As all my friends and family know I am a bit anal about timekeeping and invariably turn up far too early for every appointment and come out in hives at the prospect of being late. Thus it was that I arrived at Putney Bridge station at around one o’clock yesterday with a lot of time to kill. I have always been a sucker for second hand book shops and my spirits rose when I saw one just around the corner from the tube. Food was out of the question as my stomach was churning with a combination of anticipation, excitement and fear at the prospect of the match looming up ahead and how much it meant, and I thought that a few minutes of quiet reflection and browsing might take my mind off the football and help me regain my equilibrium. No such luck, as amongst all the dog-eared thrillers and faded Johnny Haynes biographies, what did I see in pride of place in the front window but a bright yellow coloured copy of something entitled “A World Without Bees.” I did a quick double-take, as I wondered if my eyes were deceiving me or had I really seen what I thought I had? I grabbed the book with a sense of fear and foreboding in order to read the blurb inside the front cover and was relieved and gratified to learn that the tome was in fact a scholarly discourse on the mysterious decline of the honeybee and what that means for us all, rather than a polemic or diatribe by a disaffected Fulham supporter jealous of our success this season. I tramped through Bishop’s Park towards the ground reflecting on whether or not this was a good omen. The answer was soon to become apparent as Brentford demonstrated a winning combination of organisation, steely-eyed determination, effervescence and pure skill to steamroller a poor and dispirited shambles of a Fulham side to register an awesome four-one hammering of their local rivals and, crucially regain a place in the Playoff positions.
Perhaps I am being a tad harsh as Fulham played some slick passing football from time to time, particularly early on, but they only really threatened to hurt us after being gifted a non-existent penalty by an indulgent referee which allowed them to regain a foothold in a match which seemed to have totally slipped away from them. They then discarded all their footballing principles by bringing on the Big Lump, Matt Smith, going Route One and looking for the knockdowns. They looked more like a reincarnation of Wimbledon circa 1988 than a traditional Fulham short passing team and for ten minutes or so they overpowered us and threatened an equaliser. My mind kept replaying images of the match at Millwall in November when, after looking in total control, we buckled under an rabid aerial assault at about the same point in the second half and but for a narrow squeak when Smith lobbed just wide and then the referee thrusting his arms almost out of their sockets to dramatically deny them a second penalty after an appeal which in truth looked far more credible than their first after Tarkowski baulked Smith, we weathered the storm and simply went down the other end to score two more goals to blow the opposition away and seal the points.
With over six thousand supporters in attendance, Brentford seemed to have taken over Craven Cottage and the entire neighbouring area. The noise was deafening and the backing total. You could almost sense the team growing in confidence and becoming even more inspired and determined to prevail when they emerged from the tunnel to warm-up and glimpsed the fervent red and white hordes assembled behind the Putney End goal. It sounded more like a home game and just as was the case at Orient last season, the Fulham surely blundered in allowing us to obtain such a foothold within their stadium. Our supporters were our Twelfth Man and more than played their part in securing the victory. Well done to each and everyone one of them who was in attendance.
Mark Warburton also deserves great credit for his team selection. I wrote yesterday about the boggling number of potential permutations that he had at his disposal throughout the team, but quite obviously he hadn’t read my column as he fielded an unchanged team, and was proved totally correct in doing so. I am sure that he fully realised that Alex Pritchard, Moses Odubajo and, in particular, Stuart Dallas had been inspired by their international appearances over the previous fortnight and that they should all start and play until they ran out of steam. I have previously written about Dallas being an unheralded and unsung hero and I really do not think we quite realise what a gem we possess. He is tall, quick, strong, can beat a man, is versatile and can play in several positions on both flanks across the front line and at full back and possesses a howitzer of a shot. Not a bad combination of skills in one player and it is also quite evident that he just loves to play football and his attitude is first class. Rather than look at him as a squad player who can fill in where necessary we should recognise that he has metamorphosed into a fully-fledged international footballer who deserves to be one of the first names on the team sheet.
After surviving Fulham’s initial pressure thanks to an excellent Button save, we gradually inched into the game and found joy on our left side where Bidwell and Dallas dovetailed to perfection and found space in the home rearguard. After an early sighter than was easily saved, Dallas tried again from just outside the area and his effort seared into the bottom corner. Pritchard pulled all the strings with Douglas and Diagouraga both inspirational. It was Douglas who won the ball early in the second half, strode forward and sent a perfect lobbed pass to Gray who held onto the ball, turned and laid it back to Dallas who hit an absolute screamer into the top of the net from almost thirty yards. I was seated close to its trajectory and felt scared as the ball flashed towards me and I now know what it must have been like to face a fusillade of cannon balls in Napoleonic times. His shot would have taken my head off if it had missed the goal. Thankfully it didn’t and we celebrated in style. In my report of the first match between the two teams at Griffin Park, I believe that I referred to Fulham as being “all fur coat and no knickers” and that disparaging description would also aptly sum up the way in which they shirked their defensive responsibilities and were not prepared to put their bodies on the line by attempting to block either shot by Dallas.
Pritchard’s job was done and Judge replaced him and he gave the home team no respite as he did his Duracell Bunny impression, but his energy was matched by his guile and he made a massive contribution to our ultimate victory. We then tore Fulham apart and a goal of the season candidate was denied us when Jota and Odubajo combined perfectly to set up Gray for a tap in, but he decided to try and break the net instead and his effort raged into the crowd.
Fulham were out on their feet until the referee gave them a helping hand when Diagouraga’s perfect sliding tackle on Husband was ludicrously adjudged to be a foul and then the excitement started. Dean and Tarkowski stood firm and we survived, not without some alarms, but the sting in the tail was to come from the Bees as, with Pritchard safely off the pitch, Judge was allowed to take a free kick from the edge of the area and scored brilliantly and unstoppably off the underside of the bar. We were now in total ecstasy but the day had still more to give us, as deep into stoppage time six thousand Brentford supporters and the few remaining Fulham fans were treated to the site of Judge speeding towards the corner flag and with the defenders fully expecting him to see out the final few seconds, he did the unexpected, turned towards goal and centered low for Jota to run towards the near post undetected and thrash the ball into the roof of the net.
“Jota in the last minute” roared all the Brentford supporters almost in unison as we floated out of Craven Cottage after a perfect day which had seen us do the double over our illustrious neighbours for the first time since 1992 (I wonder what happened then?), secure West London bragging rights and regain our place in the top sixth. Now all we need to do is win our last six games too. A tough task awaits us, starting on Monday when we face the challenge of Nottingham Forest but we are Bees, we can do this!