Opinion Piece – Lucky Safety At What Cost?

So there you have it. Championship football – bar Millwall overturning a goal difference deficit of twenty four when they have only scored thirty seven times so far all season – is guaranteed for next season. We. Are. Staying. Up. Woohoo. Excuse me while I go and open some chocolates.

Oh no, wait.

This has been the most awful, turgid season since Mickey Adams part two fiddled about with poor quality signings and too many loan players, some out of position. Sound familiar? It should. But in some ways even that season was more fun. Until Russell Slade and Lloyd Owusu rode in on their white horses and raised the roof we looked dead and buried, but how much fun was that April for those who were there? Improbable win followed improbable win until we took on Stockport at Withdean with at least a couple of different permutations of staying up, the main one being in our own hands. A sold out Withdean followed and, for me, a pub that was nearly as packed with my old mates as before the Doncaster opener at the Amex. We won easily – it was never in doubt – and my pub friends chaired Slade high in the air off the pitch. Compare that to this April. One goal scored the whole month, one point attained in the most awful match I can remember at The Amex in terms of quality. We have survived because Blackpool are a basket case and Wigan and Millwall have been just a bit more consistently awful than us.

Since that day at Withdean in 2009 we have mainly been on the up, while our opponents that day, Stockport, are currently playing pub football. Slade couldn’t repeat his form but Poyet came in and steadied the ship before we went in to overdrive in the following season. Then came the Amex, the first two seasons a whirl of excitement as we got used to our new home and signed a mixture of exciting young prospects (Buckley, Mattock), ex internationals (Bridge, Upson and Vicente), relative unknowns (Ulloa, Spanish Dave) and Swansea cast offs, plus the odd crap loan striker. We had a style, we had an identity, we had a massively out of control expenses bill. Now we’ve got a slogan and it’s all gone a bit wrong.

So where? Where have we gone wrong? Can we rescue any crumb of comfort from an abortion of a season? What are our prospects for next term?

Where Did It Go Wrong?

Managerial Revolving Door

To lose one manager at the end of a season may be regarded as a misfortune; to hack through five in three seasons looks like carelessness. Especially when two of those seasons were relative successes. Already there are “Hughton out” tweets and posts on NSC but they miss the point. Right now we are at about square three on the metaphorical Snakes and Ladders board, but going back to square one AGAIN would not seem to be the right way to move from that position. Chris Hughton will have been given one objective and one objective only when appointed and that was to keep us up. He did it, no matter how. We were second bottom when Sami left with less that a point per game average. The current run we are on is devastatingly poor but, at one point, Hughton was on a 1.6 point average and the team were sailing up the table. It’s not that long ago we were putting three past Ipswich and four past Birmingham at home. I think there are other factors to the slide which I’ll come on to.

The point to take from this particular misfortune is that the club were briefing hard against Oscar after his resignation. It is beginning to look like both he and Andy Naylor had a very good point indeed. Not least because of…..

Recruitment of Players

What. A. Shambles. David Burke’s sacking mid season would seem to confirm that the club agree. The list of players we were supposedly after – according to transfer rumours and another Naylor report – included Stephen Ward and Adam Clayton, now plying their trade in the Premier League and top of the Championship respectively. What we ended up with was Joe Bennett (another loan left back, a liability in defence all season), Danny Holla (in and out of the side since Christmas), Toko (who?), McCourt (quickly shipped off to Notts County when it became obvious he only had ten minutes in him), Colunga (a worse quality Baldock who got home sick in two seconds flat), Aaron Hughes (barely played), Chris O’Grady (nice bloke but REALLY?) and David Stockdale (marmite). We made a great loan signing in Darren Bent, played him in isolation, got him injured and lost him again, replacing him with the vastly inappropriately named Leon Best.

There were one or two successes. Teixeira has been mostly excellent and very good to watch, but as a result tried to win games for us single handed. I’m not convinced that’s what Liverpool would have had in mind when they loaned him to us. Kayal was a great signing. Baldock, meanwhile, was just coming really good when he got injured. For me it is no coincidence that the goals dried up once he was out. A forward choice of CMS, O’Grady or Best is never going to score you goals. Talking of which….

No Goals From Strikers

If you’re going to play one up front make sure it’s Leo Ulloa and not, say, COG or Best. The stats bear this out, horribly.

Sami

Sorry, nice and honourable bloke he might be but it takes a great chef to make a decent meal out of scraps. Sami made scraps.

Calderwood

We have had two really bad runs this season. The first under Sami and the second currently. The reasons for the first are above, the reasons for the second are slightly more nebulous. Baldock getting injured certainly didn’t help but, for me, we became far too defensive once Colin Calderwood arrived. Under Jones and Hughton together we looked like we had real belief. Recently we are going through the motions in a desperate attempt not to lose.

Dreadful Performances Against Poor Sides

Our record this season against Blackpool, Wigan, Millwall and Rotherham says it all about the above. One win, having now played each of them twice. And yet it looks like we will survive on forty six points, eight less than Peterborough went down with just a couple of seasons ago. We have not had any quality when it has most been needed and that is really what has depressed the fans throughout the season.

That Massively Out Of Control Expenses Bill I Mentioned

Even Tony Bloom doesn’t have bottomless pockets. Whatever you say about this season the man has kept us alive. But have we targeted that money in the right way? Early on we overspent on facilities AND players. That was unsustainable. With an Academy to build we had to make the choice between one or the other and we chose to focus on the facilities in my opinion, certainly in terms of quality. FFP is a factor for sure but a massive increase to the playing budget would have killed the golden goose.

So What Next?

The good thing is that we have stayed up and that the club has miraculously achieved a near ninety percent renewal rate of season tickets. Many players are playing as if they are already at another club next season which can only be a positive. We have great young prospects in Dunk and Ince who we really need not to sell and Kayal looks an excellent player. Baldock will return. The major overhauls in the summer need to be at both full back positions and up front. I would also rather see Halford, not retained and Aaron Hughes (out of contact) replaced with a single quality centre back. Sell COG to Sheffield United, get rid of Best (PLEASE) and do not retain CMS. This should free up budget for Hughton to bring in his own men up front. Oh, and PLEASE again, as few loans as possible.

Long term let’s hope that spend on the Academy works and we become another Southampton. We need to stop relying on Tony Bloom’s money, not because of any jokes he may have made about being skint on Wigan station but because it’s not fair.

Meanwhile, don’t forget to enjoy the 3-0 defeat to Watford on Saturday and pray that Millwall don’t win by nine at the same time. Joke. Maybe.

 

Millwall at Home Season 2014/15 – Total Meltdown

Another week, another match report that isn’t a match report, isn’t funny and isn’t going to end up in a “16 things” buzzfeed list. A pathetic capitulation on the pitch, Brighton fans fighting among themselves (thank goodness I didn’t take my eight year old) off it and, as I type, the worst manager I have ever seen in our job, perhaps except Jeff Wood, still in a job.

We have

  • League One football for Premier League prices
  • Four players in an attacking position who have not managed a goal for over 200 minutes
  • A CEO whose programme notes get ever more bizarre
  • Three wins all season
  • An official club twitter account that announced THAT crowd as 24,000 but is unable to muster the balls to announce it as that on television
  • Our third manager in three seasons
  • A team full of people on loan
  • Our real players out on loan

We have no fight, no strength at all. No direction. No leadership on the pitch and ever more bizarre leadership off it.

We are in total meltdown. We are poison. I don’t want to go on Boxing Day. I might have to because my son will want to go but I have no idea how I will explain why the bad language directed towards our own players and manager is justified when I have always told him both are wrong. There are three things that need to happen to prevent this dilemma, to remove the poison, to satisfy the silent majority who were last night attempted to be silenced by club officials, stewards and the increasingly self-important twaddle coming from the NSK.

Hyypia out. Burke out. Barber out.

THIS WILL SAVE YOU MONEY TONY. YOU ARE ON THE CUSP OF LOSING NEW YOUNG FANS, TOO UPSET BY GOINGS ON, AND OF PAYING A LARGE WAGE BILL AGAINST BUMS ON SEATS OF 12,000.

 

 

Dear Tony. Please sack our clueless manager now. Thanks.

Table

Sami’s Interview

“If you have a plan, you have an idea it is better to stick with that.”

No. No it isn’t. Call me a moaner, a short termist, a reactionary, a bed wetter or whatever. I don’t care. I’m done with being diplomatic. This season we are absolutely clueless and it’s quite clear now that it’s our on field manager to blame. Look at that table. It doesn’t lie. Three wins all season, one against a team managed by a Non League coach and owned by a psychopath.

The debate on all sorts of Albion media this season has surrounded our league position. Was it a true reflection of our squad? Were we “too good to go down”?  Had we had a particularly bad summer transfer window? The answer to the last question to my mind has been yes and you can find that opinion in other posts. However in fairness Tony Bloom came out fighting in the media but also provided some pretty good ammunition in the loan market. Elliot Bennett returned to a club that would love him even if he scored an own goal in front of the North Stand (he won’t, hopefully) while we also signed exactly what we were missing in a Premier League quality number nine in Darren Bent. Meanwhile CoG, Chicksen and CMS have at least partially come off the wage bill. The personnel is now too good to go down (not that this saved Wolves a couple of seasons ago) and what we are left with as an explanation for this latest defeat is tactics, managerial experience and a side with no belief or discipline.

It all started so well. Both trains to the ground were packed to the rafters and, on exiting at Falmer there was a sea of people rather than a smattering. There was a big crowd for a local game against a team we hadn’t played for eighteen years. The away end was full, the West Upper and North stands were noisy and so many friends and family had made the effort to come the drinks were divided in to mini rounds. The Boy was even more excited, particularly at seeing our new striker. We came out of the traps at full pace and forced four corners in quick succession. True, we’d forgotten to pick a midfield. True, we executed the worst free kick I have ever seen in thirty five years of following the Albion. True also, our new striker was an ankle’s width from giving us a lead with a header that hit their keeper rather than him saving it. True, we lost Lua Lua to injury early on. But we looked more complete with Bent in the side, winning headers and stretching the play.

Kit Symons’ half time team talk, however, must have been a fairly simple affair but it was brutally effective. “Close down the wide players and break in to the gaps” probably would have done it. Again. Or, weirdly, “wait for them to score” for we can hold on to a lead like a snowman clutching an eel. Where we had the better first half Fulham had the better second. And good old Simon Hooper the Bournemouth fan had a nightmare.

Yes, Fulham did indeed close us down out wide. We obligingly gave them the ball as terrible first touch followed terrible final ball. We obligingly took the lead, a lovely ball from Colunga finding Bent down the channel who slotted home on his debut and celebrated in front of the Fulham fans, waking them up as one so that they could get behind their side, a celebration that “Hoops” saw fit only to have a quiet word about. “They’ll equalise in a minute” I said when I’d finished celebrating. In actual fact it took ten. Ten minutes of retreating in to our shells. Ten minutes of an increasingly isolated and frustrated Bent coming deeper and wider for the ball. Ten minutes of bafflingly poor pass choices. Ten minutes of profane anger from the Fulham fans before poor defending allowed Rodallega to fire powerfully in the top corner to bring the game level. And that was us. One or two heads dropped. One or two others went in to overdrive, forgetting utterly their composure. It was only a matter of time before Fulham scored the winner and, fifteen minutes later, Christiansen obliged with a shot that took a massive deflection, leaving an otherwise excellent Stockdale enjoying the day against his old club, absolutely helplessly wrong footed.

There was still time for another bizarre free kick routine. Colunga, having been told to wait for the free kick took it quickly anyway. Hoops booked him. No, me neither. The retake went in to orbit and Colunga lost it totally. Just minutes later, chasing the ball in to the corner, he dived in needlessly and picked up a second yellow. And with us two-one down and in injury time he took forever to get himself off the pitch. This ridiculous behaviour is borderline asking for his contract to be cancelled and yet, what was Sami doing? Sitting on the bench. As usual.

That’s the point. That’s the reason for the attention grabbing post title. The squad has changed but nothing else have and you are left with the fact that Hyypia and Jones are simply too inexperienced to get us out of this trouble. The table doesn’t lie which is why I’ve posted it at the top of this. Our tactics are awful. We can’t hold a lead. The players are variously lazy, undisciplined, trying too hard, confused and frustrated. And we are unlucky and sometimes that’s enough to get rid of managers on its own. What’s Sami’s response? To stick to his guns. To sit on the bench offering less direction than a broken Tom Tom. “We are Brighton and we play only one way. Recklessly.” That’s why he needs to go and go now.

With every game I yearn to have Oscar back. How good were his achievements in hindsight?

Bournemouth Away 2014/15 Season – Blunderland

Poor Sami.

A rare away report from this blog, given that its USP is home games only (along with brutal honesty and brutal flatulence). I’ve said before that watching on the telly isn’t quite the same as being there  but our performance yesterday didn’t need the sort of close up analysis that being there would have afforded (though if I had been there I suspect the beer would have put analysis beyond me anyway). Very simply three defensive errors equalled three goals, no points and a bit of a downer on my fireworks bbq.

I can only imagine Sami tripped over a black cat and fell head first in to a mirror before the game, such was the level of his luck. His side did many of the things we’ve been  crying out for. Calde was given a much needed rest having run like a trouper in the previous four. Holla came back in, CMS was restored to the bench and COG wasn’t even in the squad. What’s more, earlier that day, came the news that fans favourite Elliot Bennett was back for a month. Initially we seemed tighter at the back and we had more of the ball and more of the territory. It was an entertaining and open game, perfect for watching with a hotdog and a glass of Zinfandel which was lucky, because that’s exactly what I was doing. The Boy who had put his new replica shirt on for the occasion looked hopeful.

Then, inexplicably, Bournemouth were ahead. Defensive howler number one took place as Greer, on his own and under no pressure, managed to head a Simon Francis cross straight in to his own net. It was an awful and glaring error and it gave Bournemouth an undeserved lead.  But wait, what’s this? Within minutes we were level with a goal from a striker! Colunga finished neatly after being put clean through by a wonderful ball by Teixeira. It was the sort of link up the two had threatened during the Charlton home game but rarely since. We were back on terms.

Again this didn’t last long. Bournemouth retook the lead just before half time. At first glance it was a piece of acrobatic brilliance from Pugh who twisted to strike the ball home, aided by a slight deflection. However the one thing you get watching at home that you don’t at the ground is instant replays. The Bournemouth player was able to execute such a finish because he was unmarked and in ten yards of space. He had the freedom of the whole back post portion of the penalty area. Once again our defenders had switched off.

By this point Calde was already back in the fray, an innocuous looking clash doing for Aaron Hughes who had replaced him. It looked like a bad ankle injury and he was stretchered from the ground.

Even then we managed to claw it back. In the second half a route one kick and flick put Baldock through and to his delight he finished perfectly. 2-2. Had I mentioned it was open and entertaining? Boy was it. But we really needed to not make another defensive mistake.

Oh dear. Oh deary, deary me. Bournemouth launched a rare attack but it looked to have petered out, Callum Wilson being forced wide to the sort of angle that only Joe Bennett can score from, when Dunk basically assaulted him for no reason. It was one of those challenges that could have been made in a bad Hollywood movie in slow motion as the hero stood up yelling “nooooooooooooo”, voice lowered by its slowing down. So stupid was it that actual village idiots took a break from chewing straw to wonder if their position was safe. Naturally Bournemouth tucked it away.

And that was it. Everything we had hoped for going forward came off. Two goals, both from the strikers. Lovely, neat, entertaining interplay. Good ball retention. Not too much getting caught on the break. The faults of the Rotherham and Middlesboro games corrected. Only to be replaced with other, more serious faults at the back. Like I said, poor Sami. In one way this strengthened his hand and in another it made the case for the P45 even stronger.

Here’s where we are. One point and one place above relegation. A manager who has now gone twelve games without a win in both his current job and his previous one. It’s like watching a junior programmer trying to fix a badly designed system, Fix this bit here and something goes wrong over there as a result. Fix that and something else pops out.  When the system works the players let you down and when the players try the system fails.

We go in to Tuesday’s game with Wigan – a must win – with a loan keeper who can’t play (and whose lack of familiarity with the centre backs may have contributed to the own goal), Bruno maybe out injured (we can’t be sure because the club won’t tell you any more), Hughes definitely out injured, Greer and Dunk a card each from suspension and Calderon exhausted. And it’s our defence we need to work on now. Make no mistake, from now until May we are in a relegation battle. Are Hyypia and Jones equipped to lead us over the top? And do they have the luck?