There was an inevitability about Blues surrendering their proud, unbeaten ten game record with a patchwork quilt of a side forced upon Lee Clark by injuries, loans going back to their mother clubs and the fact that the squad even in the best of times is thin with the inherent strength of wet bog paper. For all our adversity, Blues were competitive on a bright sunny afternoon down on the south coast against one of the best sides I have seen in what is a ‘much of a muchness’ division this year.
Brighton is a pleasant place to visit; it was easy to get to by car, free car parking at Brighton Racecourse from where an efficient park and ride bus was available also included in the price of the match ticket to the ground. When you get into the ground, there is excellent service from the catering arrangements with the best pies in the league and a decent drop of ale locally brewed. The facilities are modern with clean washrooms, warm water to wash your hands in and efficient hand dryers. The stadium itself holds 30,750 with generous seating and excellent views all round the ground. It has everything you could wish for in a modern football stadium and provides a first class match day experience. It has everything that is lacking at St Andrews! Moreover, their chairman, Tony Bloom is a lifelong Brighton fan whose heart, as well as his money, is well and truly invested in the club. He has some similarities to our Far Eastern leader in that he is a gambler, having represented Britain at poker and has made it to a handful of final tables in televised events winning £180,000 at the Australasian championships in 2004. He differs from our owner in being totally open and above board with regard to his financial dealings. He has also made money from property development and is instrumental in the building and development of the beautiful Falmer Stadium sponsored by AMEX which cost £93 million.
Jonny my eldest son and I feared the worst as we took our places in the South Stand. Hayden Mullins’ experience was preferred to Will Packwood’s youth at the back, partnering Paul Robinson at centre half. Mitch Hancox returned at left-back having recovered from a hamstring injury. Paul Caddis occupied his customary right back berth. In the absence of Tom Adeyemi, Wade Elliott was recalled to play in the middle of the three behind Nikola Zigic. Lee Novak and Chris Burke operated either side of him with Callum Reilly and Olly Lee making up the numbers in midfield. Blues started brightly and created the game’s first chance from a corner in the 17th minute. Olly Lee’s pacy cross was headed towards goal by Mullins but Keith Andrews was on hand inside the near post to clear off the line. The contest evened out after that and Blues were competitive throughout the first half although Brighton stated to get the upper hand around the half hour mark increasing the pressure as they went on. However, Blues worked hard and stuck to their tasks and the full backs are to be especially commended to keeping the dangerous Kazenga Lua Lua, Brighton’s stand out player at bay down each flank.
Brighton play neat attractive football and are good in possession. Their dominance of the ball began to tell in the latter 15 minutes of the half. An imprudent tackle by Mullins just after the half hour brought down Andrew Crofts on the edge of the box but the free kick fortunately came to nothing. Five minutes later Robinson fluffed a clearance header and the ball dropped invitingly for Crofts. Robbo redeemed himself by throwing his body bravely in the way of the goalbound shot. Just before the break Darren Randolph deflected a venomous, spitefully swerving drive from over 25 yards from LuaLua over the crossbar as Blues clung on and were arguably fortunate to go into the dressing room level.
Brighton carried on from where they left off after the break and Blues were under the cosh for the most part with only sporadic forays into the Brighton half meaning that so much of the play was at the other end of the pitch from us. It did not help that we contrived to give the ball away cheaply when we did get it and present chances to Brighton who were swarming all over us with high tempo pressing and excellent movement. Callum Reilly nearly gifted the opening goal when he misplaced a pass straight to LuaLua who took the ball on into the area. Only a well timed dive by Randolph saved the day. I had the awful feeling that unless Blues could gain some kind of midfield control that the pressure would inevitably tell. On 57 minutes it did. David Lopez was played in on the right of the area and his pull back was met by Crofts whose shot was well saved by Randolph’s legs. Leaonardo Ulloa followed up but his powerful shot was blocked. This was where Blues’ luck ran out as the ball rebounded to the right into the path of Lopez whose shot across Randolph this time found the bottom corner for a deserved lead.
Brighton could have continued at this stage and I have no doubt they would have killed us off but they started to sit off as so many teams that take leads do and this gave Blues a foothold in the game. Young Reece Brown came on for Blues and looked lively with good touches. Blues became more threatening having reverted to 4-4-2 and could so easily have snatched a draw from the game as Brighton lived dangerously. Near the end the Brighton goal enjoyed the little bit of luck that teams need to see out tight games sometimes. Shane Ferguson got to the by-line and crossed to Lee Novak who glanced a header across goal. It just eluded Zigic and Chris Burke coming in at the far post was only thwarted by the faintest of deflection off a defender who knew nothing about it. Burke could not control the diversion and it struck his midriff to pass agonisingly wide of the far post. This was a very lucky let off for the hosts. Burke was causing havoc down Brighton’s left flank and Tomasz Kuszczak had to save a fierce drive from the winger as the travelling faithful exhorted the lads into one final effort. The resulting corner saw Burke in again and this time he fired a glorious low cross three yards out across the goal and there was a tap in for any of at least three Birmingham players had they gambled! There was still time for another couple of half chances which came to naught and Brighton had the last word when they gained a three on one break out only for Rohan Ince to neither score himself or lay off an easy pass for one of his two team mates. The excellent Randolph dived at his feet and snuffed out the danger.
Defeat it was ultimately but despite our deficiencies and our makeshift team, Blues played well in the circumstances. This was a decent performances and although Brighton were the better side and deserved the three points it was the type of game that could so easily have finished 0-0 given that nine times out of ten ricochets like the one that fell to Lopez go to a defender rather than an attacker so the ball ran kindly and it must be said it was technically a very fine finish from where he was. Blues came very close to snatching an equaliser and had they done so, Brighton could not have complained about two points chucked away since they did sit off towards the end. In the final analysis, Brighton were better than us and deserved their win. They are the sort of club I wish in the future Birmingham City will be and with our bigger town and fan base who knows what success would be possible? Chin up fellow bluenoses, brighter skies lie ahead; the dark days won’t go on forever.
The Good: The defending and the excellent goal keeping by Darren Randolph which prevented us being on the end of a right pasting.
The Bad: Our inability to keep the ball when we were under pressure in the second half.
The Ugly: Can’t think of anything; it was a beautiful day, an easy journey to and from the ground, excellent catering and an overall good match day experience.
Brighton & Hove Albion: Tomasz Kuszczak 7, Bruno Saltor 7, Gordon Greer 7, Matthew Upson 7, Keith Andrews 7, Andrew Crofts 8 (Andrea Orlandi 82, N/A) Stephen Ward 7, Leonardo Ulloa 6 (John Obika 63, 6) David Lopez 8 (Adam El Abd 91, N/A) Kazenga Lua Lua 9, Rohan Ince 7.
Subs not used: Peter Brezovan, Kemy Agustien, Inigo Calderon, Solly March.
Goal : Lopez 57 min.
Bookings: Andrews, Ince, Orlandi.
Birmingham City: Darren Randolph 9, Paul Caddis 7, Paul Robinson 7, Hayden Mullins 7, Mitch Hancox 7, Lee Novak 6, Wade Elliott 6 (Reece Brown 63, 7) Olly Lee 6, Callum Reilly 7 (Shane Fergusson 82, N/A) Chris Burke 7, Nikola Zigic 6.
Bookings: Reilly, Mullins, Lee.
Subs not used: Colin Doyle, Will Packwood, Andrew Shinnie, Amari’I Bell, Demarai Gray.
Referee: Roger East 6: Despite the usual moans and groans from both sets of supporters at various times, I felt the officials were fair and got the major calls correct. There is always the odd throw in here a corner not a goal kick there in every game but the officials had reasonable matches and I for one have no complaints.
Bazza KRO SOTV