Sevilla Notes, Zamora and Season Preview

11zamora

It’s not every day you beat the Champions of Europe. Though for us it is, or so it seems. Having done the double over them last season, this time round we managed to beat a team who’d won an actual European trophy this decade. Twice.

Nor is it every day you re-sign an Albion legend. Last night saw us do just that as Bobby Zamora rejoined on a one year contract. This has been more on and off than a fifth form romance but now it’s officially ON. I went on record as saying I’d rather have young potential than an old flame. I had no idea we could have both. Suddenly things are looking up. But let’s start at the beginning……

Football was back at the Amex and Sevilla were in town on a baking hot day. Having frozen at the back of the Hollies stand at Edgbaston with the lads on Thursday, now I baked at the front of a football stand with The Boy. With the usual crew on holiday we took some friends from his school and football club. Both friends were girls however, one of who insisted she was “bored “(she videoed the penalty though) and one of who loves football and Brighton but particularly Brighton Ladies who she reckons could beat the men any day. Tough crowd. Hence I got the benefit of The Boy’s analysis for ninety non stop minutes like some mini Alan Hansen in a meth lab.

There was plenty to analyse though. And admire. Starting with a genuine 4-4-2 we looked more compact and English than we have done for some time. But guess what? It worked.  The La Liga side would certainly not have been expecting it had they studied us recently but it looked organised and effective. Bruno and March were interchanging and covering nicely down the right while, on the left, Lua Lua (is it me or is he looking a little portly?) and the highly impressive Bong were doing the same. Kayal looked useful in midfield and Hemed and Baldock were a nuisance, the latter confirming he needs to play off or with a stronger, bigger partner. Stockdale had a cracker in goal.

We got a very soft penalty, converted it well, kept them out and had a couple more shots and that was it. Job done, Europa League champions despatched. So that’s it right? We can all relax? It’ll be ok? Well yes. And no. And maybe. Because in The Championship you can never tell (although in my English class you could never start sentences with And and Because so the world’s moving on quickly alright).

Are we strong enough? Will we be come September? Who else is and isn’t? Here is the nearly traditional Brighton But Only At Home season preview. Now with added Bobby.

Us

This is a Brighton and Hove Albion blog so I have to start with us. Looking back at some of the rants on these pages in the first half of this season you might be puzzled to then be reading the reasonably positive “keep calm” pieces I’ve written pre this season and on NSC. Was I kidnapped and subjected to some kind of weird surgery that changed me from wetter to licker at a stroke? Well, no.

Let’s not beat about the bush. Last season was an abortion and there were parts of it that were deeply embarrassing. Having that “One Club, One Ambition” strap line and dominating image when we were comfortably the second worst in the division after Blackpool was ridiculous. So were the upbeat hashtags, misleading attendance figures and relentless PR. It annoyed me immensely. It annoyed everyone immensely. It wasn’t so much that we were failing (every Brighton fan’s used to that, trust me), it was that so many people were pretending we weren’t. So what’s changed?

Firstly the manager and secondly the Burke. Those clear outs alone were enough to keep us up (just) but in no way close to an edifying manner. But make no mistake, Hughton’s mission was purely to keep us up and, however attritional it was he managed it. His real season starts now and there are reasons to be positive.

We go in to this season with the same manager as ended the previous one for the first time in two years and this has led to a slow but sure squad evolution, upwards from the trough. CMS may have been a lovely feller, champion retweeter and all round Mr Nice family guy (and he was) but by the end he was resembling a self parody as he willingly chased another one of his traps, found himself isolated or offside or, with great industry and a winning smile, muffed another chance. At the other end of the scale in terms of both effort and Twitter there was Kemy. Big fat, diamond encrusted, gangsta with OCD, snood wearing waste of space who can bugger off and then bugger off some more when he gets there. These players are gone.

Coming in we have Tomar Hemed who looks strong, willing and can put a penalty away along with Gaetan Bong who will be up and down that left flank all season but, unlike Joe Bennett, looks like he might be able to tackle and intercept. Liam Rosenior is (if you’ll excuse me an ‘Arry moment) a top, top pro. I’d have preferred to have seen Walton challenge for the starting spot in goal than bringing in another keeper but I’ll reserve that thought until I’ve seen Mäenpää properly.  Harper is a coup and Hambo a gamble. We will start solid (and we didn’t do that last season). And now there is Bobby. I don’t expect him to start every game or be injury free. He IS a gamble, hence the one year contract. But he should score goals at this level, he will give starting and bench options, there’s the mutual love thing and he has given the whole place a buzz. Suddenly there’s optimism. However………

We badly need centre backs and more creativity. Centre back I’ll return to but our attacking needs are still clear cut.  Having played 4-4-2 at the start on Sunday, 4-5-1 at the end and having used 4-4-1-1- you’d think one or two wingers are needed to help March with his lack of experience and injury record and Lua Lua (did I mention I thought he’d bulked up? Am I wrong?) with the fact he’s been sussed. Jack Harper may or may not be our number 10 later this season but he’s carrying an eight week injury straight out of Madrid C and will surely start in the DS. That’s, say,  three attackers needed.

But the Centre Back issue is all around Mr Dunk. The club may be able to turn down silly money for him but what of the player? We gave him his break, his family is local and I think we handled what I shall only refer to as “the unfortunate business” pretty well for him. There should be a degree of loyalty there. However, were the wages Fulham are offering to be eye watering what then? We need at least one centre back anyway to replace Halford / Hughes.  To replace Dunk adequately we’d have to reinvest his transfer fee in full and potentially up the wages for that position anyway, while still getting another centre back in. To sell him makes no sense. However, there is just the possibility that to keep him will cost us just as much. Or that we can’t. Watch this space. Actually don’t, watch NSC and the official club site.

So prediction? Should we secure those creative players and have at least an adequate central defence then we are definitely looking at top half. Around 10th would be my current prediction. Fail to further strengthen up front, however, or cover the defence adequately and we could end up lower than that. Should Bobby fire beyond expectations? Who knows.

Promotion Candidates

You can’t see past Boro and Derby. Boro are going for it. They may well fail FFP if they don’t go up and Stuart Downing will take this league apart (he may be average at International level but at Championship? Dynamite.) Derby were the best side in the division the season they knocked us out of the playoffs, they should have done better last season and it’s no secret Tony Bloom fluttered his eyelids at Paul Clement (perhaps that’s why he didn’t come). They are also spending. Brentford will potentially be there or thereabouts. They may have lost Warburton (who I really admired, his side played cracking football last season) and gone down the “moneyball” route but they have a Chairman who would dearly love to put one over on our Tone and some confidence and momentum. These are my three to watch.

Down the bottom

Blackburn could yet end up a basket case. If they lost Gestade, Rhodes and Marshall (even if the latter doesn’t come to us) they would end up in serious bother. Bolton have also done terrible business, bringing in just three players and with an older, bigger Dobbie the House Donkey on trial. Rotherham are bound to struggle, mainly because Steve Evans has eaten half the first team and, on a personal level, I would love to see MK Dons go down with nil points.

Middle Diddle

Reading should be safer than last season but I can’t see them challenging for much. Ditto Birmingham.

Who knows?

Sheffield Wednesday are going for it big style. Surely it’s time for the massive club that invented away days and not being bummed to get what they richly deserve, which is the unending recognition of the impressiveness of their working class enormity. What QPR richly deserve is a trip to the auditor and a points deduction. Forest have decent remains but can’t sign anyone. And who the bloody hell knows what Cardiff will do this season?

It’s going to be an interesting ride. A very interesting ride. Friday, however, now proves to be quite an atmosphere.

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Brentford at Home – Prawn Sandwich 

When we’re talking Modern Football there’s nothing that quite vexes me like corporate hospitality. Those two words go along with “the football” as well as “new iPhone” goes with “bath full of lemonade”. And yet it doesn’t. These days it is what keeps many clubs going if we’re honest. The Albion have just posted the sort of corporate finance figures that show that, while David Burke did go, Tony will never get rid of Paul Barber. Having been a harsh critic on these pages you have to tip your hat to that sort of financial performance. It may even mean we can get some new players, because the squad depth was badly exposed again yesterday, but without the revenues from the lounges the rest of us would be watching worse football still. Or no football.

So what exactly was my dilemma? I belong on a terrace wearing Adidas trainers. And some other stuff, obviously, otherwise I’d be freezing and get arrested. But the trainers are the thing. I literally cannot remember the last time I have been to a game and not worn them. Perhaps a mid week game when I had to come straight from work. I’m not sure. However, in the 1901 Club they are verboten. There is a collar and shoes dress code. When I was younger I made it a rule to avoid night clubs that had similar dress codes for the fairly obvious reason that they were rubbish, overpriced lager palaces with terrible music and erection sections. But not quite all the time. When certain friends wanted to go then I did because being with my friends was more important than my musical and drinking prejudices. This is how I found myself in the 1901 yesterday, and before that dressing in a shirt and shoes for the football. Because a very good friend had free lounge passes. Free is my favourite price. And my very good friend shares a love of football, music, food, drinking and banter. A reminder that sometimes it’s good to break your own rules.

It was coincidental that The Boy was missing his first Saturday home game of the season, due to a birthday party on the other side of Sussex. So we had a boys day, a jolly boys outing, a day on the sauce. If you are looking for an insightful and factual account of the game I would stop right now. The painful irony is that yesterday I had the best view I have ever had of a football match and yet I can barely remember most of it. An opportunity wasted. Literally.

We started with the best of intentions. We were back to mine after the game for curry and wine with our wives and so we thought we’d take it easily. That, frankly, lasted until we got to The Cyclist and my friend had drained his Cruzcampo almost before we’d sat down. And, if you can’t beat them, join them. The night before we had played badminton together and my friend had said his dad was meeting us at the ground. “You’ll like my dad. He likes drinking.” Before I could even meet Dad however Dick’s Bar had worked its magic and drawn us in, as if it were one of Brighton’s more interesting and bohemian pubs rather than a strip lit bar at a football ground. Two down we met my friend’s dad and his mate and went to the lounge. Now we were four.

Four is the ideal number for drinking in rounds. I’m sure I’m preaching to the converted here. Two can and do drink in rounds of course but it’s not a proper round. It’s two friends at a pub. With three of you there is a tricky decision to be made as to if you stop at three pints or move on to a much more dangerous six. But with four of you a pleasant afternoon can be whiled away over beers without getting either too wasted or staying too sober. Only, of course, we’d already had a couple.

So what can I say about that ultimate evil necessity The Lounge? Well, it was very nice. You can see instantly why people do it. No queues. A proper knife and fork for your pie. Alan Mullery lurking silverly in the background. Glass glasses. BRANDED glasses. As I imagined the bulk of my friends battling in on a train bantering with the large away support, or struggling through traffic on their coach, I was sat with a proper pint in a proper glass round a table that wasn’t unlike the ones you get at dinners at smart hotels. When I went to get my round in the young girl behind the bar looked distraught when I ordered two Harveys. “I’m terribly sorry” she sighed “but do you mind them in Guinness glasses as we’re out of Harvey’s ones?” She looked like she was about to sob. I resisted the temptation to yell “ACTUALLY YES, I DO MIND. WHAT HAS THIS PLACE COME TO? NO BRANDED GLASSES? BRING ME PAUL BARBER SO I CAN DICTATE AN IMMEDIATE EMAIL TO HIS FACE!” Instead I just said “that will be fine”. And smiled at her. The poor love seemingly had no idea that I can usually spend over 10 minutes queuing only to find no beer or pie at all.

Just as the lounge is lovely so are the seats. An amazing view, right behind the managers. The seats even wider. Even more padded. And that’s where it gets a bit hazy. Brentford seemed to have more of the ball. We seemed to have the better chances. They scored from their only chance of the first half via a massive deflection. We squandered a couple of good ones, Calde shooting straight at the keeper when through on the angle. Brentford played the sort of high line that a decent striker combined with a linesman who knows the rules should be exposing over and over. We had neither.

And here’s why I love football. Whether you are in the best seats in the house in your best shirt or behind the goal in your trainers and other stuff you will have an opinion on the game. That opinion will be strong whether you are a member of a Temperance Society or, frankly, quite pissed. Mine, and my friend’s dad was that we had generally been the better side and had been unlucky. My friend’s (and Mark who I normally sit with agrees with this) was that we were poor. Very poor. I’m offering both sides because, honestly, when it comes down to it, yesterday was a day out on the piss more than it was a sporting occasion. And there’s nothing “modern football” about that, it’s what I did for years.