Now that really hurt!
Any defeat is upsetting but some are far more so than others and yesterday’s loss to Sheffield Wednesday certainly came into that category.
I left Griffin Park with an awful sick feeling in the pit of my stomach and the walk back to my car was a long and depressing one.
I have long since learned to put defeats behind me very quickly if I am to retain my sanity and maintain any semblance of a normal family life, but last night it was difficult for me to do so given the circumstances of the loss.
The first half was pretty much a mirror image of every home game this season. A slow start, marked by a total lack of incision and penetration with few chances created and the midfield never getting forward to join and support the isolated Djuricin with Vibe wasted and ignored on the right wing. Judge was our only creative outlet with Toumani and McCormack both sitting deep and Kerschbaumer invisible.
The visitors finally realised that we were really not up to much, and slowly took control with Bannon elegant in midfield and the Giant Haystacks figure of Nuhiu their fulcrum in attack. Dean marshalled him well but when the delivery is right he is almost impossible to stop and he hit the bar with a fearsome header from a corner.
Button saved well twice as we came under the cosh whilst Westwood was totally untested at the other end. The only rays of hope for the Bees were the two fullbacks. Josh Clarke overcame a nervous start but once he settled down he gave us a real attacking outlet on the right. Jake Bidwell too did the same on the other flank and he came the nearest for the Bees when Judge picked him out with a lovely curling cross which he met with a volley which kissed the crossbar as it flew over.
When the goal came for the visitors it was really no surprise given their extra cutting edge but again, it was a soft one which highlighted our general lack of awareness. A long punt from the keeper was played back by Nuhiu to Bannan wide on the left. He then made a wonderful positive run into the area losing Dean as he did so. Tarkowski dozed and saw the danger too late as Bannan’s perfect through ball set the striker in on goal. Tarky challenged from the wrong side and it was an obvious penalty.
Bidwell was covering behind him and might even have averted the danger had Tarkowski not committed himself. Surely a yellow card at worst, but the referee Geoff Eltringham dithered, vacillated and allowed the Wednesday players and their vociferous bench to get in his ear and after a long and interminable delay and conversation with his assistant the red card was produced and finally Nuhiu scored from the spot. A triple whammy for the Bees on the day – penalty, goal, red card and Tarkowski will now also face a one game ban unless we are able to make a successful appeal against the decision.
We managed to get into the halftime break only one goal in arrears but in truth the game resembled nothing more than an average Championship team playing a mediocre Division One outfit. We had effort and hard tackling in abundance but we demonstrated no craft or cutting edge in what was an extremely poor and vapid first half performance.
O’Connell came on to boost the defence and it was no surprise to see Kerschbaumer sacrificed. He has started every league game so far this season so I wonder exactly what it is that the coaches and analysts are seeing in him that is being missed by pretty much every Bees supporte? He has obvious ability on the ball, can see a pass and makes decent late runs into the area but he is being patently outmuscled and overmatched at present and his influence on games is, quite frankly, utterly nonexistent. The matches simply seem to pass him by and without meaning to be cruel the closest he came to an opposition player yesterday was during the pre-match handshake when he and his fellow Austrian, Nuhiu, enveloped each other in a bear hug, otherwise he was nowhere to be seen.
I appreciate that the more he plays, the faster he will hopefully become acclimatised to the Championship but at the moment he is a total passenger and given our current plight we cannot afford to carry anyone who is not fully pulling his weight. Our midfield is unbalanced, outnumbered, outmatched and outplayed with monotonous regularity and much of that is due to the fact that McCormack and Diagouraga are occupied in their defensive duties and neither of them are likely to open up opposition defences.
Ryan Woods came on for the final push and impressed from his first touch. He is well used to the hustle and bustle of the Football League, if not the demands of the Championship, but he looks a far, far better bet than Konstantin. He plays with his head up, pushes forward to support the attack and rarely wastes a pass. It is quite baffling why he has not been given his opportunity to date. He must start on Tuesday instead of Kerschbaumer but that is a decision for Duikhuizen.
We have another home game on Tuesday and it will be instructive to see the team that Duikhuizen selects. He has proven to be an effective coach who is not afraid to change things when they are not working – and our current formation really isn’t doing so! I would hope that he takes heed of yet another appalling first half performance at home and that we do not start with the customary ineffective 4-3-3 setup which means that Vibe is never in the game and unable to play close enough to Djuricin who is currently living off scraps.
At the interval yesterday I reflected on the Birmingham match early last season when we lost Tony Craig in similar circumstances and were trailing deservedly at the break. I took comfort from the fact that Birmingham sat back in the second half and allowed us to seize the initiative and we were able to rescue a point. Maybe Sheffield Wednesday would become similarly complacent and feel that they had already completed the job?
My hopes and prayers were answered and with Judge moved into a more central role where he dictated play, and Vibe finally playing closer to Djuricin we took control. Wednesday were forced backwards and were rarely an attacking threat in the second half. O’Connell was a revelation, giving us balance on the left side of defence alongside the imperious Harlee Dean. He also showed an unsuspected ability to hit accurate long passes and even hit a thirty-yarder not too far wide.
We now have a welcome problem in central defence with four excellent players competing for two spots. Dean is an automatic choice and a reformed and far more mature character and we must get his new contract sorted and recognise and reward him for the progress he has undoubtedly made in recent months. Tarky was imperious at Leeds and is the best creative option we possess but he loses concentration, as was shown yesterday, and both Barbet and O’Connell are now breathing down his neck.
Who will play on Tuesday if the red card is not rescinded? Your guess is as good as mine and I would be happy with either Barbet, so impressive against Preston, or O’Connell. If I had to choose I would go with Barbet as he has far more ability on the ball than O’Connell and we need somebody at the back who can ensure that we maintain possession.
Despite our second half dominance, chances were few and far between. Djuricin met a beautiful Bidwell cross flush on his forehead and his header crashed against the bar but he had moved too soon and the flag was up. Judge’s free kick from wide out on the left evaded everybody straining for the ball in a crowded six yard box and pinged against the post, but again, more surprisingly this time, the flag was up from an assistant referee who seemed hell-bent on doing his best to frustrate our efforts.
Bidwell is surely going to break his goalscoring duck shortly and he saw the whites of Westwood’s eyes before his shot was blocked by the keeper. We were knocking at the door but had to rely on Button making a fabulous low save from a long range effort from lithe substitute Joao which kicked up off the turf before being pushed away by the straining keeper.
Button’s next contribution was equally effective as he was first to a loose ball near the halfway line and picked out Judge with a perfect fifty yard lobbed pass and Alan brought the ball under instant control and sent a sublime curling effort just inside the far post for a well-deserved equaliser.
Media staff member and Programme Editor Mark Chapman also deserves mention for his manic celebration, beautifully caught by the television cameras, which showed just how much he cares!
Now the force was with the Bees and the game seemed to turn on its head when substitute left back Helan received two crass and stupid yellow cards for fouls on the marauding Clarke and Canos. The Bees turned the screws and an unlikely winner seemed on the cards. Canos tore their left flank apart and was unstoppable. He ran and jinked but never overplayed and then the moment came. He twisted his way to the byline and pulled the ball back perfectly to the unmarked Vibe who surely had to score. He had time to think and maybe even control the ball but his instant volley raged over the bar.
On such moments are games won and lost as deep into injury time another frenetic attack broke down, a swift counter attack saw the ball played towards Joao, he miscontrolled, and the ball bounced off the helpless O’Connell’s back right into the path of the marauding forward who was not to be caught. He finished impeccably and the game was lost in an instant.
A point would have felt like three given the way we had started the game and our one man disadvantage for so long a period and perhaps we chased the game too hard once we had equalised and left ourselves open and too exposed at the back. That is a mere quibble but the fact remains that we lost against a very average team and we gave ourselves an uphill task and far too much to do.
We have conceded first in all four home games, gone two down twice, and let in eight goals, or two goals per match. We have barely started any of the games until the second half when we already had a mountain to climb and reacted accordingly by changing our formation and approach. Vibe has been wasted out wide and Kerschbaumer has contributed little or nothing. These are in my view indisputable facts and for all the problems we face in terms of our current injury crisis they have to be addressed – and quickly too, if we are not to fall into the relegation zone.
We will probably more than hold our own once we get back the likes of Jota, but other injured players such as Macleod, Hofmann, Colin, Gogia and McEachran are still relatively or totally untried and unknown to us and, with the exception of Josh, are new to the English game and will need further time to settle down, reach full match fitness and find their feet. We therefore need to stay in touch and pick up points as and when we can until we manage to strengthen. This will need a change of personnel, style and formation when we play at home as we cannot keep having to come back from behind. We have trailed in every game this season bar one and it is proving to be too much of a handicap.
There is still talk around the club of maintaining the progress of last season. This is arrant nonsense and claptrap and we need to face facts. Until further notice we are in a relegation scrap, early days though it might still be. This is no time to be complacent or say that things will simply get better.
There is much that is out of our control but we still have to do far better with all the situations that we can influence. For all the good things that we did after the break, and the last second kick in the teeth, yesterday was a massively missed opportunity to pick up at least one point. Every point is crucial, even at this early stage of the season and there are immediate changes that need to be made – now.