The Joy of Six
In the film Taxi Driver, Travis Bickle sought redemption and achieved hero status through extreme and murderous violence…Ashley Barnes chose scoring goals as the means of restoring himself in the hearts and minds of Albion fans. Barnes was roundly booed by a small, but not insignificant, minority of Albion fans when his name was read out in the build up to kick off. The best part of two hours later he left the field to a chorus of cheers with two goals and a man of the match award to his name. The fact that the absence of Leo Ulloa, rested rather than dropped, from the line up went unnoticed speaks volumes for the shift Ashley put in.
Barnes had played the starring role in a record Amex win (the first time Albion had scored six in a league game in well over a decade) in front of another full house that secured a vital three points in the quest for a play-off berth and I hope that his detractors will find the due humility to applaud his contribution on a gloriously sunny afternoon.
Maybe it was this sunshine that warmed life into the Albion fans, unlike the previous two home games the nervy atmosphere at kick off was replaced by bellicose sabre rattling…we were here to be heard, to galvanise, to inject belief into the team and they responded with a dominant and skilful performance that left Blackpool beached and floundering from the start.
Blackpool have become a team difficult to break down under Paul Ince and they lined up with a clear intention of keeping things tight and hoping to catch Albion cold on the break. All such plans went up in smoke as early as the ninth minute when, after nice control and through ball from Barnes, Will Buckley angled in wide on the right and curled a sumptuous finish high into the corner of the net past the despairing dive of Gilks in the Tangerines goal. Albion are yet to lose a game this season after scoring the opening goal (only Forest in the Championship share this distinction) and confidence levels rose throughout the Albion side as Blackpool struggled to get any sort of foothold in the game. Wayne Bridge was enjoying the space afforded to him down the left and it was from his cross that Matthew Upson opened his Albion goals account with a bundled finish after the ball was headed back across goal by Inigo Calderon into his path. Two nil and Blackpool knew now that sitting back was no longer an option if they wanted anything from this game. Their more positive outlook mattered for nought though as the Seagulls sensing prey like hawks teased and toyed with their opponents and were rewarded with a goal of the season contender from Orlandi just before half-time. Orlandi played a one-two with David Lopez receiving the ball back from his countryman via an exquisite through the legs flicks and curling an 18 yard strike with the outside of that heavenly left foot low inside the far post. Gilks was once again left helpless by the clinical and artful nature of Albion’s finishing. What a shame that so many fans missed this great moment by opting to beat the half time pie and toilet queues rather than stay and see the half through to its conclusion. I just hope the pies were worth it!
It is common in football games for teams with such a commanding lead to ease off in the second half but not so on this afternoon. Barely had we retaken our seats for the second period when some fine interplay between Barnes and Calderon led to a thumping finish from David Lopez from the edge of the box. Any thoughts of an unlikely Blackpool comeback had been dissipated immediately and it was now only a matter of how many Albion might score in the remaining forty-five minutes or so. Three was the answer to that question although Dean Hammond will not be celebrating his divine comedy of a goal when he rose unchallenged to flash an unstoppable header past his own goalkeeper. It was scant consolation for Blackpool and although this goal did spark them into their best 10 minute spell of the match Albion continued to exploit the ever increasing gaps in the opposition half and Barnes took full advantage of the plentiful supply lines provided by Lua Lua and Orlandi to bag a brace of late goals that took Albion past the previous Amex best of five against Barnsley earlier this season. Those same people who had earlier decried his restoration to the side were now on their feet cheering with the rest of us. Barnes will continue to divide opinion among Albion fans but surely all agree that on his day he is a key member of the squad and offers something that none of our other attacking options quite do. It’s now up to Barnes to make yesterdays performance the norm rather than the rare exception and even his most vociferous of detractors will be forced to recant.
The only blemish on yesterday’s wonderful promenade was the enforced substitution of Tomasz Kuszczak after a fearful clash with Gary Taylor Fletcher shortly after Hammond’s faux pas. Both players were visibly knocked cold by the collision and neither was to see the match to its conclusion. Kuszczak was immediately replaced by Ankergren and Taylor Fletcher after five minutes of struggling on was replaced himself after only joining the fray at half time. I think the 4th official showed mercy on Blackpool by indicating a meagre three minutes of added time despite the long delay caused by the aforementioned incident and there being six substitutions during the second half. It’s a small matter but surely had we been pressing for a winner the number of added minutes should have been at least seven or Gus may well have exploded on the touchline!
Two games to go now…fingers crossed for a play-off securing victory at Elland Road, where we have a good recent record, next week. I do not want to have to beat a Wolves team that will almost certainly be fighting for their Championship lives on the final day…that said I think we will if we have too. The Seagulls are in rude health and no one will want to face us in the post season deciders.