After all the off the field drama of the last twenty-four hours I was hoping to write an article that concentrated solely on the football and our first match under the new Head Coach, Lee Carsley, but in truth there is very little to say about Tuesday night’s drab and dismal two-nil home defeat to a distinctly average Birmingham City team, and even less if I do not want to be particularly gloomy or negative in my comments.
This was a tepid, desperately disappointing and below-par performance where we created little and there was no pace, energy, passion or spark of ingenuity and even less creativity about our game. We played pretty passing football in our own half where the ball was sent back and forth interminably between the defenders and we got nowhere. There was no cutting edge and the entire team lacked the confidence to try and play through two banks of four Birmingham players who funnelled back and simply waited patiently for the ball to be given to them by our players which they did with monotonous regularity.
Our possession figures approached seventy percent but this was a meaningless statistic as the overwhelming majority of our ball retention took places in areas where we were never going to hurt the opposition. The team lined up in a 4-3-1-2 formation but as has been the case all season, the midfield was desperately disappointing with Diagouraga attempting to hold things together without much success and Kerschbaumer flitted in and out of the game. Ryan Woods finally earned his first start and the best that can be said about him was that he was neat and tidy and rarely gave the ball away but he never hurt the opposition or created an opportunity. We desperately missed a creative dynamo playing behind the front two who could stretch the opposition and run at them and ideally make things happen.
Djuricin and Vibe played as the strike duo and the Austrian found space on a couple of occasions in the first half without getting any real power into his shots and the closest they came was when Vibe streaked clear down the left channel after the break but shot straight at the keeper with the unmarked Djuricin screaming for the ball to be squared to him in front of a gaping goal.
In truth we lacked any pace or cutting edge and looked lightweight and both strikers were easily smothered out of the game.They never managed to hold the ball up although the service they received was spasmodic at best and the ball generally sailed three feet over their head rather than at their feet.
Button made one excellent save from a close-range header but the game seemed to be drifting ever so slowly to a nil-nil draw which in the scheme of things might not have been the worst result in the world as it would have meant that we would have earned our first clean sheet of the season, but it wasn’t meant to be. As it was, all that we could celebrate on the night was for the first time all season going into the break drawing at home and not losing. Big deal!
The defence finally dozed off at a right wing corner with twenty minutes to go and Morrison easily outjumped O’Connell to score with a thumping header. Perhaps the players were distracted by an injury to McCormack just before the corner came in and we seemed to lack concentration and were punished yet again at a set piece. Alan’s game went to pieces after that, hampered as he was by his injury and it was surprising that he was not replaced by Josh Clarke, unused on the bench. As it is Donaldson’s theatrical collapse earned McCormack his fifth yellow card of the season and an enforced rest next Saturday.
Surely there would now be a spark and a reaction as we sought an equaliser, but instead of going hell for leather and chasing the game we went even further into our shell. Our talisman, Sergi Canos was tightly marked and was totally unable to work his magic. As the game drifted towards its welcome close Alan Judge suddenly came alive, won a ball that was never his on the right flank, jinked inside his man and his brilliant rising left footed effort from the edge of the penalty area looked bound for the top corner, but, as is invariably the case this season, the luck was not with us and the ball hit the top of the crossbar and flew over.
To add insult to injury, Gleeson threaded the ball between our absent defenders deep into injury time and Clayton Donaldson bundled the ball home for the second goal, celebrated with silence as the hushed crowd quickly left the stadium, fed up, bemused and depressed by what they had witnessed.
The team has lost its Mojo and looked utterly drained of any confidence. I would have suspected that they would have upped their game given the appointment of the new Head Coach but if anything the performance went down a gear rather than up and Lee Carsley has much to do if the slide is to be arrested.
His post match revelation that he probably expects to leave the club at the end of the season and does not want the job on a long-term basis will also do nothing to raise spirits and expectations on what had already turned out to be a dismally disappointing evening and this massively negative announcement was the final kick in the teeth for Brentford supporters who are perhaps at their lowest ebb for quite some time.
There is, as we know, a toxic mixture of far too many new overseas players of unproven quality lacking leadership and trying to bed into a new team playing in an unfamiliar league with the established stars either sold or on the injury list.
Tonight the passion, invention and joy seemed to have been squeezed out of the entire Brentford team and for the first time in perhaps three years I was bored and distracted and found my attention wandering and my eyes glancing at my watch so sparse was the entertainment value being provided by a team seemingly afraid of its own shadow and unprepared to risk making a mistake by attempting anything ambitious or unexpected. This is how badly a team can be affected when it totally loses confidence.
Perhaps the evening was best summed up by Gogia, returning from his injury break and instantly hammering the ball miles behind the goal when shooting from a ridiculously impossible angle in the final moments of the match with his team mates queuing up in the penalty area and waiting for a simple cross which never arrived.
I have deliberately avoided using the R word until this point but for the first time this season I have to say that relegation would be an inevitability if performances of this ilk are repeated on a regular basis.
There were no redeeming features and there is absolutely nothing positive that can be said about tonight so I will end here and just hope for a massive improvement on Saturday when we need to demonstrate a completely different attitude if we are to have much chance of success at Derby County. You have to take calculated risks to win and tonight we simply played it safe and received our just reward.