Not The Best Day! – 26/10/14

Sometimes you just get the feeling that absolutely nothing is going to turn out right.

Yesterday was a perfect example.

Yet it had all started so well.

There were five of us sharing a lift to the match at Bolton and we were enjoying each other’s company and making excellent time until we hit the car park that was the M6.

Then things began to go downhill and never really recovered.

Our estimated arrival time of just before one o’clock soon went by the board and as one traffic jam morphed into another, our spirits fell and the chances of our arriving before the kick off began to fade.

The anticipated three and a half hour journey took well over five hours but our driver, Gary, desperately urged on by all of us, made a final herculean effort and got us to the stadium just as the teams emerged from the dressing rooms, and we managed to watch the entire match.

Given what was to follow, perhaps that was no blessing as Brentford gave an insipid, careless and fairly lifeless performance in subsiding to a three – one defeat to a home team that had been struggling for points, but was boosted by playing its first home match under the leadership of new manager, Neil Lennon.

As this was the third game that Brentford had played in a week, accompanied by two long trips to the North West of England, it seemed surprising that Mark Warburton kept an unchanged team from Tuesday, although Tommy Smith returned from his hamstring injury and replaced the invisible man, Betinho, on the bench.

Harlee Dean was rewarded for his fine performance against Sheffield Wednesday by keeping the eligible again James Tarkowski out of the starting lineup.

Good man management in my opinion, as if you get hold of a shirt you should keep it for as long as your performances merit it.

The first half ended goalless, but the nagging thought remained that we had let a golden opportunity slip through our fingers.

The home team was nervous, laden with expectation and totally lacking in self-belief, and if the Bees had put their foot down on the gas a bit more and exerted some real concerted pressure and scored a goal they would probably have folded.

As it was, after almost falling behind within the first thirty seconds, Brentford created some decent half chances which were missed by Jota, Pritchard, Judge and Bidwell but they played far too much on the back foot and never took the game by the scruff of the neck and seized control.

Given the home team’s diamond formation which matched us up, there was plenty of space on the flanks which we never took advantage of.

The home team huffed and puffed, pressed us high up the pitch and had four monsters at the back who dealt fairly easily with the pretty non-existent threat provided by the isolated Andre Gray.

We were reasonably satisfied at the break but felt that perhaps we had let Bolton off the hook, and so it proved.

As it was, Brentford did show more ambition and determination at the start of the second half but apart from a mishit cross by the excellent Harlee Dean that forced a stretching save from Lonergan, no real chances were created.

dannsBrentford then self-destructed in a terrible quarter-hour spell that saw them repeatedly turn the ball over to Bolton, who took full advantage with two totally avoidable goals.

The home crowd, which had been growing quieter by the minute, were revived by Brentford’s careless attitude and lack of ball retention and finally came alive.

Bolton were allowed to advance unchallenged down their left and the ball was played inside to Neil Danns, thirty yards out.

Pritchard made a half hearted effort to close him down and none of his colleagues helped him out and Danns hit a powerful shot inside Button’s far post before the keeper was able to react.

Could he have done better?

Probably, as he looked a little bit slow to react.

Was he helped out by his defence?

Not in the slightest.

As if that was not bad enough, Alan McCormack who had been a subdued and peripheral figure finally made a typical surge down the middle of the field and was sandwiched by two Bolton players.

He remained ominously still on the ground and was stretchered off.

His injury looked serious and before the Bees could settle they went two goals behind.

daviRecently arrived substitute Mark Davies made an instant impact, picked the ball upon the left before Odubajo, who had moved to full back, could react, slalomed into the penalty area, went past a feeble challenge by an off-balance Tony Craig who seemed terrified of bringing him down and slotted the ball beyond Button.

An excellent goal to savour if you were a home fan, but a terrible one to concede.

Game over?

Well it would have been had it not been for the almost singlehanded efforts of substitute Jon Toral who replaced the anonymous Alex Pritchard.

After Douglas had forced Lonergan into his only strenuous save of the entire afternoon with a well placed header, the Bees stirred themselves with a rousing but belated recovery, and Tommy Smith’s excellent cross went over the head of a straining defender and was instantly controlled by Toral who scored emphatically from close range.

Game on at last, and for the final ten minutes Brentford took control and should have equalised when Odubajo, who seemed to provide far more of an attacking threat when coming forward from right back than when he had played further forward, found space and put a perfect low cross into the six yard box for Gray, but he criminally delayed his shot and, he who hesitates is lost, and Brentford’s final chance had come and gone.

To add insult to injury, Bolton, who were clinging onto the ropes and praying for the final whistle throughout the seven minutes of injury time caused by the lengthy treatment received by McCormack, had the cheek to score a comic cuts and misleading third goal when they broke away unchallenged from a late Brentford corner and, with Button stranded upfield, Craig Davies found an empty net and became the third substitute to score a goal.

The journey home from yet another soulless out of town stadium was easier, shorter, fairly introspective and pretty uneventful apart from an encounter with a very friendly and well-spoken Oldham Athletic player at Stafford Services.

He expressed amazement that his former colleague Tarky had been left out of our team and was keen to discuss the differences between Division One and The Championship, all the while scoffing down his Burger King Whopper.

Whilst commenting that his body was his temple, I neglected to mention the importance of diet to a budding young athlete who aspires to reach the top of his profession!

A long, exhausting and frustrating day finally came to an end, one that was enlivened only by some good companionship.

The long journey did, however, allow sufficient time for some analysis and introspection on the match and how we performed.

I am well aware that if it ain’t broke then don’t fix it, and we are doing exceptionally well so far and have probably far exceeded most expectations.

But you have to keep examining yourself and continually look for ways to improve lest you either stand still or go backwards.

The unpalatable truth of the matter is that we have lost three of our last four away games and drawn two of the three seemingly winnable matches that we have played over the last hectic week.

Certainly the margins have been extremely narrow and we were a linesman’s flag and a goal line clearance away from beating Sheffield Wednesday and should have beaten Uwe Rosler’s Wigan too.

The goalkeeper and back four are absolutely fine.

I fully expect Tarkowski to earn his place back shortly but I am happy for either him or Harlee to partner Craig.

I do expect the central defensive positions to come under review in January as a bit more pace and composure would not go amiss.

Jake Bidwell just does his job every week without much comment or recognition.

He is a consistent seven out of ten and nobody has given him the run around so far this season.

His attacking forays are well timed and menacing and he has adapted brilliantly to the higher level.

First reports suggest that Alan McCormack has twisted an ankle, but if he is out for a spell, then I would hope that Moses Odubajo is moved back to take his place.

He defends well, can head a ball, and of course, as he showed yesterday, he can get forward quickly to support the attack.

He has been a pretty peripheral figure wide on the right lately and might find it easier to face the play rather than be looking to be fed possession.

I am very concerned about our five man midfield, not that I expect Mark Warburton to change it as he commented that we need to execute Plan A better rather than switch to a Plan B.

The problem is, in my opinion that we have been spluttering recently and not firing on all cylinders.

I exempt Jonathan Douglas from any such criticism as I doubt if he has ever played better at any point throughout his long career.

He is everywhere, at one moment shielding the back four, the next, leading the forward press.

He is also making a habit of slipping late and unnoticed into the opposition penalty area and presents a real goal threat, particularly with his head.

He can do no more than he is already doing and is an inspiration to his team mates.

Alan Judge is, I feel, trying to do too much and taking on too much responsibility and, as a consequence, not achieving as much as he can.

He tracks back, he runs at defenders, plays incisive passes and is a threat from long range with his powerful shooting.

It just has not come off for him as much as he and we would like over the past week and hopefully a week’s rest will bring him back to his best.

Jota and Alex Pritchard are both luxury players and can only merit their place if they get on the ball and make things happen.

I am going to be controversial here and say that away from home we cannot afford both of them, as on the evidence of the past few games their contributions going forward have been spasmodic and erratic, and for all their efforts, defending, covering, pressing and tacking are alien to the pair of them.

Jota did his best but conceded a free kick in a dangerous position and Pritchard drifted in and out of the game and was an uninvolved bystander when Danns took possession before scoring the crucial opening goal.

This is not to denigrate them as they are both potential match winners but can we afford both of them together particularly away from home?

Toral has been champing at the bit and now fully deserves a start which will surely come next week.

He is tall, strong, puts his foot in and has a wonderful touch on the ball.

I believe we have a potential gem there and that he will establish himself in the team.

Given that we are at home next Saturday I would play Douglas behind a middle four of Judge, Toral, Jota and Pritchard and hope that Toral’s presence will enable Jota and Pritchard to spend more time and space on the ball to open up the Derby defence.

Dallas too is well on the way back to fitness and will challenge for a place soon, and we certainly improved when Tommy Smith came on yesterday as he has great vision and experience and does the simple thing extremely well.

Toumani Diagouraga, for all his assets, should not be the first substitute employed as has been the case recently, as he is a neutral influence at best and should ideally be employed to help run the clock down when we are winning.

The real problem is up front where for all his pace and tireless, unselfish running, Gray is becoming more and more isolated and is getting bullied and swamped by four defenders.

The ball does not stick and we are denied the chance to give our defence a rest as it seems to come back at us far too quickly.

Given that Button has been forced to kick far more regularly too, we need somebody that might win the odd high ball and retain possession.

Perhaps once or twice a match Gray manages to time his run perfectly and gets behind the defence but there is rarely enough support for him to take advantage of the situation he has created.

it is easy enough to pinpoint the problem, but far harder to solve it.

I believe in the five man midfield for the time being, but there might well come a time when Gray will be given some support up front.

This would however put more pressure on the midfield and defence who would be diminished in numbers, so for every positive there is an accompanying negative too.

I think it is time for Gray to be given a rest, mainly for his own good.

He has more than surpassed expectations but he is beginning to snatch at his chances, a sure sign of diminishing confidence, and he needs to be taken out of the firing line for a brief spell.

Given the enigma that is Betinho who seems totally out of the reckoning either for the time being or permanently, that means that there are three options, two serious and one that should not be followed.

Montell Moore is one for the future, but the future is not now and he should be left for the time being to develop his formidable talent outside the first team arena.

Tommy Smith played alone up front for much of the second half at Blackpool but that was on an emergency basis, which leaves Nick Proschwitz.

I honestly do not know what to make of him as he has hardly had sufficient game time for us to come to a considered opinion.

He has scored a goal from an easy chance at Rotherham and missed two decent late opportunities to become an instant hero by winning the Sheffield Wednesday match.

He is awkward and ungainly, but given his track record and the money expended on him, he must have something about him.

The only way to find out is to give him some proper game time and I would suggest that he is given a start next Saturday to see what he can do within the current system that we employ.

I still think that we are doing better than expected, but it would be ridiculous to ignore and not to address the weaknesses that have become self-evident in recent matches.

Mark Warburton is a wily bird and, whilst his hands are tied by the makeup of the squad he currently possesses, I am sure that is well aware of what needs to be done and that some changes are imminent.

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6 thoughts on “Not The Best Day! – 26/10/14

  1. I wasn’t there yesterday Grev so thanks for the write-up.

    Good analysis of the season so far. I would like to see two up front, to ease the pressure on Gray and to give Proschwitz a start. I think the good old-fashioned little and large combination would be worth trying.

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  2. Need to be more positive away from home Grev. Only started playing yesterday when we were two nil down. Gray needs a rest and Odubajo too in my opinion too. Toral deserves a start and proschwitz or Betinho must surely be tried soon also. What’s the point of having them if they are never gonna play. Don’t want to go back to the old days of Rosler style tinkering and constant changes but firmly believe the time has come for one or two of the squad players to be given a chance to see what they can do.

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  3. Gray played most of last season on the right, similar to Clayton Donaldson. With Moses needing to move back and cover Mac’s injury, Gray can move to the right with Smith or Nick up the middle. Agree that Toral looks good and is ready for a start. Tempted to give Pritchard a rest.

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