Derby County at Home 15/16 – Anti Climax?

By crowd numbers at least this was the biggest game ever seen at The Amex. By noise levels just before and just after kick off it was too. Yet somehow events in Birmingham on Friday served to downgrade it. I’m getting a little ahead of myself but perhaps you already know what I mean?

It certainly felt big on the way over, mind you. Mindful of the train troubles that had beset the last two mid-week games we left home a full two hours before kick off and, while we had a painless journey as it turned out, it was also a busy one. The 12.52 from Brighton (for a 2.30 kick off) was rammed. No actual songs in our carriage but rather a low hum of expectancy. Familiar old faces abounded. This was a big day out.

Recently, when I tried to explain this blog to Al on The Albion Roar I said that it was a story of the whole day and that often something would come up in pre-match conversation that would prove relevant to the later events on the field. So it was that Steve and I were discussing the latter half of the season and I mentioned our defence and particularly the partnership of Goldson and Dunk. Steve referred to how daft Dunk’s sending off at QPR was. Then we moved on to discussing what we would need at Boro.

That’s the only issue really and the reason I mentioned how Friday’s result had rendered the Derby game largely irrelevant. Allow me (another) rant at Sky. What is the EFFING point of taking us all the way to sodding Cleveland for a 12.30 bollocking kick off so that everyone plays at the same time for ‘fairness’ when, only the week before, a TV company dictates that Boro will get two more days rest than us, that we knew before the Derby game exactly what we needed up there and that Burnley were able to kick off later than anyone, knowing a win would get them up? It is cockwomblingly, mind-numbingly ruddy pointless. Thanks Sky.

OK, I feel better for that but you get the point. Anyone who thinks the promotion race has been run fairly in terms of timing is living in cloud cuckoo land.

But you have to play the hand you’re dealt. The fixture computer dealt us Derby at home as our last game, the ticketing computer dealt out every seat in The Amex and, after oiling our voices with a couple of Ouse Waters, we joined a packed Amex. The roof was just about held intact but Sussex By The Sea nearly took it off.

Regular “atmosphere” threads appear on NSC. People bemoan “soulless bowls”. Yet the ground was on point as we kicked off, the backing the lads needed, initially at least, coming from every seat, except those in the East Upper where library attendants still patrol, armed with hot stares. The lads reacted and we had the first good chance of the game, Russell overrunning the ball to Kayal in his own half and the Israeli’s long range shot getting deflected just wide.

Derby, though, looked decent enough on the break and Ince wasted a good chance when put through by a long diagonal ball. Not as good as the subsequent chance we had as a free kick was awarded on the edge of the D, slap bang in French Tony territory. The kick was placed even better than the one against QPR but Derby had watched that back and had a man back peddling on to the line to cover. It was just headed over.

I’m not sure whether you’ve got this from previous reports – the Leeds one would cover it – but all too often this season the quality has been lacking in this division. It wasn’t here but the two of us were even and cancelling each other out. Not so in the second half.

A pessimist would say we allowed Will Hughes to dictate terms after the break. A Derby fan that he took the game by the scruff of the neck. It was probably a mixture of both but as the play went through him, Derby began to dictate and had a series of long range efforts that were fairly comfortable for Stockdale. However,  not so the one on seventy minutes when Hughes produced a sublime piece of control and stuck through Weimann. His initial shot was saved but he put away the rebound. The celebrations in the away end were echoed in Burnley.

The game had been frustratingly and inconsistently refereed from the get go. The penalty shout that looked nailed on from the WSU looked less so on replay but other free kick awards seemed totally random. Challenges that looked certain yellows (including one from Stephens, this was inconsistency rather than bias) were let go as was a plainly obvious elbow on Bruno. One of the few cards that had been correctly awarded, however, was an early yellow for Dunk. On eighty two minutes he doubled it and can have no complaints, a challenge that was as brainless as the one up at QPR ending in the same result. He will not play at Boro and left with his shirt over his head.

But this team NEVER gives up. A draw would be largely pointless – we’d still need to win at Boro in all likelihood – but it would maintain the unbeaten record and put just a touch of pressure on the watching Burnley.

Is there a finer sight than a keeper coming up for a last minute corner? Yes, of course there is. Like, say, your Czech international hitting a 30 yard rocket as part of a four nil win. Keeper up means you’re desperate. But with a last minute corner in the offing we were. Up came Stockdale and caused chaos. The ball fell kindly to Wilson and he lashed in a shot via a deflection to general mayhem in the stands. It finished 1-1. So how did we all feel?

The question mark in the title is deliberate. Certainly some of us felt flat at the end. We shouldn’t though. We knew before the game that we’d probably need to win at Boro. We knew Burnley were the favourites to go up. That next week was the big one. The only thing this could do was set a marker in the ground for a possible playoff clash in which someone needs to paint a large target on Will Hughes’ arse.

Had we not scored that goal I’d have felt flat too. But we did. And, as the players came round for the end of season lap of honour the North Stand started with “we are going up”. The players visibly picked up. Yes, we will have no Dunk. We will have two fewer days in which to rest. But we will be prepared. Think back to August. Would you have taken a last day shoot out for promotion? I would have in a heartbeat. It’s time to pick ourselves up and throw the kitchen sink at Boro, hoping that fortune favours the brave.




QPR At Home 2015/16 – Together

We could beat anyone right now. We’re going to have to.

Sorry, there I go again, bad writer, putting the end before the beginning but you know the above to be true, right? So how did we get there? For me we got there with beer and sore legs and potential travel disruption and Knockaert and Goldson and the whole team as one. Let me fill in some detail.

It was fair to say that my legs were a little achy, having got over the line at the Brighton Marathon in five seconds over four hours, The mixture of pleasure and pain I got out of this is pretty much indescribable which is a pain in the rear for someone who thrives on describing stuff but the pertinent points are these; I had a little sniff of how to exceed natural thresholds when cheered on by a crowd, something the players must be feeling every home game right now, and I left earlier than usual to get to the pub, since I was walking like an eighty year old with rickets.

Eventually get there I did to meet my friend Mark who is now in Big Training himself for the Reykjavik Marathon in August and Gary who founded North Stand Chat many moons ago. Palmers and cheesy chips was the order of the day and a long discussion about the permutations at the top of the table. Though all we have to do is win our remaining game the consensus was that neither Burnley or Boro would want to lose, and their most likely result was a draw, leaving us third at the end of the night whatever. Prophetic eh?

Then a hobble to the ground and the nightmare of the WSU stairs. Stairs are my enemy right now, particularly going down, and so a Harvey’s anaesthetic went down too, along with a pie. A chat with the Roar chaps, a meeting with the Cheese Eating Poker School and upstairs to see the full crew in full voice.

In fact the whole ground was in full voice. There were fewer fans present than Fulham, far fewer in the away end, but somehow the noise was better and more together. It’s a word that’s been used a lot this season, it is our hashtag and adopted motto, but finally it was happening in the stands. Songs bounced from one side of the North to the other and across to the West but, rather than be ignored, they were picked up and carried on the breeze. It made my hair stand of end (what’s left of it) and the pain in my legs disappear. We were Brighton and Hove Albion and we were going to give this a damn good go.

The first half, though, was fairly even. The ball seemed to be shared between the two teams and our chances were few and far between. Philips and Washington carved their best ones, Stockdale making another brilliant save from a low drive. We prized Rangers open with a Knockaert cross from the left which Hemed put just over with a trademark overhead kick  and we nearly scored from a corner that was headed straight at Smithies in the QPR goal. Potentially, though Rangers were having the better of it.

At the back we stuttered a little, particularly down the right where player of the season candidate Bruno was, for once, getting a little flustered. Luckily he was being eased through the game by twenty three year old Connor Goldson. One misplaced pass aside the Championship rookie was showing everyone, including the ex-Valencia veteran, how to play football. What a second half of the season he’s had. And talking of second halves of the season we all know that Knockaert can produce something spectacular at any point. On the stroke of half time he did.

An innocuous looking challenge that really didn’t need to be made got us a free kick on the edge of the box. Knockaert and Skalak were over it. Who would take? The debate raged around the WSU while my friend Dom would later admit he was adamant it should be Skalak but it wasn’t. Our Flairtastic Frenchman stepped up and hammered it through the gap in the wall we’d created and in to the top corner. The Amex exploded and it was all I could do to stay upright, my friends temporarily forgetting my paper legs. The players celebrated as one. This is a team with incredible spirit.

It’s fair to say the second half was quite unlike the first. Just as we’d dominated Fulham more and more as the game went on, now we dominated Rangers. God knows what Hughton said at half time but it was incredibly effective. Rangers again had to change their game plan, the high press and break being far more risky at one down and we pounced on the space.

Just six minutes in to the second half though and whatever JFH had said to QPR became redundant in a moment of brilliance. Bruno launched a hopeful ball forwards and QPR headed it out in to no man’s land. It bounced a couple of times and Skalak pounced on it, smashing it as it sat up invitingly in to the top corner from over thirty yards. We went full-on batshit mental. The pain in my legs was gone now and on the field the players once again piled on each other in joy.

Now it was all Brighton. It was no longer were we going to win. Like Friday it was how many were we going to score? Half an eye was turned to the Burnley v Boro game but only to know where we’d be at the end of the night. The worst result all round would probably be a Burnley win. They were still at 0-0 as our metaphorical horse was striding away in to the distance flicking V’s at his beaten opponent. Yes I know horses have hooves and would actually fall over doing this but it’s a metaphorical horse, remember? Think cartoons.

Soon it was three. Our two players of the night combined from a corner, Knockaert crossing for Goldson to loop in a header. More team bonding. The Amex got louder. As the second set of London away fans in four days streamed out of the Amex we added a fourth, Knockaert shooting in a daisy cutter past Smithies and a suspiciously offside looking Baldock who had come on at half time for Wilson who was presumably sick again.

We bounced. Legs that I wanted to cut off that morning jumped up and down. The North Stand sang a very good song with quite a sweary word in to accompany the bouncing. On the pitch the players swaggered. QPR looked like they wanted the Amex to swallow them up and spit them back out straight in to the team bus where they could listen to some RnB and pretend it all never happened. Boro were one nil up, putting us second.

Inevitably, as we streamed out for the bars Burnley equalised with a thuggish scrum of a goal from a corner. The Anti Football had squeaked back ahead of the Total Football in the table. No matter. As I said on the way to the Star for more beer, if Burley and Boro hadn’t been playing each other, and had both drawn their games, we’d have taken it all day long.

We need three wins. Those are the bare facts. With the team spirit and skill that we have in every area currently I believe we could win all three, run a marathon and give a decent account of ourselves in University Challenge. Nothing is guaranteed, nothing is taken for granted but this is a special bunch of players. We are together.