It would be all too easy and also perhaps satisfying and even cathartic to have a real go at the Brentford team which was unable to beat ten men and fell to a potentially disastrous defeat to a Blackburn Rovers team that on the day was never more than big, tough, well-organised and hard to break down.
But what’s the point of doing so as all fourteen players patently gave everything that they had and were unflagging in all their efforts to end Brentford’s appalling run which has seen them nosedive from a position of midfield serenity to the throes of a relegation dogfight that they seem totally ill equipped to cope with and which appears to have taken them completely by surprise.
I am also not going to criticise hapless manager Dean Smith as he can only use the tools that he has been provided with and once the players cross the white lines what happens then is totally down to them.
The plain truth of the matter as we thankfully go into an International Break which will allow us some respite and the time to take stock and fully prepare for a massive nine match mini-season which will decide our season and immediate future, is that the current squad is playing far below its potential and at some point the question has to be asked if they are good enough to compete in the Championship and if not, why not.
That again is not going to be a productive, beneficial or helpful conversation at the present time given the severity of the situation that we face.
Yesterday was both deflating and demoralising as the Bees totally dominated proceedings and had sixty-six percent possession but did absolutely nothing with it as the ball was shuffled backwards and sideways with monotonous regularity with nobody able or prepared to take responsibility, try something ambitious or attempt an incisive pass.
Dean Smith admitted afterwards that the team had been set up to ensure that we were more solid with the intention of avoiding more of the giveaway goals that have been a frustrating feature of our recent matches. To a degree he achieved these objectives as our visitors barely threatened apart from at set pieces where as expected they dominated given their height and strength. What he patently failed to address was our lack of attacking potency.
Button was forced to save comfortably from Gomez and brilliantly from Akpan’s close range header when he was left criminally unmarked from a free kick. Our soft underbelly was left exposed and the longer we went on without scoring the more the nagging thought remained that we would fall to yet another sucker punch, and our worst nightmare finally came true when close to the end of an eminentally forgettable match our defensive fallibility came back to haunt us and poor defending from a simple free kick which arrowed into the box from out wide saw a misplaced header from McCormack fall to the feet of Watt who cleverly set up Duffy for a fulminating close range finish which raged into the roof of the net.
For all our possession it is hard to recall more than a handful of times when we actually looked like scoring. Steele dived to paw away Barbet’s curling free kick which circumnavigated Brentford’s two walls as well as our visitors’ but in truth the save was fairly routine.
Even when a rugged and agricultural Blackburn team was reduced to ten men on the hour when Hanley walked for his second yellow card after a deliberate handball, unforgivably we never managed to trouble the keeper who was well protected by a massive wall of blue and white which funnelled together in the centre and comfortably smothered what little danger we provided.
Brentford were allowed to keep unchallenged possession out wide and positively encouraged to swing in any number of crosses which were meat and drink to the phalanx of huge defenders waiting eagerly to deal with them. Leandro Rodríguez, making his full league debut must have wondered what he had let himself in for as he was left totally isolated in the area and rarely had the benefit of players running beyond him in support. He was treated as a punchbag and given no protection by yet another weak referee who also ignored a blatant handball in the area. There is real hope for the future as Leonardo looked energetic, keen and clever on the ball but he was never given a clear sight of goal.
Scott Hogan also made his long awaited return from his injury nightmare and will provide a boost to our striking resources.
Alan Judge tried too hard to impress against his former club and had a game to forget. The responsibility of being both our only real goal threat as well as the architect of most of our chances now seems to be weighing down heavily upon him and he will welcome the respite and boost to his confidence which will come from some time away from the club with the Eire squad.
Judge selfishly and myopically squandered the opportunity to set Canos clear away on goal when deciding instead to shoot and had a succession of wasteful efforts which went nowhere near before he finally got his bearings correct deep into injury time when his curling effort extended the keeper who was forced to concede a corner from which Harlee Dean’s last gasp effort threatened the departing supporters already outside the ground on Ealing Road rather than the Blackburn goal.
That really sums up our goalscoring efforts for the entire match and highlights the extent that nerves and loss of confidence have rendered our team impotent.
In the glory days of last season we played a vibrant and positive brand of attacking football where five midfielders were encouraged to rotate positions and all get forward in turn to support a strong, pacy forward who ran the channels, and they all got into the area and never gave the opposition a moment of peace.
Jota, Pritchard, Douglas, Dallas and Toral all provided a real goal threat and scored over forty times between them, and Judge, who only managed to score three times, helped pull all the strings. We played through the opposition and were able to create space and a seemingly nonstop series of openings through our sheer ability and ingenuity as well as the relentlessness of our attacking approach.
I make these points not in anger or sadness but to highlight how greatly the situation has changed from those halcyon days when we had the players that suited the 4-2-3-1 formation that we employed. Now we have lost the pace, positivity and I am afraid to say, talent, that made us so effective.
Now we are slow, ponderous and predictable and only Judge, Swift (absent yesterday after his Instagram indiscretion) and Canos have any clue in front of goal whilst the likes of Woods, McCormack, McEachran and Kerschbaumer have scored only once between them all season.
Our lone striker remains isolated and without support and we never seem to get players in and around him on the edge of, and inside the penalty area. No wonder Blackburn were happy for us to send cross after cross into the box where we never threatened any danger.
McEachran should have come into his own after the sending off as the stage was set for him to take control of the match and make something happen for us. It was an ideal situation for him as he was able to pick the ball up unchallenged deep in our half from Button or a defender and move menacingly into the Blackburn half. This he did on countless occasions but absolutely nothing came of his efforts as he never attempted a pass that threatened to cut the opposition open. He always took the easy and safe option and we literally went around in circles and got nowhere – very, very slowly.
So where do we go from here? The situation now looks extremely serious and increasingly dire as Rotherham continue to come up with an unlikely series of results, winning yesterday at Ipswich. We are now playing only to avoid the last relegation place and all our efforts now need to be totally focused on that objective. Our whole short term future depends upon us remaining in the Championship as I cannot begin to imagine the consequences for the club should we get relegated.
My suggestion is for us all to have a day or so of mourning, anger and offloading and allow all the frustration to come out and then we have to regird our loins, put our disappointments behind us and work in unison to try and get ourselves out of this mess, which in my view is entirely of our own making.
The time for inquests and recriminations is for later and definitely not now. Hopefully we will be able to breathe a deep sigh of relief in early May and then, and only then, dissect this shambles of a season and do whatever it takes to ensure that the multitude of mistakes that have been made by all parties are learned from and never repeated. It might well mean that our structure needs to be examined extremely closely and that individuals are forced to take responsibility for their actions. We might also need to change the fundamentals of how we operate. Who knows? But all that is for later and not for now.
Hard though it will be to do so, we quite simply need to keep calm and the fans more than ever have to get behind the team, as indeed they did yesterday.
Most crucially we need to throw away our current default formation and adopt a system that suits the players we have. 4-4-2 with two strikers playing up top would be my choice given the current and obvious lack of incision and support from midfield. We need to score some goals and win at least a couple of matches and currently we barely look like scoring and are creating little. Scott Hogan made a more than welcome return yesterday and he and Rodríguez must be allowed to develop a partnership and attempt to provide some goal threat.
The easy option for Dean Smith will be to try and make us even more defensive but this must be avoided at all costs. I do not mean that we become naively open and attack at will, simply that we defend properly, something that we have not done all year, but also concentrate on asking some questions of the opposition and getting a couple of players into the penalty area would be a good start.
As we have seen, our lack of confidence has drained our energy and imagination away and helped make our legs leaden and apart from Judge nobody will take any responsibility. Yesterday the players appeared to be paralysed by nerves and indecision. McCormack is now doing his best to offer some leadership and fill this void but we desperately need width and pace down the wings. Money is tight and I doubt if there are many options out there available at a price that we can afford but I would hope that one more fresh face comes in this week, either a winger or a midfielder with bite and presence.
The next two weeks require a mixture of rest, recuperation, self-examination and hard work. We have eight matches to play in April, a month that will decide our future and a combination of fresh legs and fresh minds and a fresh approach are needed from management, squad and supporters alike.
We have to start again after the International Break with a clean slate. Let’s look on the bright side, there is still a long way to go and we aren’t in the bottom three and our fate lies entirely in our own hands.
The season starts now!