Sheffield Wednesday At Home 2016/17

Questions:

  • Who put that axe in my head?
  • Which team holds the record for the shortest ever match report on this blog, due to nothing happening in said game?
  • How an earth was Stockdale not man of the match?
  • Who have we never done the double over in one season before?
  • Did YOU give up three points when they got the penalty?
  • How an EARTH did we win that?

Answers:

  • My friends, particularly three of them with the initials G, S and D.
  • Sheffield Wednesday, last season.
  • Because Knockaert (they should have shared it)
  • It’s er, um, erm, Sheff, um, no wait, it’ll come back to me……..
  • I did #badfan
  • Let’s try and explain that in under 1200 words

But first 1).

I’m feeling absolutely hanging a teensy weensy bit delicate today. The annual Brighton but Only at Home trip to 1901 Club hospitality was a swinging success. Four intrepid explorers set out from The Caxton on a Friday evening intent on making the most of seats that were even more padded, beer that tasted better because, goddamnit, it was served in a BRANDED glass and food that wasn’t just stacked under concourse heat lamps. The beer needed to be tested on several occasions.

This made for a convivial evening which was just as well as one of our number had accidentally dressed for a fashion show rather than a football match and therefore needed to apply a warm,  invisible beer coat. Those of us who were more sensibly dressed drained a last pint. At 7.40 pm, in our cups and having agreed it would be a return to form, there was nowhere else better to be. Well, perhaps our own seats, where I imagined the Cheese Eating Poker School, who had taken up temporary residence, were handing out correct score bets and having Voice Tablets and tickertape rained on them from behind. But our seats had a great view and lots of legroom.

The annual 1901 visit, as my regular reader will attest, is really code for annual piss up, which given the amount of times I mention the word “beer” on here is quite something. Luckily it was so flipping FREEZING that we all sobered up fairly quickly. The effect would be not dissimilar to emerging in to the night from a Russian vodka bar. Which was good because the first half needed concentrating on.

It wasn’t that the first half was particularly dull. In fact a makeshift Albion team, with the injured Baldock and Bruno replaced by Hemed and Goldson respectively, made the brighter start of the two teams. Though ostensibly lacking in pace it was a line up that was at least solid, with Stephens restored to midfield and Pocognoli in at left back. It was just that the second half had SO much more incident.

So – the main bits of the first half – two goals.

Ours was a delight. I don’t care how much beer (or Russian vodka) you’ve consumed, goals like that stick in the memory. As so often when we score the other team was on the attack. We broke it up on the edge of our area and went on the counter. Hemed put his head in where it hurts and received the ball back via a midfield interchange. Suddnely he was clear with Knockaert screaming for it on the right. The ball was well placed but slightly lacking in pace and the chance seemed to have gone with a chipped first touch. Somehow Knocky was first to it, went round the despairing Westwood, who should have done better, and smashed in past the defenders on the line. 1-0.

We were comfortable enough that we should have gone in one nil up but then disaster struck. Forestieri roasted Goldson on our right and put in a decent cross. Norwood attempted to head clear but Dunk stuck out a leg and deflected it past Stockdale for a calamitous own goal. 1-1.

Half time. Time for more beer.

Where to start after that? Three red cards, another goal and enough argy bargy for the game to officially be noted down as “bad tempered”. There was certainly enough entertainment to keep us warm (even if you were dressed for the opera). And, in the light of day, there wasn’t a decision I disagree with.

Firstly Wednesday had a corner which we failed to clear adequately. Loovens hammered a shot goalwards and Murray protected his face with his arms, which the ball hit. Hand to ball? Yes. Shot going in? Maybe. Sending off? Probably. Referee Attwell showed a red card. One all, down to ten men, with a penalty against us. “I’ll take a draw now” I said to anyone who would listen. Thank goodness the players didn’t listen.

A second penalty save of the month from Stockdale and we went mad. The reflex save of the follow up was even better and we went madder. Could we pull an unlikely draw out of this desperate moment?

No.

No, we would do better. Up the pitch we went on one of our rare forays, the team now deliberately hitting on the break. The ball came to Pocognoli on the left and his perfect cross was met by that man Knockaert again. The posh seats went doolally. God knows what was happening in the North and the WSU.

A backs to the wall effort then, or at least it was until some argy bargy on the edge of our area saw Fletcher headbutt one of our centre backs (yes I didn’t see which) and get a red card of his own. Then an appalling challenge on the halfway line by Hutchinson saw him get a second yellow, though a straight red would have been more appropriate. Suddenly we were massive favourites. You could feel the palpable despair in the away end.

And so the whistle went and we all hugged again and the players looked much as they did after Fulham, sheer delight at our win and escape.

More beer. A train queue. An abandoned train queue. A bus. A cold bus that wouldn’t leave Falmer for some reason not quite explained. A walk from darkest Porstlade. Another pub. Beer. Gin. Whisky. A certain someone (not me) passing out. A VERY COLD walk home. A hangover. All worth it. All would be done again in a heartbeat. This team, this team is a team of winners.

The eagle eyed among you may remember I was “doing dry January”. This weekend was always going to be an exemption. At this rate I’ll need a fridge full of champagne.

 

 

 

 

 

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Sheffield Wednesday Play Off Semi – Pride

I haven’t got long to write this. In one of those quirks of fate I have to head off to get to somewhere very far away for work today. Last night we got in at eleven and I went to bed as soon as the adrenaline had stopped pumping round my body, which took a while but no way could I write. I’m not sure I can now.

Somehow telling the story of the day seems inadequate. We booked a bus instead of going by train as I was taking The Boy – no way was he missing this – and the information at the weekend was that the trains would be carnage. This meant little changes to the routine like entering the WSU from the other end, like going straight up to the seat, like having his normal a hundred and one questions played out in front of a small captive audience with suburban Brighton as the backdrop. Normally I’d throw something about superstition in there but it was an odd feeling. Having been convinced we wouldn’t do it all weekend a sort of calm optimism was descending on me and my bus mates. It was heightened when Sidwell and Knockaert were named in the team after all. We could do this.

So here I am, writing when I have no time, telling you about buses when I should instead be telling you about the enormous pride I feel for our club, for its owners and managers, for it players and for its fans. In our wonderful stadium. In our never say die attitude. In our pies and our proper ale. In our decency towards a set of fans who wouldn’t know humility if it Tangoed them (I’m very much Team Hull in the final, a set of fans who acted with dignity and respect in defeat at The Amex in a direct contrast with Wednesday). I’m telling you about the pride because I cannot, sadly, tell you about the achievement. It wasn’t for the lack of trying.

I have never heard noise like it in a home game. We’ve had some decent atmospheres over the Amex years no matter what people may say on NSC. Alan Mullery once famously opened the dressing room door so his players could hear a packed Goldstone and told them “that’s your team talk”. But at two nil down, with a depleted side, we had been asked to sing and to believe and we did both. How the players responded.

We went at Wednesday with pace and purpose. Twenty five thousand flags waved and twenty five thousand voices joined in the chant. Were there even any away fans in? We battered their goal. Knocky hit the post with an early free kick, just as Hemed had hit the post early on up there. Fine margins. We created chance after chance, song after song, sweat visibly dripping off the players, pain killers forgotten in surges of adrenaline, controlled this time unlike at Boro. Despite that early miss we scored early, Dunk forcing the ball in from close range. I thought The Amex was going to take off and fly to Woodingdean.

Unfortunately that was as good as it got. A lucky equaliser, a cross going straight in after Dunk was pushed away from clearing it, foul not given. Westwood in their goal having the night of his life. Five or six frightened Wednesday players on the line for every corner. Their constant time wasting. All served to frustrate us as we peppered their goal to no avail. And so, at the end, all that was left was pride.

I hope it’s enough. I hope the majority of this amazing group of players stays for another crack and I hope our incredibly impressive, professional, dignified, thoughtful manager does too. It CAN be done next season. I don’t rate Villa at all. Norwich are beatable. Newcastle will probably challenge for the title. But Boro and Burnley are gone and one other challenger will be too. We finished above everyone else this time round, by a considerable margin.

So we can go up next time. We need to remember that feeling though. Not the crushing pain of losing two “cup finals” in less than two weeks, nor the injustice of losing Stephens or bad luck with injury. It’s that feeling of Tomer Hemed standing on the advertising hordings at Fulham, arms splayed in celebration, of Skalak cracking in from 35 years, of the dignity and togetherness of Shoreham tributes, of coming from behind to beat Charlton 3-2, of giving Boro a damn good go in their own back yard with only ten men, of beating near neighbours Brentford, QPR and Fulham with such ease at home. That feeling of watching Knockaert dribble round countless players like a kid in the playground, watching Dunk and Goldson mopping up headers for fun, of Stockdale saving point blank, Kayal and Stephens like a pair of terriers in midfield, Bruno impossibly controlling a poor air-borne pass with one toe, Rosenior bleeding blue and white for his new club. Bobby coming back and scoring winners. Of all of us, for a change, singing the same song at the same time, non-stop. This isn’t where it ends. It’s where it begins. If all that happened this season just think what we can do in the next one.

 

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.

Season 2014/15 – Sheffield Wednesday At Home

Here we go again then. The start of a new season. This will be different to last season from a personal point of view as The Boy has his own season ticket with me this season. Mark’s boys are with him too and the six of us have relocated back a couple of rows and across a bit in the WSU. He had been looking forward to the game for days, counting down the sleeps and almost bounced out of the door when it was time to go.

Everything Boy related went swimmingly. We seem to have a train routine established that will allow us to get to the Sports Bar where I can have a quick beer and he can play with his teammates from his football team. In the ground he and Mark’s boys talked among themselves instead of firing off the usual fifty questions (though we later overheard them plotting to “get” the referee after Crofts was sent off, not good for my parent of the year application).

Everything else didn’t. Firstly congratulations to Wednesday. After some extended banter with their fans they were excellent. Big in numbers and voice they backed their team loudly. Their team responded  by winning. Frustrating time wasting and feigned injuries aside they deserved it. We were wretched. Everywhere.

The North Stand still seems split in two. On the few occasions everyone joined in together then the West joined in as well and the noise was tremendous. Sadly this only happened about three times. The rest of the time there seemed to be a competition between the East side and West side. Or just total silence. The fare on the pitch didn’t help.

I wrote this frustration up on NSC last night but it is worth repeating here. Squads should evolve. Ours is regressing. Let’s hope Creationists don’t get a look at a time lapse of our squad over the last three years as it would surely prove their point, setting back over a hundred years of Darwinism.

This is what i put on NSC. It now has 42 thumbs up, my personal record.

When you start with Shamir Fenelon and O’Grady in the Championship where once it was Barnes and Ulloa you are going backwards. When you have to play your reserve right back as a left wing back you are going backwards. When you play another ex-devteam squad player as one of two holding midfielders when his major weakness is tackling you are going backwards. When you no longer have Mathew Upson reading the game and controlling the spine you are going backwards. When your answer to this is to put on an overweight, out of favour player with the pace of a snail on mogadon and who cannot accurately pass a bottle of port you are going backwards.

Harsh maybe but my summary of our weaknesses yesterday. And while some may rage at Crofts’ sending off it needs to be compared to the leniency shown to JFC. For me his first tackle was a straight red whereas Crofts’ was a yellow. Certainly JFC should have seen yellow a second time, taking us to nine men.

How did the new men perform? Stockdale looks a little rusty, missing three kicks to the wingbacks and once being lucky to be fouled as he struggled to reach a cross but otherwise he was fairly untroubled and could do nothing about Coke’s brilliant 42nd minute strike. He will come good after some game time and I will stick my neck out and say he’ll be better than TK’s last season.

Hughes is solid. I will be typing that a lot this season.

O’Grady? Pleasantly surprised. Held it up excellently, made a nuisance of himself and nearly scored. Assuming he is the Barnes replacement then we have done well. But he’s no Ulloa.

To be fair it is not the new additions that worry me. It’s who’s left. A squad of players where the seniors are three years older, three years more tired and cynical and who have gone through three completely different footballing philosophies in as many seasons, bulked out by Dev Squad promotions who, by the nature of these things will be a little green and inconsistent.

Things may gel (but not if we use Calde as a left wing back and Agustien as an impact player). We may make signings before the end of August that stun us (and that fit better in to Hyppia’s sort of 4-2-3-1 with wingbacks). I may be jumping the gun, wetting the bed, whatever. But for me this squad doesn’t just need a few additions. It needs major surgery.