Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Lewes 0-3 Albion

The Dripping Pan
July 17 2012

Lewes is nicer than a lot of league grounds and a few people I know were heading there, so I decided late to go to this one. What I didn’t anticipate was getting the sixth-last ticket from the Amex office after ringing up first thing on Monday morning.

One wet lunchtime run to Falmer later and my Tuesday night was finalised. Our initial line-up was largely the same as the first 11 last season, with a few notable exceptions. Anton Rodgers started in midfield, and his clever through ball played Buckley in behind the defence just inside the area, but the ‘keeper was out quickly to stop him.

Rodgers then conceded a free-kick at the other end after Lewes broke away, which their number eight curled towards the top left hand corner, making Kuszczak parry. Kuszczak looked steady, if not always certain in possession. You could see why Gus likes him, as a perfect cross-field pass to Vincelot on the left-wing halfway line showed his distribution skills.

Craig Mackail-Smith’s first chance on goal summed up our frustrations with him last season. Calderon dummied from a central position 20 yards out, then narrowed a pass to CMS, who crossed to no-one when he should have shot.

Barnes had the first proper go, low and straight at the 'keeper, but it had been all sparring and no punches until then. There was a nervy moment when Kuszczak was harried into overhitting it to El-Abd after controlling a byline pass from Greer, ending in the familiar sight of El-Abd and their winger on the floor. Free-kick to us.

CMS gave the 'keeper another straightforward catch, and then Bridcutt wobbled the bar with a tremendous dead hit from 25 yards out. Remembering the Carlisle goal from the promotion season, let’s hope it comes off in a league game next time he tries something spectacular.

Gus became vocal just before a short corner at the end of the half, which led to Buckley firing the ball straight into the Albion fans from close range. Bridcutt was about to eclipse his near-miss. He played an absolute beauty of a pass into the six-yard box, completely eluding the defenders. Everyone was happy enough with that, but then Vincelot ran onto it and tapped it back to Barnes, who swept it into the roof of the net.

Gus made a point of encouraging all the subs to get warm at half-time. It was definitely warm inside the clubhouse, where the bar was rammed and chronically understaffed. No surprise for anyone used to trying to get a beer at league grounds at half-time, but a loss for Lewes as anyone who’d stuck around would have been waiting until the start of the season for a drink.

All 11 were changed at half-time, with LuaLua given longer than usual in his perennial role of game-changing winger. True to hot-and-cold form, he began with a zipwire run followed by a tame cross.

Elphick returned as captain, playing his part as we kept the ball for several minutes at a time, with a tiring Lewes bringing on several subs. Just after the hour Kaz beat the right-back easily and cut inside with intent, although the shot didn’t match his run and was pushed away for a corner. Lewes’s first real attempt went about five yards over Brezovan’s bar.

Ben Sampayo was at left-back, but had very little to do on one of those nights where all the opposing defender could do was follow Kaz’s centrifugal force, eventually resulting in a penalty which Hoskins put calmly to the ‘keeper’s left. Perhaps this will be Kaz and Hoskins’ years – they could make a big difference to our season, although KLL went off injured after that foul.

A good evening for our partly-forgotten strikers, as Toby Agdestein's sharpness was rewarded when he latched on to a delicate clipped pass from Bruno (who was very impressive) to score the third.

He resembles Bendtner a bit, not least when he had a sitter cleared off the line after slightly overrunning the ball while through on goal, beating the ‘keeper but giving a defender time to get back. A shame he couldn't get a second, but his lengthy apprenticeship in the Development Squad seems to be paying off now.

Albion have got a few other non-league teams to play next and I’m sure these games help sharpen everyone up. Lewes looked a decent side and seemed determined to show they could mix it with Championship players.

A very solid defence still has Wayne Bridge to come in on the left (El-Abd played 45 minutes there before Sampayo came on) and Vicente will give us more of the craft of Bridcutt’s deft pass for the first goal. Selling out a pre-season friendly reflects the excitement about the season ahead.

First half: Kuszczak; Calderon, Greer, El-Abd, Vincelot; Buckley, Rodgers, Bridcutt, March (new left-winger just signed from Lewes); Barnes, CMS

Second 45: Brez; Bruno, Elphick, Dunk, Sampayo; Ryan Harley is back, Sparrow, Dicker, LuaLua; Hoskins, Toby