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.