OUR Brighton Seagulls didn’t play a Championship game on Saturday. Because of Sky TV coverage their match at the Amex against West Ham was put back to Monday evening.
There were advantages to this. The excitement of another huge fixture at our fabulous new stadium was increased.
Setting the background, we knew where we were and what was possible. After a dozen games, we were 12th in the table. The heady days of August when we spent two weeks at the top were over. Big clubs like Middlesbrough, Leeds, Derby, Blackpool, Cardiff and Hull had overtaken us.
We are now mid-table, which, of course, we would have taken as a newly promoted side at the start of the season. The form table showed our last six games as LDLLDD: 19 points from 12 games.
The good news was a win over West Ham would take us up to fourth, leapfrogging the Hammers, with only Palace, Middlesbrough and Southampton above us. So could we stop the rot? Could we restart the Gus Bus and get that sought after “W” at last?
Well, no, actually. We lost to a single goal from Kevin Nolan.
It was another full house (attendance: 20,686) with all the available tickets snapped up quickly. We had Fat Boy Slim flags to wave, which made a grand sight and set the atmosphere for a tense game. (Norman Cook, as one of Albion’s saviours in the hard times deserves a plug for his Big Beach Boutique events at the Amex on Friday and Saturday of June 1 and 2 next year).
We had two new players who came straight into the team.
Keeper Steve Harper was signed on an initial one-month loan from Newcastle and replaced Casper Ankergren. The experienced 36-year-old looked good and dealt with everything that came his way – except for the fine strike by Nolan.
The other debutant was Chilean international Gonzalo Jara Reyes. The 26-year-old defender comes to us on loan from West Bromwich Albion.
Again Poyet sees him bringing quality and experience to his squad. Time will tell if he is an improvement on Inigo Calderon, who was dropped.
Only 17 minutes had gone when Liam Bridcutt, our busy midfielder, was dispossessed in his own half. It was a crucial mistake as Nolan ran on and beat Harper to score the only goal of the game.
The other sad moment was near the end when Gary Dicker had to be stretchered off with a leg injury.
We clearly won the statistics battle – possession 62 per cent to Hammers’ 38 per cent; shots 12 to their seven; corners 11 to their two. But unfortunately it’s goals that count and Sam Allardyce’s team won 1-0.
Craig Mackail-Smith was his usual non-stop dynamic self. He had several chances which either went wide or were foiled by Manual Almunia, the ex-Arsenal keeper.
Craig Noone was again our danger man but he couldn’t beat Almunia or deliver the decisive ball. As the game went on, West Ham dropped back in depth and defended their lead doggedly. They weren’t troubled by our midfield possession and always looked dangerous on the break.
The Hammers’ defenders were big and managed to make our strikers look lightweight. I know Poyet would like to have a tall strong striker to give him options, so watch this space.
It wasn’t a game for the fainthearted. There were no red cards but plenty of yellows. Albion fans were hoping for an equaliser right through to the 90 plus eight minutes.
Poyet brought on Will Hoskins for the ineffectual Ashley Barnes and Will Buckley for Matt Sparrow, but the determined Hammers were not to be breached. Ryan Harley replaced the injured Dicker at the end.
So our seven game run without a win stretched to eight. Amazingly, we remain 12th and mid-table. West Ham, having professionally pinched the three points, moved up to second.
The defeat was frustrating and disappointing but things could be worse. Ask Sven-Goran Eriksson! His Leicester have the same points as us but he has lost his job. Gus Poyet is safe – and satisfied.
He said: “For the first time in my life, I actually felt relatively happy despite losing a game. I was proud of my team because we pushed West Ham for the whole game. We are back as a Brighton team dominating a Premier League [quality] club.
“We got punished for that one mistake. There are no worries because there will be times when we don’t make a mistake and we’ll win football games.”
Amen to that, starting with the two away games: Birmingham this Saturday and Watford on Tuesday night. Our first Amex win for a while should be Barnsley on Sunday November 6. Look out for fireworks.
Sad news regarding Tommy Elphick. His Achilles requires another operation and the club can’t put a time-scale on his full recovery. But Poyet says the club will give him all the support he needs to come back a stronger player.