Monday, 17 August 2015

Fulham 1-2 Albion, Championship, August 15 2015

Strange sensation the day after this game – parts relief, exhaustion and exhilaration. The river was beautiful, the sky serene, the pitch immaculate and, for most, the beers plentiful at one of the best away games of the season regardless of result, although not least due to fond memories of last season’s unexpected, Jonah-led post-Christmas triumph. Big Uwe started at centre-back in place of Dunk, but had almost nowt to do beyond familiarising himself with his teammates during the first half, when Albion kept the ball so cleverly and calmly that it was reminiscent of the times when they embarrassed Peterborough and Charlton at away games during the championship-winning season under Gus.

Tomer set the tone by sending a shot against the bar from just outside the box following a deft Bruno pass, and then everyone’s second-favourite Spanish right-back repeated the trick after half an hour with a precision cross which narrowly deceived the backpeddling centre-back and allowed Baldock to bury it in front of Fulham’s finest.

A lot of Albion fans were relaxed enough to have joined a beer queue which never got served by the time Fulham scored an entirely surprising equaliser, although it wasn’t undeserved: given a second to shoot, Tom Cairney’s curler gave Dave ‘Banter’ Stockdale about as much chance as a wounded fox running for Tory leadership, showing the kind of class Hughton had warned Fulham’s squad possessed.

Therein lay the trouble that was ahead: Hughton gave Fulham too much respect, and Albion, gratingly, went on the back foot against a team who had been there for the taking. What should have been at least a two-goal win saw a correctable swing in momentum obvious to everyone except, apparently, the Albion coaching staff. Fulham hit the post with a header before Matt Smith – who Hughton had spoken about with quiet nervousness before the game – was denied only by Stockdale’s wonderful tip-over at eyeballing range.

Frustration with the ailing ship was growing in the stands by now. Baldock, Stephens, Kayal and Hemed, who had helped run the show during the first half, couldn’t keep up the energetic harrying which allowed Albion to exert sustained pressure and win the ball back so many times, and March was completely knackered. Hughton, a manager renowned for late substitutions, waited until ten minutes before the end - at least 15 minutes overdue - to refresh the comically tired middle platoon. Albion’s ascendancy could have been restored with greater energy against an uninspired Fulham, but Hughton showed his cards by swapping Baldock and March for a defensive midfielder and a defender (Incenator and Rosenior).

Settling for a draw, on the strength of the first half, seemed wasteful. Then, against the run of play, a JFC pass sent LuaLua towards the edge of the area, tapping it past a clumsy defender for a foul which the referee took his sweet time to confirm as a penalty. The end was unwatchable to most in the away end, in contrast to Hemed, who knocked it in with the ease of a lifelong pitch-and-putt champion sinking a gimme or a sunbather on a Tel Aviv beach ordering a falafel. Betting on a striker who seems immune to the Championship’s pressures to score a few penalties this season could be wise.

It’s hard to distance yourself from a game which had more emotions in 50 minutes than the entirety of last season. The style in which it was done seemed excessively cautious and is certain to shred nerves for the next nine months. Hughton might end up being a victim of setting us up so well if he continues to settle for a point in the way he most pointedly did on Saturday. For the stoic, though, we seem to have sneaked under the radar in terms of having a manager who is an old hand at winning promotion, losing four times all season when he did it with Newcastle. It took Albion until November to get their third win last season. This time it’ll probably happen before the end of August.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Chris Hughton and Joao Carlos Teixeira - post-Ipswich, 21/01/2015

Mark Pougatch: Sounds like a terrific game down there on the south coast.

Chris Hughton: Yes it was. We possibly could have made life a little more comfortable because we put in what was a very good performance, good goals, but we were up against a very good side in Ipswich and they showed why they are in the position they are in.

MP: Did you find a club and a set of players low on confidence when you arrived there?

CH: No, actually I didn't. I think the performances before I got here were close, I don't think there were games where the team was beaten very comfortably. And of course when I arrived we were on the back of a win away at Fulham and a good draw here having been 2-0 down against Reading. So no, I didn't find that – it's a good group of lads and there's ability here. It's just about getting the right formula to perhaps get the goals that we needed.
MP: There's ability, there's huge potential as well, isn't there? How far do you think that club can go? 

CH: Well, the infrastructure's there. We have a training facility which is probably, apart from three or four of the Premier League clubs, as good or better than anything else in the country. And of course we have a wonderful stadium here with a 30,000 capacity which will be full to the rafters come Sunday. So absolutely there's potential here and of course the club have been very close in the two seasons before this one. It's quite obvious what their ambitions are looking to the future.

David Pleat: Well done Chris, I'm delighted for you, I thought you might have had a chance tonight. Did you play the same system as you played when you first went there? I saw the Charlton game. 

CH: The only chance that I made was I played Calderon at right side of midfield. I just felt that where Ipswich play a very strong and well-organised 4-4-2 and they're a powerful side with a lot of legs, we needed a little bit more solidness and stability in there. And the young lad Teixeira done very, very well off the front. He's a young lad and a real prospect. He added to that with two goals today.

DP: He's still on loan from Liverpool?

CH: Yes he is, we've got him on loan until the end of the season. He's still developing. What he has in his favour for a young lad and a small lad is he has a physicality about him, which of course you need in this division. If you're able to use that, you want to add goals to your game, and he scored two super ones today.

MP: You'll be looking forward enormously to Arsenal coming down at the weekend and a good test to see how the team's progressing.

CH: Yes, even more so. Today was absolutely the priority for us because we need points in this division, particularly with Leeds winning last night, so tonight was very important. We'll look forward to Sunday even more now because of the result today and, as I said, it'll be a full capacity 30,000 here and we hope we can make a good account of ourselves.

Teixeira told the Scouse Echo: "I'm growing up, I turned 22 recently and I need to get more experience.

"I'm getting stronger, I'm thinking quick – that’s the most important thing in the game – and playing quick. I've been enjoying [my time here] a lot, I've been playing a lot, scoring a few goals, a few assists, and playing a lot of minutes so that's what I want to get experience.

The Championship is a hard league, there are a lot of games. I like the city and I'm really happy with my decision. I was playing at no.10 behind the striker and supporting the striker and looking for the space behind the holding midfielders."

Thursday, 8 January 2015

A chat with Jimmy Case - December 2014

Jimmy Case sticks his old black car on a pair of double yellow lines, gets out and changes his mind. He's ten minutes late - insert some clumsy parallel with the Albion and Liverpool legend's tackling here - and for a Wednesday evening when most people are still working, there's a decent queue inside City Books.

Once he's in, most of the talk is about Liverpool: Case went to see them beat Leicester last night, and wonders what, if anything, Mario Balotelli "has between his ears" to have come up with an extraordinarily crass, if possibly unintentionally racist, tweet the previous evening.

Case had none of the modern footballer’s luxuries. “I actually got turned away by Burnley when I was 16,” he rues. “The fella who was youth team coach at the time told me I wasn’t any good.

“That was a fella called Dave Merrington. Well, where did I end up? Southampton. Every single mornin’ I used to pull his shirt, ‘the one that got away, eh?’ ‘Cos I went to Liverpool instead of Burnley and won all them trophies.

“And I never got in Liverpool schoolboys – there was a fella there called Tom Saunders and he turned me away, said I wasn’t good enough. He was only a schoolmaster at that time but he ended up at Liverpool.

“He was the one who asked me, he said, ‘Mr Shankly would like to sign yer.’ I said ‘oh you bloody well want me now, do ya?’, cos he turned me away from the schoolboys two, three years earlier than that. You don’t forget.”

That was in 1974, and 40 years later the moustachioed marvel reckons his autobiography, Hard Case, is worth reading. “I’ll give you the money back if you don’t like it. There are people who’ve read the book twice who’ve never read a book before. There are pictures – it’s not a con, you know.”

Merrington was, at one point, linked with the Albion during our darkest days. In the book, Case talks about the despair of realising what Archer and Bellotti were up to in the mid-90s and Liam Brady - “for my money one of the best managers I had ever worked with” - committing to Uncle Dick's vision, only for One-Eyed Bill's refusal to concede control scuppering everything.

“I don’t blame the Brighton supporters for the actions they took,” he writes. “They are as fanatical about their club as any group in the country and they deserved better than they were getting from the owners.”

The Lib Dem sacked him, but he didn’t care. “I hadn’t wanted the job in the first place and by then I had had more than enough. It had been 24 hours a day, seven days a week stress and, as anyone will tell you, I don’t handle stress very well.”

Happier memories, perhaps the happiest: his 35-yard free-kick on the cup run semi-final against Sheffield Wednesday at Highbury in ’83. “That was a screamer, that one. I’ve seen it a few times since and it gets better each time I see it,” says Case. And less happy times, for us lot at least, under the present tenure of a manager presiding over even less success than Case despite the benefit of a grand stadium and supportive board.

“I’m up at Liverpool quite a lot but I saw the Southampton friendly at the beginning of the season,” he observes of a current saga he knows little of. “At the moment, just looking at results and paper stuff, it’s taking a bit of time with the players and not going too well. But I’m sure it’ll be alright in the end.”

Hard Case is out now - buy it, it's pretty good.