It really isn’t too long now! Like every other Brentford supporter I am anxiously and impatiently counting off the hours and minutes before our crucial and potentially season-defining local derby clash with Fulham. Who knows whether it really will be a Good Friday for the Bees and in reality my brain is pretty scrambled at the moment and I am making little sense whenever I try and analyse how we are likely to approach the game and, more importantly, whether it will all end up in tears of joy or disappointment. All I know is that it is well past midnight now and sleep will not come too easily tonight.
There is so much riding on the result. Local pride and bragging rights are at stake. A double over our near neighbours and close rivals, Fulham, would for so many of our supporters be the crowning glory of what has already proven to be a magnificent season. I will certainly be celebrating and screaming as loud as everybody else should we prevail but victory for me, however wonderful it would be, isn’t the be all and end all, but would merely be a means to an end and help us on our way to our final objective – namely winning promotion.
With seven games to go we are now entering the home stretch and there is no longer any margin for error. The Bees have fallen out of the top six for the first time in over four months and need to get back on track at Craven Cottage. A minimum of four points is surely a prerequisite from our next couple of matches if we are to have a realistic chance of going up. The international break came at just the right time for us as it gave us the chance to rest tired legs and regain some equilibrium as well as pick up some additional kudos from the excellent performances produced by Stuart Dallas, Alex Pritchard and Moses Odubajo whilst they were all on international duty. Thankfully they all returned to Griffin Park unscathed and should be bursting with confidence for today’s match. Dallas, in particular, so often the unheralded and unsung hero whose contribution often goes largely unnoticed, clearly demonstrated that he fully belongs at the highest level as he starred for Northern Ireland against both Scotland and Finland and Alex Pritchard contributed much to England Under 21’s excellent wins against Czechoslovakia and Germany. Moses Odubajo also made two sparkling appearances for England Under 20s and is surely tipped for even greater honours should he maintain his level of performance.
The conundrum for Mark Warburton will be choosing a team from what is practically a fully fit squad. Lewis Macleod did finally make his much awaited debut for the club last Saturday in the Development Squad’s defeat by Nottingham Forest but simply proved that the road to recovery and full fitness is a long and tortuous one and he surely has much work to do before he can mount a serious challenge for a first team place and I suspect that his time will come next season rather than this. We are blessed in midfield where we have a plethora of talent and the problem is more who to leave out rather than who to select. How on earth can you pick five from Douglas, Diagouraga, Pritchard, Jota, Judge, Toral and Dallas? You can make a serious and credible case for all of them to start and I do not envy the manager his task?
I forgot to mention that earlier tonight I also tried to still my beating heart and fortify my spirits for the morrow by watching the Brentford versus Fulham clash at Griffin Park and I almost wore out the remote control playing and replaying Jota’s magic moment. How many of you remember that both Dallas and Jota started that match on the bench and that they came on to help revitalise us and recharge our batteries midway through the second half at a time when, unimaginable though it seemed, Fulham looked as if they were going to commit highway robbery and emerge with three points from a match in which they were decidedly second best? Happily all’s well that ends well and the good guys deservedly came out on top but certainly would not have done had it not been for those substitutions. OK, for once, Nick Proschwitz also did fine when he came on too! As I said, Mark Warburton has much to ponder over when deciding upon the makeup of his midfield as Fulham are no slouches in that area, where the game will more than likely be decided. Chris Long was also on international duty but apparently returned early for treatment on a dodgy hamstring and I will lose more sleep later on tonight wondering if he will be fit enough to participate, even if only from the bench. Andre Gray provided a passable impression of Road Runner when he gave a lumbering Michael Turner the runaround and led him a merry dance at Carrow Road back in January and I hope that he can ideally repeat the performance later this afternoon. Talking of strikers, perhaps the best news of the week so far was the fact that Scott Hogan has returned to training after his sickening injury at Rotherham way back in August. He has been much missed and given a full recovery will provide an exceptional addition to our firepower next season.
We haven’t even mentioned our central defence yet where chaos and confusion remains. Dean and Tarkowski have resembled a pair of bears dancing on ice lately and we have been leaking goals given that the otherwise impeccable David Button has also started to look fallible at just the wrong time. Liam Moore has returned to Leicester after a horribly unimpressive loan spell and I still find it hard to reconcile the fact that a player apparently good enough to represent his country at Under 21 level looked so out of place in our defence. Go figure! Jack O’Connell has been recalled from Rochdale where he was quietly impressive and the question remains unanswered as to whether he is merely seen as defensive cover or if he might have far more than a bit part to play over the remaining few games. He certainly has the ability and from what I have seen and heard he also seems to have the temperament required. Could he be the joker in the pack and help revitalise what has become a porous defence?
So what I am looking for this afternoon? Three points, certainly, are paramount, and I would go down on bended knee for them but, I am also feeling greedy and would like far more than just a victory. I would also ask for the team to put on a performance, one that on the one hand fully restores our confidence but one that also puts the football world on notice that Brentford will not buckle to the pressure of their current situation but will rise to the challenge, just as we did a year ago. Good Friday 2014 was unforgettable, can we make Good Friday 2015 a worthy successor? Not long to go now!