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.