Sometimes your day is touched with gold dust and you sit back the following morning and just bask in the happiness that is coursing through your entire being. This is how I am feeling today. My son, Nick, is twenty-three now, nearly three years out from graduating with a Politics degree from Leeds University and making his way in the world. He is doing just fine, he has an admirable work ethic, is never one to give up, or complain too much, he is kind and thoughtful, his current success is well deserved and his future is bright. He is establishing himself in his career, has moved into a lovely new flat and has some decent and caring friends. He also manages to find some time in his frenetic schedule for his loving and proud parents, and yesterday was one of those days.
Replete from a wonderful Friday night chicken dinner lovingly prepared by his incredible Mother, we waddled to the car and set off bright and early together for Leeds. Don’t think for one moment that Nick is a football fan, at best he tolerates it for my sake, but he wanted a lift to Leeds so that he could spend some time with his old University friends and the cost of the ride was to pass the day with me and watch Brentford play at Elland Road. Nick used to come with me occasionally to Highbury where, as a teenager, he was tempted more by the plush leather seats and the wonderful sweets kioks outside the stadium: Two for a Pound was the cry, and I can hear it still resonating across the room as I write.
He had done his homework and the journey up passed in a torrent of conversation about his life and aspirations, “New Brentford” and the likely date for the move to Lionel Road. Nick is well clued up on transport and planning issues and was keen to pass on his thoughts and advice. The hours seemed like minutes as we flew up the M1 and the only mystery was why I never seemed to get a red winegum whenever Nick passed me the packet as I drove – a real conundrum that will remain forever unsolved.
We parked beside the stadium at midday and decided to forgo the pleasure of a walk around the town centre but instead spent a lovely lazy hour or so in McDonald’s, reading the papers, totally comfortable in each other’s company with no need for constant conversation. A perfect morning! Frankly I would have been more than happy if the day had ended then after quality time spent with my son and a feeling of warmth, love and contentment, but there was to be no end to the delights of the day.
Little Old Brentford simply took over Elland Road, a dilapidated mess of a stadium, that, like its team and rabid fans has seen far better days and Jethro Tull’s “Living In The Past” should replace the tired and creaking and faintly martial “Marching On Together” as the club’s anthem. Their supporters, incandescent with rage, and fuelled with frustration and thwarted aggression, spent the entire match harking back to their past glories, and a time when they really were good, and despite their enhanced sense of entitlement, condescension and disbelief at the indignity of having to play the likes of Brentford, it was hard not to feel a little bit sorry for them given how they have been sold down the river by a seemingly neverending series of unsympathetic owners.
Brentford just played their football as only they can do. It took time for them to gel and they were slightly off the pace in a goalless first half that saw Leeds, inspired by the skilful Cook and Murphy, two players in the Brentford mould, huff and puff and press us high up the pitch, but seldom threaten. We simply sat back, held the ball and probed for openings when we were finally able to beat the press. Pritchard’s gorgeous flick sent Gray hurtling through the Leeds defence with a clear run in on goal. Bamba chased after him, his hot breath on his collar, and for an unworthy millisecond I hoped that the straining defender would catch Andre and bring him down for a certain red card and penalty but Gray held him off before only finding the keeper with his shot when he had to score. His overall hold up play and movement was as excellent as ever yesterday but he has lost his touch in front of goal and Mark Warburton could be seen on the touchline visibly encouraging his faltering striker and we can only hope that his fallow spell ends shortly before his profligacy costs us dear. I watched Callum Wilson score comfortably for Bournemouth at Wigan from two similar opportunities last night and that is the difference between a striker at the top of his game and a player still accustoming himself to the rigours of league football. It will come for him – it has to, if we are to maintain our exalted place in the Championship table.
Jota too missed horribly when he was left clean through and dillied and dallied on another occasion without getting his shot off and Pritchard was taken out by Cooper when running through and the defender saw yellow when red might well have been the verdict. We defended well when necessary and were troubled only when Morrison forced a comfortable save from an otherwise untroubled Button, Dean committed his one weekly error and sliced horribly past his own post and Moses tussled with Austin who was too keen to go to ground and we escaped without punishment.
We upped the tempo in the second half and Leeds could not live with us. Douglas and Diagouraga were an impassable barrier and Prichard’s feet twinkled to good effect. We dominated without looking dangerous until Toral replaced the ineffective Jota and his physicality and tenacity gave us the impetus to break the deadlock. He charged down a clearance, ran menacingly into the area and slid Diagouraga through, and his perfectly weighted low centre was thankfully missed by the straining Douglas before Pritchard scored easily. We erupted with joy, the Leeds supporters reacted with fury – how could they be possibly be losing to the likes of us? It had to be someone elses’ fault, so they picked on the referee, Graham Salisbury, not one of my favourites from our previous encounters with him, including the JPT Final against Carlisle and the recent penalty incident at Watford, but he stood firm, protected our players from the brunt of the physical onslaught of a frustrated home team and denied them two penalty kicks after blatant dives from the overly aggressive Austin.
As always after we have scored, we looked for another, and Toral smashed a beautifully controlled volley against the post before Long, who put in an excellent shift, twice came close to breaking his duck, under hitting a clear chance from in front of goal and then failing to beat Silvestri from a tight angle. As always there was a sting in the tail and Sharp shot wastefully wide from an excellent opportunity before an almighty scramble in front of the Brentford goal saw last minute disaster averted through Bidwell’s brave and brilliant defending.
So we won, and in all honesty our victory was far more comfortable than the score suggests. We were tight and organised at the back and stood up to considerable intimidation from a committed home team. We concentrate on playing the beautiful game but we are also not a soft touch any more and Dean, Tarkowski, Bidwell, Odebajo, Douglas, Dallas and Diagouraga all put their body on the line and were resilient and committed. We are coming of age and wins like this show just how far we have travelled and the development potential that still remains within the entire squad.
Like the Bees, my son Nick is still a work in progress but he has already become a young man of substance, stature, charm and ability. He too is on a long journey and one which will, I am sure, end in happiness, fulfilment and success. I am delighted and proud to accompany both of them on their voyage of discovery.