Bristol City at Home 2016/17 – Anti Climax

Consider your social life for a minute (so long as it’s not completely tragic which, if you are reading this, I’m sure it’s not). How often does a big night out, months in the planning and looked forward to excitedly on social media and elsewhere, go exactly to plan? Sometimes they do but more often than not the weight of expectation lends the night a stilted angle. Then, another day, you’ll just end up somewhere with your mates totally out of the blue and you’ll end up talking about it for months.  The best parties are the spontaneous ones. And they don’t feature sodding opera singers.

Brighton had decked itself out for a party. The issue was it had already had one. You can bunting the station, streamer the stadium, get a brass band in the pub carpark, dig out the circa 2001 replica shirt from the attic that now makes you look like you’ve been eaten by a deck chair and have all the hooky vendors on street corners that you want, but you’ll never beat the passionate release of three plus decades of hurt, Tony twirling his scarf and the players crowd surfing on trains. In fact, not untypically, just getting a train seemed to be a tall order yesterday. Talking of parties, Southern Trains are the creepy uncle who sits glowering in the corner and tells everyone to sod off at 9.30 in the evening.

So we got to The Swan and so did everyone else except the one person I’d told I would be there. The Sally Anne were playing trumpets in the corner, the beer queue stretched to Bevendean and Del Boy and his mate had sold all the kids vuvuzelas. We lasted a pint.

The ground was slightly better. Smaller queues and staff who’ve had a season’s experience serving now (and are no doubt about to graduate) meant beer plus food plus a chance to chat to a few friends while the boys read their commemorative programmes. Up in the seats flags waited, as did streamers. Pre-match was living up to the hype. There was Bobby. There was Wardy. There was Stuart Storer. There was a tear inducing montage accompanied by joyous flag waving (I have a video of the whole stand joining in apart from Steve’s son who is glued to his mobile phone, I will be saving it for blackmail purposes). There was a big “Alllbion” and another “we’re on out way”. There was Donna Marie. And were we all thinking the same thing? Tremendous voice, but we never win when she turns up. We were saying it openly in our section. And that was as good as it got.

The players may have barely turned up themselves but the same must be said of the fans. Once the flag waving was out of the way we settled in to a soporific state of just expecting the business to happen on the pitch. I’d expected a cauldron of noise, I hardly got a ladle.

The first indication that this was transmitting to the pitch came early on. We’d made a bright enough start without tearing up trees, but were suddenly presented with a gilt edged chance. A high clearance saw two Bristol City players slash at the same ball and lob it to Murray. It was spinning horribly and he was on a slightly wide angle but he had so much more time than he realised. He slashed across the bouncing ball, playing neither shot nor cross to Skalak, arriving late on the back post.

Maybe this was why it was subdued? It feels wrong picking out players in a season that’s been so great but there is no doubt that while the presence of the utterly hatstand Mr Skalak on social media is a delight, his presence at left midfield is less lauded by the Albion faithful. Here he absolutely had one. Slow and ponderous he also completely missed the ball on a couple of occasions and totally lost his head. He was very lucky to stay on the pitch having committed two horrid looking tackles, only the latter of which received a card. He went off at half time but you sensed the momentum was out of us by then.

He was by no means the only below par player. Early on Knocky dumped a Bristol City defender delightfully on his backside to loud cheers but that was about it. You could not fault his effort – you never can – but he had one of those games where the ball just seems to stick under his feet instead of in front of them. Bong was all over the place – something we’ll return to shortly – Kayal looked unfit, Bruno flitted from the sublime to the ridiculous and Hemed and Murray got in each other’s ways. Only Stephens seemed truly on his game.

Their goal was horrible, an object lesson in how not to defend when you play 4-4-2. With just two minutes to close out the first half at 0-0 and regroup, Brownhill cleverly sat between our midfield and defence as Bristol City moved it forward with purpose. He received it, drawing in Bong like a moth to a light. It was quickly played out wide to their right, also drawing in Bong like a moth to a light. Where the covering centre backs were I wasn’t sure. Brownhill sailed unchallenged in to the gap and planted a free header from the resulting cross pass Stockdale. There wasn’t a Brighton player within five yards of him.

March came on at half time for Skalak, a change the whole Amex would have made, but it made little difference. Too often we played it to him standing still. Too often we overhit crosses from deep. Too often we had a lot of ball and little penetration. For this you have to give Bristol City credit. They kept us out, throwing everything at crosses but preventing us exploiting gaps with careful and clever defending. They looked like a team fighting for their lives, as they were, and we looked like a team that had already done a job, had two massive parties and were now thinking about the beach, contract negotiations, and who would be staring against Arsenal and Chelsea.

Stephens apart, our other stand out performer was Stockdale. Towards the end City hit us on the break and the newly arrived Reid went clean through the middle unchallenged. Stockdale produced the save of the match, another one for the highlight reel. Yet these are two players out of contract. Stockdale’s lap of honour mannerisms suggests he won’t be here next season.

A well deserved victory for City then, who stay up. The trophy on hold for us, hopefully for a week and a day only. Surely Chris can get a better performance than this out of them at Villa, who have nothing to play for. A party pooped before the bouncers had let everyone in.

Southern screwed the trains up royally on the way home. We went back from Hove station in separate cabs, waving a glum and sober goodbye. It seemed apt.

 

 

Bristol City at Home 2015/16 – BOBBY!!!!

A much below par Albion led the statistics but survived a few close scares before going ahead late on with a brilliant finish from Bobby Zamora. No, you’re not reading a late dispatch from Leeds, your correspondent having fallen asleep after too much proper beer and being bored to sleep by Geoff Boycott lite types, you’re reading last night’s. For the second game in a row we won 2-1. For a second game in a tow we really didn’t play that well. For a second game in a row HE scored the winner, All hail the King. *bows*

Perhaps now the brass are starting to get it. Perhaps they always did. In a league as competitive as The Championship it’s all about fine margins. No one THRASHED us last season they said (apart from Derby away). Just bad luck. A bad season. That’s all. Yet here we are the following season on the twenty first of the month we never win in (except this year) and we are top, and we are undefeated. We have not THRASHED anyone. But with a manager who has plan A, B and C and strikers who can finish those fine margins have been turned in our favour. Draws where there were defeats. One goal margin wins where there were one goal margin defeats. It’s not an accident.

But this is starting to read like a normal report or even like one of last season’s rants so, without further ado, let’s go to the pub.

Being Boy-less gave me a rare opportunity to take in some of my much beloved boozers around Brighton Station. Firstly the Yeoman, a pub that had once specialised in sausages and been run by the only Warwickshire fan in Brighton and that now does a homely, friendly atmosphere. Then the Evening Star, a pub that unashamedly does BEER. One of the wonderful things about this new era at The Albion is the number of people who want to go. What I mean by that is that, back in the day, I met my football going mates at the football. They would be the familiar faces on the North Stand terraces, at away grounds (and I’m going back to the late 80s when a good trip up North would see two hundred of us turn up) and in the pubs. Now my friends from every day life want to come to football too and have also become my Brighton friends. Sure, the pretendence last night was 23k with only maybe 20k bums on seats, sure the queues for train and pie were shorter than normal (I’m not complaining) but an Albion game is still an EVENT. Town buzzed. After three pints of lovely beer so did I. Voice oiled. Game on.

Greer was out injured leaving BFG to partner Dunk. With Murphy still suspended Rosenior continued in right midfield. Else it was a very familiar looking Albion side, another reason I believe we are doing well. In this league you don’t need rotation, You need partnerships and familiarity. Just look at Burnley two seasons ago. Or Dunk and BFG last night. Yes, our back four played like strangers. OK, so Bruno had all of his usual sublime touches and attacking flair but the other three looked like they’d been shipped in from the Dog. and Duck Or the Evening Star. Bristol City noticed.

Let’s give some credit here. Bristol City were much livelier than their league position gave them credit for, and, in particular, their number 22 Jonathan Kodjia was excellent. The proverbial pain in the backside all night his use of space and excellent pass set up left back Derrick Williams, hurtling in to the box, to give them a shock lead after just 17 minutes. Obviously they used this movement and menace, and our lack of presence in defence (and increasingly in midfield where the normally excellent Stephens was having a stinker) to dominate the game right? WRONG. They sat back, invited us on to them and wasted time in annoying and obvious fashion (obvious that is to everyone except referee Iain Williamson who had a 100% massive stinker all round). This meant we dominated possession and the BBC Website statistics and that possession should have seen us level, Baldock wasteful on a one on one and then having us out of our chairs in celebration as he was put through wonderfully, controlling and producing a neat chip that was not powerful enough and was cleared off the line.

The second half was just as lively. Finally we got to go mental as Baldock got what he wanted, tapping in a brilliant Bruno run and cross to finally settle down the natives who were getting restless, my drinking buddies and me included. The second half, in fact, saw more action that a Chuck Norris movie and much of it was just as hackneyed. Luke Freeman will have no idea how he was denied a penalty and booked for diving after being brought down in the box by the BFG, with our hearts in our mouths instead of Real Ale for a change. Kodjia remained lively and Stockdale made two wonderful saves, tipping over a fierce drive and then brilliantly getting a foot to a one on one with Dunk lying in an actual sleeping bag with his jamas on.  It needed tightening and Hughton made two subs in rapid sucession. Firstly Crofts came on to narrow the midfield, then Zamora for Hemed.

The latter made an immediate impact, holding the ball up and causing City problems of their own with his movement and positioning. And, so it had to be, that despite City having an excellent half, we took the lead. It was one of THOSE strikes. Ok, maybe not the volley against Halifax or the chip at Bury but classic Bobby nonetheless. We’d fashioned the chance out wide but looked to have lost it in a game of ping pong before Zamora, seemingly not even facing the right way to do it, twisted and produced the sweetest of controlled left foot volleys in to the bottom corner. Cue bedlam.

That’s the difference. Winning when we’re playing badly. Bringing ON a player who can score goals like that. Riding our luck but making it as well. Not a classic but who cares. We. Are. Top of the League. We went to the pub to celebrate.