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Brighton and Hove Albion 2 Watford 2 (17/04/2012) 18/04/2012

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.

1. The Goldstone Ground – corrugated iron, barbed wire, concrete and faded plastic – seems like a very distant memory. As distant as my university days, when a long-haired skinny youth in a Napalm Death t-shirt trod the very same path that takes us to the Amex, dropped into my nostalgia like a spaceship into a suburban back garden, super-imposed like a double-exposure.

Brighton was a very different place twenty years ago…that’s true of most towns, of course, but Brighton more so, transformed for better and worse by an exodus from London towards its seaside cosmopolitanism. Much of the seediness has been washed away, much of the shabbiness painted over and tidied up. Comparatively speaking, anyway. I left for Hastings – same county, different air – nearly four years ago; returning to lovely old Brighton now feels like being launched headlong into the future. There’s money everywhere, fashionable people crammed into every square yard. Leave, and you can never afford to come back.

The Amex, then, is a stadium which reflects an affluent and aspirational city. In any other hands, I suspect that this would be an impressive, vaguely stylish but ultimately vacuous ground, another out-of-town fibreglass sponsordome. The choice of lucky chocolate gives it away: a Marks and Spencers Mint Truffle, for pity’s sake, bought at the station because you know there’s not a corner shop (or even a corner) within a country mile of the ground…

But there’s been so much energy, so much heartache and struggle, invested in this place. Finally, they’re here; finally, this is a club that’s no longer held back by the weight of bitter history, as much a righting-of-wrongs in its own way as Wimbledon’s regained League status. The Amex is rather more than the sum of its parts…and the noise that rolls around the sweeping, sculpted roof is pretty bloody heart-warming, if you’re at all inclined towards empathy. It’s a wonderful place, frankly.

2. That’s as far as it goes on the goodwill front, I’m afraid. If this Watford side reflects the industrial heft and occasional brutality of its manager, so Albion are every inch the product of the Poyet-Tarrico coaching team, the latter proving the point with a turn that verged on self-parody in the return fixture. They could turn the teddy bears’ picnic into bickering, scratching, kicking, he-hit-me-and-I-think-I-might-be-bl-bl-blinded chaos. They’d nick your Easter eggs, scoff the lot, then tell mum that you ate them and you shouldn’t get any tea. Their injury of choice would be a Chinese burn. You get the picture.

3. But it has to be said, it makes for absolutely terrific entertainment. This was a riveting contest from beginning to end, the bad-temper and ill-feeling adding just the right amount of seasoning to a mix that might otherwise have been a little lacking in stuff-at-stake (from our point of view, at least). To my mind, there’s simply no place for cushioned seats at football grounds: the rest of you might be frantically screaming “COME ON!!!”, but total commitment to the team is impossible if your bottom, nestling into padded comfort, is achieving a state of zen-like calm. Even with that handicap, however, an intensely enjoyable evening.

After fluffing the kickoff and being given another chance, we attacked the game with such confidence and assurance that the response from the home stands appeared to be stunned silence. Sean Murray’s free kick, beautifully struck but aided by a couple of initial steps in the wrong direction by the debutant keeper, topped an opening spell of quite extraordinary dominance, all swagger from Eustace and bustle from Hogg in support of an attack that appeared to have the run of the place. If it turned on anything, it was the first of the confrontations, the Watford captain booked with an Albion player writhing on the floor and the stands baying for red. Suddenly, we weren’t in control any more.

4. And my, how it turned. The half-time scoreline might’ve said otherwise, but we were repeatedly in desperate trouble against opponents who’ve mastered pass-and-move football worthy of a higher level without, mercifully, finding anyone to apply a consistent finish. The outstanding Kuszczak – looking every inch a top-flight keeper in all departments – kept out two or three where he’d have been forgiven for being beaten, other chances flashed past the target, Buckley glanced a header against the inside of the post and into the keeper’s grateful gloves.

We hung on doggedly; we’ll always do that. The much-maligned Carl Dickinson, terrorised by Buckley for half an hour, deserves particular credit for continuing to stick to the task even when on a yellow card. Occasionally, we’d string a few passes together and catch our breath; once, we did that, won a penalty and scored an improbable second. But we couldn’t cope with them: not enough pace in the Taylor-Nosworthy pairing to deal with the movement, pulled out of shape to leave space for Mackail-Smith and co in behind. When Lloyd Doyley, so much of whose game is based on standing up and getting something in the way, goes into the book for a scything, late challenge on an escaping opponent, you know that things are rather stretched.

5. So you’d be wrong to think that the second half could be characterised as either their revival or our collapse. It was just more of the same, only with goals. If anything, we were marginally tighter at the back, fewer chances for the home side than before…but still enough, aided by a frustrating failure to clear in the build-up to the crucial first. It would’ve been a miracle if we’d held out for ninety minutes under such pressure. While hoping for more, you’d have settled for a point long, long before the equaliser went in.

And even then, we could’ve won it, finishing on the front foot as desperation for three points overwhelmed our hosts. A game that was somehow never beyond us, even as we chased shadows under the floodlights. We’re a determined, disciplined bunch. One wonders what we might achieve with just a little more of the Seagulls’ flair…


1. Tom Clarke (@twochoicestom) - 18/04/2012

BHA fan here. Just wanted to say what a great report this is! I enjoyed that!

2. Spinal Wheels - 18/04/2012

An excellent & witty all round description of Brighton, the Amex, & the match. Thank you, & good luck to Watford for next season.

From a Seagulls Supporter

3. NickB - 18/04/2012

Thunks 1 & 2 – wonderful. It is a great ground; streets ahead of any other new build. Shame they haven’t sorted out the transport arrangements.

Remember a particularly close shave on the getting duffed up front at the Goldstone, when a kindly interloper came to the rescue as I went to take an ill advised pee wearing a Hornets scarf in the ‘neutral’ enclosure. Feels like another universe now.

The play acting was unedifying, to say the least, and full marks to the ref, who was buying as near to none of it as makes no difference.

Thanks too to the top guy who edits their programme for featuring my elder lad, on the completion of his 92 ground odyssey.

After Saturday, I said that the away fans got all the fun; nice to catch a bit of it at last.

4. Gaviota - 18/04/2012

An excellent piece, and an interesting positive spin on our performance when we’ve been so spoiled this season that most Albion fans regarded that as a bad one.

Your point is taken about our, how shall I put this? Our theatrical side, with Barnes’ reaction to a hand in his face being the most obvious example last night. But, in fairness, I did think Watford were a bit on the physical side. Not dirty, by any means, but physical.

Thanks, by the way, in particular for the comments on the stadium – for understanding what it means to us.

5. yellowyell - 18/04/2012
Southwest Hornet - 23/04/2012

I think IG should print out the responses to that and post it on his wall! (if he hasn’t done so already!)

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