#59: Brighton 0-2 Bournemouth 10/04/2015

#59 BRIGHTON 0-2 BOURNEMOUTH Championship
Friday 10th April 2015 Image result for

59BOU Titles

PRESENTER Simon Thomas GUEST Darren Anderton
COMMENTATORS Daniel Mann & Don Goodman REPORTER David Craig
7.45pm Kick Off; The Amex     7.30-10pm FL72 Live on Sky Sports 1

59BOU Ident 59BOU Sponsor 59BOU Intro

CONTEXT OF THE MATCH

Chris Hughton had been in charge of the Albion for three months by the time this televised clash at The Amex came around in early April. In that time he had made leaps in stabilising a hugely misfiring Brighton side. Hughton achieved six League victories, two more than Sami Hyypia did in the opening five months of the campaign.

On the back of the FA Cup Third Round win at Brentford in Hughton’s first match in charge, he followed it up with three points in the capital at Charlton the following Saturday. A first home win in six arrived when promotion chasing Ipswich were left empty handed towards the end of January. Form dipped after the televised Cup defeat at home to Arsenal, with two defeats and two draws, and the club found themselves back just one place above the Championship drop zone.

Back-to-back wins at The Amex with the first Saturday-Tuesday six points arrived as February drew to a close. Birmingham were edged by the odd goal in seven thanks to braces from Inigo Calderon and Joao Teixeira for a massive win. Three days later, Leeds were sent back to Yorkshire with their tails between their legs, losing two-nil to the Albion for the second time this season. This double celebration lifted Brighton to eighteenth, their highest position since September.

Defeat in a crunch game at the bottom at Bolton was swiftly forgotten with revenge over Derby, our conquerors in the Play Off Semis the year before. Two more vital points were picked up with draws at home to Wolves and away at Millwall in mid-November kept things ticking along. Then an absolutely vital win away at Blackburn thanks to a Matt Kilgallon own goal rocketed Brighton up to sixteenth ahead of the Easter period. More importantly, it put clear daylight between the club and the relegation zone with only a handful of matches to play.

Tonight’s visitors Bournemouth were enjoying one of their best ever seasons. They were firmly in the promotion picture having sat in the top four since October, following their record high eight-nil success at Birmingham. Now, they were going every step of the way with Norwich, Watford and Middlesbrough for the title. Bournemouth hadn’t lost since February, with just eight defeats all season. Between October and November, the Cherries went on an unbeaten sixteen match run – thirteen of which were victories. Eddie Howe was on the verge of guiding Bournemouth up to the Premier League for the very first time. The Sky cameras were in town to witness the next leg of their fantastic march from the bottom to the top. This was the one-hundredth League meeting between the two Meridian region clubs.

 

THE TEAMS

59BOU Brighton

A couple of new faces were brought in to the Albion during the January transfer window. The most notable addition was Israeli international midfielder Beram Kayal from Celtic. He spent four-and-a-half-years in Glasgow with mixed results. His debut got off to a cracker, winning Man of the Match and assisting one of the goals. But injury cost him three months of the season before it had barely got going. He went on to captain the Hoops for the occasional game, nabbed the League’s Player of the Month award for January 2011 and won the Premiership title in his first full season. But the following season was again blighted by injury, ankle ligaments ruling him out for the second half of the campaign. He lifted the SPL title a further three times before the move down South for an undisclosed fee.

Another addition to the line-up was Gambian winger Mustapha Carayol. He signed on loan from Middlesbrough at the end of March, making his first appearance in the disappointing defeat at Rotherham the following day. Tonight was his home debut. A ruptured ankle ligament a year earlier had kept him out of action and joined the Seagulls to gain match practice. Carayol joined ‘Boro in 2012 having previously been on the books of Torquay, Lincoln and Bristol Rovers. He was no stranger to Sussex, spending two-thirds of a season on loan at Crawley early in his career.

Alongside the new recruits in the midfield was the flair and excitement of Liverpool loanee Joao Teixeira, the club’s top scorer this season in the League with six. Dale Stephens was fully on the comeback trail having missed the first half of the campaign through injury sustained this time last year. Inigo Calderon continued to be deployed on the right wing, joining the attack as well as supporting fellow Spaniard Bruno behind him at full back. There was no Gordon Greer available so Greg Halford, on loan from Nottingham Forest, partnered one of our own, Lewis Dunk, at the heart of the defence.

Goals were still hard to come by and, having tried various options and combinations, a new face was being tried to see out the season. Leon Best transferred on loan to the Seagulls from the end of January. Himself a former Cherry, Best joined Brighton from Blackburn but also had a loan spell earlier in the year at Derby County. He was yet to score a goal for either us or Derby in almost thirty appearances. Whilst Darren Bent flourished on loan earlier on, Leon Best was really struggling. Options on the bench included goal scorer against Arsenal in the Cup, Chris O’Grady, and a man more used to coming off the bench this season than starting, Craig Mackail-Smith. Veteran Northern Irish defender Aaron Hughes was there if the back line needed shoring up.

59BOU Subs 59BOU Bournemouth

Championship Manager of the Month Eddie Howe was on the brink of guiding Bournemouth from the bottom Division in 2009/10 all the way up to the very top just five seasons later, with an eighteen-month break managing Burnley in the middle. He made one change from their Easter Monday win as Marc Pugh returned following an ankle knock. Pugh was amongst the scorers when Bournemouth won against Brighton in November. This was pretty much Howe’s strongest eleven. Only Yann Kermorgant didn’t begin the reverse fixture, but he did come off the bench to score the decisive penalty.

The heart of the defence was very much ‘made in Brighton’, with captain Tommy Elphick playing over a hundred-and-fifty League appearances for the Albion over a seven-year period after coming up through the youth system at his hometown club. Had it not been for injury in the final match of the League One title winning campaign of 2010/11, which sidelined him for the entirety of the following season, he could have been leading the Seagulls out now. Fellow centre-half Steve Cook too came up through the academy at Brighton, having been born in nearby Hastings. His first team career in Sussex was much less successful, beginning just seven matches for the Albion over a four-year period, four of which came in Cup competitions. After various loan spells with lower and non-League teams, he moved to Dean Court permanently in January 2012 for £150,000. Both Elphick and Cook played every match of this season.

They weren’t just solid at the back; Bournemouth were also the Division’s top scorers. Callum Wilson, in his first season at the club, scored in all three competitions totalling twenty to date. Strike partner Yann Kermorgant netted a further fifteen in his first full season on the South Coast. If they weren’t firing, options on the bench included Kenwyne Jones, signed a couple of weeks earlier on loan from Cardiff, and Brett Pitman, himself with fourteen goals to his name in League and Cup. Tonight’s referee was Mr Craig Pawson.

 

THE COVERAGE & PRESENTATION TEAM

59BOU Thomas 59BOU Anderton

Sky Sports’ Friday night presentation came on-air fifteen minutes before the usual 7.45pm kick off. Going under the FL72 branding and sponsored by Screwfix, Sky’s Football League programming used the same style graphics as the Premier League, but with a red background instead of a blue one. The theme tune was provided by Woodkid, with their track Run Boy Run. Number one FL72 host Simon Thomas anchored proceedings alongside his guest Darren Anderton. Thomas had been hosting Live League matches for Sky since for over five years, graduating from Sky Sports News and stepping up to be main host for 2011/12. Darren Anderton enjoyed success with Tottenham and England but was present tonight for his connection to Bournemouth, where he spent two seasons to see out his career. He was also the guest for the televised reverse fixture back in November, where he was alongside second choice host Natalie Sawyer.

59BOU Pitchside 59BOU Hughton split screen

Thomas and Anderton presented tonight’s build up from pitchside in front of the West Stand towards the South side of the stadium and were accompanied by the magnificent Championship trophy; the prize Bournemouth had firmly set their sights on. The Cherries were the main focus, understandably, what with them having probably their best ever season. They topped the table, a point above both Norwich in second and Watford in third. Middlesbrough came next, two points adrift. The most important point was it was all in their own hands now for Bournemouth. The pitchside team talked through their remarkable fightback from two-nil down at home to Birmingham on Easter Monday to turn it around with four goals. Reporter David Craig, a regular in the Championship this season and last, spoke with their manager Eddie Howe in the first portion of the show.

Brighton’s position was this; nine points clear of the relegation zone. The club sat in nineteenth ahead of this match, with Fulham and Rotherham below and Millwall, Wigan and Blackpool occupying the three danger positions at the foot. Blackpool were already down, that was confirmed. Wigan were eight points off safety with five games to play, Millwall fared slightly better – seven points behind Rotherham and with a game in hand over the rest of the bottom six. The Albion’s position was looking alright for now, but it was still all to play for especially as tough fixtures against teams vying for promotion were still to come.

After the pre-match advert break and with the teams waiting in the tunnel, we heard Chris Hughton’s thoughts in conversation with David Craig. Sky used the split-screen facility in order to show both, a feature of their FL72 coverage immediately before the kick off. Hughton was aware of Bournemouth’s attacking prowess but wanted his side to aim for similar; “We’ve gotta be a threat ourselves. We’ve been decent here, we’re on the back of a decent performance against Norwich. If you give away too much possession, you know they’re gonna hurt you.” Looking ahead beyond this season, he wanted the squad to use these final five matches to be positive, keep the gap between themselves and the relegation zone and make it a comfortable end rather than scrabbling around for points. As the teams emerged onto the field, it was time to hand up to the commentary pairing of Daniel Mann, second choice Football League voice, and Don Goodman, long serving analyst and ex-Wolves and Walsall forward.

59BOU Carayol 59BOU Studio

In the moments before the start, the commentary team picked out a couple of players to watch out for. For the Albion, Mustapha Carayol was fighting for a future as parent club Middlesbrough were unlikely to be offering him a new deal once it runs out in the summer. During the half time break, the presentation team moved up from pitchside to the usual studio box within the right side of the North Stand. Thankfully, the Championship trophy went with them as there was little else to talk about at the interval as neither side had mustered a shot on target! It was one of those halves. Having to talk over replays of a Brighton corner which nobody touched in the box spoke volumes.

As usual, after the full time whistle we heard some immediate reaction on the pitch from a couple of the key men speaking with reporter David Craig; tonight, Tommy Elphick and Man of the Match Yann Kermorgant from Bournemouth. The studio team moved back to their pitchside position for the ten minutes or so left of post-match analysis, where they were joined for the majority of it by winning manager Eddie Howe. He was rather disappointed with his side’s effort, perhaps credit to Brighton for neutralising their threats for such a long time. The trio reviewed the second half goals, with two very good finishes the difference. The season’s achievements were touched upon, with tonight’s goals taking Bournemouth’s tally to eighty-nine, overtaking their previous best in the old Division Three South back in 1956/57.

59BOU Match Stats 59BOU Coming Up

The match stats showed that Brighton created a few chances, more than their opponents, but just a solitary effort on target summed up the failures of the season. Bournemouth’s tally of two shots on target was “their joint lowest this season”, according to host Simon Thomas. Crucially though, they scored with both. When Eddie Howe was done playing the pundit role, we heard from his opposite number Chris Hughton, in conversation with reporter David Craig. Hughton said the result was “hard to take” given the performance up until the opening goal. “We’re playing a team that’s in great form, that are not top of the Division by coincidence. And I thought in most aspects of that seventy minutes I thought we were the better side. But that’s why they are where they are – because they’ve got that little bit of quality when it counts.” He acknowledged mistakes were made, both in not taking chances up front and errors leading to opportunities at the back. The areas for improvement over next season were obvious. One other result came from the evening, affecting the bottom of the table, as Fulham and Wigan drew. That kept Fulham below the Albion in the table, now just on goal difference, whilst Wigan leapfrogged Millwall into twenty-second, still seven points from safety. With just four matches remaining for Brighton, safety looked pretty secure if not yet mathematically. As the clock approached 10pm, it was time to say goodbye as another Live broadcast concluded.

 

STORY OF THE MATCH

59BOU Kick Off 59BOU Comms

The Championship title hunters kicked off tonight’s clash at The Amex, shooting towards the North Stand in the first half. Brighton had proved to be a more solid outfit under Chris Hughton than before and the game plan here was more than likely to be about cancelling Bournemouth’s threat above providing our own attacking impetus. Midfielder Dale Stephens set the early tempo with a crunching tackle six minutes in, lunging to win the loose ball against Matt Ritchie. Upon further inspection on the replay, he was fortunate to get away with it. His studs were showing, sliding through Ritchie to send the ball spinning elsewhere. Referee Craig Pawson was right on the spot just yards away with a perfect view and gave nothing, so the game continued but it was a dangerous challenge that really should have been punished with a yellow. Brighton didn’t allow their visitors to settle down in the opening exchanges, winning the ball back quickly and moving forward with more of a purpose than we had seen for patches this season.

The Albion pushed forward, earning a couple of corners. The presence of top scorer Lewis Dunk and six-foot defender Greg Halford were the target men from set pieces, but they couldn’t quite be found. Joao Teixeira had an opportunity when he created a couple of yards of space in the box, his strike firing just too high from a difficult angle. But this was exactly what the Seagulls supporters were crying out for, taking the game to their opponents. Co-commentator Don Goodman though summed up the situation when he said; “The only thing missing is that goal, really. For all of the good play and all of the good work they’ve done, Artur Boruc in the goal hasn’t had a save to make.” The key stat showed Brighton with more first half attempts but none of them on target. The sides went into the break goalless. A creditable, if not memorable, first forty-five for the Albion.

59BOU Kermorgant goal 59BOU Wilson goal

The second half began with a familiar pattern, as Brighton were urged forward by the supporters. Dale Stephens, in the thick of things once more, had a decent opportunity when the ball was won back just outside the Bournemouth box. Joao Teixeira tried to trick his way past the defence, they stood firm and the loose ball was latched onto by Stephens. His first-time shot flew just too high. A similar chance fell his way minutes later. This time on his weaker left with bodies charging him down. The result went the same way as before. Spells such as this needed to be capitalised on. Leon Best got the game’s first shot on target just before the hour mark, though in truth it was weaker than a backpass. The sort of effort from a man lacking in confidence and without a goal all season for two different clubs.

With around twenty minutes remaining, Bournemouth had their first shot on target. And what a shot, it provided the breakthrough to give the visitors the lead. Lewis Dunk’s late challenge gave Bournemouth a free kick twenty-five yards out, providing Dunk with his eleventh booking of the season. Co-commentator Goodman prophesised before the kick, “On a night where it hasn’t flowed for them, they are capable of the spectacular from situations like this.” Yann Kermorgant took the free kick with his right, as David Stockdale took two mini-steps to his left. That little movement was crucial as the goalkeeper was then committed one way before having to dive the other. Stockdale at full stretch couldn’t get there and the ball curled into the top right-hand corner of his net for a wonderful goal.

The result was sealed with ten minutes remaining as Bournemouth doubled their lead through Callum Wilson. Yann Kermorgant won the ball back in the middle of the park and played a terrific lobbed through ball from the centre circle towards Wilson just outside the box. He brought the ball down on the turn, managing to get behind his marker Greg Halford. Wilson tried to cut inside on his left by which time Halford was back in position. The striker patiently held it up, this time cutting the other way and skipping past his man. Before left back Joe Bennett could charge in the way, Wilson unleashed his strike past Stockdale and in for two-nil. Brighton had to make them wait for a long time, but two clinical finishes for Bournemouth’s only two shots on target in the match ensured the three points were heading back up along the Coast.

59BOU Top 59BOU Bottom

BRIGHTON 0 BOURNEMOUTH 2
Kermorgant, Wilson

59BOU Replay

PREVIOUS; #58 BRIGHTON 2-3 ARSENAL 25/01/2015

NEXT; #60 BRIGHTON 0-2 WATFORD 25/04/2015

#56: Bournemouth 3-2 Brighton 01/11/2014

#56 BOURNEMOUTH 3-2 BRIGHTON Championship
Saturday 1st November 2014 Image result for

56BOU Titles

PRESENTER Natalie Sawyer GUEST Darren Anderton
COMMENTATORS Gary Weaver & Don Goodman REPORTER Jonathan Oakes
5.15pm Kick Off; Goldsands Stadium, Bournemouth     5-7.30pm FL72 Live on Sky Sports 1

56BOU Ident 56BOU Sponsor 56BOU Intro

CONTEXT OF THE MATCH

It was all change at the Albion following the Play Off Semi Final defeat at Derby in May. Coach Oscar Garcia offered his resignation the same night, citing a lack of financial investment in both his transfer windows the key frustration, as well as offloading key started in Ashley Barnes and Liam Bridcutt in January. His dissatisfaction had been clear for a while. The club found itself in exactly the same situation for the second summer in a row.

On 6th June, former Liverpool and Finland defender Sami Hyypia was the surprise appointment as manager of the Albion on a three-year deal. He spent a decade in the Premier League at Anfield, where he made his name at the heart of the defence that won two FA Cups, two League Cups, the UEFA Cup, UEFA Super Cup and, of course, the Champions League in 2005. After Liverpool, he spent the final two years of his playing career with Bayer Leverkusen before retiring in 2011. He immediately moved into coaching, first as Finland’s assistant before returning to Leverkusen initially as caretaker. By May 2012 he was in charge of the first team along with Sascha Lewandowski and finished their first full campaign third in the Bundesliga, qualifying for the Champions League. He took sole charge for the 2013/14 season but was sacked in April after a slightly less successful year.

Upon his appointment at Brighton, Hyypia was all set to bring in former Liverpool and England assistant Sammy Lee as his number two. But, after agreeing to join, Lee u-turned at the last minute to join Southampton instead. Former Albion winger Nathan Jones was promoted from within, rising to first team coach from assistant head coach. Hyypia’s appointment was initially met with optimism.  He followed in similar paths to Poyet and Garcia, whereby he was a terrific player who achieved a lot in his career but was young and new to management in this country.

However, initial results certainly did not go well both on and off the field. Star striker Leo Ulloa couldn’t resist the Premier League lure, joining Leicester for £8million, whilst Will Buckley linked up with former boss Poyet at Sunderland. Spanish contingent Andrea Orlandi and David Lopez were released and Matt Upson joined Leicester for one final go at the top flight. On the field, back-to-back defeats kicked off the new season, at home to Sheffield Wednesday and away to Birmingham, without scoring a goal. Some respite came next with two wins, away at Leeds and against Bolton at The Amex.

But ahead of today’s clash with Bournemouth, victories seemed a world away as the club were on a ten game winless streak stretching back to August. Seven draws suggested a lack of clinical edge in finishing teams off and the Seagulls were sat precariously in twenty-first, just a place above the drop zone almost a third of the way into the new season. What a contrast to the previous two years; where the Premier League was in sight, now all of a sudden League One was a more realistic prospect.

Bournemouth, by contrast, were enjoying a tremendous start to the season, building on an impressive tenth place finish back in the Championship last season. Boss Eddie Howe was named October’s Manager of the Month, whilst striker Callum Wilson won the Player’s award. A one-hundred-percent record last month included an eight-nil demolition of Birmingham at St Andrew’s to catapult them into the Play Off places. Sky Sports cameras were present to see the latest battle between two South Coast teams, Live on a Saturday teatime.

 

THE TEAMS

56BOU Brighton

Just two players who started the last televised match back in May also began here; Dunk and Greer in an otherwise new-look Brighton. After departing manager Oscar Garcia’s complaint of a lack of transfer funds, incoming boss Sami Hyypia didn’t enjoy much shrift from the board over the summer either. A plethora of players were brought in before the window shut, but six were free transfers with a further three on loan. Money was spent, although undisclosed amounts, on goalkeeper David Stockdale and striker Chris O’Grady but both were absent from the squad here due to injury. In fact, there was somewhat of a goalkeeping crisis.

Last season’s ‘keepers Tomasz Kuszczak and Peter Brezovan were released over the summer, and with Stockdale out, this left only teenage rookie Christian Walton. He made his debut during the midweek two-nil defeat in the League Cup Fourth Round at Tottenham, a game in which he performed well, but it would have been unfair to rely on him during a turbulent time in the League campaign. Former Bolton and Wigan goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi was signed yesterday on an emergency loan and went straight into the starting XI for his solitary appearance.

In front of him was a new look back line, as left-back Joe Bennett joined on a season-long loan from Aston Villa and experienced Northern Irishman Aaron Hughes came in from QPR. They slotted in alongside captain Gordon Greer whilst academy graduate Lewis Dunk became a regular starter after two seasons as a bit-part player. Another Villa loanee, Gary Gardner, sat in midfield next to summer freebie Danny Holla, transferred in from his native Netherlands.

Hyypia called in a favour from his old side, as Liverpool loaned Portuguese attacking midfielder Joao Teixeira to gain first team football for the year. Two summer signings started up top; Sam Baldock moving from Bristol City and Adrian Colunga flying in from Spain’s Getafe. The bench was probably more familiar to fans from last season than the starters, with Craig Mackail-Smith, Kazenga LuaLua and Inigo Calderon providing an option.

56BOU Bournemouth 56BOU Subs

Eddie Howe named Championship Player of the Month Callum Wilson up top. Wilson joined after five years at Coventry for around £3million in July. He netted twice on the opening day win at Huddersfield, with Marc Pugh and Yann Kermorgant also on the scoresheet. Pugh started for our match whilst Kermorgant sat on the bench. Midfielder Andrew Surman moved from Norwich ahead of the season, whilst goalkeeper Artur Boruc was on a season’s loan from Southampton.

There was a distinctly Brighton flavour in the centre of defence; Tommy Elphick spent seven seasons at the Albion after graduating from the youth setup and joined Bournemouth in 2012 following injury forcing him low down the pecking order. Steve Cook made his Seagulls debut in the League Cup penalty shoot-out defeat of Manchester City in 2008 as a seventeen-year-old but only made a handful of appearances in the subsequent three years. He joined Bournemouth initially on loan in October 2011 before making it permanent three months later. Elsewhere, Matt Ritchie was impressing for the Cherries on the wing whilst fellow Scotsman Ryan Fraser was part of the team that gained promotion from League One in 2013. Refereeing tonight’s big match was little Keith Stroud.

 

PRESENTATION TEAM

56BOU Sawyer 56BOU Anderton

This evening’s coverage was hosted by Natalie Sawyer from the Goldsands Stadium, better known as Dean Court. Sawyer started out in production as Sky Sports in 2000, as a runner and graphics operator for Sky Sports News, before progressing on-screen to host on the channel. She became one of the faces of Sky’s coverage of Transfer Deadline Day alongside Jim White and all that yellow. As of the 2013/14 campaign, Sawyer began hosting Live League One and Two matches and became the secondary Football League presenter this season, behind Simon Thomas, combining this with her stints on Sky Sports News. Joining her in the studio was former England midfielder Darren Anderton. As well as thirty international caps and a World Cup finals goal, the majority of Anderton’s career was spent at Tottenham where he featured in the first dozen years of the Premiership. He started and ended his career playing for a team in the Meridian region, beginning at Portsmouth in 1990 before finishing at Bournemouth after three seasons in the Football League in 2008/09. He, perhaps unfairly, earned the nickname ‘sicknote’ for his apparent frequent injuries, though the records show he only ever made fewer than twenty appearances in a season on three occasions; coming in the mid-90s at Spurs. He represented England at both Euro ’96 and World Cup ’98 and since retirement worked as a studio pundit covering Euro 2012 for Canadian broadcaster TSN.

56BOU Studio

In the commentary box were Gary Weaver and Don Goodman. Weaver became more of a prominent voice on Sky’s Football League coverage from this season, having done just a handful of Live matches in the previous couple of years. One of these was Albion’s League One game during the promotion season away at Colchester, where a comical own goal took a little bit of gloss off the title. He was now essentially FL72 third choice, behind Bill Leslie and Daniel Mann. But with Leslie getting more Premier League opportunities, and 3D commentaries all but disappeared because Sky pulled the plug on this football project, the Football League provided Mann and Weaver increased Live match exposure. Co-commentator Don Goodman was one of Sky’s most experienced League analysts, having done the role since 2007. He tended to get the biggest Championship game of the weekend, with the likes of Andy Hinchcliffe and Garry Birtles picking up the rest. Completing the line-up was touchline reporter Jonathan Oakes. He was Sky’s main FL72 interviewer, having taken over from Patrick Davison two seasons ago. Oakes previously reported for Sky Sports News and the magazine programming.

 

THE COVERAGE

56BOU Hyypia arriving 56BOU Results

Sky Sports introduced a new set of idents for the 2014/15 season, with even more dramatic music than before! The theme was based around putting Sky Sports into the picture, as the logo was part masked by the slow-mo action. The Football League coverage was again sponsored by Screwfix for this season, and still going under the branding of ‘FL72’ for the seventy-two clubs in the three Divisions. We did get brand new titles for this year, soundtracked by Woodkid’s track Run Boy Run. The music had previously been used on Eurosport’s coverage of the 2012 London Olympics and more recently for the excellent closing montage to the BBC’s World Cup 2014 Final. The new sequence featured red and white rectangular panels flying around from all over the country towards a generic stadium where they’d build the FL72 logo. These red panels had clips of goals and celebrations on, whilst some of the white panels had club badges. It reached a crescendo in the revealing of the FL72 logo next to a giant Championship trophy, with either the word ‘Live’ or ‘Review’ underneath depending on if it was a match or magazine show.

Host Natalie Sawyer’s introduction VT focussed around Bournemouth, unsurprising given their excellent start and record win the previous week, playing on the ‘Bourne’ trilogy of films to end with ‘The Bournemouth Supremacy/Identity/Legacy’. There was a mention of the Albion’s struggles this season despite a Play Off place six months earlier. Sami Hyypia’s reign hadn’t begun well and Brighton were without a League win since the first month.

56BOU Form guide 56BOU Baldock

Coverage began fifteen minutes before the 5.15pm kick off, hosted by Sawyer with her guest Darren Anderton from a box in the corner of the stadium. With this being the late game, a rarity for Sky’s Football League during the current rights cycle as the regular slot was 12.15pm on Saturdays, the rest of the day’s results were known before kick-off. Brighton hadn’t moved from their precarious twenty-first placed spot, whilst Bournemouth had been bumped down to seventh but a win would see them into the top two on goal difference. The graphics were as last season, with one tiny tweak being the introduction of a red card on the scoreboard if a player got sent off; as first used in this country by ESPN five years earlier.

In the limited amount of pre-match time before the adverts, the studio pairing picked out a couple of key players; Callum Wilson for the Cherries with his nine goals from fourteen League games, and summer transfer Sam Baldock, yet to get off the mark for the Albion. The form guide comparison showed the huge contrast in recent weeks between the two sides.

56BOU Hyypia split screen 56BOU Analysis

After the ad break and with the teams waiting in the tunnel, reporter Jonathan Oakes spoke with both managers. Eddie Howe was in confident mood but was “under no illusions, Brighton are a very good team so we have to be at our best.” Sami Hyypia acknowledged his Brighton side were lacking in the final third, not turning chances to goals and needed immediate improvement on that. With everyone set, it was time for our commentators, Gary Weaver and Don Goodman, to take over for the match.

At half time, pundit Darren Anderton had some encouraging words to say about the Albion’s performance despite being behind. “They’ve actually looked to play very well, Brighton, even from the first minute. They’ve made the pitch big, passed the ball around really well, if anything they’re just not ruthless enough.” Upon reviewing the first half goals, Anderton had sympathy for Greer’s own goal to give Bournemouth the lead; there wasn’t much he could do about that due to the fantastic ball in. For Colunga’s equaliser, he praised the Brighton play as being “absolutely fantastic”, and Pugh restoring the home lead with “great technique.” But for the second half, he implored the Seagulls to continue how they’d been playing.

56BOU Elphick 56BOU Coming Up

Just before the adverts after the final whistle, reporter Jonathan Oakes got immediate reaction from ex-Albion and current Bournemouth captain Tommy Elphick, alongside the Man of the Match Simon Francis. Back in the studio, host Natalie Sawyer pointed out this was Bournemouth’s first win in front of the Sky cameras since 2003. And you thought our Live record wasn’t great! She and Anderton reviewed the five goals from the game during the closing seven or eight minutes of the programme. For the second Albion equaliser, Anderton gave Baldock credit for “a great first touch and then he just kept his head down, drilled it with his left foot, with the laces, giving the ‘keeper no chance. Great finish.”

For the winning goal, he agreed with the referee’s decision to award the penalty, whilst there was no chance of saving the spot kick when it was hit with such pace and accuracy. Jonathan Oakes spoke with the Bournemouth boss but no time to hear from Sami Hyypia before the programme came off-air at 7.30pm. Eddie Howe was disappointed with the performance and lack of control on the game but gave credit to Brighton for forcing that to be the case. Plaudits were all well and good, but it was wins that were needed if we were to avoid sleepwalking into League One.

 

STORY OF THE MATCH

56BOU Kick Off 56BOU Comms

A minute’s silence preceded the match, as with all fixtures across the weekend, for Remembrance. The home team got the game underway, kicking from right to left in the first half; both clubs wearing their traditional home kits. Brighton started on the front foot, dominating the ball and winning a dangerous free-kick position on the edge of the box. Gary Gardner’s low fizz took a touch of Elphick and nearly in the back of the net, flying just wide. Right-back Aaron Hughes dealt a blow to Brighton’s plans when he jumped, landed and twisted his ankle badly enough to force him off injured after just ten minutes and stretchered out of the ground; the current longest serving player, Inigo Calderon, took his place. It took Bournemouth a quarter of an hour to work a chance, with Ali Al-Habsi forced into a low save to keep Ritchie’s close range effort out well.

Bournemouth grew in confidence and nine minutes later had the lead. Co-commentator Don Goodman stated, “This is the first real concerted pressure that Brighton have come under here this evening. Got to stand firm.” As soon as he’d finished his sentence, Simon Francis delivered a fantastic cross from the right to bounce in between the Albion centre backs. Gordon Greer, six yards out aware of an attacker right behind him, couldn’t afford to allow the ball to go any further and tried to nod it behind for a corner. Unfortunately, it ended up flying into the corner of the net for an own goal.

56BOU Own Goal 56BOU Colunga goal

If things were looking down for Brighton, they didn’t show it as three minutes later they scored an equaliser. A defence-splitting through ball from the outside of Joao Teixeira’s right foot put Adrian Colunga in the clear. He latched onto the ball well, took a touch to the side of the onrushing Artur Boruc in goal and calmly slotted into the open goal to make it one-one. It was a terrific run from the striker and superb forward play to finish it off for his first Brighton League goal.

The game continued pretty evenly until the third goal eight minutes before the break. Marc Pugh would be credited with it, but they got a slice of luck through a deflection on the way in. A corner into a crowded box swirled up into the air. Brighton couldn’t clear the second ball either, with it bouncing to an unmarked Pugh fifteen yards out. He adjusted his body to side-volley the dropping ball very well. Lewis Dunk’s despairing lunge gave the ball further momentum as it slipped through the legs of Gary Gardner, past Al-Habsi and in.

56BOU Baldock goal 56BOU Penalty

Into the second half, Brighton again started well. Lewis Dunk went close to nabbing an equaliser when his header from a corner had to be saved very well down low to his right by Boruc. Dunk had four goals to his name this season already, proving what a threat he was from set pieces as Albion’s top scorer. At the hour mark, Brighton did score a second as Sam Baldock became the second player of the match to score his first League goal for the club. For a team that enjoyed playing the ball around, this was a much more direct approach. The ball was launched back in to the Bournemouth half by goalkeeper Al-Habsi. Gordon Greer flicked on and Baldock was all of a sudden bearing down on goal. The defensive offside trap did not work. Baldock’s first touch controlled a difficult, bobbling ball whilst his second with the left just drove it low and hard past Boruc for a terrific finish. A second leveller for the Seagulls sent the already buoyant travelling support, making terrific noise throughout, even more vocal as we entered the final third of the match.

A change saw LuaLua come on for Colunga, whilst Bournemouth brought on Yann Kermorgant and Ryan Fraser; both teams could smell a victory. LuaLua’s first action almost brought about a goal but certainly caused panic at the back. Having almost been clattered into through a clumsy fall from the defender, LuaLua fired the ball across the face of the goal which somehow managed to pass every player by. It ended up at the feet of Gary Gardner on the far side who blazed it high and wide. The arrival of Kermorgant improved Bournemouth’s attacking play, with everything going through the former Charlton and Leicester man. Hyypia’s attempt to wrestle back control saw Craig Mackail-Smith brought on for Sam Baldock.

But with a quarter of an hour left, Bournemouth were given the chance to take all three points when Lewis Dunk brought down Callum Wilson for a penalty kick. Dunk’s reaction showed he knew immediately that he did wrong, holding his head in his hands as Wilson went to ground. The tackle from behind got none of the ball and plenty of the man, unnecessarily sliding in when Wilson was only going towards the byline. Up stepped Yann Kermorgant who made no mistake to give Bournemouth the lead for a third time this evening, sending Al-Habsi the other way, finding the opposite corner for a great spot kick. No repeat of his dreadful chipped penalty miss for Leicester in the 2010 Play Offs to cost his side the shoot-out. Bournemouth stood firm in the closing stages and held on to the victory this time, the final score three-two. Albion’s winless run continued whilst the Cherries went from strength to strength.

56BOU Table top 56BOU Table bottom

BOURNEMOUTH 3 BRIGHTON 2
Greer (own goal), Pugh, Kermorgant Colunga, Baldock

56BOU Replay 56BOU Goal

PREVIOUS; #55 DERBY 4-1 BRIGHTON 11/05/2014

NEXT; #57 BRIGHTON 0-1 MILLWALL 12/12/2014

World Cup 2018: #4 England Review

“To take the second youngest team in the tournament and the least experienced team in the tournament and break through so many historical barriers has to be a brilliant achievement for the team.” [Gareth Southgate on ITV’s ‘World Cup: Summer of Love’, December 2018]

The year of 2018 will be remembered in England as one of the worst, most chaotic and confusing years the country had seen in a long, long time. Government ministers provided shambles after shambles with the ongoing Brexit saga. The nation was divided and at each other’s throats. Debate was disappearing, with people refusing to engage with anybody who disagreed with their opinion online. The football World Cup in the summer was being treated with fear, trepidation and a lack of enthusiasm the likes our team hasn’t seen for at least a decade.

Six months on from Russia 2018, it was that tournament which provided an all-too-brief respite from the horror back home. That team, led by that manager, were the beacons of light in a dark, dark time. Gareth Southgate, BBC Sports Personality Coach of the Year, had achieved the most difficult of tasks; getting the country to unite behind a common cause. Not only that but he also inspired people to believe in the England team again. To get behind them. To will them on. It was a wonderful time to be a football fan again. And this resulted in a semi final place and fourth overall at the World Cup; our best achievement since 1990. Imagine if we’d have won the bloody thing!

Southgate's World CupBBC Sports reporter Gabby Logan interviewed boss Gareth Southgate in December to reflect on the World Cup summer

 

Monday 18th June, 7pm. Volgograd. Group G; ENGLAND 2-1 Tunisia

The draw for the group stages had been kind to England; the beatable Tunisia and Panama in with tricky Belgium. The aim was always to get out of the group and realistically in 2nd place behind Belgium, who were many people’s tip for the whole thing. We wouldn’t play Belgium until last so it was quite conceivable that we’d qualify for the knockouts before that match, all we had to do was win the opening two games. This Monday night in Volgograd saw England face Tunisia for the first time since a 2-0 win in France 1998, coincidentally that was also the opening group match. England had an inexperienced squad led by an inexperienced international manager but expectations before the tournament were low. This was only going to be a benefit to them. The way they were open with the media in the build up to the tournament was impressive. It allowed the characters in the squad to shine through without a filter or another agenda. It was a masterstroke from the FA. By the time the opener kicked off England seemed ready and raring to go, demonstrated by the fantastic start made. Inside the opening eleven minutes England took the lead. An Ashley Young corner was thumped goalwards by the head of Harry Maguire. It crashed off the goalkeeper’s claw to land at the feet of poacher Harry Kane just three yards out to tap home. However the lead only lasted twenty minutes. Kyle Walker used his arm to shepherd an attacker out of the way from an in-swinging cross, which the referee decided was a foul. Sassi converted the penalty right into the corner despite Pickford’s best efforts and the game was level. England pushed and harried for a winner but it was just not there. We had to wait until stoppage time at the end of the match for the decisive action. Another corner, this time from Kieran Trippier, was floated in to Maguire. His knockdown fell at the back post to an unmarked Kane who expertly guided his header into the goal from five yards to snatch it. England had done it! “There’s no doubt scoring that late goal and being patient enough to do it I think was a big moment in the tournament for us,” Gareth Southgate told Gabby Logan during her retrospective review “Southgate’s World Cup” in December.

 

Sunday 24th June, 1pm. Nizhny Novgorod. Group G; ENGLAND 6-1 Panama

Again speaking to Gabby Logan for her review, Southgate explained the opening win “definitely meant that the atmosphere around the whole training camp and for our fans and everything else was more relaxed. You buy yourself another five days before the next game.” That next game being England’s biggest ever tournament victory. Set pieces continued to be a major part in England’s success. Another Ashley Young corner found an English head unmarked in the centre of the area, this time John Stones, to take an 8th minute lead. The lead was doubled through Harry Kane’s penalty after Jesse Lingard was shoved over. Kane’s kick absolutely flying into the top left corner, unstoppable. It was Lingard’s turn next after he played a neat one-two and unleashed a fabulous curling effort into the corner from outside the box. It was four in the 40th minute through a cleverly worked free-kick routine. Henderson flicked the ball up, it was headed across goal by Kane where Raheem Sterling was waiting. His header was saved by the goalkeeper but Stones was waiting to pounce on the rebound from less than two yards. And the scoring continued just before the half time whistle when another penalty was given, this time for practically an assault on Kane right in front of the referee whilst waiting for a cross to be delivered. Tunisia had got away with a few rough holds in the first match but Panama certainly would not here. Up stepped Kane to blast it the exact same way as his first to make it five-nil England. What an incredible first half of football. He got his hat-trick in the second half via a fortunate flick off his heel from a Ruben Loftus-Cheek effort, and in doing so became only the third ever Englishman to score three in a World Cup match – joining Sir Geoff Hurst and Gary Lineker. Panama did pull a consolation goal back with around twelve minutes remaining from Beloy, which gave their fans something to cheer about for the first time in tournament history, but the day was all about England and their march through the group. Suddenly the fans started to believe this year would be different. The squad was playing with freedom, scoring goals and creating chances. Banana skins were avoided, six points from six achieved and the top scorer in the Cup was one of our own. Gareth’s waistcoat attire quickly became elevated to iconic status levels, fans were singing his name, cheering his players and witnessing great things on and off the pitch. Yes it was “only” Tunisia and Panama. But in 2010 it was “only” Algeria, in 2014 “only” Uruguay and Costa Rica and 2016 “only” Iceland. And we didn’t win any of those matches. Whatever happened afterwards, this would always be a match and a performance to savour for the fans.

 

Saturday 7th July, 7pm. Kaliningrad. Group G; ENGLAND 0-1 Belgium

With objective one achieved, qualification to the knockout stages, the final group match against Belgium was a bit of a dead rubber as they’d also made it through. The only thing left to decide was which of the two would top the group. Usually that would mean a more favourable path in the next round however this tournament was all over the place in terms of upsets and the reality was that second place in this group would probably be a better route to take. Neither team would ever throw the match of course, but it was used as an opportunity to give game time to some of the personnel who so far had not featured and those players could look back and say they had played in a World Cup; all invaluable experience for next time. “We knew that actually one half of the draw looked stronger than the other. We knew that the most important game was the knockout game and we had the chance to keep the basis of what we saw as our first team, at that moment, fresh,” the boss outlined to Logan in December. The match itself was largely forgettable, with the pace being slightly slower than in the opening games, and neither team wanting to put too much at risk as they looked ahead to bigger things. Former Manchester United striker Adnan Januzaj got the only goal of the game six minutes into the second half. Consequently Belgium won the group whilst England were runners-up and not many people back home were too disappointed with that outcome. Belgium’s potential route to the Final would feature the possibilities of Japan next, then Mexico or Brazil in the quarter finals with France, Argentina, Portugal or Uruguay in the semis. By contrast, England’s 2nd place spot meant it would be Colombia next then either Switzerland or Sweden with potential semi final opponents being Spain, Croatia, Denmark or Russia. On paper you would definitely select the half of the draw England were now in, but it’s never as simple as that as Southgate pointed out once again to Gabby. “Whoever we played in the second round, frankly if we had an easier semi final, we hadn’t won a knockout game since 2006 so let’s not worry that far ahead. How do we give ourselves the best chance of winning the knockout game?” He wasn’t allowing himself to get too carried away, but for us fans we really believed now we could go far here.

 

Tuesday 3rd July, 7pm. Moscow. Last 16; ENGLAND 1-1 Colombia (AET, 4-3 on penalties)

With second place secured, the first knockout hurdle England had to face was in the shape of South American tricksters Colombia. We had previous with them. France 1998, group stages; England won 2-0 then thanks to Darren Anderton and David Beckham’s goals up against the likes of Carlos Valderrama. But they were a far better team now with household names all over Europe. It proved a tough match, both mentally and physically. Following on from the pushing and shoving against Panama and Tunisia, this too was a bruiser. It boiled over in the 57th minute when England were awarded a penalty after Harry Kane was bundled to the ground by Carlos Sanchez from a corner. It took around two minutes between the kick being awarded and Kane converting it due to various protestations from the Colombians, including scuffing up the penalty spot with their studs. But this was 2018 England, not 1998. We wouldn’t let that distract us. Harry Kane certainly wouldn’t and calmly slotted the ball home straight down the middle as the keeper dived to his right. The lead would last all the way until the third minute of stoppage time when a corner was swung in, with every other Colombian in the box including the goalkeeper, and Yerry Mina’s header bounced up and over Kieran Trippier on the goalline. Equaliser. And you just knew it would be the inevitable penalty shoot-out that would follow. It just had to be; for Gareth Southgate, for England, for the World Cup. The preparation had been done months in advance, players knew who would be taking the kicks and Jordan Pickford in goal knew where he needed to be diving to save them. The first five taken were all scored; Kane and Rashford for England, Falcao, Cuadrado and Muriel for Colombia. But up stepped Jordan Henderson who saw his shot saved, with England 3-2 down. We needed a hero. Pickford became that hero. Uribe hit the bar and the balance shifted back our way. Kieran Trippier scored in the top-left corner and we were all square again. Back came Jordan Pickford, who saved magnificently with a solid left-hand to deny Bacca and put England in the driving seat. Amazing! Eric Dier was next up and he made no mistake; low, hard and towards the left corner of the goal. England had won their first ever World Cup penalty shoot-out at the fourth attempt, managed by a man whose most infamous moment in international football thus far was missing a penalty in a shoot-out twenty-two years prior. Redemption. The tables had turned, the belief grew further. Whatever happened after this, that moment on that night had given us England fans so much joy, so much relief and so much belief.

 

Southgate conductingGareth Southgate emerged after concluding his various media duties to conduct the jubilant England fans in celebration following the Quarter Final win

 

Saturday 7th July, 3pm. Samara. Quarter Final; ENGLAND 2-0 Sweden

England had reached their first quarter final since 2006 and the Germany World Cup. That summer we played, and drew with, Sweden in the group stage. This summer we played them in the knockouts. The belief back home was definitely this would be ours to lose today, Sweden were OK but no more. Even Gareth Southgate was confident; “I knew if we played the way that we were capable then our system in particular would cause Sweden problems. So the 3-5-2 against their 4-4-2 gets us in pockets of space that really is a problem for them,” he later told Logan. The truth turned out to be exactly that. Nerves were settled after half an hour when our set piece dominance showed once more. Ashley Young’s corner was angled towards the big, powerful head of Harry Maguire (Slabhead to his mates) arriving on the penalty spot and flew into the net. Maguire was in the stands as an England fan with his mates just two years earlier at the Euros in France, now he was scoring in the World Cup quarter final, his first England goal. Raheem Sterling would go close and Jordan Pickford would have to produce some fantastic stops during the match but it was all settled just before the hour mark. Trippier pulled the ball back for Sterling to loop up into the area. Waiting at the back post unmarked was Dele Alli. He had beaten the offside trap enabling him to head straight through the Swedish goalie and double England’s advantage. Pickford again had to make some further outstanding stops but by this point there was never any doubt. The belief that was so lacking in previous years was there for all to see. There was only ever going to be an English win from that point onwards and so it proved. After the stress, the emotions, the exhaustion of the penalty shoot-out last midweek, this match was relatively plain sailing. England marched on to the World Cup semi finals four days later and the entire country was talking about it. Gareth Southgate’s waistcoat look had become iconic; he had a lookalike in the crowd, a song of his own sung by the fans and a National Waistcoat Day established to support the team. Every interview he gave, every match we played, we impressed so much, he impressed so much. The clichéd ‘zero to hero’ tagline was spot on for this case. He inspired his players, the fans, the nation, with his calm demeanour and classy attitude. The whole of England would be watching on Wednesday.

 

Wednesday 11th July, 7pm. Moscow. Semi Final; ENGLAND 1-1 Croatia (1-2 AET)

The big match was here. This was the side of the draw we wanted. The big teams were all falling by the wayside; Italy and Netherlands didn’t even make it, holders Germany eliminated in the groups, Spain and Argentina out in the next round, Euro champs Portugal too, Brazil, Belgium and France were on the other side of the draw meaning we were left with just Croatia to beat to reach our first World Cup Final since the boys of ’66. And it began oh so well. In the fifth minute, Kieran Trippier secured his place in the Team of the Tournament by scoring his first international goal with a wonderful free-kick from just outside the box which flew into the back of the net. Cue delirium both at home and in Moscow! His deliveries, his work rate, were all so impressive this summer. England were dominating the match and a golden chance fell to Harry Kane who was miraculously thwarted by the goalkeeper Subasic (and a combination with the post) not once but twice in the same move when it looked certain he would score. As the game went on, the pressure grew. The enormity of the situation perhaps began to dawn. Fans were nervous, players were anxious and, most importantly of all, Croatia began to get better. In the 68th minute they equalised. Vrsaljko’s cross from the far touchline was met by the outstretched boot of Ivan Perisic who nipped in ahead of the defence to stab home. He went on to hit the post as Croatia really pushed for the winner but it wasn’t to be and extra time would again be necessary. The experience showed, they got stronger as we got weaker. Modric, Perisic, Rakitic and Mandzukic showed off their ability. In the 109th minute of the match the fatal blow came. Kyle Walker’s half clearance only put the ball onto a Croatian head. That header went over the right back and suddenly Mario Mandzukic was in the clear out of nowhere, sharper than John Stones to the danger and able to fire towards goal past Pickford from just a few yards out. We couldn’t say it wasn’t coming, but when it did come it was so, so heartbreaking. For the first time in that tournament it looked like we didn’t believe any more. It wouldn’t be coming home. The players had given everything and more, they made us so proud. It was a joy to watch the England team at that tournament but it would be the semi final stage and no further.

 

Saturday 14th July, 3pm. Saint Petersburg. 3rd Place Play Off; ENGLAND 0-2 Belgium

The emotions were still very raw just three days on when England had to complete their tournament in the Third Place match. The country was of course disappointed not to be playing in that Final on Sunday, some genuinely believed “It’s coming home!” and all that. It was hard not to be upset by the semi final, going so, so close. There was a connection between the fans and players for the first time for years, even decades. We bought into this group, led by an impressively calm and sensible leader who said all the right things at the right times. So that bond amplified the feeling of disappointment not just for us but for them too. We were so proud of them, indeed are so proud of them, for their achievements and that will always stay with so many. Just like when we played Belgium three weeks earlier, this match had the strange feel of a friendly. Unlike that match though, where only five players across both teams had played their previous match, today the line ups were pretty much full strength. When England were last this far into a World Cup in 1990 we lost the Third Place Play Off to Italy in Bari. And it would be a similar outcome in 2018 against the Belgians, losing two-nil in Saint Petersburg. They took a fourth minute lead with a goal assisted by the Premier League; with Manchester United’s Lukaku passing for West Brom’s Chadli to provide the crucial cross into the penalty area. It was finished by Thomas Meunier who wasn’t picked up quick enough in front of goal by England’s Danny Rose. England came closest in the second half when Eric Dier was put through by Marcus Rashford but his chip over the onrushing ‘keeper didn’t quite have the legs to make it over the line and a covering defender cleared off the line. The bronze medal was sealed with eight minutes remaining Chelsea’s Eden Hazard was found by Manchester City’s Kevin de Bruyne to run in behind the England back line and sidefoot past Pickford for two-nil in typical fashion his fans are used to seeing. And that was that. Belgium recorded their best ever finish at a tournament whilst England had their best for 28 years. The impact on English football domestically that Italia ’90 had was enormous, the aim after this summer would now be to maintain the connection, the passion, the performance levels and everything that was so great about this England squad as we look ahead to future tournaments.

 

The feel good factor of the World Cup certainly continued in the months afterwards for England. The newly established UEFA Nations League, replacing international friendlies and providing competitive football to international matches outside of Qualifiers, helped the momentum. England were drawn in a tough group with Spain and Croatia but came out on top, advancing to the inaugural tournament finals to be played in June 2019. And the terrific atmosphere from the World Cup was present in those matches. Wembley was absolutely bouncing for the final Nations League group stage match against Croatia. The new version of the stadium had never heard anything like it at the highest level. England did the business again in the most incredible year for a long time. Gareth Southgate was universally praised and, more importantly, respected. Harry Kane was the World Cup golden boot winner, our first since Gary Lineker in 1986. The players enjoyed playing for their country. They bonded with their teammates, had the press and fans on their side and this youthful, exciting and engaging team were only just getting started.

I never quite thought I would see England in a semi final of a World Cup, certainly not so soon and absolutely not at this tournament. Everything done in the previous two years was with the mindset of doing well in the 2022 World Cup. Gareth’s reflections with Gabby were “of course an opportunity missed which would always be there. But also a large feeling of that’s maybe an experience we had to go through because normally teams that win – France lost a European Final at home, Germany had semi finals before they won their tournaments – it’s very unusual to come from 15th in the world where we were a few months before, to being a team that are ready for semi final, Final and winning a tournament.” Yet here we were in the semis four years ahead of schedule. After the disappointment of Brazil 2014, crashing out after just two group games, and the embarrassment two years later against Iceland, international football was so low down the English pecking order. It was seen as a nuisance when the international breaks came. A team full of overpaid underperformers in a soulless ground with no pride or passion. A lot of that thinking was eradicated in one glorious summer in Russia.

“Whether it’s the opportunity of a lifetime is up to this group of players and this group of staff,” Gareth Southgate told ITV’s ‘World Cup: Summer of Love’ documentary which aired in December 2018. He continued “To take the second youngest team in the tournament and the least experienced team in the tournament and break through so many historical barriers has to be a brilliant achievement for the team. What’s hit me since we’ve been back is that that’s probably been the most rewarding part. People felt they enjoyed the summer and there a reconnection with the team. For me that is a massive step for us moving forward.” And that sums it all up. It’s easy to overplay and overstate the importance of football to its community but when they get it right and it goes your way the effect is enormous. Gareth Southgate was rewarded for his efforts with an OBE in the New Year’s honours list. This summer changed perceptions of so many; the sceptical media, the club loyalists, the casual fan and even the anti-football brigade. They all saw something during the tournament in the summer from that young, united England team which will stay with so many people for a long, long time to come.

FansFans erupting in celebration in a show of unity behind this exciting England team