Saturday, 20 November 2010

Brighton and Hove Albion 2-2 Bristol Rovers

League One
Withdean Stadium
November 20 2010

Gus Poyet says his Albion side have lost their way after this latest show of fallibility. No victory, no clean sheet, but the manager is probably either wrong or playing mind games with his players – focus is required rather that introspection, tweaks rather than major surgery. Certainly, Poyet is right to note their relative generosity in possession, repeatedly gifting the ball to opposition who were well-organised and inventive, but this was an off day. Gary Dicker will rarely invite as much interception as his wayward distribution did today, and with the exception of the ceaselessly industrious Radostin Kishishev, few of his teammates shone.

It could be argued that the loss of Kazenga LuaLua has been felt almost immediately, with only Elliott Bennett showing the requisite pace to breach what will not be the last unspectacularly resolute League One backline. Agustin Battipiedi was handed a starting place in the midfield to exhume his penalty shootout miss against Woking in the FA Cup on Tuesday, but the Argentinean’s guile and raw skill are not yet matched by his understanding of the pace of the English game, and his withdrawal early in the second half coincided with the Albion finally raising the tempo. They needed to do so after Bristol Rovers took the lead with a corner which was only the latest in a string of crosses which Casper Ankergren and his defence looked uncomfortable with, Byron Anthony providing a firm header past a couple of defenders.

The warning signs of sloppiness had been there, coming at their ugliest when Adam El-Abd, a ball-winner who knows his limitations and has replaced rashness with care, lost control while rushing ahead and lunged forward in an attempt to salvage his misjudgement, earning a caution. Rovers grew in confidence, testing the uncertain Ankergren with more crosses and slowing the flow to match their obvious plan. Marcos Painter worked tirelessly, often appearing to be a makeshift left-winger, and Chris Wood, the striker on-loan from West Brom, showed neat touches and a fearless approach to shooting. His build resembles Neil Mellor, but his new supporters will hope for more than that. Bennett flashed centres to Ashley Barnes, who always needs a goal to spark him, to no effect, before Glenn Murray eventually replaced him as Albion adopted greater urgency. Finally, at the end of a barrage of pressure after the interval, the relentless Painter unnerved the Rovers defence with a cross which trickled into the net via a flail by Jeff Hughes.

Only one team was going to win now, and but for a catalogue of bizarre refereeing decisions and displays of incompetence by his assistant, who appeared to have particular difficulty in judging a distance of ten yards at corners, Albion might have come through comfortably. Wood saw a long range strike plunged upon at the second attempt by Anderson in the away goal, then picked up the ball after being fouled to score a penalty with confidence. Still, that was not to be the last – Albion ensured it by allowing Rovers to prod and press in between their own attacks during the final ten minutes.

Cruelly, Painter headed past Ankergren in injury time at another corner, leaving only the sight of Anderson, who had made his way out of his goalmouth and into the opposite penalty area for the set piece, celebrating with a couple of hundred away fans. If Rovers just about deserved a point, the truth is that Albion didn’t deserve three.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Brighton and Hove Albion 0-0 Woking

FA Cup Round One
Withdean Stadium

November 6 2010

If the League One campaign so far has seen an Albion team at full throttle, the cup competitions have seen Gus Poyet's men stalling. In the derided Johnstone's Paint Trophy, at the start of September, they even went into reverse gear, and remnants of that listless performance - losing 2-0 to Leyton Orient - resurfaced for the first time since with a limp, lumbering display in the first round of a competition worth giving far more creedence to.

No-one could have predicted it. In sweeping aside Peterborough and Charlton in successive away trips, Albion were magnificent, too brimming with swagger to be impeded by a Blue Square South side, no matter how spirited. Not so. Woking have had a mediocre start to the season, but their stout defending and hint of pace in attack were sufficient to stifle their hosts. Moses Ademola, a winger and striker whose only experience of league football came in a brief spell at Brentford which saw him loaned out to Welling United and his current club, only denied himself with a sluggish touch when a break from an Albion corner left two Woking forwards with the solitary figure of Lewis Dunk to beat. A youth team product, Dunk was unflappable on his debut against a far tamer class of opposition than he can expect if his prodigious career is to blossom, but Albion's problems were always to do with creativity and guile rather than any risk of the restored Peter Brezovan's goal being breached.

In his typically forthright post-match analysis, Poyet accused too many of his players of failing to make the correct decisions he has urged them to make in possession during his tenure. He was right. Gary Dicker and Matt Sparrow, who had provided the collective mechanism for Albion's tenacious probing at Peterborough last week, were wasteful in their choices to the point of recklessness. Liam Bridcutt, whose contract extension until the end of the season had been announced earlier in the day, looked as if his mind was already concerned with the end of the campaign, deployed at the base of a midfield diamond devoid of the width and speed afforded by the rested Kazenga LuaLua and Elliott Bennett, who watched on from the bench. At the top of the diamond, Cristian Baz earned a start after a threatening second-half appearance at London Road, but his fleet-footed trickery was never incisive enough to repeat that promise, reflected in his withdrawal shortly after halftime.

Backed by a relentlessly noisy away support complete with flares, Woking were never teased or posed enough problems to become flustered. As their belief grew, a sodden Withdean became ever gloomier. Marcos Painter's standing as Albion's most consistent first-half threat spoke volumes about their lack of penetration, and he swapped chances with fellow wing-back Inigo Calderon to send crosses over which Glenn Murray and Ashley Barnes did little with after the interval. Insipid early on, it felt inevitable that Albion would elevate their tempo to force a breakthrough, but the spark never arrived. Jamie Smith and Agustin Battipiedi arrived to foray and tussle on the edge of the box - usually when cutting inside from the left flank - but their conviction failed them at crucial moments, manifested in a handful of wayward shots.

Poyet may not care much for the distractions of a cup run, but no-one wanted a replay at Woking. The only saving grace at Kingfield Road would be the likely presence of television cameras, eager to see an upset Woking will only realise if the complacency which may have made Albion so flat becomes chronic in ten days' time. Albion's heightened urgency in the final five minutes was both overdue and unsuited to their style. Dunk shot wide, and goalkeeper Andy Little just about held on to several crosses in the final few minutes. As his decisions saved his side from an undeserved defeat, Albion's mean their contrary cup exploits go on.

Friday, 6 August 2010

The Blue & White 'Un - Friday August 6 2010

Saturday July 31st
Them Blue & White Heroes beat Aberdeen 1-0 at Withdean courtesy of an Elliott Bennett belter in the first half. Mark McGhee avoids getting pelted with eggs as he strides across the pitch hand in hand with the visible ghost of Leon Knight, but his team still manages to resemble the thousand or so Albion teams he set up to try and burgle single goal victories off bigger teams.

It all kicks off back in Bohemia-by-the-Sea, with some Aberdeen fans presumably intent on getting (violent, Stone Island-clad) value out of their pilgrimage rather than the empty reward of an away performance fashioned by McGhee.

Moving on from MM, a side containing Gordon Gopher Greer at centre-back resembles the League One Brazil with some lovely passing football, and substitute Christian Baz even attempts a couple of scissor kicks in the last ten minutes. It all feels a long way from...err...McGhee.

Sunday August 1st
Jamie Smith, the formerly AWOL soldier who returned for a passable Jack Wilshere impression on the left-wing against Abderdoom, says abandoning his 90-minute drive from Essex and moving to Bohemia-au-bord-de-la-mer has soothed his soul.

Gus says Adam El-Abd will be at centre-back for the opening game of the League One Championship Winning Season at Swindon next Saturday, which sees the bookies immediately push the Albion out from fourth-favourites for the title to a tempting 2,000/1.

Monday August 2nd
Kazenga LuaLua, the fastest man in the world, starts using his Twitter page almost as frequently as he puts opposition full backs into intergalactic black holes summoned by the centrifugal force of his tornado-eclipsing sprints down the wings.

The big tease said he was going to Bournemouth (for social reasons) next weekend, claims to love Bohemia-au-bord-de-la-pier, then foolishly begins replying to Albion fans who message him. One of his previous Tweets, appealing for more followers, appears to have been resolved whatever happens.

Tuesday August 3rd
Eight-year-old Albion youth midfielder Jake Caskey is named captain of England Under-17s, leading to speculation he could be captaining the Albion by the time we're on our third manager of the season (ETA November).

Gordon Germaine Greer has the somewhat more dubious honour of being named Albion captain for the season, and Gus tells The Argus he wants a defender, a winger and a striker this week, as well as a brand new car, a payrise, half a pint of Harveys and a packet of pork scratchings.

"Adam El-Abd can play anywhere along the back four, but I like him more as a centre half than a fullback," he adds. The bookies push Albion out to 4,000-1 to win the league.

Wednesday August 4th
Oooh, that speculation. Simon Cox? Robert Earnshaw? Robert Codner? Someone's got to sign for us this week, otherwise we'll thcweam and thcweam til we're sick.

Turns out Jake Caskey scored and set up a goal in England's 5-0 win for England against host nation Finland. That news was brought to you by your ever-up-to-date Blue & White 'Un, which gets the shakes and comes out in Wayne Rooney-style hives every time it thinks about watching England, and therefore just hid under the covers and waited until Wednesday for the result.

Thursday August 5th
It's getting a bit close now. "ill be honest to u mate I don't think ill be rejoining Brighton on loan time is running out", says an insightful LuaLua on his Twitter, leaving one lucky fan thoroughly enlightened and gramatically scarred for life.

Gus says there won't be another striker in time for Swindon either, which leaves poor old Ashley Barnes - who was still adjudged to have been worthy of a loan to Eastbourne Borough recently, in spite of his half-decent form for us - all alone upfront for the game. Nicky Forster, who's been banging them in for Brentford in pre-season, must, less of this sort of talk. A pox upon ye.

The fans' forum takes place at Withdean amid stifled yawns, a floor full of bobble hats and the gentle howl of trains disappearing into the distance behind the trees. Our mate Al asks the best question of the night for the second year running, and Gus issues a "no comment" when prodded about the chances of snaring Simon Cox from the other Albion. He says Lewis Dunk is one for the future. Apart from Martin Perry revealing fans will be asked to test the toilets at Falmer, that's about as thrilling as it gets.

Friday August 6th
Gus's search for that defender/winger/striker is over - he signs goalkeeper Casper Ankergren, released by Leeds at the end of last season. "I am certain that Michael Poke and Mitch Walker have great futures ahead of them, which is why we signed them both, but neither of them make me feel 100% safe," says Gus, leaving both goalkeepers in roughly the same position as Robert Green is with regard to his England career. Rumour has it they're planning to kill each other, Romeo and Juliet stylee, in the team hotel tonight.

Quote of the Week
"It'll be a problem if it comes to three to five on Saturday." - Gus gets his cliches muddled up as he muses over the possibility of getting a striker in on Friday.

Honourable Mention
Two names guaranteed to cheer up our working week - Albion sign ex-Pompey striker Paris Cowan-Hall on trial (who scores and concedes a penalty for the reserves), but are pipped by Rotherham, who sign Peterborough centre-back and owner of The Greatest Name in Football Exodus Geohaghon on loan. Exceptional scenes.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

The Blue & White 'Un - Friday June 25th 2010

Hear ye, hear ye...what's nine years between friends? Not a lot, especially if your friends don't remember you. Yes, in joyous news for people randomly stumbling across this electronic totem pole of dribbling nonsense everywhere, The Blue & White 'Un returns after a lifetime's (if you're an unlucky domestic pet) absence, bigger and better than ever before. Well, probably not bigger and better actually, because it's only once a week now, but hell...shall we just get on with it?

Saturday June 19th
While the entire country spends the day vomiting on copies of The Sun's ill-fated EASY front page chuckle at the trifle England's qualifying group once seemed, the really bad news is that Albion are pipped by Swindon in the hot hot heat to sign midfielder David Prutton. Cameroon become the first team to exit The Greatest Show On Earth stage left with a timid biffing by Denmark. Holland beat Japan to pretty much guarantee their progress.

Sunday June 20th
Them plucky Kiwis embark on the greatest result in their history part two, taking the lead against Italy, who need a dodgy penalty to scrape a draw. Brazil stuff the Ivory Coast, who conspire to get Kaka sent off with the sort of playmaking which will one day result in instant beheading before an army of baying Corinthian Casuals. Sven looks resplendent in a white tracksuit combo which goes beautifully with his hair.

Monday June 21st
Portugal stuff the mysterious North Koreans 7-0 on a vintage day for anyone who enjoys watching Cristiano Ronaldo's humble little face turn from outraged tantrum to egotastic smuggard and back again. That's them almost definitely through, and there's not a thing a showpiece group finale against Brazil on Friday can do about it.

Tuesday June 22nd
Classic out of season news day part 4,112: Bournemouth are planning to stick Albion fans in a squalid temporary shanty hut when we visit next season. "I am sure other fans won't want to help us in any way so that is our plan," says Cherries Chairman Eddie Mitchell, launching a charm offensive which conveniently forgets the effort certain groups of fans put into saving Bourneo when they hit a spot of bother a few years back. Most Albion fans resist the urge to fire back a letter extolling the virtues of the visiting section at Fortress Withdean.

In the worst-kept secret since Russell Slade was sacked, Albion confirm the Falmer Theatre of Broken Dreams will actually be called the American Express Community Stadium, sparking frenzied debate among fans. Will it be called the Amex Arena? The American Expresso? The Amex Annexe? It's a fascinating conundrum which will surely rumble on until everyone dies of boredom.

The biggest upset of the World Cup is avoided when plucky France fail to grab a win against South Africa, who knock them out at a canter but still become the first host nation to fail to qualify for the knock-out stages. Argentina beat Greece, giving a bunch of defenders in white the runaround in a sneak preview for England fans. Yakubu misses an open goal as Nigeria get suckered by South Korea.

Wednesday June 23rd
England batter Slovenia 1-0 in a magnificent occasion which finally underlines the majestic finesse of our national team, who are surely heading for glory/heartbreak/immortality/despair after Jermain Defoe's winner. Fab says it's cos he offered all the players a beer the previous night, which sounds a little bit like that time when William Hague wore a baseball cap and tried to get down with the peasants. Alas, a last-minute Yoo Ess Eh goal means Ingerlund finish second, leaving everyone scratching their heads at their wallchart at a route to the final which is now approximately as easy as ice skating on a cattle grid.

Head Honcho extraordinaire Tony Bloom tells Albion fans not to panic about the lack of signings thusfar, which is pretty easy when you're sat in the pub on a Wednesday afternoon after lashings of frothy lager watching grown men do the can can to World in Motion.

Thursday June 24th
Arrivederci ad infinitum...Italy lose 3-2 to Slovakia and are out of The Greatest Spectacle We're Ever Seen Ever. Marcello Lippi beats a hasty retreat down the tunnel, but he'll sleep with the fishes. Plucky New Zealand leave undefeated, but a 0-0 draw with Paraguay means they're out. Japan stuff Denmark to go through, causing Alan Shearer to opine their danger to the rest of the world.

All of which is but a drop in the river of believability compared to goings on in Plymouth, where Peter Reid's been given another gig. Insert guffaw here (to be swiftly renounced in the highly likely event of the great man leading them to a glorious title charge.)

Friday June 25th
Kaiser Beckenbauer breaks out the laughs after slagging off England all week. "For the fans, I hope for excitement - a draw, overtime, and then penalty kicks. And then, the Germans win. Sorry!" he burbles. Chortle.

Sky Sports links the Albion with Matt Sparrow, who (implausibly) fancies leaving Scunny after spending 94 years in midfield for them. Cue "Seagulls swoop for Sparrow", "Sparrow nests with Seagulls", "Sparrow defacates all over Tony Bloom's windscreen" and the rest.

In the most hotly-anticipated contest since Thursday, Portugal and Brazil contrive a 0-0 draw. Still, it could have been Switzerland-Honduras, which also finishes goalless. Spain beat Chile and the Ivory Coast batter North Korea. And now the knockout stage starts.

Quote of the Week
"We regretted the impact that it had. But we were in such a state that sometimes, for love, you can do clumsy gestures." Patrice Evra keeps it unclumsy while reflecting on the French squad's reaction to Le Sulk being expelled from the World Cup.

Monday, 31 May 2010

Dagenham & Redbridge 3-2 Rotherham United: Match Report

League Two Play-Off Final
Wembley Stadium
May 30 2010

While England were labouring to gifted victory in their final World Cup warm-up, Dagenham & Redbridge and Rotherham produced a scintillating finale to the domestic season as the Daggers were promoted to the third tier of English football for the first time in their 18-year history.

Pockets of Wembley were left empty by the relatively modest followings both sides summoned for this final, but the atmosphere crackled and roared as noisily as the most glamorous occasions held at the national stadium this season, bolstered by a frenetic opening period.

Pablo Mills and Ryan Taylor saw headers crash narrowly wide for the Millers, answered by a Paul Benson strike and a vicious freekick from Danny Green, the latter of which forced a superb reflex stop from Rotherham goalkeeper Andy Warrington, whose hands were stung as he swerved from an unsighted vantage point before the ball was scrambled away.

When the opening goal arrived, the only surprise was that it had taken 38 minutes to materialise. Damien McCrory raced down the left flank and sent a hopeful cross into the path of Benson, who was allowed a mystifying amount of space to swivel and place a perfectly executed drive into the far corner of Warrington's net.

His teammates surged to the bench in wild euphoria, but if their concentration was unjaded then their opponents' determination was invigorated by the goal. Twelve seconds of open play later, Kevin Ellison's aggressive foray finished with a cross angled expertly towards Ryan Taylor's near post charge. The understated forward's strike rate has been virtually non-existent for two years, but he nodded past Roberts to equalise, creating a scoreline more in line with the outlandish openness of the encounter.

Ellison and Danny Harrison both had time to test Roberts before halftime, but the interval replenished Dagenham's spirit, a quality they had been lauded for in the build-up to the final.

Eleven minutes after the restart, a skirmish on the left hand edge of the Rotherham penalty area left Danny Green with time to elude Warrington's dive with an arrowed shot which gave some insight into why both managers had suggested his skills might well surpass the division they aspired to compete in.

His goal was patently not to be the last, as patches opened up like throughfares on the sprawling Wembley turf. Harrison bounced his finish off the turf and onto the top of the crossbar when it seemed simpler to tap in a right wing cross which had left him with a gaping net, although Taylor redeemed his slackness through an attack down the same side.

Teasing his markers, Mark Lynch sent Nicky Law to the byline with an intelligent through ball, met with a cutback for Taylor, whose emphatic finish was only matched by his exuberant celebrations in front of the proximate Yorkshire hordes.

In fierce heat, endurance levels seemed certain to tell in the final half hour. Several players took to the ground or stretched limbs against goalmouths, in between tearing the length of the pitch for frenzied penalty area ping pong sessions and increasingly ragged feats of clearance. As limited as much of the defending was, both sides exhibited sufficient endeavour to justify dodging cruel, late defeat.

Pursuing a triumphant end to a season when automatic promotion had occasionally been within grasping distance, Rotherham manager Ronnie Moore jostled and harried his cast to avoid falling behind again, but their hazardous approach to penalty area marking threatened that outcome. Eventually, Jon Nurse bundled home following a corner which had Warrington's defence rattled.

Even then, further goals seemed as inevitable as the deterioration of the playing surface they came on. Adam Le Fondre, who had scored 27 goals in the league, lurked menacingly in front of the Daggers' defence, demonstrating clever touches and bursts of pace.

Blackburn loanee Marcus Marshall replaced Mills in a bid to add guile to a spate of Rotherham attacks in the closing minutes, but too often they lacked the precision and urgency to concern Roberts. A succession of long throws caused him to leap for a couple of nervy punches, and Nick Fenton should have imbued far more conviction into a late free header from the edge of the six-yard box, but Dagenham were more resolute by now. The team who sneaked into the play-offs in seventh position can salivate at trips to Charlton and Southampton. For Rotherham, a stellar part in a memorable final will be little consolation.