Have you ever gone out on a Friday night full of excitement and expectation – relishing everything that’s ahead of you – only to find yourself full of guilt and remorse on Saturday morning? Well, what happened at Bournemouth last week was worse than a night out where I said the wrong thing.
The game at the Vitality Stadium was one we badly wanted to win and we were 1-0 up with 20 minutes to go. We were cruising. The team performance was good and the feeling on the pitch was that we were heading towards our first Premier League away win.
Then the ball comes to me 40 yards from goal and the decision‑making process begins – in my head, I have a choice. Do I make an easy, aimless clearance far away from our goal or try to make a riskier pass in order to keep possession? I choose the latter, the ball deflects to one of their players and five passes later it’s in the back of our net.
All of Bournemouth’s frustrations and nerves from their opening four games have evaporated, their confidence returns and five minutes later they score a second. We at Brighton end up with nothing in a game where we were comfortable enough to come away with victory, let alone a point and, worse still, an error of mine has contributed to that.
It’s not a glaring mistake, it’s not a mistake that has led directly to a chance but deep down I know that my mistake has contributed directly to a goal that turned the course of an important match. As I traipse off the pitch I can feel the sick rising in my throat.
In the dressing room it’s the worst sound, the one that always comes with defeat – silence. I sit there replaying and visualising hundreds of times that one moment where my decision has influenced the outcome. I get on the coach and I’m still going over that moment. As I drive home I’m still seeing it. I get home and crawl into bed at 2am, and for the next five hours I’m staring at the ceiling watching the same movie in my mind over and over.
I’m not even close to drifting off to a much-needed sleep. The nausea is acute and just won’t go away. We had a day off on the Saturday and when we returned to training on Sunday morning I spoke to the rest of the players and funnily enough there wasn’t a wink of sleep between us after the game. Everyone of us asking ourselves the same questions: What if I cleared that ball further? What if I made that tackle before the goal went in? Why didn’t I score that chance that came to me?
It’s reassuring that to a man we all felt the guilt and shared the responsibility. A strong dressing room doesn’t point fingers at individuals – those who made mistakes admit them and we all move on and learn from them. Perhaps the most significant is that in the Premier League the smallest error can and will be ruthlessly punished – something maybe we could have got away in the Championship.
I hear pundits who have only recently stopped playing the game fan the flames of blame with supporters who then criticise players. It amazes me they’ve all apparently forgotten the experience of losing a match and the sleepless nights they’ve all suffered in the aftermath. I feel this has helped create a damaging vacuum in terms of the relationships between players and fans, which is ironic since I can honestly say I’ve never come across a player who doesn’t care or sleeps well after losing.
After watching the game back as a team, we saw plenty of positives in our performance and in analyzing the goals we agreed they were created and scored by the quality you have to expect playing in this division. Sure, they could have been avoided but, looking back, it has been a crucial and very painful lesson for us that the Premier League is a place where you can never be comfortable and must stay concentrated from minute one to 94-plus.
Results like last Friday hurt more when your game plan has worked, as a team you have performed well, individually you have done your job but a couple lapses of concentration can be the difference between an important victory and a scenario where you come away with nothing. The margins in this league are brutal.
On Sunday, at the Amex Stadium, we face a Newcastle team who under Rafael Benítez have so far adjusted to Premier League life extremely well. We know what a big game it is for us in terms of gaining the points that will keep us on course for that magic 40 mark next May and should mean a second season in the top tier. I’m confident we have learned lessons from the Bournemouth match and will stay focused enough to capitalize on our numerous strengths as a team.
If we do that then hopefully we will all have earned a good night’s sleep.