Football is traditionally referred to as a game of two halves but the Brentford versus Nottingham Forest match yesterday afternoon broke new ground as it is best described as a game of three thirds – a first forty-five minutes where absolutely nothing happened, a pulsating fifty-two minute long second half packed with incident and action and then the post match press conference where much was revealed.
The Bees had not seemed to have benefited from the international break and were flat and torpid in the first half. There was lots of passing – mostly sideways but absolutely no pace, movement, energy, vigour or penetration.
In another words this was not a typical Brentford performance and it felt almost like a practice match or shadow boxing as the ball was moved slowly and carefully from player to player with nobody able or prepared to attempt the killer pass. Our sole tactic seemed to be to give the ball to the ever willing Alan Judge and hope that he could create something out of the blue.
Forest set up in two banks of four and stifled us and their goalkeeper Dorus De Vries must have been the coldest man at a frigid Griffin Park given his total lack of action. The visitors kept Ward and Mendes wide and they created several chances for Nelson Oliveira but thankfully David Button was sharp and alert and kept the Bees in the game with a series of saves – none out of the ordinary it has to be said, but the first half was total one way traffic and the Bees were distinctly fortunate to go into the break on level terms.
Lee Carsley apparently got into his team at half time but nothing much changed early on and Brentford were indebted to Button for a wonderful clawing save from Oliveira’s header and Lansbury was allowed to run through a static midfield who waved him past before shooting a presentable opportunity over the bar.
John Swift had endured a tough day with nothing going right for the youngster but he finally put in Brentford’s first on-target effort when his twenty-five yarder finally forced the frozen De Vries into action.
Carsley had already demonstrated his frustration at what he, along with the rest of us, was being forced to endure – although he at least was being paid to freeze – by belting the ball miles in the air when it fell out of play by the dugout. Finally, his patience exhausted, he made two significant changes on the hour in an effort to breathe some life into his sluggish team. Swift and the totally anonymous Vibe were replaced by Canos and Hoffman although there were several others could could also have been hooked without too much complaint.
Suddenly the tempo changed as the Bees were inspired by the effervescent and gifted young Spaniard, and just as was the case against Preston, Canos had an instant impact, scoring his first ever league goal with a close range effort in a packed six yard box when Dean headed down a Judge cross after a McCormack corner had been half cleared.
The Bees were inspired by the substitution as Canos roared around the field pressing, passing and dribbling and Hofmann too finally provided an outlet with the size and strength to hold the ball up. He is also a gifted footballer and used his sleight of foot to bamboozle his tall markers and bring others into play.
Suddenly the Bees took control. Judge shot over and a pulsating move ended with McCormack stretching but just failing to reach a deadly low cross in front of an empty net.
Then the Bees self-destructed when Dean mis-controlled, overran the ball and tried to make up for his mistake with a lunging tackle which was harshly penalised by the referee. Dean heatedly disagreed, picked the ball up to remonstrate and demonstrate the legitimacy of his challenge and when Williams went to grab the ball, Dean’s swinging arm apparently caught the Forest substitute who went down as if shot.
Referee Malone produced the red card with Stroud-like speed and in an instant the match was turned on its head. Villain or Silly Sausage as Dean was unforgettably described by Billy Reeves after the match? Williams certainly made the most of his opportunity but Harlee was impetuous and gave the referee a decision to make, not forgetting that the whole incident was caused by his own error whilst in possession of the ball.
Whatever actually happened, and the incident was over in a flash, I cannot see an appeal succeeding and we will lose Dean for three crucial matches at a time when he and Tarkowski were playing so well together.
Jack O’Connell replaced Judge and slotted in well but the damage had been done and a Forest team which had squandered its opportunities was offered an undeserved way back into the game and they took immediate advantage when a Mills cross was criminally mis-controlled by Diagouraga on the edge of the penalty area and the predatory Lansbury took full advantage of the gift and slotted the ball low into the corner.
Brentford now had twenty long minutes to hang on, as Forest would surely go for the jugular, but the anticipated bombardment on our goal never happened. Bidwell and Yennaris were immense and the two centre halves won everything. Woods, McCormack and Diagouraga covered, chased and held the ball whenever possible and Hofmann and Canos worked hard and never allowed their defence to settle.
In short we looked like a Brentford team again and we finally began to believe that we could hold onto our hard won point. Even better Carsley kept waving us forward as he realised that attack was the best form of defence. Canos turned brilliantly in the box and his effort forced a wonderful save from De Vries. McCormack had impressed with his set piece delivery and a perfectly placed long free kick was met by Tarkowski but his header clanged clear off the post.
Forest had shot their bolt and we waited for the six long minutes of injury time to expire but the Bees had different ideas. Diagouraga slid a perfect through ball to Woods who roared through the defence, fought off his marker and hammered an angled shot which was parried by De Vries straight to Hofmann, and his instant effort from the edge of the area caught not one, not two but three defections off Vaughan, De Vries and then Lichaj on the line and ended up in the corner of the net. Hofmann – The Pinball Wizard as his effort had won the game for us
Cue tumultuous celebrations and yet another in a catalogue of late winners by a team that never knows when it is beaten.
The rollercoaster ride of a second half had ended with three glorious and unexpected points when at one time one or even none had appeared more likely. What can ever beat the excitement of a ninety-sixth minute winner?
Let’s just hope that it was simply a case of blowing the cobwebs out of our system after what was a lacklustre first half non-performance. Canos and Hofmann provided the catalyst for our recovery and we were much improved in the last half hour.
If that was not enough there was far more to come when Lee Carsley was interviewed by Billy Reeves after the match and made it perfectly clear that this had probably been his last match in charge with a new man expected to be appointed early next week. Lee then stated that he would be remaining at the club to support the new Head Coach and would also return to his Development role. Paul Williams would also remain in post. Good news indeed!
There is a lot there to assimilate and I think I will let the dust settle before I attempt to do so. I assume that Pep Clotet will be the new man in charge with Carsley staying around to assist in the handover and Williams remaining as a first team coach. Whether Lee then returns to his former position as Development Squad Manager and, if so, what that might mean for Kevin O’Connor are questions that remain unanswered at the present time.
At this point I am sure that all Brentford fans would like to join me in giving thanks to Lee Carsley who has won five out of his nine matches in charge and been responsible, along with Paul Williams, for a total sea change in our approach and performances.
Brentford break the mould and do things differently it would appear and I am sure that never in the history of the game has an interim Head Coach had such a run of success, won the Manager of the Month Award and then voluntarily given up his post despite the entreaties of the club, because it is not what he wants to do at this juncture of his career. Only at Brentford….
Thanks Lee for everything you have done and I am delighted that his talent and influence will not be lost to us.
What a day and I am sure that there will be more exciting news unfolding within the next forty-eight hours.
What I can say without a shadow of doubt is that it is never dull being a Brentford fan!