Sunday, 24 November 2019

Albion’s under-23s 3-5 Liverpool under-23s

Premier League 2, November 22 2017

Albion were overrun at times here. Against a Liverpool team unbeaten in eight, containing players of the calibre of summer signing Sepp van den Berg and the hotly-tipped Harvey Elliott, they conceded more than twice for only the second time since December 2017.

This was a more convincing defeat than the previous occasion, when they were 3-1 up after 57 minutes before also losing 5-3 to Blackburn in August. Creditably though, Simon Rusk’s side never capitulated, despite how unlikely the eventual two-goal margin seemed at certain points.

Elliott’s eighth-minute penalty had given the side who started the day two points behind Albion the lead, followed up by Isaac Christie-Davies’s close-range strike following a raiding run down the right and into the penalty area by Elijah Dixon-Bonner. Pedro Chirivella, who had earlier crossed for Elliott to almost score with an overhead kick, then rattled the far post with a header from an Elliott cross as Albion clung on.

Taylor Richards, signed from Manchester City in the summer, provided relief by running down the right and showing composure outside the penalty area to spray a pass into the path of Danny Cashman just inside the box on the left, whose sweetly hit shot, audibly pushing air out of the ball, required a routine save from visiting keeper Ben Winterbottom.

That was as close as Albion came in a first-half display lacking fluency. Their task wasn’t helped by a succession of stray passes from promising positions, Peter Gwargis barking a note of frustration after hitting one of them.

At the back, Antef Tsoungui and Jordan Davies showed consummate control and passing ability, although Elliott should have scored when a lofted through ball evaded Albion’s defence and found him inside the penalty area, turning sharply and smashing a low shot towards the far corner that McGill parried behind. The keeper saved well at his other post soon after, Elliott producing a Cruyff-turn pass to find winger Luis Longstaff at an acute angle in front of goal on the left, only to be denied by the keeper’s legs.

Clearly in tune with heavy metal football, Liverpool were succeeding by building from the back with a heavy press, working in variations of 3-3-3-1. Albion, apparently playing 4-4-2, worked energetically to contain - if not resist - them.

There was a hushed roar as Ted Jenks and Elijah Dixon-Bonner competed combatively for a bouncing ball outside the penalty area, before Liverpool’s third provided a reminder of their largely unerring ruthlessness. Christie-Davies whipped a cross from the right onto the head of Longstaff, who glanced a deadly firm header into the far corner of the net.

The outlook looked ominous for Albion three minutes after half-time. Elliott, who at 16 became the youngest Liverpool player to feature in a senior side at Anfield in the EFL Cup win over Arsenal last month, turned beyond the centre circle and cut out two defenders with a first-time pass onto the run of Curtis Jones inside the penalty area on the left. McGill advanced quickly in front of coaching staff Casper Ankergren and Ben Roberts, both watching from the stand, but couldn’t repel Jones’s measured finish.

That put the Reds 4-0 up, and they looked just too good at that point. Jones was full of skill on the left, his long limbs resemblant of Trent Alexander-Arnold, competing with Albion right-back Romaric Yapi, who had to be replaced by Lewis Freestone after picking up what looked like cramp.

Trying to knock this Liverpool team out of their stride appeared akin to attempting to scupper an engine with a paper fork, but Freestone created a goal Albion deserved. Gwargis and Jones had both offered tame crosses before the defender persisted admirably inside the penalty area on the right in a flourish of trickery that created the space for a low cross, tapped in by rangey striker Bojan Radulovic.

Winterbottom rapped his bar in frustration but it was a just reply for Albion, with another to come. Radulovic had a shot cleared off the line at the near post from Gwargis’s right-wing corner, then knocked Van den Berg off the ball on the edge of the Liverpool penalty area. Cashman picked possession up, took a touch inside and fired emphatically past Winterbottom.

Like Albion, the forward had earned that return on his efforts, buzzing hurriedly around Liverpool’s backline for sections of the afternoon. The unpredictable slugfest the game had become suited Albion, although Liverpool still threatened at will. Jones raced down the left twice - first to play a one-two with Varesanovic before McGill saved, then being denied again when he laced a shot against the near post and behind.

Albion responded by going straight to the other end in a style unimaginable during much of the game until then, Cashman drawing a save from Winterbottom.

Raggedly open, the final stages contained umpteen chances. Chirivella again launched an arrowed pass to locate Jones in sight of goal on the left, finishing coolly from the rebound after initially shooting at McGill’s legs.

Ninety-three minutes were on the clock by now, but the last of Albion’s three goals in a wildly entertaining final 17 minutes was to come - Radulovic adding his second, having emerged as a 70th-minute substitute.

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Glenn Murray: "There are a lot of big teams out"

Albion's sparing use of Glenn Murray in the FA Cup has yielded spectacularly economical returns since he was introduced as a late substitute in the Seagulls' 2-1 win over Crystal Palace in the 3rd round of the competition in January 2018.

Murray has scored four goals in the 67 minutes he has played in the FA Cup since coming on at the Amex Stadium that night.

Three of them have been vital. Murray's 87th-minute winner against Palace was similar to the quick reaction that saw him nudge in Jürgen Locadia's cross within three minutes of entering this replay to put Albion 2-1 up and settle a tricky tie against the 10-man Baggies.

Murray also scored a last-minute winner at Middlesbrough in the 4th round of last season's competition, and enhanced the result for his side at The Hawthorns by adding Albion's third with three minutes to go.

"It's nice to put the tie to bed," said the smiling striker, having received a pass from fellow substitute Davy Pröpper to embellish a late Albion comeback sparked by Florin Andone's clinical 82nd minute leveller.

"Both sides could have done without extra-time. Florin kept us in it at the end and from there we went from strength to strength."

Murray has scored four goals in his last two away games. That tally would have been five in three had he converted a straightforward chance during Albion's 2-1 defeat against Manchester United at Old Trafford last month.

He will be back on home turf in the Premier League against Burnley on Saturday and for the 5th round encounter with Derby County a week later.

"Derby are a good team, just like West Brom are," said Murray. "You look at the draw and there are a lot of big teams out, so it's good to be in it."

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Awful Albion make wretched start with dismal defeat at Watford

Watford 2-0 Brighton & Hove Albion

In an uneven, forgettable game festooned with poor passing and uncertain defending, Albion failed to produce a shot on target in a start to the season that felt ominous rather than promising.

Only the scoreline, rather than the respectability, of last season's initial defeat to Manchester City was repeated, and Albion's two further games in August – a visit from Manchester United and a trip to Liverpool – will surely yield nothing without dramatic improvements in every department.

The first 10 minutes, for all their lack of quality, were arguably Albion's best, even if the balance of early chances still suggested the dominance Watford would achieve.

Solly March, whose inconsistencies drew occasional howls from the away end, earned a corner, from which Watford broke dangerously through Troy Deeney, only for the striker – who constantly threatened through the kind of presence Albion seemed to sorely lack – to lose the ball for an Albion counter-attack, ineffectively seized upon by Anthony Knockaert.

Almost immediately afterwards, Watford set a pattern in motion that would rarely change during the rest of the match, first through a shot that Mat Ryan had to save well from Andre Gray, who had escaped the debutant Bernardo, and then through a succession of free-kicks and corners.

That Albion fell behind was unsurprising, but the quality of the goal might save this game from the final slot on Match of the Day it would have been earmarked for by producers.

Attacking midfielder Roberto Pereyra started the sequence by winning a corner off Bernardo down the left.

José Holebas sent the corner long and to the edge of the box, where Pereyra met the ball with a searing volley on his right foot that flew into the opposite corner of Ryan's net in front of the home end.

Whether any Albion player should have been marking the Argentine more closely is contentious, but any suspicions will be intensified by memories of Albion's fallibility from set-pieces last season, and they very rarely looked comfortable when defending them here.

Albion had played their part in a frenetic contest prior to the goal. An arrowed crossfield ball from Knockaert found March down the left, and when his cross was repelled the ball fell to Davy Pröpper, whose inswinging cross fell just too far ahead of Glenn Murray.

Neither Murray nor his original partner upfront, Pascal Gross, ever truly looked likely to score, and Gross was replaced by Yves Bissouma before the hour mark.

On this team selection, following a comparatively prolific pre-season, Tomer Hemed must sense his Albion career is nearing its end, failing to even make the bench.

March and Knockaert, for their part in the attack, lacked the spark and creativity to suggest Albion could come back into the game, while Alireza Jahanbakhsh showed scintillating pace when he came on in the second half.

Knockaert was full of pace and trickery, but his claim for a first-half penalty looked like fanciful play-acting at close distance, and he appeared to receive some criticism from his teammates following Watford's second goal shortly after half-time.

Pereyra could not have made his second goal look much easier, cutting inside twice, first down the left wing and then inside the box, before curling a simple shot past the grimacing Ryan, who would have needed exceptional luck to have saved at such close range.

The move might have met more resistance from the Albion defence without the absence of Bruno, who had been clutching his hamstring for several minutes before being replaced by Gaëtan Bong with the score still goalless.

With or without its captain, Albion's defence was in disarray, and Bernardo was booked as he tried to contain Abdoulaye Doucouré.

Only Watford's wastefulness prevented the result from being worse, with Deeney playing a poor through-ball after Dunk had given the ball away in a deep position late on, requiring Bong to just about clear.

Tellingly, Depeche Mode's Just Can't get Enough was chosen by the DJ as the stands emptied, and Watford's talk of a top ten finish will be emboldened by a match they would have longed to continue, such was their ascendancy. For Albion, the final whistle signalled relief.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

New Albion signing Dreyer 'like Messi' - Esbjerg

Representatives from new Albion signing Anders Dreyer's former club have likened the Danish winger to Lionel Messi.

The 20-year-old could feature in Albion under-23s' opening league game against Liverpool tomorrow, having joined for an undisclosed fee from Esbjerg fB on Tuesday.

"Anders is a wonderful person who is almost always smiling," says Dennis Jørgensen, of the club whose promotion to the Danish Superliga was propelled by 18 goals from Dreyer last season. "His senior career with Esbjerg was short.

"He only had his debut last year, in April, but since then he has played 48 games and scored 23 goals.

"He is like Messi – on a different level, of course. But he has the same way of playing, for sure."

Brian Knudsen, EfB's CEO, praises the work of Esbjerg's youth sides for helping Dreyer to catch the eye of Albion's scouts and under-23 coach Simon Rusk.

"We always have a heavy heart to say goodbye to one of our players," he says.

"But it is part of our strategy that we need to develop our own players and make them ready for the next step in their career.

"These sales are necessary and crucial so we can continue to develop players like Anders. We are proud that big European leagues have drawn attention to him.

"We wish him all the best luck in the future and we will of course follow his career from a distance."

Dreyer, who is the latest in a busy summer of signings for Albion's second string, says the move is "super-exciting", but calls Esbjerg "still my club".

"It's really a dream come true for me that I'm now a Brighton player and I'm going to play in the Premier League.

"It's hard to understand right now, but I'm really looking forward to it."

Monday, 21 August 2017

Leicester City 2-0 Albion

Premier League, August 19 2017

Scanners beeped on the turnstile, the last few hundred fans bowled in, a roar immediately surged. Leicester had scored, and this didn’t feel like one of those days when the opener would herald a barnstorming Albion rebuke.

It’s easier to say in hindsight, but within minutes it was clear the team were well off the pace of play and speed of thought around them, apart from Bruno, who had an excellent afternoon down the right with a composed display of fine passing, and, later, Knockaert, who repeatedly charged towards the penalty area with a verve no-one else could summon. Our best player is still being eased back into the team after injury, and came on too late, well into the second half, after Leicester’s most noticeable player, Harry Maguire, had headed in too easily within ten minutes of the restart.

It was by no means a terrible Albion performance – the early goal aside, this was as respectable as the show against Man City. Leicester have miles better players than ours. City always had monolithic centre-backs in the Championship, but Maguire appeared particularly massive, belying his giant frame to repeatedly play the ball out comfortably alongside the equally confident Wes Morgan.

Dunky, by contrast, couldn’t seem to stop missiling long balls closer to the back of the stands than the channels, and Mat Ryan was conspicuous for the saves he didn’t make. Stockdale would possibly have pulled off a wonderstop for at least one of the goals, albeit in exchange for a rick at a less threatening moment.

Up in the stands, there was the kind of sea change in atmosphere that always seems several times more likely when Albion have a big away game.

It goes like this: a reasonable proportions of fans on either side exchange signals and chants which are just aggressive enough to make everything feel a tiny bit uncomfortable, with just the right amount of singling out across thin partitions. Someone, for reasons that can only be known in the deepest recesses of hammered homophobes, shouts something laughably homophobic, at which point the security staff might still not get involved, except for the fact that the people doing it are so batshit that by this point they’re unwittingly doing everything they can to make themselves heard and seen.

The stewards, who have already filmed enough evidence, pluck out the homophobes, at which point a wearying and familiar slow dance occurs in which ruddy-faced men angrily protest a deluded innocence to the point of nearly lashing out at people who have had ten fewer pints and ten years more training in combat situations than them.

There remains a pretty thick line between what is and isn’t accepted among football supporters. Is education the answer? Possibly, but if you don't know the difference between bantz and bigotry by middle age, a handy guide probably ain't gonna help. It's just a tedious occasional part of an away trip, like the generations of angry onions in passed-down Stone Island affecting mockney tribalism and bemoaning "birds" in between calling out other Albion fans on the trains.

It deflects from the broadness and brilliance of Albion's support on an awayday. It's boring, nothing more, and public indignation is more likely to reinforce stereotypes of fans rather than rid grounds of dying prejudices, which should disappear further if any of those security cameras were working.

Or maybe these assumptions just reflect the privileged vantage point of being part of an extremely tolerant set of fans. What do we know? Only that Saturday was a weirdly great awayday, and we've got two of the division's form teams next. Good luck to us.

Friday, 11 August 2017

A season of wondering what we're doing here and what it all means

The first three matches of Albion’s first season in the top flight, in 1979, provided a point-free welcome to life with the best. It was all over by half-time: two Alan Sunderland strikes adding to a long-range strike from Frank Stapleton.

Come May, Albion survived comfortably, even though the two away games which followed, echoing the fixture list pattern this season’s squad will begin with, also ended in defeats. In 2017, such comparisons are pointless in all but Albion’s likely opening experience: trepidatious, optimistic and probably well beaten.

We see Man City’s players purely on television, with the understanding that they are multimedia commodities, faraway stars rather than tangible entertainers. There is almost a technical impossibility to a club like the Albion appearing in the Premier League, so imperative is the need for clubs operating there to be abstract business entities rather than living, breathing organisations.

Clingers to City’s business – Swansea, Bournemouth, Burnley, West Brom – are temporary side-pieces to the bill most of the world actually wants to see, so our league position is always going to feel like a novelty from now on. The potential for confusion this season is considerable. It doesn’t, nor necessarily should it at the prices charged, come naturally to supporters to consider themselves insignificant. There’s a sense that life around the Albion has changed forever, like a till worker winning the lottery, thanks to the ineffable sums of money association with the Premier League brand confers.

Timing, as Bloom understood in his managerial decisions during the final season outside of a commercial stadium, is all-important: a few years ago, Bradford and Blackpool could join and then leave the Premier League without much lasting impact beyond a ruinous trajectory inflicted by ill-judged leadership.

The latest reality is that everything grows further apart as the club becomes a larger constellation in which the newest parts require the most immediate nurturing, the few thousand who contributed during days we’d all now rather forget considered less worthy of particular attention than they’d ever have wanted anyway. Even in a few years, with the market potentially becoming more combustible, this might not remain the financial case for newly-promoted clubs.

Sometimes it is nicer to feel a sense of control over the direction the club takes. Remembering the days when the club was dependent and often seemed figuratively powered by the fans, it’s strange to think of the space in which the Albion now finds itself. Any fan, no matter how much they care, becomes an indiscernible dot in the context of such enormous attention on the club. The chance to witness all this is odd, incredible, alluring and distancing all at the same time, and can only be healthily balanced, you suspect, with the occasional visit to games in more normal divisions at clubs which rely on a closer relationship with a smaller number of people.

Meanwhile, the hope at our end of the table is disarmingly similar to the other end of the scale: we want a genuine competition, without great points gaps leading to foregone conclusions before the fun has begun. City have a new keeper to integrate, and any moments in which they are made to look mortal at Falmer should be applauded. Whether or not they’re out of sight by half-time, it's unlikely to be the most intriguing game of an Albion season certain to be surreal.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

What are Albion fans looking forward to this season?

Nearly here, isn't it? So exciting. We cut to the chase and asked Albion fans what they were looking forward to after a long summer of fun. Here's what they said.

"I do a bit of work in the club’s commercial department, so of course I’m looking forward to seeing our magnificent fans, who’ve been terrific over the past few seasons, enjoy watching some of the world’s finest footballers visit the Amex. They deserve it, and I can’t wait to see their beaming vein-strewn faces. Just joking, of course! Although I am genuinely excited to see whether the mugs who pledged £6,000 plus VAT towards sponsoring Richie Towell’s shorts actually pay up."
Eddie Ednut, Woodingdean

"All of it. The Premier League – it’s the best league in the world, isn’t it? You want to test yourself against the best. Manchester City will be a great first game. I think we’ll probably lose that one. Real rags to riches, though. We’ve got much less money than them. And how about Palace home and away? It’s a rivalry. And all the big stadiums – they’re really big. Tony Bloom. He’s our chairman. You couldn’t ask for a better chairman. The new signings look great. I don’t know if some of the older players will cut it in the higher division, though. If we finish 17th, that will be an amazing achievement, but if we get relegated, we have to take it on the chin. We could stay up or go down. I can’t wait to buy a programme."
Marge Mundane, Southwick

"I’m looking forward to being #Together. The Albion is a curse and an affliction, but god bless me, I keep going. I could have travelled round the world twice by now, but I’ll look back and have 16 coffee table books about the stadium and every DVD the superstore has ever barfed out, and that’ll do me. I’m part of something. Part of something bigger. I soldier on because the club needs me. They made that clear with the free packet of ready-salted crisps they paid for at Middlesbrough. Who else will buy a ticket in the first round of sales for Exeter away in the cup? I was actually thinking about voluntarily missing a couple of games and going on a date or something a couple of seasons ago, but then I got an automated email from the club thanking me for travelling 6,000 miles that season, and I was so touched that I’ve carried on. It’s the hope that kills you."
Adam Dammit, Lewes Road

"My name’s Josh and I’m seven years old. Is this BBC Sussex? My favourite Albion player is Wayne Rooney. Will you give me a toy?"
Josh, 7

"On a personal note, I’m looking forward to going on a couple of podcasts, carrying on my column in the Portslade Puffin and being Sky Sports’ go-to rentagob when they need someone in a half-and-half scarf to say something completely inconsequential on behalf of Albion fans. It’s been two years since I bought three East Stand tickets for me and my kids on a whim after a bottle and a half of Prosecco one Sunday afternoon, and I’m so glad I stuck with it. I used to hate supporting Chelsea."
Heather Hairhorse, Portslade

"I know this is well controversial, but I don’t give a stuff, to be honest with you. I couldn’t care less and I won’t be smiling at Old Trafford, even if we get a late equaliser. Things just ain’t what they were. Peterborough at Gillingham in 1997, 68 people there, chips for 70p, giving Valur Gislason a lift home – those were the days, mate, not now. The club needed us, none of this spending the debt of a small country on potentially world-class midfielders. Hartlepool away, the only away win of the great escape season, I was there, having a fag up the top of the stand, hurling abuse at Hangus. Denny Mundee shook my hand at the end, asked me if I wanted a game. Just banter. The game’s gone now."
Terry Rednose, Angmering

"I’ve been coming to the Albion since 1948."
Valerie Pensionbook, Bexhill-on-Sea

"I’m looking forward to seeing my mates again. We go to every game, home and away, no matter what the cost, and we always get there for opening time after a few 3am warm-up beers on the train, just to make sure we forget how utterly joyless the whole rigmarole essentially is. We’re pretty close: I went to one of the boys’ weddings in the summer. There was a brief hitch where the bar hadn’t opened yet and we had almost nothing to say to each other, but by the end we were reminiscing about the time we accidentally double-ordered a Whopper Meal at Bradford and fell down some stairs three years ago. My wife left me over the summer. It feels like a fresh start."
Paul Pork, Burgess Hill

Saturday, 29 July 2017

The Blue and White 'Un - July 28th 2017

Saturday July 22nd
Albion, it is sometimes proclaimed, lift moods when skies darken. Rarely has there been a more literal realisation of that yearning chant than today. With apocalyptic skies shooting down waves of rain, Solly March barely gives Albion fans the chance to negotiate Crawley’s overwhelmed commercial operation (why offer tickets on the turnstiles when you can make everyone squeeze through a phone box-sized ticket office?) before side-footing Albion into the lead in their first domestic encounter of pre-season.

More than half the crowd are in the away end to watch a collective stroll comparable to Warren Aspinall’s ambling appearances ensue: there’s impressive Ingolstadt ingratiation as the least recognisable pair in the starting line-up, Markus Suttner and Pascal Gross – both, helpfully, with short dark hair, harking back to the Gus days, when all the players shared one clipper length – combine for the midfielder to score the second.

Reading unbound Tomer Hemed and flying Scotsman Jamie Murphy repeat their feats of Dusseldorf the previous week to make it 4-0 at half-time, before Connor Goldson (hooray!) heads in from a corner and Glenn Murray scores a penalty to underline his disdain for a foul on him by Kaby Djalo, a man so short he makes Mathew Ryan, who might as well have spent the entire game watching Neighbours repeats, seem a giant.

“Maty didn’t get so much work today,” says Daddy Hoo, who was presumably unimpressed at the reaction of the lesser-spotted Kaz LuaLua to one nasty foul, emitting steam from the winger’s ears and a shove for his marker. “We played really well, particularly in the first half. The three that we’ve signed have all settled in really well, particularly Pascal. If you are able to bring players in early, they can adjust to the patterns that we have. I’ve been involved in not particularly good pre-seasons when teams have not started the season particularly well. We know that we’re going into a league now where we’re gonna be tested more than we’ve ever been tested before.”

With no sign of a striker yet, the gaffer confirms he’s treating North Stand Chat like a volcanic spud. “You are never close until something’s done – that’s the way the market is. This has been the biggest jump in the market for many years. Looking at some of the speculation, it’s difficult for a promoted side that are not used to those type of levels.”

Sunday July 23th
Scratchy times for Hope Powell, the new head coach of the Women’s team. “I started to itch,” she admits, reflecting on her time off, when the former England boss became an oracular figure for many coaches. “It’s quite nice to be given this opportunity by Brighton.” The question which rolls off the tongue is: are the Albion WSL 1 ready? “I’d rather build something than take the shortcut,” says Powell, promising to promote homegrown talent.

Monday July 24th
Remember the days when Reading would rampage in and relieve Albion of players and managers like a careless baboon removing spindly leaves from a low-hanging canopy? Rumour has it that the Royals have dug deeper into their burning pockets to try and take Hemed, upping their original £4 million bid in a move doomed to neither secure one of the only fit strikers at the Albion nor persuade the man himself (Israeli good, y’know) to drop back into the division where he proved himself last time out.

“Tomer, if anything, has come back in really good shape,” says Hoo, as if someone had accused the striker of looking a bit porky and burping out lager fumes. “The only reason for interest in our players is because they’ve done well,” he adds, exorcising Hemed’s hapless bygone spot-kick at Wolves and endearing ability to crack shots straight at visiting goalkeepers. “We’ve got two out-and-out strikers. We need everyone we’ve got.”

Tuesday July 25th
The history of kit launches is decorated with memorable moments. Just this summer, Wycombe Wanderers seemed to base an entire social media campaign around how knowingly awful their goalkeeper shirt is. Ayr United’s playboy owner arranged for semi-nude models to be painted in the colours of the club’s new strip. Only with the Albion would you have to peer at pictures from an indie gig on the other side of the world to first glimpse the colours of the latest questionable article of clothing which could be yours for 50 notes.

Ben Thatcher – the Brighton rock duo’s drummer, not the psychopathic full-back who hospitalised Pedro Mendes with a swing of his studs – is pictured wearing what looks suspiciously like a green-and-white cricket top for a gig in Oz, but turns out to be Albion’s third (sorry, “alternative”) colours for the tilt at earning a non-embarrassing points total in the Richest League in the World. It’s not meant to officially launch until Thursday – perhaps it’s all a pleasingly elaborate hoax, and the actual design of the home shirt will also include sleeves which appear to relate to the rest of the shirt.

Who cares? Albion sign a player! And a (sort of, though not very prolific) striker! Isaiah Brown, or Izzy, as we’ll call him, cos he’s our mate, joins from Chelsea, turning down another loan at ‘uddersfield, where he managed four goals in 15 last season, as well as the miss of the season in the Play-Off Final.

Olly Norwood’s finest moment for Albion might remain being paraded shoulders-high down Queen’s Road by hammered fans in the unbelievable promotion aftermath in the city centre. Turns out he craved Craven Cottage. “Once I knew of the interest, I was desperate to get it done,” he says, remaking upon the conclusion of his long-mooted loan to Fulham. “The football Fulham have played suits my style.”

Chrissy Hoo wasn’t expecting the blue and white marvels to enjoy as much “balance of the ball” as they had at Crawley, but they again fly out of the traps like a whippet poked in the nads in the latest warm-up game, at Sarfend. Izzy plays an hour but Molly Starch is the man again, scoring two lovely goals before Glenn gets in on the act (another Suttner assist) for a 3-0 half-time lead which never gets added to. “I thought the grass was very long tonight, which changes the type of game,” observes Hughton, echoing some fans’ concern with the continuing length of his facial hair. “Little bit disappointing, that.” The grass theme continues. “It was really sticky and really slow,” adds Big German Uwe Hunemeier. “We tried to move the ball quickly and scored three really nice goals.”

Wednesday July 26th
Yellow. It’s a brave colour to wear even if you’re built like a professional athlete. The club instructs the players to feign moodiness in the photoshoot for the new away shirt, but they end up looking like they’ve just sniffed a particularly rancid guff or been subjected to a facial smattering with a freshly-caught kipper, adding to the underwhelming sense of wearing a Wallabies shirt when you’re a football team.

Still, we’ll all probably be trying to dig our way to Australia by the end of the Man City game, and it’s (arguably) not as bad as the orange and black one – nor, for all its novelty value, the pink one. Is it even yellow? Is it mustard? That, friends, is university gold – quite a choice of words, it has to be said, considering the quality of some of the online posts from its earliest buyers. Or, indeed, Dale Stephens. “Oooh your hard”, he tweets to Murph, upping the bantz after spotting the Scotsman’s hammy attempt at a thousand-yard stare. “Izzy can play on either flank, but we know he can off the front as well,” Hoo says, enamoured with the versatility of his new signing. “I see him as one that is going to play off a front man or in a wide area.” That’s just as well, because the French firebomb remains doubtful for the start of the season, and Baldock’s still crocked.

Thursday July 27th
Closer inspection of the new kits, which are momentarily available in most sizes at boutique shopping destination the Seagulls Superstore, reveals the unswerving generosity of the club and Nike: the home number combines three shirts for the price of one, stitching sleeves and a bottom swathe of the shirt onto a central design which appears to be only distantly related to its accompanying fabrics.

Izzy’s former Chelsea coach, Dermot Drummy, offers a restrained reference which puts the young winger/striker/saviour under no pressure. “I saw him as a mini-Drogba,” offers Drummy, who adds that Richie Towell is “nothing less than a cross between Pele at his peak and a significantly more visionary Cruyff.” “He’s like Romelu Lukaku,” Drummy concludes of Albion’s expectation-bearer. “He is humble, he is hard-working and he wants to learn.”

Man City stuff Champions League holders Real Madrid 4-1 in Los Angeles, and the hierarchies on either side reach an agreement not to spend 180 million Euros on 18-year-old Monaco striker Kylian Mbappe – a fee they mutually decide, much in the manner of rich schoolkids dithering over a Chomp bar, is “exorbitant”. The second game of the season cannot come fast enough, even if Tony Bloom is shuffling his cards, chuckling bemusedly.

Friday July 28th
Time was when you could have paid on the gate, laid across several seats and had the refreshments kiosk pretty much to yourself on a visit to Vicarage Road with the mighty blue and white angels. This time, Watford away sells out the minute the second batch of tickets go on sale. Izzy’ll be there, eating a cucumber. “When the League games come along I'll still be eating them, definitely, three little circles of cucumber,” he says, explaining a pre-match ritual initiated when he vegged-in a hat-trick following salad advice from a Chelsea under-23 teammate, along with “don’t let John Terry meet your missus”. “It's crazy but ever since then it's always been on the back of my mind, so I just do it.” 

Everyone’s had that Sunday League manager who was the last person you wanted to see after a big one the previous night, and Izzy – a Hughton fan – can relate. “David [Wagner] is very energetic, always running up and down the touchline, things like that,” he says. “"I didn't think Huddersfield on a permanent was the best idea for me. I'm still young and I still believe I can play for Chelsea. The Brighton option was the best for me and hopefully it works out well."

Albion have no new injuries ahead of the trip to Naarich tomorrow, where the gaffer definitely won’t be thumbing his nose or dummy high-fiving Alex Pritchard or Delia Smith and friends.

Quote of the week: “I quite like my scar because it will always remind me of what I’ve been through. The first few days of pre-season I was still thinking about it. We did a passing drill and Dale Stephens hit one to me. It was meant to be on the floor but it came at chest height and I thought, ‘no’ and caught the ball and put it down. Now I chest the ball fine. I never feel it. It’s brilliant to be involved on the training pitch again.” – Connor Goldson becomes the first Albion player since Shane Duffy to appear topless in the national press.

Ex-Men: Contrasting fortunes for two former Albion hitmen. Chris O’Grady – now star striker at Chesterfield – nets for the second pre-season home game in a row, causing his manager, former Albion defensive target Gary Caldwell, to gush: “His all-round display was outstanding. The team are lucky they have a centre forward they can look at who is a man that leads the line, runs about, does his fair share of work defensively, but then is also a real focal point for the team.” Peterborough legend and Albion Duracell bunny Craig Mackail-Smith plays the second half for Posh in a slightly bad-tempered 1-0 defeat to Wolves. “It was a good opportunity to get himself back in the shop window,” says United boss Grant McCann. “I’m sure he will soon find himself another club.”

Friday, 21 July 2017

The Blue and White 'Un - July 21st 2017

Saturday July 15th
Albion are close to netting Neto. Little more than a year after struggling to entice players destined for Norwich’s bench, the club is on the brink of its first Brazilian, who presumably senses more than a whiff of the Copacabana about Lancing, where he arrives to sign for a record-rupturing fee from Gent.

A new midfielder would be timely: “There’s no point in thinking the worst,” soothes the Hughmeister, trying to ignore the idea of being relegated by November if the injury Anthony Knockaert sustained the previous night, in a 2-0 win against Fortuna Dusseldorf in Austria, turns out to be as much of a Knockaert blow as the case AK’s foot is now enshrined in suggests.

Hughton sounds an admirably restrained analysis of the game which, you suspect, likely diametrically opposes his annoyance during the match itself. "There were some tackles flying in that could have been deemed as reckless challenges,” he concludes with typical diplomacy.

“But these are the things that you have to be able to cope with.” Probably not in the first friendly back against a team in the German second tier, mind.

Sunday July 16th
The net result is we’ve net got Neto. Turns out one of the Brazil-via-Belgium budget-buster’s knees is as reliable as a toothpick in a swordfight. The club, in characteristic “we don’t comment on speculation” style, say nothing, but the player’s agent is believed to have left Lancing in a sweary flurry, furiously waving a photo of Paul Kitson in Albion colours.

Neto could find solace in the Instagram advice offered by one midfielder who almost definitely is incoming: Mathias Normann, Fotballspiller and proponent of the phrase “you have to fight through the bad days in order to earn the best days”. Normann's a Norwegian from Bodø/Glimt, a second tier side whose supporters occasionally demonstrate their loyalty by carrying giant yellow toothbrushes into games.

Will he clean up or merely become another flossed soul among the myriad promising spillers to have never emerged from the development squad? There’s Norway of knowing, really.

Monday July 17th
Not content with being massively better at defending than the average chump, Connor Goldson also had a slightly bigger aorta than most people, he reveals.

In easily the best news we could have wished for on a Monday, the most indie-dressing member of the Albion squad reflects on the operation which, essentially, saw his chest carved open in an operation ending any risk of the 24-year-old facing serious heart problems.

“I thought the world had ended,” he admits, speaking of the day in the middle of last season when he was told about the defect. “If something did happen you wouldn’t be able to tell what was going on and it would have been death straight away on a football pitch.” A long and promising career lies in wait.

Jamie Murphy, scorer of Albion’s opener against Fortuna following his recall to the Scotland squad, is linked with Fulham. Ticket sales for the only pre-season friendly at the Theatre of Broken Dreams, against Atletico Madrid, have topped 23,000, the club announces.

Tuesday July 18th
Tickets for Albion’s first away game, at Leicester in mid-August, go on sale to the privileged mob deemed to have accrued sufficient points under the terms of the club’s faintly mystifying new loyalty points system.

In scenes not witnessed since tickets for Bury away went up for grabs in 2001, the online queueing technology informs some fans there are more than 1,000 fans in front of them in the queue, evoking memories of Mark McGhee shimmying around the snaking lines shirking work in pursuit of a golden ticket to the Millennium Stadium all those moons ago.

A club spokesman laughs at rumours that the system could be altered to restrict tickets to fans who can pass a basic grammar test and resist tweeting to announce the news within seconds of blowing their moolah on a ticket.

“To get the balls out on the first day is a big thing,” Jamie Murphy announces to the official website, playing a magnificent round of innuendo bingo while discussing the joys of pre-season training.

Wednesday July 19th
“It will be good to test ourselves against the best players in the country and the world,” says Dale Stephens, yet again clearly referencing Burnley, his dreams of finally sidling up to Sean Dyche materialising a year later than he would have liked. “You look at Burnley and Bournemouth – they’ve kept the core of the squad that got them there. It will be nice to see everybody get a chance to play at this level.”

Bam Baldock is sidelined with what is expected to be a short-term calf injury, and two former Albion right-backs – one more legendary than the other – are united in the most unexpected of places.

“I am sure the Indian players will get to learn a lot from him,” says boss John Gregory, who has gone a long way from Crawley to the managerial hotseat at Super League club Chennaiyin, where his opening video message to the fans managed to be marginally more awkward than Bobby Zamora’s “I’m back” broadcast. The new signing he is referring to, naturally, is king among mortals Inigo Calderon.

The Albion club shop staff are no strangers to such exoticism, having apparently processed demand from New Zealand and Qatar among a record-breaking round of orders for the staggeringly beautiful, modestly-priced new home shirt.

In a major coup for the Albion, Hope Powell, who spent 15 years as England manager, will lead the women's challenge for promotion to Super League 1. “Shows our intent going forward,” tweets captain Sophie Perry, who’ll hope Powell is less perturbed by managing at Withdean than the last former England boss to lead Albion there, Peter Taylor. “We mean business.”

Thursday July 20th
Mathias Normann’s chiselled cheekbones and solid six-pack make the brickwork at Falmer appear relatively unsculpted as the midfielder poses outside everyone’s favourite spaceship stadium, having signed a three-year deal.

A youth-teamer for Norway, he’s immediately given the proverbial kiss of death by Chrissy Hugh, who pronounces him the 500th development squad player with a long-term goal of reaching the first team. Or heading straight back from whence he came.

Knockaert, who has been pictured hobbling around on crutches, has a chance of making the heroic opening day defeat to Man City, although he’s reported to be “utterly crestfallen” at missing Saturday's big one at the stadium in Crawley, where Aussie custodian Matty Ryan is expected to make his debut.

Knockaert will have to sit and watch the mercurial magic of former Withdean heartthrob and pool-playing firecracker Dean Cox, who lavishes praise upon Crawley’s pre-season thus far by telling The Argus that new boss Harry Kewell has been “trying to get his ideas across” alongside a lot of “hard running”.

Another mysterious next-best thing, Luis García, departs the developmental merry-go-round for Seville, taking with him a set of tracksuits branded with his own logo and the usual sense of enigmatic, Ali Dia-style regret/relief.

Friday July 21st
Call the cops, dust off your Sussex Senior Cup blu-ray showreel, set the satnav to negotiate innumerable grey roundabouts – it’s almost time for the big one at the Coliseum.

Championship scouts are evidently eyeing up Albion’s pre-season friendlies, because Murph’s fellow scorer in the tussle with Dusseldorf, Tomer Hemed, is also the subject of a transfer bid: Reading offer £4 million.

“We need to keep working hard and improve in every game so that we are ready for that first game of the season against Manchester City,” he responds, calling the Crawley clash a chance to “get used to the type of football the gaffer wants us to play.”

Given that HemHem and Glenn are the only fit current options upfront, that plan could conceivably involve a back six. “We have new players coming into the squad, but they have all integrated very well and have been made really welcome by us all,” says Hemed, reflecting on the imminent loan move of our new Norwegian.

“I’d rather exfoliate my beautiful face with an industrial grater than play at the MadStad again.”

Quote of the week: “We were sitting in his conservatory late one night and wanted a drink. Micky thought there was a keg of beer in the utility room, so we started drinking it but it was a bit warm so he told me to get some ice out of the freezer.

"I put the ice into the glasses and it started frothing up as we drank the beer. It tasted a bit odd, but we finished it and went to bed. We were sharing a bed, so Claire, who had just given birth to their son, Mitchel, could get some uninterrupted sleep – it’s a manager/assistant manager thing.

"In the morning we both felt awful and Claire burst into the room and asked, ‘Where is all the ice?’ ‘We used it in the beer,’ replied Micky. ‘That was my frozen breast milk.’

"We looked at each other and he said, ‘that’s the closest you will ever get to her breasts.’ We laughed our heads off. Claire eventually saw the funny side.” – Bob Booker on life as assistant to mini-marvel Micky Adams. The autobiography, Ooh-Ah Bob Booker, is expected to be published in August.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Brighton & Hove Albion 0-1 Bristol City (Brownhill 43)

Championship, April 29 2017

One way to ensure the race for the Championship goes down to the wire is to suffer a shock defeat when everyone expects a rollover win. An air of raucous celebration was justified before Albion’s final home game of a magnificent season. What almost no-one had considered was that the team’s brilliantly consistent run at the Amex Stadium would come to an end on the day they had the chance to win the title against visitors who had spent much of the season contemplating relegation.

It wasn’t one of the Seagulls’ finest displays, but they were far less lackluster than they had been in the 2-0 loss at Norwich eight days earlier. Albion enjoyed two-thirds of the possession, but more than a dozen shots off target led the way to an anti-climax.

The wayward shooting began during an uncharacteristically stuttering opening 15 minutes. Murray should have scored when he was allowed to chest the ball inside the box, only to hit a tame half-volley which tumbled comfortably wide. But City were more than the spectators Wigan had often been during the game which won Albion promotion, sending a number of dangerous crosses into the box and taking the lead with an excellent goal just before half-time. Matty Taylor sent Josh Brownhill clear down the right, and his cross at pace returned the favour for an easy header which left the away fans at the Amex celebrating a lead for the first time since Newcastle’s late winner more than two months earlier.

Perhaps Albion would have had it easier if their opponents had been rooted in mid-table rather than chasing their Championship status on the back of a four-game unbeaten run which included three victories. Their goal came at the perfect time, too, stifling the joyous mood around the ground. Things didn’t get much better for Albion in the second half. Jiří Skalák, who had been booked and ineffective, was replaced by Solly March, but the Young Player of the Season struggled to create many openings. Anthony Knockaert, on the other side, had repeatedly deceived his marker down the left during the first half, most notably when he allowed Gaëtan Bong to cross for a Murray header which bounced across the six yard box, just short of Tomer Hemed’s reach.

A City old boy, Sam Baldock, might have made the difference against the club he scored 24 goals in one season for if he hadn’t missed out through injury, and Murray and Uwe Hünemeier should have done much better with the sort of headers they usually bury in front of goal. Lee Johnson’s side were good value for the upset, though. Taylor was inches from scoring again after an hour, narrowly failing to connect with a half-volley from point-blank range, and only a superb save from David Stockdale, getting down quickly to stop Bobby Reid’s shot after the substitute had broken through, prevented them from winning more comfortably late on.

It was impossible not to feel disappointment, but Albion still have the chance to win the division at Aston Villa on Sunday. They will need to take their chances better than this.

Albion: Stockdale, Bruno, Hünemeier, Dunk (Tomori 89), Bong, Knockaert, Stephens, Kayal (Sidwell 62), Skalak (March 45), Murray, Hemed