Preston North End at Home – Back to the Future

At the end of this one I was hanging with my entourage* when my friend Tim wandered over to chat. He asked, as he often does, what I’d be writing about. I have to be honest, I gave a bit of a blank look. “Not sure. I’ll be lucky to get a hundred words out of it” I eventually replied. I realised, as we headed for my friend’s house for a large bowl of stew and further restorative glass of wine, that I would need some sort of literary device.

*wavy lines and spooky music*

Come with me to pretty much halfway between the release of Back to the Future and its sequel, the imaginatively named Back to the Future II. It is 1987, it is a dark evening, I am sixteen and watching the news (because I was a fun kind of sixteen year old) on one of the four analogue television channels available to us back in the day. After the news Michael Fish came on to do the weather. This he started off, unusually, by stating that an old lady was mad. Or, at least, that the one who had contacted him to say a hurricane was approaching was wrong. I’m sure he would have added the phrase “the deluded old bat” if he could but I digress. ‘That’s ok then’ I thought and went to bed. I was fun, remember?

The next morning my alarm went off at six in the morning and I got up to do my paper round. I was careful not to wake anyone else in the house and tiptoed down in the dark as was my habit. It certainly sounded wet and windy out and, oddly, I could not turn on the kitchen light. ‘Bulb must have gone’ I thought. I got on my bike and cycled off to the paper shop at the speed of Sir Bradley Wiggens in the Olympics, for the shop was to the west of me. I got to the shop and it was closed. No one was about. At all. Anywhere. I looked down to Hove seafront and saw bits of beach hut blowing round in the air. ‘Bugger this’ I thought and headed home. It took me half an hour to do a mile.

Why had I gone out in the Great Storm to do a paper round? Because I needed the money for the weekend. Brighton were at home to Preston North End and I wanted to go, as I had been to every home game that season.  “Never mind” said my dad. “They’ll have to pay you and the game will be off anyway.” Forty eight hours later I was walking through the ruins of my school via its playing field with my friend Colin to the North Stand. Along with 6041 others I watched the game which did go ahead (and, yes, I did get paid). To this day it is one of the worst games of football I have ever seen. It had 0-0 written all over it from minute one. By seventy minutes I was willing it over. Older people in the North Stand were doing that raising an invisible pint glass gesture to one another that suggested that they would be much better off in the pub – indeed most probably wished they’d never left, but luckily this was the eighties and the pubs weren’t open all day. otherwise the crowd would have been about twelve.

So, Brighton v Preston has form. And not in a good way. What would be needed to avoid such a snore fest this time round? Well, we would certainly need our midfield to be at its creative and competitive best. We would need an opposition who weren’t negative from minute one, eyeing up a 0-0 like it was the World Cup. And we would need our strikers to take their chances. Getting out of the day without further decimation to the squad would be a bonus. Oh dear.

Back to the Future II imagines the world in October 2015 from the perspective of a couple of years after the Great Storm. It thought we would all be riding hover boards, but that the concept of time travel would still be unique to Doc and his Delorean. Twenty three odd thousand Brighton fans, however, time travelled yesterday back to last season. With Kayal out suspended and Stephens missing, presumed injured, Crofts and Ince would have to run the midfield. Instead, they went about proving that while our strongest eleven is very strong indeed, our squad is still fairly weak. Where there had been midfield dominance and creative tricks, now there was panic and sideways passes. Where clear cut chances had been made and taken, and I had been certain we would score at least once, now we looked at the goal like it was an alien object. And this was just in the first half. In the second we made an ordinary, physical, negative Preston side look like Manchester Bloody City.

It was painfully apparent by about forty six minutes that we would not score. On fifty The Boy started reading his programme and REALLY mucking about. By seventy he was willing the game finished. If he’d been older he would have done that raising an invisible pint glass gesture. What we really needed now was for the ref to blow before any real damage was done to the squad. Just then Bong went down on the left touch line as if he had been shot. He didn’t move and a stretcher was called for.

At the time of writing what I know about the injuries is what everyone knows from the press conference and subsequent tweets. Stephens’ injury is hopefully minor. Greer and Lua Lua are close. Bong had hurt his knee, which I’m taking could be anything from a simple twist to ligament damage. Expect Rosenior to fill in at left back at Reading and a juggle all the way around the midfield, and possibly defence, to cope (for example could Calde come in at right back with Bruno playing the Rosenor role? Could we instead go 4-5-1 from outset?).

What is certain is that we are in to the phase of the season where your squad players need to be stood up and counted. If yesterday is anything to go by we might just want to put that fizz back in the cellar. Still, with other results going our way we are still undefeated and still four points clear so the collateral damage – for now – is minimal. And I got more than a hundred words out of this puppy. Thank you Michael Fish. Thank you Michael J Fox. Thank you Preston, producing memorably crap games since 1987.

*having a pint with some friends and our kids, the kids weren’t drinking

This Window Seems 9/10

So, right now, there is a thread on North Stand Chat asking fans to rate the permanent transfer window that closed yesterday at 6 p.m.

I gave it a solid nine. But…….

Last season, in the middle of this window and on several posts I have argued that the time to really judge the business you have done is just before the next one. The table after half a season will not tell a lie and your team’s new purchases will have, by then, gone up against everyone else’s new purchases. At that point it becomes a case of HAVE done well rather than it LOOKS like we’ve done well.

With that disclaimer in place though I’m confident. A look at the business in and their starts to the season will show why.

Firstly there are those who have already made a first team impact. Rosenior, though mainly used as a sub, showed his versatility on Saturday against Ipswich with a stand out performance in midfield. For a – shall we say – more experienced player he has bags of pace. His open letter to Hull fans shows him to be the same sort of person as Calde (IMO). In other words, where last season we were lacking pace and leadership our initial signing seems to bring both.

Hemed meanwhile looks a genuine number nine. Three goals already, one dubious, but I wouldn’t want a centre forward in the team who didn’t claim a goal if he thought he got half a hair follicle on it. That’s what strikers do. Baldock – as so many said last season – looks a different player playing off him.

Bong is fast. VERY fast. As an attacking threat he is more potent than Bennett from the same position last season and the combination of his pace and reading of passes means he can get himself out of trouble. He can get himself IN to trouble as well, we’ve already seen that, and he will commit the odd howler or two. However, his partnership with Lua Lua is looking as good as Hemed’s with Baldock.

Zamora. I really don’t need to say anything do i?

Hunemeier, aka Uwe, aka the BFG brings more leadership. Already we have seen he will put his body on the line for the team and will stop at almost nothing to intercept or make a tackle. Despite GG being club captain his organisation of the line at Fulham – his debut – was noticeable (with the exception of their goal which he or Bong should have cleared). If he has a weakness it’s in the air with teams already bombarding us long ball stylee (I’m looking at YOU Blackburn and Fulham).

As for the later additions we will have to see on Murphy and Manu. Murphy had a very solid debut without tearing up trees and was sacrificed tactically against Ipswich. Manu has such a flair name I might just forgive him anything. As far as I can gather either of these players could play the Baldock role as well as out wide if needed bringing real flexibility to the front line.

Of the ones bought to develop or play back up I am yet to see Maenpaa in action and cannot comment. However, his signing has had an effect on Stockdale who looks twice as fit as last season and is playing out of his skin.

Hambo and Harper are risks but I’m told Hughton and the team really rate Harper and getting him from Real Madrid is possibly the biggest coup we pulled off in the whole window. Goldson? I’d have to see him first.

Finally it’s goodbye to COG for now. It was inevitable he would go out on loan once Zamora was match fit. A genuinely nice bloke and intelligent man it just never quite worked out for him here. While he can do a job we will never play to his strengths, or even know what those truly are beyond holding the ball up. Sending a COC Cup penalty in to orbit was the final straw.

No loans yet either. Last season’s biggest bugbear has turned in to this season’s relief. I would not be surprised if we did land one or two. Perhaps an additional attacking option if CH felt that we needed one, However, on the evidence of the first part of the season what we have already will do just nicely thanks.

Bong! Here is the news…………..

gbong

Another signing then.  A permanent starting left back, something we’ve not has in a while and very much needed. Another nationality to add to the Amex League of Nations. Welcome Gaetan Bong.

Here’s how much those transfer rumour sites know. One “new” one claiming to be a journalist called Peter Allen (@PeterAllen78) was actually set up in 2012 but did not tweet until a few days ago. “Peter” claimed to have excellent links to agents and to our club and tweeted that Zamora and Jonas Gutierrez were talking to us in those few days. Lots of tweets per day until someone did a Google image search and found that Peter’s profile pic was actually of a disgraced psychic from Wales who had once been in The Telegraph. When posted and challenged on North Stand Chat the account went amazingly quiet again. The one player that they had not mentioned in the tweet flurry was Gaetan Bong. Neither had anyone else.

I know very little about Bong, having not seen him play for Wigan or, as far as I know, anyone else. If I had he didn’t stick out. This contrasts with our first two signings. I’ve seen plenty of Rosenior over the years. I hadn’t seen Tomer Hemed live but the good thing about strikers is that they have highlight reels on Youtube where you can at least watch back what you think their finishing is like, so they are not a complete surprise. No one does highlight reels of left backs as far as I’m aware, but if they did they wouldn’t show the important stuff, covering, positioning, overlapping, blocking and closing down anyway. I’m just going to have to take the club’s word on this one. And do you know what? I think I will.

This summer’s recruitment feels different, like a continuation of January. Although the only addition of note was Kayal in that window he turned out to be head and shoulders above anything else we had in that team. Now we have added an ex Premier League defender and two internationals. Though we started big last summer with Stockdale, to say that player had a mixed season would be an understatement. It will certainly be interesting to see what sort of a season he has in front of a strengthened back four and with an initially impressed Ben Roberts coaching him. But then we moved on to Danny Holla, about who I knew even less than I do about Bong, before belatedly filling up with has-beens and loans.

Up to now we seem to be adding steadily, in areas of obvious weakness rather than necessarily replacing like for like, and with real thought. And we’re keeping it quiet rather than alerting the world and his wife to our targets (who DIDN’T know we were in for Ward and Clayton last season).

It’s very hard to justify a good feeling on recruitment when you admit that you are relying on Youtube highlights and past pedigree. I can only do so for the reasons above. But nevertheless I’m starting to hanker for the new season whereas, at the start of May, I’d have been happy to never see a ball kicked again.