Spoiler alert. I’m going to talk a little bit about the end at the start today. You all KNOW the score right? You’re just reading to relive one of the most incredible matches yet seen at The Amex right? Good. Because I don’t quite know where I’m going with this. At the end of the game I was adding another thousand words to my predicted total every time I talked to someone. That won’t actually happen, because I’d end up publishing a bad novel on Thursday having been sacked from my actual job but there is an AWFUL lot to cram in.
Then there’s the format. One Facebook friend suggested one blog for the first five minutes and another for the rest. A Twitter friend suggested a blog of two halves. Both are good ideas to represent what happened yesterday but, ultimately, this has to be one piece. The only way to describe how we felt at the end is to weave a narrative around the day as a whole. There are people who don’t get to feel that much emotion in their entire lives. Sport haters. The teamless. Poor buggers. A whole story is needed so they may understand a fraction of what we know.
I’m never sure whether people are happy to be mentioned by actual name (unless they’re well known anyway like Jem and the Roar lads). I guess I should ask them really. But anyway, our normal four or five were added to by good family friends who I called Boy’s oldest friend (because they met when he was a baby) when they came to the Forest game at the start of the season. A couple of weeks ago we had watched the Burnley game on television in the pub over a roast and The Boy and his two travelling companions yesterday had colonised the pool table after that game. Yesterday they were sat, three together on the train from Brighton to Falmer urgently discussing the team that had just been announced (Zamora up front with Wilson) and other matters Brighton. In a blink of an eye I can see them meeting in the pub without us, playing pool and going by themselves, the next generation of noisy Albion youth. Sniff. One thing they were all convinced about was that we would win easily. 3-0 and 4-0 were mentioned. I remember thinking “careful lads”.
A slightly delayed train journey and the usual catering ineptness meant we could only squeeze a couple of drinks in (and then quickly). Last week’s chat with Jem was replaced by a hundred mile an hour review of Thursday’s Albion Roar Live with Al himself. There was enough time over these couple of beers to mention the phrase “potential banana skin” but no one did. Inwardly I think we were all as confident as the boys. The players, it turned out, were over confident.
Here I need to go off on another tangent again to explain something. When I write this it normally goes one of two ways. If we’ve had the boys then I will be relatively sober and attentive and try and bring attention to detail. If we haven’t got them you will get about eight hundred words describing me drinking. One rule is I never watch the highlights back before I write in case it clouds my judgement or opinion. I write this on Sunday morning because I find it a more productive time to write but I try to write what I felt and saw myself on the Saturday.
What follows is not going to be attention to detail. No “so and so passed to so and so and opened them up via so and so”. The range of emotions I went through simply did not allow my brain to record much of who was actually touching the ball when. And I have so far watched the highlights back at least five times. Go on – you have as well right? So the remainder of this is a mixture of emotion and analysis.
The first analysis part is down to the fact that we found ourselves 2-0 down after four minutes. The last time I can remember anything similar was away at Derby last season, a game we went on to lose 3-0 and which magnified the mutterings against Sami. This time though – for me – we were both overconfident and under prepared. Twice Charlton broke on us quickly. We were attacking but we took poor care of the ball – mistake number one. Way too many players were pushed up, leaving just Calde and Bruno back and a massive gap of some forty yards between them and our attackers – mistake number two. We expected their pacy players to attack the limited Calde – mistake number three.
Twice they broke at speed in to that massive gap. Twice they attacked Bruno. Twice they scored. Stockdale also has to take responsibility for the first. There is no way on earth you should be beaten at your near post like that. But having been over confident, to our detriment, at the start, now we looked like total strangers. My theory for that is that, simply, we have not been two goals down all season. We did not know how to play when two down. Going forwards we were over eager, trying to get the Hollywood goal back. At the back we didn’t know whether to twist or stick, leaving more gaps. Charlton could and should have gone four nil up, but for that man Stockdale making amends.
Meanwhile Charlton’s fans, who in the week had asked for our support in regards to a protest against their board, endeared themselves to nobody by throwing the ball among themselves behind their goal to waste time. Their team went down, contemptuously, like they were shot at each challenge (one nasty clash of heads that did for their player and had March sporting a Fozzie head band aside). The keeper wasted so much time he was booked. Eight added minutes went on at the end of the first half but, luckily, no more damage was done. We went in two down and I tweeted that we would be lucky to be thrashed. Ahem.
WE might not know how to play when two down but two men did; Chris Hughton and Colin Calderwood. What exactly they said I don’t know but it wasn’t the tearful, soul searching pessimism The Boy and I were indulging in on our way to the WSU bogs. We came back out a different side. True, we were still searching for that highlight reel goal but BOY did we get it.
Someone posted a set of James Wilson goals on NSC when he joined. Many have him twisting and turning through goals of sheer individual brilliance. Now Charlton broke out of defence again but they mis-controlled the ball and we had a midfield presence to break it up this time. A short ball was slipped to Wilson about halfway in to their half. He twisted and turned in a moment of sheer individual brilliance, running into space, keeping it away from defenders and putting a low finish past the keeper like he was a boy tapping in through two jumpers in the park. The Amex erupted. It was the turning point. Or one of two.
Next we broke and found the canny Zamora who played Bauer like a cheap violin, backing in, holding and turning away to be clear on goal. Bauer hauled him back and the red card was inevitable. Charlton’s on field antics continued as they disputed one of the most stone-wall reds I’ve seen. Next to me The Boy was going mental. “DADDY! I’VE NEVER SEEN THE OTHER TEAM HAVE SOMEONE SENT OFF BEFORE!” he yelled. From the free kick Kayal nearly levelled. Now we were going to camp out in their half. An equaliser was a distinct possibility.
Hughton now threw the kitchen sink at it. On came Hemed to make three up front. On came Van La Parra for Calde, allowing March who’d been brilliant (and nearly equalized with a barnstormer) to play left back. And in went the goal, March raiding on the left and the ball playing ping-pong before Zamora AGAIN tucked in from very close range. What a sniffer the man is. What a genuine addition to our squad. The Amex looked like the roof was about to come off. I do believe there was some cavorting.
Even as Charlton were licking their wounds and we were reminding their fans that they’d messed it up (though we used another word) we broke down their right and a perfect centre came in. At that point, for me, the game turned in to slow motion. At the Albion Roar live there had been talk of Hemed’s confidence and his need to get one in off his backside. On twitter that morning I’d said the same. Now he had a clear header from four yards out and he headed it straight at the keeper. Only it span up in the air, bounced backwards and was carried in to the North Stand goal on a swirling wind. What a way to break your fast. What a way to go 3-2 up. Bedlam.
And that was that. We toyed with them as a cat does a wounded mouse and then it was over and we had three points. I had another two pints. Often we’ll just talk among ourselves after a game but not yesterday. I met a guy who has been really helpful with my running and marathon training. I met the NSC mods and the group I used to drink in the Welly with. We shared an accidental train home with Ade from the Roar. That train was buzzing too. Under the radar my friend unleashed his new Bong song that includes a word that he changed to say “effing”. At that moment one of those pauses descended. “Couldn’t you say something even cleaner than effing” said The Boy to the whole train.