Saturday 6th April 2019 – Wembley ways – Indian vegetarian lunch and Seagulls in FA Cup semi-final.

To Wembley Stadium to watch Brighton play Manchester City. Ever the epicurean, MAE took advantage of Albion’s success in reaching the FA Cup semi-final to sample a favourite culinary style not easily to be found nearer to home. (Perhaps only the Tuk Tuk in Terminus Road, Eastbourne has the same Indian street food idea, though that is not vegetarian, and the cooking style is more north Indian. Kerala Flavours in Seaside Eastbourne, has a few of the same dishes, mainly as starters). The delicious vegetarian dishes of south India are astonishingly varied and very different from the mainly meat, chicken and prawn curries available from most Indian restaurants. Wembley, with its large Indian population, is a good place to find a variety of dishes from the sub-continent. After a bit of research online, Mrs. MAE and I chose the Masala Canteen on Wembley High Road, conveniently situated close to Wembley Central station. It offered a range of my favourite Vadas, Dosas, Bel Pooris and Uthappams. The restaurant has a simple smart modern interior and the Indian Premier League was being shown on the TV. We were brought a menu divided into several sections including Mumbai Street Classics, Madras Kitchen, and Indo-Chinese (an intriguing concept we didn’t explore). The menu also had a selection of non-alcoholic Indian drinks including buttermilk spiced with cumin seeds, and a spiced Indian lemonade. As we were going to a football match I’m afraid we plumped for the (ersatz) Indian Kingfisher lager. We chose three main dishes to share. Ragda Pattice was described as “a tangy chickpea curry served with potato pattice”. The curry was nicely spicy. Potato Pattice are potato cakes (an Anglo-Indian version of the word patties?). A good combination. Ghee Masala Dosa was accurately described as a (large) “rice and lentil crepe stuffed with mildly spiced masala potatoes” and it had the toothsome sort of soft crunch a good dosa should. Uthappams are sometimes described on menus as Indian pizzas. They are not. They are rice and lentil pancakes with a topping, usually of onions. We had an onion and tomato version with the usual accompaniment of a coconut chutney. These dishes come with various sauces on individual plates but we were helpfully brought additional plates to enable us to share. An excellent and sustaining lunch – much needed as the match began at 5.30 and we weren’t certain what we would get on our journey back to Eastbourne by train. I finished with a traditional Matka Kulfi, a wonderfully rich creamy frozen dessert made from condensed milk served in a clay pot (or Matka). A most enjoyable lunch (****) to fortify us prior to what many forecast would be a difficult football match for the Seagulls. Less impressively, Mrs. Mae reported that the ladies’ toilets could have been better.

We walked about a mile along the High Road to Wembley Stadium. Entry was very relaxed, despite the warnings about the (miniscule) bag sizes allowed to be taken in etc. We had excellent lower tier seats on the south side, midway between the half way line and the penalty box. Though there was some criticism of the attendance following the match, I felt that Albion fans had done well with well over 30,000 attending. Each Albion seat came with its own Albion Flag in either blue or white (courtesy of the club, I imagine). The fuss was quite understandable as this was only the second time the Seagulls had reached the semis. The only other time was in 1983 when they beat Sheffield Wednesday 2-1 at Highbury (going on to lose 4-0 to Manchester United in a Cup Final replay). As the teams came out it certainly seemed that the Brighton fans were making the most noise – perhaps the Manchester City supporters were rather blasé as five times winners. The mood among the Albion support was que sera, sera - but let’s have a good match and a grand day out. It looked after 4 minutes as if our worst fears would materialise, when City’s Gabriel Jesus put a glancing header past Matty Ryan from a cross from De Bruyne following an impressive long cross-field ball by Laporte. Albion didn’t allow their heads to drop but found it hard to get a foothold in the game, facing a side that is able to track back faster than you can break forwards. Kyle Walker (City) probably should have been sent off after he brushed his forehead down Johanbakhsh’s nose after being tackled, and probably would have been if the Brighton man had gone to ground holding his face. This is more a criticism of refereeing than of the Brighton player. By the end of the first half Brighton were getting back into the game with a good shot by Knockaert.

Into the second half Brighton’s fans were certainly winning as far as volume is concerned. Albion were starting to win corners. Ryan pulled off a great save from a long shot by Sterling. In the 86th minute a curling shot by Izquierdo drew a comfortable save from Ederson. An unnecessary foul by Fernandinho on Duffy in stoppage time gave Albion their last chance with a free kick 25 meters out by Knockaert. This was headed away and City made their own last attack. Jesus lofted a pass to Sterling whose left foot shot was saved by Ryan. The final whistle blew. Albion’s fine cup run was over. The general feeling was that Albion had played admirably against one of the best teams in Europe, and the hope was that this performance could be used to spur them on to point-winning performances in the run in to the end of the season to enable them to stay in the top flight. Sadly the reverse has been the case with home defeats to Bournemouth (0-5) and Cardiff (0-2). A draw at Wolves (0-0) and a 1-0 defeat to Spurs followed. Against Newcastle on April 27th they manage to score for the first time since March 9th. With their last two games being against Arsenal and Manchester City (again) further points are unlikely, and they need to hope that Cardiff don’t win their two remaining matches so that Brighton can stay up. They don’t really deserve to. They have some expensive foreign players some of who seem to show very limited talent, and perhaps more importantly, little enthusiasm. Their captain Lewis Dunk is a very able defender but seems rather reticent when it comes encouraging his team mates. Brighton owe their manager a great deal including the return to the top flight, but he seems recently to have lost his tactical nous. The team seem determined to defend even when behind, and when only attack could bring them the vital points needed. Perhaps if Brighton hadn’t had their cup run the club might have considered replacing him for the last few games with a new face in the hope of putting some steel in their performances. As it stands MAE is considering whether or not to renew his membership for next season. If they manage to stay in the Premiership, perhaps the summer transfer window will give some indication of the club’s future ambitions.

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