Brentford’s promotion dream is still alive and kicking after a fairly comfortable two-nil victory at hapless Reading, which in conjunction with the Ipswich and Derby results, ensured that the battle for the final two elusive playoff places goes into what is certain to be a heart-stopping last day of the season next Saturday. Given that Ipswich eventually managed a late cruelly deflected winner against a determined Nottingham Forest team and Derby also got out of jail close to the final whistle at Millwall, who were fighting for their Championship life, matters are now out of Brentford’s hands.
Once thing though is for certain, Brentford need to do their bit and defeat Wigan at Griffin Park next Saturday, in itself no formality, and hope results involving Ipswich or Derby go in our favour. We will go into the match in seventh place in the table with a meaty seventy-five points, two behind sixth-placed Derby and three less than fifth-placed Ipswich who have a superior goal difference of three over us.
Assuming we do the business over what is likely by then to be a relegated Wigan team, then we will have to rely upon Blackburn Rovers doing us a favour and beating Mick McCarthy’s team. Hopefully the predatory Jordan Rhodes will want to turn it on against the team that disposed of his services so carelessly – we can but hope. There is one other potential route into the playoffs should Derby fail to pick up a point against a demoralised and uninterested Reading team that clearly demonstrated yesterday afternoon that they are already on the beach. If all that is not enough we will also have to keep a weather eye on Wolves who are tucked in right on our coattails with the same number of points but they would have to make up four goals on us and they will be facing Millwall who might still have something to play for.
Enough of all that for now as otherwise I shall have absolutely nothing to write about throughout the next week as we nervously prepare for Wigan and the final showdown. That being said, when the fixtures were announced way back in June last year, I am sure that when we saw that we would be facing Wigan at Griffin Park on the last day of the season the majority of our supporters expected that we would probably be looking to spoil Uwe Rosler’s promotion party rather than seeing the boot firmly on the other foot – such is the joy and unpredictability of being a football supporter.
Back to yesterday’s game, Brentford were always a little bit sharper and more committed and dare I say, better organised defensively than the home team who almost equalled us in terms of possession but were toothless upfront and squandered the chances that they either created, or, on a couple of occasions, we gifted them.
Brentford were unchanged and Mark Warburton’s policy of keeping faith with his regulars was emphasised by the fact that no fewer than eight of the team that began the match yesterday also started the season’s opener against Charlton and the others, Craig, Dallas and McCormack were on the bench at Reading. Given the likelihood that subject to injuries the team that Warburton names for next week’s final league match will also be either identical or extremely similar to yesterday’s, I was going to wait a week before making this point but I thought that I would mention it in passing now in case it slips my mind given all the anticipated excitement of the next few days.
Given the turnover of footballers, and indeed managers, I suspect that this is an extremely rare feat that can be looked at in two ways, firstly that the eleven regulars have shown great consistency and have also largely stayed injury-free, but on the other side, perhaps in some key positions there has been a lack of competition for places and an opportunity to freshen things up might not have gone amiss. We can look at this again when we come to review the season next month.
Any nerves were settled by a well-worked early goal. Dean sent a measured long pass to the feet of Gray wide on the right, who slipped his man, initially looked in vain for a colleague in the penalty area and then timed his curling near-post cross perfectly to coincide with the arrival of Judge who had made a late lung-bursting run to meet the ball at the near post and sweep it into the roof of the net. Reading were caught ball-watching and defended poorly but were undone by our movement and accurate use of the ball. The home team responded well, but were powder-puff in attack and barely threatened. Pritchard was wasted in the first half, playing out wide on the left wing but eventually moved inside and became a massive influence on the game. Near halftime his instant left footer from Jota’s pass was seemingly bound for the bottom corner until a late deflection took it wide. Gray played his customary party trick of creating a massive opportunity for himself by turning his defender and racing clear early in the second half but it was Groundhog Day as he allowed the advancing Federici, who was cruelly taunted by the Bees fans following his Wembley faux pas, to close him down and throw out his right foot to deflect the ball wide of the post.
That would have given us some breathing space and Reading threatened down the flanks and forced Button into a couple of decent saves and had an apparent equaliser correctly ruled out for offside. The game was drifting in the sunshine until something remarkable and almost unprecedented happened – a Brentford defender headed a goal from a free kick when Tarkowski made a clever late run before scoring with a stooping header from Judge’s well-placed delivery after a defender performed a cynical throat-high assault on Jota, more akin to GBH, after he had been skinned by his trickery on the ball. This was the first time we had achieved this feat since Harlee Dean’s late face-saving equaliser from a Bidwell free kick at Dagenham eight months ago and highlights another area where drastic improvement is necessary.
The game appeared over, but it was at this point when our bad old habits revealed themselves either through complacency or an understandable desire to keep pushing forward for more goals. As it was we left the back door wide open. Button had been far more circumspect with his distribution from goal kicks with the Bolton horror show still fresh in his mind and Dean played his best game of the season, being tough, strong, composed and sensible with his use of the ball. Tarky too had been excellent until he suddenly lost his head and concentration, made bad decisions and twice lost possession deep in his own half but thankfully Button saved his bacon and we did not suffer from his aberrations.
He quite simply has to learn to differentiate between the times when he can and should play football and situations when the ball just has to be cleared upfield or played into touch. I have written exactly the same thing on so many occasions throughout the season and he really has not yet learned his lesson. He is a marvellously gifted player and his passing and dribbling ability are crucial to the team but it is a question of balance and judgement as his first job is to defend and not set up chances for the opposition on a plate. We were extremely fortunate that a poor home team did not take advantage of the gifts we lavished on them but other teams have been far more clinical. Reading gave up near the end and we had late chances to boost our goal difference but Toral hit the post and Judge missed horribly when clean through.
The win was crucial and we did our job competently and professionally and it was encouraging to see us beat a team so comprehensively despite our not firing on all cylinders. One further bonus was the appearance of Stuart Dallas as a late substitute for Gray and he performed excellently as a makeshift central striker. Another string to his bow for this impressive young player and another option for us even though it is expected that Chris Long might be fit for selection next week. A word of praise too for referee Andy Madley who was excellent and unobtrusive yesterday and proved that there is at least one decent referee bearing the Madley name!
A long week awaits us as the anticipation grows for next Saturday’s day of destiny. Oh, and in passing many congratulations to Alex Pritchard, named today by his fellow professionals in the PFA Championship team of the season, the only Bees player so honoured, and he thoroughly deserves this accolade.