IT was probably the best goal we have seen at the Amex.
Thirty-seven minutes had gone when Inigo Calderon, our captain for the day (club skipper Gordon Greer is still suspended), scored our first goal. And what a shot it was. Back in my usual seat in the lower West Stand, I had a great view.
After a patient build-up, our Spanish right-back was well forward as he received the ball. He cut in from the wing and shot. The ball moved in the air and I admit to wondering if it had picked up a deflection.
It hadn’t, it was just the perfect strike. Next thing it had crashed home against the top left stanchion. And it wasn’t any old goalkeeper that he had beaten. Ex-England star David James just couldn’t get a hand to it. The crowd of 20,398 celebrated wildly – well actually not the 2,152 Bristol city fans.
The Robins were on a run of fine form and had moved up the Championship table.
They had the distinction of having beaten leaders Southampton recently too. Manager Gus Poyet had said it was a game where supporters should be patient. The goal was certainly worth waiting for.
I have previously mentioned that Poyet has a player crisis.
There have been suspensions and numerous injuries which lead to ending the FA Cup game last week against Wrexham with six development squad players.
It meant we started against the Bristol side without either star wingmen, Craig Noone and Kazenga LuaLua.
There were serious worries after 20 minutes when our lone striker Craig Mackail-Smith had to leave the field with a seriously swollen eye after innocuously clashing with a Robins defender. Will Hoskins came on to play up front.
Just four minutes later we weren’t laughing when our other double-barrelled player, Jake Forster-Caskey, limped off with a thigh injury. He was replaced by Alan Navarro.
Albion were naturally unsettled for a time, having lost two before half an hour was up.
Was the pitch to blame? Did watering the pitch five minutes before the start of each game have an adverse effect on our players? What for the future with Noone, LuaLua, Jake F-C and Craig M-S sidelined?
But it was all smiles as that Calderon strike put us ahead.
We thought we had a second goal just before the break when Matt Sparrow let fly with a fine long-range shot.
Unfortunately for us James made a brilliant save just managing to tip it over the bar.
The second-half was not too exciting. We were comfortable with the one goal lead and Bristol weren’t creating chances.
Peter Brezovan in our goal didn’t have a save to make until the 90 minutes were up, when he had to dive low to save a free-kick. It was good to watch Lewis Dunk and Adam El-Abd perform solidly at the back and pass the ball around before working it forward. Actually it was unusual for us fans not to be tense and anxious when just one ahead. Any unease ended on 73 minutes with a fine goal from Will Buckley. He filled the role of speedy wide man throughout the match.
When Hoskins flicked on a Dunk free-kick, Buckley beat the defender to the ball and went round the outrushing James. He calmly tucked the ball home in front of the cheering North Stand for 2-0. The game was safe.
The win and three points took us back into the top-half of the table, just four points off a play-off position. That’s two league wins on the trot – and unbeaten in 2012.
Gus gave credit to Calderon and said: “He had the confidence to hit it, and what a goal it was. )It was) the goal of the season for us.
“This was the our best performance for a while, we were solid, passed the ball when we had to, didn’t take any unnecessary risks and we scored two unbelievable goals.”
But he added: “We need players back – and maybe a few new players. After another ten games we can start looking at where we can finish. I want us to keep playing this way – we’re a good Championship side.”
Regrettably I wasn’t able to make the long trip to Wales for the FA Cup replay against Wrexham. It was a surprise to hear the Tuesday night game had been postponed – frozen pitch. So we awaited a Wednesday night kick-off. At stake was a big Fourth Round tie with Premiership Newcastle United at the Amex.
And thankfully, Brighton won – just. I’d like to say it was easy – but I can’t. We were poor and Wrexham better. BUT we scored the penalties after it finished 1-1 after extra time.
Gus played a stronger side (on paper) this time, including Mackail-Smith, who had recovered from his eye injury.
I watched the first half in a Lewes pub and was not happy. The Welsh side gave it everything and deserved their goal on 23 minutes. Danny Wright evaded three Albion players and squared for Andrew Morrell to curl in a great goal.
I left for my tennis match fearing the worst. Later I discovered we had won. Ashley Barnes came on and scored with a fine header from a Sparrow cross with just 14 minutes left. There were no more goals. It came down to penalties.
Wrexham went first and MISSED, or more exactly Brezovan saved. Wrexham scored their next four but we scored ALL FIVE through Barnes, Sparrow, Bridcutt, Calderon and Mackail-Smith making it 5-4 to the Albion.
Now for Newcastle.
Saturday sees us up at Peterborough. They’ve scored 44 goals this season so far (we are on 28!) but conceded 42. It won’t be a goalless draw, will it?