Barnsley and Leicester at home – a tale of two teams

Two home matches in five days. Manna from heaven for this blogger of course. After over a month without a live game, relying on dodgy streams and not being interrupted by the kids during a Sky broadcast, suddenly I could eat all the pies, drink all the beers and shout fairly much what I wanted without missing a minute of the action.

They were, on paper, two very different games and despite an unbeaten run coming in to them, the realistic expectation was three points from the two. Four would have been a bonus. That’s because we were playing a side that were rock bottom, without an away win or a manager, followed by Leicester, big spenders and new league leaders. Football games aren’t played on paper though. Perhaps they should be. You could spend almost the whole 90 minutes laughing at players in bright orange and green boots falling on their arses and, afterwards, the kids could draw on the pitch. Three points is exactly what we got. Just not in the right order.

I’m not going to dwell too much on Tuesday, except to say I should be more careful with my main twitter account. That morning I had almost the perfect commute for the first time since autumn arrived and I wondered what Tuesday had left up it’s sleeve. Immediately my mate Jamie tweeted back that perhaps it held a Barnsley win. Surely not? Tuesday continued to be lovely to me. I was able to leave work early, I met an old friend by accident on the way to the ground, The Swan had an absolutely amazeballs guest ale on and seemed to get my cheesy chips to me in about thirty seconds using their unique ordering system where everyone has number 31. All good. Then the game started.

I honestly haven’t seen a more spineless performance since before Poyet joined us. It was like a return to the bad old days. After about ten minutes Barnsley realised that we a) had no pace and b) had taken them far too much for granted and pushed on and caused us real problems. They kept the ball better and twice they walked through the middle of our defence to score soft goals. Matt Upson got a consolation from a corner but even though there was plenty of time left it always felt like a consolation. I felt for the sponsors having to choose a Brighton man of the match because there wasn’t one. Upson got it for his goal. Subjects covered during a very swift post match pint in the West Lower concourse included ‘why didn’t Ince play?’ ‘wasn’t JFC shit?’ ‘weren’t we shit?’ and ‘why didn’t we play two strikers against the bottom side?’ All perfectly fair, though I suspect Ince was still shattered from carrying the team by himself in the first half at Bournemouth.

Saturday morning dawned. At home games I sit with my very, very good friend Mark and it was his son’s birthday party in Burgess Hill. We were going to get the coach to the Amex straight afterwards. So it was I spent the morning being screamed at by eight year old boys and listening to someone called Ginger Phil play Gangnam Style and What Does the Fox Say while clearing up half eaten cheese sandwiches. The kids had a blast and we made the coach in plenty of time. Now it wasn’t What Does the Fox Say but How Will the Foxes Play? More to the point how will we play? We couldn’t be that bad again could we?

The game started with a minute’s applause for Nelson Mandela, a man who I admire more than almost any other, though I struggle to see the relevance to a Saturday afternoon football match in Southern England. It was a timely reminder, though, that anything is possible. It also reminded me of being herded through the truly uninspiring Nelson Mandela Park in the middle of Leicester after away games at Filbert Street.

Then Mark pointed out the obvious change that I had missed. There was no Pole in Goal. There was a Slovakian. Kuszczak had been injured in the warm up and replaced by Brezovan aka Sexy Pete. I looked at Mark and uttered the stupidest words of the whole of Saturday. “Well, it’s just a case of if we lose three, four or five nil now.”

This opinion didn’t change as Brezovan was called in to action early as Dean Hammond (yes him) started a move that ended with similar toothless challenges to Tuesday and a smart save from the Slovak. It was to be our last bit of toothlessness of the half and also the last time I noticed Hammond touch the ball.

Still early in to the game we broke with pace (yes pace) down the right and found Spanish Dave in space on the flank. He played an almost impossible, perfect, cross on the ground that sliced Leicester open like a particularly accurate and arrogant surgeon showing off to the sexy new nurse and Barnes simply couldn’t miss from about four yards. 1-0.

It got even better. Leicester attacked but we broke it up. They looked like winning it straight back but Barnes won a brilliant 50/50 challenge to get the ball to Spanish Dave and then picked himself straight up to provide a dummy run down the right. SD played an almost impossible, perfect, long ball to Conway who controlled it brilliantly and slotted in to the far corner. 2-0. Two fucking nil against the leaders and we deserved it too.

All over the pitch heroes were being made with the exception of poor Gordon Greer who had to go off injured. Replacement El Abd had one of his best games in a Brighton shirt alongside Upson who was having one of those ‘read everything and win everything’ games. Bruno was the OLD Bruno. You know the one that first joined us? Bridcutt and Ince were dominating midfield, interchanging between pushing up and breaking up. Crofts worried them. Barnes was putting in a shift and a half. Sexy Pete was solid.

Inevitably Leicester took off Hammond and replaced him with Knockaert at half time and 27000 people (ok probably about 24000) wondered why Knockaet hadn’t started as he caused us immense problems. Talking of immense problems though Conway was still targeting Waselweski at right back. Conway was also having his best game in the stripes and exposing some truly dreadfully inconsistent refereeing as the Leicester right back got last chance after last chance after last chance. He should have been off. Eventually Morgan had to come over and cover him.

Inevitably again Leicester had a very bright 10 minutes as we sat too deep and they pulled one back as we left Andy King totally unmarked at the back post. The nerves were jangling. Oscar to his credit brought on Lua Lua as a statement of intent and we began breaking on them again. Having had a clear penalty turned down when Upson was pushed in the box we then earned another one as Barnes was similarly shoved and Mr Inconsistent gave it. He smashed it straight down the middle, Schmeichel moving a fraction too early. I had been doing that ‘Sky Sports hand over mouth’ pose but as it went in The Amex went mental and so did we.

Man of the match? Could have been any of them. Barnes got it, presumably for his goal tally and he certainly worked for it. He’ll be black and blue this morning but hopefully delighted.

Subjects covered during a very long two post match pints in the West Lower concourse included ‘wasn’t Ince immense’ ‘wasn’t Barnes great’ ‘how worried were you during the shaky ten minutes’ ‘wasn’t it great putting on Lua Lua when he did’ and ‘what the fuck happened to Dean Hammond?’

I got the train home happy.

Season Preview and Prediction

It’s about this time of year that all the serious blogs start running their prediction series. These are written by writers who have spent part of their summer studying form, transfers and board room takeovers and watching friendlies, before contacting other serious bloggers for their opinions on them. I have spent the summer packing up our house for a move, picking up after two small children, eating barbecued sausages, drinking cider and watching The Ashes. I haven’t been to a pre-season game. I haven’t even been past The Amex on the train. I have spent a good deal of time on North Stand Chat however and I believe that’s what qualifies you as an expert these days.

Of course every fan keeps their finger on the pulse in one way or another as not knowing the ins and outs when you meet your mates for that first pre game drink is a bit like turning up for a Top Gear recording in a Peruda Kenari. The managerial changes are well documented here and everywhere else but there has also been a good deal of player movement. Of the players I was worried about losing there is mostly good news. Adam El-Abd has signed a new deal to the delight of any Championship centre forward who likes getting their head cheekily slapped (and beating cheeky centre backs for pace) and we have also signed Matt Upson who was outstanding in our very mean defence in the second half of last season. After a summer of ‘will he / won’t he’ suspense that initially ended in a goodbye, crowd favourite and utility player par excellence Moreno “Spanish Dave” David Lopez has signed for another year, bringing an absolute flood of tweeted pictures of THAT celebration after the Palace free kick. Kemy Agustien appears to have signed from Swansea to further strengthen the midfield, though the club seem to be reluctant to announce the signing despite Agustien playing for 45 minutes in the friendly against Norwich last night.

However, The Best Left Back In The Championship aka Wayne Bridge has left for Reading and been replaced by Adam Chicksen who may not even be the best left back at the club currently given that Calderon can play there and Maksimenko started against Norwich and played for all 90 minutes. The rumours on NSC are of a high quality left back signing with Chicksen being used as back up and the rumours want to be true as this is the last area in which we are significantly weaker than last season.

Of course with a new man in charge there will inevitably be changes in playing style. We’re certainly not about to adopt hoofball in the style of Wimbledon in the 80s but Oscar has promised that his version of quality, flair laced passing football will be faster and more attacking than Gus Poyet’s, something that should be making every Brighton fan lick their lips. It was, after all, fast paced attacking football that got Palace to the top of The Championship last season before Dougie Freedman jumped ship to Bolton and Holloway turned Palace from a league team in to a cup team.

But it is Bolton’s experience that should make Brighton fans wary. As Freedman arrived they initially struggled but, once settled in, they had a storming end to the season coming very close indeed to the playoffs. In the same way a group of players that is still largely last season’s need to be given time to adapt to Oscar’s way of doing things and patience in the stands will be crucial to success. It is stating the bleeding obvious to note that it is where we finish in May that is important and not where we are in September (Palace, remember had an awful first few games last season before going on that charge). Nevertheless it is September when I expect to see the first “Oscar Out” thread on NSC.

We will start the season undercooked  if you ask me but I fully expect us to be challenging in or around the top half by the end of the season.

We do need to be though. It’s easy to do gambling mentaphors with a poker player running the club so naturally I’m going to do a gambling metaphor. This is a big hand in a big tournament that we’re playing and the first card wasn’t the best. Off the field there are changes that are causing a good deal of discussion and disgruntlement. The free special buses from areas outside of Brighton have stopped to be replaced by a pay service (albeit with guaranteed seats) which might be seen as reasonable if season ticket holders weren’t already paying travel costs as part of their season ticket package. New caterers have been brought on to the concourse and reports of their first efforts at the Villareal friendly were less than complimentary. New membership schemes are in place while the cashback on buying items on your smartcard has turned from a simple 10% to something that requires a stopwatch and a mobile version of Microsoft Excel to work out.

All this is fine (it’s not but that’s a whole other article) so long as the team is doing well but not so acceptable if you’re starting February in 16th place. Expect our fantastic attendances to be somewhat less than fantastic if the goods aren’t being delivered on the pitch.

So who do I expect to do well? With three relatively strong teams coming down from the Premier League (and three very weak ones having gone up) it’s hard to see beyond QPR, Reading and Wigan. However, should QPR have a poor start there is just the outside possibility of them becoming the next Pompey. Leicester should be there or thereabouts which probably means they’ll underachieve again. ‘Boro and Birmingham have mid table written all over them which will come as a disappointment to their shirt sponsors and everyone expects Yeovil to struggle. Our own experience of the Championship at Withdean would seem to confirm this.

So – predictions:

Automatic – QPR & Reading

Playoffs – Bolton, Wigan Leicester and one other !!!

Us – top ten – possibly the one other in the playoffs if everything goes to plan

Down – Barnsley, Yeovil, Millwall