Since I first started writing about Brentford last June I have composed well over two hundred articles and more than a quarter of a million words and have been accused many times, I suspect with some justification, of having verbal diarrhoea, but after what happened at Griffin Park yesterday afternoon, for the first time in almost living memory I was struck dumb and found myself utterly and completely speechless and struggling to encapsulate what happened in mere words.
Brentford supporters are traditionally fatalistic as we have been taken almost to the heights and then let down all too often in the past for us to be anything other than negative in outlook and the scene was set yesterday for yet another massive letdown and I am afraid to confess that I feared the worst. With the last two Playoff places still up for grabs it wasn’t simply enough for us to beat relegated Wigan, not such an easy task in itself given our shaky recent home record, but, in addition, we also had to rely on one of our closest rivals, Ipswich and Derby slipping up, as well as keeping a beady eye on Wolves lurking in our slipstream. Ipswich had a tough looking match at a revitalised Blackburn Rovers and faced the awesome dual goal threat of Gestede and Rhodes but surely a draw, their minimum requirement, was well within their capabilities? As for Derby, all that they required was a point against a shambolic Reading team without a win for nine Championship matches and who had barely gone through the motions just a week ago against the Bees. Wolves too were at home with an eminently winnable game against relegated Millwall.
We shouldn’t have worried as for once the Gods smiled down upon us and it ended up being a miraculous and joyous day when everything went our way, but in my book you earn your own luck and we fully deserved the reward we received. Everything good that could have happened did so, we pulled the rabbit out of the hat by winning comfortably, every other crucial result went in our favour and we ended up sailing serenely into the Playoffs and indeed, given the totally unexpected defeats of both of our main rivals who choked at the death, we even ended up in fifth place in the final Championship table.
Nerves were certainly jangling at Griffin Park and early on we struggled to cope with a re-energised Wigan team who denied us space, pressed us high up the pitch and packed the midfield. The visitors had all the early play with the impressive Kim pulling their strings and the wonderfully named Bong overlapping menacingly. Button saved well from Fortune who also put the ball into the net but we were saved as the ball had drifted out of play before Bong had managed to get his cross in.
The news elsewhere was mixed. Ipswich, through the inevitable Murphy, roared into the lead at Blackburn but to counter that, Reading snatched an early goal at Derby. Wolves also got their noses in front before the Bees worked out how best to counter Wigan’s threat. Slowly we grew into the game, Douglas and Diagouraga began to win possession and Pritchard flitted into space and began to probe menacingly. The breakthrough came from a set piece after Gray had turned the lumbering Maguire and was tripped for his pains. The free kick was thirty yards out and firmly in Pritchard territory and, not for the first time, he grasped the opportunity when his firmly hit drive caromed off the straining head of Chow in the wall and unerringly found the top corner of the net far out of the reach of Nicholls who dived in vain but could not get anywhere near the flight of the ball.
In an instant you could almost see and feel the tension drain out of Brentford fans and players alike. The game had turned on a moment of genius, aided and abetted by a piece of good fortune and from them on we never looked back. Pritchard and Gray missed excellent chances to stretch our lead as halftime approached but the news elsewhere was good and just kept on getting better. Two quick Blackburn goals turned their game on its head as Ipswich now needed to score as Derby were certain, surely, to recover and get the point they needed against Reading? So you would think on any normal matchday, but not today, as with the staccato tones emanating from radios being clearly heard above the crowd noise and with smartphones flashing in the sunshine and working overtime the news from the iPro Stadium was clear. Derby were huffing and puffing but not succeeding in blowing the house down and Darren Bent’s gloriously missed penalty just on the interval made us believe for the first time that the unthinkable might just be about to happen.
The second half could not have gone better for us. Barely had we kicked off when an intricate move involving Moses, Judge and Jota saw a six-pass interchange and the fullback slip Jota through the defence and his instant shot was perfectly placed and provided us with the breathing space of the second goal we so desperately needed. Naturally it wouldn’t be Brentford if we did not make it hard for ourselves. Wigan replied instantly and cut us open, the ball pinged around the home penalty area and Bidwell’s deflection looked certain to reduce the deficit as Button plunged on the ball near the goal line. With heart in mouth as one we all looked at the assistant referee but thankfully he remained unmoved and we escaped. Wigan never threatened us again and it was now a case of simply how many we would score whilst still keeping an anxious eye on the scores elsewhere.
Wolves were home and hosed against Millwall but barring a late goal fest we were safe from their challenge and even so they would need Derby or Ipswich to recover and incredibly there was no sign of that happening. The news in fact just got better as Blackburn scored a third and even when Murphy reduced the arrears we were not too worried given that Reading, dear wonderful Reading, a team now close to my heart, scored a second and then third goal against a Derby team now reduced to a rabble. Wigan too had given up the ghost as we began to carve them apart. Judge saw an effort come back off the keeper, Tarkowski, so effective in defence alongside the impeccable Harlee Dean, hammered a close range shot against the crossbar before Jermaine Pennant sent a quick free kick unerringly straight to the darting feet of Jota on the halfway line. He made for goal and using Dallas as a decoy, gave the entire Wigan defence the eyes before caressing the ball through the eye of a needle to Gray who timed his run perfectly, stayed onside, and scored emphatically for a quite wonderfully worked goal.
We now knew that we were Playoff bound and it was party-time at Griffin Park with late substitute Alan McCormack patrolling the midfield with menace. Unfortunately Tarkowski entered into the spirit a bit too much when he took responsibility for a last minute penalty after Judge was tripped. With Pritchard off the pitch there was a paucity of volunteers. Tarky stepped forward and mindful of his spot kick fiasco against Leeds, we all feared the worst. At least this time his effort was on target but it was powderpuff and Nicholls received some deserved reward for his labours by saving easily. Never mind, it is hard to quibble about anything on such a wonderful day although it still rankled that every penalty we win is an adventure in the extreme rather than the near certainty that it should be.
The final whistle sounded and we had stepped up to the mark and done everything that was required of us and our comfortable victory, allied to the defeats for both Ipswich and Derby ensured not only a Playoff berth but also fifth place and a semifinal against a Middlesbrough team that will surely fancy their chances against us given their two victories against the Bees earlier in the season. There is time aplenty to contemplate the mouthwatering prospect of both ties during the week to come. Now, however is a time to celebrate, pay tribute, recognise the contribution and give thanks to a wonderful set of players as well as Mark Warburton, his team of coaches and support staff and of course, Matthew Benham who have all combined so brilliantly to get the reward that they so thoroughly deserve. I am so proud to support this club. The dream continues unabated!