Date: 1 January 2014
Inevitably, this afternoon, the weather and travel conditions were always going to be the talk of the day. Even Boscombe (as always) conceding a goal in the 89th minute couldn’t alter the fact that our lasting memory of our first visit to Brighton’s new stadium (the third one I’ve seen them play in) will always be more about the wintry conditions than anything else.
A bus replacement service was running between London and Brighton, so Plan B was to take the train via Havant. But a landslip near Petersfield put paid to that idea, so Plan C was to drive. Despite one section of the M25 being closed, the M23 and A23 being severely flooded, heavy rains greeting my arrival in Brighton, and the barrier at the North Road car park (the nearest car park to the Exiles’ nominated pub) refusing to open, I finally parked in the Churchill car park. I was astonished to discover that the cost was £10 if I left by 18:08, at which point it would jump in one go to £25!
So I turned up at the pub looking and feeling like a drowned rat – only to be greeted by the news that there was no food. Subsequently we joined the long and slow queues at Brighton station to board the train to Falmer – where, again, it was pelting with rain (and the away end of the stadium is at the furthest point from the station!). Got into the concourse at about a quarter to three, and suddenly my luck turned: I hadn’t yet had lunch – but the facilities here were as good as I’d seen anywhere. Lots of manned tills, none with more than three people queuing at them; food stacked up behind the servers and any combination of hot snack, cold snack, and hot or cold drink £7 (£8 if you upgrade the drink to alcohol). I was able to count out my £7 whilst waiting to be served; order a Mars bar (to put into my pocket for half time), coffee and ‘breakfast’ pie (delicious – containing sausage, bacon, scrambled egg, onion, tomato and baked beans); and be in my seat admiring the very impressive stadium within five minutes. It was immediately obvious that this club’s aspirations are much higher than ours. I was also delighted to discover that the seats being of the tip-up variety meant they were stone dry despite all the rain (St Mary’s Southampton please note!).
With Arter back from injury and Pugh having been selected ahead of Fraser, the team was almost identical to the last I’d seen – except for Ward replacing the (transfer-bound?) Cook. As our team line-up was read out, the announcer paused long enough for the home crowd to give Tommy Elphick a resounding ovation, which was good to hear. As the game got underway it quickly became clear that Brighton were dominating possession but our defenders – notably Lee Camp – were holding firm. Indeed Camp had what must have been the game of his life, making at least four world-class saves in the course of the match. He more than compensated for any wobbles amongst the Bournemouth defence. And mention must also be made of Grabban, who had another excellent game – running his socks off and popping up all over the park. But returning to the first half report, the first goal was against the run of play: Arter, in possession of the ball, ran at speed straight at a Brighton player, and at the last moment passed to his left to Pugh. Pugh appeared to be brought down and we were awarded a penalty. Whether this was justified was impossible for us to judge as we were at the ‘wrong’ end of the stadium. Grabban took the kick and slotted the ball ever-so-calmly to his left sending the keeper the wrong way. 0-1 to us, and we’d gratefully take that, whether the penalty was justified or not! Indeed we later learned that this one definitely shouldn’t have been given; but by then a more cast-iron penalty should have been given for a foul on Surman in the box, and wasn’t; so these were compensating errors by the referee. The other significant event of the first half was that Arter, just back from a suspension, made a wild and extremely silly challenge on a Brighton player, and hence started accruing bookings again straightaway. Will he never learn?!
The second half proceeded along much the same lines. Camp continued to have an amazing game – until he was being greeted with choruses of “sign him up” almost every time he got the ball! Most of the match was played in our own half (i.e. furthest from our own fans, who would dearly have loved to see a Bournemouth goal right in front of us). We were, however, in the right place to see Bournemouth breaks, corner kicks (still being mostly taken short), and a few free kicks. One of the latter – awarded outside the box – did indeed seem to follow a planned routine, with an unmarked Francis (of all people!) rushing in to pick up a dummied ball. A great plan, but unfortunately poorly executed with Francis’ shot going well wide of the target. Better luck next time, Simon! Eddie brought on Fraser, not for Pugh (which might have been expected, as Pugh appeared to be limping slightly) but for Ritchie – maybe with Saturday in mind. Much later he also brought on Pitman for Grabban, as he so often does, and Pitman had a few chances to score in the closing minutes. But, even back in the 14th minute when we’d scored, some of us had predicted a Brighton equaliser in the 89th. We’ve seen it often enough, though clearly our reputation can’t have gone before us – because Brighton fans started to slip away just before their equaliser! The game was all Brighton now, and the 5 minutes’ added time awarded seemed more likely to benefit them than us, as they laid siege on Bournemouth’s goal. We held on though. It’s always frustrating to concede late on, but 1-1 was as good a result as we deserved. The journey back to the station was slow, but in fairness well controlled by police and stewards. I got my car back before 18:08, thus saving £15 (yippee!). And despite long queues on the M25 forcing me to take an alternative route home, and severe flooding in places, I somehow managed to complete the homeward journey in less time than the outward one, and was home before 19:30.
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):