• Brighton but Stuck at Home #2 – Norwich Away

    Saturday. And not just any Saturday. “Super Saturday”. When the children of the future study the significant and vaguely horrifying year of 2020 there might just be a little footnote about 4 July 2020 mentioning it was the day that (spoiler alert!) Brighton effectively stayed up at Norwich. Sorry, I meant the day that lockdown in the UK was eased to its most relaxed since March with the reopening of some pubs and restaurants and the hairdressers. And, as a footnote to the footnote, the Great British weather delivered its own irony laced verdict. Having given us "July in the Costas" weather in April, when we could only go out once a day, it now celebrated our freedom with a day straight out of March in Blackpool.

    Luckily none of this affected me personally. I’d resolved long ago to avoid the first few weeks of pub reopening. Pubs to me are places for spontaneity. I like to be able to text a mate on the spur of the moment (or, actually, when I’ve bribed the missus) and ask if they fancy a quick pint. This quick pint may, or may not, evolve into several slow pints, may or may not take in other venues and will likely end in either a hug or a manly handshake. Pre-booking two hours to sit away from people? I’ll stick to the takeouts.

    But what the restrictions easing did mean is that we were able to have someone else come round and watch the game. Specifically, The Boy’s mate (whose family we have been “bubbling” with anyway). He sits with us at The Amex and while his dad was unable to come this time round there were at least three of us sat in front of the telly, waiting eagerly for an away game behind closed doors with Norwich.

    So early was the kickoff that I’d actually forgotten that the teams would be announced at 11.30, so it was nearly midday when The Boy’s mate turned up and asked if I’d seen the teams. I hadn’t. Quick check. I approved. It looked like we would be going for it with Trossard, Connolly and Maupay all included. Also in was Lamptey, back at right-back rather than right midfield. Mooy and Webster also returned and my thought from mid-week that we were gaming the rapid fire nature of lockdown football returned. This was a team picked to win at Norwich.

    Also, so early was it, that I hadn’t even bothered with the aforementioned takeout. Instead, coffee and bacon sarnies were the order of the day as our old friend and Norwich supporter Jake Humphrey appeared on the screen. Luckily he was offset by the appearance of Stevie Sidwell who cheekily predicted three points for the good guys. I said quite a bit about BT Sport after the Arsenal game but here, to their credit (and Jake’s faux annoyance) they ran a sequence showing why Norwich were where they are in the table. Essentially, too many mistakes, giving the ball away and an inability to score. Credit to them for that analysis.

    But as the game started it didn’t really feel that way. We started with a fair bit of the ball but all that possession was at the back. The boys amused themselves with a game called “back to Ryan” where they essentially shouted that phrase just before we did, indeed, pass back to the keeper, and then collapsed in fits of giggles. Then, on a rare raid forward, we created the first chance of the game, and one that showed how Norwich could be undone. Lamptey got in behind down the wing and was fouled. Mooy put the free kick into the box but it came down as a free header for Norwich. Norwich’s defenders got in each other’s way and flicked the free header on to Connolly at the back stick and he chested down and volleyed just over. “Oooos” from all of us.

    And that was it for a long period. Norwich increasingly dominated possession and territory and we seemed content to sit back. We gifted them space out wide but packed the middle. They looked “nice” but at no point did they look like they had the intelligence to break us down. On the sofa the occasional game of “back to Ryan” continued. Then there was a drinks break.

    Drinks breaks in the second half of games when it is roasting hot are sensible. Drinks breaks after twenty or so minutes when the weather is like a March day in Blackpool are utterly ridiculous. They have become, effectively, time outs. We are now playing quarters, ladies and gentlemen. Quarters behind closed doors with VAR making the big decisions. I told you 2020 sucked. But here it worked to our advantage. Norwich’s possession-based momentum was interrupted. Just a few minutes later we were ahead.

    The goal was a beauty, was clearly what Potter had intended and had all but been predicted by BT Sport pre-game. Norwich gave away possession just into our half as they pushed forward, leaving big gaps where the full backs should have been. We were quickly into a counter, the ball shifted instantly to Mooy who drove into empty space down the right wing. Three others poured forward, Connolly and Maupay dragging the remaining defenders and Trossard running first straight and then diagonally. Just as Mooy released a sublime low cross Trossard beat his man to the front post and got the most sublime of touches to send the ball into the opposite corner of the goal. The boys leapt off the sofa. I did a comedy run into the kitchen, yelling “GET IN!” like some stereotypical bloke in a betting advert. My daughter wandered in and asked if we’d scored. Much mirth.

    A text from a Spurs supporting mate; “Great goal! You’ll stay up if you win”. I replied with “yes, but we were shit up to the goal”. This tells you much about my in game mood, typically. But then the reply back from him, as a neutral was “you could pummel them if you get it together”. And here’s the point – we probably could have. But this was not “Potterball” as we know it. This was sit back, wait for the error and hit them on the break. It was pragmatic. I posted later on the match day thread that I thought we had another gear and I still believe that. Had they equalized or gone in front we might have thrown the kitchen sink at them, but we didn’t need to. They were as toothless as an old man who, like Bob Mortimer, has spent his life taking sixteen sugars in his tea.

    I’m writing this from memory, as I always do. I might stick MOTD on later but, right now, these are simply my recollections of the afternoon. However, I cannot remember Ryan having to make a save. There were shots but not on target. I think we got to half time with one shot on target all half – the goal.

    And it was much of the same in the second half. With one terrifying exception, which we’ll come to in a minute, I never felt like they would score. We had a bit more of the ball, made a few more half chances, the odd set piece, but my overwhelming feeling as the bacon and coffee settled in my stomach, and the boys became fractious and bored, was “let’s get this over with”. Potter clearly felt the same, first taking off Connolly to shore up midfield and utilize Gross’s pressing abilities, then going five at the back with Bernardo making a welcome return at LWB, to counter the introduction of two strikers, Pukki and Idah who had not started, and the double man-bun of Todd Cantwell.

    Talking of wing backs, a word here for Lamptey, again our stand out player by some distance and rightly awarded MotM by BT Sport. Defensively solid and able to use his pace both to recover situations and break at speed, he was a menace all day. He was also booked for taking a throw in, or having an afro or being named Lamptey or something. No one could quite work it out. Not me, not the boys and not the commentary team either. Then Norwich started to deliberately wind him up and Potter replaced him, not with Montoya but with Duffy. Effectively we had four centre backs on the pitch. So, obviously, that meant Norwich pumped a high ball in, obviously we missed it and Idah headed past Ryan and……….against the post. Phew. Their. Only. Good. Moment.

    The final whistle had gone and we’d ground out a result. A result that takes us to the same number of points we got last season, but with five games remaining, including winnable or, at least, drawable ones. I’m going to call right now that we’re safe. The idea of Bournemouth, Villa and Watford all putting on spurts to overtake us are ludicrous. This was further reinforced as the boys and I sat, tears of laughter pouring down our cheeks, watching Smug Eddie throw away a 1-0 lead at Old Trafford against a United side who looked like they could have scored ten if they fancied it, while, over on the other channel, Palace were being demolished by Leicester. A great afternoon then. Super Saturday indeed. And I wasn’t even drinking.
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