I told you that I wasn’t going to Derby yesterday and would be reduced to watching the live coverage on Sky Sports on account of a long-standing social commitment last night. Well, in case you were wondering, let me just say that I was no company at all, and wandered around all night in a catatonic trance, replaying the entire match in my head, still rendered speechless by the total and utter unfairness of Brentford’s result at the iPro yesterday lunchtime.
Without mincing words we ran rings around Derby, played the home team off the park, totally dominated possession with some beautiful and characteristicly precise and incisive football and created more than enough chances to win three matches. Not just half chances either but truly massive opportunities that we really could not afford to spurn without risking a sting in the tail. As it was we were quite comfortably holding onto the lead given us by Alex Pritchard’s exquisitely struck curling twenty-harder and waiting for the final whistle when deep into injury time a scuffed mishit long range effort which could have gone anywhere from a player fortunate still to be on the pitch after a horror show tackle on Tommy Smith, fell at the predatory feet of Darren Bent six yards out with only Button to beat and he did not miss.
Unfortunately the same could not be said about Andre Gray who missed three gilt-edged second half chances to seal the points. His control let him down twice at the crucial moment and prevented him from getting his close range shots off quickly enough to escape the attentions of the covering defenders, and on both occasions he sliced wastefully wide, and then he could not grow enough to get over a Dallas cross and head into a gaping net. Jonathan Douglas too should have scored but his close range poke after Jota had opened up the Derby defence like a can of beans, was underhit and allowed a defender on the line to hack it clear.
Derby had started the faster of the two teams with Ince shooting narrowly wide from a free kick before forcing an excellent save from Button, but just as had been the case at Fulham, the Bees grew into the game and then took total control. The midfield dovetailed perfectly with Douglas and Diagouraga breaking up the play and driving us forward relentlessly with Pritchard, Jota, Judge and Odebajo cutting vast swathes in the home defence. Derby could hardly get a kick as Brentford probed for openings. Moses pinged a shot into the ground from where it rebounded clear off the keeper’s chest and Judge shot just wide from a free kick before a quick break saw the ball played to Pritchard in space who cut inside and with Bidwell’s brilliant decoy run distracting the defenders, the ball was curled thrillingly just inside the far post for a quite wonderful goal of Premier League class. The remainder of the first half saw total domination from Brentford with Jota, Tarkowski and Pritchard threatening a second goal that never quite arrived.
Derby couldn’t cope with Brentford’s movement and relentless pressing and the second half was comfortable for the Bees with Tarkowski and Dean confident and dominant and Button largely untroubled apart from a well timed dive at the feet of Bent and a sharp tip over from Whitbread. Then nemesis struck and two precious points were thrown away.
In everything bar the finishing this was by far our most impressive performance of the season as we totally silenced nearly thirty thousand home supporters with the quality of our football, accuracy of our passing and tenacity of our tackling and pressing. We looked massively composed and this was almost the complete team performance.
Before I start carping over where and how we fell short at the final hurdle yesterday, we would do well to reflect on just how far we have come, the fact that we are disappointed and aggrieved at not winning at Derby, a Premier League club in all but name, as well as the fact that we are playing football of a quality and sophistication unseen at Griffin Park in living memory. As Leroy Rosenior commented on The Football League Show: It was almost the perfect away performance, the most perfect performance I have seen all season in the Championship. They dominated the game from start to finish. I can only echo his words.
I would say that we shot ourselves in the foot, but on the evidence of yesterday we would probably have missed. There are a couple of truisms that bears repeating given their relevance and appropriateness to what occurred yesterday – goals win matches and never give a sucker an even break. In fact those wise words should be etched into the subconscious of every Brentford player as they reflect on how they let the game slip. It is a knee jerk reaction and far too easy to heap the blame on Andre Gray who ran tirelessly for the cause, as in legal terms he is part of a joint enterprise with all his team mates and they are all equally responsible for what transpires on the pitch and must share the bouquets and brickbats when they win or lose.That being said I am afraid his failings and inadequacy in front of goal cost us dear, and I sorely doubt that Bent or Chris Martin would have been quite so profligate had they been presented with identical opportunities at the other end.
We have now scored over seventy goals this season with three players in double figures, but we have let far too many teams off the hook with our wayward finishing. We are deadly from twenty yards out, but far less so from five. Gray has massively over performed and exceeded expectations with fifteen league goals in his first season in the Championship, but I am sure that there will be much backbiting, grinding of the teeth and second guessing about our lack of cover and options up front should we ultimately fail to reach the Playoffs. There was again no striker available to sit on the bench with Long still injured. This is a ludicrous situation that has cost us dear and should never have been allowed to occur.
Who knows where we will end up after another day of topsy-turvy results with Ipswich sneaking into the final Playoff place after narrowly beating doomed Blackpool and Wolves finally losing in a hard fought local derby at Birmingham City. There is still everything to play for but we aren’t half making it hard for ourselves. Will we finish in the top six, will all our hard work recover its merited reward or will we fall just short? All will be revealed in the next three tumultuous weeks.
We so deserve to make the Playoffs given how well we have played, the effervescence and style of our approach and the consistency we have shown for the past six months, but there is still so much room for improvement and I shudder to think just how good we can become next year as our players grow in experience and confidence and we become more clinical. I will naturally be desperately disappointed if our season ends on the second of May but would still look back with utter pride and joy at what we have been privileged to watch this season. Mark Warburton, the catalyst and inspiration for all that is so good about us, I salute you.