I was idly flicking through the Sky Sport channels the other night looking for my football fix when perchance I came upon the highlights of our playoff final disaster against Yeovil back in 2013. I use the term highlights loosely, as there is absolutely nothing memorable about a game that still makes me feel quite nauseous every time I think about it – which thankfully is not very often.
In fact this was the first time I had ever watched the television coverage of the match as pretty much the first thing I did when I came home from Wembley, sick, stunned, gibbering out loud, disbelieving and fed up, was to delete my SkyPlus recording of the entire proceedings, still unwatched. Somehow that made me feel slightly better.
I also threw the massive match programme, a mini-book in everything else but name, still unread, into a dark corner of the lounge where it remained untouched for many months before I could bear to pick it up again and then safely dispose of it.
I was trying to expunge all memories of a quite appalling day and perhaps also endeavouring to punish myself for my stupidity and naivety in actually allowing myself to believe that we were going to allay our playoff bogey and finally win promotion by this means at merely the seventh time of asking.
I was utterly convinced that we were going to beat Yeovil at Wembley. There was really no question about it. It was our turn. Surely God would finally and belatedly allow his countenance to shine down upon us as some sort of payback and compensation for the harrowing and ridiculous events against Doncaster and the entire Trotta will he – won’t he penalty kick fiasco.
Like every other Brentford fan I was in a state of stunned, traumatic shock after the Doncaster match and couldn’t bear to face yet another playoff lottery, and indeed I travelled to the first leg of the semifinal at Swindon still in a befuddled and totally disinterested state of mind.
On the journey I remember listening in a slightly distracted manner to reports of strange happenings taking place at the crucial Watford versus Leeds clash and how their automatic promotion hopes had been dashed after some goalkeeping howlers perpetrated by a callow and untried youngster forced to deputise at the last moment after a series of unlikely injuries to Watford’s two other keepers.
That was my introduction to poor Jack Bonham whose career has so far been cursed by misfortune but hopefully his luck will change as he finally gains more experience.
Brentford’s fortunes also received an unexpected boost deep into injury time at Swindon. Trailing deservedly to an excellently made and taken goal, and after a typically Rosler-roque performance of caution and negativity that deserved nothing better, a rare and desperate excursion into the home penalty area was rewarded when Harry Forrester, going nowhere, was tripped, the perpetrator receiving a volley of abuse from home hero, Alan McCormack, and a last gasp penalty kick awarded.
There was never any question that Kevin O’Connor was going to take the kick after the Doncaster shenanigans and his spot kick was perfection personified as it raged into the side netting to earn us an unlikely and undeserved draw.
The second leg saw us play with vim and vigour for an hour and we should have been home and hosed and far more than the two goals ahead we found ourselves as Clayton Donaldson and Harry Forrester ran riot and Marcello Trotta went a long way towards getting back in our good books with a skilful and commited display.
As per normal we funnelled back for the last quarter attempting to sit on our lead and having given away the initiative we were punished by two scrambled goals from our proven weakness defending corner kicks.
The playoff curse had seemingly struck again but, aided and abetted by a harsh red card for our former loanee, Nathan Byrne, we dominated extra time but despite our incessant pressure the tie went to a dreaded penalty shootout.
Surely this would see the end of our season given our ghastly record from the spot, but this time we rose to the occasion and every player kept his nerve and finished unerringly. Ŵes Foderingham, the Swindon keeper was hampered by injury and unable to move freely and we took full advantage. Sam Saunders and Paul Hayes both found the bottom corner, Harlee Dean’s kick was more central and Tony Craig smashed one into the top corner before celebrating wildly. When Simon Moore plunged to his left to paw away Miles Storey’s kick it was all down to Adam Forshaw and his kick raged into the top corner. We all celebrated wildly and joyfully invaded the pitch.
Yeovil awaited us at Wembley, the final obstacle standing between us and a triumphant and surely fully deserved and long awaited return to the Championship.
Despite conceding all six points and six goals to Garry Johnson’s well organised and abrasive team we all felt smug and confident that it would be third time lucky against them and that we would finally allay our bogey. We should have realised that the wily old fox in Johnson more than had the measure of Uwe.
Jonathan Douglas was not felt to be fit enough to start the match and we missed his strength and influence against a strong and well drilled team that played effective percentage football aided and abetted by the predatory finishing of the clinical Paddy Madden having a season to remember.
It was he who scored early on with a fulminating volley that raged into the net when the ball fell unerringly to him on the edge of the box. This took the wind out of our sails as we collapsed like a pricked balloon and we never really recovered.
Harry Forrester was at his most infuriating worst on the left wing, dribbling into blind alleys and creating little and Marcello Trotta and Clayton Donaldson played like distant strangers with Clayton isolated and marooned on the right wing where he was never likely to become a major influence on the game.
Our defence looked rattled, the midfield created little and were totally outmuscled and apart from a Trotta header saved with an unnecessary flourish by Stech, we never threatened.
Hopes of getting into the dressing room at halftime without further damage were shattered when we conceded a horribly soft, avoidable and totally demoralising second goal just before the interval when the massive Dan Burn rose unchallenged at the far post from a left wing corner and his header trickled through a scrum of players in the six yard box and almost apologetically crossed the line before being thumped clear by Shay Logan.
I walked the concourse in a daze during the break, seeing and speaking to nobody, looking for an open door through which I could escape the nightmare I was witnessing, but to no avail.
Thankfully the second half saw Brentford finally decide to turn up with Adam Forshaw taking control of midfield and driving us forward. We needed the fillip of an early goal and got it when Harlee Dean met a Forshaw corner with a thumping header.
Yeovil funnelled back and simply dared us to break them down again. We did our best and struck at their heart several times but despite all our efforts we were doomed to failure.
Donaldson forced a wonderful save from Stech with a near post header and Bradley Wright-Phillips, caught on his heels rather than his toes, unaccountably failed to convert the rebound with the goal gaping. Stech earned his man of the match award with two more saves, from Forshaw when he managed to sit on the ball and block a close in effort and then a full length dive kept out a late Wright-Phillips volley.
Time ran out on us and all our hopes were dashed when another nemesis from the past Andy D’Urso blew the final whistle. Yeovil frolicked in the sunshine, we slunk away in silence.
Watching the Sky coverage brought all these horrid memories flooding back. I was also surprised at the lack of quality of our football on the day. We played far too many long balls which were meat and drink to the Yeovil defenders and we very rarely got the ball down and played through the opposition.
We were a decent enough team that season and boasted excellent players in Donaldson and Forshaw but we had a soft underbelly and all too often flattered only to deceive. Wembley was a prime example. We failed to do ourselves justice and in truth, the game was up at halftime. Tony Craig and Jonathan Douglas did their bit all season, but we lacked leaders as well as mental strength and toughness.
The manager also did not help build confidence amongst our ranks with his over-cautious approach and determination to concentrate on the opposition rather than focusing on our ability. We always seemed to play with the handbrake on and it was not until the arrival of Mark Warburton that pretty much the same group of players saw their shackles removed and were then given the freedom to demonstrate their full potential and obtain the promotion that had evaded them so narrowly the previous season.
In a strange way I am glad that I finally watched the Yeovil match again as it clearly demonstrated exactly where we were at that point in time in our development, and, far more importantly, just how far we have progressed over the last couple of years as we are now light years ahead of where we were then in terms of our planning and structure and, of course, the quality of the team that we fielded on that awful day at Wembley in May 2013.
Oh, and just look where Yeovil are now, marooned near to the bottom of the Football League. In retrospect promotion to the Championship was a step too far give their lack of resources.