The Amex Stadium 20.07.20

Attendance: some journos, some backroom staff, Kieron Dyer, a bird of prey

So that’s it then. The final away game of the weirdest season in living memory. A season in which 43 points makes you a ‘fantastic’ manager of the year contender, one where United have done incredibly well to be so close to an excellent side like Southampton, one where United started with six centre-halves yet went into this game with two full backs playing as centre backs and the season where an away game isn’t really an away game because, yi kna? Worldwide pandemic and that.

Brighton has been an excellent away trip for the last three seasons as, regardless of the result, it is a cracking place for a day out pre- and post-match. However, I believe I may well be one amongst many here but my feeling as this match approached was…well, a feeling of nothingness. What is it called when you go beyond apathy? Of course, out of blind stupidity I switched on to watch (or endure as one of the TF lot put it pre-game).

Lo and behold, just before kick-off we were told by Kieron Dyer that we basically thought what the previous manager achieved was worthy of beatification whereas actually Steve has done way better in much more difficult circumstances and we are more or less stupid if we cannot see that. Kieron also said we are on for our best points total ever.

To add to Kieron’s fact-based opinion, the commentator stated that with Steve Bruce in charge we have ‘surpassed expectations’. Aye, expectations were so low that the mere fact we have surpassed them by finishing at best in 13th position is to be celebrated as an achievement. Pass the Courvoisier. Or the Kestrel Super.

United looked ok during the first ten minutes with Manquillo having a couple of opportunities to put the ball in the box. Nothing came of it though and Brighton gradually began to take control of the ball, passing it around all nice and tidy without offering much in the way of clear cut chances apart from a snapshot (I think…my concentration levels fluctuated) that Dubravka saved well. Shout out to the Slovak stopper for the baseball cap he wore in the second-half which gave him a kind of 80s trucker in Louisiana vibe. Lovely stuff.

Despite the Seagull’s domination of possession it was United who ended the half in the ascendancy. By that I mean we had a couple of corners and Gayle was unlucky with a header. The half-time whistle blew on the longest five minutes of injury-time at the end of one of the flattest halves of football I have ever witnessed in my life and, rather than sit in for the half-time highlights and existential-crisis inducing analysis from Souness and Dyer, I went and watered the plants in my garden. I have since heard that a fair heft of the half-time coverage was given over to discussing the nesting habits of a peregrine falcon.

The second half was equally as entertaining as the first. By that I mean at one point I started thinking about going into a neighbour’s garden to water their plants. Almirón had an effort five minutes in that Ryan saved comfortably, Ritchie hit one wide and Carroll and Joelinton came on for Gayle and ASM. That is to say two players who threaten the opposition’s goal on occasion were taken off for two who normally do not. Another player capable of threatening the opposition is Miguel Almirón who looked lost in a position in a formation he should never, ever play in. To be fair, Carroll did miss with the goal gaping towards the end of the match and put himself about. One incident where he almost removed Webster’s shoulder from its socket was fun to watch. Joelinton was physically on the pitch as far as I am aware.

The game, much like United’s season since the 4-1 victory over Bournemouth, fizzled out. Brighton had the point to keep them mathematically safe and Bruce’s boys ended a run of three straight defeats. It is interesting that although we have finished above Brighton this season I would still imagine that their fans are feeling more optimistic than many of us. Although both clubs are more or less finishing in the same positions and with the same points totals as last season their trajectories feel like they are heading in different directions.

I like Potter even if he does give the impression of being a man who coaches tennis to trust fund kids and wealthy middle-aged housewives in a non-descript southern shire. He cut his teeth abroad in Sweden where he did some fairly spectacular work. At Swansea last season he performed a minor miracle steadying a quickly sinking ship and at Brighton he seems to have managed to quickly turnaround the style and identity of the team. They might have struggled at times but you get the impression they are heading in the right direction. They have some good young players coming through, an ambitious owner who had backed his Club on and off the pitch and they have a sense of knowing what they are doing.

United, on the other hand, have no ambition other than survive in the Premier League. Do not move forward. Try not to move back. Stay where you are right now if you can. That will do nicely. Anyway, the fact I have spent two hundred words talking about Brighton probably indicates how this match was. Dull, lacking in spark and quality and littered with confusing decisions. Does that sound familiar?

Norman Riley