Reading At Home 15/16 – Scrappy

 

After ‘nothing’ comes ‘scrappy’, which is better. Last night we were scrappy in two senses of the word. At times we were careless and wasteful with the ball, giving ourselves too much to chase back. When we did chase it back then we were scrappy like that hard little kid at school who used to pick on the rugby team, scrappy like Scrappy Doo. Physical but carelessly so, driven out of ambition. But “nothing” and “scrappy” have given us four points out of six, which is promotion form, and sent us second in the table, which is a promotion spot. Things are starting to get really exciting for The Albion.

As ever, though, we need to start at the beginning. Inevitably, for me, that means a pub. The pub means temptation, I’m no good with temptation. I greatly admire my friend who has stuck to his traditional winter vow of temperance and greeted me with a lime and soda in front of him, and that’s the route I should have gone down, but seeing a pump with “Palmers” on it is all it takes for me to weaken. I had a pint. Part of me justified it with the thought  that it would see off the boredom of another game like the previous week’s and that it would see off the cold. An Easterly was up and it was bitter, even (or especially) in The Roost of the West Upper.

The crew were mostly back assembled. Steve had returned with his son and Mark with one of his. The Cheese Eating Poker School returned and therefore so did correct score betting. We were quorate. In fact, so many takers are there for correct score betting, that people are now picking scores that favour the opposition out of the hat. Four nil was not written down. That’s never going to happen again, right? I picked 1-1 and swapped it (willingly) with the 0-0 drawn behind me. I had the feeling this was going to be another tight one.

On the face of it, Reading had nothing to play for. Buried away in mid table, their season ended by Palace (spits) on Friday night, they have finally stopped following us around and settled for obscurity. There are almost no seasons when Brighton have had the luxury of having nothing to play for in March, but whenever we have we have cruised through the rest of the season. It would be only decent of Reading to do the same.

We’d certainly picked a side to tire them out, so that they could look like they were having a real rest even if their foot was off the gas. A large and slow back two were faced with Wilson and Baldock, Hemed relegated to the bench. Elsewhere Kayal was back. Surely this would be enough for a side in lower mid table, sporting the most outrageously awful away kit and “cheered” on by less than three hundred fans?

In the first half it was, though Reading firstly confused our fans by electing to have us kick northwards in the first half, and secondly had the first decent chance. The two players I had picked out as a danger, Kermorgant and Vydra combined to set up Robson-Kanu who sot the wrong side of the post. After that they were mostly quiet though as the Albion began to take control. Knockaert fired in to the side netting, a rare opportunity for the increasingly mercurial Frenchman. Kayal had a free kick saved before we should have taken the lead when the menacing Baldock set up Stephens who burst in to the area with lovely control before seeing Al Habsi make a reflex save.

All that was forgotten on twenty five minutes as we scored yet another classic Amex team goal. Quick on the break Murphy took a little flicked lay off at pace and laid it off to Baldock who ran at their defence. Wilson supplied the option on the outside and was found with a perfect pass which he converted with his left foot. A less-than-full Amex went duly bananas.

As we continued to dominate a sudden panic went up in our resident bookie who realised he’d given 2-0 to us to two people – both of the under sixteens present in fact. What would be paid out if we scored again? Luckily that was the end of the excitement.

For most of the rest of the game we embarked upon a mission to give the ball away and try to win it back again, sometimes by fair means and sometimes by foul, which was annoying because the ref couldn’t tell one from the other. When he did get it right the concept of “advantage” was generously borrowed from the Six Nations, but not the concept of “advantage over”, so that Reading got another pot shot having hit the post after an infringement. Stephens was lucky to stay on the pitch. Bong and Lua Lua resumed their left wing partnership and Rosenior moved across to bolster the midfield. Squeaky bum time came and went and, somehow, we kept our one goal lead.

It was a lead we deserved in the first half but held increasingly frantically in the second. Meanwhile Hull were losing at Forest. They pulled one back but could not go ahead and, as we finally relaxed over post match pints, we knew we were second.

Such a statistic deserved one more drink in the Star. I could have stayed all night as tales of football gave way to exotic and dangerous travels past but then they kicked us out.

We’re in danger of being in control of our own destiny again. However scrappily.

 

 

Reading at Home 2014/15 – Murray and Jones Lead a Game of Two Halves

Once upon a time there was an athletics stadium. Despite the lack of roof, poor view and terrible atmosphere it regularly hosted professional football (and if it had been doing so yesterday then the RSC would have been dealing with cases of hyperthermia and trench foot). Three of its bigger stars were Glenn Murray, who would bang in the goals before sticking his hand on his head, Nathan Jones who would perform back heels and step overs, and Inigo Calderon who would give 100% every week and be a generally all-round top bloke. Yesterday the three of them combined to serve up some top draw entertainment (if poor quality football) in altogether noisier and more comfortable surroundings.

Let’s start at the beginning though, because all good stories do. Had we gone two down in 25 minutes, drawn and dropped a place under Sami this blog may have self combusted with anger. Yet here I am writing it in relative calm with a coffee and a jaunty air. Why on earth is that? I can’t honestly answer, except for that old cliché of a last minute equalizer being as good as a winner and to say that somehow, yesterday, something was different. Little things. We drove rather than getting the train, The Bridge car park providing ample evidence that BMW drivers are still James Blunts at Christmas. The home dug out had moved back to the North end and there was a man outside it in a suit, giving instructions. In the stands banners and accusation had been replaced with Merry Christmas, handshakes, songs and ticker tape. It was a damn fine day out at the football, much better than cold meats, television “specials” and Granddad’s farts anyway, even with the cold and wet.

I had written a preview for  The Tilehurst End that had very deliberately not mentioned HIM. Partly it was the innest of in jokes (referring to the last line of Ulloa’s song “we won’t mention Murray any more”). Partly it was because HE hasn’t been tearing up any trees this season, having notched only six goals this season before yesterday. Typically HE dominated the first half. In fact within 38 seconds I had to mention HIM because HE scored. We came out looking pumped up but forgot to flick the “start” button. Hal Robson-Kanu waltzed unchallenged down the West Wing before crossing low for Simon Cox and while he couldn’t convert the chance the loose ball fell to Murray who literally walked it in. One nil Reading. FFS.

That was it. When we score early we almost always concede. But as the confidence drained from our players there was only one side who were going to score as Reading poured forward and we made individual mistake after individual mistake at the back, Halford playing an awful pass and mis-controlling a pass within minutes and Dunk barging Cox over in the box. Luckily, referee Graham Salisbury who had a baffling afternoon all round, failed to give it. It didn’t really matter though, Reading were bound to add a second and they did on twenty six minutes. This time we switched off at a set piece and Murray finished off a swift spot of head tennis. Five minutes later we lost Darren Bent to injury. And they said Sami was unlucky.

At this point a better side would have put us away three, four or even five nil. Luckily for us Reading are not a better side. They have had their own problems this season, losing 6-1 at Birmingham and losing Nigel Adkins soon after. Nathan Jones rallied the troops, soaking his best suit in to the bargain and glory be, we started to come back in to it. Murray was still having a cracker up front for them but the mobility of Craig Mackail-Smith worried a porous looking Reading back line much more than Bent had and we got about them down the wings. One such raid on forty minutes resulted in a throw. We never do anything from throws so I took the chance to answer one of The Boy’s many questions. When I looked up the ball was in the net. A replay showed we had utilised the long throw, as if Pulis himself was already here, Dunk had flicked on and JFC had converted at the back post while Reading stood and watched. No doubt the move had thrown them. I’ll get my coat. A couple of minutes later we should have equalized. The half time pie queue was therefore a lot more cheery, though thanks to Sodexo it didn’t actually yield a pie. Never mind.

We dominated the second half. Presumably Nathan had stood there in his wet suit and applied the hair dryer to the players rather than his clothing. CMS hustled and bustled. Halford looked reborn. Colounga was all over the place in a good way. JFC chased and harried. Even Gardner got involved. We made two excellent changes. March coming on for Benno before Sir Paddy arrived for Holla (but not before the latter had nearly equalized with a thirty yard piledriver) and twinkled his toes around the Reading midfield. Meanwhile Reading made the stupidest substitution of the day, taking off Murray who I can only think was injured or not 100% match fit to start with. Still we couldn’t score. In the season Reading got promoted they had beaten us 1-0 with an early goal after which Federici had a miracle game and he looked like repeating it again yesterday. One point blank save from a March diving header was so good I was nearly two rows forward before I realised we hadn’t scored. The Boy and his mate went red.

Jones changed it up some more, pushing Halford up front and leaving only three at the back. Luckily Dunk had recovered from his spell of pushitis and was doing the work of two men with ease. We were so close……

And then. It had to be Inigo. Captain for the day and, as usual giving every last drop of sweat he poured in to the box with a minute of regular time left to meet a low Colunga cross and drive in to the centre of the goal. Federici collapsed. The Amex went mental. We went mental. More tickertape. More hand shakes. It finished 2-2.

After the Millwall game I had wanted to give the whole thing up. Yesterday it felt good to be a football fan again. As we got soaked on the way back to The Bridge the boys agreed.

 

 

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