Monthly Archives: January 2013

One Out, All Out!

The training grounds of 21st century football clubs are pretty sophisticated places.  Tactics are discussed in minute detail, set pieces practised with monotonous repetition and every player knows his role in the team.  An army of fitness coaches, nutritionists, doctors and any number of ‘consultants’ are always on hand to make sure the team walking onto the pitch every week, are as well prepared as humanly possible.

How refreshing then, to see Albion cement victory on Saturday with a move straight from the dresssing rooms of the local rec.  After a night of pints, shorts, kebabs and (if they are lucky) passion, park pitches up and down the country are buzzing with what to do in the upcoming game.  Apart from making sure last night’s doner with extra chilli sauce doesn’t end up on the centre forward’s boot of course!  From Community pitches to our own Community Stadium, the gap between the two worlds was bridged in amazing, hilariously spectacular fashion.

In the last minute of added time, Derby were given a free kick just inside their own half and as their keeper strode up to take it, we held our breath.  60 minutes of glorious tippy tappy and 30 minutes of increasingly nervous defending was possibly about to be undone by a final act of hoofball.  Suddenly, our feelings of trepidation were replaced by the uncontrollable urge to laugh out loud, REALLY load.  Just as the ball was kicked, the entire Albion team stepped up, leaving no less than NINE Derby players offside.  After a nervous couple of seconds waiting for the linesman to acknowledge this tactical master-stroke, the ref duly blew his whistle and we heaved a collective sigh of relief.  It was all over and our perfect start to the year had continued.  But what of the previous 92 minutes?

Saturday kick-offs for me, start with a 4 hour shift at work.  The usual banter with colleagues centred on the day’s games and their importance to each of them.  Most of them are Saints fans, but there is the usual smattering of United, City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal.  I was quietly confident about our game, but not massively so – this is Brighton & Hove Albion we are talking about!

I left at 11.30 in the company of my daughter for her second game of the season.  It was rodding down with rain and bloody freezing so my new lucky pants (clean, and with a 100% record so far) were covered with thermal long-johns and layers.  It’s all about layers as my Mum used to tell me.  It’s funny how, as you get older, stuff you scoffed at as a teenager, starts to make perfect sense!

We get the train from Barnham.  This works smoothly and apart from a couple of timetabling issues last season, has served us well – a pretty stress-free way of getting to Falmer.

After changing at Brighton we negotiate the queueing system for the short trip to Falmer.  This is my favourite part of the journey.  I’m a keen people-watcher and it’s always fascinating to to watch & listen to the various people on the train.  On Saturday, we shared the carriage with some Derby fans, some of whom were discussing the facilities on offer at The Amex.

It’s easy to be massively blase about what we now have, especially as it followed the chaotic but gloriously quaint set-up at Withdean.  Travel to and from Falmer is, for many Albion fans, a recurring nightmare.  They queue for the buses or trains, they queue for the food, they queue for the beer and then watch the football.  They then carry on the queueing (this time in reverse) for the journey home.  It was very interesting to hear the Derby fans saying how brilliant it is to be able to get a train right up to the ground, how brilliant it is to have decent beer to drink and how brilliant it is to have decent pies to eat.  The next time we feel inclined to moan about our lot, perhaps we need to look a bit deeper and appreciate what we have.  One of those Derby fans even said that The Amex ‘is the best away ground i’ve ever been to, bar none’.  High praise indeed.

Programme bought, it was into the ground and the next stage of the match-day ritual, trying to guess which tactical delight Gus had in store for us.  The first surprise was the absence of Craig Mackail-Smith, not just from the starting XI, but from the squad.  Social media is an immensely powerful (and admittedly indispensible) tool and the rumour and conjecture went into overdrive.  Depending on who you follow on Twitter for example, the absence of CMS was down to injury, illness or an imminent transfer.  Readers of this blog will know I am a fan of the mop-haired scamperer so I was sightly concerned about this.

Next on the ‘I wonder if………..’ list was the rumoured appearance of our much maligned (and much worshipped) Spanish maestro, Vicente Rodriguez.  Sure enough, the dulcet tones of Matchday announcer Richie Reynolds changed pitch to a level marginally short of hysteria, as he announced the substitutes. “Number fifteeeeeeen, it’s Vicennnnnnnnnntayyyyyyyyyy!!!!!!!!!!!’  A quick glance at the thermometer should have been enough to temper his enthusiasm.  With the temperature due to dip during the afternoon, surely he wouldn’t be risked?  This was confirmed when he came out to warm up looking like The Michelin Man.  He would need at least 30 minutes notice he was coming on, given the 17 tracksuits, 4 woolly hats and 3 pairs of gloves.  And so it transpired.

With a front pairing of Ashley Barnes and Will Buckley, with Andrea Orlandi supporting, what would the afternoon have in store for us?  A goal after 90 seconds, that’s what.  A defence-splitting pass from Inigo Calderon put David Lopez (or Spanish Dave as we imaginatively call him) through.  His drilled cross was turned in by ‘Number NINNNNNNNE, Ashley Barnessssss!!!’  A second goal after 20 minutes, this time a far post header from Andrea Orlandi and we were dreaming of a 6-0 rout.

Yeah, right.  It NEVER turns out like that does it?

After an hour of dominance, the usual doubts began to creep in and as we dropped deeper and deeper towards our penalty area, a comeback looked more and more likely.  A goal from a free-kick was all Derby had to show for their endeavour, until the very end of the game, when our tribute to Sunday morning footballers came off in spectacular fashion.

So, a 2-1 victory.  The 100% 2013 record continues, as does my 100% lucky pants record.

Maybe we are starting to turn the corner and chisel wins out of a difficult last 20 minutes?

Can we ‘win ugly?’  Maybe, but lets not ditch the beautiful stuff just yet!

 

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The Big Push!

Good morning!

First of all, an apology.  You will see that the last time I inflicted my musings on you was 3 months ago.  This is poor and I’m sorry, although I will plead that work, home and general life has got in the way, not to mention the cider-infused mayhem that was Christmas with my mad family.

I will blog more in 2013.  I don’t want to officially log this as a New Year Resolution, because these ALWAYS get broken, but I will do my best.

As I write this, I am sitting at home next to my scanner, working on the scans of 1992/93 for http://www.seagullsprogrammes.co.uk .  This is my labour of love, a ‘project’ to make available as many of Albion’s programmes as possible.  It seems as if there is not so far to go, but the bigger programmes of the 90s and beyond mean that they have to be scanned a page at a time.  Not ideal but I will soldier on.  It is a labour of love, after all!

Anyway, back to the job in hand, but where do I start?  Even by Albion standards, this has been a crazy season, at least from a fans perspective.  Currently, we are on the crest of a (somewhat small) wave, having won on New Years Day and dumped Newcastle out of the FA Cup.

As I have said, my last blog was in October, the 16th to be precise.  At that stage of the season, we had been brilliant but were rapidly turning rubbish.  Things got better for a bit but then went rubbish again, culminating in a 3-0 defeat to Palace.

Since that day at the beginning of December, we have stuttered through Christmas and finished 2012 with a 3-1 home defeat to a rampant (on the day) Watford who were, to be fair, superb.

2013 has started with a bang though, as Ipswich were brushed aside and Newcastle disposed of.  Everything is once again rosy on the GusBus.  See what I mean about a crazy season?

As is always the case with our beloved Brighton & Hove Albion, the results never tell the full story, not by a long way.  Take the Bolton match for example.  Before the game, offers of a point against a team freshly relegated from The Premier League would have been taken I suspect.  After 94 minutes of superb football (in the main) with masses of possession, a 1-0 lead and a missed penalty, thoughts were turning to a good 3 points.  Three minutes, and a Bolton equaliser later, we went from being brilliant, to a load of crap who couldn’t close the game out.  That game, my beautiful friends, is our season in a nutshell.  Possession (lots of it), chances (lots of those as well) coupled with an inability to convert those chances, leads ultimately to frustration.

A growing number of Albion fans are eager to lump the blame for this on the person who was brought in to score goals, Craig Mackail-Smith, for “not doing what he’s paid for” etc etc etc, or Ashley Barnes because he’s, well, Ashley Barnes!  What about Stephen Dobbie, he’s new and well placed to grasp the poisoned chalice that is the striker’s position?  Or even Vicente?  How DARE he get injured.

The truth of course, is always more complicated than the speculation and we don’t know what goes on inside Gus’ head, or indeed what happens on the training ground.  So what, or perhaps who, is the missing link?  What will transform us from mid-table also-rans, to genuine title contenders?

At the back, our THREE players with Champions League experience, mean that we should be difficult to score against.  We are, but recent injuries to Wayne Bridge and Bruno Saltor brought problems further up the field, where their marauding runs were missed.

We have an embarrassment of riches in Midfield, but here lies the problem.  In terms of protecting the back four we have Liam Bridcutt, far and away the best player so far this season, Andrew Crofts and Dean Hammond.  Out wide, the runs of Will Buckley (running down the wing brilliantly, for me) and recently Kazenga Lua Lua, have brought a threat but it’s in the fabled ‘number 10’ role we have been lacking.

Watford exposed this perfectly.  Their 18 year old Chelsea loanee Nathaniel Chalobah, absolutely ran the show across the midfield, with masses of time to control the ball and pick out his strikers.  We have good players – I have not even mentioned the likes of Andrea Orlandi, David Lopez or Will Hoskins, but what we miss is a Maestro.  Someone who can really run the show in midfield and unlock the pace and predatory instinct of Craig Mackail-Smith.

Gus Poyet clearly didn’t allow for the long-term injury to Vicente, the obvious answer to the calls for a genius, but we need back-up for his fragile frame.  We were massively cheered this week, by pictures of him in full training, but it’s only when he trots onto the Amex turf that we will see how good his re-hab has been.  How fitting that we play Derby tomorrow.  Last season, a run by Vicente, ghosting past a statuesque Rams midfield and thundering a shot against the bar, was arguably the highlight of his 17-game cameo.  I’m hoping, along with all Albion fans, that a similar run of games in the fabled ‘run-in’ will bring rich rewards.

We will find out in just over 24 hours time.  Will he be risked?  I don’t think he will start, but a place on the bench is not out of the question!

Bring on the maestro!