What A Response! – 28/9/14

jotaFor all the optimism I publicly expressed before yesterday’s crunch match against Leeds United I have to admit that I felt pretty nervous before the kickoff.

Which Brentford team would turn up?

Would it be the confident team that had passed Brighton off the pitch and came so close to humbling Norwich City or the no-hopers who capitulated without much of a fight at Middlesbrough last Saturday?

The match appeared to be very much a watershed that might well prove to be a lasting indication of how well we were going to do throughout the season.

Every match in the Championship is like climbing a mountain and there are no easy points on offer.

It would be so easy for the Bees to start feeling sorry for themselves and become overwhelmed at the level of challenges that faces them every week.

As Manager Mark Warburton emphasised in his programme notes yesterday, the overriding difference between Division One and the Championship can simply be summed up in one word – quality.

That is not just the quality of the opposition we face on the pitch but, just as importantly, the heightened quality of the opposition’s preparation, off field support, analysis and fitness.

As we have already learned to our cost, any mistake, loss of concentration and general sloppiness which would have resulted last year in nothing more than a groan of disappointment, are this season punished ruthlessly at this exalted level, and the few chances that come along cannot be spurned.

Our confidence and self belief had certainly taken a blow, and we, management, players and supporters alike, had had a whole week to stew over things without the opportunity of a midweek match to prove that this was merely a blip rather than the beginnings of a rapid descent down the league table.

The upside of this delay was the squad had been able to get the spring back into their legs and also spend valuable time on the training ground all this week, not merely to lick their wounds, but also to practice all the areas that had let them down at Middlesbrough, in particular, defending from the front and being more penetrative in the final third of the pitch.

Yesterday was therefore a daunting proposition, particularly given that we were playing another of the so-called “big boys” in Leeds United, a team who had graced the Premier League and European competition in recent years and whose tradition and record of success dwarfed our own.

As I wrote yesterday, on the last occasion we faced the same opposition at Griffin Park we adopted a formation about as aggressive as the Maginot Line and we resembled nothing more than a tortoise with its head withdrawn within its shell, hoping to ward off the blows which would doubtless rain down upon us from our exalted opposition.

We were in awe of Leeds and played accordingly and totally ceded the initiative to our opponents.

Would history repeat itself yesterday afternoon or would the team have the strength of character to go out and prove that they truly belong in the Championship?

There were so many other questions to answer:

Would we be out sung and intimidated by the raucous hordes of Leeds United supporters who flooded Griffin Park?

Would our small and slight team be knocked off the ball and their close passing game by the Land of the Giants who emerged from the away dressing room?

Well, the team provided an emphatic answer to all their critics and played Leeds United off the park and cruised to a two – nil victory which, had it not been for the acrobatics and gymnastic shot stopping of keeper Silvestri, could have ended up in a five goal thrashing.

The football was slick and effective.

We ran at the opposition and pulled them out of position and the interchange of passing was a joy to behold.

Pritchard came back to form and threatened the opposition with his ceaseless promptings.

Judge was tireless, switching from the middle to the left wing and his dribbling and accurate passing found the gaps in the porous Leeds defence.

Jota started quietly but showed his true class with an eye-catching first goal for the club where he showed instant control, found space in a crowded penalty area and his fast and twinkling feet left two defenders on their backside before he found the roof of the net.

A goal which came at a crucial time, just before the interval and one of real beauty as it came from a series of wonderful one touch passes under extreme pressure that tore the opposition apart.

You get what you pay for and Jota is the real deal and is showing signs that he is beginning to settle down.

Odubajo terrified Leeds with his pace and close control and was two excellent saves away from scoring.

Gray played the lone striker role to perfection, worrying the two centre halves with his pace and intelligent running.

He turned beautifully early on but his goal bound effort was blocked.

Douglas then threaded him through with a defence splitting pass.

leeds1Pearce bundled him over and miracle of miracles, referee Dean Whitestone pointed to the spot.

Craig ran up to the official no doubt to remind him of the red card he received recently for an incident, that in all honesty was far more clear cut than yesterday’s.

So yellow it was, and then, to general incredulity, James Tarkowski strode up to the spot.

Would he stroke the ball effortlessly into the corner of the net and give us the lead our possession fully merited?

Unfortunately not as he joined the pantheon of Brentford defenders such as Peter Gelson, Jason Cousins and Leo Roget when his rising shot screamed over the cross bar and is probably still in orbit.

leeeds3According to his manager, Tarkowski is metronomic in his accuracy from the spot in training at Jersey Road but, as we saw yesterday, there is a massive difference between slotting them away on an empty training ground and attempting to do the same when facing hordes of manic away supporters.

Tarkowski unfortunately lost his nerve and for all his manager’s post match support, which is no more than you would expect from such a master of man management, I would expect that James might well go to the back of the queue when we are next awarded a spot kick.

Leeds had barely threatened and the Bees fully merited their interval lead.

After a brief flurry when Judge and Jota both shot over, the visitors came back in to the game when they started to play through the middle and Button was forced into an excellent stretching save from a Pearce header, but that was almost the only time that Leeds forced him into action.

The sign of a good keeper is when he is called upon to make a crucial save after having had nothing to do and Button rose to his challenge.

The back four won all their battles.

The recalled Tony Craig provided balance and calmness and led his troops well and unobtrusively. His return made a real difference.

Tarkowski put his penalty nonsense behind him and played impeccably.

McCormack and Bidwell did all that was necessary and took full adavantage of the attacking space granted them by the Leeds diamond.

Silvestri saved brilliantly from Gray and Moses and then foiled Tebar when the substitute tried to outguess the keeper with a subtle dink.

Douglas then took a quick free kick that put McCormack away and with Moses screaming for the ball on his right, Alan strode on unopposed.

Surely he would slip Moses through on goal but Leeds continued to back away and McCormack shot from just inside the area and a deflection took the ball past the keeper who had seemed almost unbeatable.

Every player was on his game but the real accolade has to go the former Leeds midfielder Jonathan Douglas who is a new man this season.

He led our pressing game and was eveywhere on the pitch as he foraged tirelessly to break up the opposition attacks.

What has come as a welcome surprise is that with the extra space afforded him in the Championship he has shown a real confidence on the ball and yesterday he played some beautifully weighted and subtle passes that created time, space and opportunities for his team mates.

He was a true leader and inspiration.

So a lot of questions were answered yesterday and we left the ground filled with pride.

Brentford had played beautiful football and demonstrated yet again that their positive approach can obtain results.

We had made a team coming off two wins look second rate.

Today is a day off and the chance for us all to recover and take pleasure in what we were privileged to watch yesterday.

Tomorrow the team starts to prepare to face traditional rivals Watford on Tuesday evening.

The Championship is relentless and unforgiving, and yesterday proved that we are certainly up to the challenge.

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