The phrase “big weekend of sport” was used in many of the papers last week but it left me cold. Or, rather, it didn’t mean anything to me personally. Sure, there was the Grand National on which I duly lost a tiny amount on Tony Bloom’s no-hoper and a slightly larger amount on my own badly advised choice, but the rest was a bit m’eh. The Joshua fight? No way was I paying per view for that given my propensity to fall asleep before ten o’clock in the evening, the eventual two-rounder justifying my parsimonious decision. And the GOLF? A good walk spoiled. IMHO like. But most of all there was no Albion game. How can it be a big weekend of sport without US?
So instead, this has been a big week of sport. On Monday I went to the pub but stayed sober (yes, really, I have witnesses including a well respected children’s tv actor and a flummoxed barmaid) and we watched the Forest game, initially with pride and latterly with our fingers over our eyes, until that glorious and thoroughly undeserved late winner from some Knockaert genius. On Tuesday I did my last pre-marathon training run, a very ploddy three miles with my coach for final instructions, and that night The Boy and I watched Citeh knock PSG out of Europe in what no one at all calls El-Middle-Eastern-Moneyco. On Wednesday we watched Atleti do a number on Barca. The only things to cloud a glorious week of sport were that Boro got three points out of their game in hand and our home game against Fulham was coming ever closer in a concertinaed schedule.
What was also coming closer was the Brighton Marathon, at least for me, and this will explain my rather odd pre-match preparation. So preoccupied have I been with the race that I found myself literally forgetting about our game, which is not a good thing for an Albion blogger to admit. Friday dawned and I headed to the Expo to pick up my race number and timing chip, a journey which could have gone a little better. My bus over was delayed by a recalcitrant chav getting caught with a saver ticket from last week by an inspector and refusing to pay or get off. “I’ve gotta get ta school innnit” she whined which was unconvincing given it was 10.30 in the morning and she was in full make up, t-shirt and jeans.
Then I failed miserably to buy a single banana from Waitrose before eventually arriving at the queue in a horrendous rainstorm. I let the women who arrived at the same time in front of me and two minutes later a seagull took a massive shit which landed all over her. So it could have been worse.
Once in the Expo I finally met two of the guys from the NSC running thread I will be running with and ‘St Leonards Seagull’ admitted he had not thought of the marathon at all. “I’m much more worried about tonight”. “What’s tonight?” I absent mindedly replied. You may shoot me now.
But just as the marathon had banished thoughts of the football then, by half past five the football was banishing all thoughts of the marathon. Despite needing to remain sober I managed to engineer us all on to a slightly earlier train. Thank Christ I did. We got to the stadium in plenty of time but, after we left, the system went in to meltdown because the people charged with running our trains haven’t got enough people to run them properly.
Thus we were at our seats with huge gaps everywhere as the game kicked off. The regulars in front were missing. My promised seat buddies were missing. Eventually they arrived in drips and drabs. To be fair they weren’t missing anything.
We were – let’s face it – woeful for the first twenty five minutes or so. It was like the second half at Forest all over again as they pressed and dominated the ball and we obligingly pinged it back to them. Though no damage was done score wise the psychological battle was being lost. An edgy crowd at first fell silent and then lapsed in to that “come on Brighton” chant. The Fulham fans delighted in our silence and their players in our hesitancy.
But – and it’s a bloody big but, not dissimilar in size to the one I’ve spent a year running off (parp) – we were clearly waiting for there to be a full house before we started properly. On twenty eight minutes, with the train SNAFU finally over, we came to life.
A through ball down the left channel put Wilson in the clear against a ponderous defence for the first time and he dribbled neatly round them in to the box whereupon he was shoved over. Referee Woolmer pointed to the spot, to Fulham protests led by Scott Parker. A tip, lads. If you’re going to protest it then the initial reaction by the pusher shouldn’t be the ‘hands on head, what have I done?’ gesture. Hemed stuck away the spot kick majestically. 1-0.
Five minutes later it was two. How good is Skalak’s dead ball delivery? (EDIT – David Guile has pointed out this was Knockaert and he’s right. How good are BOTH wingers dead balls is what this should read). We won a free kick in a position that would have been innocuous for most of this season but a delightful floated, curving ball banjaxed a static Fulham defence and Hemed rose above them to head his second. Two nil to the Albion. NOW the crowd bayed. Fulham fell silent. Their whole game plan had been to press us high and hope to find a goal out of either prolonged possession or a forced error. Now that plan was redundant. They had nothing else.
Most assuredly they had no back four. I do not want to blow my own trumpet (sod it, of course I do) but, my pre-match prediction of 3-2 was based equally on my worries about McCormack and Dembele and my knowledge that Fulham’s defence is utterly woeful. Now only the latter was having an effect. After fifty four minutes the game was effectively over. We forced chance after chance with some sparkling interplay and footwork and, eventually had a corner from the West Stand side. Skalak took again, a Fulham player DUCKED and Bruno had the freedom of the back post. He needed two touches to finish it but was given all night to do so. 3-0 and that lovely man, stand in captain and magnificent beard had got a goal in front of the North Stand. The Amex went crackers.
To keep this a readable length means I cannot describe every single incident because there were too many, but it would be lax not to mention the save of the night from former Fulham keeper Stockdale. Freed of the need to actually win the game, Fulham briefly came to life down our left and the ball was cut back for a close range shot that really should have been 3-1. Stockers not only made a magnificent one handed save, he then pawed the ball away while on the ground, like a beach volleyball player stuck in the sand. Then it was all us again.
Hemed was on a hat trick. He nearly got it as a rampaging Wilson put him in from ten yards but Bettenlli came up with a point blank save. But soon it came. Another attack down the right from Knockaert saw the ball squirt all the way across to Skalak who laid it back for Stephens. His shot played pinball in the box and Hemed tapped it in. At full speed he looked a good yard offside but it wasn’t given and Fulham’s defence went mental at the officials again.
Fulham were destroyed. There’s no other word for it. Mentally from the 4-0 score line and their fans evacuating early to London (at least they’d probably have a train running). Physically from the first 28 minutes of pressing and from the bad back induced by picking the ball out of the net so many times.
We took the mickey though actually the North Stand used a different word. Another magnificent save was drawn and they cleared one off the line. Then it was five, Knockaert curling one in to the corner through three defenders. The last of the Fulham fans either left or celebrated with us.
There was still time for Lua Lua to fire in to the side netting before we were sent on our way. All three boys were madly excited, Steve and I shook hands like long-lost old friends and the Amex saluted an exuberant Bruno on a lap of honour.
As we waited in the train queue a sudden thought struck me. “How the heck am I going to run a Marathon on Sunday?” I wondered. If you want to find out I will be in a bright white REMF t-shirt slogging round with the North Stand Chat running group. Give us a cheer. And your ****ing money. Link below.