As the massive derby game against Crystal Palace loomed last Sunday, I think I could be forgiven for feeling a little pessimistic. We had just suffered back-to-back defeats, we only had one striker available, one of our best defenders was suspended, and we were facing one of the best strike forces in the Championship.
Frankly, as I woke up that morning, I could only see one outcome – Glenn Murray would score a first half triple hat-trick in front of the North Stand, Wilfried Zaha would destroy Marcos Painter down the wing, Kevin Phillips would come off the bench with a handful of minutes to go to score his customary brace, Leo Ulloa would get sent off and leave us with no recognised first team strikers at the club, we’d get deducted 50 points by the FA for crowd trouble, Gus Poyet would resign and take over at Reading, Tony Bloom would withdraw his investment, Michael Appleton would take over as manager, Crawley would do the double over us next season, and attendances at the Amex would drop to below 1,000.
OK, so I may have got a bit carried away, but it’s fair to say my confidence in the Albion was far from sky high as I approached the stadium. But wow, my pessimism wasn’t half misplaced!
We won 3-0! I’m going to say that again to make sure I’m not still dreaming – WE WON 3-0!!!!! Ulloa’s brace confirmed what many of us had suspected after his hat-trick against Huddersfield earlier this month – we have finally found a quality target man to replace Murray. David Lopez (Spanish Dave to his friends) showed us again why he played for many years in La Liga with an unstoppable free kick, and Tomasz Kuszczak produced a stunning save to prevent Matthew Upson scoring an own goal when the game was still goalless.
It was our first home victory over our biggest rivals in 25 years, and only the second victory at all in my lifetime. Aside from the buzz of beating our biggest rivals, it’s also a huge victory in the race for a play-off spot. After defeats at Bolton and Barnsley, there was a fear that our season would tail off just as it did 12 months ago. One victory later, everyone is suddenly full of belief that this year really could be the one.
If we are to achieve that though, Ulloa cannot do all the work up front. After injuries ruled out Craig Mackail-Smith and Will Hoskins for the season, we were already down to just two fit strikers. Then Ashley Barnes self destructed in astonishing style at Bolton to halve that already minuscule number. A player not being given a last minute penalty and reacting by deliberately tripping the referee is the sort of thing you expect to see in a Venezuelan fourth division game on Youtube, not in one of Europe’s most watched leagues, but trip him he did, and a seven match ban at such a crucial time of the season is crippling for the side. The ban means Barnes will have been suspended for 10 of our last 14 games by the time he returns against Blackpool on April 20th – hopefully the powers that be inside the club have taken a very dim view of this and have fined him accordingly.
Fining Barnes doesn’t solve our immediate striker crisis however. Poyet needs to act quickly to bring someone in, because if Ulloa gets injured, suspended or loses form, we are in deep trouble. I would like to think Gus has been making many a phone call about this very situation.
One situation I hope he hasn’t been making phone calls about though is the one at Reading. As I’ve been writing this blog today, Sky Sports News has said that Poyet has been given permission to speak to the Berkshire club, and odds as skinny as 1/10 have been reported on him becoming their new manager. Right now, I personally can’t see this happening – Reading will more than likely be playing in the Championship next season, and I believe he still has unfinished business with us (namely getting us promoted to the Premier League).
Nothing surprises me in football anymore though, and the move has the potential to shatter our play-off dream for this season. Could one part of my pre-Palace nightmare actually be coming true? If it does, Bloom could do a lot worse than to replace him with Nigel Adkins, a man who knows how to get out of this division at the right end.
Written by Liam Dawes – We Are Going Up’s Brighton and Hove Albion Blogger