When I write these, given I do it on a Sunday morning, I make the assumption that most of my readers are a) Brighton fans and b) aware of the result. It’s therefore hopefully not a spoiler to start off by saying how frustrating it was to come out of yesterday with only a draw. Was a draw a fair result? That’s an often-asked football cliché but it doesn’t ever mean much to me. If that’s the result at the end of the game then that’s the result and you’re better off focussing on the next task in hand rather than claiming “we woz robbed”. We could point to dominating much of the game, the lovely football we played in a first half full of chances and a couple of obvious red cards not given. Burnley could point to a disallowed goal that was yards over the line. The bottom line is that we were one piece of lax defending at a corner away from three points and that can feel like a defeat.
But I’m at the end before I’ve started again. The start this time was really on Friday night for the REMF quiz, an excellent night out that raised over £2000 for the charity and was thoroughly enjoyed by our team who by no means disgraced ourselves. It did end in the upsetting sight of a tax man parading the trophy like the FA Cup but fair play to his team who stormed ahead at the end.
An early kick off with the night before in your legs is never ideal but that’s what we had to face, and for once I didn’t have The Boy who elected to play Minecraft and Nerf Guns at his mate’s birthday party. Being freed from the shackles of parenthood I did what anyone who has a marathon to run in two weeks would and went for beer and bacon rolls at the REMF Vice Chairman’s new pub. Then, rather than waiting for the usual gang at a station, Tim and I walked the short distance to Brighton Station which was already heaving. The big match atmosphere had started and it was barely quarter to twelve in the morning.
An arrangements cock up meant that I wasn’t reunited with my usual partners in crime until just before the game kicked off but when it did the Amex was not only full but providing the sort of atmosphere you only get if a local journalist asks for it (or the ground is full to the rafters for a first v third clash at the business end of the season). Songs fizzled from North to West stands and back again. The North sang as one. The West Upper was the loudest I can remember since Palace. And the players responded.
When we are “on” we are a joy to watch. Not only has Hughton assembled a tight knit, all-for-one squad but he’s packed it full of players who delight with their touch, pace and commitment. Goldson has been unshakeable at centre back since taking over. Bruno must be one of the most exciting right backs in the land, at thirty five years old too. Kayal was all touch, energy and tackle, giving Burnley’s midfield a torrid time. Baldock was all over the place until having to go off with an unfortunate injury. On the wings Murphy teased on one side while Knockaert provided a master class on the other. One touch he produced was simply Cruyff-like in the week the great man passed away. Craig Pawson gave a foul against him for being too good. It was not to be his worst decision of the match.
Burnley, to their credit, are well organised though, particularly at the back. They defended tight and kept Hemed quiet as he was the eventual recipient of all this flair. Once won back they hit long balls for the speedy Andre Grey to chase. Such ding-dong battles for a long balls often result in set pieces, a free kick from a long way out or a corner. Like us they have no real stars, save Grey and Barton, but are a tight knit team with an excellent team spirit. They are also flat track bullies. Those aren’t my words but the words of a friend of a friend, a Burnley fan who was in their end who we had a pint with afterwards. Their success has been built on the fact that, of the bottom nine teams, who they have now played twice, they have won seventeen of eighteen. Here they gave early indications that a draw would be just dandy thank you.
Obviously, given all that, we took the lead from a set piece.
I’m still not sure how Dale Stephens curled the ball in from an almost impossible angle following a corner that was flicked on by a Burnley defender, but it wasn’t quite the lying-down overhead kick he produced at QPR. Indeed the ball seemed to go in off his thigh. There was a second of disbelief in the WSU as we thought it was wide before we all realised we’d scored and pandemonium ensued. One nil and, trust me, it was deserved.
Typically, though, we conceded in a similar manner, set piece defence not being our strongest suit. Burnley took a corner and again they flicked it on before it cannoned in to the leg of our ex player Stephen Ward who was conducting an all-in wrestling match with Bruno. Gray smashed the loose ball home from a couple of yards. At full pace it looks sloppy from our defence. On replay Bruno is giving Ward a bear hug. The latter then sits on the former. A goal, penalty, free kick or clearance could equally have resulted but 1-1 it was.
Still the game was on fire and it wasn’t long before we took the lead again. This time Burnley were on the attack when we sniffed it back and fed Baldock. Knockaert ran in to acres of space on the right and was found but Burnley got numbers back and the chance seemed to have passed. Not so for Knockaert. He dribbled it forever like the really good kid in the school playground before finding just enough room for a shot. It went in via a deflection and the Amex went potty once more.
These were not our only chances. We created plenty and Burnley normally had the numbers back to just about defend them, making us shoot or head from tight angles. It was nevertheless a very satisfying half and a great one for the neutral. The second half, though, was to be swathed in controversy.
There is no easy way to say this. Joey Barton – thug, wind up merchant, cheat and cod-philosopher extrodinairre – stamped on Kayal’s leg. A couple of inches lower and he’d have broken it. Craig Pawson – a referee who, let’s remember, sent off Romain Vincelot in the corresponding fixture when Poyet was in charge for inflicting less damage on a blade of grass – didn’t even show a yellow. It was the first of many mistakes to effect both sides. Later on Barton would again try to knobble Kayal with his elbow.
This sets in to context the worst decision of all. At this point Burnley should have had ten men, and if they had they might well not have been pushing us back to play on the counter. As it was they got another corner and we failed to win it in the air. Keane’s header was initially cleared but it bounced along – and clearly over – the line, before Sidwell cleared it. 2-2 in any game except this, Pawson and his assistants inexplicably missing a genuine goal. In the aftermath Kayal got a bit of retribution in on Barton but again no card of any description.
I say the above not in the spirit of fairness. After yesterday I can’t stand Barton or Dyche. I say it to demonstrate that Craig Pawson isn’t fit to referee at this level and should be returned to a park game forthwith.
Inevitably, having got away with it once, we didn’t again. Five minute of injury time came up and, in the first of them, Keane did it properly, breaking our hearts with a free header in to the net. And so on to that debate about fair results. If we’d taken our chances, if Pawson had acted on the stamp, we’d probably be sitting in second right now and it would be squeaky bum time for Dyche. Had the clear goal been given we may have lost – or we would have had more time to attack at the other end again.
But as Cloughie said, if my Auntie had balls she’d be my Uncle. A draw it was and I can live with that at this stage, given the fixtures each team has to fulfil. I just never want to see Craig Pawson or Joey Barton at the Amex again.