Phil Mison used to do the commentaries on the Brentford match videos way back when in the days of Gary Blissett, Terry Evans and Keith Millen. He did a fine job but for all his on-air enthusiasm for the Bees he managed to conceal a deadly secret – he is and always has been a rabid Fulham fan – a revelation that might have seen him drummed out of Griffin Park had it become more widely known.
We have always stayed in touch over the years and he invited me to accompany him to yesterday’s match which I watched from the Hammersmith End, a solitary Bee in amongst a horde of Fulham supporters.
It was both interesting and illuminating to watch the game through their eyes and also observe the Brentford supporters – all five thousand of them – packed behind the opposite goal.
There is a feeling of muted anger, disappointment but also acceptance amongst the Fulham fans. They know that their team has massively underperformed over the last couple of years, that they have been landed with a series of managers who have been unable to turn things around and with the money expended upon the squad and the massive amount of talent within it they should at the very least be up and around the top of the Championship table and not languishing down amongst the also-rans.
But nobody seemed to get too worked up about it, they gently seethed in the wind and rain and politely put up with the multitude of inadequacies that they were forced to observe throughout the afternoon without overly criticising or subjecting any of their players to much vitriol or abuse.
Their supporters finally came alive when they scored and near the end of the match when the dangerous McCormack and Dembele were combining dangerously and looked as if they might earn their team an unlikely and totally undeserved victory.
There was no real feeling of emotion or anticipation or that we were at a West London derby match being played against a deadly rival where bragging rights were at stake and that the result really mattered and a defeat would cause the remainder of the weekend to be spent in a fog of despair.
The Brentford team and fans were barely abused, noticed or even referred to, we were simply another in a long series of teams outplaying their heroes on their own home turf and the only time the Fulham fans became really animated was to jeer when the Bees supporters celebrated in vain when Jota’ s late effort was controversially disallowed.
This was in massive contrast to the Brentford supporters who could be heard quite clearly from the other end of the pitch as they provided their team with nonstop encouragement and vocal support for the entire game.
That is the difference between the two clubs. We are on the way up and are revelling in the excitement of our journey and rejoice in the anticipation of even more triumphs and glories to come.
Fulham are merely faded glory and look likely to drift rudderless and fall even further until somebody eventually gets tight control over them and an inspirational and competent manager succeeds in clearing out the plethora of deadwood and getting the rest of their overpaid and underperforming former stars to put in a shift every week and, more importantly, learn how to defend.
Brentford looked a compact, well organised and talented team and in truth should have come away with all three points but they shot themselves in the foot by conceding a daft equalising goal close to halftime and by missing three golden opportunities to retake the lead early in the second half when they were totally dominating the game.
Fulham scored a well taken second goal totally against the run of play but, miracle of miracles, the Bees equalised almost immediately from a beautifully worked corner before seeing their celebrations stifled when Jota’s close range header seemed to have regained the lead but was adjudged to have been narrowly offside.
Diagouraga and Woods worked tirelessly to win possession back from a talented but immobile Fulham midfield which out passed but never outworked Brentford. Judge buzzed around as normal providing energy and inspiration in equal doses, Canos burst into life spasmodically before being booked for an unnecessary and overzealous tackle and praise is due to Kerschbaumer who finally looked comfortable and not out of place in the first team and produced a hard working display in which he used the ball effectively and could also have broken his goalscoring duck had his first half effort not been blocked and the keeper not got down well to save his close range poke after the break.
McCormack and Dembele are without doubt the two best strikers in this division and they were a real handful, particularly when they were joined by Woodrow and Smith late on and Fulham fielded a four pronged attack which stretched our defence to its limits. We coped well with Bidwell immense and inspirational, twice blocking goal bound efforts right in front of goal when Fulham threatened late on.
O’Connell and Tarkowski stood up well to the tough challenge they faced but Tarky lost concentration twice and his errors were extremely costly as he headed a McCormack cross almost out of Button’s hands into his own net and he also allowed Dembele to run off him onto McCormack’s subtle flick and he was outpaced and was unable to get in a tackle before the ball was despatched past Button for a goal of brilliant simplicity. Yennaris was as efficient and competent as normal and Button made one stupendous save from a rasping McCormack free kick.
Brentford took time to grow into the game but took the lead when Bidwell’s run into the area after a sweeping move was ended by a poorly timed tackle by Richards. The Fulham fans belatedly emerged from their torpor and bemoaned the decision. Never a foul and outside the area was their one-eyed verdict but the television evidence was damning and Judge took responsibility for converting our long-overdue first spot kick of the season and scored calmly and confidently.
Fulham had a lot of the ball but did little with it as we pressed them relentlessly and Parker and O’Hara never looked a convincing or effective pairing for our hosts and but for Tarkowski’s aberration we would have been in front at the interval.
Bidwell almost won a second penalty straight after the break but this time Fredericks timed his tackle perfectly. Woods frustratingly scuffed his shot when well placed and Lonergan saved well from Kerschbaumer and quite brilliantly from Vibe before Fulham scored with their first effort on target in the second half.
We responded quickly when Bidwell’s perfectly placed corner was flicked on by Tarkowski at the near post and converted jubilantly by Jack O’Connell for his first goal for the club. Swift and Jota made a real impact as substitutes and it was Swift’s centre that Jota flicked home with his head for what we all felt was the likely winner, but the assistant referee thought differently and all available evidence would suggest that he got the decision hopelessly wrong.
The last quarter of the match was frenetic with non-stop action and the game ended with Fulham pressing hard, but the Bees held out and the honours were even. Brentford are now a competent and above average Championship team with aspirations to progress far higher than that.
The foundations have been laid, there are yet more talented players to come back from injury and suspension and challenge for a place on the bench – let alone the starting eleven, and we look likely to get even stronger as the New Year approaches.
I enjoyed my afternoon sitting with the enemy and appreciated that I was allowed to walk directly towards Hammersmith after the match rather than being sent on the same circuitous detour endured by every other Brentford fan, but I know which one of the two clubs is going somewhere fast – and it certainly isn’t Fulham.