Who can tell me what these figures represent?
Do any of you have any suggestions, or do you all give up?
Well, they represent the possession percentages, shots on goal, shots on target and goals scored by Brentford in their last three matches.
As you can see, for all of our overwhelming possession, our number of shots on target per game remain very low, and indeed, in those three matches, we have scored only three goals, two of them from deflections, from fifty-two shots of which only seventeen were on target.
Conversely our opponents, Ipswich, Wolves and Brighton have had minimal possession, averaging less than thirty-seven percent per match and have been restricted to a total of thirty-seven shots of which sixteen were on target, and yet between them they have scored no less than eight goals.
“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics” is a phrase attributed to both Mark Twain and Benjamin Disraeli but the most important facts, and ones that cannot be contested, are that Brentford have lost three games in succession for the first time under Mark Warburton and have only kept one clean sheet in their last twelve matches.
It cannot also be denied that our last three opponents have done far more with far less of the ball and have been more clinical, composed and indeed, successful in front of goal than we have.
Is there a pattern emerging and if so what is it and how should we combat it?
Well in my opinion there most certainly is and we need to do something about it. And soon!
We have certainly contributed heavily to our own downfall by our profligacy in front of the opposition goal and our carelessness and needless risk taking in front of our own.
Looking at yesterday’s match, it is hard to be too critical when appreciating the sublime quality of some of our approach play, the subtle probing for gaps and the sudden quickening of pace, but all too often it just all fizzled out with a careless final pass or wasteful shot that soared harmlessly wide or well over the bar.
It is not too much of an exaggeration to say that we tore Brighton apart for much of the first half but so much possession resulted in so few real chances. But we should have made far more of what we did create.
Jota was untouchable as none of the Brighton defenders could get close enough to him to make a tackle. His early shot was pawed away by Stockdale straight to Gray, who had two attempts to score from close range, but somehow managed to send the ball all the way along the goal line without it actually entering the net when surely it was easier to score? Jota it was who then danced through the entire Brighton left flank before setting up Toral for what seemed the formality of scoring, but he could only force a solid smothering save from the keeper.
Brighton were light years behind us in terms of imagination, movement, pace and use of the ball but they defended in numbers, rarely allowed us to get behind them and simply clung onto the
ropes with few thoughts beyond surviving until halftime. Their craven policy deserved far less reward than it actually got, but we did not take advantage of our opportunities.
Brighton reformed after the break and the match became more even and open with Jack Bonham, given his first start since the Derby League Cup fiasco last season, impressing as he came under increased pressure.
Toral sliced over the bar before the game turned on the Andre Gray horror show. Having missed badly in the first couple of moments, his day went from bad to worse as the ball went everywhere apart from its intended direction. The ball fell invitingly to him from a cross weakly spooned to him by Stockdale but he shanked the ball horribly wide. Two more close range headed chances were spurned before he sped through on the left after a quick break from a Brighton corner, unforgivably ignored the three colleagues lined up unmarked and onside in front of a gaping net and sliced the ball towards the corner flag. Odebajo too let Brighton off the hook when roaring past his man into the box, but he too lacked composure in front of goal and blazed high, wide and not at all handsome.
Brighton then made an inspired substitution, with the burly Chris O’Grady at last giving them a decent out ball. Brighton gained in confidence as ours dipped and we decided to give our visitors a helping hand or two.
Three times we gave the ball away criminally just outside our penalty area, twice by Tarkowski and once by Moses. Unlike us, who struggled to get a shot close to goal, Brighton seized on our generosity yet somehow we escaped as March and O’Grady both hit the post and Bonham half smothered O’Grady’s second effort which slithered right through him and went tantalisingly close
to spinning inside rather than outside the unguarded post.
If you can’t win a game then surely the next objective is not to lose it but, almost on time, we conceded a dubious free kick which was floated in and Dunk’s touch beat the straining Tarkowski and the ball flew into the bottom corner of the net.
We never looked like recovering and a naive offside trap was caught out before O’Grady left a floundering Tarkowski flat on his backside before finishing emphatically for a fully deserved goal.
I really am not too sure how to react to this defeat. I so wanted a victory yesterday, firstly in the hope of gaining a lucrative draw in the next round of the FA Cup which would ideally see us given the chance to test ourselves against a Premier League team, but, more importantly, to arrest a minor slide before heads drop and it becomes a mini-slump.
Had we scored early on, as indeed we should, then I suspect that the motor would have purred into action and we would have gone onto a comfortable and much needed victory, but as it is, we have nobody to blame bar ourselves for the poor result, and we simply have to do better next time.
Gray surely cannot have such an appalling match again and I shudder to think how the supporters would have reacted had it been the unfortunate Nick Proschwitz who had been so profligate in front of goal. Given how well he has done, it is hard not to forget that, like so many of his colleagues, Gray is a work in progress and has barely got his L Plates off. The crowd stayed with him and indeed the rest of the team and they are fully aware that we will have bad days as well as good.
Brighton though, were there for the taking and were unbelievably poor and limited in the first half, beyond defending for their lives. That should not be denigrated though as we are totally unable to do the same.
I am completely in favour of, and full of admiration for our playing style and patient approach in terms of building from the back, however that does not excuse the crass stupidity, lack of strength, both physical and mental, basic errors of judgement and poor decision making that we have seen in bucket loads from all of our defenders recently.
Of the eight goals we have conceded in the last three games, yes, eight goals, it is hard to think of any of them that we could, or indeed should, not have prevented had we defended properly or with a modicum of concentration and common sense.
I well appreciate that we cannot have everything given our chosen style and have to make some compromises. I know we cannot have two dedicated strikers – but we could do far more with the chances we create and get more shots on target. I brought a Watford supporting friend yesterday who admired how we try and play but thought us very predictable as we invariably attempted to create openings down either wing without endeavouring to play our way through the middle. Our crossing was far too random and inaccurate and is another area where we desperately miss Alan McCormack.
I also understand that sometimes we take chances when playing the ball out of defence, but surely we need to make better assessments of the risks we are taking, because at the moment we are becoming a soft touch at either end of the field.
Clubs know that they cannot live with us if they try and out-football us, but if they press us high up the field and maybe even knock us about a bit, we are likely to crumble and concede poor goals. Similarly if they funnel deep and defend their penalty area they fully realise that we have no aerial threat and will not simply sling high balls into the box, but we will try and play around them and get midfield runners into shooting positions. If they defend stoutly they are likely to escape fairly unscathed.
Clean sheets are precious, as I have outlined in my last article, and we need a few more of them. Maybe we need to get Alan McCormack back next month in the hope that he will organise and perhaps even terrify his own team mates into defending properly.
And that is the key to what I am trying to say. I am not trying to have my cake and eat it and we don’t have to change the way we play, but we just have to be a little bit more careful and consider the risks before we decide whether to take them or not. In Mark Warburton’s words, we simply need to stop “taking liberties” at the back.
I well remember the howls of surprise a few matches ago when Harlee Dean sliced an agricultural clearance high into touch. There are times when you simply have to bite the bullet and clear your lines. Sometimes you can play it short or try one-two’s on the edge of your own penalty area, on other occasions it makes no sense to do so.
At present we are making poor decisions in and around both penalty areas and we need to do far better in each of them. We are so close to becoming a real force and maybe I am simply being impatient, as in my more rational moments I do realise that we have come an extremely long way very quickly, and perhaps a bit more patience and a lessening of expectations are required.
I hope and expect that there will be some hard work and perhaps even harsh words at the training ground this coming week and let’s just hope that Rotherham are on the receiving end next Saturday.