Stoke City at Home – The Lee Mason Show

Scene – Lee Mason’s enormous mansion. Lee is watching Homes Under The Hammer in his pants, with his iPhone conveniently by his side. Suddenly it rings.

Lee Mason: Hello?

Mystery Voice: Lee? Lee Mason?

LM: Er, y-y-y-yes, oh God, Jamie, is that you?

MV: I’ve told you never to call me that over an unsecured phone line. Now, anyway, listen and listen good.

LM: Ok, w-w-what’s up?

MV: My bosses have seriously screwed up again. Somehow the idiots have chosen to cover Brighton v Stoke, live, and to make matters worse it’s on a Monday. The audience is likely to literally be two men and a dog. It’s the equivalent of trying to sell Steve Parish face masks in down town Saltdean.

LM: That does sound a bit shit.

MV: It will be. Fortunately, I’ve used my mysteriously persuasive powers on the FA and they’ve appointed you as the ref. Now all I need is something to talk about. A nice controversy, if you get my drift. Something we can recycle over SSN in the morning too would be even better.

LM: O-o-o-or what…….?

MV: Or they get to see that tape of you in the Hartlepool game when you weren’t the centre of attention for 90 minutes, voice overed by “Big Pammy”………

LM: Consider it done…..

Usually conspiracy theories are the preserve of over-herbalised students at a post club “chill out” and orange, chin-smuggling oxygen thieves with a nuclear button at their beck and call, yet so awful was referee Mason’s performance last night that saner men then me were reaching for varieties of the above before even getting on board the hideously inadequate excuse for a “service” that Southern Rail once again served up for the paying (ok, paid in advance via their match ticket) public. Regular readers will have noted the disappearance of The Boy’s Ref Watch. Indeed, regular readers may have notice the disappearance of the blog all together (if you want to stop me writing, play on a Sunday afternoon), but the former is down to the fact that, up to now, the referees at this level have been pretty decent. Yet now, one has taken over the whole report.

It’s a shame because it’s helping to gloss over an inconvenient truth, though Andy Naylor picked up on this on Twitter too. At this level we are good, but perhaps not good enough. Home form, so crucial last season, is ostensibly ok. We’re scoring and we’re not losing. But, we’re also conceding and not winning, and as each draw goes in to the score book, the famous Amex noise levels are decreasing, just a little. It’s a sign of respect that established Premier League sides like Stoke are coming for a draw, yet it’s a sign of frustration that little errors, here and there, are giving them it.

For now we’re winning away, though against basket case teams. I wouldn’t expect this streak to continue on Saturday. But the big league comes up and hits you in many different ways. Playing Man City first and only losing 2-0 almost looks fortunate, Arsenal beat us in second gear, and on Saturday we face Pogba, Lukaku et al. But Stoke City gamed us. They knew Lee Mason was shit and exactly how to play on the edge of the laws, sneaking fouls on the blind side because the baldy porker couldn’t keep up with play. They knew just how much time to waste, just how many fouls to commit, just how many yards to steal, not even respecting the shaving foam lines at a free kick. And when we got frustrated they punished us. Stoke are an established Premier League side. They showed us that we are not.

This is now reading more like a rant than a report, yet it informs everything that went on. But here’s what happened, end to end, like you’re used to.

A filthy Monday night is not the ideal time for going to football, or indeed, doing anything much except sneaking home from work, microwaving an average ready meal and watching something slightly disappointing on Netflix. Commuters will certainly tell you that Monday night is not a time for working railways and a broken rail at Preston Park didn’t disappoint. I left four hours to get to the game from Middlesex and, at one stage at Lewes station, that didn’t seem enough.

Having finally got to the ground and finally found Steve we got a beer and decided that the game would be difficult but winnable. In the seats the rendition of Sussex By The Sea was stirring enough, but the traditional Ring of Fire Mexican scarf twirl thing was cut short by Sky. Therein Mason took centre stage, ably assisted by panto villain Ryan Shawcross.

Not just Mason and Shawcross. One player in red and white was giving a display of creative mastery and that was Shaqiri. For the Albion, unchanged, Propper had a slow start, similar to his Man City match. He was to redeem himself but he nearly played us straight in to trouble early on. At the other end Izquierido was left unfathomably free on the left and did a trademark cut in, his low shot missing the goal by inches, though he should have scored.

We were soon punished for such profligacy, Shaqiri playing an almost impossible through ball to Chupo-Motting who looked marginally offside to the naked eye. Either way Dunk lost sight of both player and ball and the finish was one I could have put away. 0-1.

And then it happened. Murray was released and wriggled ahead of Shawcross in the box, in a race that looked more dad’s race at Sports Day than Usain Bolt. Nevertheless, Shawcross had no chance of catching Murray and blatantly tripped him as he drew back to pull the trigger. A stone-wall, all-day-long penalty. Everyone in the ground could see it except Mason, who’d been too slow to keep up with play, and his assistant who had a perfect view and had, presumably, received a similar pre-match mystery phone call. Shawcross later admitted it was a penalty.

The Amex erupted, and not in a good way. Everything else that happened from then on was informed by that decision. Not only did we not get a penalty, had it been given it was a borderline red card. Now Mason missed an obvious hand ball by them and let Murray off an assault with just a yellow. As the swear words descended from the West Upper only one man was calm, and that was the afore-mentioned Propper. Picking up the ball in midfield he did one of those dribbles you see kids at school doing where they always lose it, only he didn’t. Instead he hoofed it in to space out wide and Stoke stood still. His whipped in low ball was put through the keeper’s legs by Pascal Groß. 1-1. The Amex erupted in a good way.

We should have gone in with that at half time and just needed to survive a corner. To be fair, usually watching corners I’m not too worried, but here I was thinking “don’t mess it up”, something Steve said out loud. Maybe this got in to the heads of our defence because, instead of doing a normal professional job we panicked, screwed up and handed Zouma a gift of a goal. The choreographed celebration went on for a full ten minutes, Lee Mason playing the part of “bemused interloper” at various points, and we went in 1-2 down.

The second half was better entertainment than the first, though just as hopelessly refereed. Stoke fell back on their lead and we began to dominate the ball, though with an approach play that was too slow. It was going to take a mistake by them to equalise and, fortunately we got it. Izquierdo was released by Murray and crossed from an impossibly tight angle. Luckily the ball rebounded off the defence and, with the route to goal cleared, he stuck his second effort in first time.

There was still time for March to come on and act the nuisance, though he did give a free kick away for waving, but at the end 2-2 was a fair result. The Albion need to start turning these home draws in to home wins. We may think we’re “professional” at this level but teams like Stoke have got years on us.



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.