Apologies for the directness and bluntness of today’s title. It really wasn’t what I’d originally had in mind. My initial intention had been to write a piece themed around the idea of “catching up” with all the news, rumours and scuttlebutt in and around Griffin Park after returning from my trip abroad, but my plans were rather overtaken by the ultimately frustrating events of yesterday afternoon which have necessitated a total change of emphasis. Things had started so well with a lovely relaxing lunch at The Weir followed by the post prandial passeggiata stroll through the splendour of The Butts and the nearby maze of terraced houses, then past The Griffin, and finally inside the ground where I eagerly sought out the company of some badly missed old friends.
I had been far away for over a week and really needed a fresh fix of all things Brentford. How had we played at Ipswich, was there any transfer gossip, who should start this afternoon in central defence and upfront, Liam Moore or Harlee Dean, Andre Gray or Chris Long, how fit is Alan Judge? I needed the answers to these and many other pressing questions from established Brentford sages such as Billy Reeves, Mark Burridge, Paul Briers, Matt Casey, Phil Coffey, Dave Morley and Ian Townsend. I paced up and down the Braemar Road forecourt and into various byways and bolt holes in order to seek them out as I needed to reconnect with them, hear their opinions and even argue the toss with them. Some I found, others I didn’t but, overall, my endeavours were rewarded, as by the time the two teams emerged I felt replenished and reinvigorated, really back where I belonged and totally re-immersed in the DNA of my beloved club.
Three points against a mid table and seemingly disinterested Cardiff City team that appeared to be going through the motions in a first half totally dominated by the Bees seemed to be a formality and Brentford should have been leading by more than a single goal at the interval. For all their possession, imagination and energy Brentford did not create as many chances as they should, but after Jonathan Douglas had a goal ruled out after he challenged ex-Bee Simon Moore in the air and Stuart Dallas miscued badly after a dazzling run by the mercurial Jota, Andre Gray tapped in from close range after Moore could only paw away a long range free kick by Alex Pritchard, reminiscent of his recent effort against AFC Bournemouth.
Cardiff were totally out thought and outplayed and time wasted shamelessly almost from the outset without interference from a weak and benign referee. Morrison and the moody Macheda both saw yellow for niggly fouls and Brentford let the visitors off the hook by not going for the jugular and securing the second goal that would surely have sealed victory and left the visitors dead and buried.
The second half started as the first had ended with the Bees on top, and only a sharp low save from Moore prevented Gray from scoring at the near post. And then, having been under no pressure whatsoever Brentford, not for the first time this season, exposed their soft underbelly and self-destructed. This time the unexpected kapore-hun, or “scapegoat” for those of you who do not speak Yiddish was goalkeeper David Button, so often our salvation this season, who now showed his less positive side when he spilled an easy ball when he collided with the covering Harlee Dean and Macheda was left with an open goal. Dean was the innocent fall-guy in this instance but Tarkowski was also beaten far too easily in the air by Alex Revell in the lead up to the goal. Unusually the heads seemed to go down after this bolt from the blue and another gift was soon in the offing when Macheda played the ball in behind an advanced defence, Button came, then stopped, left himself exposed and high and dry in no-man’s land, and was easily lobbed by Revell. Two goals from two chances and both were easily avoidable and came from totally inexcusable defending. Even more galling was that they were Cardiff’s only efforts on target throughout the entire match.
Brentford came back strongly but for all their dominance in possession and flurries in the box, created very little. Jota and Pritchard schemed in vain but ran into blind alleys and even when Judge came on to add his energy and change of pace not too much fell our way as we were smothered by the sheer weight of numbers. Tarkowski and Toral headed wastefully over. Moore tipped over a lame header from Bidwell and that was it until Cardiff were reduced to nine men with former Brentford loanee Kadeem Harris dismissed for a high tackle on Judge which probably looked worse than it was and Macheda receiving a long overdue second yellow card for a raised foot on Tarkowski.
The last ten minutes saw Cardiff under siege but Brentford lost their heads, stopped playing their football, went Route One and played into Cardiff’s hands with a series of aimless crosses which were meat and drink to their huge defenders. Smith’s deflected volley just wide and a heated late appeal for hand ball were the closest that we came to an equaliser.
This was a tough but not necessarily mortal blow to our promotion prospects as we beat ourselves and allowed a horrible, sly and negative team to walk away sniggering with three totally undeserved points. Once again we gave away soft goals through failing to do our job and defend properly. We have to work so hard to score ourselves and yet we are so profligate at the other end. No wonder we appeared so demoralised once we had conceded the first goal. At the other end, some of our passing was a joy to watch but the final ball rarely fell kindly or was often overhit.
For all our possession and clever, intricate play, Simon Moore was rarely extended and we only tested his supposed weakness from long range once and hit the jackpot when he spilled Pritchard’s free kick. Surely an opportunity wasted and a mere five shots on target from twenty-four attempts tells its own sad story.
This season has been so exciting and successful that it almost appears carping to criticise but we really should not be repeating the same errors at both ends of the field in March as were being made in September. Margins are so slim and there are certain to be many more peaks and troughs over the last crucial nine games, but today was a massive missed opportunity and our prospects of automatic promotion now look slim. We simply need to regroup, put today down as just one of those games and ensure that we do not return empty-handed from our long, tough trip to a resurgent Blackburn Rovers on Tuesday night. We will certainly need to defend far better than yesterday and snap up whatever chances we manage to create. Ipswich and Wolves are breathing down our neck and we need to ensure that sixth place at a minimum remains ours. We deserve no less after our incredible exploits this season, but we certainly make life hard for ourselves sometimes, and yesterday was a prime example.