Middlesbrough Preview

Thus is an incorrectly named blog. Brighton But Mainly At Home would be more accurate but I’m almost a brand now, what with the running and the Albion Roar, so the name stays.

As The Boy has got older so I’ve slowly returned to away games, mainly with him but not exclusively. This is why Fulham away is lovingly recalled in these very pages and QPR isn’t. At Fulham there were child minding duties included. Not so QPR which, to be honest, is a bit of a blur.

About three quarters of the way in to this amazing season Steve and I decided we were going to take the boys to Middlesbrough if we could. We figured, even at that stage, that it would serve one of three purposes; purpose one, massive party to celebrate our already secured promotion, purpose two, to thank Chris and the lads for a magnificent effort even though we’d just missed out or purpose three, game that decided our whole season.

It was a plan that only half came to fruition. When the tickets were released we had enough points but they didn’t. Since the tickets were released block by block, stand by stand we couldn’t be confident of sitting with them if we managed to pick some up later, which we didn’t. So, tomorrow, Steve’s wife is graciously having a herd of boys from the school round to hers to watch the game on telly while Steve and I bugger off to the biggest game we’ve played since Hereford. Result.

A result is what we will need though for, as anyone who has been in Brighton over the last few days will know, we are going up for purpose three, the result of which will then turn the remainder of the trip in to either purpose one or two. It’s tears in the stands, a trudge to the station and a mournful, reflective beer on the way home. Or it’s delirium, a light jog and champagne. There doesn’t really seem to be any scope for anything else.

So far Steve has put it in much better perspective than me. We bumped in to each other on the school run yesterday and the trip was the only conversation. His perspective was that it was ninety minutes of football in which anything could happen. They could get an opener in thirty seconds, deflected off Greer’s arse and park all eleven players in front of goal for the remainder. Knockaert and co could completely overrun them and have us three nil up at half time. Ayala and Rhodes could do the same to us. Or we could have a corner in the ninety seventh minute, still at 0-0 with Stockdale once more charging forward in to their box to cause mayhem. In this season any of these things are possible. Our only influence from the stands is to make as much noise as possible.

But I over analyse things. There is a lot of history. We are a club who have needed a specific result away from home on the last day of the season on a few memorable occasions. Hereford is one, where we were down and out at half time, but look what happened there. At Forest a couple of seasons ago we left it rather late, but that shot of Kaz leering in to the camera at the end is as iconic as any in our pre-game montage. Then there was that rather more comfortable away win in the North East in 1979 to go in to the top flight for the first time.

I am – for information purposes rather than lecturing or debating ones – an atheist and sceptic. I do not have lucky rabbits feet, I will happily walk under a ladder or across a cat and I have never found the power of prayer. Don’t get me started on homeopathy. But I have always understood religious and superstitious people because the one place that all that goes out of the window is football. I make regular pilgrimages to my temple, The Amex, in my lucky socks and trainers. I believe that I can will the ball in to the net just with the power of thought. I constantly look for signs and pivotal moments, on and off the pitch. I am a hypocrite.

Why do I mention that? Because, of course I am looking at all those previous important final away games of the season and not seeing a lot of failure. Half my brain is telling me that’s a great omen. The other half is telling me we’re due one. I wish I was as rational as Steve.

Oh, sod it. The actual worst that can happen is that we get another crack in the playoffs and that, if that goes well, the boys might get their first trip to Wembley. That I shall get drunk with a good mate, that I shall be in the only place I want to be on Saturday. Most of those at the beam back would swap with me in an instant. It’s not THAT bad, so long as you ignore the BBC headline that says that £170 million is riding on the game. That would be a small payback for Mr Bloom eh?

So can we do it? Can I produce rational analysis on the game? I’ve written a few previews for other sites this season and all of them ask things like “who should we be worried about?” and “what’s the score going to be?”. I can’t do that here. The most I can say is that we will miss Dunk but that we are likely to replace him with the club captain, a current international. So not that bad really. That we will not remotely be the same proposition as the team that was wiped out at The Amex, 3-0. We will have a real left back, a tricky winger and two midfielders who have been imperious. Boro will be every bit as worried about us as we are of them. After that, Steve’s right. It’s down to the roll of the ball, the luck of the deflection, the accuracy of the refereeing decision. All that stuff you just have to watch from the stands. Argh.

I may write a match report and I may not. The day after I have to take nine excited boys to a five-a-side tournament in the sun. Should we win I will need all the extra sleep I can get before I set off to do that. Should we lose I might not be capable of words at all. This may be over and out for the season. I may see you again. I hope, in the nicest possible way, that I do not, because I am spending Sunday morning wandering in a daze looking for a bag of bibs and some sun-lotion and wondering where that kebab came from.

 

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.

 

 

Middlesboro At Home 15/16 – Inevitable

So that’s the unbeaten run done then. It was always going to happen at some point and, with us, it normally happens live on Sky, to the delight of Ian Holloway and the away fans who can no longer make the stupid kick off time that always make up their entire audience.

There were a number of contributing factors of course. Injuries were one. The fact Boro look by far the best side in the league was another. And the portents weren’t good. I don’t like my routine being disturbed at the best of times and yesterday it was as disturbed as Spike Milligan on LSD. But, for me, the seeds were sown at Loftus Road. Mr Dunk may well make one howler a game but his stupidity in getting sent off not only cost us two points there, we have now conceded four goals without him, all in the air or from set pieces.

Our regular group was halved yesterday, meaning less conversation on the train. The kick off time meant lunch was at the ground and The Boy wanted chips rather then pie, another routine changer. Then he decided that these and the Maltesers he always stuffs down had made him feel sick. He spent the game moaning not about the ref (well ok, he moaned a bit about the ref but then it was Craig Pawson) but about his stomach.

Within four minutes we’d conceded but, unlike Charlton, there was no obvious way back.  Middlesboro broke swiftly down our right and, with Bruno missing from the right back position it was left to Van La Parra (who had a shocker all game) to close down Adomah. He didn’t and a perfect cross found Kike who headed home. It was not the first time we were to be beaten in the air.

We gave it a go after that. A lot of territory but no real chances. There seemed to be an obvious free kick that Mr Pawson mysteriously failed to give but our penalty shout wasn’t. Boro are incredibly organised and closed us down quickly in midfield and on the wings, where Friend is probably the best full back in the division. Going forward Stuart Downing pulls the strings as I expected, so that you can never relax. We were restricted to hopeful pot shots and never looked safe when they broke.

Just before half time we failed to defend a corner and Ayala’s free header was deflected in to the net by Adomah. 2-0 down but none of us felt the miracle come back was on this time.

Indeed it became a case of how many we’d concede. More comedy defending at a set piece allowed Stuani a free header from six inches and the inevitable third had been scored. Boros excellent turn out of 1800 fans celebrated, but otherwise the Amex was silent.

I have to admit we left early. Another routine change – we NEVER do this normally – but we had a family Christmas meal to go to and probably would have left at the same time had we been three up instead (though if it had been close I know I probably would have stayed).

In the week there were clear signs Mr Bloom will be getting the cheque book out in January. He will need to but not necessarily where people think. On the evidence of yesterday VLP is not the March replacement I thought he was and further strengthening is needed to a creaky defence that has now conceded ten goals in our last five games.

As we got off the train The Boy’s tummy got the better of him and we had to visit the public Kermit for number twos. He reported when he came out that someone had written CPFC on the back of the toilet door. “That offends me Daddy” he said. It was that sort of day, son.

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.