I was watching a playoff semifinal second leg on television last night where a team in red was playing at home to a team wearing yellow. The reds went into their home game leading by two goals to one having scored an injury time winner against the run of play in the first leg away to the yellows, who had worn their normal colours of red and white stripes in their home game. The away team came into the second leg feeling cautiously optimistic given the narrowness of their defeat last week, however their hopes were totally and utterly shattered when the home team roared into a seemingly unassailable three goal lead within the first seventeen minutes.
Surely the tie was done and dusted, but the yellows doggedly fought back, scoring twice before the break, but they could never quite catch up and near the end were trailing by five goals to three on the night and by three goals overall, before two late goals by the brave and persistent visitors tied the score at five goals each. The yellows now only needed one more goal to force extra time and fate finally seemed on their side when the officials signalled an unlikely seven minutes of added time.
The force was with them as the yellows huffed and puffed and came close to a winner on the night with the home team paralysed by nerves and their supporters howling and shrieking for the final whistle, but, despite a few close shaves, their entreaties were finally heard and time eventually ran out for the brave visitors. The reds had triumphed by seven goals to six on aggregate after what was probably the most exciting playoff match I have ever seen, punctuated as it was by a series of great goals, goalmouth scrambles, near misses and some of the most abysmal defending that you could ever hope to see. In other words a coach’s total nightmare and a neutral’s delight.
In case anyone is a bit confused, I was of course referring to last night’s pulsating and unforgettable match between Swindon Town and Sheffield United and can anyone else see the connection and similarities to what happened in the first leg of our playoff semifinal last Friday at Griffin Park and the fact that Middlesbrough will be wearing their normal red shirts and the Bees will be in yellow when we meet again on Friday? Hopefully the only thing that we will have in common with the Yorkshiremen when we play Middlesbrough will be in our scoring five goals away from home although that would certainly be beyond our wildest dreams and an extremely tall order given how few goals Middlesbrough have conceded at home over the course of the Championship season just finished.
Certainly we will have to defend a darn sight better than United did and we certainly cannot expect or count on Boro to be as profligate in defence as Swindon were last night given how gritty, determined and organised they proved to be last week, not to say how dirty they were, fouling with impunity whenever they felt threatened by us. That is for the future as our fate will be decided on Friday and in the meantime we can but dream, count off the minutes, hours and days – and worry!
Given our involvement I have watched all the other playoff matches compulsively and with great interest and I can honestly say that I have yet to see any other team play football of a quality, panache, style and elegance anywhere near that displayed by Brentford. In the other Championship tie, Ipswich proved to be as obdurate and tough as we expected and Norwich too were well organised but possessed slightly more attacking flair. That tie too is poised on a knife edge and could go either way when the two bitter rivals meet again on Saturday.
Preston had a fairly comfortable passage against a Chesterfield team who flattered only to deceive and failed to take any of the chances that they created over the two matches. They could not match the threat of Beckford and Garner who scored all four of Preston’s goals between them. As Graham Westley said on Sunday, it is goals and attacking flair that win playoff games and Beckford proved the truth of that statement with an outrageous long-range effort that more than rivalled Paul Evans’s famous effort for the Bees at Burnley. In Division Two Stevenage and Southend have it all to play for after drawing a rough and tumble first leg which saw referee Keith Stroud’s trigger finger twitching on several occasions when matters threatened to get out of hand, but somehow he resisted the temptation, despite every encouragement given him by two enthusiastic sets of players, who at times lacked control and self-discipline, and restricted himself to awarding a series of yellow cards.
Wycombe Wanderers are, of course, close to our heart given that they are currently fielding no less than seven former or current Bees in their lineup. Sam Saunders, Nico Yennaris and their Player of the Season, Alfie Mawson, are all currently contracted to us however I suspect that only Mawson is seen as having a long term future with Brentford given that he has been offered a new two-year contract. He might decide, as did Luke Norris last year, that it is time for him to move on, but given that he is only twenty-one and is still seen as a potential first team prospect, perhaps he would be best served by extending his contract and having another loan spell away from Griffin Park next season and see how he progresses. It was so pleasing to see Sam Saunders totally dominate the first leg and pull all the strings in midfield, including a beautifully disguised free kick which set up the third Wycombe goal. He so deserves to play a full season in somebody’s first team next season even if it is unlikely to be at Brentford. Nico Yennaris also showed that there is clearly something about him and he has really impressed with his versatility and attacking forays. Maybe the chance could still come next season for a player whose career at Griffin Park has yet to get off the ground? Aaron Pierre, Sam Wood, Paul Hayes and Marcus Bean comprise the contingent of ex-Bees at the club and hopefully they will be able to cling onto, or even extend their narrow one goal lead against Plymouth and earn a richly deserved, if totally unexpected promotion.
What the last few days have demonstrated to me is just how compelling and fascinating the playoffs are to disinterested viewers totally unconnected to any of the competing teams. For supporters whose teams are participating, they are a total nightmare however much you pretend it doesn’t really matter whether your team wins or loses and have done well just to reach the playoffs. Whenever I have sat in front of the television set with my eyes glued to the action, I have tried to switch off and forget that my own team is involved, but I really cannot prevent myself from kicking every ball and putting myself in the place of the supporters of all the other teams I am watching. Well on Thursday night I will be watching the Division Two doubleheader but my mind will be firmly on the Riverside Stadium and our impending date with destiny.