• Albion v Reading, 26/12/14

    Albion 2 - 2 Reading

    It’s the time of year, they say, for peace, love, and goodwill to all men. Thankfully, for those who seek to uphold such noble sentiments, Albion boss Sami Hyypia decided enough was enough following the team’s draw at Wolves and hopped aboard the last bus to Helsinki, thus doing much to ensure Boxing Day at the Amex kicked off in a considerably less poisonous atmosphere than recent matches. Further tidings of comfort and joy arrived for supporters with the revelation that Santa Claus wasn’t to be the only figure spending Christmas Eve staring at the sack, Tony Bloom having finally decided enough was enough on the Director of Football front.

    So whilst it wouldn’t have been strictly accurate to say out-and-out optimism prevailed amongst those gathering along the stadium concourses early on Friday afternoon, there was certainly a sense of relief- and perhaps a greater degree of the aforementioned goodwill, towards a side which, in reality, would bear much resemblance to one of Hyypia’s XIs. The pre-match rendition of Good Old Sussex By The Sea certainly sounded as though it was being belted out with a passion not heard for a while.

    As Reading & their own new manager, Steve Clarke, came to town, the sides took to the pitch with the first spots of rain starting to fall. Perhaps this was the reason for the Albion striding out of the tunnel in their shiny new tracksuit tops, thus signalling that we have become one of Those Teams. Caretaker-boss Nathan Jones, having consulted Football Management For Dummies, strode out in a sharp suit and a vaguely alarming pair of loafers. A sort of Jones-e Mourinho, if you will.

    It took all of 38 seconds for the first test of the home fans’ patience to arrive. The defence of Calderon, Dunk, Halford and Bennett (Joe) were still sat on the sofa, picking the strawberry ones out of the Quality Street, and pondering the Queen’s annual address to the nation when everyone’s favourite pantomime villain, Glenn Murray, popped up to poke home a loose ball from all of a yard out. “Oh no…..it’s not…”, murmured the 26,000 (honestly, guv) home fans.

    Oh yes, it is…

    Murray, to his credit, and no doubt to the chagrin of Palace fans, kept his celebrations subdued. Perhaps he’s a gentleman. Or, more likely, he was saving himself for the inevitable further opportunities. The crowd, to their own credit, largely stuck with the team, despite a start of quite disconcerting incompetence. The sight of Gary Gardner being tackled off the ball by the referee (a 50/50: he lost), two minutes in, and the Amex scoreboards displaying two Reading players wearing the same shirt number (25) seemed to suggest the buffoonery is infectious.

    A smart David Stockdale save from another Reading header, a less-smart dive from the odious Simon Cox, and a crunching challenge from Dunk on Murray passed the time until another Royals attack culminated in the ball ending up out wide at the feet of Oliver Norwood. “Don’t worry”, we joked with each other, as Murray stood, lonely as a cloud, in the Albion six yard box. “Gardner’s going to pick him up”.

    It almost goes without saying that, as Abanazar/Murray ran forward to meet the ball, Gardner didn’t pick him up, granting Reading’s Fairy Godmother the second of his wishes for the day: another free header. 2-0 down, and the majority of the audience were starting to wonder whether they might not have been better off at home, finishing the turkey and watching bank holiday movies. The Great Escape, perhaps. Reading fans, meanwhile, opted not to plan a pitch invasion, but instead celebrated by remaining in their seats and quietly applauding, perhaps fearing a repeat of their last wild celebrations at the Albion’s expense.

    (1 minute 53 seconds. Go on. It’s still funny)

    The loss of Darren Bent to injury felt like a blow, and one which could potentially spell the end of his Albion career, given the impending expiry of his loan period. CMS replaced him, in familiarly enthusiastic manner. Murray gave every impression of being the only striker on the pitch with the ability to actually cause defenders a problem: Cox alongside him contributed nothing apart from a continuous high pitched droning noise in the referee’s ear and petulance not seen by Albion fans since the late Billy Sharp’s early appearances for Scunthorpe United. “We’ve got Tiny Cox” was a popular refrain during the Withdean years: Reading may not have Tiny Cox (at least, not since Nigel Adkins left), but they certainly have Whiny Cox. A yellow card for a deliberate block on a David Stockdale clearance seemed like a small measure of justice. Murray also earned a yellow for deliberate handball.

    Albion had gradually dragged themselves up to some sort of competitive level as the half came to a close, but it was still something of a surprise when Greg Halford’s long throw was flicked on by Dunk for Jake Forster-Caskey to tap in and narrow the gap. A couple more throw ins between that point and half time saw a late wave of optimism surge around the Amex.

    Emerging for the second half, it was apparent that Albion were playing with more purpose than previously, although still perhaps lacking in creativity and a change of pace. Gardner struck one wide from 20 yards, whilst Adam Federici made impressive-but-expected blocks from CMS and Danny Holla’s piledriver. Joe Bennett had another effort saved as Albion attempted to crank it up.

    Then came one of those pivotal moments. The best managers have always been the ones able to motivate players in seemingly hopeless situations, and change a game with one brilliant tactical decision, and it’s fair to say that the manager in this case turned the course of the match with a single stroke of genius. The withdrawal of Murray by Steve Clarke was the most unexpected event since Joseph, humble carpenter from Nazareth, received a note from his wife saying “Now don’t be angry, but I’m pregnant, and it’s not yours”. Dunk and Halford were at once granted more time and space, as the lazier Cox, the turgid Hal Robson-Kanu, and some other oxygen-thief who came on for Murray, toiled in his absence.

    March joined the fray for a tiring Elliott Bennett, and almost immediately drew a save from Federici, as Albion continued to press, whilst Paddy McCourt replaced Holla.

    Just when it looked as though Albion’s efforts would all be in vain, and as the added time board went up, Adrian Colunga jinked past a static Royals defence to slide the ball back across the six yard box. There, majestically, gloriously, fabulously, oh-god-we’re-desperate-ly, Inigo Calderon, well on the way to legend status at the Amex, waited to drive it home for the equaliser. Oh come, let us adore him.

    It’s behind you!

    The Albion had earned themselves a point, the minimum their second half endeavours deserved, whilst Reading found themselves in the not unfamiliar position of having their hopes dashed by a Seagulls goal at the death.

    In truth, it was a more entertaining than high quality game, but fans in the main seemed at least grateful to have witnessed a second half display of spirit and desire: the bare minimum, you’d think, but qualities nonetheless which weren’t always obvious under Hyypia. Jones seems highly unlikely to earn himself the manager’s job permanently over the next few weeks, but he does deserve the support of those watching for however long he finds himself holding the reins. What the New Year will bring is hard to say, but it’s to be hoped that the players take confidence from today’s comeback into Monday night’s long awaited return to Craven Cottage.

    At one stage on Boxing Day it looked like being a very Murray Christmas. For all our sakes, we’re crossing everything that’s it’s not going to be a Crappy New Year.


    Comments 3 Comments
    1. hans kraay fan club's Avatar
      hans kraay fan club -
      Excellent work, as ever.
    1. Lush's Avatar
      Lush -
      Brilliant, as ever
    1. LamieRobertson's Avatar
      LamieRobertson -
      Nice read
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