A New Year Present from Tony – Welcome Chris Hughton

Happy new year Albion fans. And happy new manager.

Chris Hughton will be unveiled as our new boss this morning. After what felt like half a season of despairing at the club’s previous choice Tony Bloom has chosen my preferred choice of boss on to replace him. Why was he preferred? Simply because of the number of boxes he ticked when compared to the others on the shortlist. Now was not a time for another risk. Tony has been successful enough in poker and business to know when to keep on and when to change strategy,

We needed Championship experience and a man with contacts in the British game. We needed someone who will be up for a fight. Having got a club the size of Newcastle back up (albeit with one of the best squads ever seen in the Championship) Hughton certainly has guts. He is well respected in the game having recently appeared on Goals on Sunday and the Radio 4 Today programme and he will bring a level of interest in the club not seen since the Poyet days, though unlike Poyet he knows what to say and when to say it.

Of the other contenders Tony Pulis had two main stumbling blocks for me (though he was the choice of many long term fans). Firstly his clashes at Palace over budget and recruitment. Yes, David Burke was removed but there is not an open chequebook here yet and that is a good thing. Secondly the combative style he would employ would not suit a squad that still looks a little powder puff. An overhaul of players and style would have represented as much risk as an unknown from Spain.

Tim Sherwood meanwhile attended the Gus Poyet Finishing School  of Opening Ones Mouth To Change Feet. That in itself wouldn’t be a show stopper but his lack of Championship experience and desire to bring in his own back room team would have been. And that gillet? That salute?

No, if anyone is unlucky here it is Nathan Jones who did a brilliant job as caretaker with a two point average and the passion restored to the stands and dressing room. I would have been perfectly happy to see Nathan continue but my reservation would be around recruitment where he lacks experience. With Burke gone any new manager would need to be able to secure “his” players.

We’ll see how Chris gets on over the coming months but I feel like a dark cloud has lifted from the club and it is onwards and upwards from here. Happy New Year Tony and thank you.

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Oscar and the End of Season Awards

As Derby’s fourth goal went in on Sunday evening (ok, as their second did in reality) our season ended. My thoughts turned to what was good (and bad) about an eventful season and I started to construct the Brighton But Only At Home end of season awards. Then I thought I’d rest my keyboard until at least the World Cup or first marquee signing. Thanks Oscar.

The subsequent resignation of Oscar Garcia has meant that, instead of sloping off to the metaphorical beach and sticking its collective feet up, everyone associated with Brighton and Hove Albion has endured a torrid and argumentative few days.

Whenever there is a parting of ways between two people or groups of people it is, to a degree, acrimonious. I can remember our old next door neighbours divorcing. When the husband left he assured me it would be amicable and they had just grown apart but it didn’t take long for solicitors’ letters and battles over money, property and care of the children to properly tear them apart. While the Oscar / Brighton split will never come as close as the Poyet / Brighton split for intrigue and rancour there has been some airing of dirty laundry over the last couple of days. In a way this is healthy proving that we not only live in a country that supports free speech but that we have a club and press that understand that.

Firstly Andy Naylor wrote a piece in The Argus suggesting that Oscar had left over transfer policy and that he had presented the club with a list of transfer targets. Cracks, it said, appeared in the relationship as early as October when Leo Ulloa got injured and we were left with only Ashley Barnes to play up front.

Yesterday Tony Bloom in an audio interview with the BBC quashed some elements of that article. When asked specifically if the club had failed to deliver Oscar’s targets he said “yeah, that’s not true at all” before qualifying that statement by saying that while Oscar had some targets they were unrealistic due to price and availability. He also suggested some naivety on Oscar’s part as to how the transfer market works here as well as some communication difficulties. This was expanded on in an NSC discussion of the interview with a fairly solid suggestion that Oscar was unavailable on transfer deadline day in January (contrast with Poyet who stayed in his office till the deadline passed).

Going further than this risks conjecture but it is useful to set the scene. It is also useful not to forget the key fact of the season, that, league position wise, it was just as successful as the preceding one. Yes we finished sixth rather than fourth and with three less points but the net result was still a defeat in the playoff semi-finals. The other thing borne out by both pieces is a confirmation that Oscar was perhaps never quite settled here and that his introverted, phlegmatic personality, whilst a welcome contrast to Poyet’s bombast, actually caused communication issues and rifts around the club. I am a written word extrovert but a real world introvert and I can feel for Oscar here in some ways knowing you would have the spotlight on you in a language that was not your own. Perhaps he didn’t realise the intensity of Championship football? I mention this last thing because it frames who I would prefer as a replacement.

Given everything that’s happened since we arrived at The Amex I would prefer the next appointment to be a forward thinking coach but with English as a first language. The sort of person who is not going to have communication issues with Messrs Burke and Barber, who can deal with the press confidently and communicate with and get the best out of his players, ideally without those players forming cliques. My ideal candidate would be Steve Clarke who appears to fit all those requirements, though whether he would be available, willing and affordable is another matter. This is merely my starter for ten. There has been talk about the bookies’ favourite Tim Sherwood. On him I am far from convinced. He certainly ticks the boxes marked “English” “prepared to play youngsters” and “flexible attacking football” but he also, for me, ticks the boxes marked “media circus” “outspoken” “tactically naive” and “using us as a stepping stone back to the Prem”. With Sherwood I worry we would be out of the Oscar frying pan and in to the fire that was set by Poyet.

Whatever happens though I trust Tony Bloom to deliver. His interview last night combined the intelligence of a man who has made his fortune with the passion of a fan and included a frank admission that he was still learning. I expect the lessons learned from the last two appointments to be fully implemented in the recruitment of the next manager.

So – on to those end of season awards. After all, I really do want to put my feet up on that metaphorical beach, at least until a replacement manager is appointed. Who was hot and who was rot in 2013/14?

Player of the Season

That I would only consider defenders speaks volumes for our season. Upson as club player of the season is a pretty good shout. He has been excellent as expected and I’m so glad he returned to us. However, my own award is going to be for Stephen Ward. When he came to us – indeed still at the end of this season – I was seeing rather cruel comments on him from Wolves fans, central to which was that he was not a left back. Well for us he was. Defensively solid, excellent in the pass and very willing to push up he prevented and created goals in equal measure. Never gave anything less that 100% and was almost ever present. I was genuinely worried when we lost Bridge. That Ward was a more than adequate replacement speaks volumes for him.

Moment of the Season

Obviously THAT header from Ulloa at Forest. Not for my son though. His special moment was sitting a few rows from the front of the West Lower against Reading in the cup when KLL dribbled round half of Reading’s defence on the left wing just to retain possession, before earning a corner by deliberately flicking the ball of a Reading player’s shin and then gesturing to the crowd like a DJ trying to get hundreds of tired ravers to the their feet.

Away Fans of the Season (Ground)

Leeds again. Honourable mention to Middlesboro who brought 500 down when they were on a terrible run. They sang all afternoon as their team took us steadily to pieces. Overall one of the reasons it felt like such a damp and boring season, despite our final position, was the procession of teams from Oop North who came down with a few hundred fans and parked the proverbial bus before wasting time from the twentieth minute on. Next season will be different with Wolves, Fulham, Brentford  and possibly Leyton Orient arriving and Barnsley going. Thank Christ.

Away Fans of the Season (Social Media)

Occasionally something really good just falls in to your hands. So it was when Reading’s Tilehurst End blog were put on to me by TSLR and asked me to do a preview of our league match. We have stayed in correspondence and I have regularly read their excellent site. Believe me they are in a deal of financial trouble and will have a difficult season coming up. Yes their fans false pitch invasion was highly amusing but the Tilehurst lads have been intelligent and sporting in their comments and this deserves mention.

Pie of the Season

Chicken Balti. Again.

The All Change Award

Goes to me. Obviously. The act of writing / blogging is an arrogant one but I would like to think that most writers / bloggers understand this. What’s the point in having a blog award if you cannot give yourself one, that’s what I say. The All Change award, however is awarded for events in the future which, if anything, is even more preposterous. It relates mainly to the fact I shall be taking The Boy to every home weekend game next season. In order to secure this, since Best Friend is also taking his kids, we have had to move seat. Not stand, luckily, but I shall have a slightly different vantage point next season. I shall also be the poor bastard trying to contain the unrealistic dreams of an eight year old who needs the toilet while my mates enjoy their leisurely beers in the pub.

There will also, hopefully, be some changes on this here blog. Watch this space.

Finally, thanks for reading. I have had over 10,000 hits this season, not bad for a badly promoted, WordPress hosted, one man operation that is normally written on a busy commuter train or a hungover Sunday morning. It is about 9000 more that I thought I’d get when I started. Happy Summer. See you when the new boss is announced.