A Different League – 4/11/15

Sometimes you win a match but deep down you know that you were lucky and that the result was a travesty and a distortion of reality. I can still quite clearly remember a Huddersfield team brilliantly marshalled by the gifted Chris Marsden playing us off the park at Griffin Park back in October 1990. Luckily that was at a time well before the obsession for collecting match statistics came into vogue and the possession figures remain a mystery. Fortunate indeed for the Bees who were pushed back for the entire ninety minutes and relied on Graham Benstead and stand-in central defender Simon Ratcliffe to keep the visitors at bay. Having absorbed everything our dominant visitors could throw at us, Ratcliffe’s long ball forward with six minutes to go found Eddie May who finished clinically and we had stolen all three points.

Conversely you can lose a game and still come away satisfied at a job well done and at a more than decent performance that bodes well for the future.

Last night was a case in point as Hull City finally emerged as victors by two goals to nil but only after being decidedly second best for the entire first half to a Bees team who played excellent, slick, passing football and really should have been leading at the interval.

The second half told a different tale as our highflying visitors finally creaked into gear and took total control and eventually fully deserved their victory.

There is an old expression – never give a sucker an even break, and quite frankly, we let Hull off the hook. We played really well in the first half, kept possession well and created several clear opportunities which were all spurned by Djuricin, Vibe and Woods. McGregor made three excellent saves but he should have been left helpless on at least one occasion. Vibe too had a more than decent shout for a penalty when his shirt was tugged as he ran through but his appeal fell on deaf ears.

Djuricin also created space for himself right after the break but scuffed his shot wide and then Hull took over. They began to take control of the midfield and both full backs overlapped with menace. We were forced back and smothered with all our out balls covered and we found it hard to get out of our own half of the field. The goal finally came when the excellent Clucas combined well with Robertson and when McCormack fatally stopped his covering run, the fullback strode on unchallenged to thrash the ball past Button who was beaten at his near post.

Vibe had been replaced by Kerschbaumer to help address our problems in midfield and the substitute came so close to equalising when after Tarkowski made a rousing forward run, his beautifully taken instant volley from outside the area seemed a goal all the way but frustratingly bounced clear off the post and the rebound was skied over by Woods.

We wasted a free kick for a back pass well inside the area which caused much merriment as Hull raged at the referee for his decision, but otherwise that was that and we were left to appreciate Hull’s dominance with substitutes Huddlestone and Diame a class above anything we could offer. They saw the game out comfortably and deserved their second goal scored late on by Clucas after a short corner.

A short while ago there was uproar amongst some Brentford fans at the prospect of Moses Odubajo leaving us for Hull City who they considered to be a smaller club than us. Last night I am sure finally dispelled that ridiculous assertion.

Hull City took in over sixty-six million pounds last season from television rights payments and will be the recipients of sixty-four million pounds in parachute payments over the next four years following their relegation from the Premier League.

Their starting eleven cost about thirty-five million pounds in transfer fees and their three substitutes another eleven million. Every time they brought in a replacement (with the exception, of course of the clumsy Harry Maguire) they improved and went up a gear.

They simply had far too much in their armoury for us and we did so well to match them, and indeed, outplay them for half of the match.

By way of comparison, our team cost well under three and a half million pounds and I am sure that their wage bill exceeds ours by a quite laughable amount. No wonder Moses decided to forgo the social delights of London and join them. He will quite probably be celebrating promotion next May, his bank balance will have been swollen and he will be playing alongside a massively strong squad packed full of internationals. What’s there not to like?

That being said there was much to be happy about last night. We more than matched one of the best teams in our division for half the match and imposed our own style of football upon them. We have regained much of the confidence that was lost after our stuttering start to the season and there are several subtle changes to our approach that have become evident now that Lee Carsley has had time for his influence to take effect. We press far higher up the pitch and generally show far more energy and bite in our efforts to regain possession. Our fitness levels have gone up a notch or two and we are no longer running out of steam. We still pass the ball around in our own defensive area but we are taking less risks and are getting the ball forward quicker with Button kicking the ball more often. We are packing the midfield which enables us to keep possession for longer periods but McCormack, Woods and Swift are quick to get upfield in support of the lone striker, Djuricin.

We achieved all this last night without our most influential player, Alan Judge, and for half the match we barely missed him. Good news indeed as it confirms just how well the entire team is playing. Of course we could have done with his industry and imagination as it might well have made the difference between us going in goalless at the interval and enjoying a confidence boosting halftime lead.

There is talk that he might be back on Saturday when I am sure that he will be keen to show everybody at Blackburn Rovers that they were wrong to let him go. He will then be off with the Republic of Ireland squad for their two crucial playoff clashes. That elusive first cap is not too far away!

Like every other Bees fan, I don’t like losing games, but there is a way to lose, and last night was one of those occasions when despite the final result there were so many positives to take out of the entire proceedings – a bit like after the Norwich clash at Griffin Park last season.

We lose, we learn, we move on. Such is the way of life in the Championship. Unlike last season when we kept doing the same things match after match, many of them, of course, really good, others less so, there is a real sense that we are far more flexible now and ready to learn and adapt whenever necessary.

The future is looking bright at Griffin Park.

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Hull City – A Tough Nut To Crack – 2/11/15

Hull City come to Griffin Park on Tuesday night bang in form as they are unbeaten in eight games and they sit proudly in second place in the Championship table and look certain to mount a strong promotion push in an effort to regain their recently lost Premier League place.

They are certain to provide tough opposition but the Bees are none too shabby themselves at the moment given their four consecutive wins and three clean sheets on the spin. They will also be bursting with confidence after that momentous first win in fifty years over close rivals Queens Park Rangers as our supporters almost blew the roof off at Griffin Park with their celebrations on Friday night.

There is further spice to the proceedings given the early return of Moses Odubajo following his controversial three and a half million pound move to the visitors just before the start of the season and Hull also made repeated efforts to divest us of Andre Gray before being pipped at the post by Burnley.

Some Bees supporters queried why Moses and Andre would even contemplate joining a team like Hull but the reasons were pretty clear to me. Despite their relegation last season they have retained a squad packed with Premier League experience and, buttressed by their parachute payments, they are able to make financial offers to prospective new signings that dwarf anything that we are able to put on the table.

Anyone who thinks that we are a bigger club than Hull City is totally deluding himself and that situation cannot conceivably change until we have moved into our new stadium at Lionel Road and ideally won promotion to the Premier League.

Our prospects against them depend to a large degree on the strength of the team that we are able to field. Friday’s match will have taken a lot out of us and there are sure to have been a lot of bumps and bruises that will need shaking off.

The inspirational Alan Judge, the fulcrum for so much of our recent success, was forced off late on with a tight hamstring and we will miss him desperately if he is not risked on the night. Better though perhaps that he misses only one match rather than several if he does further damage to himself.  He will also be looking forward to a potential return to his old stamping ground at Blackburn on Saturday as well as the two crucial Republic of Ireland playoff matches too. Personally I very much doubt that he will play against Hull City.

The squad is getting stronger by the week and if Alan doesn’t play then it will be interesting to see who replaces him with Sergi Canos and the improving Konstantin Kerschbaumer both in the frame. Canos is largely untested and unpredictable but he possesses that spark of creativity and individual genius that could make something happen for us and he would be the brave selection choice. Lasse Vibe might also have a case too depending on how Lee Carsley decides to set us up on the night.

Hull have generally had the better of things against us but there have been several memorable clashes in fairly recent times that still stir the emotions.

Surely none of the near eleven and a half thousand fans present will ever forget Brentford’s rampant performance in a Football League Cup Second Round tie in September 1968? Fourth Divison Bees blew their Second Division opponents away and flying winger Allan Mansley was unstoppable as he celebrated his recent twenty-first birthday with two goals in a wonderful and unexpected three – nil victory which saw the Bees defeat Hull for the first time in eighteen meetings. It was an incredible night of high drama and excitement with the supporters barely believing what they were witnessing.

Our next cup meeting in 1971 ended far less happily and in highly controversial circumstances when two late goals gave Hull an extremely fortunate FA Cup Fifth Round win over a brave and resilient Brentford team that deserved far, far better. Bobby Ross put us ahead with a classic diving header from John Docherty’s cross and Brian Turner’s shot which would almost certainly have sealed another giant killing cruelly came back off the post before a Hull equaliser that came against the run of play after a poor defensive clearance. Ken Houghton’s winning goal was dubious in the extreme after an aerial challenge on Gordon Phillips that was surely a foul and goalkeeper Ian McKechnie taking far more than the permitted four steps before whacking his clearance downfield. The rotund keeper then piled insult onto injury by celebrating the winner with a somersault.

The local paper report lyrically summed up our feelings far better than I possibly can:

Such a sense of outrage and grievance among the stricken, silent supporters of Brentford as they gazed despairingly at a Boothferry Park arena which had been so unbelievably vindictive.

Six thousand seven hundred and ninety-three fans filed into a chilly Griffin Park in December 1979 totally unaware of the drama that was to follow. The Bees had lost their two previous games and changes were afoot, one of which saw the reintroduction of striker Bob Booker who had signed for the club a year earlier in return for a set of tracksuits and had done little or nothing since then to suggest that we had not overpaid for his signature. Freshly returned from a confidence boosting loan spell at Barnet, he seized his opportunity and scored three times in an amazing seven – two victory over a shellshocked Hull City team. The rest as they say is history as Bob went on to become a Brentford legend.

Our title winning team of 1991/92 was also potent in front of goal and we took Hull City apart at Griffin Park early in the season with a four goal salvo before halftime. The best attempt didn’t count after Marcus Gayle almost broke the net with an indirect free kick and needed to have the rules gently explained to him as he cavorted in glee and wondered why nobody else was joining him in his wild celebration.

Squad rotation is traditionally something that is reserved for the upper echelons of the game but Brentford rested nine of their normal team for the last league game of the season in May 2005. The opportunity presented itself as Hull had already confirmed their promotion and the Bees had earned their playoff place with a last-gasp winner at Wrexham in the preceding match. Chris Hargreaves and Jay Tabb were joined by such luminaries as Jerrome Sobers, Charlie Ide, George Moleski and Ryan Watts and the Brentford team included no less than six debutants. Despite trailing to an early goal the young Bees ran, chased and harried and their efforts were rewarded with a headed goal from a corner by Sobers whose only Football League game this was to be. Not a bad way to both start and finish a career. Remarkably Jay Tabb won the game for the Bees with a beautifully taken late solo goal and over nine thousand fans went home happy although Sheffield Wednesday and our customary playoff oblivion were just around the corner!

As for Tuesday, hopefully there will be a five figure crowd as the Bees deserve a near full house given their recent efforts and success. Hull have the resources and strength in depth to rest players and utilise their entire squad. We have had an extra day’s rest and need to take full advantage of the additional recovery time and hope that Hull are also fatigued after their second long journey in a few days after comfortably disposing of MK Dons on Saturday.

This will be a tough challenge for Brentford and I can only anticipate thrills and spills given the history of our previous encounters with The Tigers.