It is quite impossible to exaggerate the importance of Brentford’s stunning victory at Craven Cottage on Friday and the effect it has had on us. It has provided a massive confidence boost to us all, supporters, players and management alike and has put us firmly back on track for promotion. After some recent up and down results and performances and slipping out of the top six for the first time in over four months we were seeing some understandable signs of self-doubt but now the Bees find themselves back in the Playoff zone and their ultimate fate remains in their own hands. You cannot really ask for more than that at this stage of the season. The victory itself was paramount, but what made it even better was the manner in which it was achieved.
After a stuttering start when the Bees seemed to forget how to press and challenge and simply sat back and admired the pretty patterns being weaved in front of them by a Fulham team long on style but thankfully short on penetration, reality finally kicked in and we began to compete. Once we did so then our superior organisation and skill on the ball allowed us the time and room to take control. Pritchard was the catalyst for everything good that we did in the first half, always finding little pockets of space and the subtle pass that opened up the home defence and almost put Jota in on goal was a joy to behold.
We took the game by the scruff of the neck and totally dominated proceedings after the initial nervous quarter hour and were seemingly coasting with a two goal cushion until Simon Hooper decided to emerge from the shadows where referees belong and should always remain, and put his stamp on proceedings by gifting the home team a penalty after a sliding tackle so perfectly timed by Diagouraga that there was barely an appeal for a spot kick. We creaked under the pressure for the next quarter hour but we held firm under an aerial bombardment more reminiscent of the The Blitz than a football match before reasserting our control with two late and brilliant goals.
No victory is easily earned and this was no exception. We defended well and stoutly with the much criticised central defensive partnership of Dean and Tarkowski standing firm and resisting almost everything that was thrown at them. We regained our faltering trust in them and we will need them to maintain their form, and more importantly, concentration over the torrid weeks ahead of us. Craig and now, O’Connell, are there as cover but we really needed our current pairing to come good and they certainly did so on Friday.
After receiving fully justified paeans of praise for his effervecent performances for Northen Ireland, Stuart Dallas is finally beginning to realise just how good he is and I believe that there is so much more yet to come from him. He has grown into his paws and is now a potent weapon and a massive part of our armoury. He can go for the byline and cross the ball hard and low into the danger zone, or cut in onto his favoured right foot and give the ball a hell of a whack. In a team that can be frustratingly elaborate and consistently tries to walk the ball into the net it is so refreshing to have a player who is totally uncomplicated and is prepared to shoot on sight. He combines power with accuracy and his two goals on Friday were both perfectly executed and sizzled into the net.
Alan Judge also proved that he has finally recovered from his long-term injury as he took the game by the scruff of the neck when he came on for the tiring Pritchard. Fulham must surely have breathed a collective sigh of relief when they saw the back of Pritchard but there was to be no respite for the tiring Cottagers who were then led a merry dance by Judge who offered us a fresh dimension with his nonstop running, accurate passing and shoot-on-sight policy. What a relief to us all to see him do so well as he is our talisman and inspiration and we know that he will be determined to lead us to the promised land. The only cautionary note is the need to curb his enthusiasm as both he and Jonathan Douglas have picked up eight bookings and must ensure that they keep their nose clean in at least one of the next two matches if they are to avoid what would be an enormously costly and badly timed two match ban.
I have deliberately refrained from any gloating, up until now at least, but it has been quite wonderful to sit back and simply luxuriate in the fact that we have beaten and totally outplayed Fulham in both Championship matches this season. Their message boards have also gone quiet and there has barely been a repetition of the patronising and ignorant comments that followed our first win at Griffin Park late last year.
We are now a better managed and run club than Fulham. We have a set of players who have totally invested and bought into what has been asked of them because they know it works and will get results.We have a clear strategy and plan for the future and I would be prepared to bet a large sum on Brentford steaming way ahead of Fulham in terms of our onfield achievements over the years to come.
Saturday and Sunday could have been horrid days full of negativity, regret and foreboding if we had lost, as we would surely have been contemplating the prospects of promotion slipping through our fingers. Now we are perky and positive and eagerly looking forward to the next challenge.
It was in the reverse fixtures against Derby County and Nottingham Forest last November when we first realised just how good this team could be and our performance at Forest was in my opinion by far the best of the season. We totally dominated them, should have been five up at the break, and played with a freedom of expression that left the home team and supporters totally nonplussed. I hope that Mark Warburton takes Andre Gray to one side and reminds him of just how well he played that night as he terrified their defenders and could have scored four goals instead of the one he managed. A repeat performance at Griffin Park would be extremely welcome.
Who would ever have thought that we would find ourselves at Easter with still so much to play for? The pessimists amongst us might have feared that we would now be immersed in a relegation struggle, but here we are, with six games to go, realistically contemplating the prospects of the Premier League next season. Heady times indeed and dreams really do not come much better than this! Oh and by the way, a final pointer for the commercial staff at the club: suitably inscribed “Jota In The Last Minute” T-shirts would be a surefire winner and top seller!