2018 – The year of the Murray

As we have had our lot of 2018, I thought it was about time we praised the man who for many, including myself, has been Brighton & Hove Albion’s man of the year, Glenn Murray.

For Glenn Murray 2018 is a year that started with two goals in two games, one each against two of his old clubs and ended up with him having scored 17 goals in all competitions, becoming Albion’s highest post-war goalscorer and disproving well and truly any doubt over his ability to score goals at the top level of English football.

The first goal he scored in 2018 was against Bournemouth in a 2-2 draw on New Year’s Day, finishing off a good move created by last season’s player of the season Pascal Gross. Then came a late winner against Palace, a game Murray started on the bench. It was a goal that caused confusion over whether VAR, which was being trialled in the match, had been used to clarify the legality of the goal, but replays showed it came off Murray’s knee and not his hand and the goal stood.

But whilst 2018 started with a flurry of goals, 2017 ended with what had been a mixed start to the Premier League campaign for Albion’s number 17. A flurry of four goal in three games at the end of October and the beginning of November aside, he’d struggled to continue his great goal scoring record from the Championship promotion campaign.

In fact, the 2017/18 season didn’t start well for Murray, with a preseason injury meaning Tomer Hemed instead started up front in the first few games of the season. Hemed’s good performances even earned himself a new contract and kept Murray out the side for a while, but that all changed when Hemed received a retrospective three game ban for a stamp on DeAndre Yedlin in the home 1-0 win against Newcastle at the end of September. A game in which Hemed scored the only goal and received the Sky Sports Man of the Match award. This meant that as the season entered October, with Hemed absent Murray would get his chance to shine.

But in the first game of Hemed’s suspension, Murray was on the bench with loanee Isaiah Brown starting up front. But with the team going 2-0 down, Murray and the 2016/17 Championship player of the season Anthony Knockaert came off the bench and barely moments after coming on the Frenchman’s cross found Murray who headed just over in what was the best chance Brighton had created that day. Murray then started in the 1-1 home draw with Everton, but it was the next game away to West Ham where he would score a brace in front of the Sky Sports camera’s and re-establish himself as the Albion’s first choice frontman.

So Murray went into 2018 as the Albion’s main man and after starting January with two goals against two of his former clubs, he was on the bench as the team played their fourth round FA Cup tie away to Middlesbrough. This is despite the shadow of an ongoing tax fraud investigation hovering over him, an investigation it had been widely reported that he and his wife were arrested in connection with just days before the match. But despite this he again came off the bench in the second consecutive cup game to score the winner, which put the Albion into the fifth round of the cup for only the ninth time in its history. He in fact responded to the off-field issues by scoring a further two goals in the next two games. One from the penalty spot in a 1-1 draw away to Southampton and one in a spectacular 3-1 home win over West Ham that also included one of the best Albion goals of the 2017/18 season from Jose Izquierdo.

I bring the tax investigation up not to revel in the supposed scandal as some media outlets did at the time of his arrest, but to contextualise Glenn Murray’s wonderful year. It reminds us that footballers, are individuals who have to deal with the stresses and strains that life brings just like anyone else. Glenn Murray isn’t just an Albion living-legend, he’s a father, a husband and someone who at the same time must deal with the complexities of life in a globally scrutinised, highly pressurised job. Putting what Murray has achieved on the pitch this year in this context makes it all the more impressive.

And yet what I’ve loved the most about watching Glenn over his second spell at the club, and over the last year in particular, is that he is playing with a smile on his face. A smile that suggests he’s loving playing for the club. Murray’s enjoyment of his recent years at the club is something that he’s spoken about being due to a greater perspective that comes with his age and experience.

In a recent interview with the Telegraph he stated just that. “You just never know. I am taking each game as it comes, enjoying it and taking that little bit of extra time to look around a full stadium, because I know it’s not going to last forever. But I will try and make it last as long as possible.”

But it wasn’t always this way. Murray said in the same interview that: “When I was young, I would dwell on games and beat myself up about a result,” he said “I would lock myself away in the house, almost punishing myself and those around me. My family, they did not see the best side of me. I went to see somebody who helped me, a sports psychologist, and he said I need to get out, that it is more important to get out of the house when you have lost, rather than when you have won. When you have won, you are content in whatever you do.

“He said to try to get out when I lose. To go to the cinema, go out for a meal. It has caused quite a few arguments in the past — people saying to me, ‘what are you doing out? What are you doing showing your face?’ — but that is what works for me. It might not work for everyone, but for me it does.”

Murray signed for Brighton the first time around in January 2008 at the age of 24. He impressed instantly, scoring nine in the second half of that season, including two on his home debut, in a 3-0 win against Crewe.

He then missed much of the 08/09 season with a hernia injury and when he did play often did so whilst clearly not being fully fit. Nonetheless he impressively still managed to score 12 goals in what was a struggling side.

The following 09/10 season he would play more regularly, but only better his goal total by two, often at this point gaining criticism about his work-rate and discipline. A subject spoken about by Dick Knight in his autobiography ‘MadMan’ where he stated that even then manager Dean Wilkins called out Glenn Murray for his work rate, but Dick defended the striker saying: “His style is languid and unhurried but certainly not lazy.”

The frustrations towards him mostly arose from the fact that he was clearly the most talented player in the team but often didn’t show it. Manager at the start of the season Russell Slade comments showed that he agreed with that line of thinking. At the beginning of the 2009/10 season he called Murray the “best striker outside the Championship”, but then in October Slade publicly criticised Murray for a sending off in a home defeat to Tranmere stating it cost the team the chance of a comeback. As such it was the case amongst some that Murray was getting a reputation as a bit of an unreliable enigma.

But Slade was sacked soon after because of an unsuccessful start to the season and Gus Poyet came in as his replacement. Gus transformed the club’s prospects and the team started to look like one worthy of the impending move to the new state-of-the-art stadium being built down the road at Falmer.

And the following season Glenn Murray and the Albion would both live up to their potential with Murray top scoring with 22 goals as the Albion won League One in its final season at the Withdean. Whilst there were still a few dissenting voices, as there always will be, Murray was now rightly regarded as Albion’s best striker and one of its best assets.

But unfortunately, Murray’s contract was up at the end of that season and with a step up required after promotion to the Championship was achieved, manager Gus Poyet appeared to earmark the signing of the energetic, if as it turned out comparatively goal-shy Craig Mackail-Smith at the expense of Murray. Gus Poyet said of Murray that the club “couldn’t pay him within our budget” and that the club couldn’t afford both players, but given the fact he left to join our arch rivals and lead them to great success at our expense, it’s fair to say that at least in hindsight, the club should have found a way to balance the books so to pay Murray what he was rightly worth.

When Brighton signed Mackail-Smith, Poyet spoke of his “unbelievable” work-rate and that, “he will always give you something. Even on a bad day, he doesn’t stop running. Now we are going to be a more competitive team.” It seems that it may have been in part at least, the perceptions of Murray’s so called ‘laziness’ that led to his move away.

Crystal Palace did just that, and a few months later he would score twice as they became the first opposition team to win a league game at the AMEX. He scored 47 goals whilst at Palace in four years, which is all the more impressive considering he missed much of the 2014/15 season through a knee injury sustained in the first leg of the playoff semi-final win by Palace over the Albion. Palace won and would go on to win promotion to the Premier League.

At full time in the second leg of the semi-final Murray celebrated with his team, the Albion’s arch rivals, on the pitch at the AMEX in front of the away end. Just three years later he would re-sign for the Albion and it wasn’t long before all was forgotten and hero status was resumed. Murray was a goalscorer, and when the goals started flowing even the most dissenting of voices came around. After opening his account with two goals in a 3-0 home win over Forest in front of the Sky Sports cameras it felt to many, including myself, that he’d never left. That season he went on to score 23 goals as the Albion secured promotion to the Premier League.

The intervening years after that play off semi-final and his return to the Albion were initially spent at Palace with mixed success under a variety of managers. This was followed by a short loan spell at Reading where he scored eight goals, including two goals at the AMEX against Brighton on Boxing Day in a 2-2 draw. Which was then followed by a year at Bournemouth where his game-time was limited and as a result he scored just four goals, albeit one of those being a memorable winner at Stamford Bridge for the Cherries over Chelsea.

But his return to Brighton showed he hadn’t lost any of his wit and skill, nor as the Albion fans knew to their cost, his eye for goal. And as 2018 rolled on, somewhat inevitably so did the Murray goals.

Next up came another brace, including a goal from the penalty spot in a 4-1 win over Swansea. And in the following game Murray scored the crucial second in a memorable 2-1 win over Arsenal. Murray’s goal that day was yet another example of his growing relationship with Pascal Gross, with the German’s cross hanging in the air invitingly for Murray to head home in between two accommodating Arsenal defenders. These two wins lifted Brighton up to tenth in the league table and seven points clear of the relegation zone, safety was now looking likely.

Murray’s role leading the line was a big part of this. Not just scoring key goals but his ability as a target man to hold the ball up and link up with Pascal Gross, continuously producing results. Even though his only other goal to come in the remainder of the season was a consolation goal away to Palace, in a 3-2 defeat, he played a key role in the run-in as the Albion reached the coveted 40-point mark and comfortably secured another season of Premier League football.

Murray was asked during last season by the BBC what was the reason for his success and he answered simply, Pascal Gross. Last season’s Albion player of the season was high up in the charts for assists and goals, ahead of some perceived bigger names within the division, and his relationship with Murray was a big part of that. In fact, Murray and Gross between them contributed 19 of the 33 league goals Brighton scored last season. Demonstrating the importance of their combined impact.

For instance, the Albion’s lack of success from set-pieces last season demonstrates this best. Scoring a total of 5 goals from this method, which was the lowest in the Premier league last season. This is despite Pascal Gross creating more chances from set-pieces in the Premier League last season than any other player (36).

As the Albion prepared for their second season in the Premier League there were signings and optimism aplenty. But Murray still started the season as the main man up top. And after a bad day at the office all round in a 2-0 defeat away to Watford on the opening day, Man Utd came to town and the Albion caused a shock by beating them 3-2.

The Albion got off the mark that day with a sublime chip from Murray. This is a goal that has to go down as one of his best for the Albion, whilst it was from close range, the skill and technique to flick the ball up and chip the ball over United ‘keeper De Gea was a sight to behold.

Next up at the AMEX were newly promoted Fulham and it was another game where Murray was the star of the show scoring twice, his second a late equaliser, again from the penalty spot and in doing so earned the Albion a late comeback draw from 2-0 down. This was a game where Murray’s partner in goals Pascal Gross came off injured with the team 1-0 down and after a period out through injury, he has since struggled to recapture his previous season’s good form. But nonetheless Murray has kept on scoring goals regardless as the new signings that were made in the summer gave the Albion an attacking threat from other areas.

Next up was Southampton away on a Monday night game in front of the Sky Sports cameras. And Murray scored a late penalty to make it 2-2 in the second consecutive game. A penalty that demonstrated Murray’s calm confidence in front of goal, even in the most high-pressure of situations.

There were then two 1-0 home victories courtesy of Glenn Murray’s 99th and 100th goals for the club, with a hard fought 1-0 victory away to struggling Newcastle sandwiched in-between. A game where Murray was carried off with a worrying looking head injury, but one which he quickly recovered from to play the following week and net that record-breaking milestone goal.

The goals against West Ham and Wolves were classic Murray goals. The type of goals that had cemented Glenn’s place as only the second ever player to score one-hundred goals for Brighton. He also became the highest post-war goalscorer, taking over from Kit Napier on 99 goals.

He spoke in Nick Szczepanik book ‘Brighton Up’ about how he would often find space in the box by standing still, whilst others moved around him, and these goals were no different. For example, for his century goal against Wolves, as the ball fell to Bruno on the right side of the box, the Wolves defence shifted in his direction. In the same motion Murray stayed almost stationary but alert to find himself in acres of space at the far post to score his century goal, when the ball went slightly fortuitously in his direction. As Bruno later admitted his ‘pass’ to Murray was intended to be a shot on goal.

This style of Murray’s goals is where the comparison to the man Gus Poyet replaced him with Craig Mackail-Smith is telling. Whilst other strikers like Mackail-Smith energetically run around somewhat thoughtlessly. Murray is more deliberate in his movement and his running and whilst a layperson-fan like myself can’t always see it, Glenn Murray is usually one step ahead of most defenders, even at the top level.

His next goal against Leicester showed that level of alertness and wit in the box perfectly. As Murray nipped in at the near post to get Albion’s goal in a 1-1 draw.

Then came that win against Palace, which started with Murray scoring a 24th minute penalty and ended for him shortly after due to a shoulder injury in the build up to the corner that led to the second goal.

It is well known that after Glenn Murray left The Albion to join Palace in 2011, he remained living in Brighton. Not surprising considering it’s the city where he met his wife and the city where they started a family together. The city appears to work for him, and he appears to work well for the city’s football team too, continuing to break records and increase in size his already secured legend status at the club.

2018 was a year where he made the whole country sit up and take notice of a 35-year old player previously written off as only Championship-standard. So much so that Glenn is now a periodic voice on BBC Radio 5 Live’s football coverage, he was an answer to a question on the BBC’s Question of Sport recently and even popped up on Michael Macintyre’s Christmas Day special.

It’s odd to say due to his relative veteran status within football, that it’s been something of a breakthrough year for Glenn, but us Albion fans know it’s more a fact of him finally being appreciated for the player he is. I’m sure that at the age of 35, many will continue to write off Glenn Murray, just like others have done before, but his continued success highlights that he shows little signs of deterioration.


Author: tweetingseagull

A Fan of Brighton and Hove Albion and all things Football. Follow my tweets here: https://mobile.twitter.com/TweetingSeagull

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