Sunday 28 August 2011

It's Liverpool!

It's a perfect Bank Holiday weekend for Albion. Not only are they undefeated in the league, but a home win against Peterborough sees them go top of the Championship, and just to cap it all off they have been drawn at home to Livepool in Round 3 of the Carling Cup. A dream tie for Brighton and their fans, especially as it's a home game at the Amex. The match will be played on Wednesday 21st September and will be televised live on Sky TV. Expect a near sell out crowd for this one. This season just seems to get better and better.

Albion Go Top Of The League

Albion 2, Peterborough 0 - Amex Stadium, 27th August:

An absolutely stunning second half free kick from 30 yards out by Ryan Harley on his home league debut secured Albion all three points on a day that saw them go surging to the top the Championship.

Star of the show yet again was Craig Noone who taunted and teased the Posh defence. A typical jinky run and shot from 20 yards out brought him his reward in the tenth minute of the first half. Albion were playing their usual passing game and looking comfortable went in 1-0 up at half time.

The second half got off to a worrying start for Albion as Posh almost scored direct from the kick off when Lee Frecklington rounded keeper Casper Ankergren but Inigo Calderon cleared off the line. Peterborough started to gain more possesion without posing any real threat to the Albion defence. Then in the 65th minute Albion got a free kick awarded from fully 30 yards out. Harley stepped up to take the kick with most Albion fans probably thinking that he surely couldn't score from there, but he was about to prove the doubters wrong. It was a simply brilliant free kick that went straight into the top left hand corner of the goal, it was unstoppable. I don't think you will see a better free kick at the Amex this season, it was just stunning. It  would appear that Albion have now found a free kick specialist to replace the recently departed Elliott Bennett. The goal effectively ended Peterborough's attempt to get something out of the game.

Liam Bridcut playing this usual holding role in midfield was outstanding at breaking up the play when needed and rookie centre half Lewis Dunk was yet again immense at the back when called upon. This 19 year old is a real find and it surely won't be long before he gets an England under 21 call up. Up front Craig Mackail-Smith had a somewhat quieter afternoon playing against his former club and was hampered by Posh defenders who clearly knew his abilities in front of goal. Overall Albion deserved their win and although Posh made some good forward attacking play their front players were not clinical enough to make their second half possession count. With Saints and Derby both losing the result saw Albion climb to the top of the Championship table. A wonderful start to the season for Gus Poyet and his team. Full match report here.

With a two week international break coming up because of the European qualifiers it means that Brighton will hang onto top spot for at least a fortnight until they visit Bristol City for their next Championship league game. Unbelievably it will be four weeks before Albion's next home game so no pies and pints at the Amex for a month means an enforced diet for yours truly, still at least the XXXL shirt might now fit me!

Wednesday 24 August 2011

Sunderland Crash Out To Albion

Albion 1, Sunderland 0 - Tuesday 23rd August
Carling Cup, Round 2:

Premiership Sunderland went crashing out of the Carling Cup last night to Championship high flyers Brighton. The Albion were outstanding and deserved their victory. Star of the show was Albion winger Craig Noone who ran rings around the Sunderland defenders for most of the evening. Don't underestimate this win against a team in the top flight, Brighton's football was fantastic to watch and the Seagull fans who were in full voice throughout are convinced that their team is going places, and they're not wrong.

Albion started with new signing Ryan Harley playing in midfield and got off to a confident early start with their usual stylish flowing football. They were using the full width of the enormous Amex pitch and passing the ball around nicely. Ashley Barnes missed a good opportunity after the opposition keeper Keiren Westwood spilled a fierce shot from Craig Mackail-Smith. Sunderland then came back into the game for the last 25 minutes of the first half and had several attempts towards goal themselves, with wide player Kieran Richardson looking very dangerous at times. However it was to be a false dawn for them and their near full strength side.

The second half saw Albion storm into Sunderland territory, dominating the play at times and defending well when they needed to. Craig Mackail-Smith, who was chasing everything, was desperately unlucky when his shot rebounded off the post only to run along the goal line and go agonisingly out of play. Craig Noone was outstanding throughout and clearly deserved his man of the match award. What a player this boy is, okay he sometimes hangs on to the ball a little too long and may try to take on one too many when heading towards goal but he is such an exciting player to watch. He creates so much and never, ever gives up the chase. Everything that Albion did going forward came through him and he was a constant thorn in the side of the black cats defence. At the back homegrown 19 year old centre half Lewis Dunk looked like a giant in the heart of Albion's defence and is learning and getting better with every game, a real prospect for the future. Liam Bridcut, who was as industrious as ever, broke up the play and sprayed the ball around in midfield while Harley had a very good debut with some nice touches. After 90 minutes the match was level at 0-0 so we went into extra time. Would we be fit & strong enough? Yes. Would Sunderland raise their game and get an equaliser? No.

Extra time got under way and in the first period Mackail-Smith got his just reward for all his hard work. The impressive Alan Navarro put in a perfect cross for the prolific striker to head home the winner from close in. An unstoppable header that sent the Seagull fans into raptures of delight. The songs and chanting between the West Stand and the North Stand got even more vociferous as the fans sung their team on towards a famous victory. It was a terrific game to watch and the atmosphere and noise at the Amex is incredible, it's truly a world away from the roofless Withdean years.

The only dampener on an otherwise joyful evening was the injury list which seems to be getting a little bit too long for comfort. Skipper Gordon Greer took a knock and had to leave the pitch at half time and was replaced after the interval by Romain Vincelot, who himself had to be replaced 30 minutes later after dislocating his shoulder in a nasty looking fall. Assistant manager Mauricio Taricco and Kasenga Lua Lua came on as replacements and the change seemed seamless as Albion forged on and played their own brand of unique football. It was yet another great night of entertainment at the American Express Community Stadium.

A full match report can be seen here at the official Seagulls web site.

Saturday 20 August 2011

Late Goal Stuns Albion

Albion 2, Blackpool 2 - Saturday 20th August:

Albion hosted former Premiership side Blackpool at the Amex and with three straight league wins under the Albions belt they were seeking a fourth. With Will Hoskins and Will Buckley both injured Craig Noone got his first league start and Kasenga Lua Lua was on the bench. Albion got off to a bright and confident start with the energetic Noone impressing yet again on the wing. A perfect cross in the 27th minute found Craig Mackail-Smith in the penalty area and the striker headed the ball fiercely into the net giving Matt Gilks, the Blackpool keeper, no chance.

Albion doubled their score early on in the second half when Ashley Barnes scored from close in. Two nil up and cruising, or so we thought. A triple substitution by Blackpool's manager Ian Holloway seemed to inspire his team who slowly began to take charge and started to to gain more possession. The response was quick and Blackpool's first goal was scored by the most experienced player on the pitch. Kevin Phillips, who very nearly joined Albion in the summer, scored a terrific header and Brighton started to feel a little uncomfortable. As Albion tried to get back into the game there was a good penalty shout as it clearly looked like Barnes was fouled in the area but this was turned down by the referee. Substitute Lua Lua came on for Noone in a like for like swap but his introduction didn't really change the flow of the game and he made no real impact in my opinion, although he did manage a couple of decent crosses into the box. As the game wore on Blackpool's second half pressure finally told in the dying minutes as Phillips scored yet again, this time from his right foot in the penalty area. A full in depth match report is available here at the Seagulls official web site.

Perhaps one could be critical and say that there was some poor defending by Albion who really should have been more alive to the threat that Phillips posed but let's not deny that Blackpool deserved their point. On reflection a draw was probably a fair result on the day. I think most Albion fans would have settled for ten points out of twelve before the season started and let's not forget that the opposition was playing at the highest level last season. Next up at the Amex is Premiership outfit Sunderland on Tuesday in the Carling Cup before Brighton return to league action next Saturday for their third home match in a week as they meet Peterborough (who scored seven on Saturday!). The season is young but Albion are still in the top six having made a good start, let's hope it continues.

Wednesday 17 August 2011

Three Is A Magic Number

Two goal hero Ashley Barnes celebrates
Cardiff 1, Albion 3 - Wednesday 17th August:
Brighton continued their excellent start to the Championship campaign by winning away at strongly fancied Cardiff City. This made it a hat trick of league wins and the Albion have now gained the nine point maximum from their first three games. On paper this looked like it would be the toughest test yet for the newly promoted Seagulls but the team from Sussex played some clever football and deservedly won the match.

Albion's opening goal in the first half was a real cracker, superbly scored by Ashely Barnes from fully 25 yards, it was probably his best ever goal for the club. Then the prolific Barnes scored another goal from the penalty spot in the second half to put the Albion 2-0 up. Say what you like about Barnsey, he'll miss chances but he does get himself in some good scoring positions and will always be capable of getting you a goal when you need it. To end a fantastic evening for Brighton and the 700 Seagull fans who made the long midweek journey to Wales it was second half substitute Will Hoskins who scored on his Albion debut to unbelievably make it 3-0.

Despite a bit of late pressure and a last minute injury time penalty reply from Cardiff it was Albion who ran out winners to go joint top of the Championship. A brilliant result for Gus Poyet whose tactics and team selection were spot on.  Next up are Blackpool this Saturday at the Amex, I just can't wait.

Sunday 14 August 2011

Seagulls Soar At Pompey

Goalscorer Craig Mackail-Smith
Portsmouth 0, Albion 1 - 13th August 2011:
Brighton went to Portsmouth looking for all three points to maintain the best possible start to their Championship season. Around 3,000 Seagull fans saw Craig Mackail-Smith put away his first goal in Albion colours right at the end of the first half. After a tough second half period Albion looked to be heading towards their first win at Fratton Park since 1985  when they conceded an injury time penalty after Lewis Dunk handled in the area. Thankfully Lawrence smashed the ball against the post and Albion went home with three hard won points that keeps them joint top of the Championship table. A full match report is available here at the Seagulls website. 

The only sad part of the afternoon was when Will Buckley went off injured in the first half with a suspected hamstring injury that will keep him sidelined for a couple of weeks. His replacement Craig Noone was again impressive when he took to the pitch. I predict that the pacey and tricky Noone could well become one of Brighton's star players this season, he already appears to be something of a fans favourite.

So, it's six points from two league games and currently joint top. Also through to Round 2 of the Carling Cup with a dream home tie against Premiership outfit Sunderland next Tuesday evening. A promising start to the campaign but a sterner test will surely come this Wednesday when Brighton play away at table toppers Cardiff City. That result will be a good indicator of Albion's progress in this league. Could it be a hat trick of wins? It's a tough ask without the impressive Buckley but it is actually possible. I guess we'll all know soon enough.

Wednesday 10 August 2011

Albion Shine Under Floodlights At The Amex

Albion 1, Gillingham 0 - Tuesday 9th August, Carling Cup:

The first ever evening game under the new Amex floodlights saw Albion go through to the next round of the Carling Cup against their former landlords Gillingham. Gus Poyet made three changes to his starting line up and it wasn't an easy victory as the League Two side battled away to make it an uncomfortable if hard fought win for Brighton.

A mistake by Dicker nearly gifted Gills an early lead but as the first half wore on Albion began passing the ball around in their customary style and gained most of the possession, although for all their possesion there were not that many shots on target. The pacey Craig Noone and Will Buckley on the flanks began to wreak havoc and the Gillingham full backs did well not to concede as the sides went in level at half time.

The second half became a rather scrappy affair after Barnes scored a 67th minute penalty for what looked like a rather soft call by the referee to be honest when Buckley went down in the area. After that the match became more physical as Gillingham, clearly unhappy about the penalty decision, tried to get back into the game. Gills had seven players booked in what became a niggly and somewhat bad tempered second half period and young Stefan Payne was lucky to stay on the pitch after one reckless challenge left Albion's Romain Vincelot writhing in agony by the touchline. It was clearly a red card offence but yet again the ref showed a yellow.

After the game Gillingham manager Andy Hessenthaler was honest enough to admit that his player should have been sent off. Albion didn't really test the Gillingham goalkeeper too much on the night but generally did enough to win the contest and they never really looked like losing it. For a full in depth match report go to The Argus website here.

I guess it was inevitable that after Saturday's euphoric and emotional match against Doncaster that this game was never going to reach the same dizzy heights. No matter, Albion are through to the next round and we await to see who our opponents will be, let's hope it's a top Premiership side.

Ashley Barnes puts away the penalty
 (photo courtesy of The Argus website)

Sunday 7 August 2011

Buckley At The Double On An Historic Day

Albion 2, Doncaster Rovers 1 - 6th August 2011:

Brighton's historic opening Championship match at the new Amex Stadium was a real barnstormer of a game that had just about everything. And the flags, my God the flags, thousands of 'em, just brilliant. What a Saturday afternoon this turned out to be. It was an emotional start to our Championship season with all the Albion fans waving their flags like crazy and singing their hearts out. As the teams came out I'm not too proud to say that it brought a tear to the eye of this Albion fan. It was an exciting start to The Seagulls campaign with a great atmosphere and lots of noise coming from every stand. The Albion fans were just fantastic throughout, the place was rocking!.

The game was to be something of a roller coaster ride for Albion with Doncaster Rovers the better team in the first half and the prolific Billy Sharp getting the opening goal for the visitors after Gary Dicker carelessly lost possession in midfield. Probably well deserved if I'm honest. It wasn't a particularly physical game but three Doncaster players managed to get themselves booked by the referee in the first half. Kasenga Lua Lua for the Albion was brought crashing down on a couple of occasions early on but the third time he was also booked by the ref for diving. This incensed manager Gus Poyet who rightly felt that Lua Lua's tumble was not self inflicted but a result of a fair but hard challenge from Rovers James Hayter. As a result of his complaints to the officials Poyet was ordered from the dug out for the duration and ended up watching the rest of the match from the press box.

The second half saw Craig Noone replace Lua Lua and there was a definite improvement. As the game wore on Albion put more of their passing game together as they started to press Rovers. Billy Sharp was stretchered off after a tough tackle from Lewis Dunk and Rovers started to suddenly look vulnerable. Gus Poyet then made a second substitution and replaced the industrious but rather ineffective Matt Sparrow with new million pound signing Will Buckley. This proved to be an inspirational move. Now Albion stepped up a gear, kept possession and really started to dominate the game and went looking for the equaliser with real conviction. Finally the pressure brought a result and it was Buckley with a fierce low drive from just outside the penalty area that found the bottom right hand corner of goalkeeper Gary Woods net. The place erupted with noise as the fans went wild and asked themselves if  Albion could possibly get a winner. The answer was yes. With Rovers down to ten men after an 89th minute injury to Hayter the referee signalled seven minutes stoppage time and it was in the very last minute that Noone laid on a dream pass to Buckley, who squared up and slotted the ball beautifully past the despairing Rovers keeper. The crowd went wild yet again and even more flag waving followed, it was an unbelievable end to a thoroughly entertaining game. Although Doncaster Rovers made the brighter start it was Brighton & Hove Albion who took all three points in a real thriller of a match.

To be fair to Doncaster Rovers they played their part and may count themselves a touch unlucky not to come away with a point. They play their football in a similar attractive fashion to Albion, keeping the ball on the ground and playing a good passing game. Sadly the injuries to Billy Sharp and James Hayter look serious as they both left the ground on crutches after this encounter and it would appear that they will be out of action for some time. Hopefully their absence won't affect Rovers too much as the team seem to have a bit of quality and are good to watch.