A while back, I wrote up a home cup match versus Cheltenham, calling it a ‘League Two tribute night’. This one wasn’t quite the same – not hilariously inept – just thoroughly low key, in all aspects. A lack of glamour from the rebranded ‘EFL Cup’, bland opposition, a makeshift Albion line up and travel ball-ache all contributing to the ‘occasion’.
The best part of 7,000 people still rolled up though, despite all that. Perversely, I actually quite enjoy watching a game that ‘doesn’t matter’. No fear or stress – just relax and enjoy it for what it is.
The chance to see some new players is always good – and there were a few – an experimental back-line of three from the development squad, and centre-back-turned-midfielder Rohan Ince back to his roots. A debut for new signing Oliver Norwood in midfield, next to Danny Holla, making a rare appearance. Murphy, Lualua and Baldock known quantities. Baldock partnered up front with Elvis Manu – another chance for the Dutchman to try to demonstrate that he actually is a footballer.
There were also a couple of debutants for the small band of away fans to get ‘excited’ about – coincidentally, both former Seagulls. They’ll have been pleased with what they saw of them – Brennan/Ben Dickenson athletic and willing at left back, and Withdean favourite Sir Doug Loft, trying his best in the centre to effect some control – all clever tricks like actually controlling the ball, and stuff.
The game itself was a tepid affair for a long time. Absolutely not your ‘classic cup tie’ – for which the blame lies squarely with the opposition, the height of whose ambition seemed to be to avoid a heavy defeat. The Albion youngsters, reserves and misfits enjoyed serene control of proceeding, without ever looking like scoring a goal. Colchester wandered about – no tackles flying in, no passion, no anything to be honest.
The first half offered nothing, bar an opportunity to assess the new boys and fringe squad members - Finnish hipster Niki Maenpaa apart, as he was effectively a spectator. Rob Hunt at right back did well, and looks a tidy young player, capable of progression. Canadian left back Sam Adekugbe was fun, but far less convincing. He’s an athlete for sure – strong and quick – but football wise, a lot to learn. Ince showed willing, but will only ever be an emergency option at the back, but his 18 year old partner, Ben White, was the stand-out performer. Composed on the ball and good in the air – an assured display, garnished with a 60 yard Lawrensonesque run up the field. Very promising.
Hard to judge Norwood, but did what was required of him – certainly has a good range of passing. Danny Holla produced a text-book Danny Holla display – stroll about, ping a few great passes, forget to track back, dodgy decision making. Textbook.
Surprisingly, Elvis looked the most dangerous of the four forward players – ran about a lot – even with the ball sometimes. Nothing looked like happening though – the first half came and went, and then the first 20 minutes of the second. Such was the enthralling nature of the action, that some sought alternative entertainment.
Then, in remarkable contrast to the opening hour, the Albion distracted people from their chats and their phones, by suddenly producing not one, not two, but FOUR quality goals. The first a terrific team effort – a fifty yard cross field ball from Ince, into the path of Lualua, whose excellent first touch set him, to tee up Sam Baldock on the edge of the D. Baldock stroked a twenty yard curler into the top right corner - if only Championship defenders would agree to allow him five yards of space and all the time he wants, Sam would surely do this kind of thing every week.
Five minutes later, the lead doubled. Lualua again the provider, running through the centre of the Colchester defence, then slipping in Jamie Murphy, to execute a deft clip over keeper Barnes from close range. Another excellent goal.
Then a real ‘I was there when…’ moment – just a year since he arrived, a first Albion goal for Elvis Manu. A clever through-ball from Norwood to release Baldock, who beat his man and squared low, for Elvis to slide home. Scenes.
The Albion then missed a host of further chances – Lualua just wide, Norwood wasteful. Barnes made an excellent double save from Lualua’s low drive, and Holla’s follow up effort. That looked to be it – but Jamie Murphy had other ideas – driving past no less than FIVE tackle-shy Colchester defenders, before sliding the ball past Barnes into the far corner, for his second of the night.
That was our lot. Hand-shakes all round, as the sparse crowd drifted off, trying to work out how to get home without trains or buses. We’ll all be back Friday night, for the real stuff – I might even get a report written a bit quicker.