A week is a long time in football and things have moved on dramatically from the turmoil of the previous couple of weeks. The past seven days have seen Mark Warburton’s future clarified, if not to everyone’s satisfaction, and clear notice given regarding Matthew Benham’s intended strategy and future direction for the club. Tempers and emotions have finally cooled as all parties have remained firmly on message and emphasised their determination to work together for the remainder of this tumultuous season and, not before time, the attention has returned at last to matters on the pitch rather than in the boardroom.
The response of the manager and players has been utterly beyond reproach and they have responded to the end of the uncertainty with two decisive home wins that have fully restored confidence and optimism. Two games that could not have been more different as we overcame differing challenges from both ends of the spectrum. Bournemouth were defeated through a combination of grit, determination and organisation, allied, of course, to some pulsating and scintillating football – it wouldn’t be Brentford otherwise, would it?
Last night was an entirely different kettle of fish as a performance of total dominance culminated in a comfortable four-nil win over a demoralised, hapless and toothless shambles of a Blackpool side that barely went through the motions and went down almost without a fight, and, frankly, totally let down their long-suffering supporters who displayed far more effort and commitment than their team and demonstrated a black humour and resignation to their fate that was entirely to their credit.
Never having witnessed the annual stroll in the park when a Brentford team used to run rings around a pick-up squad of supporters, this was by some distance the most one-sided game that I can recall. It is no exaggeration to state that with a little more steadiness in front of goal, an understandable failure to retain focus and keep their foot on the peddle for the entire ninety-four minutes, and less concentration on walking the ball into the net, Brentford could easily have eclipsed their record nine-nil victory against Wrexham.
The statistics bear this out as Brentford managed an incredible 74% possession and 87% pass accuracy rate and an outrageous 42 attempts on goal, almost one every two minutes. This is easily a record for the Championship this season and, but for some profligate finishing and the sheer pride, ability and bloody mindedness of the overworked Joe Lewis, who was determined to stave off total embarrassment for his beleaguered team mates, we would have needed an abacus rather than scoreboard to keep count.
Despite the six points gained and seven goals scored over the last two matches, the only disappointment is that Brentford still find themselves just outside the playoff zone, but they are now firmly ensconced in a thirteen match promotion dogfight with eight teams seemingly competing for the prize, and he who is bravest, best prepared, organised and the most positive will ultimately prevail, especially if favoured with a little bit of good luck. Why shouldn’t it be us given the turnaround and change of fortune and the fact that we have players returning from injury who can provide fresh impetus and legs at a time when minds and bodies are becoming jaded?
Compared to where we were as we emerged shell shocked from The Valley a mere ten days ago, this is progress indeed, and who knows what the next ten weeks or so will bring, but what is certain is that we are back in the game and have a fighting chance of playing with the big boys next season. Something that looked highly unlikely a mere fortnight ago.
What transpires in the close season is for the future and everyone needs to put that prospect totally out of their mind for the time being as it is now imperative that total focus and concentration is maintained as well as a continuation of the renewed bond and unity within the camp, without allowing any distractions to further sabotage our efforts.
I often bemoaned the fact that even in last season’s promotion triumph there were really no easy games and we supporters could never afford to relax as the outcome was generally in doubt until near the end when our stamina and skill would invariably take over and allow us to triumph in what had generally up to that point been even and closely contested matches. Even our best win by five clear goals over Crewe was no stroll in the park as we didn’t break the deadlock until a minute before the break. Last night was a rare example of a match being over almost as soon as it had started owing to the immense gulf and chasm between the two teams. It was lovely to watch a game where it was clear that we were going to come out on top but, strangely, I have to confess that I missed the cut and thrust of a tightly contested game, as I am sure the remaining fixtures will be.
The outcome was never in any doubt last night once the marvellous Jon Toral, a total unsung hero, struck twice in a two minute spell on the quarter hour to alleviate any nerves and tension in the stands if not on the pitch, and it was then simply a matter of how many more we were going to score. Blackpool could barely get out of their half and David Button was totally untested and surely deserved a game off after his heroics on Saturday. That being said, given the levels of concentration maintained by all goalkeepers, I am sure that he was mentally exhausted at the end of the game last night despite his almost total lack of involvement in the proceedings.
Tarkowski and the recalled Dean snuffed out what little threat Blackpool offered and Odebajo and the immaculate Stuart Dallas were able to rampage up their respective wings and play as auxiliary wingers. Alan Judge had frustratingly picked up a knock on his return against Bournemouth and wasn’t risked last night, but he was hardly missed as Toral, Pritchard and Jota weaved intricate patterns and cut vast swathes in the visitors’ defence.
Diagouraga and the buccaneering Douglas ensured that possession was regained on the few occasions that Blackpool managed more than one consecutive pass and it was the skipper, slipped in by Jota who set up Toral for the opener with the ball swept through the keeper’s legs as he advanced in vain. Toral it was again with a rare far post headed goal when picked out by Gray’s immaculate cross.
Blackpool visibly subsided like a pricked balloon and concentrated on damage limitation. They didn’t even try to press or knock us out of our stride but appeared resigned to the inevitable. Gray hit the keeper when put clean through and Pritchard found increasingly ingenious methods not to score when given clear sights of goal. Blackpool’s cause was further diminished when Dunne’s crude challenge on Jota was immediately punished by a red card flourished seemingly in sadness by a thankfully subdued Andy D’Urso who did not otherwise influence the proceedings.
The second half was a procession and there were loud cheers when Blackpool finally got the ball into the Brentford penalty area late on in the game, but otherwise it resembled nothing more than a game of three-and-in with the visitors funnelling back to the edge of their area and forming a human barrier aimed at keeping the score down.
There was a relentless barrage of shots which rained in on their goal from all angles and distances. Some threatened the crowd massed behind the goal, others were blocked or forced excellent saves from Lewis. Gray beat him with a deflected effort from the rebound after the keeper made a wonderful parrying save from a fierce volley and, after spurning a number of opportunities, Toral bobbled in a last minute fourth to notch the first Bees hat trick since Gary Alexander in 2012. Saunders, Long and Smith were given run outs to rest Douglas, Gray and Jota for the crucial visit to Birmingham on Saturday and simply emphasised the strength and quality of the Brentford squad.
This has been a wonderful, restorative and recuperative few days for the Bees and we go into the final run in revitalised, confident and in great heart and with as much chance of success as all of the so-called bigger names that are also jockeying with us to reach the promised land.