Well it wasn’t a win and we didn’t start the season off with the three points that we wanted, but there was much to be positive about in our 1-1 draw with Charlton yesterday as well as several lessons that need to be learned.
Football was back and we basked in the sun.
We were back in the Championship after eons in the nether regions of the Football League and there were many differences to remark upon.
The queue to get into the Club Shop snaked around The Princess Royal.
In fact there were queues everywhere, something that we will have to get used to on a regular basis as Griffin Park struggles to cope with the higher crowds.
It was rumoured that ticket touts were also seen around the ground taking advantage of the match being designated as all ticket.
All that was missing was pirate programmes and those blasted half and half “friendship” scarves.
Fleet Street’s finest, including such luminaries as Nick Szczepanik and the doyen of the press box, Brian Glanville, were seen reacquainting themselves with the whereabouts of TW8.
Peter Gilham, MC Extraordinaire, showed that he realises that we are in the big time now by deigning to announce the name of Charlton’s goal scorer instead of blithely ignoring him, as has always been his wont.
What’s more The Football League Show featured extended match highlights at a time well before the watershed – and by the way, Leroy, Adam Forshaw isn’t injured!
As for the actual football, with Adam Forshaw still in purdah, manager Mark Warburton sprung a surprise by relegating Marcos Tabar to one of the plush newly refurbished and stuffed substitutes’ seats.
We started well, an incisive 4-5-1, with Pritchard, Judge and Dallas interchanging and weaving their spells as Charlton sat back and absorbed our early pressure.
Pritchard’s fast and clever feet created space and his curling twenty-five yarder inched past the post with the keeper struggling to make up the ground.
Pritchard then performed a perfect balletic pas de deux with the ball glued to his feet as he slalomed past three defenders before being scythed down.
We played the Brentford way, with the ball thrown short every time by Button, keeping possession and switching the play as we probed for openings.
But that was the main difference between Division One and the Championship – the paucity of actual chances created.
Charlton covered well and packed their own half and Gray was left isolated and alone in the penalty area.
Charlton finally awoke from their slumbers and broke fast.
One defence splitting diagonal pass and Tucudean was left clean through but Button was quick, brave and positive and saved our bacon.
Judge then forced an excellent save with a deflected long ranger.
We were well ahead on points at the break but the scoreline remained blank.
The second half was a different matter.
Tabar replaced Moses who was apparently not fully fit and whilst he helped us keep the ball better, our game slowed down, and we weren’t making the quick, incisive runs needed to create space and gaps.
Our game is all about “pass and move” and we forgot about the crucial second part of the equation.
Charlton took over and slowly adopted a formation less defensive than the Maginot Line and our defence creaked as we began to be put under pressure.
Vetokele was strong and mobile and his movement was too much for us.
Button made two more saves, one quite exceptional from a close range header, turning it onto the post before we broke away and Pritchard’s beautifully flighted cross found Gray in space and he headed it back the way it came, but too close to Henderson.
Eventually Charlton’s pressure told and Jackson’s in swinging corner found the ever willing Vetokele who beat Button to the ball when he shouldn’t have done, and headed home almost from on the goal line – a really poor goal to concede.
The game drifted as we sought a spark to reignite our fading challenge, and then came the turning point.
We had brought on experience and fresh legs in Nick Proschwitz and Tommy Smith and it was the latter who produced the best pass of the day that totally split the defence and left a clear run on goal – unfortunately it was our defence he split and Button was forced to rush well out of his goal to try and clear the danger.
He failed, a quick sideways pass and Harriott faced an empty goal twenty yards out but he obligingly crashed the ball onto the underside of the bar, Tabar dived in to sweep away the loose ball, and we had somehow survived.
We were still in the game – just!
We took full advantage and after Craig had volleyed over from a corner – high and not very handsome, we finally scored our first Championship goal just at a time when we had started huffing and puffing, gone longer in our approach, and started chasing the game.
McCormack’s long diagonal pass into the penalty area found Smith who used what suspiciously looked like an arm to control it before turning, cutting inside and finding the bottom corner with a powerful shot that kissed the lunging defender before finding its way perfectly inside the near post.
Silence for a second, we were taken by surprise as a goal really hadn’t looked much like coming, and then Griffin Park erupted and became a cauldron of noise for the remaining few minutes.
The players were visibly lifted and raised their game as Charlton wilted and funnelled back to protect what they had.
Judge almost won it with a gorgeous curling free kick that clipped the bar on its way over before Smith shot high and wide with the last chance.
So, a point, a decent start and we showed that we can cope with the higher level.
There was much to take out of yesterday, but equally, a lot that we have to take on board very quickly as the games will now start coming thick and fast.
It’s a squad game now and our substitutes all made a crucial difference.
In the second half the midfield played too deep and never got forward enough to support the lone striker.
In preseason Tabar and Douglas dovetailed perfectly with one sitting and the other going forward.
Douglas played too deep in the first half and after the break we conceded the initiative by neither of them attacking enough.
We need to make better runs off the ball which will open up gaps in the opposition defence.
We have to get more players into the box as Gray was often left on his own, vainly competing against the tag team pair of Bikey and Ben Haim.
We need to, in the words of Mark Warburton, “look after the ball” and not give it away so cheaply.
Too often we were careless in possession, and in this division you have to work far harder and longer to get it back.
We also looked a bit small and lightweight and lacked phsyical presence.
The overriding feeling after the game was one of relief.
We hadn’t been embarrassed or shown up, we had played well in patches and proved that we could compete.
We had got the opening match out of the way and notched our first point of the season after it had looked for a while like we were about to start with a demoralising home defeat.
The Bees are off and running but the road will be a long and testing one.