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2011-12, match reports

Brighton & Hove Albion 2-1 Doncaster Rovers

I read on a fans’ message-board some time last week that Rovers should be treating this fixture as ‘just a game’, that getting off to a winning start was all that mattered. I disagree. My support is not so blinkered as to ignore the wider significance of days like this. There were two parts to today, yes there was a game to watch and hopefully cheer, but there was also an occassion to savour. So, it seems only fair to do what the national media seemed incapable of doing as they painted Rovers as pantomime villains for the day and separate match from occasion in this report, starting with the latter.

The Occasion

I have been attending football league games regularly for around fourteen years, and in all that time I have never been made to feel as welcome as I was at the Amex. I believe I spoke to, in total, nine members of staff at the Stadium from stewards to the Stadium Operations Manager and each and everyone was smiling and helpful. A characteristic exemplified when we reached the turnstiles and a steward approached my friend Ralph, who duly spread his arms ready to be frisked, only for the steward to burst out laughing at him… he’d only come over to explain how the bar code turnstiles worked. As an experience it was very much the anti-Madejski.

The reason I was able to converse with the aforementioned SOM was because twenty-five minutes from kick-off he was in the away end concourse mingling with Rovers fans and getting their feedback. I asked how the Stadium was progressing and if he was happy with how everything had gone to this point. He confided that his primary concern was that things were going “a little too well if anything”. How we wish that were the only problem our own stadium’s management faced.

As to the stadium itself well it really is an impressive arena. Yes its an odd shape, with a three-tier Main Stand dropping down to just twenty-seven rows behind the goal, but it gives it a sense of individualism all too rare in modern football stadia. I’ve spoken before on this site about how I once watched ten minutes of rugby league on a muted pub television trying to work out which Stadium it was at, until I eventually realised it was being played at Doncaster, well there would be no such troubles for Brighton. The only thing that does concern me about the Amex are the arrangements for getting there, and whilst the heaving crowds at Brighton and Falmer stations and on the train between were mixed and good-natured for ‘the likes of Doncaster’, they surely couldn’t work the same way for a support with a more notable ‘presence’.

What impressed me most about the new stadium though was that you genuinely feel it was designed with supporters in mind, from padded seats (yes, padded f***ing seats!) to images of Rovers players being projected onto the wall in the away end concourse. When we spoke with the SOM he asked us how much we’d paid to attend the match that day, including transport. When we replied, he said “That’s a lot of money you’re spending to come to us, so why should we want to do anything other than show our gratitude by making you feel welcome?” You wonder when its put so simply, why so many just get it wrong.

The Game

Anyway, glad-handing, flag waving, and Sussex by the Sea playing out of the way, onto the business of the match report, starting with a rare moment of triumph as Rovers took the field with the same starting eleven as predicted by Viva Rovers in Friday’s preview. Fear not, normal levels of inaccuracy will return soon. Richard Naylor and Tommy Spurr made their debuts in defence, whilst loanee Ryan Mason slotted into midfield with John Oster and Simon Gillett as he had last season. Gary Woods appeared to have aged five years during the close season which is encouraging, and it was great to see Mustapha Dumbuya back at full-back. With no Brian Stock, Adam Lockwood or James O’Connor, George Friend took over the armband, and duly entered the Football League record books as the most attractive captain in history.

Undeterred by the impressive and partizan greeting from the home crowd, Rovers began the game on the front foot, as Spurr got away down the left and delivered a cross, but it was straight into the hands of Casper Ankergren in the home goal. Minutes later Rovers would though have the game’s first effort on target, as Billy Sharp made space for a low shot, but Ankergren was down early to save comfortably. Brighton composed themselves for a spell, but though they forced a succession of corners they failed to really threaten Woods’ goal in the opening quarter of an hour.

Rovers were continuing to move the ball well, and forged a better chance for Sharp twenty minutes in as Oster released Jamie Coppinger on the right. He got to the byline before crossing for the Rovers’ forward who brought the ball down well on the penalty spot, but his shot on the turn flew just wide of the home goal. Doncaster retained the ball well and moved it from back to front succinctly throughout the first half, indeed Ralph to my left, a gate crashing Swansea fan, remarked how impressed he was at the team ethic of the Rovers side, how players were afforded much positional freedom, yet still committed to tracking back.

It was as a result of one of the forwards tracking back that Gus Poyet incurred the wrath of the match official after taking out his frustrations on the water bottles (or, as the archaic official Rovers site puts it: “gave a tremendous kick to the water bucket”). Kazenga LuaLua broke into the Rovers area only for James Hayter to get back and just beat the forward to the ball, before the two hit the deck. A good tackle and a corner, but perplexing the referee decided to book LuaLua for diving. It was no foul, but it was certainly no dive neither. The referee then, showing scant regard for the day’s special occasion sent Poyet to the stands for his aqua-wrecking reaction, and the Uruguayan performed something of a reverse Pat Cash move; appearing toward the back of the lower tier before edging his way through the crowds to familiar faces at the front.

Ten minutes before the break came The Seagulls best chance of the half as Ashley Barnes found himself all alone behind the Rovers defence on the end of a ball headed back into the area. Barnes took his time, but Woods spread himself brilliantly to block the shot and Friend sashayed back to the line, swept his gorgeous black hair to one side, and hoofed the loose ball away from danger. Still pushing Albion got the ball back in the box once more but Craig Mackail-Smith headed the cross over the bar; Mackail-Smith would go on to win man of the match, but this is the only thing I can actually remember him doing all game.

Having prevented them taking the lead Rovers duly went up the other end and let even more air out of the Albion party balloons, by going in front themselves. Mason carried the ball forward, before hitting a shot from just outside the box; his effort was deflected but straight to Sharp who reacted quickly to turn it goal-wards and the ball squeezed beneath Ankergren and in off the post for a 1-0 Rovers’ lead. Sharp proving true to his tweeted word as to notch the Stadium’s first competitive goal, and Doncaster went in at half-time deservedly ahead and with Sharp’s name ringing round the concourse of the away end.

Unfortunately the next time Sharp’s name would be sung from the away end would be as he was carried off on a stretcher. With the ball played into his feet, Sharp was lunged at from behind by Dunk and the Brighton player’s studs made hefty contact with the ankle of the Rovers forward. A very poor challenge and one which looks set to leave Doncaster without the service of their star forward for some time. Depending on which source you choose to believe Sharp’s injury varies in seriousness, apparently S*y Sp**ts “understands” that he’s broken it in as many as three places. But then they’ve also understood Sean O’Driscoll to be Burnley manager so if I can’t trust them with facts, I’m not going to start trusting them with medical science any time soon. Whilst Sharp was down many Brighton fans let themselves down for the only time of the afternoon, booing a player who was clearly in pain. But as a counter balance there were the disappointingly predictable and cringeworthy homophobia based chants from a small group of the travelling support. If only they’d gone with my chant of “two piers, and you f***ed it up”.

Rovers brought on Giles Barnes for the departing Sharp, but the injury to the latter had clearly changed the Rovers as much psychologically as it had physically and Brighton enjoyed a protracted spell of possession as Rovers struggled to keep hold of the ball. Within this spell the Albion should have equalised as the ball broke free for Mackail-Smith in space, but with only Woods to beat he fired wide. Gradually Rovers did find their game again and begin to retain the ball once more, but Brighton were now forging the better chances, and Woods was called on to save a low shot across goal, before Dumbuya hooked away the loose ball.

With home momentum and support rising Albion finally found the equaliser with seven minutes of normal time remaining. A cross from the left was headed out of the Rovers area, but it fell to the feet of Will Buckley and he connected superbly on the half-volley striking the ball low and hard, through the legs of Naylor and beyond the grasp of Woods to level the score. At one all Rovers seemed to settle once again and carried the ball forward well once more; Coppinger feeding Gillett but his low shot from the edge of the area was comfortably saved by Ankergren. At the other end substitute Craig Noone tried his look from outside the box, but Woods was always behind it.

Just as it seemed Rovers might assert themselves back into the game, their luck not only ran out, but stayed out and took an overnight bag for good measure. Spurr’s cross from the left was nodded back across the Brighton penalty area by Naylor and both Hayter and Friend went for it, the ball flew into the away end and Hayter lay very still on the floor. Brighton’s shiny new stretcher got its second outing of the afternoon and Rovers, having made their third substitution just a minute before would play out the seven minutes injury time – the conservative figure added on for the injuries to Sharp and Hayter (it could have easily been double figures) – with just ten men.

The inevitable took just five of the seven to occur. Noone’s excellent through ball was taken in his stride by Buckley as he got in behind the Rovers’ defence and slotted the ball past Woods to win the game for a bouncing, joyful, flag-happy home crowd. Defeat is always disappointing, and sometimes getting beat really, really hurts, but today wasn’t one of those occasions. As we trudged out the ground I turned and looked back at the Brighton fans still celebrating and was in all honesty genuinely happy for them. Today meant everything for Albion and those who have watched them for the nomadic last fourteen years, and you didn’t need all the back story and the special edition flags and t-shirts to appreciate that, it was there in the clear and childlike excitement held by every Albion fan I spoke to pre-match. In their celebrations I saw the tears of joy of the old bloke sat behind me at the League One play-off final, felt the sweltering, heaving away terrace at Orient, and heard the echo of “Are you watching Richardson?” after Franny Tierney’s golden goal. We’ve crashed enough parties in the last ten years, Brighton’s fans deserved to enjoy this one.

So what for Rovers? Well, ten minutes from full-time I heard a fella on the row behind us say “if we can just hold on here, then its just another 37 points and we’re safe“. That will always be Rovers’ objective in the second tier, and this game taught us nothing we did not already know. When we have a full-strength team out, we’re a very strong side, indeed few other sides would have quelled the atmosphere of the Amex the way Rovers did first half. But, when we’re not at full-strength – and the injuries to Sharp and Hayter suggest we won’t now be so for some time – there is a concern that we look nervy and afraid. I still think Rovers will stay up, but how they react  psychologically to the absence of Sharp could well make the difference between whether I’m right or the Bookies are.

Man of the Match: New signing Tommy Spurr had a very solid game at left-back, but he’s just pipped for the award by the calm assured and down right gorgeous performance of captain George Friend. He’s so dreamy.

Brighton & Hove Albion line-up (4-4-2): Casper Ankergren; Inigo Calderon, Lewis Dunk, Gordon Greer, Marcus Painter; Kazenga LuaLua (Craig Noone), Liam Bridcutt, Matt Sparrow (Will Buckley), Gary Dicker; Ashley Barnes, Craig Mackail-Smith

subs not used: Peter Brezovan, Alan Navarro, Romain Vincelot

booked: Kaznega LuaLua (simulation…apparently), Lewis Dunk (making an enemy for life out of Billy Sharp)

Doncaster Rovers line-up (4-3-2-1): Gary Woods; Mustapha Dumbuya, Richard Naylor, George Friend, Tommy Spurr; John Oster, Simon Gillett, Ryan Mason (Kyle Bennett); Jamie Coppinger (Sam Hird), James Hayter; Billy Sharp (Giles Barnes)

subs not used: Neil Sullivan, Chris Brown

booked: Richard Naylor (poor challenge), Tommy Spurr (late challenge on LuaLua), John Oster (trip on Mackail-Smith)

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Discussion

15 thoughts on “Brighton & Hove Albion 2-1 Doncaster Rovers

  1. Wonderful post – very many thanks. I support Brighton but first and foremost am an exiled Celtic fan and with our history (of John Thompson) it’s just been hardwired into me that you do not jeer a player who looks to be injured but plenty of idiots near me did – and we have our share of homophobic fans too.
    Totally agree re CMS being awarded MOTM – great running around – I like the way he put Woods under pressure at pass backs and so on – but definitely did not make him work too hard in terms of goal threats. Genuinely mystified! Anyway I’ve bookmarked your blog and hope to read more. Good luck for rest of season and thanks again!

    Posted by ronniegordon | August 7, 2011, 9:02 pm
  2. Quality report mate. There were a couple of moments yesterday when I feared that the brilliant relationship between the two sets of fans was in danger.This report shows that fans united is still going strong.

    Posted by Chez | August 7, 2011, 9:07 pm
  3. Dare I venture, the perfect report. Scrupulously fair minded yet objective in all the right places. I can only apologise for some of my fellow Seagulls. I was mystified at the booing of Sharp’s exit. Many applauded from the home support but, frankly, many is too few. Any player being carried off on a stretcher should receive the applause of everybody in the ground. It’s simply the done thing.

    Thanks for your magnanimous approach to our victory. It was a special day for all of us. I spent large parts of the day all but entranced at the stadium. A home. A real home. Imagine that. I can honestly say that there is no other league club I would rather have seen visiting than Rovers. We owed you for your support in 97. Sadly, we owed you simply for being the one basket case worse than us in 98. It’s seriously gratifying to witness how you have stormed back from your own dark days.

    Now do the Championship a favour and defy the predictions. We want you up and staying up.

    All the best.

    Jim

    Posted by jim | August 7, 2011, 9:47 pm
  4. Glen, really enjoyed the review. As a Seagulls fan exiled in the Midlands, I rue missing the day that many a Brighton fan has waited a long time for. All Brighton fans who remember the last Goldstone game wanted Donny as our first opponent and it was great that it materialised for both sets of fans. Saw the game on tinternet and thought that maybe a draw would have been a fair result. All the best for the season and hope you it proves successful. Warwick Seagull

    Posted by Warwick Seagull | August 7, 2011, 9:54 pm
  5. Evening Glen

    as ever, I like reading your reports. I didn’t mind Albion winning yesterday either. About time they had some fun again. But I think you’re wrong about our MotM. John Oster! Worked his knackers off he did and he played some good passes too. And I didnt think much of Mackail-Smith either on the day. Good player, but his shooting yesterday was woeful.

    Worried about our future though now. If, as rumnour suggests, we’re boracic, then we’re going to find it hard I think now without Hayter and Sharp. Ballocks. Cos we did look really good until Billy got clobbered. Nasty tackle that too. But then, we did flatten LuaLua a few times too.

    Cheers

    BobG

    Posted by BobG | August 7, 2011, 10:05 pm
    • Thanks Bob, one of these days I’m actually going to see you at one of these games. Thought Oster had a good game as you say, but for me Friend just edged him.

      Posted by glen wilson | August 8, 2011, 11:33 am
  6. Great review

    There are some photos from the game and the away fans here

    http://www.albionalbum.co.uk/teams/doncaster/06_08_2011/index.shtml

    Posted by timco | August 7, 2011, 10:36 pm
  7. One of the best match reports I’ve ever read. But I don’t think anyone was booing Billy Sharp, we were just booing how long it took to get the stretcher on. I certainly applauded him when he went down the tunnel. Best of luck for the rest of the season.

    Posted by Paul H (notters) | August 7, 2011, 10:37 pm
    • I agree with Paul here. In the West stand where I was, the only booing was frustration at the length of time it took to get the stretcher out.

      Good luck for the rest for the season. And thanks to Doncaster for a great first match at the Amex.

      Posted by Marshy | August 8, 2011, 7:15 am
  8. Albion fan here – great report, really enjoyed it. Very fair I thought. Donny were by far the better side in the first half (admittedly assisted by a bottle-job of a ref) and easily deserved the lead at half time. Think the booing (certainly from where I was sitting anyway) was aimed at the ref – for taking so long to make a decision to bring a stretcher on and get Sharp off the field of play when he was clearly hurt. When he went off everyone was clapping, didn’t hear anything but concern for the lad from around me. It was a very crude challenge too, quite unlike Dunk who is not that old-fashioned reducer type of defender, but then Barnes was absolutely wiped out at knee height by Naylor in the first half too – think both sides were eager to make their impression, was quite a feisty game in patches!

    Delighted to get the win and as you say, it means so much – I really wish you guys the best this year (with the obvious exception of our return visit) – you play some great football and it’s fantastic to see our two club’s spirit of Fans United is still alive and well – we all love a bit of banter and giving some stick to the oppo support but it was just as enjoyable having a pint with a couple of Donny at Brighton station at lunchtime. Hope your injured guys make a speedy recovery and I look forward to sharing the May-time mid-table mediocrity I’m sure we’d both take now given the chance!

    Will keep an eye out for this blog, good luck for the season

    Posted by brightonrock | August 7, 2011, 10:40 pm
  9. Excellent – thanks. Spirit of football and al that……..

    Posted by GT49er | August 7, 2011, 11:50 pm
  10. Thank you for a good read and a balanced view. We have so much positive history between our two clubs and I really feared after reading some post match reports that this had been scarred so I am truly delighted to read this report.

    Yes there were some hefty and some poor tackles from both sides. Maybe it was a result of being a little ring-rusty and maybe it was the atmosphere but either side could have had a man sent off (Naylor for a knee-high studs-up “tackle” on Barnes and Dunk for mistaking Sharp’s heels for the ball) but both were clearly seen by the ref and seemingly only merited yellow. At least he could hardly have been accused of being a “homer”, just incompetent. But maybe he too was ring rusty and victim of the atmosphere. It was great to see the shot of the linesman walking out and just mouthing “wow” as he emerged from the tunnel.

    Donny were by far the better side first half and played some cracking football – struggle or not I would rather watch their version of the beautiful game than the likes of Watford and Portsmouth from last season.

    Second half Brighton were on top even before the departure of Sharp thanks to the simple tactic of doing what Poyet had always said they would and spreading the ball wide on a “Wembley-width” playing surface. Was the narrowness of the first half play deliberate to try to counter Rover’s passing game? Seems odd if it was and it certainly didn’t work but as the game progressed and possession increased the pressure built and Buckley’s daisy-cutter equaliser was like releasing a cork from a bottle and not just for the crowd. The players’ confidence clearly developed that extra bit of fizz and the winner started to feel inevitable if only there was sufficient time.

    The fact that we got so much added time was, I am convinced, the cause of Brighton fans’ booing displeasure. How long should it take for the stretcher teams to respond? Could Sharp, who initially got up from the challenge and appeared (wrongly in hindsight) capable of being helped to the sidelines, have hobbled off so the game could continue? It must have appeared so to fans of both sides who were keen for the contest to resume but booing was ill-advised to be sure. Hayter’s injury (was it a clash with Friend, also challenging for the ball, or as I first thought was it Calderon’s head that he kicked?) was no less crucial in adding the minutes that were to ultimately cost Doncaster. Maybe even more so as they went a man down.

    In the end a draw would have been the fairest result and left both sets of fans happy enough but football is rarely fair and the sadness is that Rovers fans might have left feeling cheated. I really hope not and I for one will be cheering them to stay in this league come the season’s end.

    Posted by Farside | August 8, 2011, 9:05 am
  11. Thanks for the kind comments regarding the report from those from Brighton, very much appreciated.

    In regard to the booing, I only really mentioned it fleetingly, but they must be impatient folk in Sussex if ALL were booing for the delay of the stretcher as the boos began before the physio had even reached him, but thats not something from the day I particularly want to dwell on.

    Looking at Naylor’s ‘challenge’ on the post match footage, it appeared to me he was sliding across the path of the player to block the ball (hence it hitting him on the arse), but unfortuantely the Albion player went over his boot. The key difference for me between the challenges of Naylor and Spurr with that of Dunk is that the former two, whilst they were admittedly poor, were from the side and across the face/path of the player. Dunk’s approach had no chance of getting the ball from the angle he went in at, and whilst he may not be a malicious player, he can’t have expected to connect with anything other than some part of Sharp coming in from behind.

    Still, for a game like this these were just small isolated moments.

    Posted by glen wilson | August 8, 2011, 11:42 am
  12. Teams are led by managers. Unfortunately the petulance of Brighton’s manager was evident in his team and it is clear that they were told to rattle Doncaster in the second half. Leave a foot in here and there, rake few studs, stamp and generally push it as far as you can.

    The result was one of attrition. Four Doncaster players were eliminated from the contest, two limping, two on stretchers.

    Down to ten men, outnumbered and with no cohesion remaining in midfield, no reliable outlet up front, Doncaster struggled manfully at the back with no way of easing the building momentum. Even 7 extra minutes was not enough for Brighton, the goal coming in the 98th and the ref still adding a further 2 minutes.

    Had they not scored the floodlights would have come on. Only a goal or an abandonment due to Doncaster going down to 7 players would have brought about a conclusion.

    There are suggestions that Doncaster were robust in the first half but one has to say that there wasn’t a single malicious tackle. Late, yes. Clumsy, perhaps. Enthusiastic, definitely. But all with the intention of winning the ball. As I say, teams reflect their managers’ nature. It is not in SOD’s to deliberately foul.

    Hoskins goals were superbly well taken and credit him for that. Brighton will do okay. Probably. They are not world beaters and from what I saw they will certainly not set the Championship alight. Fortunately they will not meet too many teams that will take the ball away from them and keep it on the ground so they will not have to resort to that level of thuggery very often.

    If they do then they will come unstuck.

    For an hour I felt warmed by the Doncaster approach and that they would have a comfortable season. Brighton were disappointing and failed to live up to their own billing. Moderate at best. Second best in fact.

    In light of subsequent events I envisage a long and torrid season ahead for Doncaster. Sickening injuries inflicted by so-called professionals are not easily waived away by a weak apology and a shrug of the shoulders.

    As for the Brighton supporters, so full of themselves like over-inflated balloons. I fear they will be pricked very soon. And not in that sense, missus.

    Or then again…

    Posted by Bob Roberts | August 12, 2011, 12:57 pm

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