QPR At Home 2015/16 – Together

We could beat anyone right now. We’re going to have to.

Sorry, there I go again, bad writer, putting the end before the beginning but you know the above to be true, right? So how did we get there? For me we got there with beer and sore legs and potential travel disruption and Knockaert and Goldson and the whole team as one. Let me fill in some detail.

It was fair to say that my legs were a little achy, having got over the line at the Brighton Marathon in five seconds over four hours, The mixture of pleasure and pain I got out of this is pretty much indescribable which is a pain in the rear for someone who thrives on describing stuff but the pertinent points are these; I had a little sniff of how to exceed natural thresholds when cheered on by a crowd, something the players must be feeling every home game right now, and I left earlier than usual to get to the pub, since I was walking like an eighty year old with rickets.

Eventually get there I did to meet my friend Mark who is now in Big Training himself for the Reykjavik Marathon in August and Gary who founded North Stand Chat many moons ago. Palmers and cheesy chips was the order of the day and a long discussion about the permutations at the top of the table. Though all we have to do is win our remaining game the consensus was that neither Burnley or Boro would want to lose, and their most likely result was a draw, leaving us third at the end of the night whatever. Prophetic eh?

Then a hobble to the ground and the nightmare of the WSU stairs. Stairs are my enemy right now, particularly going down, and so a Harvey’s anaesthetic went down too, along with a pie. A chat with the Roar chaps, a meeting with the Cheese Eating Poker School and upstairs to see the full crew in full voice.

In fact the whole ground was in full voice. There were fewer fans present than Fulham, far fewer in the away end, but somehow the noise was better and more together. It’s a word that’s been used a lot this season, it is our hashtag and adopted motto, but finally it was happening in the stands. Songs bounced from one side of the North to the other and across to the West but, rather than be ignored, they were picked up and carried on the breeze. It made my hair stand of end (what’s left of it) and the pain in my legs disappear. We were Brighton and Hove Albion and we were going to give this a damn good go.

The first half, though, was fairly even. The ball seemed to be shared between the two teams and our chances were few and far between. Philips and Washington carved their best ones, Stockdale making another brilliant save from a low drive. We prized Rangers open with a Knockaert cross from the left which Hemed put just over with a trademark overhead kick  and we nearly scored from a corner that was headed straight at Smithies in the QPR goal. Potentially, though Rangers were having the better of it.

At the back we stuttered a little, particularly down the right where player of the season candidate Bruno was, for once, getting a little flustered. Luckily he was being eased through the game by twenty three year old Connor Goldson. One misplaced pass aside the Championship rookie was showing everyone, including the ex-Valencia veteran, how to play football. What a second half of the season he’s had. And talking of second halves of the season we all know that Knockaert can produce something spectacular at any point. On the stroke of half time he did.

An innocuous looking challenge that really didn’t need to be made got us a free kick on the edge of the box. Knockaert and Skalak were over it. Who would take? The debate raged around the WSU while my friend Dom would later admit he was adamant it should be Skalak but it wasn’t. Our Flairtastic Frenchman stepped up and hammered it through the gap in the wall we’d created and in to the top corner. The Amex exploded and it was all I could do to stay upright, my friends temporarily forgetting my paper legs. The players celebrated as one. This is a team with incredible spirit.

It’s fair to say the second half was quite unlike the first. Just as we’d dominated Fulham more and more as the game went on, now we dominated Rangers. God knows what Hughton said at half time but it was incredibly effective. Rangers again had to change their game plan, the high press and break being far more risky at one down and we pounced on the space.

Just six minutes in to the second half though and whatever JFH had said to QPR became redundant in a moment of brilliance. Bruno launched a hopeful ball forwards and QPR headed it out in to no man’s land. It bounced a couple of times and Skalak pounced on it, smashing it as it sat up invitingly in to the top corner from over thirty yards. We went full-on batshit mental. The pain in my legs was gone now and on the field the players once again piled on each other in joy.

Now it was all Brighton. It was no longer were we going to win. Like Friday it was how many were we going to score? Half an eye was turned to the Burnley v Boro game but only to know where we’d be at the end of the night. The worst result all round would probably be a Burnley win. They were still at 0-0 as our metaphorical horse was striding away in to the distance flicking V’s at his beaten opponent. Yes I know horses have hooves and would actually fall over doing this but it’s a metaphorical horse, remember? Think cartoons.

Soon it was three. Our two players of the night combined from a corner, Knockaert crossing for Goldson to loop in a header. More team bonding. The Amex got louder. As the second set of London away fans in four days streamed out of the Amex we added a fourth, Knockaert shooting in a daisy cutter past Smithies and a suspiciously offside looking Baldock who had come on at half time for Wilson who was presumably sick again.

We bounced. Legs that I wanted to cut off that morning jumped up and down. The North Stand sang a very good song with quite a sweary word in to accompany the bouncing. On the pitch the players swaggered. QPR looked like they wanted the Amex to swallow them up and spit them back out straight in to the team bus where they could listen to some RnB and pretend it all never happened. Boro were one nil up, putting us second.

Inevitably, as we streamed out for the bars Burnley equalised with a thuggish scrum of a goal from a corner. The Anti Football had squeaked back ahead of the Total Football in the table. No matter. As I said on the way to the Star for more beer, if Burley and Boro hadn’t been playing each other, and had both drawn their games, we’d have taken it all day long.

We need three wins. Those are the bare facts. With the team spirit and skill that we have in every area currently I believe we could win all three, run a marathon and give a decent account of ourselves in University Challenge. Nothing is guaranteed, nothing is taken for granted but this is a special bunch of players. We are together.

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.

QPR At Home – Robbery

“And that, folks, was Grand Larceny”

This is likely to be short and poorly researched. Like the unattributed quote up there. *points*

It’s likely to be both because I’m writing it on the train on my way to work and I’m not important or clever enough to have a wireless dongle (not that I’m quite sure I’d want a wireless dongle anyway, it sounds painful). Thanks to the Amex travel system I got in at 11pm last night. Thanks to my job I have a 9am meeting in London today. I should be sleeping but I need to tell the tale of how we robbed Harry Redknapp. Because it’s funny.

Pre game a friend rushed in to Dick’s Bar and regaled us with a tale of something he’d said to Britain’s second greatest bulldog impersonator (the greatest, of course, being the famous Peter Canning). He’d bumped in to their coach unloading and a group of fans were taking pictures of ‘Arry. Our friend jumped in to get one. “Why didn’t you wait?” the affronted QPR boss asked him. “Why didn’t you pay your tax?” came the retort. Now, of course we ALL know that he did really, oh yes, but still it was an indication of how the evening was going to go for Rosie’s owner.

At Championship level QPR have a star studded squad. We may have looked at Reading on Saturday, easing the famous Royston Drenthe back in, without our beloved Wayne Bridge, and envied their resources but the truth is the money is running out at the Madjeski. It never runs out at Loftus Road. It flows like water in the Somerset Levels and it’s just as obtrusive and ugly. Thus they could play famous names like Joey Barton, Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Ravel Morrison and Richard Dunne (48k a week someone told me after though of course I can’t check. No dongle you see). They could afford to have Benayoun and Kranjcar on the bench – not even bring them on – and yet they still lost. Oh how they shouldn’t have.

We started compactly. We always start compactly under Oscar. He may sing of his love of attacking football but you get the impression that he fines the whole team if they concede in the first twenty minutes. Bruno was digging in defensively but didn’t seem to be allowed forward at all. Not only did we barely trouble QPR but we didn’t have a shot. Green was another spectator, though unlike over half the away support he had to watch the whole match. Not only did QPR dominate territory but also possession. And yet they did nothing that was utterly terrifying with either. It was like watching us in reverse.

Rangers looked just as dominant in the second half, PIG forced in to a couple of sharp saves, one a brilliant tip over after Ravel Morrison had found himself in space, Upson and the revitalised Lewis Dunk defended stoutly, backs to the wall. We seemed determined to give QPR’s experienced centre half pairing heading practice. PIG may have been absolutely commanding in his area and with his shot stopping but his distribution was appalling. Following one particular sequence of events I finally lost it with the team. One of our rare attacks broke down. Green rolled it straight in to sixty yards of space that the overcommitted (and again shocking)Keith Andrews had left and QPR sprinted in to the attack. Though it came to nothing we had a similar break on a few minutes later. By now KLL had been belatedly brought on as an impact sub and this looked to be his moment. Instead he and Lingard lingered (yay! I got to use that!) and got in each others’ way. I could take it no longer and berated the side to put some bleeping effort in on the break. A minute later we scored. Don’t thank me. Just send me money.

As the game opened up so Bruno was released and he played a lovely interchange on the right wing before freeing himself to unleash the perfect cross. Ulloa, for once unmarked, couldn’t miss from a few yards. The Amex went mental.

At this point we had had two shots, one on target, and scored one. IT WAS THE ANTI-WIGAN! Naturally I turned to my chum and said how great it would be if we scored a second with our only other shot on target. On 85 minutes we did, KLL’s wicked corner kick brilliantly converted by Stephen Ward’s left foot. The Amex went mental again. The away end emptied. Don’t thank me. Just send me lots of money. Did I mention I was wearing my lucky hat?

Did we deserve it? Not really. Have we played better and not won? Undoubtedly. But for anyone who moans about Oscar and tedious football we have now played 180 minutes against a side of Premier League players on Premier League money with a manager who the tabloids were screaming for to manage England not so long ago and we haven’t conceded a goal to them. Four points is a more than acceptable haul against such a side.

One final mention has to go to Joey Barton. If the pantomime villain that is Adkins played his part on Saturday then Joey, to his credit, played his down. Getting merciless stick for just being Joey Barton he got on with his job professionally, never playing up to the taunts or committing a bad tackle. At the end he shook hands with everyone and trudged off to acknowledge the 25 or so QPR fans who’d stayed to clap off their team. Meanwhile Mr Redknapp was exchanging pleasantries with the West Stand. Two years is an awfully long time in football.

QPR Away – all a bit of a blur

I don’t watch football I really care about in pubs much any more because the nerves involved lead to me drinking very, very fast. The last England game I saw in the pub I probably spent as much time at the bar as watching and that’s with ‘double parking’. On Sunday it was quite fortunate I had the children and was therefore stone cold sober.

Yesterday however will not go down as one of the best of my life. In fact I think it cost me about three grand all in. Yes, three thousand pounds. Three bags of sand. A lot of money.

First the clutch and fly-wheel went in our car. Then our house buying chain finally collapsed leaving us with mortgage and solicitors bills and nowhere to move to. So I decided to open the wine.

Then I realised our game was on radio. To be fair I must have been drinking fairly quickly already because I spent a deal of time listening to the Arsenal game, having not been able to tell the difference between Radio 5 Live and Radio 5 Live Extra. However, with the correct channel finally located I proceeded to listen to a QPR only commentary from whoever it was who doesn’t get Champions League games and an ex Palace player with an agenda.

This in turn had me convinced we were about to be turned over at any time. So I got nervous. And drank faster. This had the rather pleasant effect of making me care less about the game with each passing minute before deciding, at full time, that a 0-0 draw at QPR was possibly the greatest result ever. I bounded* to bed.

*staggered

This morning it still looks like a good result however. I still fully expect QPR to be up there at the end of the season. What’s more Keith Andrews who I wasn’t AT ALL sure about seems to have done sterling defensive work while we wait for Bridders to return. I’m happy when players prove me wrong because they’re good.

Now we have Bolton at home. Bottom Bolton. Bolton who could sack Dougie if we win. Bolton who we OWE for that travesty last season, the draw they pinched when had it been a boxing match they would have been stopped in the sixth and taken straight to hospital. I suspect I will have a couple of ales beforehand but certainly not a whole bottle of Australia’s finest. I can’t afford it.