BOXING DAY brings a lot of footballing tradition. The festive fixture is meant to throw up a convenient derby game.
So a trip around the M25 to play Reading, a team in top form, wasn’t the best Christmas present for Albion fans, especially as shopping fanatics thought it a good idea to snarl up our motorways.
But almost 3,000 of us did make it up to the Madejski Stadium.
I was disappointed with the result (we lost 3-0) but it wasn’t as bad as the score suggests.
There is always a lot of preparation for a big away game. What to wear? The Reading Royals play in blue and white. Although their stripes are horizontal it does mean we can’t don our home shirts.
Great numbers turned out in the vivid green and black kit. As I don’t possess the recognised away strip (Santa didn’t oblige), it was either the stylish black “SKINT” shirt or the dark blue Palookaville one. Palookaville won out – I must remember to try the SKINT one next time.
Despite the traffic we arrived at the massive Madejski car park in time to sample a Royals pie and pint. Albion won this comparison.
It is great to have a huge car park but not so clever after, having to spend 45 minutes waiting to exit. A win for Park & Ride and public transport, I think.
Gus Poyet was restricted in his team selection by continuing injuries and suspensions. With Painter, Vincelot, Reyes and Calderon out, he has to play Taricco and El-Abd as full backs. I’m afraid their lack of pace was exposed by speedy Reading wide men.
With Dicker, Hoskins and Vicente injured it was Sparrow and Harley in midfield. Barnes being suspended meant Mackail-Smith was upfront on his own.
Gus started LuaLua leaving Noone on the bench. I’m not certain about this as I regard Nooney as our most dangerous attacker.
Reading have found their form recently, having won at Leeds and beaten West Ham 3-0 last week. They started better than us and created more. Just as we were settling into the game Jimmy Kebbe beat Taricco and crossed for Jobi McAnuff to knock in from 12 yards.
Albion recovered well and were into the game as half-time approached. Adam El-Abd had a couple of goal attempts and Matt Sparrow shot narrowly wide. I fancied us in the second 45 minutes... but with the last action of the first-half, McAnuff was too fast for El-Abd and his deflected shot beat Casper Ankergren to give the Royals a 2-0 lead.
I reckon we had the better of the second-half, but couldn’t score. Nothing went right for us. Liam Bridcutt picked up a yellow card (which means he misses the next game!) for a reason only known to ref Mr Simon Cooper.
I thought I might be a fan of Mr Cooper at first as he let the game flow. But as he waved play on it was always Brighton players that had been knocked over.
Then when he did remember to use his whistle it seemed it was an Albion foul. When we did eventually “win” a decision there was much Seagulls sarcastic cheering.
Gus waited until the 62nd minute before bringing on Noone.
He immediately made a difference and provided a series of crosses into the Reading box. Billy Paynter volleyed one just wide.
One of his best came invitingly for CMS. He was barged off his line when it looked as if he must score. Mr Hooper gave nothing. We shouted for the penalty – but it wasn’t our day.
Two more Noone balls came in for our leading scorer but he missed one and put the other agonisingly the wrong side of a post.
Then, against the run of play and right on the final whistle, Albion’s day was summed up when El-Abd deflected a cross-shot into his own net past a stranded Ankergren.
Manager Gus Poyet told his players to take heart from the game. He said: “After the opening 20 minutes we dominated the game, we just could not hit the target. If we play like that every week we will win plenty of football games.
“Things could have been very different if we got that (penalty) decision because the player would have been sent off too.”
That was game 23 of the Championship season, exactly half-way through. To get back to a positive note, if asked in August where we would like to be at the mid-point, I would have said in the top half with perhaps the play-offs within reach. We are 11th on 32 points, just four away from Reading who are sixtth.
Christmas wasn’t too merry but we can look forward to a Happy New Year! Next up tomorrow is bottom club Coventry (away) then the big one, Southampton at the Amex on January 2.