There was a real end of term atmosphere at Griffin Park on Saturday as the normal prematch tension was missing given that the Bees had as good as guaranteed their Championship survival with their recent run of three consecutive victories. We could therefore afford to relax and hopefully just enjoy a good performance without being afflicted by the normal relentless pressure.
The Bees responded and played with freedom and on the one hand were unfortunate not to come away with all three points against Bristol City but on the other were more than relieved to earn a draw thanks to an injury time equaliser – and how long is it since we scored a last minute goal, something that used to be a Brentford trademark?
The performance was for the most part confident and positive and the crowd responded with gusto to the team’s attempts to play a measured and incisive short passing game.
Brentford are back on the right track and are now beginning to resemble exactly what they are at the moment, a more than decent Championship outfit which has regained its self belief and really should have had far too much in their locker for a game but limited Bristol City team still not totally free of relegation fears.
Brentford started brightly and repeatedly carved the visitors open, sometimes with their unwitting assistance through casual defending, without making them pay and quite simply we let them off the hook.
Lasse Vibe spurned three decent chances to maintain his recent goal scoring spurt, Canos had a venomous volley blocked by a lunging defender and Yennaris was twice too high from presentable opportunities on the edge of the area and there was also a decent penalty shout for an apparent handball in the area which the referee ignored.
The ball was passed around quickly and with accuracy as we probed for openings. McCormack was the quarterback ably assisted by Woods, Yennaris and Saunders. Bidwell and Colin rampaged forwards and Barbet’s radar was spot on with a series of accurate crossfield passes.
And yet for all our dominance the goal would not come and were fortunate not to concede twice on the break when the dangerous Kodjia used his electric pace to burst clear. Barbet stopped him on both occasions but they were close run things indeed as on another day he might well have been penalised firstly for a professional foul and then a trip.
Lee Tomlin had been a peripheral influence on proceedings but right on the interval he finally roused himself from his apparent torpor, left Woods trailing in his wake, found some space where none seemed to exist and his perfectly placed effort unerringly found the bottom corner for a goal of quite stupendous class and quality. Quite rightly he milked the applause and threw our taunts back in our face.
The goal was a body blow but the Bees kept their nerve and if not as fluent in their passing and movement as they had been before the break they still took the game to the opposition and came close through headers from McCormack and Vibe which both forced exceptional saves from O’Donnell.
A defeat would have been hard to take after all the quality and effort on display and Dean Smith’s substitutions were on the money as Hogan, Kerschbaumer and Clarke all made a crucial late contribution that saved the day for the Bees.
KK played a wonderful long pass that split the defence and the backspin held it up long enough for Hogan to rampage through and fall under Baker’s challenge.
A penalty it was and in the absence of Alan Judge there was no dispute as to who would take it and Hogan looked set to score his first goal for the club after nearly two seasons’ worth of injury torment.
Unfortunately Richard O’Donnell, Dean Smith’s former first choice keeper at Walsall was the party pooper as he plunged to his right to save Scott’s well hit effort.
More frustration for us all to endure, but there was to be one last twist in the tail when, well into stoppage time, Josh Clarke hit a deep cross which Bidwell headed back and Hogan demonstrated his poaching ability by anticipating the chance, reacting far quicker than the defenders and diving forward in the six yard box to head the ball into the corner for a fully merited equaliser.
Scott Hogan has worked so hard and without any complaint to come back from not one, but two potentially career ending injuries and he fully deserved his late reward.
Brentford have lacked a striker with the instincts to score those scruffy but crucial close-in chances since the days of Bradley Wright-Phillips and Charlie MacDonald and Hogan looks sharp, hungry, keen and eager and quite determined to make the most of his opportunity and he will prove to be a massive asset next season.
It was fascinating to compare and contrast the approach of the two teams yesterday. Brentford were ravaged by injury and could barely fill the substitutes’ bench but the entire team played with commitment, energy and confidence. They all knew and kept to their role and were a team in every meaning of the word.
A few weeks ago I advocated a move to a 4-4-2 formation, but I was completely wrong. Our well-established 4-2-3-1 setup suits us and the players we currently have and they are comfortable with the system. I would also like to praise Dean Smith as he has managed to revitalise a drastically weakened squad and get the most out of his limited resources.
There are probably at least four members of yesterday’s starting eleven who most supporters would not feel are of sufficient quality to play in a team seeking to establish themselves in the top half of the. Championship but you would never have realised it as they all played out of their skin and demonstrated that we are all about the strength of the team as a group bonding together rather than a series of individuals.
That is what we have to do given the reality of the situation and the financial restrictions that we have to face. Bristol City also have a wealthy owner and possess a large and well appointed stadium and have gone in a different direction. They were over ambitious in the preseason, craved a marquee signing and made ambitious but doomed bids for players like Andre Gray and Dwight Gayle who were never going to join them. They therefore bungled their recruitment through overreaching themselves and have instead got by with a raft of expensive loan signings.
Bristol City have brought in twelve loanees this season in Callum Robinson, Ben Hamer, Liam Moore, Nathan Baker, Elliott Bennett, Simon Cox, Richard O’Donnell, Ben Gladwin, Alex Pearce, Lee Tomlin, Adam Matthews and Peter Odemwingie. Without them I am certain that they would have been marooned at the bottom of the table and contemplating a return to the third tier but what they have done has worked and bought them some time and Tomlin in particular clearly demonstrated his Premier League ability, so it is hard to criticise their strategy, but I cannot begin to guess how much they have spent on bringing them all to the club.
Clearly theirs is a policy that we cannot afford to follow even if we wanted to do so and yesterday demonstrated that with a little bit of tinkering and a few clever additions we will be a force to be reckoned with next season.