Saturday, 14th April 2012
With the playoffs looking like the best we can manage I was looking around for omens that might suggest that we were in for a decent win. On my walk from the pre-match cocktail venue I espied a gentleman wearing a Marillion “Clutching At Straws” tour T-shirt. Apart from being that particular band’s finest hour, the title seemed sort of apt in view of our current position.
Team news was that Linda’s spot of concussion had been serious enough to preclude his making an appearance for this one. Faye was left out of the defence that started against Birmingham leaving us with a starting line-up of Green, Demel, Taylor, Tomkins, Reid, Noble, O’Neil, Lansbury, Nolan, Cole, Vaz Te.
It was a bright start. This had nothing to do with the football at first but rather resulted from the migraine-inducing array of colours on show. The visitors’ green and black stripes would have been bad enough even without the green pigment being made of that radioactive stuff they used to use to paint the luminous numbers on wristwatches before they worked out how deadly that was. The officials’ high-visibility orange kit added to the dazzle-factor which was nicely topped off by Demel’s even brighter orange boots.
Unusually, given that goalkeepers’ shirts are usually even more vomit-inducing than those worn by the rest of the team, that worn by Brezavon in the Brighton goal was pale and faded as if it had been washed with another colour, stuck in a tumble dryer for too long and sold by the original owner to a charity shop before being picked up by Brighton on the cheap.
Having checked that the supplies for the afternoon included an emergency stock of aspirin for the assault on the eyes, I am pleased to report that the brightness of the assorted mismatch of retina-damaging kits on display was more than eclipsed by the football. As early as the second minute Noble won the ball on the left and fed Vaz Te who played a square ball to Lansbury. Angela’s shot got a deflection off an opponent and came back off the bar into the arms of a grateful Brezovan.
The respite was brief. Nolan won the ball in similar territory to where Noble had just won it and fed Vaz Te. RVT let fly from similar territory to that from which Lansbury had had a pop a few seconds previously. The ball flew in like some sort of guided missile – clearly the ‘keeper seemed to think it was North Korea’s latest effort at launching a “weather satellite” (yeah right) and elected not to risk losing a few fingers in what would have been undoubtedly a vain attempt at saving the piledriver.
Now in the past we’ve been guilty of going one-nil up and sitting back. This was most emphatically not the case in this match. Nolan nearly doubled the lead after some neat work sown the left from Taylor & O’Neil. O’Neil’s second attempt at a cross finding the skipper whose first time effort was turned away by Brezovan. The pressure was relentless – last ditch defending denying Nolan after crosses from both flanks.
RVT put us 2-0 up on eight minutes. O’Neil’s cross from the right came to RVT at the far post and the keeper could only help his downward header into bottom corner. He’s a bit useful in the air this lad. 2-0 up and enjoying one of the most sustained spells of decent football we’d seen all season. Surely it couldn’t last.
It could. Actually, it got better within three minutes. Taylor took a centrally-located free-kick angled towards Tomkins who won the header with ease. The ball went back across the goal to the unmarked Nolan who converted from a matter of inches, cueing a slightly restrained version of the now traditional skipper’s chicken dance.
Well it’s always going to be difficult to maintain such levels of intensity for a whole half and as the game wore on we did take our collective foot off the pedal for a bit. However, Brighton looked shell-shocked and even when we conceded territory and possession they didn’t seem to have much of an idea as to what to do with the ball.
The closest they came to scoring was about five minutes before the interval. Reid was harshly punished for a foul on Vicente, whose theatrics produced something of an ear-bashing from the Danish Kiwi. The ref took an age lecturing the players about how they should play nicely together.
Vicente’s dangerous-looking free-kick flicked off Nolan for a corner which was taken by Dicker, Greer’s header was saved in splendid style by Green and, if you are a Brighton supporter reading this for details of what your team did in this match, it’s probably time to move to a different website because that, basically, was that for the visitors.
Green’s save acted as a wake-up call. We’d had our rest and it was time to go back to work. Vaz Te found himself in similar position to the spot whence his first had come and tried his luck again. Another powerful effort from distance saw the ‘keeper saving by way of a far-from-convincing two-fisted punch which could have gone anywhere.
RVT was at the heart of most that was good about us going forward and just before the interval he came through from deep and played a ball into Nolan in the centre forward position. Nolan, in turn, played a lovely ball around the corner inside the full-back where Lansbury had made a fine run. A marvellous move spoilt only by Lansbury’s leaning back as he shot, the ball finishing up in the STB rather than in the back of the net, a destination the move deserved.
The second half started much as the first had ended. Some clever work by Taylor in midfield saw Nolan feed Cole who had worked himself some space on the left. Cole’s effort was blocked by the ‘keeper falling agonisingly wide of the far post.
We do, of course, have a match on Tuesday night and it was possibly with the trip to Bristol City in mind that we started to make substitutions. On 55 minutes Collison replaced O’Neil. The change did nothing to alter the direction of the play, was in one way only, and though it was inevitable that RVT would complete his hat-trick, the nature of the goal was far from predictable.
Taylor’s angled cross from the left found Cole at the back post. Lansbury was flattened by a defender, an offence for which any competent referee would have awarded a penalty. Disgustingly, the ref saw no offence despite looking straight at the incident. However, for once, the shocking refereeing worked out alright in the end.
The ball was nodded up in the air by a Brighton defender, presumably still in disbelief that the ref hadn’t blown for the foul, whereupon Vaz Te launched himself into an aerial scissors kick to dispatch the ball home from the edge of the six-yard box. It was, quite simply, a breathtaking finish which was a fitting goal to cap off any hat-trick. I think we can close the book on goal of the season now.
There was more to come. Nolan fed Cole on the left. The forward, unencumbered by anyone kicking him all over the place, as had been the case for most of the match broke into the box and cut inside before shooting. His low shot clipped Lansbury’s heel on its way into the net to make it five. Lansbury will probably be awarded the goal when they come to reviewing it, which is a shame in a way, because Carlton deserved something from the match, if only for the complete lack of protection he got from the officials over the course of the 90.
A few minutes after the fifth Demel came ashore to be replaced by Collins, Tomkins moving over to the right of defence, and, ten minutes after that Vaz Te came off to be replaced by Carew. Vaz Te was standing pretty much by the touchline when the board went up which was a shame in a way as the speed of replacement meant him receiving the shortest of standing ovations for a performance that definitely deserved one. Meanwhile, if anyone out there can remember the last time we brought on three subs with surnames beginning with the letter “C”, well done. Don’t bother writing in - not knowing won’t keep me awake at night.
Carew appeared to be a man on a mission and went on something of a barnstorming run down the left which ended in the visitors conceding a corner. Noble took and defender Gary Dicker’s attempted clearance turned into one of those comedy moments that is, no doubt, already being edited into one of those Football Cock-Up DVDs that they love to knock out over Christmas. The ball flew into the bottom corner making it six.
If you want to know what a joke refereeing has become in this country, you can find all you need to know in the caution issued to Carlton Cole late on. Pushed, shoved, held and kicked on every occasion that the ball was played to him with his back to goal, he gave away an innocuous foul in midfield. Picking the ball up in frustration he held onto it for a nanosecond longer than Mr East liked, prompting the brandishing of a yellow card. Cole’s sarcastic applause aimed at the official was entirely understandable – if possibly unwise.
With the game breathing its last we could have made it seven. Tomkins headed a cross back across the goal and, whilst Nolan got something on it, he couldn’t create what would have been a carbon copy of his first goal and the ball went wide.
That was just about it. We’d demolished play-off contenders and, whisper it, we’d done it by playing football. Prior to the match I’d bumped into the man known in these parts as Goes To Eleven who had brought his lad to his first game. I told the youngster that if we won his Dad would have to bring him to every match. Sorry mate that’s a kid’s season ticket you have to shell out for!
This was a fine performance and shows just what can be done if you get at the opposition rather than worry about them. The odds are still against us going up automatically but, if we can keep this sort of intensity going over the next few matches we’ll go into the playoffs in fine form – which is what you want really.
On my way home I dialled up the aforementioned “Clutching At Straws” album on the music player to give it a celebratory listen and, if you’re after another omen, the very last track on the album (a two second burst of echoey manic laughter) is called “Happy Ending”. Here’s hoping.
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Fine save in the first half. Probably spent the second half sat on a deckchair reading an improving book or two.
Lacks a little bit of match fitness – understandably so given the rotten luck he’s had with injury.
The lack of anything resembling a threat from the opposition meant he had free rein to join the attack, something he did to great effect.
Comfortable in defence and always a danger when joining in the fun up front at set plays.
Another good run out for the Kiwi who impresses with the way his anticipation allows him to make interceptions rather than last-ditch tackles.
Not one of his more eye-catching performances but quietly effective all the same. Can we claim the sixth for him?
Not one of his more eye-catching performances but quietly effective all the same. Can we claim the sixth for him?
Gary O Neil
Continues to improve to the sort of form that we were hoping for before that injury. Hopefully his withdrawal was just a way of giving him a rest in advance of the midweek fixture.
Decent first half but less involved in the second. Missed a goal that he should have scored and will probably end up being awarded one that ought to stay with Cole.
Ricardo Vaz Te
Has rapidly become a vital part of the side and, when he’s on this sort of form he’s unplayable. His third goal was worth the price of admission alone. If we do get out of this division (by whatever route) he’ll have played a major part. MOTM? Daft question.
Kept at it despite the disgraceful lack of protection afforded to him by the match officials. Deserved the goal that he’ll probably lose.
(Replaced O'Neil, 55)
Looked keen for the half-hour or so that he was there without ever really dominating proceedings.
(Replaced Demel, 68)
One of the easiest afternoons the on-loan defender is ever likely to get.
(Replaced Vaz Te, 77)
Another who was looking to impress – might even have done so given a bit more pitch-time.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Referee: Roger East .
Man of the Match: Ricardo Vaz Te.
West Ham United
Robert Green, Guy Demel, Matthew Taylor, James Tomkins, Winston Reid, Mark Noble, Kevin Nolan, Gary O Neil, Henri Lansbury, Ricardo Vaz Te, Carlton Cole.
Goals: Ricardo Vaz Te 3 Ricardo Vaz Te 8 Kevin Nolan 11 Ricardo Vaz Te 62 Carlton Cole 64 Gary Dicker OG 78 .
Booked: Carlton Cole 87 .
Sent off: None.
Brighton & Hove Albion
Peter Brezovan, Inigo Calderon, Gordon Greer, Adam El-Abd, Marcos Painter, Alan Navarro, Liam Bridcutt, Gary Dicker, Gai Assulin, Rodriguez Vicente, Ashley Barnes.
Substitutes: Kazenga LuaLua (Gai Assulin 53), Craig Mackail-Smith (Ashley Barnes 53), Craig Noone (Rodriguez Vicente 64).
Subs not used: Casper Ankergren, Gonzalo Jara Reyes.
Booked: Gary Dicker (77).
Sent Off: None.