Brentford huffed and puffed but were unable to make their first half dominance count, and gradually ran out of steam and ideas before subsiding to a narrow one nil Capital One Cup defeat to Fulham.
I am sure that most fans will be feeling a sense of frustration and disappointment today but it is also important, once emotions cool down, to look at things with more perspective and see the wider picture.
Fulham came into the match reeling from their four consecutive Championship defeats, but in reality their team was sharp and incisive on the night, played some lovely patient football and created a plethora of chances.
Away from the pressures of the league, they played with the shackles off and looked exactly what they are – a team packed with high quality, expensive and experienced footballers, some of whom with extensive Premier League and International experience.
Brentford will have learned much from last night, in particular the overriding need to protect and keep the ball better and to be far more incisive and clinical with their chances.
For all Brentford’s possession and dominance, particularly in the first half when Fulham’s narrow diamond formation allowed them much space to attack down the flanks, they created very little in terms of chances and actual shots on goal and after the break, when Fulham opened up more and gained in confidence, the Bees never tested their keeper at all.
The final pass has to improve, and the players need to try something more expansive in the final third of the pitch rather than just take the safe option.
Defences are better and more sophisticated at this level and more guile is needed to break them down, as Brentford are beginning to learn.
In truth, whilst understanding how important this game was to the supporters in terms of local pride, Mark Warburton also needed to rest some tired and aching limbs and give much needed minutes of action and match practice to some of his squad players who were chafing at the bit.
It was tough to reconcile both requirements and, indeed, something had to give.
Brentford missed “big” players like Alan McCormack and in particular, Jonathan Douglas who would have provided a much neeeded protective barrier in front of the back four, which came under a lot of pressure.
We were also denied the midfield prompting, direct running, liveliness on the ball and pure inventiveness of Alan Judge and Alex Pritchard that would surely have opened up the visitor’s defence and created chances for Nick Proschwitz, who replaced Andre Gray up front.
The Spanish trio of Tabar, Jota and debutant Toral played together for the first time in midfield and at times they shone and combined well.
Toral grew into the game and his hard running and delicate ball skills look to be an enticing proposition as he gains in experience and confidence.
Jota too is a real talent and had our two best efforts on goal last night.
We repeated the AFC Bournemouth three card trick from a free kick on the edge of the box, with this time Tabar pushing the ball wide to Toral who placed an instant pass into the path of the third man runner Jota who forced a wonderful save from the keeper.
The Ole’s rang around the stadium.
It was a move touched with genius that deserved a goal.
Inspiration matched with perspiration, and testimony indeed to hours well spent on the training ground.
A clever short corner routine also opened up the Fulham rearguard on the stroke of halftime but Jota’s hard low shot came back off the near post.
Toral headed over too but that was really it in terms of clear chances created in the first half despite the hard running of Dallas and Odubajo’s energetic overlapping from his new right wing back position.
Fulham took over after the break.
Button was alert in goal and Dean and Tarkowski dealt manfully with everything that was thrown at them.
New skipper Bidwell now had his hands full but still managed to break out menacingly down our left flank.
The tide was turning though, and after McCormack had a goal disallowed for offside the breakthrough finally arrived following the best move of the game.
A fast exchange of low passes culminated in McCormack’s one-two with David and a delicate side-footed finish past the stretching goalkeeper Button.
In truth it really didn’t come as a surprise and was well deserved.
It was a move of high quality and the speed and timing of McCormack’s run highlighted why he had cost so much money and it left Tarkowski chasing shadows.
The Bees huffed and puffed but constantly gave the ball away in their final third and dillied and dallied on the ball without getting the ball into the box.
Two late chances for substitute Scott Hogan, finally making his long-awaited debut after injury, and Tommy Smith were sent narrowly over the bar from the edge of the area and that was that.
The game ended with Fulham cutting us open on the break and fully deserving their win.
Had we scored early on when we were on top and Fulham were tentative and still settling into the game, then who knows, maybe we would have taken control and the Fulham heads might have gone down.
As it is the hard facts are that we still await a home win, have yet to keep a clean sheet and have gone behind in every game so far this season.
As I said, a tough learning curve.
We could have made it easier for ourselves by fielding a stronger team last night, but it is a marathon and not a sprint and something had to give in terms of using the entire squad.
We might be licking our wounds today but in the long run, easing the likes of Jota and Toral into the team is no bad thing.
We were beaten, and it hurts to have lost the local bragging rights, but we move on and frankly the Rotherham match, on Saturday, is far more important to our season – and we will still have two more opportunities to gain some element of revenge!