Date: 10 April 2015
What a wonderful day out: good weather, good journeys, good food and drink, good atmosphere at the ground, good goals ... and a great result!
I drove to the coast in the spring sunshine and completed the journey in an hour and a half despite it being Friday rush hour. I found that the car park has reduced its ‘over six hour’ price (from £25 to £15) since I was last there – and in any case I’d be back within the six hours so it wouldn’t matter! The food deal I’d raved about last time I visited the Amex Stadium was still on (a delicious hot pie, a cold snack, and a drink for £7) even though it was no longer advertised; and despite nearly 2000 visiting fans being in the stand there was no queue at all to be served. Our team emerged in their ‘home’ red and black kit (good to see), with Pugh back from illness and Fraser missing altogether. As at Fulham, the away fans stood for the whole game while the home fans sat; and we out-sang the home fans for most of the first half. But the big disappointment was that the play was nothing to write home about! If Brighton hadn’t been so poor at finishing the moves they started; and if Francis, Surman and Daniels hadn’t done some great defending; we could easily have gone behind. I think we ourselves had only one shot on target all half; and we weren’t controlling the midfield at all. When the Brighton fans did eventually start singing, it was “Premier League? You’re having a laugh!” Fair comment really.
We assumed Howe would say a few words at half time and the team would come out a lot more positive. But in the event it was Brighton who looked rejuvenated at the start of the second half, while we continued to flounder. Boruc’s goal kicks were all going wrong, as were Surman’s passes, and Pugh was nowhere near match fit. And then a substitution: Smith for Pugh, which we presumed was mainly because Pugh was so far below par. But it proved to be just what we needed. Smith started to really run at defences on the right (Ritchie’s) wing, while Ritchie moved to the left. (He didn’t link up with Daniels as well as Pugh had done, but that’s another story...) And it was directly as a result of one such run that the first goal eventually came. Approximately 70 minutes were on the clock and it was still 0-0, but Smith was upended by Dunk just outside the box and Kermorgant stepped up to take the free kick. A Sky cameraman took up a position right behind the goal, apparently more confident about the outcome of this free kick than we were! The delays while the referee sorted out the wall looked as though they could distract Yann’s focus. But we needn’t have worried: as sweet a free kick as you’ll ever see sailed over the wall and into the top left hand corner of the net. Brilliant! Cue an ecstatic rendition of “We score when we want...”
And Yann would play a vital role in our next goal too, when he fed the ball to Wilson despite Brighton defenders being in the way. Wilson still had two more defenders to beat (so he needed to twist and turn), but he succeeded and hence scored our second goal. 0-2, with only nine minutes remaining, was the cue for a mass exodus of Brighton fans as we sang “Is there a fire drill?” Yann could now be rested; he was replaced by Gosling to shore up the midfield. And when just two minutes’ normal time remained (plus three minutes to be added) Jones came on for Wilson. He immediately looked strong and instilled fear into the Brighton defenders, but he didn’t have time to score today.
Nonetheless 2-0 is a great result when you’re not playing at your best. The worst that could happen over the rest of the weekend is that our rivals in the Championship also win, and even then we’d be in a better position than we were before today because there’d only be four matches remaining. The best that could happen is that of course one or more of our rivals could drop points.
Following the final whistle we cheered for ages. Tommy Elphick was the last to leave the pitch, as his name was still being chanted (perhaps partly to annoy supporters of his former club, though few of these remained). The trip back into Brighton was much quicker and easier than I’d expected, and the drive home took only 65 minutes. Home at 11:35, and sufficient time to jot down some notes about this match before retiring!
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):
Francis (8), Elphick (7), Cook (7), Daniels (7);
Ritchie (7), Surman (7), Arter (7), Pugh (6);