Tuesday was a strange night from the off. People voted with their feet, confirming, if it were ever needed the terminal decline of knock-out cup football. Brighton fielded a second string, even Michael Appleton, not one to rotate his squad, rested Chris Maguire and Alex MacDonald. It seemed nobody was that interested in the game, god help the EFL Trophy game against Exeter next week.
The weather meant that those who did come were dressed like they were attending a family bar-b-que. The soporific atmosphere meant that we started the game half-asleep. Sam Long seemed to have completely missed that the game had started despite significant evidence to the contrary. That evidence being the ball in the back of our net.
The score should have been embarrassing a long way before Thomas put us level, but by that point we’d pulled ourselves out of our stupor and were looking increasingly comfortable, even threatening.
It was the tortoise and hare, while we accelerated slowly, Brighton started fast and plateaued. I was thinking that somehow we might actually nick it, which would have been the oddest giant killing in history. Roberts and Rothwell, who for 25 minutes I assumed was Crowley, looked lost in the first five minutes, but grew into it. Had there been a decent crowd, and a solid back-four, a surprise might have been on the cards.
The back-four is clearly the problem. Long and Ruffels had a torrid time, you can almost sense that Skarz, loyal to a fault, dreams of being back at full-back like a homesick boy scout. Dunkley can’t hold all that together for 90 minutes against a team of Brighton’s quality.
After the initial shock, we matched them for a good seventy minutes. Roberts got cramp, perhaps the first sign we were running out of steam, was substituted and four minutes later we conceded again and we were back to where we started. The hare hadn’t quite napped for long enough for the tortoise to win.
No shame then. Brighton are clearly a good team, even if it was their reserves, for perhaps 20 minutes in total they really showed it, though that was more than enough. They exploited our most obvious weaknesses, which will hopefully begin to resolve themselves in the next couple of weeks.