I began my preview of this game with the comment “Friday night, 8pm kick off. Don’t get me started”. It is a pity that the majority of our players didn’t get started themselves. Any day that begins with software downloads totally messing up both your i-pad and i-phone, and then the journey from Bury St Edmunds to Epping taking twice as long as usual due to the Friday evening rush hour traffic at the beginning of a school half-term holiday, going to the assistance of damsels in distress in the Epping car park, footpaths cut off, toilets closed due to a water leak, and then two females doing Nicola Adams impersonations at Debden, and you know that it is not the best day of your life. I wasn’t to know at that time that it was going to get worse watching the performance of West Ham, but believe me it did.
I had left home at 4pm, but because of the issues mentioned previously, and then the security checks to get into the stadium, I only just managed to get to my seat in time for “Bubbles.” From that point it was downhill. Brighton began the brighter, and it was no real surprise when Glen Murray rose, almost unchallenged to head the ball into our goal in the tenth minute. How many more times are we going to concede simple goals from set pieces? I cannot believe that this issue is not addressed more rigorously on the training ground.
As half time was approaching we had perhaps our best period of the game but that is not saying much. I was interested to read the following morning that we had 65% of the possession of the football. The problem with that is that most of that figure was achieved by West Ham taking the phrase “slow ponderous build-up” to yet another level. Yes, we retained possession of the ball, but most of it was in our own half and in the middle of the field going backwards and sideways from one side of the pitch to the other, getting nowhere fast.
Brighton didn’t surprise me in the least. They were organised, they harried our players, and when they had the ball they broke quickly with incisive passing, always having players moving into spaces in a forward direction. When the board went up to show two added minutes at the end of the first half, our players were just thinking of their half-time oranges, or cup of tea and switched off totally. Brighton, realising this, attacked us with vigour and looked like they were going to add a second, but for an excellent save by Hart. But they weren’t to be denied and just before the half was about to end they did score a second with an excellent shot from outside the area, although I’m sure that Hart (along with the rest of us) will have been disappointed that by getting a strong left hand to the ball, he couldn’t keep it out. The half then ended with a cacophony of booing.
Having purchased our expensive bottles of Fanta (top removed of course, in case we were inclined to throw them!) we settled down to watch the second half. Ayew replaced Kouyate but this made not a jot of difference, and we continued as we had before the break, totally bereft of ideas as to how to break down the committed and organised Seagulls. Arnautavic was virtually anonymous, Antonio and Chicarito had lost their touch in frustration, and we didn’t remotely look like we were going to score. I’m sure that the players are on some kind of bonus if they take free-kicks quickly. Now a speedily taken free kick can be a potent weapon, but only if some kind of thought is given into what we do with it, but we totally wasted them. We were awarded two kicks in dangerous positions in the second half and these were not taken quickly. But Lanzini blasted the first over the wall high into the stands, and then from a similar position shot well wide with the second.
It was no real surprise when Brighton were awarded a penalty as the game was drawing to a close, and Murray coolly slooted it into the centre of the goal as Hart dived to his right. The travelling supporters were magnificent all night, and by now they were in full swing with the usual repertoire of damning songs when a team are getting soundly beaten. “This is a library”, was followed by the lyrical “you’re f***ing shit, you’re f***ing shit, you’re f***ing shit, you’re f***ing shit, you’re f***ing shit”, “you’re getting sacked in the morning” aimed at our manager (some of our own fans joined in this one), “you’re shit and you know you are”, “can we play you every week?” and other equally embarrassing songs. It seems natural for these to come from the likes of fans of Tottenham, Chelsea, and the Manchester clubs, we get used to it. But Brighton? Come on.
Quite frankly it was an appalling performance and a night I’d like to forget. A few statistics that I read the morning after the game:
- We have conceded three penalties in the Premier League so far this season – this is more than anybody else.
- Eight points is the lowest number we have attained after the first nine matches of the season since 2010-11 – we went down that season you will remember
- This was our heaviest home defeat to a newly-promoted side in 86 years – since West Brom beat us 5-1 in 1931!
- We have conceded six goals in the last 15 minutes of the first half in Premier League games this season – no other team has conceded more than four.
- This was the 76th time that we have been 2-0 down in a Premier League game, and we have never fought back to win the game, losing 74 and drawing just 2.
- We touched the ball 602 times in the game (to Brighton’s 340) – but this is totally meaningless if you can’t do anything constructive with it!
I don’t usually give ratings to our players in a game, but I’ve made an exception for this one. My scores on the doors (for what it’s worth) sum up my feelings of the performances of the players:
Hart 5, Zabaleta 6.5, Fonte 5, Reid 5, Masuaku 6, Obiang 6, Kouyate 4, Antonio 5, Lanzini 5, Arnautavic 4, Hernandes 5 (subs. Ayew 4.5, Fernandes 5.5).
I stayed (as I always do) to the final whistle, and by this time I felt quite lonely with all the empty seats around me. The only bright spot of the day was the trouble-free journey home, mainly because so many of our fans were long gone. Plenty of seats to choose from on the Central Line, and the car park at Epping was almost deserted. I reached home on the stroke of midnight, just two hours after the end of the game. That is eight hours of my life that I won’t get back. I’ve been doing this for nearly sixty years now. I asked myself why as I drove home up the M11, A11, and A14. I have got Sky Sports and BT Sports. I could sit at home in the comfort of my armchair and watch the game. The whole exercise would take just two hours.
But I am a committed fan. Some would say a masochist. I once knew a masochist who liked taking a cold shower every morning, so he took a hot one (think about it). Someone suggested I should consider being more introspective. I wasn’t sure what introspection was, so I decided to take a long hard look at myself. But I don’t have to consider my thoughts and feelings for too long. In two weeks we are at home to Liverpool. Another unsociable kick-off time of 5.30 pm on a Saturday for the benefit of TV. I could watch from home. It will be over at 7.30 leaving me to enjoy my Saturday evening. But I won’t. I’ll take my seat in Block 241 of the East Stand and cheer the team on as ever, before taking to the tube and then the roads of East Anglia for my Saturday evening entertainment.