Another Tough Test – 21/10/14

allenSheffield Wednesday come to Griffin Park tonight and, like everyone else so far this season, are sure to present Brentford with a stiff test.

They have only lost once away from home so far, against Cardiff City, and have an effective blend of brawn, pace, height and no little footballing ability too.

What’s more they will be smarting after having their backsides tanned by Watford who won convincingly at Hillsborough on Saturday.

As for the Bees, they will make at last one enforced change with Harlee Dean replacing the suspended James Tarkowski.

I have just read an interview with Harlee where he bemoans his fate and feels scapegoated at being the only player dropped after the Middlesbrough defeat.

It is obviously highly frustrating for him to find himself as third choice centre half, and his passion shines through, but whilst I hate bland, anodyne player interviews as much as every supporter I somehow feel that there is a time and a place for dirty washing to be aired, and that isn’t always in public.

Harlee sometimes appears to engage his mouth before his brain and I am becoming concerned that the squad harmony and togetherness and maybe even his future at the club might be jeopardised by such statements.

Time will tell as he is a valuable asset and it only takes one injury for him to become a first choice again.

Matches between the Bees and the Owls are invariably exciting and end to end, and ever since the reign of Martin Allen there has been a friendly and enduring relationship between the two sets of supporters.

This all began one cold Saturday December afternoon in 2004 when Allen took his team to Hillsborough, where nearly twenty-two thousand spectators were fortunate enough to witness an amazing game of football.

Martin Allen is one of football’s great motivators and his management that season was almost exemplary as he moulded a team of journeymen, has beens and promising youngsters into a cohesive unit that fought and battled their way through the back door into the Playoffs.

There was experience in abundance with Stewart Talbot and Chris Hargreaves competing for everything in midfield.

John Salako defied the years with some dazzling displays on the left wing, and some less glorious ones at left back, and Isiah Rankin and Deon Burton were skilful and clever, if none too potent or energetic up front.

Jay Tabb provided the class in midfield and there was an mean defence with Andy Frampton and Kevin O’Connor solid at full back and Michael Turner and Sam Sodje forming a raw but talented central defensive partnership.

Behind them Stuart Nelson was still establishing himself in goal and delighting and frustrating supporters in equal measures with some up and down displays.

The potential jewel in the crown was young Alex Rhodes.

He started his career with Eastern Counties League side Newmarket Town, where he scored twenty goals in the early part of the 2003/04 season.

That earned him a move to Brentford and he became an instant fan favourite when he scored a wonderfully taken goal on the final day of the season which ensured that “The Great Escape” was successfully concluded and that the Bees would avoid a relegation that at one time appeared to be inevitable.

By the time of the Sheffield Wednesday match, Rhodes was still trying to establish himself in the team as a left winger or central striker and he was to have a massive impact upon the outcome of the game.

The Bees were under the cosh from the start and were soon caught square and the onrushing Steve MacLean was caught from behind by the trailing Michael Turner.

Penalty, red card, goal, a la Tony Craig against Birmingham was the immediate result and the Bees went behind when MacLean converted the spot kick with ease.

Frampton moved into the middle, and the over matched Andy Myers struggled to cope with the marauding Jon-Paul McGovern on the Wednesday right flank.

rhodesAlex Rhodes also came on for Ben May and Brentford’s sole threat was Deon Burton who seemed to be competing against Wednesday’s clutch of immense defenders on his own.

He was afforded absolutely no protection by the referee, Mark Cowburn, who penalised him with monotonous regularity and eventually seemed to take a little bit too much pleasure in booking the Brentford striker.

Rhodes did ghost in from the left to smash a volley onto the underside of the home crossbar but that was the only time the Bees threatened in a totally one sided first half.

Nelson was a hero, plunging in amongst the bodies to save time after time and then doing his best to spoil things by gifting possession back to the home team with a series of appallingly sliced and shanked clearance kicks.

Martin Allen was everywhere, directing and encouraging his team, changing their shape and exhorting them to greater efforts, until his frustration at the referee boiled over and he seemed to make a gesture at the official which resulted in him being sent off from the technical area.

A decision greeted with wild applause by the home fans who could tell how much influence he was having in keeping our heads afloat and yet appreciated his antics.

Martin decamped in high dudgeon to the Directors’ Box, and given that there did not seem to be any mobile phone coverage, tried to shout his instructions down to his assistant, Adrian Whitbread standing alone on the bench far below.

This didn’t seem to be working so Martin’s teenage son, George, was repeatedly despatched by his father down the Boardroom stairs to the touchline with a series of scribbled instructions for the bench.

Eventually the opposition cottoned on and an aged jobs-worth attempted to stop young Master Allen from making any additional forays – a state of affairs that was not well received by his father.

The home crowd by now didn’t know what to watch, the action on the pitch, where Nelson was playing Wednesday on his own, or the other struggle playing out in the Directors’ Box.

Somehow, as if by osmosis, Allen’s instructions began to slip through the net and Brentford continued to change formation like an infantry battalion on the parade ground.

Nothing seemed to work until finally, with ten minutes left to play, Allen played his final card and Alex Rhodes was moved up top to play alongside the ever willing but totally exhausted Deon Burton.

Fate finally decided to smile down on Brentford, as a rare corner was forced which led to an almighty goalmouth scramble and Rhodes hammered home a totally unexpected and unmerited equaliser.

A precious point, rather than the expected thrashing, now looked an outside possibility.

Affronted by the indignity they had suffered, Wednesday poured forward, left gaps behind them and were immediately caught with a sucker punch.

Rhodes picked up the ball well within his own half,  put on the afterburners and scythed through the ungainly home defence.

A clever sideways pass saw Burton left clean through.

He mis-controlled, and time appeared to stand still but he recovered to chip the ball over the helpless David Lucas.

The last eight minutes, plus as much injury time as the referee dared to add on, seemed to last an eternity but Brentford somehow held out for the bravest and most unexpected victory I have ever witnessed and one received rapturously by the Bees supporters lucky enough to have witnessed this comeback.

wedThis was a win earned by guts, tenacity, sheer bloody mindedness and, of course, brilliant management.

A fact sportingly recognised by the home fans who shook off their disappointment and incredulity at the larceny they had witnessed by applauding the entire Brentford team off the pitch, with a special ovation reserved for Martin Allen, who milked the moment, and fully deserved to do so.

Deon Burton had made an indelible impression on Sheffield Wednesday, aided of course by his blistering volleyed goal in the return match at Griffin Park, and eventually joined the Owls and enjoyed a successful stay there.

Alas, the future for Alex Rhodes wasn’t as glittering, as his horrendous collision with Paul McShane of Walsall, a mere few weeks later, brought about the serious knee injury that had a terminal effect on his career, as he lost his acceleration and was never the same player again.

A terrible waste of an exceptional talent.

As for the supporters, a bond between the Brentford and Sheffield Wednesday fans was created that unforgettable December afternoon which has lasted to the present day, and a warm and competitive, but friendly atmosphere is expected at Griffin Park tonight.

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2 thoughts on “Another Tough Test – 21/10/14

  1. I assume you have notes from the time to work off or a prodigious memory! My recollection is that there was in the background a fair bit of fan disaffection on the swfc side, manifested by large numbers starting to leave pretty much straight after the equaliser (Bees fans sang “is there a fire drill?”).

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  2. I was seated in the Directors’ Box that day right behind Martin Allen and his histrionics!

    Maybe some home fans did leave early but my abiding memory of that day was the reception and ovation the Brentford team and MA received at the end of the game from large numbers of home fans.

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