Almost exactly a year ago Brentford won by three goals to two at Cardiff City. The Bees put on a sparkling first half performance, perhaps their best of the season, which saw them sprint into a three goal lead.
Alex Pritchard pulled all the strings in midfield and scored early on with a peach of a drive, placed precisely low into the corner from twenty yards. His perfect chip then sent Andre Gray away behind a defence caught hopelessly square for the predatory striker, in the midst of a hot streak, to lob the ball over Marshall with the ball dropping in a perfect parabola into the roof of the net. Jota then scored a goal of breathtaking brilliance from the far corner of the penalty area after a quick breakaway that left the Cardiff defence chasing shadows.
With the boos of their supporters ringing in their ears which were still burning after a halftime tongue lashing from manager Russell Slade, Cardiff attempted to regain some lost pride and launched an arial bombardment at a Brentford team that sat back, evidently feeling that the job was done.
Lacking the massive influence of the injured Jonathan Douglas, the defence was exposed and could not deal with the threat of Kenwyne Jones and conceded twice. The last few minutes were hairy and nervous in the extreme but Brentford eventually held on for a well-deserved victory in a game that saw them both at their imperious best and frustratingly sloppy worst.
Cardiff extracted some element of revenge by reversing the scoreline when the two teams met again on Tuesday night.
This time it was the home team who took control early on and were deservedly two goals ahead at the break.
Their cause was helped enormously by a limp performance from the Bees who slept walked through the first half, created very little and conceded two soft goals.
Brentford recovered their poise in the second half and took the game by the scruff of its neck.
The home fans were then forced to endure some of the free flowing football that the Bees have made their trademark, and after totally dominating possession, Brentford scored a late equalising goal which would surely earn them a point which was perhaps the least they deserved after the quality of their comeback .
But it wasn’t to be and there would be a sting in the tail as Cardiff showed sufficient character to sneak a totally unexpected last gasp winner which yet again owed much to some disorganised defending and tired minds and bodies.
It is illuminating to compare the makeup of the team that Brentford fielded in each of these matches.
Last season Brentford lined up as follows:
Last Tuesday the team was:
There have in fact been far more changes in the past twelve months than I initially thought had been the case.
Only four players, Button, Bidwell, Diagouraga and Judge, started both games, although nine players were named in both squads.
In the meantime we have lost the services of Odubajo, Craig, Douglas, Pritchard, Gray, Toral, Dallas, Smith and Proschwitz.
They in turn have been replaced by Yennaris, O’Connell, Woods, Kerschbaumer, Swift, Vibe, Colin, McEachran and Hofmann.
I have previously written at length about the reason and rationale behind so many of the enforced changes in the makeup of the Brentford squad and given the quality that we have lost, the injuries that we have suffered and the need to assimilate so many new players, not forgetting the management hiatus and change, we have done remarkably well to recover from our stuttering start to hold a top ten position in the Championship table and to be in a position to challenge for a playoff spot.
I think it is entirely fair and reasonable to call us Brentford Lite this season as we are trying to play the same way as last season but also make bricks without sufficient straw as, unsurprisingly given the calibre of player that we have lost, we lack the overall quality in key positions that we possessed last year.
Last season we spread our goals across the midfield and we have certainly missed the goal threat of Pritchard, Jota and Douglas, however the efforts of Judge and to a lesser degree, Swift, mean that have not suffered too badly in comparison. Similarly, the cumulative total of goals scored by Djuricin, Vibe and Hofmann surpass the efforts of Gray – and of course, Proschwitz, at this stage of last season.
The return of Jota and Judge’s continued excellence in front of goal should also mean that our goal tally from midfield increases and that we will be able to overcome the fact that neither Diagouraga nor Woods appear able to hit a barn door with their efforts. McEachran also does not have a track record that inspires me with any confidence regarding his prowess in this area.
What worries me more are our defensive frailties and the number of unforced errors we are making resulting in so many soft goals being conceded.
The excellent David Button has only managed four clean sheets to date which is hardly surprising given some of the defensive aberrations being committed in front of him.
In fact it is quite hard to recall any goal since Rotherham’s long range screamer that could properly be described as unstoppable, and even that only came about after Bidwell carelessly gave the ball away.
Fulham’s second goal arrived as a result of some really excellent interplay between two highly gifted strikers in McCormack and Dembele but we could still have defended it far better.
The goals we conceded against Blackburn, Nottingham Forest, Bolton, the first against Fulham and all three against Cardiff were without exception down to avoidable individual errors.
It is almost impossible to win matches away from home if you need to score two or even three goals simply to draw.
The way that we play leaves us vulnerable at the back given that our central defenders split as soon as Button gets hold of the ball and the two fullbacks bomb forward at every opportunity.
The second goal at Cardiff illustrates the problem as Swift dwelt on the ball and was dispossessed in midfield and the fullbacks were nowhere to be seen as Cardiff immediately turned defence into attack.
We are now in an interesting period with players returning from injury and a series of tough matches compressed into a tight timeframe over Christmas and the New Year.
Dean Smith must surely rotate the squad and spread the load but at the same time work even harder on our defending which has been pretty laughable at times lately.
Tenth is about right at the moment but we can now go in either direction.
Integrate the new and now fit players into the team, lose no stars and perhaps even strengthen slightly in January, then a charge towards the playoffs is a real possibility.
Continue to donate goals as if we are a charitable foundation and we will struggle to remain in the top half of the table.
The weather and pitches will start to deteriorate in the new year and we are always going to rely upon out-footballing rather than out-battling the opposition as that is what is ingrained in our DNA.
I expect us to eradicate some of our defensive frailties and go on to greater things over the next few months but the season, for me is now poised on a knife edge.