It is probably Brentford’s biggest game of the season at lunchtime today and I won’t be there to cheer them on. Yes, of course I will be watching the live coverage on Sky Sports but that really isn’t very much consolation. My football is pretty much sacrosanct and my friends and family generally know better than to schedule social events at the same time as a Brentford game but today is different as my wife and I will be going to a close friend’s housewarming early on Saturday evening. I suppose I could have kicked up a fuss and stamped my feet and perhaps even got out of going, or even turned up late but the rug was pulled out from under me as soon as Sky announced that Derby versus Brentford would be televised and shifted to Saturday lunchtime for live coverage. I am certain that all of you who are married will have learned long ago that the best way to maintain a cordial marital relationship is to pick your fights, and, quite simply, in this instance it just wasn’t worth my while digging my heels in about missing the game. I will keep my powder dry for another time and let this one go.
My stomach is already churning when I think about the importance of the game and I can’t imagine that I will be able to eat any lunch whilst the game is on. The automatic promotion ship has well and truly sailed in my opinion and I also think that the Playoffs could shortly become a chimera if we lose at Derby. That being said, perhaps Ipswich have blown up and surely Wolves can’t keep up their incredible run of consecutive wins for much longer? I will be sticking pins into their effigies before I go to bed. We have also won ten times away from home as well as our last couple of games at Blackburn Rovers and Fulham and to be quite honest I am now a lot more sanguine about our prospects at present when we play away.
We seem to have been sussed out recently at Griffin Park where our air of impregnability has faded and the opposition have learned that a packed defence allied to the occasional quick break and ball played over the top seems to pay rich dividends. We have gone kamikaze at home and pushed too many players too far up the field too soon in our impatience to take the game by the scruff of the neck. Understandably, anxiety has set in as we desperately seek the first goal that will calm our nerves, entice the opposition to come out from their entrenched defensive position and thus leave us more room to get in behind them and ideally cut them apart. Things are slightly different away from home where we are certainly positive and always looking to go forward and force the win, but we are more controlled and patient and seem to cope better defensively when we are under the cosh as we generally have a full complement of defenders on hand to repel all boarders rather than being caught short of numbers, as has proved to be the case on regular occasions recently at Griffin Park. We certainly play a high defensive line but Dean and Tarkowski are supplemented when necessary by Douglas and Diagouraga who provide further defensive cover.
That being said the opening goal conceded at Blackburn was another defensive cock-up on a grand scale when we were caught out by a simple long ball hoofed over the top from a free kick near the halfway line but we coped far better at Fulham until the giant Matt Smith came on to rough us up and create some panic after what had up to then been a calm and composed defensive performance. We are an exceptional counter attacking team and relish and capitalise upon the extra space granted us when home teams attack us. Quite frankly we have very often been our own worst enemy, with our midfield acting as a fifth column by winning the ball and then conceding possession again far too cheaply in extremely dangerous positions when one of our customary short passes calamitously goes astray. It is hard to carp when our expansive style has proved to be so successful but with a little bit more care of the ball and better concentration our goals against column would be looking far healthier.
As for Derby, our good run started against them in November when everything suddenly came right in the second half at Griffin Park. We had been totally outplayed in the first half, sat off our illustrious visitors, paid them far too much respect and were quite deservedly trailing by a goal at the interval. Something happened as we were a totally transformed team after the break and received the instant fillip of a quick equaliser from our first shot on target when Moses Odubajo, still easing himself into his new role as an attacking fullback, took off the handbrake and roared forward before his incisive pass was hammered home first time by an unmarked Andre Gray. Confidence suddenly flooded through our team who grew in self-belief and after Gray missed with a pointblank header Stuart Dallas won the day with an incredible angled volley in the last minute. Happy days, indeed, and how we celebrated as we finally realised just how good we could be and that victory set us off on a run of five consecutive wins that catapulted us up the table and set the tone for the remainder of the season.
A repeat performance at lunchtime would not come amiss but will be no easy task as Derby battle us for a Playoff place. Their confidence will have been partially restored by their win at Wigan earlier in the week and they will also be encouraged by the return from injury of talismanic striker Chris Martin who will need careful watching, not least by the referee as the canny striker seemed to spend more time on his back than on his feet in the first match this season when he bleated repeatedly for a penalty kick as he grossly exaggerated his falls. Let’s just hope that Mr Scott is similarly unmoved by his histrionics later on today.
We generally rise to the occasion in front of large, hostile crowds and hopefully today will be no exception. Our last performance at the iPro Stadium in the Capital One Cup in August 2013 was a total and utter disaster when the following callow team of babes and orphans was remorselessly taken apart by a full-strength home team:
El Alagui (Norris)
Only two of the fourteen players on display last season are likely to start for us and I am certain that Toumani and Stuart will be looking for revenge. This season has been so remarkable that who can say that we will not come back with at least a point. Can we dare to dream of three?