I fully appreciate that Christmas is the time for giving but over the past two matches Brentford have shown far too much holiday spirit and conceded five ridiculously soft goals.
Away games at Fulham and Cardiff City are tough enough obstacles to overcome without giving the opposition a leg-up and a serious helping hand and after two glaring defensive errors at Craven Cottage last Saturday which cost the Bees victory, Cardiff were not made to work very hard to score three times last night and earn a last gasp victory.
The winning goal deep into stoppage time was a bitter blow to take given that Brentford had fought back to equalise after deservedly trailing by two goals at the interval after a quite dreadful and listless first half display which bore much similarity to the spineless surrender against Derby County.
Brentford had lots of possession but did absolutely nothing with it and also defended like statues as they all stood back and admired firstly Tony Watt and then the ever-dangerous Kenwyne Jones as they were both allowed the time and space to score simple goals. Yennaris was the fall guy for the first when the Bees failed to clear a long throw and the ball eventually bounced off the hapless defender straight to Watt and, for the second goal, Swift dwelt on the ball in midfield and was dispossessed before Cardiff capitalised on a two-on-two situation with O’Connell and Tarkowski both drawn out of possession and the fullbacks marooned upfield.
Nothing much changed in the early part of the second half until Dean Smith took off the invisible Kerschbaumer and also Diagouraga, who had had one of his more frustrating evenings where little had gone right and he was never able to influence matters. The tireless Alan Judge had been trying to create and finish chances on his own, so insipid and off the pace had been the overall team performance but Jota and McEachran made an immediate difference as Brentford were finally able to raise the tempo, show some penetration, create chances and threaten a nervous looking home team which had conceded two goal leads in their previous two home games.
Lightning struck for the third time as firstly Jake Bidwell with a header from a perfectly flighted Judge corner and then John Swift, following up a half save from Marshall after a Judge effort who had been set up well by Hofmann, brought the Bees level and with the home crowd nervously and angrily baying its disapproval an unlikely win even appeared to be a possibility before disaster struck right out of the blue with the Bees unforgivably losing concentration and caught napping and ball watching from another throw in with Fabio allowed to make a dangerous run unchecked and his left wing cross was allowed to reach the predatory Jones who scored easily to deny the Bees any reward.
Three horrible and scruffy goals, all down to a series of individual and team errors and all three easily avoidable if players had been doing their job properly and had seen their task through to the bitter end. Not good enough and further proof that we are still the nearly team.
Cardiff are by no means a good team, far too reliant upon the long ball, and yet Brentford allowed them to bully them and boss proceedings for much of the game and the Bees eventually left themselves with too much of a mountain to climb, close though they came.
Dean Smith kept faith with the Tarkowski/O’Connell partnership but might now have to reconsider his decision given the number and type of goals conceded in the last two games and suddenly Harlee Dean is looking a good option once again after being left to stew on the bench last night when all three goals were scored by the Cardiff twin strikers. It is so easy to use hindsight and say that Dean would perhaps have been a better bet against the height and strength of Jones but O’Connell had done nothing wrong – and much that was right, over the past three games.
The most surprising news of the night was that Jake Bidwell finally broke his goalscoring duck at the one hundred and eighty-sixth time of asking. He had, it is fair to say, been getting closer and closer to opening his Brentford account over the past few games – and, if it had been me, I would also have done my utmost to claim what eventually turned out to be credited as an own goal by a Wolves defender last Christmas, but now he has finally scored maybe he will get the taste and become a far more potent threat in the opposition penalty area.
The substitutions changed the game with Josh McEachran making a superb cameo appearance on his long awaited and much delayed debut for the club. He quite simply oozed Premier League class, was always available to receive the ball and probed ceaselessly in order to create opportunities for his team mates. I cannot wait to see him, Judge, Jota, Swift and Canos combine to tear opposition defences apart, as they most surely will as soon as Josh and Jota are fully up to speed in terms of their match fitness. Alan Judge in particular, is a man on a mission and last night he added two more assists to his ever-growing tally.
Last season we were able to rely on the skill and guile of the likes of Odubajo, Judge, Pritchard, Jota and Gray in order to turn the screw on our opponents but our current five-some will, perhaps by the New Year, go a long way towards providing us with a similar goal threat.
Hofmann replaced the ineffective Vibe who had missed gruesomely from a gilt-edged one-on-one opportunity and the substitute held the ball up well and was also involved in the equalising goal but I believe that we remain well short in the striking department and something will need to be done in January to help rectify this problem if we are to even threaten the playoff positions.
A tally of only one point from the last two games is well under expectations and what was hoped for, particularly given the fact that we scored four times in the two matches, including, interestingly enough, three goals from set pieces, something that augurs well for the future.
The Championship is tough and unforgiving and any mistakes and shortcomings are punished mercilessly as the Bees have really found out to their cost over the past two games.
Dean Smith has now had three matches to run his eye over his squad and come to some initial decisions about the makeup of his best team and I suspect that there will be some changes made for the next game.
We have options in pretty much every position and Harlee Dean and maybe even Max Colin might well be looking at Saturday’s team sheet with some level of hope and expectation given the porous nature of our defence in the past couple of games.
The forbidding and quite frankly, scary, presence of Alan McCormack last night might well have galvanised some of his team mates into more strenuous action, particularly in the first half, but for all his passion, bite, drive and positive dressing room influence, I feel that his time as a first team regular has perhaps come and gone as we are now looking to play a more patient, technical and cerebral brand of football in which the likes of McEachran will play an integral part.
The last two matches have provided us with a real learning curve and the harsh lessons need to be taken on board extremely quickly.
I believe that a top ten finish is most likely the summit of our ambitions and expectations for the remainder of the season but unless we are able to eliminate the quantity and type of defensive errors and shortcomings to which we have become far too prone lately, then we will fall short of that target. Get it right and also become less profligate up front, then, who knows, we might yet even challenge for a playoff spot.
We are so nearly a very good team. When we are on song we are capable of an exceptional brand of exciting, one-touch, imaginative and incisive football that just lacks the final touch.
We have some quite exceptional midfield players and McEachran last night demonstrated that we now have an abundance of riches in that department. Our sole problem will be in identifying the optimum blend and ensuring that we have round pegs in round holes.
Last night was ultimately a massive disappointment, but at halftime we looked as if we were going to be beaten out of sight and whilst to lose in the manner that we did is utterly frustrating and infuriating, at least we roused ourselves from our torpor, came alive after the interval and so nearly recovered from a seemingly impossible situation – even if it had been one that was mainly of our own making.
Christmas is a time for giving but we have been more than generous enough already and it is now time for us to start resembling Scrooge rather than Santa Claus.