Brentford fans have learned that you leave Griffin Park early at your peril. Last season The Bees scored twelve times in the ninetieth minute or later and from the evidence of yesterday afternoon it would appear that little is going to change over the coming nine months given that Brentford got out of jail and secured the most unlikely of points against Ipswich Town with goals in the ninety-third and ninety-sixth minutes respectively. Brentford certainly dominated the possession and shots statistics but this was a curate’s egg of a performance – good in parts but otherwise substandard although there were extenuating circumstances that we will deal with later.
Ipswich were their customary tough and solid selves but they had also added some pace and flair to their brawn with two tricky wingers in Fraser, so impressive for Bournemouth at Griffin Park last season, and Maitland-Niles, on loan from Arsenal. They tormented us down the flanks and McCormack and Bidwell were too often left trailing in their wake. Given that the surprise central defensive partnership of Dean and Tarkowski also looked slow and uncertain and were dominated by Sears and Murphy, we creaked ominously at the back and but for the immaculate David Button Ipswich could have been out of site before our Lazarus-like resurrection, rather than merely two goals ahead.
And yet it had all started so well for Brentford who initially overcame the massive handicap of an abominable Griffin Park surface which cut up from the opening whistle. It had been liberally sanded but this did not prevent a constant flow of divots and the bumpy and uneven surface did not allow us to play our normal free-flowing style of football with any confidence that the pitch would not misbehave.
The Bees dominated the opening half-hour with Judge and Gogia prominent. Andy was a live wire, always looking for the ball, cutting inside at will and debutant fullback Emmanuel could not live with him. Jota was too hot to handle, streaking past his fullback with ease but with a frustrating lack of end product. For all Brentford’s possession there were far too few actual chances created with some flurries from set pieces, which have been vastly improved this season, and Judge also shot narrowly wide from a free kick. Hofmann was a surprise choice to play upfront instead of Andre Gray who was apparently not in the correct frame of mind to start the match, and he worked hard and showed clever touches on the ball without overly threatening the Ipswich goal.
The big opportunity came and went when Judge’s brilliant control allowed him to kill a difficult pass instantly and his accurate cross was met by Jota lurking unmarked in front of goal but his firm close range header hit Bialkowski and somehow stayed out and instead of the net billowing and the confidence boost that a goal would have provided, we immediately lost the initiative. The visitors grew into the game as our midfield were pushed back by the hardworking Skuse and Bru and we started to retreat deep in our half and but for Button’s wonderful close range save from Sears we would have fallen behind earlier than we did as Ipswich dominated the last ten minutes of the half.
We looked to have escaped unscathed and we longed for the break and the chance to reorganise but then conceded a soft and eminently avoidable goal right on the interval when we backed off and dozed in the sunshine as the ball was passed square to Fraser who advanced unchallenged and picked his spot from long range. The ball pinged off the post and ricocheted across goal to the right wing from where the ball was quickly crossed in by Emmanuel and Bru was totally unmarked and scored with a clever acrobatic over the shoulder volley.
The Bees left the field disconsolate and up against it as for all their clever play early on they were not incisive enough and when the chance came it was spurned. Surely we would come out for the second half reinvigorated and take the game to Ipswich? We all thought that would be the case but the total opposite happened. An enormous long throw from Knudsen was ridiculously allowed to bounce in our box but we escaped unscathed but we were slow, torpid and sluggish and were swiftly punished again when Ipswich broke quickly from our corner and Bru’s perfectly timed through ball beat our naive offside trap and Sears was left in ample time and space to roar in on goal unchallenged, draw the helpless Button and slip the ball to the unmarked Fraser who scored easily in front of the Ipswich supporters bouncing up and down in triumph behind the Brook Road goal.
What followed then was not easy to either watch or describe as Brentford visibly disintegrated in the heat. Kerschbaumer disappeared after a reasonable start and Diagouraga went deeper and deeper. Judge was left to probe alone like a whirling dervish, but the harder he tried, the less came off. Jota dribbled into blind alleys and Hofman and Gogia were totally starved of possession. Ipswich probed and jabbed at our overworked defence and but for Button a third goal would have come.
Midfield was our strength and joy last season but now ours had been overwhelmed, outplayed and had totally gone missing. Maybe it was the pitch that did not allow us to play our normal quick, short passing game, perhaps it was the lack of the likes of Odubajo and Pritchard who used pace and guile to open up defences but our challenge and poise evaporated and we were visibly wilting in the sun as Ipswich bossed the proceedings.
Last season Mark Warburton relied on Plan A but now Marinus Dijkhuizen shuffled his pack and brought on two strikers in Gray and Vibe who replaced the invisible Kerschbaumer and Alan McCormack who had used the ball well and almost put a brilliant curling cross on the head of the straining Jota but had struggled defensively. The Bees changed formation and went to three at the back in a 3-4-1-2 formation with Vibe playing just behind Gray and Hofmann – and nothing really changed.
Gray was a spark plug, strong, rangy and fast and he almost got in behind as Brentford finally adapted their play to the vagaries and limitations of the pitch and went long ball. We won very little up front and even fewer second balls but gradually we regained control, perhaps as much because Ipswich funnelled backwards thinking that the job had been done and withdrew their wingers. Jonathan Douglas came onto a hero’s ovation – not something that I really approved of as he is now the enemy and applause and an acknowledgement of his achievements for the Bees could have waited until the final whistle.
Chances finally started to come but they appeared to be too little too late as Gray set up first Vibe who shot weakly at Bialkowski’s leg and then Judge who fired wastefully high, wide and none too handsome. The game drifted towards its conclusion, Ipswich tried to play out time but soon after the five minutes of injury time where signalled, Tarkowski hoofed the ball forward and Gray was away beyond the clutches of Smith, he could not be caught and finished clinically. We perked up and Ipswich looked rattled. The ball pinged around the Ipswich goal and a last gasp corner was earned. Button lumbered forward and Judge swung the ball in. The keeper flapped and the ball hit a defender and rebounded onto the crossbar and Tarky reacted quicker than anyone else and poked home the unlikeliest of equalisers.
The crowd bellowed its approval in a mixture of delight and incredulity as we had stolen a point right at the death. Credit must go to the new Head Coach who had not had the easiest of weeks as his squad visibly disintegrated in front of him as he lost the services of Douglas, Moses and Dallas. He also had the uncertainty of the Gray situation to deal with as well as some so-called supporters who were quick to call for the return of Warburton when things began to go pear-shaped. He made good substitutions and changed our shape and his efforts received their reward.
There is much to learn from yesterday. The back four was nowhere near good enough and Bjelland, Barbet and O’Connell saw nothing to make them feel that they will not challenge for a place. Moses too needs replacing as we missed his pace and interplay with Jota. The pitch was a great leveller and needs immediate attention as it did not allow us to play as we like so I reserve judgement on our midfield. As for Gray, his situation must and surely will be resolved over the next seven days. He was immense when he came on and probably added another million pounds to his burgeoning value. If he goes, then he goes and he will be replaced.
We did well to emerge with a point given the problems we faced. A week is a long time in football and I am sure that much will have changed before we run out for our next Championship match at Bristol City next Saturday.