You know the one that first joined us? Bridcutt and Ince were dominating midfield, interchanging between pushing up and breaking up. Crofts worried them. Barnes was putting in a shift and a half. Sexy Pete was solid.

Inevitably Leicester took off Hammond and replaced him with Knockaert at half time and 27000 people (ok probably about 24000) wondered why Knockaet hadn’t started as he caused us immense problems. Talking of immense problems though Conway was still targeting Waselweski at right back. Conway was also having his best game in the stripes and exposing some truly dreadfully inconsistent refereeing as the Leicester right back got last chance after last chance after last chance. He should have been off. Eventually Morgan had to come over and cover him.

Inevitably again Leicester had a very bright 10 minutes as we sat too deep and they pulled one back as we left Andy King totally unmarked at the back post. The nerves were jangling. Oscar to his credit brought on Lua Lua as a statement of intent and we began breaking on them again. Having had a clear penalty turned down when Upson was pushed in the box we then earned another one as Barnes was similarly shoved and Mr Inconsistent gave it. He smashed it straight down the middle, Schmeichel moving a fraction too early. I had been doing that ‘Sky Sports hand over mouth’ pose but as it went in The Amex went mental and so did we.

Man of the match? Could have been any of them. Barnes got it, presumably for his goal tally and he certainly worked for it. He’ll be black and blue this morning but hopefully delighted.

Subjects covered during a very long two post match pints in the West Lower concourse included ‘wasn’t Ince immense’ ‘wasn’t Barnes great’ ‘how worried were you during the shaky ten minutes’ ‘wasn’t it great putting on Lua Lua when he did’ and ‘what the fuck happened to Dean Hammond?’

I got the train home happy.

Bournemouth Away – The Rohan and Ashley Show

I think – ok I know – that I mentioned in my Wigan report that there didn’t used to be so much live football on TV. I also recently wrote a rant about Monday Night Football for TSLR during which it became obvious that we now have football on the telly every day of the week. Or at least some weeks we do. Some of these games will sell themselves to a neutral audience of course. Arsenal versus Spurs? Who could resist. Barcelona versus Man United in the Champions League? Telly booked, beers purchased. Fleetwood versus Port Vale in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy (Northern Section) Round 1? Compulsive viewing.

However there are some games that must be a lot harder to sell to the general public. Like, say, a Saturday lunchtime match between the sides lying 16th and 9th in the Championship. You can mention both sides are from the South Coast but then so is Torquay. If they’re not our rivals then Bournemouth certainly aren’t either. I imagine Watford is nearer as the crow flies. My only “encounter” with Bournemouth fans was as a sixteen year old when a coach load of their fans drove past me on its way to the Goldstone. They were all…………..sitting politely reading their papers. A couple of years later I was on a coach to Elland Road, Leeds when another coach full of Leeds fans overtook us and the charmers on that banged the windows and made throat slitting gestures.

You could mention we both play “nice football” and indeed the commentators did during the game but, for me, we are both still a work in progress. You can mention our new investors and new grounds. Ultimately though, you can’t escape the feeling that the game was selected simply because it was our turns. I had no idea how they would sell it to the public. Luckily I didn’t have to listen to them try.

I spent “the build up” in the freezing cold garden of a local gastro pub where two of the mums from the boy’s school were taking photos of the kids with Christmas Face Paint on for a Christmas Card. Yes, I really was having that much fun. I had booked our ‘slot’ specifically so we could get back in time to watch the game. However, as we arrived it became clear that they were a) running late and b) had the game on the tv.

Trying to persuade a face painted three year old that you wanted to stay in the pub for the football is not the world’s simplest thing, however, and so it was that we instead went on a mad dash back home. As I got in and switched on the game it had been going for a minute and it seemed nothing much had happened in that minute. If a goal had been scored, especially by us, this section would have been a bit more ranty.

Talking of Rantie he seemed to be giving us a few problems. As did Matt Ritchie. And indeed anyone with any pace or, for that matter, just wearing a red shirt. Bournemouth came out for the first half with all of their metaphorical guns blazing. We were still in the Guest House, lazily munching on the rest of the toast and baked beans and wondering if the owner, Mrs Cruetbonce, had anything to read that wasn’t the Daily Mail. All except for the Pole In Goal, who made a marvellous reflex save, Calde who had our best chance of the first half, narrowly volleying over from the edge of the box and the Magnificent Rohan Ince. He wasn’t still at the Guest House. He had got up early, gone for a short run to warm up and now wanted to extend himself. Having missed Mrs Cruetbonce’s breakfast he also wanted to devour a few red shirted Bournemouth players as he went. Metaphorically that is.

So dominant was Ince in our midfield that it only showed how weakly the rest were performing. Inevitably we got ourselves in a mess of our own making close to our own penalty area and JFC, who was having a nightmare, committed a fairly obvious foul. Inevitably again, the returning Matt Ritchie was set up to crack a magnificent drive in to the bottom corner with the outside of his foot. Great goal and no more than Bournemouth deserved. 1-0.

Oscar made the needed change at half time, Bridcutt coming on for JFC, and we looked immediately more settled. Not more pacy – this was one game where our lack of pace was to be shown up – but more able to cope. We retained the ball better, broke up their attacks better and actually had a few moments of our own. My wife chose this precise moment to want to tell me something about…something. I’m not sure what it was but by the time she’d finished telling me it was 1-1. I huffily wound back the Sky + to see one of the goals of this or any other season from Ashley Barnes.

Yes, Ashley Barnes. If you read North Stand Chat regularly you’d be forgiven for thinking that Barnes is some kind of evil spirit who’s only function is to take up a spot in the team that someone else deserves, whilst deliberately missing chances. He’s never been anything of the sort of course – he works as part of a team in a formation that is again starting to pay dividends – but his lack of goals are always held against him. So much so, in fact, that I had, only that morning, written a gag about it for TSLR. Let’s just say I had to rewrite the gag. The strike that levelled the match was magnificent. Rarely have I seen a ball better struck. As Tom North said on twitter, if it had been in the Prem people would never have stopped talking about it.

Either side could have gone on to win it. Ritchie should have done much better with one bouncing ball in the penalty box but he shanked it horribly. At the other end Craig Conway finally woke up and crafted a couple of delightful runs and crosses from the left but no one was brave or lucky enough to get on the end of them. The aforementioned Ince eventually came off, looking completely spent, to be replaced by Andrews who again looked completely useless and that was that. 1-1. Fair result in the game they’re already calling ‘the one no one cares about’.