After last week’s ultimate day drama, the Daggers diary team crave some more desperation and so head down to the Amex to watch Wolves’ last stand against Brighton & Hove Albion.
For some excellent pictures of the game head on over to Danny Last’s set here.
We must have a fatalism fetish at the moment, as last weekend, we were watching Dagenham survive on the last day of the League Two season despite losing at home to York City. This weekend, to mark the end of the Championship season, we’ve ventured down to the south coast, to watch Brighton take on Wolves. For the home team, just two years after leaving the Withdean (and beating the Daggers to gain promotion to the Championship), they are a few games from promotion to the Premier League. For the visitors, the prospect of a second consecutive relegation is looming ominously on the horizon.
When Dagenham Dan mentioned the idea of attending the game, I agreed almost immediately. After all, I haven’t been to the new stadium yet, and after Dan and Graham visited in March for the game against Crystal Palace, their reports about the place were glowing to say the least. Not normally being a person to turn down the chance to go to a game, I took up the offer of a ticket as soon as they asked.
In a way, I’ve been looking forward to this more than the Daggers games of late; at least I should be able to relax and enjoy this one, safe in the knowledge that the outcome won’t affect me. This is more than can be said for Neil, though. Our driver throughout our February trips to mainland Europe for our four game weekenders, Neil’s team have plummeted at an alarming rate in the last eighteen months. Top of the premier league after three games of 2011/12, they are now third from bottom and need a win today, plus results elsewhere to go their way to stay up. Last weekends home defeat to Burnley was met with a pitch invasion at the end, and if I am being completely honest, I can understand the frustration with it all, even if I am not completely comfortable with how it is expressed.
Saturday 4th May 2013, Brighton & Hove Albion v Wolverhampton Wanderers, Amex Community Stadium
An early kick off has meant an early start from home. With Graham being a bit of a Brighton fan in his spare time, this is a trip that he was always going to make, especially now that our season has finished. Attired in his home shirt, we set off to meet Dan and Aimee at West Ham for our train from London Bridge. While the three of us disappear off to the game, Aimee will be trawling through the shops of Brighton, before we all meet up for lunch afterwards, and possibly for a consolation drink for Neil.
At Three Bridges, we meet up with Neil, John and Jo, and continue our journey towards Brighton. Once we arrive at the main station, we walk around to the other train we have to take, which will get us to the stadium at Falmer. Arriving at the ground just as the drizzle starts, we join the queue for Dick’s bar, but as we get more and more damp, the queue doesn’t seem to diminish.
As we finally edge closer to the entrance, the dancers from the Brighton samba band emerge in costumes that aren’t quite suited to the weather. Luckily for us, we just get into the bar before the door is shut on those behind, meaning we get into the dry, while those not so fortunate get progressively wetter.
We aren’t in the bar too long, and soon are in our way out, to take our places in the stadium. Graham has travelled without a coat and is clearly feeling the cold as we spend ten minutes in the store while he weighs up whether to get another layer of clothing to wear. After wandering around, he eventually puts the item back, deciding that he would rather get cold than spend any time in the queue to pay, which is by now, stretching half way round the store.
This is my first visit to the stadium, and I have to say, it is impressive. The sloping roof at the other end of the stadium makes it difficult to judge if you have taken a picture straight or not, but that aside, it is quite nice. The quality of the surroundings isn’t the only thing to impress me though; the programme proudly announces that the clubs pie supplier won first, second and third at the recent British Pie Awards. The special for this game is the Chilli Pie, and it was fantastic. It’s always good to see a bit of variation in the selection offered by a club, but this was excellent. If they start providing this on a regular basis, I may have to attend more often.
The game starts and it is Wolves that threaten first; just three minutes have been played when Bakary Sako hits the base of the goalkeepers right hand post. This prompts the first burst of shouting from Tomasz Kuszczak at his defenders for allowing the chance. Brighton have one of the best defensive records in the division, and it suggests that Wolves might just live to regret missing.
Which they do, only two minutes later. Wolves lose possession midway inside their own half to Bridcutt, and the ball falls to Will Buckley. He passes to LuaLua, who still looks to have plenty to do. He skips past one tackle though, and curls a right footed shot past a diving De Vries and Brighton have scored with their first attack of the game. It’s a lovely strike, and I can already imagine the sinking feeling in the away end.
Wolves take ten minutes to create another chance, although not in the conventional sense. A corner from their right is taken by Sako, and his left footed in-swinging kick is clawed away by Kuszczak, dangerously close to the line. Dan reckons it has gone over the line, and is tempted to send a text to Neil and the others in the away end.
By half time, Brighton have scored again, and if the miracle is going to happen, then it’s going to have to happen in only forty five minutes. LuaLua scores again; a deep cross field ball from the right is only glanced into his path on the left hand side of the area. This time, he evades a fairly half hearted challenge, and shoots left footed beyond De Vries.
At half time, the considered opinion is that it is game over, and that Wolves are now nailed on for their second consecutive relegation. Sako is replaced at the interval by Stephen Hunt, and for a while, he looks to be one of the few in Wolves colours that is really trying to get something out of the game.
Ten minutes into the half, a cross into the Brighton penalty area is met by Matt Doherty. Four yards out, his header is downward and must surely go in. But it somehow bounces down and up, over the bar. Although I have only seen fifty five minutes of their season, I can guess from what others have told me that this sort of sums it all up for them. Hunt’s industry seems to dim slightly after this, perhaps aware that, if that kind of chance isn’t going to go into the net, then nothing will.
Results elsewhere are not affecting the game here. Brighton are firmly ensconced in fourth place, and the only need to find out what is going on elsewhere is to find out who they will face in the play offs. The news that Palace are losing at home to Peterborough is met with unashamed delight, and as the substitutions start to interrupt the game more and more, the flow has gone. Brighton are more than comfortable where they are, and Wolves just look totally beaten.
A stadium record attendance of 30,003 is announced, and this brings a round of applause from the home fans, although I am a bit more worried about how long it is going to take us to get to onto a train if there are that many here. The wave makes an appearance as the game starts to peter out, and clearly buoyed by the attendance figure, it’s moving at a rate of knots around the ground. As if to confirm the good atmosphere between the two sets of fans, the Wolves fans chant to their players that they not fit to wear the shirt, while Brighton back them up, by chanting that they have let their fans down. This goes on for a few minutes, and towards the end, Jamie O’Hara is the recipient of further opinion, with the visiting support chanting that they would rather have ten players. Later on, Neil explained that the player had given the v-sign to the fans, which prompted the response. It all looks to be getting a bit fruity at the other end of the stadium; a line of yellow clad stewards is soon reinforced by members of the local constabulary, and for a while, they remain standing. Eventually they crouch down, allowing the visiting fans to see the last few minutes of the season.
As the players leave the pitch after the final whistle, we leave the stadium, pausing to watch a minute of the Watford v Leeds game on the screens, which has somehow got about ten minutes left to go. Results elsewhere mean that Brighton will play Palace in the play offs, an outcome that has Graham already drooling and wondering if he can get a ticket. My fears about the trains are unfounded, and after a short wait, we are allowed onto the platform, and as we pass under a footbridge, several hoods go up. It has stopped raining, so it can’t be because of that. Then we spot a police officer with a video camera, and determine that this must be the reason.
Sitting in the pub in the afternoon, Neil and John get many consoling words from Brighton fans as they ask what went wrong and their thoughts on what should happen next. Neil had pointed out on the train into Brighton that they have had a week to get used to the idea of being relegated; it still hurts, but they will be back. Whether it is with the same group of players however will remain to be seen.
As for Brighton, they move into the play offs without having to exert themselves too much in this one. They look quite good, and the team finishing in the top of the play off section of the table (in this case, Watford) don’t always do themselves justice in the post-season games. If they can overcome Palace in what should two very good games, then the Premier League may just be on its way to Brighton next season.