From the away end: Reading vs Brighton & Hove Albion

Left Back Football, 2nd November, 2015

Autumnal sunshine and blue skies provided the back drop to the fixture, which was my first as an away fan at any match. Sure, I’ve supported the away team in a match before, but only as an undercover Liverpool fan in an array of stadiums, with red shirt buried deep below other layers of clothing – yet sometimes not buried as deep as my emotions. For example, the biting of my tongue when Emile Heskey headed a winner for the Reds at St. Mary’s in 2003, the backwards emotions of the roller-coaster 4-4 draw at Stamford Bridge in 2009 and the suppressed joy when Fernando Torres banged in a hat-trick against Reading in the very same ground I sat in this weekend.

Therefore it was a relief to be able to apply the odd fist pump into the Berkshire air, or tut in disappointment as Beyram Keyal was penalised for another late tackle. The low-light of the game actually occurred before the first whistle, when I decided to solve my pre-game appetite with a steaming hot steak and ale pie. Queueing among the fans who preferred to finish as many plastic cups of lager as possible before finding their seats, I had some wait until I could get my hands around the pastry treat that I desired. The atmosphere they managed to generate was impressive too, with a general consensus of noisy delight at Albion’s start to the season. Great to hear, but tough to talk over when trying to order earlier said delicacy. Eventually though I had succeeded, but this is where it all took a turn for the worse. Not a single fork in this section of the stadium. Not one. Not even a spork. Shovelling the volcanic gravy and meat into my mouth like a toddler, burning fingers in the process, I slowly and sloppily consume the pie. It’s all up from here.

The first half had a great tempo for parts, but teetered out towards the end. Reading perhaps had the better of it as well, with Oliver Norwood’s free-kick producing an excellent diving save from David Stockdale. Chances were slim for both sides though, with Chris Hughton clearly setting up a team with intentions to keep the game tight fielding more of a 4-5-1 than his usual 4-4-2 throwback. It worked, with Andrew Crofts, Beram Keyal and Dale Stephens breaking up Reading’s creativity.

My moment of the half though, aside from Brighton fans’ sarcastic response to insinuations from home fans that all the away fans were gay (as if they hadn’t heard that from the other 22 away grounds in the league), was when Liam Rosenior, who had struggled thus far to fill the void left by Bong’s injury at left back, juxtaposed his shaky start to the match by intercepting a dangerous pass with his chest. He then proceeded to run out of defence with the ball, beating two players before playing the pass of the game to Tamar Hemed who advanced into the box. The chance filtered out into nothing more than a corner, but the individual play from Rosenior was excellent.

The second period was more lively and the opening goal of the match was finally conjured in the 51st minute. A tidy move involving a one-two with Baldock and Hemed created an opening to zip the ball across the six yard box to where Jamie Murphy was arriving. The man who began this season with a four-nil defeat to Gillingham with Sheffield United, put his new side ahead in the game and further ahead at the top of the Championship, for now at least.

After scoring though, the Seagulls lost their offensive sting with the hosts creating the better chances. A truly woeful attempt at a clever free-kick routine from Brighton resulted in a four-on-one breakaway, with Reading looking more and more likely to score the further away they travelled from me behind the opposite goal which they attacked. Amazingly though, Stockdale denied them, typical of his top performance as he made several good saves.

But such is the cruelty of his profession, October 31st 2015 became a day the Albion ‘keeper would rather forget, as he fumbled a powerful effort from range into the path of a goal-starved, Matej Vydra. The striker who netted 16 times for Watford last term smashed his first of the season into the roof of the net, causing the ‘Mad-stad’ to erupt.

A draw was probably just about a fair result, although Reading fans may feel they edged it performance-wise, Brighton’s focus on defensive shape contributed to the hosts’ 55% possession. From an Albion perspective, which my residency in Brighton allows me to have, I would’ve liked to see Solly March thrown into the fray, as his pace could’ve punished tiring legs late on. The return from injury of Kazenga Lua-Lua to the league leaders will be a welcomed one, as Brighton miss his direct running and pace when on the ball.

Albion stay stop of the league, albeit by a smaller margin than when the day began, but that didn’t stop those around me from chanting about it.

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