Leeds United at Home 16/17 – Professional

Sometimes the oddest of things can demonstrate the pulling power of a good side. An example. This week I have suffered (and I can already sense female readers rolling their eyes at the use of that word) from a throat so sore I couldn’t talk, temperature changes that saw me going from thick jumper to t-shirt in an instant and, strangely, toothache. In other words, manflu. Manflu on steroids though, with added unpleasantness. I hate toothache. But it went nearly as fast as it came. Even on Friday morning I was still chucking as much paracetamol as I thought I could get away with down me but the big packet I took with me went untouched.

Let me take you away from this picture of personal patheticness to a much more pathetic, tragic, annoying, unfair, hilariously incompetent and potentially corrupt situation – the effing trains. Was there ever, really a more sorry shower of shit? It’s not this blog’s place to go all political or start looking for a single scapegoat, but what I will say is that it seems to me that the ideologically evangelical ideas of a few are causing misery to the hundreds of thousands, our beloved football club and beloved Mr Bloom included. Once again there would be a service so poor that it made Leon Best’s loan spell look professional.

There’s a point, I promise. Two years ago that would have been it for me. I would have pulled up the drawbridge. “Manflu, plus toothache, plus no trains” I’d have said to myself. “Sod that, I’ll watch it on Sky”. As, indeed, I did, almost exactly two years ago when Millwall came to town on a Friday night and the trains were better then and I might not even have had manflu. But what has been achieved in those two years is quite incredible. At no point this week did I think “maybe I’ll give this one a miss”. No, I’ve been looking forward to it since the final whistle went on a dull, cold 0-0 at Cardiff.

Luckily, while I’d been moaning and necking Strepsils (other throat lozenges are available but I like Strepsils) Steve had been much more practical and had booked the four of us on to the West Hove Sainsbury’s Park and Ride. Quite possibly some adrenaline kicked in too as, by 5pm I was feeling as good as I had done all week. The Boy pulled on his Brighton hoody and we were ready to go. Glory hunter? Moi?

Glory hunting dominated my part of the pre-match chat on the way to the bus stop. Leeds United do not have a very good record at The Amex, which is odd, what with them being the actual champions of Europe and stuff. Last season was probably their nadir, a hopelessly pathetic performance from Sol Bamba lighting up a game where we led 4-0 at the break. So it was with confidence that I told The Boy that, while it would be a tough game, I fancied us to do it. He wasn’t so sure. He expected Leeds to try and kick us off the pitch, with Knockaert being the main target. Admittedly this was based largely on his FIFA 17 tactics against yours truly on the X-Box where he insists on spending the first five minutes of any game slide tackling my star player whether or not he has the ball. “I don’t think Gary Monk uses quite the same tactics” I assured him.

There were mixed confidence levels in the WSU despite us playing our traditional Amex whipping boys. Tough game reckoned Steve. Yep, agreed the leader of the cheese eating poker school. Just then I bumped in to the delightful Jem Stone who was beaming and confidently predicted three points.

It says a lot for last week’s bore draw (which despite the blog name I attended, but didn’t write up owing to not remembering much of it) that I whole heartedly believed that the first three minutes of this match contained more action that the whole of last week. What’s more, despite being forced by a Leeds coin toss win to attack the North Stand first, that action was coming from us. Ok, there were no actual chances but Jamie Murphy was causing problems down our left, Baldock was buzzing round like a particularly annoying wasp and Murray, playing right on the final defender’s shoulder, was annoying the crap out of their centre backs. However, the first real goal mouth action to emerge from this far better start killed the game off as a contest.

Twenty one minutes were showing and we had a corner on the East Stand side. Knockaert swung in a wicked, curling inswinger and Dunk lost his man at the back post. He got a foot to the loose ball and steered it goalwards, at which point I lost sight of it. Hi viz yellow ball my backside. Actually, the reason I lost sight of it was very simple. I fully expected it to be nestling in the north goal and it wasn’t. All around me people were out of their seats cheering too. In fact we soon would be 1-0 up and this goal came with four cheers for the price of one, since Kalvin Phillips had cleared off the line with his arm. Ball seems to go in – on feet. Ref points to spot – almost a goal level bounce around. Ref produces red card – laughter, additional cheers and waving. Murray puts in dodgy looking penalty to give us the lead – general mentalness followed by high fives.

And that was almost that. In an instant we went in to professional mode, dropping down to third gear without ever looking like our hands were off the wheel so to speak.

Oh, we created some more decent chances. An almost identical corner saw Murray get away at the back stick only to head wide. Right at the end of the half Pocagnoli, having a great game in place of the suspended Bong, took a magnificent cross field ball, beat his man and tapped back to Murray who had an outside-of-the-boot chip well saved by Rob Green. For Leeds Chris Wood completely scuffed a dangerous low cross.

In the second half Monk reorganised his side to be more compact in midfield and we went in to “don’t blow this now” mode. Still Murphy tested Green after a quick and slightly fortuitous break and Duffy sent a free header straight in to the same player’s arms. And then a favourite moment of the day. A free kick from the left saw Dunk get ahead of his marker and go down. Having missed the bleeding obvious penalty your scribe confidently exclaimed “that’s another penalty”. Normally your scribe is very wrong when he says such things. So you can imagine the sheer incredulity in the WSU as the ref pointed to the spot again. With Murray taking a well earned rest (and there was definitely some game management from Hughton bearing in mind we have a game on Tuesday and were against 10 men for nearly 70 minutes) Hemed stepped up. “He’s going right down the middle” I said. The Boy nodded. Hemed stuck it in the corner. Game done.

No real mention of the mighty Leeds? Well, that’s probably because we had eighteen shots to their two, seven on target to their none. As a contest the red card had killed it.

One other thing that both boys were impressed with was the Leeds fans very sweary anti Sky song, delivered in broad Yorkshire. In fact they thought it was the funniest thing they’d heard since three thousand Brighton fans had invited a Charlton fan to do something anatomically impossible with his drum. So it was with a certain fascination they looked at the Leeds fans who were, for whatever reason, on the bus back to Portslade. We were all looking for a gritty Yorkshire rant about the price of t’pints so it was a double take done by most of us when the feller proclaimed something like “fackin ‘ell, I ain’t seen a worse ref since me old mam fell dahn the apples bless ‘er.” All he was missing was the pearly suit. A strange end to a strange week.

The Boy’s Ref Watch

This week I do not bring you a rant, nor even a negative score. I bring you an incredible four out of ten. Yes – that’s plus four. Both penalties and the red were heartily approved of, though marks were lost for being too lenient on Vierra, the Leeds number 25.

I appreciate this section isn’t as funny as usual but if that’s not a winning score then I’m a cockney Yorkshireman with toothache.

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Forest At Home 15/16 – Encouraging

Pathetic. The performance of a group of people who you’d have thought had never staged Championship football before, let alone just a few months ago. It was dangerous, incompetent and inexplicable. But enough about Southern Trains and Brighton Station. The football, when we got there, was marvellous.

No one should leave their house, as we did, at ten to six and arrive at a venue, specifically designed for public transport and about five miles away as the crow flies, at twenty to eight, five minutes before kick off, but somehow we managed it.  With my two regular companions away on holiday The Boy’s oldest friend and his Mum stepped in. I know they both love an Amex home game but the two hour journey that nearly ended in a fight on our train carriage at Brighton Station would have tested anyone. Fortunately we got there just on time and, for once, it was worth it. Journey (nearly) forgotten.

This is a different team. Make no mistake about it. We might have sleep-walked our way to survival last term but there was no sleep walking last night. The manager might be the same but the intent is incredibly different. I was very glad we arrived on time for kick off because the first minute or so may just have set the tone for the season.

We kicked off and moved forward immediately. Took the ball from the centre circle and ran AT Forest where, under any other coach at the Amex, it would have been stroked back to the centre half, methodically and carefully. OK we lost it but that was just the cue for an immense sliding tackle, perfectly executed, to take the ball back off Forest again. In those few seconds we showed we were up for it and that the cowed set of players, reluctantly seeing out a 0-0 for survival, were a thing of the past. Hughton has the 2015/16 vintage in a very different mindset.

A description of the game in chronological order will follow shortly but it is important for now to highlight just HOW we were different. Ostensibly this is the same set of players with five senior additions and several departures. Yes those departures and additions have combined to ensure there are key partnerships throughout the side, and those mean that we are able to play either 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 fairly comfortably. At the back we have that old fashioned pairing of Greer and Dunk who looked revitalised, despite the latter probably only being 50/50 to stay with us. Greer had one of his better games in a while. Down the right Bruno and March combined neatly and dangerously as they had against Sevilla. On the left the immense Bong (quick, with superb instincts, strong, and ours permanently, unlike Bennett) and a super confident Kaz looked, if anything, even stronger. Stephens and Kayal, meanwhile, bossed midfield, looking every bit the commanding, up and down, central midfielders we should have had last season. Baldock played off Hemed in a two up front that many have been crying out for, forcing Forest to drop deep for much of the first half. Poor CMS. Even he’d have thrived playing off Hemed. How we misused him indeed.

The opening exchanges, however, slide tackle and kick off apart, were pretty even. Forest had perhaps the best chance of the match early on from a set piece, the ball curling on to the woodwork from Lansbury. After that though we began to dominate the ball with our wide players causing Forest problems and Hemed putting himself about. This eventually led to a woodwork strike of our own, the ball cut back to Kayal from our left who stuck the bottom of the post from just outside the box.  Plenty of pressure was exerted by the men in the stripes with corners and free kicks being won without conversion, but, as the clock ticked down for half time, Hemed was somehow denied from his head by a simply wonderful one handed stop from the Forest keeper de Vries.

It wasn’t to last. Could we maintain that same level at the start of the second? Yes we could. And five minutes in we finally turned our domination of the ball in to domination on the score card. A quick break down the right saw March hit a centre that was too high for our advancing strikers but fell to Lua Lua on the left corner of the box. He found space but, for once did not cut back on to his right. Instead he hit a superb angled drive with his left, just inside the far post with de Vries given no chance at all. Cue THAT celebration.

If anything was like last season it was the fact that the effect of the goal was to bring Forest back in to it. We sat back more, at least allowing us to admire the defensive abilities of Kayal and Bong, and played more on the break (one surging run down the left looked particularly impressive until we all realised the ball carrier was DUNK) and Forest carved out a few more chances. The best of those fell to teen sensation Tyler Walker who completely did our defence from a quick throw in, resulting in a goal mouth scramble which, fortunately, we were strong enough to clear from about a yard out, a scramble that resulted in me yelling my first “GET RID OF IT” since the Withdean days.

Hughton, seeing we were in trouble, made the same tactical switch as against Sevilla. Ince came on for Hemed to make a 4-5-1 or, really, a 4-1-4-1 as he sat just in front of the defence, who must have been glad of the help on a humid night (The Boy – “why do they keep drinking”, Me – “because it’s hot out there”, The Boy “no it’s not, the sun isn’t even out”). It needed it and steadied the ship and, despite bringing Rosenior on at left wing, we looked more assured again. In the end we saw the win out easily. Me, The Boy and our friends celebrated with crisps and our first pint of the night. No £4.35 sausage roll though. What’s that made from, Kobe Pork?

Was it perfect? No. Was it a good, tight Championship game of football? Yes. Was it a million times better than last season? Absolutely.

We’re Brighton and Hove Albion. We’re top of the league (if you read this before 3pm on Saturday).