Sunday, 18 February 2018

My Forty-Ninth 17/18 Game - Brighton and Hove Albion vs Coventry City

The day finally arrived, at a time when all we needed was a big league game to save our season we were dealt with the hand of our Fifth Round FA Cup tie away to Brighton, but that's football I guess? So off 5,000 of us headed to the south coast on a surprisingly beautiful February day. There was no repeat of the Tuesday night fiasco on the coach given we were in Lewes before 11. It's a nice town, if you're middle class and in your sixties, the look on the residents' faces when about 300 Cov fans searched far and wide for a Wetherspoons was nothing short of horrified.


In the end after looking pretty much everywhere we realised there was absolutely nothing there, so headed into Brighton itself, and as soon as that decision was made we knew it was a mistake not doing a full weekend there. Who knew Brighton was so nice? You'd assume it'd be another one of those ever so slightly depressing seaside resorts like Southend or Blackpool, but it's actually a great place to be. Right up there with Lincoln as a surprisingly great place for an away day, but maybe that was because of the occasion and that the sun was shining.


Soon later we managed to locate the rest of the City fans who'd found their way back to the coast, and by coast, I mean literal coast. Everyone was at a pub right on the sea front, all singing, not caring about the poor league form, just more interested in having a great day. Which half the locals were very curious to see, taking videos of something which likely doesn't happen too often, the other half not so much, as they liked their home and didn't particularly want it caked in blue flare. Still, you win some you lose some.

With about an hour until kick off the walk to the train station ensued, for some reason there was about 500 of us by the end, people just kept seeming to join in with Sky Blue tops emerging from the back streets. Locals still looking on in disbelief as I saw the last of the sea for likely another 4 years given how bloody far away it is. Flare going off, onto my face and in my drink, you can't help but think this is the peak of the season. Technically we're not out of the cup yet, and chances of promotion are still alive just about. In about 4 hours you're thinking that may be it and it's all downhill from there. At that exact moment it's as good as it's going to get. As a quick side note, flat Carling is poor at the best of times, and I'm not sure what it is the substance in smoke grenades is, but they do not mix well my god.



The quick train journey back to Falmer was equally as good. Transport Police and security were very friendly and considerate, even when we were all shouting at each other whether they'd hidden their flare or not as a joke, or if they were still banned from Northampton last season. Then 2pm rolled around and the team was shouted out from across the carriage with everyone eager eared if there is such a thing. But that's just me getting side tracked.

Coventry City Starting XI:

Burge

Grimmer
Willis
Hyam
Haynes

Barrett
Bayliss
Kelly
Shipley

McNulty
Clarke-Harris

Coventry City Substitutes:

O'Brien
Di. Kelly-Evans
McDonald
Stokes
Vincenti
Ponticelli
Biamou

As much as I wanted Clarke-Harris to get a start and show what he's made of, and this was almost certainly the right time to do it, you can't help but feel for Biamou can you? He goes out and bags the winner against MK in the last round and gets dropped. Poor lad. Grimmer was obviously deemed fit to play in what is an absolutely massive boost for us, the same can't be said for Doyler who I'm sure was begging the physio to play. Still, you'd rather he was back ready for the more important Mansfeld game next week.

Even pre-match the scenes were brilliant, beer flying everywhere, another flare set off (seriously, how do we get them in?) and a *little* scuffle between fans and stewards. I won't share my opinions because I'm not sure whatever I say is the correct answer, I was just there to have a laugh and a bit of a sing song, plus I'd be awful in a fight, so I awkwardly stepped aside as the carnage ensued, eventually making my way upstairs only to realise kick off was delayed for 15 minutes.

First Half

By the time everyone had stumbled in and located their seat which probably wasn't theirs, the teams were out and there were balloons and rolls of blue toilet roll flying everywhere. Surely we couldn't, could we? Well, no. From the word go they were showing that they were in fact a Premier League side, nothing like Stoke, they could actually do some proper footballs. Just five minutes in a corner was whipped to the edge of the box and nodded down, Brighton's record signing Jurgen Locadia beat Lee Burge to the ball and left him stranded as he shot past, but thankfully, the post came to our rescue.


To be fair to us though, we were holding our own against a blatantly better team, Shipley had a corner of his own where he picked out Jonson Clarke-Harris who rose like a salmon to meet the ball. It was gliding through the air, Krul dove and missed, leaving us thinking, "Surely bloody not", everyone is there ready to jump on people they don't know until we see it crash off the underside of the bar and out. Sometimes in football you just need a bit of luck, had that gone in who knows what could have been...

The Seagulls saw this and realised they needed to actually look at us seriously and not coast it, which is exactly what they did. Anthony Knockaert found himself in space on the right and put in a weak cross into the box, Haynes really should have done better as he appeared to jump over the ball and with Locadia losing Willis and Hyam he really should have done better. Instead he had a free attempt on goal and Albion didn't spend £14m on him to miss a chance like that. 1-0.

I'd have liked us to keep the dream alive for a bit longer than a whole 15 minutes, less than 2 minutes after we were literal millimetres from doing it ourselves made the goal all the more crushing. Then, must like every season for the past 16 years, the wheels began to fall off. Our chances were rarities, and even then the best we could do was slaughtering one from long range. Saying that Josh Barrett was like a yard away from scoring the goal of his career when he teed himself up for a 30 yard volley but he missed by about a foot.

Still though, we were really struggling to deal with their crosses into the box, on a few occasions throughout the match they were inches away from meeting them. It wasn't surprising in the slightest when Willis was lost by Conor Goldson whilst both on a corner, in an easy motion he headed straight into the top corner. We were quite shell shocked but thankfully the team of European stars and Leicester rejects had mercy on us by the end.

Half Time - Brighton and Hove Albion 2-0 Coventry City


Second Half

To keep Grimmer fit, as he was more than likely rushed back to play today, we took him off before an hour was played, with Rod McDonald coming on. Personally I'd have chucked on Biamou, we're almost certainly going out, so we could just sit back and launch it at him and JCH. As defensive moves sometimes do, it unsettled the back four and we conceded a third not long later. Yet again a free header was allowed and Ulloa found the top corner from around the penalty spot. 3-0, and I'm afraid to say it, game over.

With the game pretty much gone you could argue we took the upper hand from here onwards, immediately after the goal we got as close as it's possible to get. Bayliss came out of a 50/50 with the ball and played it into the six yard box on the byline, Clarke-Harris met it with the faintest of touches to suit the tight angle but for the second time this match, hit the woodwork when it trickled onto the post.

By this point we were just throwing players on to give them the experience of this stage of the cup, Marc McNulty came off for Jordan Ponticelli, our top goalscorer in the competition with a whole two now that you mention it. I don't know how that's happened either. We were starting to just launch balls forward, and fantastically, it worked. A big long kick from Burge was poorly headed away to Clarke-Harris, out of pure frustration given how unlucky he'd been he just pinged it on the volley and what do you know, bottom corner.

Now this was a consolation, plain and simple, but we were all just so happy we got one that we over exaggerated massively. A final flare was thrown on the pitch, just to sign off our legacy of the run. We were still going for it though, there was a goal mouth scramble late on which easily could have ensued squeaky bum time. It wasn't to be though, our great run came to an end with a 3-1 loss to a Premier League side.


Full Time - Brighton and Hove Albion 3-1 Coventry City

Yes we went out and lost fairly comfortably, but we weren't embarrassed, we took the game to them and on another day we, and in particular Jonson Clarke-Harris, could have had a few. Had his header gone in to put us 1-0 up then who knows what might have happened? Either way I'm still immensely proud of what we've achieved this season in the cup. I love a run like this and hopefully we can do it again next year. I'll keep some of these memories for life.

My Man of the Match - Jonson Clarke-Harris - On his first start back at City, he was outstanding, on another day he'd have had a hat trick and we'd be travelling to Old Trafford in a months time. Mark Robins now has a serious conundrum of who to start over him and Biamou at Mansfield, but after yesterday you'd have to say JCH deserves it more. I just hope for the love god we can carry all of this into the league because Mansfield and Wycombe literally are make or break.

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