Everything but the goal..

Brighton and Hove Albion – 1
Nottingham Forest – 0

Gutted isn’t the word – Forest rose to the challenge from Tuesday night’s fiasco with a spirited and dominating performance over a very good Brighton side.  Only to find themselves being hit by a sucker-punch at the death.  Don’t think that the Forest site is exaggerating (although Steve Cotterill’s ‘3 or 4 goals’ claim is an exaggeration) when they say we were by far the better team.  We really were.  It’s bloody infuriating!

It wasn’t really the game that I was looking forward to, more the new ground (supposedly designed to offer an unsurpassed away fans experience), a day out in a pleasant town and hopefully a bearable game of football.  Brighton is a good day out, indeed, I wish I’d stayed over now.  The locals were friendly, and with Forest providing their biggest away crowd so far, there were plenty of Reds around too.

The first limitation with the out-of-the-way location of the ground is getting there – friendly locals advised us to avoid getting a taxi (as was our plan) due to congestion, and just hop on the train.  The demand for the train being such that you can just get on in Brighton and off at Falmer without ever having your ticket paid for.  We joined the throng at the station and ended up on the second train to arrive at the station.  It was cosy on the train but a chance for a bit more banter.

If I’m honest, I’d built the ground up to be more than it was in my head.  The ‘lighting in your team’s colours’ was a single red tinted light, the ‘imagery of your players’ was a single big screen in the eaves of the concourse.  The local beer is a nice touch, although like most other concourses the queues to attain it were prohibitive, the stewards were friendly and ‘light touch’ in their duties, the atmosphere was loud when manufactured at the start of the game, less so during.

In truth – it’s really not a great deal different to any other edge-of-town new-build stadium – of course, given their previous occupancy of the Withdean Stadium it was long overdue for Brighton.  Perhaps I set my expectations too high, but this was nothing more than an above-average away day experience in a ground for me, nothing revolutionary.  But where this was to underwhelm, the match was beyond my wildest expectations after Tuesday’s mauling (albeit with the obvious unhappy ending for us).

Steve Cotterill made changes forced and unforced – Reid suspended, Lynch injured and McGugan and Findley dropped to give us a different look.  Tudgay operating as a lone striker, and the fantastic news that Dexter Blackstock merited a place on the bench:

Gunter    Morgan    Chambers    Cunningham
McCleary   Greening    Moussi    Anderson

It was kind of like that, Raddy playing in a free role, with he, Ando and GMac presumably tasked with providing support for the potentially isolated figure of Tuds upfront on his own.  It was a bright start from the Reds too, pressing forward from the off and McCleary winning us a corner early in the match.  Greening took charge of the corner, which was played short and back to him to cross, just evading Wes Morgan at the back post.

Another opportunity fell this time to Anderson, it was a decent ball by Moussi that gave him the chance to shoot – it was close enough to trouble Ankergren into diving, but was just wide of the post.  The home side too had forays forward at the beginning of the match, a cross from Noone looked dangerous until cleared by Moussi at the expense of a corner.  Raddy was playing well for us, a cross from the left from him was just too high for Tuds to convert.

It was Majewski again causing problems, jinking past Navarro on the edge of the box before being cynically hacked down by him – the resultant freekick was spooned over by the Pole, which was disappointing!  So t’was all square at half time, a text I sent to a friend at that time was ‘0-0 HT.We just shaded but no shots on goal either way – can see this being decided by the next goal. 1-0 either way or 0-0‘ – I should’ve put a bet on, shouldn’t it?

The chance we really should have buried came soon after half time – lovely play between Majewski and McCleary eventually fed the ball to Gunter whose cross from the right was perfect for the diving header by Tudgay.  Alas the striker conspired to put it wide – it’s true that a Forest man was just infront jumping for it too before it dropped – but put that on target and it was a goal, Ankergren was well out of position.

This buoyed on the travelling Forest fans and the team alike – a ball this time from Cunningham on the left came to McCleary who jinked past a couple of players but couldn’t fashion a chance to shoot.  Closer still, a cross from Anderson caused bedlam in the Brighton area but eventually ended up just wide of the post, begging for a leg to just poke the ball over the line.  It was at once exhilarating, but worrying because we were creating but not really causing Ankergren too much work.

Brighton were starting to get more of a foothold in the game in which they’d mostly been spectators so far.  A decent cross from substitute LuaLua found Noone at the back post who – much like Tudgay earlier – perhaps should have at least got his header on target, instead he put it wide of the post.

Forest back on the attack got the ball to McCleary who again did well to trick himself a shooting chance – it deflected off defender Dunk and looped up and … just over for a corner.  This was a well-taken corner from Greening too, it found Tudgay who got his head on it at close range, but straight at Ankergren who caught it gratefully.  I reckon this was the first shot on target all game, but could be wrong.

The next chance fell to Raddy, he worked well to get past Noone and set himself up with a shooting chance from the edge of the area – he struck a curling effort well, but it went beyond the far post.  Yet another case of so near but yet so far.  McCleary was withdrawn late on having had an excellent game, replaced by McGoldrick with many in the stands desperate to see a fairytale return for Dex.

With Brighton attacking more, Forest had a few counter attacks – one such attack saw Gunts burst forward and – on the other side – Anderson busting a gut to get up to support him.  After the cross came to nothing you could see how knackered Ando was, it’s easy to forget he’s been out injured for a while.  He was the next withdrawal, oddly for young Brendan Moloney who didn’t seem to be too sure where he was playing, so sat next to Cunningham.

Into stoppage time came to sucker-punch, Mackail-Smith got away down the right and – unlike the rest of the game managed to stay on his feet (what a diving sod he is!!), put a ball into the box which found Vincelot, he teed up Will Buckley who finished well past Camp.  The first and only shot on target for the home side.  Galling.  However, we could and should have done better with the chances we created – it’s not like we were denied by a goalkeeping masterclass.

So it was a reverse of what I expected really – a more run-of-the-mill match experience sandwiched an excellent performance from the Reds, just that lack of killer instinct is costing us – and, in truth, the biggest cost coming at a late defensive lapse in concentration because whilst the goal was well-taken it was eminently preventable (aren’t they all?).  Brighton fans on the way out seemed to agree with me, lots of consolatory words and phrases like ‘too good to go down’ – hmm. I’ve heard that before.  A few times.