Well if it is goals that you want to see then Brentford are certainly the team for you in the Championship as their forty-four league games to date have seen the ball hit the back of the net an incredible one hundred and thirty-two times, a record bettered by only three other teams, oh and let’s also not forget that ridiculous and remarkable Capital One Cup tie at Dagenham way back in August which would add another twelve to the total. The Bees are the fifth top scorer in the league with seventy-three goals but it is illuminating to break down from whence these goals have come.
Only twenty goals have been scored by strikers, fifteen by Andre Gray, reputed to have been signed as our number three striker but by default our number one all season-long, four by the amazing disappearing man Chris Long who might still be back at Everton but could also conceivably be returning to Griffin Park next week, and the other by the misfit Nick Proschwitz, who has recently worked his way back into the Coventry City team and has been featured on the last two Football League Shows doing what he appears to do best – missing clearcut chances.
Our undoubted strength is in midfield where we invariably field five players and it is not surprising that the bulk of our goals, forty-seven in all, have come from that area. Alex Pritchard with eleven and Jota are in double figures with Jonathan Douglas notching a eye-catching eight goals followed by Stuart Dallas and Jon Toral each with six. Sam Saunders and Alan Judge have scored twice, far less than one would have expected from the Irishman, with Moses Odubajo and Tommy Smith netting just the once. Our back four have hardly contributed to the scoresheet with Moses scoring twice from right back and Harlee Dean and Alan McCormack getting one each. Millwall and Wolves also scored an own goal and I am still surprised that Jake Bidwell made no effort to claim the goal at Wolves, as he might well have got away with it.
Alan Judge easily leads the way with assists, two more on Saturday against Bolton taking him onto twelve. Pritchard is next in line with seven followed by Gray with five and Douglas, Odubajo and Bidwell have four. I have previously remarked upon the dearth of goals from within the six yard box and we have only scored six times from headers all season, four by Douglas and one each by Toral and, remarkably enough, Jota who is actually a lot better in the air than he would like us all to realise. None of our strikers have scored with their head, Gray came closest when he hit the post against Derby and also missed horribly and crucially late on at Wolves back in December. Our set piece record is also pretty abysmal with two goals scored direct from free kicks by Pritchard and Judge, Gray poaching a rebound against Cardiff and only four goals resulting from corners. Sam Saunders has barely featured this season and our delivery has not been the best but there has been a lack of devil, numbers and strength in the box and our pulse rarely starts to race when we are awarded a free kick or corner. In case you all think I am carping at our offensive record, that is really far from the case as I am well aware of our myriad strengths, in particular our speed at launching counter attacks, as was evidenced by Alex Pritchard’s beautifully worked goal yesterday when Tarkowski, Gray and Judge turned defence into attack in an instant, as well as the way in which we create chances through the individual skill of so many of our players.
There is so much to admire and appreciate in the way that we play and perhaps we simply have to realise and accept that our cavalier, attacking style leaves us exposed and vulnerable to counter attacks. I am reliably informed that within the game we are considered to be one of the most open teams in the League and also one of the worst at coping with quick opposition breaks, as Millwall, Nottingham Forest and Sheffield Wednesday have demonstrated in the last few games. Our two centre halves split as soon as Button takes possession of the ball, always looking for the quick throw or side-footed pass to them and both fullbacks appear to spend far more time in the opposition half than their own. This is all well and good when we keep possession of the ball and has obviously contributed to so many goals at the right end, but it leaves us wide open and often fatally exposed and shorthanded when we turn the ball over to the opposition. Given our overall success, it is hard to quibble when it all goes pear-shaped as it is totally unreasonable to ask footballers to play in a certain way then bitch and moan when it goes wrong, as long as the mistakes do not get out of hand. Unfortunately though it has been going wrong far too often lately.
As Mark Warburton has made a point of emphasising on countless occasions, we have no Plan B apart from doing Plan A even better. In principle that is all well and good and is a wonderfully brave and confident policy but I really feel that it is naive and even pig-headed in the extreme and has come back to haunt us. Yes, keep playing your football but also take note of the match situation and respond to what is going on around you. We conceded a late, late equaliser at Derby County last weekend that was like a stab to the heart given how cruel it was after we had totally dominated the game. The goal came deep into stoppage time from a cheaply conceded throw-in well in our half. Apparently there were words spoken in the dressing room after the game, possibly about being more clinical and professional and getting the job done, and perhaps it was even suggested that instead of trying to retain possession and run down the clock in a dangerous position the ball should have been launched forward into Row Z deep in the Derby half of the pitch. If that was indeed the case I wonder what the reaction of the manager would have been? I know what I would have liked to have seen happen in the ninety-third minute with us clinging onto a narrow lead at one of our closest rivals! There is a time when pragmatism has to rule the day.
We have only kept nine clean sheets all season and have conceded sixteen goals in the eleven matches since we last kept the opposition at bay, not a disastrous record, it has to be said, but still far too generous when we are chasing promotion, and the excellent total of twenty goals we have scored in the same period has only gleaned us three wins and a meagre fourteen points. If anything we are looking leakier and less organised at the back and even easier to score against as the season progresses, rather than tighter and it has got to a point where we now need to score three times at home in order to win a game given the eight goals we have conceded in our last four games at Griffin Park, all against also-rans and none of which have seen us emerge victorious.
Just looking at those goals in more detail sees a destructive pattern emerge that is really a microcosm of our entire season. The two Cardiff goals, which came out of the blue at a time when we appeared to be in complete control and cruising to a comfortable victory, were both self-inflicted disasters. Dean bumped in Button and the ball squirmed free and fell right at the feet of Macheda in front of the empty goal and then we were cut open by one quick pass and Button came and stopped, was left high and dry in no-man’s land and Revell lobbed him for a gift wrapped winning goal. Frankly I do not think that we have recovered from those two body blows as our defending ever since has become ever more sloppy, careless and dare I day, kamikaze? Millwall scored from a quick ball over the top which caught out Dean and Tarkowski and a breakaway with us short of numbers in defence. Forest punished us with a long hoof from the keeper which drifted over our defence and led to a slip by Tarkowski and then we were exposed by a quick break down our right hand side with our fullbacks caught upfield.
We now come to yesterday’s defensive shambles which has almost left me speechless. Diagouraga played a careless pass aimed at Jota which was quickly returned by the Bolton leftback. Dean and Tarkowski had gone wide in anticipation of a short pass and the centre of our defence was left wide open. Heskey played in Le Fondre who just about kept himself onside and the finish was perfection. The second goal encapsulated everything frustrating and infuriating about the team and we way we play and must have left Warburton metaphorically tearing his hair out. Button played a short goal kick to Toumani who was pressurised and he passed it sideways to Tarkowski (who should have received it in the first place). He returned it to Button, but no he didn’t, as he left the back-pass suicidally short and Davies nipped in to score the most demoralising, stupid and, quite frankly, totally unforgivable goal of the season. The fiasco looked just as ridiculous on television last night. It would have been harder to choreograph it if we had tried, and how Wolves and Ipswich fans must have laughed when they saw the damage, perhaps terminal, that we had inflicted upon ourselves. It was a pathetic shambles of a goal and one that could well cost us our Playoff position. It was also the fifty-ninth goal we have conceded in forty-four matches, the thirteenth best record of the season. I subjected myself to a horror show last night and watched all of them back again and nearly a third of them could reasonably be attributed to our own shortcomings.
We had more than enough time to regain the lead and recover the crucial two points we had thrown away but with a not fully fit Pritchard already replaced by Dallas, the substitution of two attacking and creative sparks in Gray and Judge by Toral and Smith begged many questions. We had little to bring on from the bench and apart from a couple of flurries never really looked like scoring the third goal that we so desperately needed. I am not going to get sidetracked today onto our overall striker situation, and what did or didn’t happen in January, as I shall doubtless return to this subject at the end of the season, but all I will say in passing is that for the last fifteen minutes or so yesterday we appeared to revert to the infamous 4-6-0 formation last seen in August at Blackpool and to finish a must-win match with Harlee Dean and Tommy Smith as our makeshift strike force surely speaks volumes and quite frankly, is totally unacceptable given the prize that we are still seeking. As I said, more on that another time soon!
At least we have taken the season into the penultimate match and we have to remain hopeful, but the Playoffs are a tall order now particularly given how profligate we are in defence. We have failed to eradicate costly errors all season and they are now coming back to haunt us.