Thick and fast

I can’t recall a run-in like it.  The magnitude of the games, the intensity of the atmosphere, so vivid you can almost taste it.  The roar of the crowd, the togetherness of the songs, the anticipation.  The optimism filling our lungs and bodies like oxygen.  And the hope…well, we all know it’s the hope that kills you.

If we leave aside Hereford in 1997 – and as a further aside, if we can have regrets in life then one of mine is not being there and instead sitting on my own in a flat listening to the radio whilst my wife and in-laws went out for the afternoon without too many cares in the world whilst I had a pretty large one very front of mind (long sentence but I needed to get it off my chest).  No game we the mighty Albion ever play can ever, will ever be bigger than that one.

But leaving that one aside, our trip to the smoggy Riverside last Saturday was, I’d argue, the next biggest game in Albion’s history.  I told my kids, sitting in the stand before the game, that whatever happened they should try to enjoy the day because days like these don’t come along very often in an Albion supporting history.  Ninety eight minutes later I didn’t really live up to that sentiment myself as it was a draw that felt worse than a loss, when the whistle went it cut deep.  I never again want to go away and watch another team promoted at our expense.

And now (I write this pre-match), a fairly unappealing away game at Sheffield Wednesday is, arguably, the next most important game in our history (those of an ‘83 supporting vintage may want to argue with this and I won’t squabble if so).  Which will again be superseded in importance by Monday’s only just slightly more appealing home game.  And if all goes well, then, well, fasten your seatbelts for a bit of que sera time (and I make no apology for daring to utter these words in advance as we already sang them defiantly at Boro so if it really is a jinx then we’ve jinxed it already, sorry folks).

I know in my heart (and mind) that any sane Brighton fan would have snapped off anyone’s hand who offered us a play-off place at the beginning of the season.  The team and the manager have exceeded what we (and I suspect they) felt possible in August.  We’re only potentially four and a half hours from the P(romised) L(and).

But why has this week felt, felt, well, so, mwah or mweh, for want of better words to try and convey an ever so deflated sentiment.  It all feels, illogically, like something after the Lord Mayor’s show.  The buzz of Burnley at home, Forest away and in particular Charlton away gave us a surge of hopeful adrenalin, like a big shot in the arm of pure football hope.  Which felt like it was medically drained out of us as we drove south down the A19 last Saturday.  Even the milkshake we had on the way home in Thirsk was rubbish.

There’ll be those who say I’m unrealistic, that I’m not behind the team.  But I’m not and I am.  During the course of this week, I’ve turned several times to the thought that this is the week where Chris Hughton really does earn his money.  He’s had to lift what is after all a young bunch of lads, jump-start them out of their own Boro blues, smooth over the disappointment of losing Stephens (and the appeal), get a game plan together, travel north again and get the focus back.  Not an easy job.  If he manages it then they should bottle the Hughton magic and sell it in the club shop.

I hope to ease out of my flatness or mwahness in the 30 minutes before the game as I’m still not quite there a couple of hours before kick off.  Browsing North Stand Chat this week has helped (but also hindered depending on which thread).  Listening to the Albion Roar’s special has helped (Al) but also hindered (Ady).  Writing this and trying to get my thoughts in order has been cathartic if nothing else.

So here we go then.  Two hours until the biggest game since Middlesbrough which was the biggest since Hereford.  Then on Monday the biggest game since Friday (and confusingly it’s against Wednesday).  Then we get either three weeks of pre-Wembley worry or however many weeks of crushing disappointment.  As a reminder, this is something we all choose to do, no-one forces us.  And we even pay to do it.  No wonder some people think that football fans are stupid.

UTA.  Let’s get the job done and crack on with the three weeks of worry.

Can’t applaud that

By the age of forty-something, one should know better than to get annoyed about the outcome of a football match.  After all, we all know, it’s just football.  Right?

Right.  Well, kind of.

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Except when:

  • you go 2-0 up against the run of play away from home and end up hanging on for a draw;
  • it feels like 3 precious promotion points have been reduced – again – to a single solitary notch on the board;
  • your young and talented centre half has had a rush of blood to the head;
  • your immediate promotion rivals have convincing home wins;
  • you feel your team invited the draw by camping out in their own half after going ahead; and
  • your train home is delayed so you end up writing this blog post sitting on the floor at St Pancras station (I live north of London, not by the sea, despite the blue and white allegiance).

Except when except when except when all these things conspire to create an illogical sense of annoyance.

Time, then, for a reality check.  Not even the most blinkered of BHAFC fans could have possibly hoped that the Albion would be undefeated up to 15 December with only one more match to play before Christmas.   Nor that we’d be guaranteed in the top four on 1 January 2016.  Nor that we’d (quietly) be looking like genuine promotion contenders.  It’s really come to something when we regard 3 points won at Burnley, Derby and QPR as between 3 and 6 points lost.  Especially when we’ve rediscovered the art of winning at home.  What do they say?  Win at home, draw away, and promotion takes care of itself.

But football fans are greedy, we always want more, we can always see what’s wrong.  Against QPR the criticisms are easy to find.  Calde, bless the man, looked out of his depth; we put too much pressure on Stockdale in the first half with unhelpful backpasses; our goals were a bit soft from a QPR perspective rather than the result of clinical finishing; Dunk’s recklessness; our defensive distribution was poor and so on…

…but most of all we did set up camp in our own half for 30 minutes or so after scoring our second.  I almost expected QPR to charge us rent for the way we set up shop.  Why did we do this? Maybe the Albion Roar guys called it right:

I’m not going to criticise Chris too much for this,  the man is working wonders, but I’m interested to know why we didn’t seek to kill the game off at 2-0 with another goal or at least implement a kill game strategy.  Instead we seemed to put up the “please shoot” neon signs and the outcome was inevitable.

And so the annoyance does creep in.

There, dear reader, is the problem with football.  Even in this season of all seasons we mere football fan mortals, lose our perspective.  This is not the usual perspective about where we’ve come from since the dark days, this is perspective that even title contenders have off days, throw away points and don’t win every game.  Which is why I refer you back to the “reality check” paragraph above.  If you’re still feeling annoyed, read it and read it again.  Then once more for luck.  And if that doesn’t work, then read this over on NSC.

Next up the Boro roll into town.  A must win six pointer?  Not really, no.  A big game, yes, but the season doesn’t ride on it by any means.  And nor does this QPR result.  Let’s get that perspective back and remember that we’d have grabbed with both hands the chance to be top four (minimum) on 1 January and we could yet be top one.

Last thing, if you don’t mind.  The title of this blog post.  Not my sentiments.  Not at all.  But they were the words of one Albion fan as the rest of us applauded the boys in yellow when the final whistle went.  A throw away comment in the heat of the moment, I’m sure.  But let’s have that reality check again.    You can and should applaud a 2-2 draw at Loftus Road and most of us did just that before running to get our much delayed trains.  Yes, we’ve got our war stories about the ones that got away.  But don’t forget, the other 23 teams in this division will all have their own war stories too about what could’ve been, what should’ve been, and 21 of them are below us at the time of writing.  I know whose war stories I’d rather have.

And war stories or not, the Championship table tells a pretty compelling story, even on this most, erm, annoying of evenings.

It’s time for ‘hei hei’ Hyypiä

It’s been apparent since the first time Sami sat in the Albion dug out on 9 August 2014 that something seems to be missing at the Albion this season.  It’s the ‘L’ word.

Leadership.

Gus, for whatever faults he might have had towards the end of his reign, he had leadership in spades.  The players would run through brick walls for him.  The fans would have done too.

Whilst Garcia did not have it in the same way, he did at least have an air of quiet authority and would get off the bench to make his feelings known.  No-one who was there will forget the passion shared by players and fans at the City Ground last season, and Oscar must take some credit for that.

But Hyypiä does not seem to have that ‘L’thing.  He sits on his bench passively for most of each match whether we are winning, losing, pressing, defending, in control, off the pace, whatever.  When we have a game by the scruff of the neck, like we did for the first ten minutes against Fulham yesterday, the players don’t know how to seize the moment.  When we’re being bypassed and outfought in midfield as happened during much of the second half, the players don’t know how to react.

I am not one to call for managers’ heads simply for failing to deliver instant success and nor do I want passion for the sake of it without tactics. This is not a knee-jerk blog post of Angry from Hove.  However,  I’m beginning to worry.  Although so far this season I’ve discounted the possibility of relegation on the basis we’re “too good to go down”, we are now beginning to sleepwalk into what could become a relegation dogfight before we even realise it.  Shiny new stadiums offer no defence against a lack of points.

Before continuing, it is only fair to put the case for the defence of Hyypiä.

First, the spine of our team has gone, anyone would struggle to refashion a side which over recent seasons has lost players like Kuszczac, Upson, Bridcutt, Barnes and Ulloa.  Not to mention Murray, Bridge, Spanish Dave and Orlandi.  Second, he is trying to mould what amounts to a brand new team, or at least two thirds of a brand new team.  Third, he is new to the Championship (which was no secret to the board which appointed him), which is one of the hardest leagues to escape from (out of the right exit, anyway) and requires a certain knowledge of how best to go about doing it.  Fourth, Brighton have arguably over-performed since we arrived at the Amex and as a result expectations amongst fans of what the team should achieve this season are quite possibly unrealistic. And finally, us fans don’t get to see him in training, where for all we know the players could be prepared to die for the guy.

But, and there is a but coming I’m afraid…..

But, notwithstanding these mitigating factors, for me it is time to say “hei hei Hyypiä” due to that apparent lack of the “L” word.  He must have something deep down, he did as a player, you don’t command the central defence at Liverpool for ten years without being gutsy, but at the moment he hasn’t found his managerial mojo.

Saturday’s second half against Fulham is the evidence-in-chief against him.  Darren Bent did what he’d been brought in to do, we saw some class positioning from him in and around the box, when his chance came, he didn’t need the second touch which our beloved CMS usually takes and unlike so many wasteful shots we’ve seen this season, Bent both hit the target and evaded the keeper.

Yet instead of at least consolidating our position or even better pushing on from it, we melted and Fulham bulldozed or passed their way through us for the rest of the second half.  Brighton looked like a team not sure how to convert a winning position into a win.  For the third time in three games.

As we huffed and puffed our way to trying to stop Fulham, as we misplaced passes, as we wasted set-pieces and as we failed to make the most of Bent’s clever movement (okay, fair enough, the rest of the squad don’t know too much about how he plays yet), what did Sami do?

Sami did what he almost always does.  He stayed sitting down, looking on like a somewhat detached observer who has somehow by accident found himself sitting on a bench inside a football stadium.

Surely it would help our players to look up and see the gaffer at the side of the pitch, cajoling them, advising them, berating them, encouraging them, applauding them, engaging them, reminding them, maybe occasionally even intimidating them, but most of all leading them.

As for the fans, we recognise it.  I don’t think I’ve heard a single chant in favour of Sami since he arrived.  No Gus Poyet my Lord, No Oscar Garcia drinking Sangria.

In fact most tellingly of all, we’ve heard the Albion faithful on away days singing that they are Tony Bloom’s blue and white army.  Whilst it is right to give thanks to The Lord our God and King (aka TB), this in itself is recognition by us, the fans, that Sami is not the man.

Sorry Sami, but it’s time to say hei hei (or näkemiin if we’re going to get formal about it).

Over to you, Tony.

This post also appears on North Stand Chat, the chatroom/message board for all things Brighton & Hove Albion

Terrace nostalgia

[I originally published this post on my original blog (http://legalbrat.blogspot.co.uk/) in 2012, which I eventually moved over here because the look-and-feel was, well, unreadable. Because I like it (I think it’s okay to nostalgically re-post a post about nostalgia) and today is Non League Day where the football terrace is still alive and well, I thought I’d indulge myself and re-post it.  If you’re going to a non-league game today, enjoy, its certainly bound to be more enjoyable than this.]

I normally blog about law.  For a change, I’m blogging about football.  And more specifically about my club.  Brighton and Hove Albion.  We’re by far the greatest team the world has ever seen etc.  Let’s see how it goes, bear with it…..

It was twenty and more years ago.  The walk down the Old Shoreham Road to the Goldstone Ground.  In short sleeves in the spring, huddled against the cold in the winter.  A scarf on whatever the climate.  Past that pub on the Sackville Road cross-roads (but never in it).   Skirting the West Stand with only one destination in mind.  The North Stand.  Turn right, push through the big iron turnstile with blue flaking paint.  Ticket to the turnstile operator behind the mesh grille.  The unmistakeable and satisfying clank of the turnstile as you pushed it.  And you were in.  Away from the worries of the world, whatever they might be, where for 90 or so minutes nothing else could get into your mind.

Through the turnstile.  The stench of the men’s toilets at the foot of the North Stand steps – nothing more than a brick shack with a huge metal trough attached to the wall.  Jog up the steps.  Turn right.  Pass the first entrance to the stand, turn left into the second entrance, the splendour of the pitch in front of you, down a few steps, duck under the barrier and now you were really in.  Into the pen towards the top of the North Stand, behind the goal, just to the left.  We’re the north stand, we’re the north stand, we’re the north stand Brighton boys.  Murmuring an hour before kick-off, volume building in that hour and rocking at 3 o’clock.

The smell of cigarette smoke.  Jostling on the terrace steps to get your place.  A tribal place.  Definitely an edge to the atmosphere, it never would go “off” but it sometimes felt like it just might.  A strange mix of the safe and friendly but ever so slightly edgy.  I was young, not one of the stand’s “top boys” (and I don’t mean that in a hooligan sense), I was there to observe and enjoy rather than as one of the master of ceremonies.  This was a place miles away from village boredom, from school monotony, from ‘A’ Level stress, from anywhere.

What a place this was.   The surge on the terrace when a goal went in that dragged you along like a rough sea.  You could end up yards away from where you had been standing.  And if you were unlucky, end up painfully pinned against one of the terrace bars while the hoards surged around you.  The added magic of a night match, the floodlights only adding to the atmospherics.  Maybe even a few seagulls circling above for posterity, their spiritual home as well as your own.

Enjoying that we were the North Stand.  Affectionately mocking the quiet West Stand (can you hear the West Stand sing), encouraging the altar-boy sounding family South Stand (South Stand South Stand give us a song), never quite sure what to make of the stalwarts who stood on the uncovered terrace that was the crumbling East Stand where grass could sometimes be seen between the cracks in the steps.  And loving it when one of our heroes applauded our efforts, we used to imagine that they’d like to be in there with us.

A clear pecking order even within the North Stand – I never stood right at the top, it would have been discourteous do so, that was where the leaders stood.  You would never start a song, which was the job of the mighty Krispies (he still exists apparently).  You would never contradict a view you heard that you disagreed with.  But despite that, you belonged.

Some great days and nights and memories.  Kurt Nogan scoring a late winner in front of the North at a night match, the first game I took my girlfriend  to sometime in the early nineties (she is now my wife which is somewhat amazing considering that I thought that was a good early date).  Losing four-nil to table-topping Sheffield Wednesday and managing to chant for most of the second half “We’re going to win the League”.  Almost beating Liverpool in a cup replay until Rush and MacMahon turned on the style.  Dean Wilkins (brother of Ray for non-Albion readers) scoring a last minute free kick against Ipswich to take us into the play-offs.  Beating Millwall in the play-off semis.  “Bravely” taunting Leeds fans one lovely sunny day only for the North Stand to scarper back down the Old Shoreham Road once the Leeds support took our invites literally and invaded the pitch, seemingly intent of invasion of our stand (I have never seen a stadium empty so quickly).  Thrashing Luton (then a top flight team) in the cup.  Heroes like Digweed, Keeley, Nelson, Bremner, Chapman, Curbishley, Byrne, Small and of course Crumplin.  And what seemed like every week celebrating Brighton-based celebrities who would be paraded on the pitch – Sir Des of Lynam, Chris Eubank and most surreally Detective Inspector Burnside (Burnside Burnside give us a wave), or at least the actor who played him.

90 enjoyable minutes, even if the football was not always so.  Because those minutes were so far removed from the mundanity of normal life – which for me at this time was school or being home during student holidays (something the more seasoned North Stand congregation would enjoy recognising with the intra-stand banter of “It’s back to school tomorrow”).

Twenty or so years ago.  And then the ground closed in 1997.  Sold, thanks to the actions of a few individuals who didn’t love the club (euphemism).  Homeless and so came the wilderness years.  The club lost thousands of fans as it camped first in Gillingham and then at the soulless and non-atmospheric Withdean.

Fast forward to 2011 since when we (the Albion) have one of the best stadiums in England.  The Amex (or the American Express Community Stadium to give it its full sponsored title).  Padded seats, video screens for replays, good views from everywhere, no surges after a goal, the toilets don’t stink, people can’t smoke, you can buy edible food, we have fan zone on the video screens before the game, Sky Sports in the bars – the edge to the terrace atmosphere has gone but there is still a great atmosphere, it’s just different.  It’s a safe environment where I’m happy to take my Dad and young children.

I wouldn’t swap the Amex for the old Goldstone.  That was then and this is now.  But occasionally, just occasionally, I miss the pungent atmosphere of a rocking terrace as a goal goes in, the gallows humour as  a result goes awry.   Rose-tinted spectacles?  Maybe.  But that’s what memories are made of.  Above my desk at home I have a wonderful framed photograph of the North Stand taken by that most brilliant photographer of football stadia, Stuart Clark.  His photos bring memories to life.  And a good long look at that photograph brings those memories very much alive for me.

If you got this far you must be a Brighton fan.  Or someone who is very tolerant of a lawyer’s musings on a subject he is not qualified to write about.  Thank you for reading.  And if you are going to any match today, whoever you support, enjoy, and remember what a beautiful game this is.

Fitba, bloody hell

That was the first, ‘football, bloody hell’ moment that I’ve experienced as an Albion fan for a few years.  The swinging pendulum of results just tick tocked into the right place just in time.  Then complete unbridled, joyful mayhem broke loose amongst the travelling Albion army in a way that took me back to the original North Stand, there were lots of lads and lasses all with smiling faces.

What a strange season.  Whilst 2012/13 certainly wasn’t a procession to the play-offs, it always felt fairly likely from Easter time onwards.  This season it feels like we’ve stumbled into the play-offs despite our play, rather than because of it.  But whilst its easy to think about the points that got away this season, there’s also a case to be made for the points we’ve won as a result of a late late show – in recent weeks late goals at Blackburn and Huddersfield as well as home to Yeovil have rescued what now look like critical points, when at the time it felt like too little too late.

And of course, today’s late late show the best of the lot.  The best perhaps since Deano beat the Flying Hippo (pick it up at 7.30 mins).

This time last year I felt confident we’d make the play-off final due to our run-in form.  We all know what happened and that left the club, teams and fans with a hangover that took until Christmas to shake off.  Today, I’m just amazed we find ourselves here.  We travelled to Nottingham more in hope than expectation, and for once it wasn’t the hope that killed us.  Whether this results in a reverse psychology meaning we go into the play-offs with nothing much to lose, who knows.

So, to quote Steven Gerard, ‘we go again’.  Derby up next who’ve had a solid end to the season and a 13 point gap tells its own story.  But the great thing about the play-offs, is that the previous 46 games mean nothing.  It’s a blank sheet, form is irrelevant and only 180 minutes stand between one team and Wembley.  It’s cliché central.  You need a little bit of luck to get there, and maybe today just showed that Lady Luck is spending her spring holidays on the south coast (not to take anything away from CMS’s precision point genius – never mind goal of the season, that was assist of the season).  We will see.

As a friend of mine texted me after the match, re-charge for the play-offs.  Let’s hope we do, fans and players alike.  I was delighted to see how psyched up the players seemed after the game when at times this season it has felt a little like 11 blokes who don’t know each other that well playing football.  Any doubts I had about the team spirit ceased to exist after I saw them at the final whistle.  They are up for it, no doubt about that.

The last word goes to a Reading fan I know.  His words below, which I received 5 minutes after the games today.  Now that is what I call a class act.  Thanks Mr Hop.

Oh yes, and thanks to Burnley too.  Football, bloody hell.

Bumps in the road

I don’t go to every Albion game (braces self for allegations of being a ‘plastic’ with no right to venture an opinion) but I go to a fair amount.  And I think I’ve just witnessed the worst (or certainly one of the worst) performances that I’ve seen for 3 or 4 seasons (for the record, losing to Watford 2-0).

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Yes I’m irritated, disappointed, annoyed even.  But I’m not going to throw my toys out of the pram.

That’s not because I’m leaning on the old ‘look how far we’ve come from Gillingham’ argument.  That’s a compelling argument and always a reason for perspective.  But to be fair, it’s not an argument the club rely on when things go a little awry.  The club talks openly about being ‘Premier League Ready’.  To be PLR, we can’t always fall back on the ‘look how far’ argument, because if we do, we won’t get to the Promised Land (whether or not it is the promised land is of course open for debate).

The reason I’m not going to throw my toys out of the pram, is because I think we’re merely hitting a bit of a bump in the road.  I don’t mean the bump came today at Watford, I think the bump is this season.

Think of everything we’re encountering during season 2013/14:

  • the post-play-off hangover took us many months to get rid of.

  • the Amex honeymoon is over and home game atmosphere is lacking a bit.

  • like it or not (I like it), the board wants to comply with Financial Fair Play.

  • like it or not (I don’t like it), we’re missing Gus.

  • a new, young, foreign manager needing to acclimatise in a variety of ways.

  • competition for places means we’ve had to off-load good squad players before they fall out of contract, even though we’ve not been able to replace them.

  • a mini-injury crisis.

  • heightened supporter expectations after we probably beat most realistic expectations last season.

This was always going to be a consolidate and move on season.  We’re not setting the league on fire, but we’re okay, hanging in around the play-off places despite a very lukewarm season.  In some ways it would be better if we weren’t close to play-off contention as it would help re-align possibly unrealistic expectations of what might be possible this season.

Today at Watford was a microcosm of our season – not quite good enough and lacking the fire in the belly of the Poyet years.

Yes, today was a lacklustre performance and it does annoy me that we didn’t seem to ‘want’ it.  But I’m not going to throw my toys out of the pram today.  We have to be more patient than that, but at the same time we need to be ambitious enough not to look back where we’ve come from.  It’s about looking forward, where Messrs Bloom and Barber want to get us to.  I have faith in Bloom’s vision and trust that we will get there, this season is just our biggest bump in the road for a few seasons.  There may be more bumps ahead.

As fans, we need to help the club navigate them, rather than carry out too many post-mortems as we hit those bumps between now and May.  I think this tweet from @NorthStandChat is a good reality check on where we are.

Our visit to Vicarage Road in February 2014 won’t ever be one that stays at the front of the memory banks, but we may well need to take a few more of these on the chin until as fans we genuinely believe we are Premier League Ready.

Only then should we toy throw when things don’t go our way.

Make mine a sangria

“Oscar Garcia, he drinks sangria, he came from Barca, to bring us joy.”

The latest song from the Albion faithful has lacked conviction until 11 wonderful second half minutes against Bolton Wanderers this afternoon.  A second half that has perhaps allowed Albion fans to drink from the good cup of optimism for the first time this season.

I’ll fess up that this is only my second viewing of the Albion this season.  A combination of reasons meant that I got zero value for money for my East Stand season ticket in the first three home league games of the season which I couldn’t attend.  My first sight of the mighty blue and white (well, yellow) was at QPR away on Wednesday followed by Bolton at home on Saturday.  Call me a Plastic if you like.

I didn’t enter this season full of optimism.  Defeat at Palace left me with the biggest football hangover I’ve had for many many years.   I’m old enough to know better but that defeat hurt deeply for a long time.  And we all know what happened after Holloway left the Amex with his Wembley tickets tucked in his back pocket.  We watched from the sidelines at the mini-implosion that was the departure of Gus, Mauricio and Charlie.  Whatever the reasons, it was sad that our journey on the Gus Bus had to end in such an excruciating way.  As a result of all this. I started this season predicting a tenth place finish for the boys in blue and white.

And the start to the season has, until about five past four this afternoon, been stuttering.  Not disastrous, but not spectacular.  The surge to the play-offs last season when we seemed to sweep all before us for two or three months felt a long time ago.

Until this afternoon.  There are lots of reasons I love not only this result, but this performance.

First, Oscar has removed the monkey off our back that was the “we never come from behind to win” moniker.  Nice to have that little curse lifted.

Second, Barnes got the goal that his running at QPR deserved.  Okay, well he deserved it even if he didn’t quite get it, but he caused it.  I’m an Ash fan, certainly think he has a part to play even if I doubt his ability to lead the line alone at this level, but boy does he put a shift in.  Nice to see that rewarded with his pressure resulting in an OG.

Third, Calde scored.  Cult hero that man is and anyone who doubts it really needs to listen to his performance on The Albion Roar last season.  Total class act.

Fourth, for the third goal Buckers showed us the skill we all know he has but which has been missing a bit of late.  Plus Spanish Dave seemed back on song on Spanish Day.

And fifth, and I’m not always his biggest fan, Lua Lua bossed the game.  I mean, really bossed it.  I’ve not seem him do that before for 90 minutes and he showed how effective he can be when his head is in game mode.  I found it puzzling in the extreme that the match sponsors gave man of the match to Rohan Ince.

So, it’s sangrias all round then.  The Seagulls’ flight path is back on track.  Six games unbeaten.  Five points from nine against Reading, QPR and Bolton is a healthy return.  Perhaps that will help the Amex finally get rid of its post-play-off hangover, an eleven minutes to blow away the cobwebs.

Of course, there’s a long way to go just yet.  This is only the beginning of Oscar’s journey.  But that second half today from a squad still somewhat decimated by injury was the cause for much optimism.  Who needs a Gus Bus when you have Oscar’s wardrobe, the only man who can get away with wearing Farahs, a sweater and tie and still look classy.  Well, I guess he has come from Barca, they can get away with that look on the continent.

Perhaps he really has come to bring us joy.  But I’m sticking with my prediction of tenth for now.  I hope I’m wrong.