I have always made it a rule never to write a match report immediately after the final whistle. With good reason too. It is all too easy to go off on a poorly considered and ill judged rant and tear everybody and everything to shreds without allowing for tempers and emotions to calm down and for a more measured analysis to be made in the cold light of day.
I have therefore taken a day or so to reflect on where Tuesday night’s disappointing one-nil defeat at Sheffield Wednesday has left us and why we find ourselves in our current position.
Let me start off by saying that even after mulling things around my head and analysing Brentford’s performance in forensic detail, I’m still frustrated, furious and fuming at what happened at Hillsborough and I am not going to pull my punches.
As ever we totally dominated proceedings, but I am sounding like a broken record as that is invariably the case nowadays both home and away. We had 59% possession and were accurate with 71% of 491 passes, which, it has to be said are all fairly low figures for the Bees. The telling statistic, and the one which highlighted where the match was lost is the fact that we managed fourteen shots of which a miserable three were on target.
The pitch resembled a cabbage patch, being bumpy and bobbly and almost denuded of grass and it has to be said that Brentford managed to play as much football as was possible on such a terrible and uneven surface.
Wednesday were more than happy to sit back and defend in numbers, draw us in and then hit us on the break, relying on a tall, tough and well-drilled defence to keep us at bay. Their game plan worked perfectly as they kept their record-equalling seventeenth clean sheet of the season and scored from one of the few opportunities that they created, albeit one that we did our utmost to set up for them.
After our customary slow start we finally got a toehold into the game and created four excellent first half opportunities that should have put us out of sight and ensured that the points would be travelling down South. Gray did brilliantly to conjure up two chances out of practically nothing, each time bursting past his marker who was utterly out-powered by his strength and determination, but faced only by the goalkeeper, Westwood, albeit from a tight angle, he failed to finish off the job either time and the ball drifted wide on both occasions. It is hard to criticise a young player who is left isolated game after game, creates most of his chances for himself given that he is left to forage largely on his own but his finishing has quite literally been hit and miss and far less than clinical for half a season now.
Jota was well marshalled but finally escaped the clutches of his marker before running into a blind alley when he could have shot and then just before half time came the key moment of the match. Gray’s clever back-heel put Judge clean through straight down the middle but with the goal gaping, he thrashed the ball onto the top of the bar and over with the referee generously adjudging that the keeper had touched the ball on its way into the massed ranks of relieved home supporters, well aware that they had been let off the hook. Judge’s lack of composure was telling and was perhaps symptomatic of the fact that with the inspirational Alex Prichard out injured, he was trying too hard to put his stamp on proceedings.
Gray was guilty of yet another glaring miss soon after halftime when Diagouraga’s exquisite through ball gave him time and space to pick his spot from fifteen yards – cometh the hour, cometh the man, surely, but Gray once again fluffed his lines and shot unerringly a foot wide of the goal.
Having survived so many chances for us to win the match and yet being let off the hook time after time, Wednesday were reinvigorated and finally roused themselves from their torpor and began to probe us on the break as we pushed players forward in desperate search of the opening goal. Toral replaced Dallas and just as had been the case at Leeds in early February he turned the game and set up the match-winning goal – unfortunately, this time at the wrong end. He took Button’s slightly overhit clearance onto his chest in the centre circle but slipped and carelessly allowed the ball to run away from him. Wednesday seized on the gift and with players caught upfield, were left with a man over and a low cross saw Tarkowski block the first shot but Lee snaffled up the rebound to score a soft and totally unearned goal.
We were stunned by this self-inflicted body blow but fought back well and created two more chances. Jota finally forced Westwood into a save with a bouncing long range effort that was scrambled away, before Judge unforgivably ballooned over from close range after Jota had put him in on goal. The Brentford fans were already beginning to celebrate as the ball dropped to Judge in time and space but their anticipation turned in a split-second to groans of disbelief as he snatched at the ball when he could have brought it down and then shot way over the bar. That was our final chance and the game slipped away from us. Three points gift wrapped and thrown away given the excellent opportunities that were wasted.
The defeat leaves us in a position where we are no longer in control of our destiny and we surely need to win our final three matches, all of which are on paper eminently winnable, as well as rely on a couple of snookers from Ipswich and Wolves if we are to reach the Playoffs. With two draws and a defeat in our last three matches we have nobody else to blame but ourselves. All three should have seen comfortable victories and whilst you can bemoan our misfortune at Derby the statistics tell their own story of our shortcomings. We have averaged over 60% possession in the last three games, had sixty-four shots of which only eighteen were on target and scored a measly three goals. We allowed the opposition thirty-two efforts on goal with ten on target and four finding the net. We scored from one in twenty-one of our efforts, the opposition were far more clinical , scoring with one in eight of their shots.
Mark Warburton has pretty much said the same thing and repeated the identical mantra in every post match press conference:
- We must be more clinical in front of goal
- We must take more care of the ball
- We must stop making unforced defensive errors
Unfortunately the players seem totally unable to take these messages on board and these constant errors at both ends of the pitch are more than likely to cost us very dear come the end of the season. I appreciate the youth and relative inexperience of many of our squad but a genuine promotion chasing team simply gets the job done at the business end of the season, as have several of our rivals who have now sprinted way ahead of us whilst we have struggled to get over the line.
There are also questions that have to be asked about the depth and quality of our squad, despite the manager’s continued refusal to accept that we are anything other than fully equipped for every challenge that awaits us. Tuesday saw us without the services of Long and Pritchard and today we have learned that Chris Long was recalled by his parent club, Everton to play in an Under 21 fixture this afternoon as they felt he had not been starting recently for Brentford. To add insult to injury, or in this case should it perhaps be the other way around, he scored and was then taken off with a gashed thigh that required stitches. This is a strange one as it had previously been reported that we had sent him back to receive treatment as he hasn’t been able to feature in our last three match day squads, yet he was fit enough to play for Everton yesterday. Where does that leave us? Will we see him again or are we going to end up playing our last six Championship matches with one fit (and I use that term advisedly) striker in the case of the drastically overworked Andre Gray?
I would share the view of Gary Blissett, which he recently expressed on Facebook, that now is the time to get behind and support the team unconditionally as we still have a mathematical chance of reaching the Playoffs. There will be more than enough opportunities for analysis, praise and even recrimination once the season ends. Hopefully that will not be for a few weeks yet. Victory on Saturday against Bolton is essential. There is no margin for error. Let’s hope we can get at least one of our injured players back as we continue to try and get ourselves over that finishing line.