Nationwide Division One, 05/10/02, 3pm
Brighton and Hove Albion
By Martin Blanc
What is it with forecasts? What is their purpose? So we can be disappointed? So we can be prepared? So we have someone to be angry with? So we have something to distract us from thinking about the present? Why can't we just live in the moment, taking everything as it comes, and if someone makes a prediction, then fine, we just absorb it along with a bunch of other information, and carry on regardless? We have to back ourselves more, but that takes effort, that takes education and awareness and other things most people can't be bothered with. Far simpler to rely on somebody else's opinion because if somebody else said it, or - even worse - wrote it, then it must be based on something real that we just somehow didn't know about....
When the Fatboys' supporters (I've tried other nicknames - the Slims, the Normans, the ZoŽs, the Remixers - but Fatboys just feels most apt to replace Seagulls) responded to our chant of "Going down, going down, going down" with a chorus of "Going bust, going bust, going bust", I felt my blood rise to fight-level for the first time in the past two weeks. The feelings of resignation swiftly followed by resolve that greeted our financial announcements of the past fortnight were gone, and I became angry for this club, and no longer angry at it. I wasn't prepared to take anyone else's word for it, least of all a beered-up posse of seaside hooligans (with due respect to ig who actually has to live down there). Their side had given no indication of bringing anything useful to the party, and it was just our bad timing and bad luck which combined to keep the score at 0-0 for so long, and then 1-0 for the rest of the game.
Allan Nielsen didn't start out like he was going to win "Man of the Match". He toe-poked the ball wide from six yards after five minutes of aggressive, intelligent Hornets play. He laid off a better pass to the on-rushing Brighton forward than Bobby Zamora could have dreamed about. His every touch went to the opposition. But then he worked harder, was persistently onto the Fatboys, and when he chanced his boot from thirty yards, the result was a goalkeeping fumble of Third Division standard and Heidar heading in the loose ball. Relief all round, but the second half didn't bring the increase we'd almost dared to expect. Danny Webber had an intermittent afternoon, most of his ball control tricks either not working out or being read adequately by the ugly but effective Brighton defence. His one chance that was created by someone else, a devastating ball through the middle which left him clear, the Fatboys' keeper made amends for his earlier cock-up with a good save. And even as Ray Lewington was yelling at Ardley, Robbo and in particular the supremely effective Glass to get the ball into the box at every midfield opportunity, still there was no ball in the back of the net, despite good efforts from Helguson, the dynamic Hyde, and Glass from distance. He was only on for an injured Gayle, but it was clear culture had replaced vulture, and we saw a performance that should certainly get him into the starting line-up against Grimsby. Gayle was doing great at the back - when he remembered he was playing at the back - but Robbo's increased awareness and adaptability should surely make space for a genuine class winger.
Dare I suggest another change? It won't happen, as the man in question has played about six minutes of the last two games, and nothing before. In fact, it seemed like time stood still when Johnno made his way onto the pitch. Where were we all the last time he played anything like a whole game? Share a memory? Old Trafford? Here against Wimbledon, first day of the Premiership? Those two popped into my mind, and on backwards, it felt, through most of my twenties, when he patrolled and marshalled the team, the club, our destiny. I was young, free and single again, just watching him running around. Weird. But in the next five minutes he touched the opposition more than he touched the ball. One shove in particular started a multi-vehicle ruckus the normally Napoleonic Mr Durkin would have waved his cards around to 'sort out'. Amazingly, none came out and we held out to the final whistle, with a great save from Chamberlain keeping out Zamora from six yards, and another last-minute Fatboys free-kick sailing high.
So we're seventh, and we'd be fifth if we didn't tend to waste all too rare plus-five goal advantages at the end of games. But if we keep winning, that'll do. Will we keep winning? No predictions, no forecasts. Just an optimism that we'll still be around to attempt to keep winning.