Derby County at Home 15/16 – Anti Climax?

By crowd numbers at least this was the biggest game ever seen at The Amex. By noise levels just before and just after kick off it was too. Yet somehow events in Birmingham on Friday served to downgrade it. I’m getting a little ahead of myself but perhaps you already know what I mean?

It certainly felt big on the way over, mind you. Mindful of the train troubles that had beset the last two mid-week games we left home a full two hours before kick off and, while we had a painless journey as it turned out, it was also a busy one. The 12.52 from Brighton (for a 2.30 kick off) was rammed. No actual songs in our carriage but rather a low hum of expectancy. Familiar old faces abounded. This was a big day out.

Recently, when I tried to explain this blog to Al on The Albion Roar I said that it was a story of the whole day and that often something would come up in pre-match conversation that would prove relevant to the later events on the field. So it was that Steve and I were discussing the latter half of the season and I mentioned our defence and particularly the partnership of Goldson and Dunk. Steve referred to how daft Dunk’s sending off at QPR was. Then we moved on to discussing what we would need at Boro.

That’s the only issue really and the reason I mentioned how Friday’s result had rendered the Derby game largely irrelevant. Allow me (another) rant at Sky. What is the EFFING point of taking us all the way to sodding Cleveland for a 12.30 bollocking kick off so that everyone plays at the same time for ‘fairness’ when, only the week before, a TV company dictates that Boro will get two more days rest than us, that we knew before the Derby game exactly what we needed up there and that Burnley were able to kick off later than anyone, knowing a win would get them up? It is cockwomblingly, mind-numbingly ruddy pointless. Thanks Sky.

OK, I feel better for that but you get the point. Anyone who thinks the promotion race has been run fairly in terms of timing is living in cloud cuckoo land.

But you have to play the hand you’re dealt. The fixture computer dealt us Derby at home as our last game, the ticketing computer dealt out every seat in The Amex and, after oiling our voices with a couple of Ouse Waters, we joined a packed Amex. The roof was just about held intact but Sussex By The Sea nearly took it off.

Regular “atmosphere” threads appear on NSC. People bemoan “soulless bowls”. Yet the ground was on point as we kicked off, the backing the lads needed, initially at least, coming from every seat, except those in the East Upper where library attendants still patrol, armed with hot stares. The lads reacted and we had the first good chance of the game, Russell overrunning the ball to Kayal in his own half and the Israeli’s long range shot getting deflected just wide.

Derby, though, looked decent enough on the break and Ince wasted a good chance when put through by a long diagonal ball. Not as good as the subsequent chance we had as a free kick was awarded on the edge of the D, slap bang in French Tony territory. The kick was placed even better than the one against QPR but Derby had watched that back and had a man back peddling on to the line to cover. It was just headed over.

I’m not sure whether you’ve got this from previous reports – the Leeds one would cover it – but all too often this season the quality has been lacking in this division. It wasn’t here but the two of us were even and cancelling each other out. Not so in the second half.

A pessimist would say we allowed Will Hughes to dictate terms after the break. A Derby fan that he took the game by the scruff of the neck. It was probably a mixture of both but as the play went through him, Derby began to dictate and had a series of long range efforts that were fairly comfortable for Stockdale. However,  not so the one on seventy minutes when Hughes produced a sublime piece of control and stuck through Weimann. His initial shot was saved but he put away the rebound. The celebrations in the away end were echoed in Burnley.

The game had been frustratingly and inconsistently refereed from the get go. The penalty shout that looked nailed on from the WSU looked less so on replay but other free kick awards seemed totally random. Challenges that looked certain yellows (including one from Stephens, this was inconsistency rather than bias) were let go as was a plainly obvious elbow on Bruno. One of the few cards that had been correctly awarded, however, was an early yellow for Dunk. On eighty two minutes he doubled it and can have no complaints, a challenge that was as brainless as the one up at QPR ending in the same result. He will not play at Boro and left with his shirt over his head.

But this team NEVER gives up. A draw would be largely pointless – we’d still need to win at Boro in all likelihood – but it would maintain the unbeaten record and put just a touch of pressure on the watching Burnley.

Is there a finer sight than a keeper coming up for a last minute corner? Yes, of course there is. Like, say, your Czech international hitting a 30 yard rocket as part of a four nil win. Keeper up means you’re desperate. But with a last minute corner in the offing we were. Up came Stockdale and caused chaos. The ball fell kindly to Wilson and he lashed in a shot via a deflection to general mayhem in the stands. It finished 1-1. So how did we all feel?

The question mark in the title is deliberate. Certainly some of us felt flat at the end. We shouldn’t though. We knew before the game that we’d probably need to win at Boro. We knew Burnley were the favourites to go up. That next week was the big one. The only thing this could do was set a marker in the ground for a possible playoff clash in which someone needs to paint a large target on Will Hughes’ arse.

Had we not scored that goal I’d have felt flat too. But we did. And, as the players came round for the end of season lap of honour the North Stand started with “we are going up”. The players visibly picked up. Yes, we will have no Dunk. We will have two fewer days in which to rest. But we will be prepared. Think back to August. Would you have taken a last day shoot out for promotion? I would have in a heartbeat. It’s time to pick ourselves up and throw the kitchen sink at Boro, hoping that fortune favours the brave.

 

 

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Leeds At Home 15/16 – Easy, Easy!

Ah, Leeds. Welcome at The Amex any time. In the naughty years gone by, the seventies, eighties and early nineties a visit from Leeds was about as welcome as one from your mental Auntie Vi with a crowbar in one hand and a gattling gun in the other, but not now. They come in numbers, boosting Mr Barber’s revenue (pretty much what it’s all about now if you believe that Argus interview about Sky), they provide a decent atmosphere, there are always goals and they never win. So it was last night.

It was a fitting way to celebrate my last alcohol for a month and a half. Hobbling, with DOMS coursing through my legs after a PB at the Brighton Half I mentally made a note that this game would provide my last beer before the big one in April. I headed first to The Swan where there was a gathering of the old school, home and away crowd I’ve known for years. I wasn’t the only one to have run the day before and, where the talk would previously have been of pubs, train times and away stewards it was all of times, pacing and training. At least for a bit. Then we got started on a game preview and we wondered aloud when the last time we had a penalty at home was. We concluded it was Ulloa’s effort that had cleared the North Stand and damaged several satellites. “Wonder when we’ll get another one?” we collectively asked.

I headed to the ground to meet the Cheese Eating Poker School, who had arrived with one of the anti-Sky banners being handed out by Leeds fans. I gently pointed out that we had the only seats in the entire ground that were behind the cameras. Such a banner would have been as much use as Sol Bamba. I supposed it could be rolled up and used as a telescope but instead it was gently abandoned.

Don’t get me wrong, I agree with its sentiment. I can’t stand Monday Night Football, an invention from the States that was purely to increase advertising revenue over there. Attending a game on a Monday is wrong, as is having to write this in half an hour before work with a hangover. So what follows may be brief. But inconveniencing fans, many who would already have booked train travel or a weekend stay to our City is way more wrong. Brighton / Leeds games have always had a good atmosphere since we moved in to our new home. Credit to the Leeds fans who did turn up and kept singing despite what was occurring on the pitch, but there were less of them than in previous years and some significant gaps on our side of the fence too. Monday football sucks balls.

Gathered in the roost we made the now traditional draw for the quids in correct half time score. I believe eight of us now had a piece of the action, necessitating some fairly creative and outrageous scores to be included. I got 2-0 Leeds. Nobody, though, got 4-0. I mean, when have we ever been four up at half time (a game against Barnet at Withdean is the Tim Carder answer by the way)?

It didn’t start promisingly. The singing battle from the stands was excellent but much on the field was being concentrated in midfield. In hindsight this is where Leeds excel. They have a nice midfield. A decent, Liam Bridcutt at sweeper-ish, type of midfield. Luckily for us they can’t defend and they can’t attack, so when they had an early penalty shout denied that was it for the half in terms of their threat.

We’d been snuffed out in midfield but suddenly we were in front out of nothing. Rosenior went on the overlap down the left, cut in to the box through two players and was hauled down. We had our first home penalty since the Ulloa affront. This one was nearly as bad. If any of my under nines had taken a kick like it I’d have made a mental note that they were off penalties for a month. Tomer Hemed chipped it, very gently, right down the middle. But let’s be generous and say that he saw Silvestri move as the Leeds keeper generously dived out of the way for us to take a 1-0 lead.

Worse – much worse – was to come for Leeds. Bamba, who had a nightmare, gave the ball away to Baldock thirty five yards out from their goal with all their players out of position. Baldock seized the gift like a six year old at a birthday party and exchanged passes with Stephens to go in to the box, where his attempt at a finish took a massive deflection off Liam Cooper and in. 2-0. Fatty Evans was about to burst.

Last season we beat them 2-0 and it was the easiest home game of a difficult season. Though we are at a different end this season we haven’t had many games where we’ve cruised to a win, Brentford excepted. At this point the game was actually safe, given that Leeds’ attack had the accuracy and potency of a blind man hurling ping pong balls in a gale. We didn’t yet know this though as they failed to get out of their half. And, while they had succeeded in keeping Knockaert quiet this only left room for Murphy to attack on the other flank and Baldock and Hemed to torture their ponderous back four.

Next Murphy went clean through but Silvestri produced an excellent save. But then a long ball over the top was only half cleared and it fell to Hemed on the edge of the box. If anyone will have appreciated the Leeds defence parting like the Red Sea it would be him. A simple, low shot and it was 3-0. Now there was real tension among the Cheese Eating Poker School and Other Assembled Guests. 3-0 was one of the held tickets but we didn’t look done yet. Gallows humour took over the Leeds fans. The North Stand went in to shock. How Evans didn’t have a heart attack I’ll never know.

The inevitable fourth came from a corner. Leeds switched off and Dunk climbed highest of all to head home. Bedlam up in the roost. More puce-ness on the touchline. Poor old Leeds. Dragged down here on a Monday night to watch that. The half ended with us stroking the ball around like Barcelona and the whole thing was very neatly summed up by Steve. “I’m not sure how to deal with being this comfortable – I’m at a Brighton game and I’ve got a resting heart rate of 60.” All round the ground similar thoughts were being aired. No one had a winning ticket. Half time scores went in to a roll-over.

I had a sneaking suspicion that, while Evans would have been demolishing the away changing room, many tea cups and several Piglets Pies, Hughton would already be closing the game down. Don’t get booked or injured or do anything silly seemed to be the mantra. Leeds had much more territory in the second half, but so useless were they with it that the first save from Stockdale was celebrated like a goal by their fans. We still nearly added another one, Skalak on as a sub going clean through but rounding the keeper the wrong way and finishing with an exaggerated dive as he was robbed. But that was it as a contest. “4-0, and you still don’t sing” taunted the Leeds. Sorry, lads. Mentally we were already on the bus home.

4-0 it finished. Such wins deserve to be celebrated with a pint or two and so we did. This morning I am facing a month and a half of sobriety. What a way to go out.

Sky To Introduce Inflatable Away Fans

 

In a move that is set to revolutionise the televising of football matches in the United Kingdom, Sky have announced that they have purchased an army of “realistic looking” inflatable fans who will take the place of away supporters at matches where the kickoff time has been changed, in order to present a “more credible experience” to the television viewer.

Roger Cockwomble, Sky’s Head Of Consumer Experience said that the convincing looking fans will be dressed in replica shirts and “tied to seats with a piece of string, in case it’s a bit windy.”

Mr Cockwomble continued “there’s nothing more disappointing for the television viewer to be greeted with than the sight of empty seats just because someone had to change to kickoff time to 10pm on a Thursday. 10pm on Thursdays is currently a ‘free slot’ for our hordes of viewers and we wanted to make their experience as close to the real thing as possible.”

“Of course, this could make it hard to get back for away fans, especially when you choose Newcastle v Bournemouth as we have next week. Out ‘inflatable army’ will maximise the atmosphere potential.”

When asked what sort of noise the inflatable away end would make, Mr Cockwonble replied “we have recently headhunted a new Under Head Of Consumer Experience, Julian Thundertwat, fresh from his work revolutionizing Football League coverage at Channel Five. His suggestion was just to record a choir mumbling something inaudible to the tune of Sloop John B. Except for when it’s Palace. Then we’ll just play three year old St Pauli songs.”

Mr Cockwoble continued “Julian did have another idea, which was to put a sofa in the away end for ‘special’ real fans and get them pizza at half time, just like they were actually at home watching Sky, but we rejected that as too ridiculous.”

 

Yeovil – a personal report of two halves

Yeovil Pregame – Nerves

I’m sitting on a train going along the Sussex coast. I’d forgotten how nice some of it was and how ugly other bits are. The Adur estuary just after Shoreham and the mix of countryside and coast that follows it is stunning, even in the rain. Teville Gate is bloody ugly. The houses in Lancing look smaller that I remember them from when I was young and we played footy at the Owzat Centre every week.

I’ve been looking out of the window to try and take my nerves away and my mind off, well, everything. Actually, I just saw somewhere in West Worthing called Original Curryland which made me laugh for a second. West Worthing. Home of the Murgh Masala. Who knew?

But back to my nerves. They are two-fold. My company has a prestigious new client. Today I am training them on a version of our system they’ve bought that I’ve been using for literally weeks. The thing is I know exactly the sort of operation they run and that’s why I’ve been selected. The session will last all day (probably) and is over three hours away from The Amex. Tonight sees our last home game of the regular season against Yeovil, thanks to Sky. I am 99% certain to miss it live. I will catch some on TV I should think. I should rename this “Brighton But Only In My Own Home”.

Friday night football. FRIDAY! Who the actual fuck is going to watch the game apart from Brighton and Yeovil fans who can no longer make it thanks to the date change? A wise man – NSC’s Bozza – wrote that the last game of the season should be all about a boozy day of high jinks with your mates, a proper day of it. He’s right. Instead Brighton fans will be booking holiday or scrambling in from work while the Yeovil fans face a journey by road that will get them home in the middle of the night. Thanks Sky you fucking nobby wanking bastard fucking cockjugglingthundercunts.

When I retire I’m going to live in Boring Goring.

Where was I?

Ah yes. Nerves. And annoyance. I am nervous because of the course and because my best suit has already got wet in the rain. I quite like training but I don’t quite feel equipped today. I am nervous because there is an outside chance the training won’t last all day and I’ll be able to go, but in reality any cock up on the trains and I might miss the first half on telly, or even the whole thing. I am nervous because, if we don’t win, our season is fucked. Over. Kaput. If this happens I wonder if Oscar will have hit the ceiling? I worry that this wouldn’t upset me as much as Gus leaving.

Even if we win it is now out of our hands. Reading just need two wins from two games to make sixth. We started blowing it on Monday against Blackpool.

That bit round Littlehampton’s pretty. But Jesus, look at the rain. Yuck.

Let’s be blunt here. Yeovil are rock bottom and they do not have the resources to compete in this division. They’ve given it a go but ultimately come up short, much like us when we were in The Championship at Withdean. We know how they feel and we therefore know they are there for the taking. Just like Barnsley and Blackpool should have been. This is not a shoe in for us.

The fact that it isn’t says everything you need to know about our season. We are avoiding sixth like an errant milkman in a cupboard, hiding from the cuckolded husband. We lost at home to Barnsley and Middlesboro. We could only draw to Blackpool who are in all sorts of bother, underfunded and coached by a player. He still outwitted Jones and Oscar.

This rain! It’s like being back in February.

If we got sixth could we win the playoffs? Probably not. If we did by some miracle could we compete in the Premier League? Not with this squad. WHY I am nervous then? I had given up on actually going up months ago and the chances are no greater today than they were then.

Because since last year I dread the end of the season.

Because I’m writing this season diary and my grand finale might be me sitting in a chair with a takeaway watching the second half of a defeat by Yeovil. This version of Brighton But Only At Home is brought to you in conjunction with Alan Bennett and Morrissey.

Or we could win and Reading could draw and then the last day would be fricking unbearable. Frankly it’s the hope I can’t stand.

We’re nearing Portsmouth. I think I can smell Mr Portsmouth Football Club and his Bell End. I’d better go.

Yeovil Post Game – Elation

If only I’d been a bit braver.

Those are not the words of Oscar ruing a season of caution that had been excellently dissected by Adam Virgo at half time. No, Oscar’s words were “we are the only team in The Championship to become weaker after the transfer window”. Back to that later. They are my words.

The delayed kick off was my friend. I made it in front of the telly just after it started, The Boy allowed to stay up and watch with me since it wasn’t a school night, a curry ordered by my wife, a bottle of beer in my hand. It should be manly paradise. Watching a football match with a beer and your son and a burning hot curry on the way. Yet I dislike watching on the TV. It is cheating and, as I’ve already written this season not quite the real thing.

The delayed kick off meant that if I had finished the training I was doing a little earlier, pushed the taxi man a bit harder and got a train just half an hour earlier than I did I probably could have been in my Amex seat instead of sat in the lounge. But I wasn’t. I wanted to be thoroughly professional with my new clients, to offer a long Q&A, to be there for support during the practical, to make sure they were all happy before I left. The riskier way, cutting corners, going for it did not seem to offer the overall rewards of the middle way and so I took that. I wonder if that is a metaphor for the relationship between Oscar and Jones and the players. You spend hours thinking about attacking football then, when you get out there, you play “don’t fuck it up”.

That would certainly explain a limp first half display against Yeovil in which all the old weaknesses are apparent. We defend open play stoutly but are vulnerable to the set piece. Twice Yeovil should have scored from one. Once when we switched off at a short corner and a quick pass in to Palazuelos on the edge of the box saw his shot fly off the bar before being scrambled to safety and once when PIG has a massive rush of blood to the head and charges out for a ball that flies over him. Only Dunk covering behind stops it bouncing in to an empty net.

Our other weaknesses are there too. Diving in eagerly in order to hit the coaches’ win back target. Too many over or under hit passes. Over complication. Terrible finishing. Orlandi, back in the team despite a touch of flu, misses two chances within minutes of each other that I’d have fancied myself to have tucked away, firstly missing a gaping goal with his weaker right foot and then making himself space for a header brilliantly before sending said header wide from six yards. Half time. The curry has arrived. The Boy’s questions have been answered. A new beer has been opened. Yet I am far from happy. Over on Facebook the wife’s sewing circle agree the game is “boring”.

Half time sees that brutal but accurate assessment by Virgs and the general agreement that we have to attack in the second half. We have 45 minutes to save our season.

At last we do! We have a proper go. Lingard (man of the match for me) buzzes like an annoying hornet again having had an off day against Blackpool. Buckley menaces. Ward pushes up. Andrews – yes Andrews – plays a couple of neat attacking passes. Yet my first Twitter swear of the evening comes out when another set of unbelievable chances culminates in a brilliant save from a downward Ulloa header that just bounces too much. Not quite Gordon Banks against Pele but perhaps the Conference version of it.

We are never going to score. I prepare the boy for disappointment and consider clearing the plates. March comes on for Orlandi. Then Stephens gets injured. Another baffling Oscar substitution then occurs as we don’t bother waiting to see if he can continue and bring on Lua Lua for Buckley. He can’t continue and minutes later we have to bring on JFC for the gutted Stephens. That’s it. All three subs. We have gone all in just before the river. Sorry. Lazy poker metaphor again there.

Yeovil are fighting hard and hitting us on the break. They are doing themselves proud. They hit the bar again. Luck would seem to be on our side and, on 78 minutes, this is confirmed. Lua Lua crosses from the right, Ulloa lunges and misses and it bounces straight in. The Amex goes beserk. The Boy and I leap off the sofa. So THAT’S where the goal was coming from.

After that we knock it about nicely and rarely look in danger. The night is capped off when March gets free brilliantly down the right and delivers the perfect cross for Lingard to drill home from close in. 2-0. We. Are. Sixth. Pressure back on Reading. Saturday is now going to be tense. I open another beer. Put The Boy to bed. Do a little jig. Chat on Twitter. Bite my nails again. Then I hear Oscar’s comment about the transfer window and I briefly think “ceiling?”. Not that again. Please.