So where will you be at 4pm this afternoon? All I can say for certain is that none of us will be at Griffin Park eagerly awaiting the kick off for what would have been the first competitive meeting between Brentford and Arsenal since the 26th May 1947.
I wrote an article straight after our defeat by Brighton in the FA Cup Third Round entitled “Blessing in Disguise?” (http://tinyurl.com/omn2ppd) in which I discussed the pros and cons of our going out of the competition at such an early stage. I lamented the fact that we were missing the chance to test ourselves against one of the country’s top clubs as well as the profile and finance such a tie would bring us, but I also felt that it might prove to be an unwelcome distraction from our promotion challenge, as was the case in 2013 when we carelessly dropped crucial points before the Chelsea clash and also ended up with an unwelcome backlog of fixtures.
Whatever we all think about the benefit or otherwise of the FA Cup, the decision was taken out of our hands by the concession of two late goals against Brighton, but the one thing I am certain of is that nobody connected with the club wanted the burden of a replay and to add yet another match into what is already a relentless and exhausting fixture list. As it was, Alan Judge suffered an injury late on against Brighton and losing our most influential player for an unspecified period is a serious blow and we really miss his energy and influence despite our current run of three consecutive victories without him.
Given the absence of an FA Cup tie, yesterday’s planned Championship match at Norwich therefore went ahead as originally scheduled, one of only four such games that did so, and our wonderful result at Carrow Road totally ended the argument for me, as Brentford were able to tick off yet another league match on an afternoon when most of their rivals either rested or were distracted by their presence in the FA Cup, pick up another valuable three points, and our two-one victory, incredibly, the first in the League at Norwich since 1929, elevated the Bees to fourth place in the Championship and, more importantly, threw down the gauntlet to the rest of the division.
The highlights on the Football League Show clearly demonstrated our class and pedigree. Despite a bobbly atrocity of a pitch which seemed totally incongruous given Norwich’s long established tradition for playing the beautiful game, but made far more sense when the home team’s game plan was revealed, it was Brentford who adapted perfectly to the conditions, whilst it was their hosts who hoofed the ball unceremoniously from back to front with monotonous and mind-numbing regularity and only really threatened danger on the few occasions when the will-o’- the-wisp Nathan Redmond was allowed to run at an exposed Jake Bidwell.
Despite the fact that they were flattered by the margin of their victory at Griffin Park earlier in the season, Norwich had impressed me on the night with the quality of their football when players ran effortlessly off the ball into position and they held the ball well whilst probing for opportunities, but they now seem drained of confidence and appear to have morphed into yet another long ball clone of a team, far removed from the heritage of the club, and we simply picked them off.
Mark Warburton keeps saying that it is simply up to the players to keep believing in their own ability and realise that they are where they are in the league totally on merit and fully deserve to be challenging for promotion either automatically or via the playoffs. The players seem to be totally on message given the ease with which they rolled the ball around as if playing on a bowling green, kept possession and took care of the ball and pulled their opponents out of position with apparent ease. I really have no doubts on that score, the penny has finally dropped and the players fully realise that they have every chance of achieving what at the beginning of the season was considered to be the impossible and unthinkable – return to the top division after an absence of nearly seventy years.
I really do not care a jot (or even a Jota) for the media who remain ignorant and sceptical about our progress and prospects and fully expect us to blow up at any moment and what compliments we do receive are generally patronising and grudging in the extreme, but I am really referring to us, the Brentford supporters who are understandably still finding it hard to accept and believe the evidence of our own eyes concerning what we have been privileged to watch every week since early August.
We have only been turned over by two teams, Middlesbrough and Ipswich and yet I am sure that I am by no means alone in having this nagging feeling in my stomach as I travel to every Championship fixture home or away that this might be the day when reality kicks in and we receive a thumping and are put firmly back into our place. Rationally I know that such thoughts are arrant nonsense given that we have won fifteen of our twenty-seven league matches to date and given the run of the ball, we might well have won quite a few more too.
It’s about time that we learned to trust in the ability of the team as well as the management and coaching staff. Of course we might get a few more defeats as the season continues but I can honestly say that there is no other team in our league that plays the beautiful game quite like we do.
It really doesn’t seem to matter who the opposition is or how they line up against us and whether they try to out football us or intimidate us, we just keep on playing our normal game, retaining possession of the ball, probing for weaknesses and then suddenly increasing the pace and striking at goal. Nothing seems to faze us, if the opposition scores first or equalises, as was the case yesterday, then we simply shrug our shoulders and get on with trying to score another goal.
Apropos of nothing I am reminded of the great Danny Blanchflower who, when asked about the success of his Northern Ireland team back in 1958 said: “our tactics have always been to equalise before the other team scores.”
We are a team of midgets in what often appears to be the land of the giants and yet we rarely seem to get punished for our lack of height. We are blessed with two of the finest pure footballers ever seen in a Bremtford shirt in Jota and the ever-improving Alex Pritchard who finds little pockets of space and teases the opposition like a matador with his cape before sliding precision passes that split the opposition defence asunder and sets up chances for the willing Gray, Dallas and Douglas.
We have a very simple formula: to find really talented and gifted footballers and imbue them with the freedom and confidence to attack and express themselves without fear or recriminations.
After yesterday’s latest victory, Mark Warburton calmly stated that this time last year Brentford were playing against Gillingham, and who we play against at the same time next year totally depends on how far the players believe they can go.
It’s not the players I worry about as they all seem to recognise that they have a date with destiny, it’s us, the fans, who need to get on board with the manager’s wise words and quickly understand and accept that this is a team with a mission and one that more than possesses the quality to achieve all of its aims and ambitions.