Palace at Home – Shambles

Thank Christ. With my loyalty points nowhere near enough for the return, should I be interested, which after last night I’m not, that’s that for another season. Frankly we’ll have to draw them in about the semi-finals of the Cup for me to want to bother with all that again.

Something I’ve heard a couple of times on trains and in the ground, presumably from people who share a season ticket in a group, is ‘the one game I really wanted was Palace’. I can vaguely understand this. Yes, if we beat them then you want to be there, yes the atmosphere is febrile, but everything else is a massive pain in the arse. Last night that included the football.

So bad was it that it’s barely worth discussing, so I won’t for a bit, except to say that if you’re as bad going forwards as Palace are then it’s no wonder you end up cheering as a bunch of repressed Mummy’s Boy teenagers from Reigate, dressed as a cross between a Gothic polar explorer and an 8 year old who’s borrowed his brother’s hoodie, throw rook scarers and snort baking powder. This is as exciting as it gets at Palace right now. Last night we went down to their level.

All day I had the feeling I was dreading the evening, for you live on your nerves in these games. I left early and went straight to the ground, avoiding an incident that was later described to me by a friend as “Brighton fans attacking other Brighton fans that they thought were Palace fans”. I’ve no idea if this was actually true but it sums up the general idiocy that engulfed just about everyone involved last night. Arriving on the concourse I was one of the first, though beaten to it by another couple of people heavily involved in Brighton Fan media and also experienced enough to know it’s best to get there early.

Idiocy you say? Well let’s take the security, just for a minute. As kick off arrived some 150 Palace fans were locked outside, some with tickets according to our club statement, as others had taken their seats, unentitled, unsearched and unsniffed. Such a selfish act I cannot imagine and the hope is very much that those ticket holders locked out have a “little word” with those who took their places over the coming weeks. They certainly should do. This whole thing just served to prove several things that we all knew all along:

  • The game should have been a Sunday lunchtime, not an evening
  • Restricting Palace’s allocation was counter productive
  • The “special train” serves only to inconvenience Brighton fans.

The game? Oh, if I must. Talking to @TimJones15 on Twitter last nigh it was clear that the best phrase to describe the midfield action was “inexplicably gave the ball away”. We inexplicably gave the ball away. Then they did. Then we did again. To me, to you, to me, to you. Chuckle.

Duane Dibley was casting a figure as a hilariously bad panto villain, played out of position by Hodgson and accompanying the equally woeful Benteke in not doing much. Still, the one time they did get it right up front they cut us open and Ryan produced an unbelievably fantastic double save, our best moment of the evening. Where Palace did excel was in closing down the space we operated in, shutting down and crowding midfield. Knocky huffed, puffed, twisted and turned but Murray and Gross didn’t have the pace or guile to get on the end of anything. In the first half Stephens shanked a decent looking left footed second ball in to the scum and in the second Murray’s header was cleared off the line by Hennesey from our 565th corner of the half, each of the previous ones having either been adequately dealt with or kicked out before curling back in.

Sorry, this is short but it’s as much as I want to write about a night to forget. As an advert for the Premier League it was up there with those shit Pearl and Dean cinema ads for the corner shop that sold Razzle.

 

 

 

 

 

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A 5/10 Window Suggests Big Trouble

So the window has now “slammed shut” as they say on Sky Sports and our business – free agents apart – is done. How have we done?

It’s important to state at the outset of this piece that what follows is purely the opinion of me, a long term fan. I have no insider knowledge and I can only summarise what I personally see in front of me. Other people may disagree with my assessment of players. In fact I’d expect that, it’s a game of opinions and that’s one of the things I love about football. Nor do I seek to explain WHY certain things happened. That would be pure speculation.

That said, I posted publicly on NSC on Wednesday to say our window had so far been a 6 out of 10 but that we had the opportunity to make it a 9 on deadline day. Sadly, in my humble opinion, we’ve dropped to a five and, if I was a betting man (which I am) who put money on my own team (which I don’t), I’d have a sizeable wedge on us going down. That’s an opinion that needs backing up, so let’s take a look at where we are, position by position.

Goalkeeper

This is where all our problems begin sadly. For whatever reason (and he’s publicly said it was contract length and “family first”) Stockdale didn’t feel able to sign a new contract (more of this right at the end). From that moment we seemed behind the eight ball. We broke our transfer record on a man who appeared to be third choice at Valencia and has not settled well. While it’s important to stress here that our other new signings have the time and potential to rescue this window, nothing I’ve seen of Ryan inspires any confidence at all. He is too small and parries everything, and the much vaunted distribution seems to be non-existent. Yes he makes good reflex saves but he’s going to have to because we’ll be doing much more defending than last season. It’s no good saving from one striker only to push it out to a second.

Clearly Hughton doesn’t have a lot of confidence either because, on deadline day, we brought in Tim Krul. Now Krul I like, a proven Premier League keeper who knows CH well, and he will immediately challenge for a starting position. However, we had to take him on loan, using up our second loan from a Premier League and meaning the striker deal almost certainly had to be a permanent move.

Defence

This is one area where we now have two players challenging for every position, which is what saw our success last season. I have never seen Schelotto play so cannot rate this particular signing, but having another right back also gives us the flexibility to play Bruno as centre back if injury or suspension so dictates. At this stage I cannot call who’ll be the starting RB. Dunk and Duffy were an obvious area where we already had Premier League class and I’m going to go against some opinions and state that what I’ve seen of Suttner I like. He’s solid rather than world beating but seems to have a decent delivery. Our issue is going to be cards. We’ll pick up a fair few bookings at this level and suspensions could eat in to our depth. Schelotto or Bruno paired with Duffy, Dunk and Suttner looks ok. A four of Bruno, Goldson, Hunnemier and Bong less so.

Wingers

Another area of strength and the one area where the new season excites me. March and Knockaert were born for this level and will create mayhem against the lower sides in our “mini league”. I like very much what I saw of Brown against Atleti, though this is the first instance where our infamous bad luck struck us down, with Brown getting injured less than a half in to the new season. Izquierdo is a genuinely exciting signing. I watched him play against Leicester in the Champions League last season and his pace is electric (he scored a cracker too). No worries so far in this department, with the exception that we cannot reasonably play all four at the same time.

Midfield

Now we come to a grey area, where players are going to have to adapt quickly. Loaning out Norwood wasn’t a surprise and Sidwell brings a wealth of experience at this level. However, Stephens has started off slowly, an issue exacerbated by another unlucky injury to Kayal, who we’ve failed to replace. Propper initially excited me, having seen his PSV form, but he looks like he’ll need time to adapt. Right now he’s a clone of Stephens only without the ball retention skills. He may well be used to having stronger, faster players ahead of him. Oh dear. Then there’s Groß. Is he a number 10 or a number 8? Played in behind the striker (and occasionally alongside so it seemed against City) he may be in the wrong category here. Either way, again there is a bit for me to get excited about. There were some lovely touches and dead balls against Atleti and a lot of running against Man City. Not the quickest but he may well be someone who can unlock the door for a quick striker. Again, oh dear.

Striker

Baldock (injured), Murray (maybe injured) and Hemed. That’s what we have. We got away with it in the Championship, indeed all three scored more than anyone expected at the start of the season. If Baldock was fit I’d even be thinking we could squeak through. Sadly we are going in to one of the toughest leagues in the world with two very similar strikers and nothing else.

It’s here that the buying from abroad strategy looks weakest, yet it’s also here where it might be the most necessary. British players cost and British strikers cost too much. Nevertheless our business here looks risky to say the least. No one had seen Dwamena play and he might have been a revelation. Certainly his highlight reel made the mouth water. But when you come down to plain facts we were offering eight million for a guy who’d cost Zurich a reported three percent of that figure in the previous window and had lit up the Swiss second division. Zurich say the heart defect we found had been found by them also and it seemed there was no guarantee of a work permit. Once this deal fell through, and we have to take our club’s word over Zurich and wish the player well, we were always behind the game – a game we ultimately lost at 1am this morning.

Contracts

Another big positive that people are forgetting. Some of the key players from last season have been rewarded with new long term contracts, cementing them in the team, costing the club (for that read Tony Bloom) money and boosting their sell on value. This is certainly a continuation of #Together and should not be overlooked.

However, all of that said the lack of a striker signing (again!!!!!!) will hang over this window and I simply cannot see us scoring enough goals. If we’re looking relegation candidates come January then it will be even harder to attract quality.

All in all we’ve done what my wife does in Tesco’s when she’s a bit tired and the kids have been giving her grief. We need eggs. Everyone in the house loves an egg and there isn’t one to be had anywhere so a trip to the shops is called for, despite the fact it’s late at night. An hour later she returns with a bag full of things that were reduced by a pound, things that were two for the price of one and things that will “come in handy”. But no eggs. And now the store is closed.

 

 

 

 

 

Manchester City at Home – A Lesson

It’s been a strange summer, football wise. As a Brighton fan, the end of the previous campaign could have left you with any range of emotions. The immense celebrations after clinching promotion against Wigan were followed by the anti-climax of losing the title with a poor display at home to Bristol City, a hungover display at Carrow Road and a last minute mistake at Villa Park. All of which would have been massively deflating had it not been for an extraordinary promotion celebration on the seafront. Derided in some parts, other fans failed to understand that only the promotion mattered. It built the fans and players back up and left things on a high. Then there was the immediate capture of Pascal Groß and the watching of Huddersfield going up via the worst playoff game in living memory and suddenly there was real expectation again.

But the summer break is just long enough to dampen this sort of thing down. With no major international competitions we’ve largely had to guess regarding the quality of some of the touted and signed players. Then the fixture list comes out and it turns out the opening game is against a side who have spent more on full backs than we have on a stadium. Some transfer rumours are rubbished, some players signed from completely left field, one player fails a medical and we have our usual nightmare signing a striker with pace. The feeling, really, was of a side three quarters built, though I always judge at the end of the window. I just maintain that window should close when the league season kicks off, and always have.

But the excitement of a first Premier League game built all week. We’d given Atletico Madrid a decent game and suddenly the BT Sport team were building up the game, flags (actually, what looked like bin bags, not one to keep) were being left on seats and Guardiola, Walker, Jesus, Aguero et al were heading for The Amex. Ready or not, probably our biggest test all season at home was arriving first.

We awoke to palpable excitement. I’d watched Arsenal v Leicester the night before without quite realising this was a game in our division. Now, The Boy and I listened to a two hour Albion Roar breakfast show, watched Premier League previews, I lurked on Twitter whenever I could and we counted down the time to when we’d be allowed to leave the house. And then, everything was a little bit different.

When we treat games as just another game we generally do well. Whenever we build it up, not so much. So it was with trepidation I’d read about the flags. This didn’t really ease when we arrived at The Swan to find a quarter of the outside space taken up with a Juice FM outside broadcast truck and twice the normal number of punters trying to squeeze in to the reduced space. Everyone in new shirts, talking up our chances as the ale hit home. Huge queues for non-existent food at the stadium meaning we were in our seats two minutes before actual kick off. And then the lesson begun.

It’s not that we played badly. It’s not that City, initially at least, played that well. Their passing was sloppy to start and our shape strong and organised. The two banks of four, clearly visible from our lofty perch, were ridged in defence and flexible in the odd break. You could sense a frustration from the City fans, the tension of expectation weighing heavily on mostly silent faces, while the North and West Upper kept up a barrage of noise. A solidity from Dunk and Duffy, a level of comfort from Bruno and March suggesting they had been born for this level of football. Ryan (though he looks small for a keeper) fairly commanding.

Yet, if you looked at highlights of that first half they would be all City from start to end. They must have had over 70% of the ball. Every time one of Bruno, March, Duffy, Dunk, Ryan or Suttner won the ball Hemed or Stephens or Propper would give it back to them. The issues in our central attacking areas I mentioned last week magnified here. Even worse, Brown who once again acquitted himself impressively, had to go off injured. Murphy came on with less than half an hour gone, significantly reducing our ability to play impact subs later on.

First half chances? I lost count. I remember a clever dribble from Jesus down our right with the ball intelligently cut out by Dunk. A free kick rammed straight down Ryan’s throat. A brilliant ball in from the right hand side that Stephens very nearly headed in to his own net – by very nearly I mean centimetres. Then the first goal. Disallowed as luckily it wasn’t scored by the Hand of God but by the Hand of Jesus (thanks for that, mate, a writers dream). Our chances? Only one, a divine cross field ball from Bruno that Murphy would have scored from had he got more than half a touch, having for once eluded Walker. But we knew we’d get this with Hughton. Keep it solid. Frustrate. And hopefully hit on the break.

And in the second half we so nearly did. A break from Murphy, whipped cross from Suttner and a header that looped agonisingly on to the roof of the net. A corner, nonetheless, and here’s where we’ll be dangerous. Mayhem in the box from Duffy and Dunk, proper pinball. From another set piece the ball came out to Propper, twenty five yards out, and his low drive squeaked agonisingly close to the far post, as close as Stephens had been to the own goal.

But mainly it was all City still and you sensed they had another gear. They hit it just at the wrong time. We’d replaced the ineffective Hemed with the busier Murray on the hour and, as Ed Bassford (the NSC “father of the house”, Falmer campaigner and all round good guy) appeared on the big screen for a minute’s applause we played our nicest minute of possession football of the whole match. I think Ed might have found it funny that we then cocked it up massively, unnecessarily passing back to Ryan, losing the ball and shape and being carved open. De Bruyne starting a lovely one touch move that saw Aguero in acres of space in our box with time to pick his spot. 0-1.

A second inevitably followed. Another mistake perhaps? I said so on Twitter, but having watched it back it may be just one of those things. A brilliant cross from the right saw Jesus and Dunk battling. The latter got there first but his angle and momentum meant he could only direct a point blank header through the helpless Ryan. Cruel on the hometown boy who’d been magnificent up to then, but no less than City deserved.

0-2 it ended then and a real set of lessons learned, hopefully. For me the lessons are as follows. Without wanting to sound like some of the more hysterical NSC posters, we need a speedy, strong number 9 and we need him now. Organised football can be our friend but we need to be more careful with the ball when we win it back. This football club has been built on comfort on the ball since 2010. Yesterday Propper in particular treated it like it was an unwanted North Korean nuclear warhead. Mistakes WILL cost us and chances HAVE to be taken at this level.

It’s far from doom and gloom though. Not every team is Manchester City, and I expect them to win the league and do well in the Champions League too. Palace lost 3-0 at home – to Huddersfield! – and Chelsea managed to slip up too so there is hope in any game and thirty seven of them left to play. Propper will no doubt get better once he’s had time to get to know his new teammates. Hopefully Brown’s injury isn’t too serious. Our fears re Bruno are totally unfounded, our best player yesterday along with March. And the noise! Pat yourselves on the back Brighton fans. The Amex was rocking. It’s going to need to all season for us to survive.

 

Atletico Madrid At Home

“Atletico Madrid at home”. There’s a match report I never thought I’d be writing. Yet it really did happen, in glorious sunshine too. Yesterday, the big time arrived at The Amex.

It’s arrived here at BBOAH Towers too. I’ll have you know this is a Premier League blog you’re reading now and the proof is that I’m magically charging you 25p a word via use of a invisible paywall powered by Jamie Redknapp’s arse-hair and the recycled dreams of the Essex branch of the Manchester United Supporter’s club*. I’ve got slightly better back lights though and you will be reading about players like Benjamin Mendy, Paul Pogba, Steve Cooke and Ashley Barnes.

I digress. Atletico Madrid eh?

Whoever got this friendly arranged needs a massive pat on the back, which I suspect they’ve had since Paul Barber’s ears will have been delighting in the sound of ringing cash tills all afternoon. I have rarely seen The Boy so excited and we fairly bounced to the bus at Sainsbury’s. Many others were making their way, decked out in our brand new kit, and the bus left for Dreamland at exactly ten past two, full of happy chatter. Steve and I caught up with the tiny events that had happened since I’d cooked him a massive steak the night before and the boys chattered eagerly. The Boy had already worked out that “Mathew Ryan” scans in to exactly the same songs as “David Stockdale”, which would prove to be useful.

A beer or two and a chat with an old mate I used to travel the country with watching us, back in the day, and then it was out in to the bright sunshine for Griezmann against Duffy. Quite literally for us as we’d booked tickets early, when the West Upper wasn’t open, and therefore found ourselves with a most excellent view in the centre of the East Stand, a few rows from the front.

An interesting team selection had been discussed already in the bar. With Murray suspended Hemed had to lead the line but most of us would have started with March rather than Murphy. Otherwise it was the expected side but the weaknesses in it, one enforced and one chosen, were obvious from the start.

Atleti were extremely comfortable early on, dominating the ball with Torres proving a handful and Griezmann, never stellar to be fair, still conducting attacks. Yesterday was far from his best game yet I spent a portion of time just watching him rather than the ball and the way he constantly sits in space, right in the hole, and is key to Atleti’s game. He seems to have more time on the ball than half our team put together.

Inevitably from comfortable possession came a range of attacks. Kayal’s foul gave Griezmann a chance from an early free kick but he stuck it straight at Ryan. From another a loose ball was stabbed at our new keeper who produced a reaction save of sheer class. Even better, a powerful low, skidding shot that was flying in to the bottom corner was somehow repelled at full stretch. “Da da da daaaa! Mathew Ryan!” sang The Boy. “Da da da daaaa! Mathew Ryan!” sang the North Stand. Meanwhile, Oblak in the Atleti goal was a spectator.

This sort of dominance at least gave a chance to assess our new players. Suttner looks decent in the air and competitive but he was being helped a lot in the first half by Izzy Brown, playing more left midfield than left wing. Brown showed the same sort of excellent temperament we got last season from another Chelsea loanee, Tomori, and applied himself selflessly. On the odd attack we did have he looked dangerous and will prove, I think, to be quite the decent signing. Gross hardly had a touch early on but one incredible little ball steal and turn, halfway in the Atletico Madrid half, set up one of our more dangerous moments.

Sadly for us, have expertly denied Atletico’s better chances we conceded just before half time to a howler, Gaitan hitting a tame shot from long range that somehow went straight through Ryan, who’d been outstanding up to then. So yes, we appear to have a keeper who is a brilliant shot stopper and distributes the ball well, but is prone to the odd ricket. Plus ca change, plus cest la meme chose.

Three changes were made at half time, Sidwell coming in to centre midfield for Kayal, March replacing the utterly ineffective Murphy and Bong getting a full half at left back. The Albion immediately looked more dangerous. The addition of March put Atletico on the back foot and Hughton must have put some belief in to us. March took them on with glee, right in front of us, with a trade mark cut inside and shot just over the bar and generally we gained some possession and territory. From another attack we equalized. Hemed for once won and kept the ball in a dangerous area and a sloppy foul was committed on him. Gross, who’d already established his dead ball skills in the first half grabbed the ball and his low free kick took a massive deflection and went in off the post. We’d scored. Against Atletico Madrid.

As March was good down our right so Juanfran was on theirs and he soon re-established the lead with a pinpoint cross to see the unmarked Torres head home. 1-2. Knockaert came on and took over on the right, March switching wings and Brown going up top with Hemed off. This paid immediate dividends. Knockaert tucked in to Atletico’s defence like me and Steve had our steaks, the night previously and March roasted the aforementioned Juanfran. From the resultant space a cross was produced that was every bit as good as theirs and Sidwell tucked away an unmarked header of his own.

Could we get a draw? A late winner even? Sadly, it was not to be. Instead a final attack from our visitors produced some desperate ping-pong in the box. A few minutes earlier a suicidal cross field pass from us had seen Griezmann fluff a gaping goal from less than twelve yards by trying to use the outside of his left and slicing in to the South Stand. He wanted to make up for it here and although Ryan saved the initial effort Hernandez fired home the rebound for a cruel last minute winner.

So, how are we really set for next week? Well firstly all of the new signings look like they will bring real quality, Hopefully that is Ryan’s howler for the season out of the way before it matters. If it is then he has the reflexes and distribution to be a success. Suttner looks physical, an upgrade on Pocagnoli. The stars were Brown and Gross though, each excellent in both workrate, passing and threat.

Of the old boys March and Knockaert are going to relish this league and, if Dunk and Duffy stay fit, we have Premier League Ready centre backs. Bruno will be done for pace but is still making those intelligent runs forward. The spine is the worry. Stephens looked way off the pace yesterday, Kayal worse if anything and Hemed was lost. The very strong rumours, though, are of Davy Propper signing for us. If that happens we might not just survive, we might cause a few teams a real headache.

*not really