A Bad Start To A Tough Week – 10/1/16

Yesterday’s disappointing and frustrating defeat to Walsall in the Third Round of the FA Cup left a slightly sour taste in the mouth so insipid and uninspiring was Brentford’s overall performance and given that fact that this was the first leg of what is certain to be a tough and arduous week that also sees us play two of the promotion favourites in the shape of our nemesis, Middlesbrough and Burnley I intend to be sensible and conserve some of my energy and ration my words in order to ensure that there is something left in the tank for me to cover the next two matches!

To be honest there really isn’t too much to be said as Dean Smith rolled the dice, understandably rotated the team given the need to rest some tired legs and ensure that the squad can cope with the demands of three matches in a hectic six day period and unfortunately his gamble didn’t pay off.

Colin, Tarkowski, Diagouraga, Judge and Vibe were all rested with recalls for Yennaris, O’Connell, McCormack, McEachran and Hofmann.

Conspiracy theorists will point to the absence from the starting lineup of possible transfer targets Tarky, Diagouraga and Judge but I would prefer to believe that they were all being saved for the hectic week that lies ahead.

I have no problems at all in those changes being made as the squad should be strong and deep enough to cope with them but where I do have concerns is in how we sleepwalked through the first half and showed no real interest in competing.

Brentford have built their recent success on high energy, pressing, movement and maintaining a high tempo, all of which were sadly lacking in our play throughout a first half which ranks with the worst seen in recent memory at Griffin Park.

Why should this be the case as the manager was well aware of the threat that his former team presented and their decent and highly committed performance cannot have come as a surprise to him?

So lacking in pace, imagination, tempo and dare I say effort and energy was Brentford’s first half performance that Judge had to be brought on after the break and his skill, pace and enthusiasm revitalised Brentford who dominated the second half and would have drawn or maybe even won an unlikely victory but for a combination of exceptional goalkeeping and profligate finishing.

Dean Smith’s former team played their role as party poopers to perfection. They were neat and tidy on the ball, aided and abetted as they were by a lethargic Brentford team which sat off them, stayed deep, never pressed and allowed Walsall to maintain possession for long periods without benefit of any challenge.

Hofmann was totally isolated up front and a strange team selection which featured three holding midfielders ensured that he lacked any support from midfield runners and we created very little in that appalling first half.

It came as no surprise when Mantom was allowed to run unchallenged from deep whilst we ignored the danger and simply watched, backed off and admired him and his perfectly placed curling long range effort gave Walsall a totally deserved lead.

McEachran looked yards off the pace and the game totally passed him by. McCormack ran down blind alleys and only Woods made any impact through the centre but was too easily snuffed out. The formation for once did not work, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the personnel selected did not gel and merely replicated each other’s style of play.

Swift and Canos flitted in and out of the game and Hofmann showed some clever touches but one soft McCormack shot on target in the entire first half tells its own sad story and left the Bees with much to do.

It gives me no pleasure to say that FC Midtjylland appeared to expend more energy in their languid halftime stroll around the pitch than the Bees did throughout the first half.

After the break Brentford seized the initiative, mainly thanks to the tireless efforts of Judge, who demonstrated just how hard it would be to replace him should he leave in the Transfer Window.

We huffed and puffed and efforts from Judge, Hofmann, Swift and Canos were well saved by Etheridge and Dean missed horribly from a free header.

There was more good news with the return from injury of Djuricin who had a late run out off the bench. He found good positions but understandably lacked sharpness and missed two late opportunities to save the day.

Walsall massed in defence and presented an impassable barrier and always broke quickly with Sawyers prominent and but for a brilliant save from Button and a late header from a well worked corner kick routine which hit the post, the margin of their victory would have been greater, and we could not really have argued.

My memory of the FA Cup goes back over fifty years when I was taken by my Liverpool supporting Dad to the 1965 Cup Final where his heroes defeated Leeds United, much to his delight.

The following year I also saw Everton’s narrow victory over Sheffield Wednesday in a five goal thriller that left me breathless with excitement and my Dad a bit less impressed.

I am well aware of the magic of the cup and the mystic hold it has over supporters of a certain vintage and am saddened that this no longer seems to be the case.

I can also remember some of our wonderful days out against the likes of Cardiff, Chelsea, Southampton and Sunderland as well as the embarrassment of suffering giant killings at the hands of Guildford City and Telford amongst others.

Yesterday was therefore important to me and I resented the fact that it didn’t appear to matter too much that we were knocked out of this famous and august competition at the first opportunity.

I well appreciate the juggling act that we faced given the two tough matches that lie ahead next week and have no problem with our utilising other squad members, as that is what they are there for, although the side selected could have been better balanced.

What rankled and upset me more is that certainly before the break the match and occasion really did not seem to matter to the players so uncommitted, languid and unacceptable was their display which reminded me of the way we strolled through a recent FA Cup tie against Wrexham which also ended in another defeat by lower league opposition.

The proof of the pudding will be in the eating and should we gain four points or more from our next two matches – a really tough ask, then yesterday’s debacle will be forgotten, at least until Fourth Round day when we will be left kicking our heels and without a match.

I hope we come out fighting against Middlesbrough as we will certainly need to do so. Losing can also kill confidence and I now have  a horrible, nagging and negative thought running through my mind about the horrendous prospect of three home defeats in a week should we play as badly against Middlesbrough and Burnley as we did against Walsall. Surely that will not be the case!

I am just left feeling rather sad and empty that our most famous cup competition has been so devalued and is now seen as a necessary evil rather than something to look forward to with relish and anticipation.

Is this simply the price of progress and if so, is it an acceptable one? What does everyone else think?

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It’s FA Cup Time Once More – 8/12/15

The draw for the third round of the FA Cup is traditionally one of the more anticipated and truly magical moments of every season as it is the time when dreams can come true and David gets the rare chance to put Goliath firmly in his place.

A favourable draw can help put a minnow on the map and even mean the difference between surviving for another season or even falling into the ravages of administration.

Just put yourself in the place of Whitehawk’s manager Steve King whose team fully deserved their last gasp equaliser at Dagenham & Redbridge yesterday. They are now just a replay win away in a game that seems certain to attract live television coverage from a money-spinning tie at Premier League Everton, one that will offer an outside chance of glory, put their players in the shop window and probably earn the club more in an afternoon than in an entire season in the confines of the National League South.

Given the occasion, I made a special effort and rushed home from work last night in order to catch the draw which was apparently set for seven o’clock. In retrospect I really needn’t have done so, as like every other sap who was imbued with romantic memories of sepia-lit FA Cup ties in the dim and distant past who had done the same as me, I had to sit through fifteen interminable minutes of boring and sterile filler material – a series of totally unnecessary interviews and highlights intended to set the scene and build the atmosphere and sense of theatre before the numbered balls were drawn out of – not the traditional velvet bag – but a soulless Perspex container. Where had the magic gone?

There was one snippet of previous action that I did enjoy watching over the weekend, Scott Hogan soaring in the air to score a beautifully taken header for Rochdale against Leeds United. We can but hope that we will be seeing him in similar goalscoring action for the Bees in the not too distant future.

Apparently I am now a supporter of one England’s so-called elite clubs given our fairly new-found Championship status and somehow that also makes things feel rather different given that we now enter the competition at the Third Round stage and have not had to fight our way through two previous ties to get to this point.

So what was I looking for from the draw, once it finally began? A matchup against a Premier League big boy and the chance to test ourselves on national television? A lower league team at Griffin Park? An away game at a minnow? Death or glory?

What we actually received highlighted the wonder and the unpredictability of the competition. A home tie against either Chesterfield or Walsall, Division One opposition who should both surely be beatable at Griffin Park. Or so you would thought as you can take nothing for granted when it comes to predicting the outcome of cup matches and as we know to our cost the Bees have been the victims of giant killing themselves. Does anyone else remember Guildford City turning us over in 1968 and the likes of Barrow and Wrexham too in more recent times?

Chesterfield earned a replay with a late scrambled equaliser on Saturday and should they come out on top next week then that would set up the first ever FA Cup meeting between the two teams.

Walsall are a far more enticing prospect given the recent arrival of their former manager Dean Smih as the new Head Coach at Griffin Park. Their supporters would doubtless relish the opportunity to obtain some quick revenge against the team that enticed him away from The Banks’s Stadium.

Since his move was first mooted the airwaves and social media have been buzzing with harsh, ribald and ill thought through comments from diehard Walsall fans on the one hand damning their former manager and his achievements on their behalf with faint praise and also suggesting that he has barely bettered himself by moving to Brentford. Fighting talk indeed and Brentford supporters will also be looking for the chance to refute their assertions.

Walsall currently boast several of the lower divisions’ finest young prospects within their ranks and the Bees will welcome the chance to view the likes of Tom Bradshaw, Rico Henry and Romaine Sawyers at close quarters particularly at a time when the transfer window will have recently opened. It would be an enticing prospect if one or more of them ended up using this match as an audition before a move to us – we can but dream!

Should Walsall earn the right to play us next month then it would be the fourth time that the two teams had been drawn against each other in the past forty-five years and the Bees have come out on top on every occasion to date. Hopefully another good omen.

The Bees defeated Walsall in the Second Round in 1970/71 when we reached the last sixteen of the competition and eventually went out with full honours to Hull City. The match against Walsall was closely fought and after Gordon Phillips had foiled the evergreen Colin Taylor with a series of excellent saves, Roger Cross finished off a carefully choreographed move from a free kick to settle the match.

It was a similar situation in 1988/89 when we reached the Sixth Round before losing at Anfield. Walsall were higher division opponents and a Keith Jones goal earned a draw at Fellows Park before the replay was settled by Allan Cockram who scored joyfully from close range after Fred Barber had parried an effort from Kevin Godfrey.

Our most recent meeting was in 2009/10 when newcomer Leon Legge gave an all action display, winning the match with a typical towering header from a corner and saving it with a perfectly timed and executed sliding tackle to rob Walsall striker Steve Jones who had a clear run in on goal. Unfortunately we were not destined to have a long FA Cup run that season as we went out in the next round to Doncaster Rovers.

Whoever we play it will be certain to be a tough and closely fought match against a team determined to bring its so called better down a peg or two. We now have three home games in a ridiculously short six day period and with promotion challengers Middlesbrough and Burnley due to visit Griffin Park immediately after the cup tie neither League game can be termed a gimme.

The management has always spoken of the need to build up a large squad with excellent cover in every position and our depth will surely be tested as changes will need to be made over this period to ensure that the players are well rested. Lee Carsley certainly picked practically the same team for every match but squad rotation will be a must over this packed period of activity and thankfully, with our stars returning from injury we will be able to cope with the challenge.

It is now almost three years since we last had a decent FA Cup run and I still find it hard to believe that we did not beat Chelsea in that epic Fourth Round clash at Griffin Park but that is a story for another day.

After a slow and difficult start, this season is finally gaining momentum and promises much excitement as Christmas approaches. An FA Cup run would simply be the cherry on top.