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?