Written by AFCB_Liam
After the apparent nadir at home to Burnley and then an improved point against Arsenal, we travelled to Brighton for what suddenly looked like a relegation 6 pointer, as those around us seem to be picking up form and points over Christmas.
For my first trip to the Amex, I met up with a Brighton supporting colleague for a pint over breakfast before heading to the ground. We had another beer in Dicks bar at the ground while watching highlights of last year’s 0-5 game. This proved to be the undoubted highlight of the afternoon for me.
We parted ways as he told me that we were lucky that Jahanbaksch was starting as he never, ever scores.
I flicked to my phone to see the starting line up and instantly worried. Our best player by a mile dropped/rested, with Stanislas thrown in at the deep end and Solanke thrown another lifeline by Eddie. The bench looked exceptionally strong, but when I last checked the bench players weren’t allowed to kick the ball. The team looked unbalanced but I had some residual blind faith left in the tank.
Taking my seat in an impressive Amex stadium (the type we should be building right now), my blind faith lasted about another 2 minutes before a Brighton attack down the left saw the ball cut back for JAHANBAKSCH who rifled into the bottom corner to make it 1-0. No chance for Ramsdale. No goal in a season and a half for Janhanbaksch but we obliged in our usual habit of helping a team or player on a barren run.
The next 20 minutes were wretched ( after one chance for King which Ryan saved well). Ball played short from a goal kick. Passed around at the back. Given away. Repeat. And when we did make it past the halfway line, it seemed that one pass split our midfield and created 4 on 3 situations for Brighton. Luckily Mepham was playing well and Brighton’s shooting was wayward as they spanked 3 or 4 stray shots into the Bournemouth fans.
We very slightly improved after 30 minutes and created a couple of chances on the break, but never really looked a threat as Cook, Rico, Billing, Stanislas and Wilson took it in turns to give the ball away.
Half time – 1-0
We all awaited substitutions at half time to breathe some kind of life into an abysmal first-half performance but none were forthcoming. Nothing much changed. We passed it about without purpose or precision, let Mooy run the show in midfield and waited for Brighton to put us out of our misery. It’s hard to think of anything positive we did in the 2nd half, but maybe I missed something.
Next thing I remember of note was Brighton getting a free-kick and after a few unsuccessful hacks at the ball away, Burn turned and volleyed home. Game over. Wait. VAR. 2 minutes…..no replays…chants of “it’s not football anymore”….and NO goal. Then quite an empty celebration from us. A marginal decision, based on a few millimetres 3 phases of play before the shot, had prolonged the inevitable. VAR has added nothing to football, nothing to the spectators who actually go to the game without the benefit of 20 replays (or even one). But it had given us a slight stay of execution.
Another chance fell to Bissouma, who waltzed through our tissue-paper midfield and struck the post. We brought on Callum and Wee Man (somehow Solanke remained on the pitch, presumably because Eddie forgot he was there) but our creativity was still non-existent. I went to the toilet and did not rush back.
And then finally, Brighton finished the job through a superb MOOY goal, who took the ball on his chest, flicked it past Mepham and bent it into the far corner. No complaints, no injustice, game over.
A truly bizarre substitution at the time (although now turns out King is injured which is a disaster) followed as Lewis came on for King. We showed a little bit of life but no real chances. Callum looked horribly sluggish and at one point it seemed our most forward players were Lewis Cook and Gosling. Solanke produced a moment which neatly sums up his entire time here: neat touch and turn, ran at their defence, opened up a bit, shoot, SHOOOOOT, turns back, turns again, no other options, shoots, blocked.
And that was that. 19th vs 20th in the form table and we had been comprehensively beaten all ends up.
I only go to 7 or 8 away games a season but that is genuinely worst I’ve seen us in the Premier League. We are in deep trouble and I hope the players recognise this now.
The most damning verdict was my Brighton supporting colleague who said “you guys normally look well drilled and like you have a system, you don’t seem to have a plan now”. This completely summed us up. What sort of team are we? We don’t pass quick enough to counter-attack. We don’t keep the ball. We don’t play long balls and win headers or hold it up. We just seem to go on the pitch and do the first thing which comes to the players’ heads. We pass it short from goal kicks, wait until a misplaced pass puts us under pressure and pump it upfield to lose it. The holes in midfield were an embarrassment. Mooy had the freedom of the south coast. The 5-year-old sat behind me said “do they have more players?”. 2 in the middle doesn’t even work with Lerma, let alone without him.
We are devoid of ideas and confidence and are getting tactically bossed too often. Injuries are of course hurting us (and to lose Stacey and King would be a killer) but we have enough talent in this squad to do better than this. I genuinely think that the old championship team would have given Brighton a better game today.
BUT, this is not a time for hysterics. Eddie has taken us 70-odd places up the football league. He will be hurting more than any of us. He knows these players and he will do everything to keep us up. He deserves the chance to do that and anyone who says differently has probably not watched this team for longer than a few years. We need to remember that there are 22 teams in the championship, almost all of them ‘bigger’ than us, who would love to be in our position. The thing which separates us from them is Eddie. Let’s give him a chance to get us out of this mess. This is now officially a relegation scrap and let’s see what we are all made of – fans, players, coaches and manager.
And finally, VAR. I really hate it. It helped us twice today but it has been implemented so badly that it leaves me feeling empty. Designed for those watching on TV but not for those at the games. Careful what you wish for I guess.
Ramsdale – 6 – Some good saves and nothing he could do with either goal.
Rico – 5 – Looks better defensively now and did try to get forward but shoddy passing today
Cook – 4 – Thought he had a poor game today, looked flustered, passed poorly and hacked at too many clearances
Mepham – 6 – Thought he did well, especially the first half. Looks composed and growing into the role alongside Cook.
Stacey – 7 – Gutted if he’s injured. Was probably our best player if not spectacular. Makes the right decisions, even when under pressure.
Stanislas – 5 – Looked rusty and gave the ball away a lot but the desire was there and he tried to trackback.
Billing – 4 – all over the place today. Can’t seem to time his jumps for headers, gets a nosebleed within their area and passing was very wayward. Needs to get some boots with proper studs.
Gosling- 6 – Tried hard and covered a lot of ground. Worrying that at times he looks like our most attacking midfielder now.
H Wilson – 5 – didn’t do a huge amount and is a bit one-dimensional, cutting inside every time. At least willing to have shot.
King – 6 – Our most threatening and positive player but sadly withdrawn through a potential injury. Very worrying.
Solanke – 4 – Getting a bit embarrassing now. Doesn’t attack the 6-yard box, doesn’t shoot and doesn’t win many headers. Worst I have seen him play.
Subs: Wilson 4 (didn’t really do anything), Fraser 4 (same), Lewis Cook (you get the theme)
MoM: Ugh. Do I have to? Probably Lerma, or VAR. But I’ll go with Stacey as he was solid again.
I don’t get why Eddie didn’t get Lerma on at half time for a midfield that was being outplayed and not Dans fault. Billings was utterly rubbish and deserve less than a 4. He could hardly be bothered to run late in the second half. We are indeed in a lot of trouble. Of the 14 players I watched today I would say only Stacey, Ramsdale, and Gosling can hold their heads up. Very telling how long Ramsdale stayed today after the other players walked to the tunnel ….. kept applauding the crowd and looked very apologetic for the team. Eddie ….. you are still the one to TRY and get us out of this but this predictable, stale, insipid play has to change. No players today really looked to power forward. Wee man tried but failed. Midfield played sideways or had back to opponents goal or conceded possession. Attackers …. impotent. Dreading the next game and can’t remember last time this season we were exciting and threatening. – Join the conversation, click here.