• Albion v Millwall, 12.12.2014

    Albion 0 - 1 Millwall

    Writing this as I am, some three days after Friday night’s debacle, I’m not going to attempt a forensic analysis of the game – the details are now a blur. I'll stick to trying to capture the mood.

    I arrived at the car park for this game, feeling a mix of trepidation and optimism. The form of late has been desperate, so confidence was low, but Millwall are woeful, and came into the game off the back of a 5-1 hiding at home, and with just a single win in 16 games. Surely this would offer, if not a turning point, at least some respite from the gloom. Even a false dawn would be preferable to more darkness.

    Then I made the schoolboy error of checking twitter for the team news. Chicksen and Halford, for goodness sake. Even the most cautious of optimism took an early battering.

    As ever, the Albion started reasonably brightly, before taking their foot off the collective pedal, when the early goal failed to materialise. Millwall came with a plan – to fight for what they could get. It wasn’t pretty, and if the truth be told it wasn’t even effective – though the result suggests otherwise.

    Danny Shittu did what he has done against the Albion previously – played very well, within the confines of his limited skillset. Danny Shittu is never going to chest the ball down, and chip a delicate 50 yard cross-field pass a la Lewis Dunk. Nor will he try. Head it. Kick it. Tackle. Head it. Head it. The Albion played into his hands – standing it up time and again to be headed away – showing too much of it, to allow a strong tackle. He was on a booking from about 15 minutes, and from that moment on, nobody in an Albion shirt thought to, or was told to, run at him. Utterly baffling.

    In MacDonald in midfield and the goalscorer Gregory, Millwall had two players with a tenacity and downright spitefulness sorely lacking in the current Brighton side. MacDonald played like he wanted to hurt someone. His opponents in the midfield played like they didn’t want to get hurt.

    Once the away side were ahead in this game, courtesy of cheap concession of the ball, a fortunate ricochet and a tidy finish, the atmosphere inside the Amex turned pretty toxic. Goading from the Millwall fans turned to the worst disorder seen yet at the stadium – though most of it typical ‘hold me back’ nonsense, from behind a line of stewards. This was coupled with growing open dissent on all sides of the ground, as the home side quickly ran out of ideas, and the management team failed to instill either belief or fight into them.

    Gardner had a free kick sail narrowly over – a success by his standards – and Forster-Caskey tested Forde with a low drive, after a clever turn away from two markers. On the whole the rest of the first half followed a familiar repeated, frustrating pattern – tidy play through the middle, releasing someone in space wide of the box, with time to look up and deliver a telling cross – something which Chicksen, Bruno and Teixeira took turns to fail to achieve.

    If those booing at the half time whistle were telling Sami Hyppia that the next 10 minutes with his team, were massive, in the context of his Albion career, then the subsequent 45 minutes don’t suggest he heard them. No urgency, no imagination, and once again most tellingly, no belief.

    The Albion are in a hole, make no mistake. This side has some talent, but looks desperately short of confidence and of leadership – both on and off the pitch. Tony Bloom is going to have to act very soon to rectify the mistakes of the summer, and bring in either a manager or players with the nous and fight to pull the club up the table.

    And surely he will do so – as angry and frustrated all Albion supporters are right now, surely that goes ten-fold (two-hundred-million-fold) for Bloom? He wants success for the club as much as anybody, both as a fan and as a businessman – slipping into League One will damage his faith, his bank balance and his ego in equal measures.

    A massive six weeks lie ahead for those at the Albion top table. Interesting and difficult times.

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