• Albion 2 - 1 Birmingham City, 28.11.2015

    What an absolutely terrific game of football. For the second time in three home games, I've been able to start with that line. As someone who was on record as being unconvinced by Chris Hughton's overly cautious mindset, over the latter part of last season, I am delighted to see his side proving my fears to be unfounded.

    Two proper wingers feeding two strikers, full backs free to express themselves, and most importantly a demonstrable desire to take the game to the opposition, rather than worrying about countering THEIR game.

    Due to the tardiness in getting round to writing this, I shall not add a further full report of the game - instead, just some selected highlights, lowlights, and general thoughts.

    The Conditions
    Caught in a biblical deluge half-way from the University car park to the stadium, we sat and shivered in the freezing wind that rattled through the East Stand. To read the comments from a City fan afterwards, suggesting that the Albion would fail to maintain their form and style of play "when the weather turns bad" raised a smile. If this didn't count as bad, I can't imagine what kind of Armegeddon they believe is on the horizon. Perhaps they read and believe the Daily Express in the West Midlands?

    The Line up
    That the Albion were unchanged from the creditable draw at Burnley, was no surprise. The only real decision Hughton had faced was whether to throw in loan Manchester United striker James Wilson from the start. As it was the England U21 man had to bide his time on the bench, along with fellow new arrival - Wolves winger Rajiv Van La Parra.

    The Opposition
    Managed by highly rated, and seemingly coveted, young boss Gary Rowett, Birmingham City arrived (dressed as Belgium) at the Amex with the best away record in the Championship. Indeed, they had travelled back to St.Andrews with three points from no less than 6 of their last 7 trips. The way they set up, was certainly suited to the traditional away role - sit deep - invite the home team on to you - then hit them fast on the break. Two problems they had with this plan were that their centre forward was dreadful, and that the home team they invited forward were in danger of sweeping them away in 20 minutes.

    The King
    Once again Beram Kayal was supreme. His performances alongside the also terrific Dale Stephens, are the reason why we get to enjoy watching two wingers and two strikers. You can only play with just two in centre midfield if the two are this good. Kayal's bit of skill to beat Grounds, would prove not to be the first, last or most important time the hapless City left back was to be embarrassed on the day - but it was the funniest. Knocking the ball inside the defender, and running the other side of him to collect the ball, the Israeli had delivered his next pass before Grounds had worked out where he'd gone. Thoughts will soon turn to who the Albion might target in the January transfer window - keeping King Kayal at the club for the foreseeable should be top of their agenda. An improved contract must surely be sat on Paul Barber's printer, as we speak.

    The Opener
    A long high clearance sailed out of the City half, onto the head of Lewis Dunk. If he'd simply headed it 30 yards back where it came from, most would have nodded appreciatively. Dunk however, composed as always, nodded it first time, into the path of Jamie Murphy, sprinting down the left wing - and defence was turned to attack in a heartbeat. Two defenders converged on Murphy, and somehow (I'd describe in better detail if I'd worked it out yet) the winger found a seemingly non-existent gap between them, before slipping in Liam Rosenior on the overlap. The stand-in left back delivered a perfect far post cross, with his weaker left foot, for Solly March to volley at goal. This intial shot was blocked by March's team-mate Tomer Hemed, but back to him, and he shot first time with his right, low and hard, under former Albion stopper Tomasz Kuszczak. A well worked goal and a very much deserved lead.



    The Leveller
    Very much against the run of play - but very much according to the City game plan described above - the Blues were on terms. A swift break - a chipped ball to the right of the box - a rasping volley toward the centre of the goal. Rosenior attempting to charge it down put a deflection on it - Stockdale beat it out - but it looped into the middle of the box, where Jon Toral had the simple task of nodding into the empty net. (Though given Toral's previous comical attempt to knock in an open goal here - in the South goal, in the colours of Brentford - I guess it wasn't a given that he'd oblige).

    The Injury
    The low point of the afternoon, and potentially a big moment in the season. Rosenior cut into the City box, and chasing the loose ball, was met with a full blooded tackle. He fell to the floor, his legs motionless, and his hand waving to the bench, then slapping the floor - his afternoon, at the very least, over in an instant. As the fans yelled, and his team-mates pointed, it took the referee Gavin Ward to bring proceedings to a halt. Amazingly, given the very obvious seriousness of the injury, three Birmingham players converged on Mr.Ward, incensed that he'd stopped them breaking clear. Now the guidelines suggest its usually only for head injuries, that officials are compelled to blow, but the City players' lack of empathy with their fellow pro seemed astonishing to my Corinthian eyes. Dissapointing. Not that all should be tarred with that brush - Kuszczak was quickly out to check and console, alongside Bruno.



    The Legend (I)
    With Gaeten Bong a long term casualty, and Rosenior leaving the field on a stretcher, heads filled with thoughts of recent discussions on whether we had needed a loanee to back up the left back berth. Just 25 minutes of playing time after the loan window closed, the decison not to recruit one, was home to roost. Step forward Albion legend, Inigo Calderon. Hell will freeze over before Calderon lets Brighton & Hove Albion Football Club down. He may be right footed, and short of a yard of pace, but he will give his (considerable) all for the team - and on this showing, those citing the two left back injuries as utterly catstrophic, need to show Calde a little more faith. Sterner tests await, in the pace of Derby's Tom Ince and the guile of 'Boro's Stewart Downing, but he slotted in seamlessly here. And frankly, just to see him out there enjoying his football, as surely and as purely as any child or Sunday League dreamer, is a magnificent thing.

    The Wingers
    Solly March stole the headlines after the game - and understandably - he absolutely tormented Grounds all afternoon, with a display of pace, skill and direct running. Not since Will Buckley reduced Dan Harding to tears has the Amex seen a full back found so utterly wanting. His efforts to stop March grew more desperate as the game went on, and he lasted the 90 only due to the surprising generosity of Mr Ward. The Sunday tabloid claim of a 7.5m bid from Southampton, was surely just a rehash of an old story, timed off the back of a stand-out performance, but if he continues in this manner, genuine interest will surface for sure. The Hailsham youngster over-shadowed his wing partner on the day, but the quality of Murphy's own performance ought not be over-looked - testing the City defence constantly and ultimately contributing to both goals.

    The PIG
    Tomasz Kuzszcak has split opinion amongst Albion fans since his release. Here he proved everybody right - making various tremendous stops - notably from Beram Kayal's venomous free kick just before the break, to power the arguments of those who remember the dominant presence and exceptional reflexes we saw in Poyet's play off season - but also enough big errors to validate the views of those who feel he became increasing erratic the following year. March swung in a dangerous curling free kick from the right - Lewis Dunk jumped in front of the Pole, with his arm raised - but appeared not to make contact with either the ball or the keeper. His presence though, was enough to distract Kuszczak, who let the ball sail clean through his hands, towards the goal. It was stopped momentarily on the line, before being bundled home by Hemed. Such is the Albion number ten's current luck in front of goal, that referee Ward saw, or thought he saw, enough cause to spare Kuszczak's blushes. Early in the second half Hemed did that himself - firing over from close range, after the Pole had inexplicably dropped a simple near post corner, against his own post.

    The Legend (II)
    'It's just a PR stunt bringing Zamora back'. 'Here to sell shirts'. 'He'll spend the whole season injured'.
    Ohhh Bobby Zamora...
    Just 2 minutes after the restart, Bobby again. His fourth in recent weeks - three of them winners. The naysayers are quieted. Bobby is loving it. The Amex is loving it. It really is fairy-tale stuff.
    Murphy's run made this - cutting in from the left, he slalomed into the box before cutting it back - a little behind March, who did well to swivel and hit a firm shot that looked destined for the net. Kuszczak had other ideas, and flung out a massive paw - but succeeded only in teeing it up for Zamora to prod home from close range. Euphoria.

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