Forest At Home 15/16 – Encouraging

Pathetic. The performance of a group of people who you’d have thought had never staged Championship football before, let alone just a few months ago. It was dangerous, incompetent and inexplicable. But enough about Southern Trains and Brighton Station. The football, when we got there, was marvellous.

No one should leave their house, as we did, at ten to six and arrive at a venue, specifically designed for public transport and about five miles away as the crow flies, at twenty to eight, five minutes before kick off, but somehow we managed it.  With my two regular companions away on holiday The Boy’s oldest friend and his Mum stepped in. I know they both love an Amex home game but the two hour journey that nearly ended in a fight on our train carriage at Brighton Station would have tested anyone. Fortunately we got there just on time and, for once, it was worth it. Journey (nearly) forgotten.

This is a different team. Make no mistake about it. We might have sleep-walked our way to survival last term but there was no sleep walking last night. The manager might be the same but the intent is incredibly different. I was very glad we arrived on time for kick off because the first minute or so may just have set the tone for the season.

We kicked off and moved forward immediately. Took the ball from the centre circle and ran AT Forest where, under any other coach at the Amex, it would have been stroked back to the centre half, methodically and carefully. OK we lost it but that was just the cue for an immense sliding tackle, perfectly executed, to take the ball back off Forest again. In those few seconds we showed we were up for it and that the cowed set of players, reluctantly seeing out a 0-0 for survival, were a thing of the past. Hughton has the 2015/16 vintage in a very different mindset.

A description of the game in chronological order will follow shortly but it is important for now to highlight just HOW we were different. Ostensibly this is the same set of players with five senior additions and several departures. Yes those departures and additions have combined to ensure there are key partnerships throughout the side, and those mean that we are able to play either 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 fairly comfortably. At the back we have that old fashioned pairing of Greer and Dunk who looked revitalised, despite the latter probably only being 50/50 to stay with us. Greer had one of his better games in a while. Down the right Bruno and March combined neatly and dangerously as they had against Sevilla. On the left the immense Bong (quick, with superb instincts, strong, and ours permanently, unlike Bennett) and a super confident Kaz looked, if anything, even stronger. Stephens and Kayal, meanwhile, bossed midfield, looking every bit the commanding, up and down, central midfielders we should have had last season. Baldock played off Hemed in a two up front that many have been crying out for, forcing Forest to drop deep for much of the first half. Poor CMS. Even he’d have thrived playing off Hemed. How we misused him indeed.

The opening exchanges, however, slide tackle and kick off apart, were pretty even. Forest had perhaps the best chance of the match early on from a set piece, the ball curling on to the woodwork from Lansbury. After that though we began to dominate the ball with our wide players causing Forest problems and Hemed putting himself about. This eventually led to a woodwork strike of our own, the ball cut back to Kayal from our left who stuck the bottom of the post from just outside the box.  Plenty of pressure was exerted by the men in the stripes with corners and free kicks being won without conversion, but, as the clock ticked down for half time, Hemed was somehow denied from his head by a simply wonderful one handed stop from the Forest keeper de Vries.

It wasn’t to last. Could we maintain that same level at the start of the second? Yes we could. And five minutes in we finally turned our domination of the ball in to domination on the score card. A quick break down the right saw March hit a centre that was too high for our advancing strikers but fell to Lua Lua on the left corner of the box. He found space but, for once did not cut back on to his right. Instead he hit a superb angled drive with his left, just inside the far post with de Vries given no chance at all. Cue THAT celebration.

If anything was like last season it was the fact that the effect of the goal was to bring Forest back in to it. We sat back more, at least allowing us to admire the defensive abilities of Kayal and Bong, and played more on the break (one surging run down the left looked particularly impressive until we all realised the ball carrier was DUNK) and Forest carved out a few more chances. The best of those fell to teen sensation Tyler Walker who completely did our defence from a quick throw in, resulting in a goal mouth scramble which, fortunately, we were strong enough to clear from about a yard out, a scramble that resulted in me yelling my first “GET RID OF IT” since the Withdean days.

Hughton, seeing we were in trouble, made the same tactical switch as against Sevilla. Ince came on for Hemed to make a 4-5-1 or, really, a 4-1-4-1 as he sat just in front of the defence, who must have been glad of the help on a humid night (The Boy – “why do they keep drinking”, Me – “because it’s hot out there”, The Boy “no it’s not, the sun isn’t even out”). It needed it and steadied the ship and, despite bringing Rosenior on at left wing, we looked more assured again. In the end we saw the win out easily. Me, The Boy and our friends celebrated with crisps and our first pint of the night. No £4.35 sausage roll though. What’s that made from, Kobe Pork?

Was it perfect? No. Was it a good, tight Championship game of football? Yes. Was it a million times better than last season? Absolutely.

We’re Brighton and Hove Albion. We’re top of the league (if you read this before 3pm on Saturday).

Forest At Home 2014/15 – Mistakes

I barely know where to start with that game. Thirteen hours from the final whistle, hours that have included sleep, more beer that I should reasonably have had given that I need to go out for a four mile run this morning and attempting to deconstruct our failings with friends, other writers and disappointed small boys and I still don’t really know how we managed to lose it. But lose it we did and we are very much still in a relegation scrap.

Could I weave a narrative around my whole day as I sometimes do (what my friend Ian calls the Brian Johnston approach)? I could, but in that respect it was unspectacular. A good day with friends ruined by ninety minutes of football, as I later posted on my Facebook account. No, we’d better dive in and analyse one of the more frustrating afternoons at what is fast becoming The Theatre of Frustration.

Other games in Chris Hughton’s reign have been games of two halves. This was not. We lost our last home game 3-2 as well but this was no Arsenal either. A muted atmosphere greeted the players and the seats around me that have been empty most of the season were back to being empty again. However we didn’t start by giving our red-clad opposition too much respect. We started in the driving seat. In fact, for the first forty two minutes you could have been forgiven for thinking that we were Arsenal and Forest were, well, us. They may have had a new manager but I can’t remember seeing a less interested team at the Amex ever. We were first to the ball. Every challenge. We were creating chances. They weren’t. We had well over sixty percent possession. We had more shots, more corners, more chutzpah and more desire.

Yet, even then the mistakes had started. March, who was very much part of the audacious yet patient start was fouled in a manner that The Boy always describes as a “dirty hack”, injuring him. No yellow from the ref. Mistake. The injury was bad enough for him to have to come off. We brought on the only-just-fit Lua Lua to play seventy minutes. Mistake. We realised that Forest were not exactly crash hot at defending set pieces, not a mistake at all. We hit a perfect cross to an unmarked player. Not a mistake at all. Except that player was Greer (who had a howler all day long). Mistake. His header from probably no more than four yards out squirted wide when it was easier to score, and scoreboard wise at least the pressure stayed off Forest. Mistake.

Finally even we couldn’t keep missing and from a similar set piece Dunk was credited with finally applying the finish. Three minutes remained to just keep playing the way we were and we’d go in deservedly one up. I looked at Mark and mouthed “we just need not to concede now”. Mistake. The North Stand roared “Dougie, Dougie what’s the score?”. Mistake. Teixeira, who had been excellent up to then overcommitted to winning the ball back near the touchline and gave away a silly free kick. Mistake. The ball in seemed easy to deal with but no one had factored in Stockdale having one of his moments. He rushed out halfway but failed to clear the ball out or retreat, standing alone in no man’s land like an unlucky Tommy who’s misheard his CO. Collins couldn’t believe his luck, the ball DOBBLING in to the net off a post. Mistake.

We had dominated the first half 1-1. It was, in fact, not unlike the Cardiff home game, but, if anything was certain, it was that the second half would be different.  So it proved. Forest let us have far less time on the ball, putting in to clear focus that this was not a game of two halves, but of two sets of players, those having a fine afternoon, and those having a nightmare. In the former category were Teixiera (making a nuisance of himself), COG (likewise), Dunk (holding the defence together by himself) and, particularly Ince (rampaging, as per). In the latter were the aforementioned Greer and Stockdale, both full backs and, sadly, Calde (out of position). Not only did Forest find new belief, and more of the ball, they suddenly realised our full backs were about as good at defending as a Frenchman in a nice café. Far down our right Ince found himself covering for an exposed Bruno and having to commit an identical foul to the one that did for March (though this one drew a yellow from a referee who was inconsistent and, yes, prone to mistakes). The free kick was in a dangerous position on the edge of the box, and I think all of us at this point still had Forest’s opener in our minds. However it was still defendable. I still haven’t been able to watch the goal back so I may be unfair here, but basically Lansbury was able to shoot low on the ground and in to the far corner from an angle that was tighter than Paul Barber with a new spreadsheet. Yes it had been tapped to him. Yes it was well driven. But, still, how the hell did he score from there? Did it go through the wall? Was the wall badly positioned? Was Stockdale in the right place? There was at least one mistake there anyway. Now we weren’t drawing undeservedly, we were losing undeservedly and Forest were about to get the bit between their teeth.

Yet, as mistake ridden as we were, luck was also not on our side, Back we came for another charge and a great move produced a clear opening for Teixeira who hit the post, the ball rebounding harmlessly back to Darlow. Back came Forest Chris Burke easing down our left (and how many goals have we conceded from attacks down that side this season? It’s about 735 isn’t it?) and finding an unmarked Osborn to tap in with Greer in the same no man’s land that Stockdale had found earlier. 3-1.

With five minutes left on came Beram Kayal. And here is my last hope of us avoiding relegation. Chris Hughton had been my first hope but he can only work with the tools in his box. In Kayal we may just have a magic spanner. Here’s his game summary:

Came on. Immediately demanded the ball in an intelligent position. First pass went astray and apologies all round. Chased back when he lost it. Controlled spinning ball in the air dead with the top of his foot. Sprayed wonder pass with outside of foot. Scored (3-2). Nearly equalized with final kick of the game. It was quite some five minute cameo but why only five minutes. Delayed too long? Mistake. Or still carrying an injury, making him another Vicente which would be, you guessed it, a mistake.

I would have dearly loved that equalizer to have gone in as three quarters of the crowd seemed to be already in the train queue. Not us though. Afterwards I moaned along with the writers of three other blogs. We stayed for an extra beer to try to get over the frustration of the afternoon (most definitely not a mistake at the time but I bet I’ll consider it so when I’m on my run). On the train home we had a good laugh with some Forest fans who’d been making the most of our hospitality. “Don’t get relegated” said one. “We like coming down here”.

I bet you do lads. I bet you do.

Nottingham Forest Away – Unbelievable

dean

Leo Ulloa Yesterday

The year was 1991 and I was a fairly stupid nineteen year old. The last game of the season was at home to Ipswich Town. We needed to win it to pip Barnsley in to the final spot in the playoffs, a feat we could manage despite a poor run in and negative goal difference. There was no ticket binfest or bun fight. In fact there was no ticket needed. As per every other home game that season my mates and I met in The Edinburgh in Brighton and had a few jars and a game of pool or ten. Then we got the train to Hove, staggered  walked to the ground, paid cash on the turnstiles and entered the North Stand. The only thing that differed slightly was that the bit at the back behind the goal was already full and we found ourselves stood near the bottom by an open piece of fence where a gate had once been, a hole in the pitch’s protection that was routinely policed by P.C. Beard.

With a minute left of the game it was 1-1. Barnsley’s game had already finished, they had won and their fans were on the pitch at Oakwell celebrating a playoff place. Johnny Byrne who had been magnificent all season put all his remaining strength, something he got from his magnificent mullet, in to one final run and was chopped down. It was bad enough that he had to come off and Johnny only came off when it was bad. One last kick to save our season. Up stepped Dean ”Wendy” Wilkins and he curled it straight in to the top corner. The North Stand went mental. The Goldstone went mental. I looked up and somehow found myself on the centre circle. Gee, I wonder how that happened? Still, before you could say ‘arrested and banned’ I looked round and saw my mates and half the North Stand with me. Figuring the game had to kick off again and that we couldn’t all be nicked everyone retreated back to the stand. Thirty seconds later the whistle went and we were back on again. That night I drank a LOT of beer. I have always imagined that, at the same time at Barnsley, there were a lot of replica shirted fatties walking disconsolately off the pitch or banging the advertising hoardings in despair. This was the sort of thing that could never ever happen again. A once in a lifetime feeling. Or was it?

Fast forward to 2014 and the last game of the season was away at Nottingham Forest. We needed to win it to really have any chance of getting in the playoffs (though a draw would have done if Reading had lost). We also needed Reading not to win. Since it was away I didn’t take place in the ticket bun fight and binfest but it was mighty. We were only given 2000 tickets. The rest of us would have to make do with the telly once Sky finally selected the Reading and Forest games for coverage. I have written about my dislike of Sky rescheduling games and yet I subscribe precisely for these sorts of events. I have written about my dislike of the playoffs, yet I desperately wanted us to win. So I’m a massive hypocrite. A happy hypocrite though. Listening to that on the radio would have been unbearable.

I spent pre-match not playing pool in the Edinburgh but taking The Boy to his Under 7s football training and buying snacks, sandwich fillings and beer. The Boy’s friend G who I took to the Reading cup game and who watched the first half of the Hull game here was coming round with his mum. I am providing the football information for G that his dad who is not a football fan cannot, in much the same way as my dad’s friends had to tell me about (and take me to) the football. Circle of life and all that.

Team news. Bruno out and Calde in. Upson back for Dunk. JFC for Stephens. CMS on the bench again. I sighed inwardly. I knew this would be the side given the availability but we’ve looked pedestrian in the middle so often when Andrews and JFC have started. I didn’t let The Boy pick up on it. My 3 year old daughter, known to everyone as Whirlwind came in to join us, unexpectedly.

A slow start in which Forest dominated possession was punctuated by two bits of very bad news. Firstly Ulloa missed a one on one with the keeper having been put through brilliantly down the right with a long, low through ball from Greer. “Never mind Daddy” said Whirlwind, “it was nearly in”. Three year olds eh? Then Reading scored. Ouch.

With the children alternately asking me questions and yelling “COME ON BRIGHTON!” at the telly it was becoming hard to concentrate. So it was that I took my eyes off a routine clearance that actually went horribly wrong and gifted Forest the ball. A perfect cross found Derbyshire but his weak header was straight at PIG who only had to collect it and……..oh. Oh Tomasz! NO! ARGH. 1-0 not to the Albion. A mountain to climb and eleven nervous, mistake ridden mountaineers. Oh shit. Except the mountain was about to be cut in half by Burnley who not only equalized but then took the lead at the Mad Stad. Only one goal needed but, in the first half, we didn’t look like we had even that in us.

I’d like to think Oscar threw a teacup at halftime. That this calmest and most phlegmatic of Spaniards went completely Radio Rental and gave them the John Sitton “you can have your fucking breakfast” treatment before getting Nathan to threaten anyone who cocked up in the second half with a night out in Colwyn Bay. Whatever they did it worked. We came out with far more purpose and, heaven be praised we equalized. Having forced a corner on the right a couple of miskicks and general penalty area ping pong saw the ball drop to Stephen Ward who calmly half volleyed in to the bottom corner with his wrong foot. I may have scared the children with my leap off the sofa but if I did they weren’t saying. G was punching the air. The Boy was repeating “YES, YES!” over and over again like a bad Dutch movie.

Then Reading equalized with one of the best goals of the season.

We had it all to do again. Typically Oscar threw Lua Lua in to the fray for the knackered looking and largely disappointing Lingard. This gave Forest something to think about because they no longer have the rat faced twonk in charge who had answered Lua Lua’s threat in the reverse fixture by getting his team to take turns to kick Kaz very hard. At this point Whirwind fell asleep on the sofa. “If Brighton score please don’t wake her up or land on her” said my wife. What a jinx.

Still there was no goal. March came on for Orlandi and nearly set up Buckley before the Buckley again tried to round the keeper who took it off his toes. Last throw of the dice was CMS. With three minutes of regular time left this was just a little late but we gave it one last go. Five minutes of injury time went up on the board and a last shout of encouragement went up from the fans.

And then. And then. CMS collects the ball on the left. He hits the perfect inswinging cross with his right foot. Ulloa has come from an onside position to lose his marker. It’s on. He can just head it in. Time seems to stand still for a second and then IT’S IN! OMFG! FOOTBALL! Don’t you love it?

Ulloa removes his shirt and runs to the fans who are going bananas. I am trying to repeat my actions of 1991 by invading the television. The Boy and G are going stark staring nuts, loudly. G’s mum is up. Even my wife is cheering. Astonishingly Whirwind sleeps through the whole thing. I cannot sit down again. Blow the whistle ref! BLOW IT! After six – yes SIX – minutes (I guess for the goal and celebrations) he does. We’ve done it. Sixth. Reading have finished 2-2.

Later we find out the whole amusement / disappointment from the Mad Stad. That Burnley’s keeper had kept them out single handed. That even then they held on for our result after their 2-2 had been confirmed. That somehow they got this wrong and invaded their own pitch, thinking they’d done it. Just like Barnsley in 1991.

Our reaction on Twitter et al was not kind. Mind you, if I was a Reading fan I would have been steering clear of anything except a large bottle of gin. I feel genuinely for a couple of their fans with whom I have been corresponding but I have to admit I feel nothing but NER NER for Adkins. We’re never going to like him are we?

Afterwards we went to our old neighbour’s BBQ and, having confirmed the wife could manage the kids, I drank my body weight in Jamaican lager and rosé wine. I’m a bit delicate this morning. On Thursday night it starts all over again. *hovers mouse over ticket site*

Nerves

The first of May. International Workers’ Day. A holiday in some places, driven by Socialists, called to commemorate workers who were shot in Chicago during the Haymarket Affair, for having the temerity to demand an eight hour day. Not now observed in Chicago or, for that matter, the UK. This is why I’m sitting on a high speed train to Bristol to do more training and, just as pre Yeovil, the nerves are kicking in badly.

Yesterday it was announced that the final game of the season will be televised. Away to Notts Forest, live on TV, which is good, as in typical Brighton But Only At Home style I do not have a ticket. I may have written about the inadequacies of televised football earlier this season but, on Saturday, I will have an advantage on our travelling hoards. If I REALLY want to torture myself I can switch between our game and Reading’s. Whoop de doo. *necks meths*

The equation for us to get in to the playoffs is simple. We need to win and we need Reading not to. If Reading do win then whatever we do is irrelevant. This blog will immediately put on its long shorts and Hawaian shirt and spend the summer on the metaphorical beach, watching England humiliate themselves in Brazil notwithstanding. But if things go our way then we will have emulated last season at least, against all the odds, and perhaps I will once again be starting at thousands of angrily bunged clackers and begging Mark to drive me home.

Will I watch? Of course I will. Will I watch from behind the sofa and through my fingers in the style of an eight year old watching their first Dr Who? Probably. The thought of this game is currently much, much scarier than the thought that this afternoon I am going to be training eight random strangers in a room several hours away from my home town. It truly is squeaky bum time and I can only pray that this time it’s not our fat kids in replica shirts sitting crying in an abandoned away end.

There is, however, something remarkably tin pot about being nervous over a shoot out to see who finishes sixth. Sixth place is fifth loser. You don’t get a medal for it in the Olympics nor a certificate for it at school. Only the desire of modern football to extend the season and increase the television revenue tension has led sixth place to mean anything. I said when we got to Wembley in 91 that it would have been a travesty if we’d have gone up that year. We had a negative goal difference FFS. The run in that season was beyond dire, 3-0 loss at home to Oxford and another “interesting” post defeat trip back to Fratton Station from the Pompey away end dire. Horrid. We were brilliant against Millwall and didn’t turn up against Notts Co and that’s why the only things people remember from that season are THAT Wendy free kick and the pink Chewit wrapper kit.

We didn’t deserve to go up last season either. Not for losing our hole against Palace but for not finishing second or even first which, with that squad, we should have. Too many draws. Nearly as frustrating as this season.  And if we get sixth we probably haven’t deserved even that let alone to go up. I’ll say it now. Anything we achieve this weekend and beyond has not quite been earned.

The three best teams in this division over 46 games will have been Leicester, Burnley and Derby. That is known before we start on Saturday. They have been the most consistent and that’s what it takes. In any sort of fair world all three would be up.

After them comes a slew of mid table ordinariness. Yes even you ‘Arry. Especially you with your jowly panto dame face and minted dog and team full of Premier League millionaires and your lucky 1-0 wins. You should have walked this poor division. Hang your jowls in shame.

But thems the rules as they say. We all know what we need to do at the start of the season and, as most predicted, we are top ten and in with a playoff shout. Would I have taken this if offered it in June 2013 when we were in post Gus meltdown? Absolutely. And let’s not kid ourselves. Palace who think of themselves as some sort of Against Modern Football gatekeepers (despite the Ultras and goal music) happily used this route to get Premier League football. And, after a hapless start under Wurzel, they’ve kept it. Pulis and Palace may suit each other just a bit too much annoyingly.

So what are my feelings? Despite loathing the idea of the playoffs of course I want two more games – at least – after Saturday, even if they are against Derby who did the double over us. And so I’m nervous.

Whenever there is a one v one shootout (and essentially that is what there is here given Blackburn’s goal difference) I think back to that mystic squid the Germans used during the world cup (or was it an octopus? It had ink and tentacles anyway and I believe it was called Paul and is now dead). I wondered if the blog could benefit from something similar to try to predict the outcome. Benny The Mystic Aggressive Seagull for example who I’d place two piles of crumbs for on top of a bin, with a blue and white striped flag behind it and one with a blue and white hooped. Too much hassle though. Unless any of you know of an actual seagull called Benny.

Or I could have done the Magic Toddler Breakfast Choice where, if my toddler points to her egg first it’s the Egg Of Triumph and we’re definitely extending our season but if she chooses her sausage it’s the Sausage Of Despair and we’re done for. She always chooses her egg first though and we only give her a cooked breakfast about twice a year.

I’m thinking about this too much aren’t I?

*EDIT* apparently I’m not thinking about it enough as I didn’t even go near the we can draw if they lost scenario. Thanks @GeddesChris