I took my Fulham supporting friend, Phil, to the local derby at Griffin Park yesterday afternoon and warned him not to make an exhibition of himself when seated in the Braemar Road stand, wear black and white or do anything else that might out him and reveal his true allegiance. If truth be told, the only time he became animated during what turned out to be a long and trying afternoon for him was when he heard his fellow Fulham fans jeering their team with an heartfelt and scornful chorus of you’re not fit to wear the shirt and it was only with difficulty that he managed to restrain himself from joining in, and I honestly could not have blamed him if he had.
I am reliably informed that back in the day, the Fulham programme used to include a prominently placed advertisement for The Samaritans and given their abject surrender and total lack of fight I suspect that it will not be too long before it reappears, and I can certainly think of one angry and sadly disillusioned supporter who might well avail himself of their services.
Fulham were a total disgrace on the day, lacking drive, positivity and commitment and really were not at all up for the fight. The fact that it was supposed to be a keenly contested local derby with West London bragging rights up for grabs barely seemed to have registered with them and they ran up the white flag and surrendered from the moment when Brentford hit them hard and early and scored two goals within the first seven minutes of the game.
Their highly paid team of mercenaries capitulated without a struggle or a whimper and for all their possession and neat football they barely threatened and apart from Ross McCormack who drifted in and out of the game but struck the woodwork twice and forced David Button into his only action of what was perhaps one of his easiest afternoons of the season, Brentford were the only team who looked as if they had any interest in either competing or scoring goals.
The Bees, by contrast were fully aware of how much this match meant for their supporters and how poorly they had played at QPR recently abd put in a massive shift in order to ensure that we all went home happy.
The quality of their performance was all the more praiseworthy and meritorious given how ludicrously stretched were our resources and our eighteen-man squad included two Academy products in Reece Cole, who spent the match on the bench and young left back Tom Field who made a remarkably composed and assured debut when surprisingly given the nod to replace the injured Jake Bidwell, who missed his first match of the season.
Lasse Vibe, Marco Djuricin and Alan McCormack were also late injury absentees and our selection problems for this match simply mirrored what has invariably been the case pretty much every week since last August as there has been a nonstop and seemingly ever-growing procession of players who have missed large chunks of the season, and yesterday was no different with the likes of Macleod, Bjelland, McEachran and Judge joining Bidwell, Vibe, Djuricin and McCormack on the injured list.
Hopefully we have now used up all our bad luck and next season will see us have a near full strength squad from which to choose. Scott Hogan, as last man standing, made his first ever Championship start for the Bees and Sam Saunders joined Woods, Yennaris, Canos and Kerschbaumer in a small but mobile midfield quintet.
Any nerves were settled within the opening seven minutes which saw the Bees take the game to their opponents who could not cope with their energy, drive, pressing, direct running and movement off the ball.
The appalling Ashley Richards, a total liability at right back where he proved to be a one-man fifth column before his merciful substitution at the interval, was forced back towards his own goal by Field and was robbed of the ball on halfway by Canos, perhaps illegally, but Mr.Haywood who let the game flow admirably all afternoon, saw no evil and Sam Saunders made a lung-bursting break from his own half and was criminally allowed to run opposed towards the edge of the Fulham penalty area. Canos picked him out perfectly and Sam’s finish was audacious, instantaneous and immaculate as he flicked the ball perfectly over the advancing Bettinelli with his first touch.
Fulham resorted to bickering amongst themselves and Parker and Ince gave their hapless teammate a real mouthful and the game was won and lost in that instant. Even better was to come when Yennaris and Woods combined to win the ball back in midfield, and Kerschbaumer played a perfect first time through ball in between the two slow and lumbering central defenders Ream and Stearman who were dozing in the sunshine blithely unaware of the danger, like a pair of wildebeest in the Serengeti totally oblivious to the presence of a lioness lurking in the long grass. Scott Hogan was too quick in both thought and action for both of them, he was switched on and alert and ran on unopposed and finished perfectly and without fuss into the corner.
Fulham were stunned and out for the count and spent the remainder of the half passing the ball sideways and backwards, going absolutely nowhere. Brentford pressed, harried and defended in numbers and never gave an inch and it came as little surprise when they stretched their lead from their first corner when Field’s perfect inswinger was thrashed into the roof of the net by the predatory Hogan – who else?
McCormack might have made a game of it right on halftime but squandered an excellent opportunity, hitting Button’s post when given a clear sight of goal and Fulham heads went down even further and team left the field to a deafening crescendo of boos and jeers.
Hogan had taken some knocks and sensibly was not risked after the break and he has now scored an impressive and unlikely five goals from eight attempts at goal in little more than ninety minutes of action and yet despite his absence there was no respite for Fulham who were as yellow as their shirts, as Canos went up top and ran his opponents ragged.
Fulham had most of the possession as the home team invited them onto them, but it was the Bees who created the best chances when they repeatedly used their pace and cohesion to create havoc in a demoralised defence. Kerschbaumer and Canos both might have scored twice but for Bettinelli who also saved brilliantly from O’Connell’s rising effort.
All three substitutes, Jack O’Connell, Andy Gogia and Josh Clarke played a full part in the victory and Gogia joined Kerschbaumer in coming so close to his first ever Brentford goal when he curled an exquisite late effort inches wide.
All fourteen Bees were heroes with Field making an exceptional debut before suffering a calf injury and he was given support and encouragement by all his teammates who talked him through the game. Both Dean and Barbet were peerless and largely snuffed out the threat of McCormack and second half substitute Dembele and Max Colin was also back to his imperious best. Woods, Saunders and Yennaris dominated the midfield and Alan McCormack’s physicality was barely missed.
Unfortunately this might well be the last that we see of Sergi Canos at Griffin Park and if so, he will have left on a high as he has been wonderful for us and we have been equally good for him. He can hardly have expected to have played thirty-seven times in the Championship as a nineteen year old and with six goals, including that incredible effort at Reading, his contribution has been immense and he has lifted everyone with his coltish enthusiasm and all he lacks is a tail to wag.
Fulham were rightly described as an embarrassment and shameful by their manager, Slaviša Jokanović and I suspect that there will be a clear-out at Craven Cottage given how narrow has been their escape from relegation to League One. In contrast, Brentford played as a team and this was their sixth win in a magical month that has seen them gain the incredible tally of nineteen points and score the same number of goals and rise from the edge of the relegation zone to the dizzy heights of tenth place in the Championship.
This is an incredible achievement which I will dissect in much more depth after our final game next weekend but so much credit is due to everyone at the club as well as the fans for the way in which we have all pulled together and this unity has been rewarded with a resurgence in results, performances and confidence despite the nagging and ever-present problems caused by injuries and exhaustion.
The squad has been tested to its fullest extent and every player has responded brilliantly and risen to the challenge, and nobody has been found wanting, and despite the recent loss of one of the best players in the Championship in Alan Judge we have clearly demonstrated a grim determination to succeed and have fully deserved to rise up eight places in the league table.
We cannot match the likes of Fulham for the time being in terms of our income, squad numbers and, indeed, overall quality but where we leave them trailing far behind us in our wake is in terms of our spirit, shape, effort, planning, organisation, energy, ethos and determination never to give in, plus of course our exceptional team behind the team..
Brentford are a club to be proud of and Fulham, for all their riches, heritage and tradition could not live with us.