Derby at Home 2016/27 – Bullying

When I was younger, so much younger than today, weekends were simple. Fridays were spent with your mates meeting up in a town centre pub somewhere before heading off to a nightclub to drink or dance or both. Unless you fell out with a friend or split up with a girlfriend, which happened, but rarely, Friday nights were purely about pleasure. Then on Saturday, sleep deprived and hung over, we’d gradually head to the back of The Edinburgh in town to congregate around the pool table and drink our hangovers off. Some time after two o’clock we’d head to Hove on a train, hand some cash over to a man at a turnstile and prepare to watch the Albion lose. Simples as actual meerkats are unable to say. The Albion never actually ruined your weekend, they merely became a catalyst to continue a drinking session. On Sunday you woke up with a double hangover and looked forward to a week surviving on tuna and baked beans and wearing your coat round the flat when it got cold and the next weekend you did it over.

Now however………..

Sky have come along and Sky dictate when you play your football match, whether you can have a minute’s applause for a fallen hero, when you can kick off, when your best players can leave the pitch and how your manager’s post match mood is played out. In return they pay a huge amount of money – to the teams in the league above you. Yes, we had another Friday match. And Sky don’t just show any old match, no siree, they only show the important ones that will affect the business end of the table. So it was that the potential existed for my weekend to be ruined before it had really started. Luckily I had reckoned without Derby’s general lack of being arsed.

On paper it was one of those games. As The Boy and I walked to the station he said “we could win 3-0 or they could win 3-0” which is Ten Year Old for “it could go either way”. The conversation was repeated on the train to Brighton with Steve. Another friend was joining us for the evening and we broke the normal routine to go for a pint in one of the fine pubs around Brighton Station. At 5.45pm it was heaving with football fans and relieved office workers. No doubt that a big event was about to take place.

When you’re challenging for top spot – or relegation, or a playoff birth – at this stage of the season then every game is important, every match a big one. When you are Ipswich (and I do not pick them at random, more later) not so much. A few weeks ago when the Sky fixtures had to be declared their executives must have been creaming themselves over this one. A Brighton side that would almost inevitably be challenging for automatic promotion, and possibly the title, against a Derby side newly rejuvenated under a former England manager pushing for the playoffs. As The Boy had said, a game that could go either way, and certainly wouldn’t be one sided. Hmmm.

We prepared for weekend ruination (or otherwise) as soundly as being in charge of ten year olds allowed. Ale on the concourse and stories of childhood, elderly parents, camping and conquests. So convivial was it that we just about got to our seats on time which, in hindsight, was good because the Albion didn’t hang around.

Sometimes this season we’ve started ponderously or slowly, inviting the question as to whether we were deliberately saving energy and just trying not to concede. In the bars and on the concourses we fans may be saying “all we need to dominate is an early goal” but it rarely comes to pass. Here, however, we were out of the gates like the proverbial bull in the china shop and a ponderous looking Derby never looked like coping.

We took the lead after just five minutes. A quick but seemingly innocuous square ball from Bruno to Knockaert saw the Frenchman quickly closed down but he danced round his man with magical feet, made space for his favoured left foot and cracked a long range drive as perfectly in to the corner as could possibly be imagined. Up in the gods, down by the pitch, and at all points in between, Brighton fans went potty. There was our early goal and there was little doubt that the little magician was going to torture Derby rather painfully.

My notes are never very complete but they do say “Derby should have equalised on 7 minutes”, a cross from Christie just turned over Bent who had eluded Lewis Dunk, just for a change. Derby are not mentioned again in the first half. My note taking skills in the full cauldron of The Amex are not the greatest but I do not think this unfair. After that let off it was all us.

Let’s be clear though, our movement, passing and tackling was first rate. When Beram Kayal first came back from injury I don’t think there was any way he was ready. Now the Israeli looks returned to full fitness. With Stephens in full cry the centre midfielders bossed the game. Knockaert terrified them down one wing while Skalak, who has come in for criticism recently, was as hard working down the other as any player I’ve seen in the stripes at any time. Both wide players were ably assisted by their fullbacks. It was a joy to watch. From one such move Skalak found a perfect cross to Murray which he headed over when he could have done better. From another Knockaert twisted, turned and strained but could only force a corner. The Duffy-less defence were nearly spectators but, when it was occasionally cleared, Dunk acted as quarterback and the BFG read the game like an expert librarian does a Noddy book.

Inevitably we scored again just before half time. Had you turned up late or gone for a pint early you’d have seen us dominate but missed the significant action. Kayal played us through under a heavy challenge but we carried on and the ball seemed to rebound off their defence to put Baldock clear. He finished – sorry Albion Roar – with aplomb, cool as a cucumber under pressure.

Rarely have I seen such a one sided half. Rarely have I felt more comfortable during a supposedly big game. Sweets were passed round and tickertape torn up ready to greet the third goal we all expected, though when it came there was a touch of fortune about it. It came after Derby’s only other threatening moment, Vydra hitting the angle of post and bar with a header. Nonetheless it had been coming. A lobbed ball over the top was missed by everyone and sat up nicely for Knockaert to cross. Murray and the keeper arrived at the same time and the ball came off the latter, bounced off the former and nestled in the corner. Three nil.

Derby were beaten like a red headed step child, a metaphor I choose because of its bullying tone rather than in spite of it. They offered nothing, though that doesn’t mean we weren’t magnificent, because we were. Hard to pick a man of the match. The front two were a menace and both scored. The midfield four ran the game. The full backs supported ably (an injury to Bruno the only sour note) and the centre backs were as comfortable as an old sofa. Only Stockdale doesn’t come in to the MoM reckoning, mainly because he had nothing to do. We bullied Derby back home.

Loud chants of “we’re on our way” at the stations. A late night for The Boy. And an evening capped off for me by roaming social media, soaking up the good feeling from Twitter, Facebook and North Stand Chat. On Twitter I encountered the funniest single accusation aimed at us from jealous rivals all season, an Ipswich (see) fan claiming we were tin pot because “our stadium has wifi”. I shouldn’t have responded but sometimes you can only beat what’s in front of you.

The Boy’s Ref Watch

Sadly for fans of ten-year-old vitriol and acidic anti-ref rants we all agreed he had a great game. Seven out of ten, which is like saying he was the best ref that ever existed.

 

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.

 

 

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.

Derby County at Home 2014/15 – Robbery

Well now.

We never beat Derby. Oh, I know there was a brief period in the BO* years, when they were a perennial mid-table bore and we were the flairtastic side that everyone hated, when we considered a visit from County untaxing – it was them that Vicente waltzed through to nearly score the best goal ever seen at the Amex – but recently, as far as Derby are concerned we have represented a walking three points. And rightly so. While our side of ex-internationals has been decimated Steve McClaren has taken what was only promising under Nigel Clough and sent it in to overdrive. It was only in May last year that I was drooling over them and wishing them all the best in the playoff final. They were easily the best side in the division last season and it was a travesty that they didn’t go up. Since then we have been back to the scene of that playoff disaster and conceded three goals in less than fifteen minutes under Hyypia’s suicidal leadership. I wasn’t expecting much.

*Before Oscar

I got off the train at Brighton. I was heading, again, for The Cyclist. I saw my friend Paul. “I’m not expecting much “ I said. He replied that the fact they’d just lost to Fulham, and that we’d played so well against Leeds meant they were beatable. This seemed to echo a conversation I’d had with The Boy just before I’d left the house. I was meeting my brother in the pub but he wasn’t there. Another friend was though, Andy aka Terry the Trainspotter, a man I’ve travelled the length and breadth of the country with watching Brighton back before marriage and kids. “I’m not expecting much” I said. Andy replied that Fulham had proven Derby were beatable.

My brother arrived and we jumped on the train to Falmer. “I’m not expecting much” I said, to which he replied along the lines of ‘you never know’. Fulham beat them. We had a couple of pints in Dick’s and then met my season ticket buddies in the West Upper concourse. I’ll let you guess how the conversation went.

So I took these low expectations to my seat, like last week during fanzone, and just like last week the stadium was deserted. It seemed no one else expected much either. That extended to the players. And let’s pause here for some amateur psychology (because, just as last week, the Real Ale had flowed and actual match description is a bit, well, sparse). How much of our feelings as fans transmits to the pitch? Genuinely?

Each game this season where we have taken the lead my immediate thought has been that we are about to concede. In fact it took the Leeds game to knock that out of me because we didn’t. Is that because we were all thinking it, and group pessimism somehow transmitted to the players? ‘We mustn’t concede now, we must hold this lead’ they’d think and immediately play within themselves and concede. So were fifteen thousand or more of us now thinking “we’re not expecting much” as the game kicked off, because that’s how we played. Within minutes Derby had hit the woodwork when a nice interchange led to Hendrick curling an effort beyond Stockdale but not in.

That’s right. Hendrick. Not Bent, nor our tormentor in chief Chris Martin, who were both missing. Derby may have been in All Yellow but the longer the Clocks ticked the less chance there was of them weaving some Magic and ending up in Paradise. Sorry. The point is that they were closing us down while we were affording them room. Their passing was slick where ours was laboured (one beauty from Holla excepted, though he tried to repeat the trick five minutes afterwards and played one of the most horrible balls ever seen at The Amex). I can’t name a chance that we had in the first half. Eventually my head and my bladder had had enough and I took myself off to relieve the pressure on it, wash my hands and get the beers in. The TV in the concourse was showing the last minute of the half and Derby should have scored, Stockdale tipping a point blank header over when they would have scored had it gone either side.

I wasn’t expecting much anyway.

If you thought Derby had dominated the first half then they absolutely BOSSED the first fifteen minutes of the second. We barely had a touch as the goal led a charmed (or perhaps a Bent and Martin free) life. They created then they missed. Then we gave them the ball again. They created then they missed. We gave them the ball. It was like groundhog day. And then. We tried a rare foray up their end. The North Stand, seeing some action at last, woke up. We won a long throw. Stephens won a header that was blocked. The loose ball fell to him six yards out. HE COULDN’T MISS! He didn’t. 1-0 us. I wasn’t expecting that.

And that was it really. The goal sucked the life out of them. Their fans who had been remarking on the dubious quality of our home support went silent. We gave it Ring of Fire like we were back at Fulham. The players seemed to realise that we now believed and the game evened out. And then the moment of the match (ok the moment for US, Derby having squandered chance after chance). O’Grady who had been fantastic leading a fairly non existent line and feeding off scraps exposed the space in the Derby defence left by their chasing of an equaliser and put in Lua Lua. In acres of space he did not cut in on his right foot but rather transferred the ball to his left and hit a blistering shot in to the bottom corner. No one was expecting that. We got the full backflip celebration and up in the Gods the four of us, Mark who has suffered the season with me, Steve who I have travelled everywhere with and my brother went stark, staring mental.

That was that. Daylight robbery. Grand larceny. Three points.

This morning, while writing this, The Boy appeared. “We won 2-0” I informed him. “Oh” he replied. “I didn’t expect that.”