Brentford Away Excellent in Every Way
Here`s why I feel yesterday`s game was up there with the best so far this season.
Much has been said of Brentford`s prime location, with a pub on each corner of Griffin Park, and many more within spitting distance. Then there`s the fact that Brentford`s our closest trip in this year`s division. All round, this game promised a lot before even considering the kicking of a football.
And I wasn`t disappointed. The Globe was our pre-match pub of choice. A proper pub less than five minutes from the terraces - busy, but pleasingly so rather than sweatily so. Segregation between home and away fans was out of the question which is always good, but this was a Brentford pub through and through, even the bar staff were in their red and white stripes.
Then onto the terrace for the first view of the pitch. It`s a shallow stepped incline behind the goal, it`s small, and it`s right on top of the pitch. This is an old school stadium, something the Championship has been crying out for since Peterborough`s relegation and so many clubs` decisions to move to their version of the Madejski, the Macron, the Cardiff City Stadium and so on…
We opted for a spot on the advertising hoardings, such is the short stature of one of our group, and we wondered how long it would take for us to get hit in the face as a result of a stray shot.
This was a game of two halves of unequal length. Jake Bidwell`s sending off on 37 minutes changed everything, and Brentford were the benefactors of this big call, at least initially.
The game had started off well, with chances at both ends for two teams that wanted to play the game at pace. Both keepers made saves and both sets of fans probably felt things could go their team`s way in an instant. So far, so expected, but it was a clumsy challenge on Miguel Layun that gave Brentford the impetus, that feeling they`d been wronged, that made it so difficult for Watford just before and after half time. This set up a second half full of twists, turns, and Hornets chances.
At 10 versus 11 Watford initially looked in an enormous rush to get themselves ahead, opting for the long, killer ball far more often than looking to keep possession and be patient. Brentford`s goal was emphatic, our goals were perhaps a case of 'Finally…` - and of course it was that guy Odion Ighalo again that sealed the win.
The Sending Off
A loose piece of control from the Bees` left back, and the resulting high challenge that probably (and thankfully, to be honest) didn`t make too much contact with Layun`s standing leg, was enough for referee Keith Stroud to reach for the red card. There was no hesitation from Stroud, and it`s clear that it was the height of Jake Bidwell`s boot that forced the decision, rather than any kind of intent.
It was one of those challenges that could have easily been missed by the ref, but looking at it again it`s also the kind of red card that probably won`t be overturned if it`s appealed. Bidwell`s studs are almost as high as Layun`s knee, and whether you mean it or not that kind of tackle gets punished with a red card these days.
The home fans were livid, as was their team, and it didn`t take too long for the spirit of the side to show. Andre Gray - subject of much stick from the more studious among the Watford faithful, whose diligent research meant we heard a few more 'Que Sera Sera`s than usual thanks to his Hatters history - did a good impression of Marlon King circa early 2006 and got the Bees ahead with the perfect route one goal.
Angella`s best bet to stop Gray running through on goal would have been to wrestle him to the floor and let Brentford have a go 10 v 10. And then that finish… What a goal, and what a celebration. Mark Warburton is a popular gent round these parts, no matter what the press say.
Sticking with comparisons to Boothroyd glory days era Watford, Brentford`s keeper David Button played a Ben Foster-esque part in that opening goal, quickly playing the ball very long and very true to the ex-Luton frontman. Ben would be proud. Incidentally, Button`s performance throughout the night rightly earned him a home team Man of the Match trophy.
A clear handball (trust me) looked to have given us a lifeline, and a stuttering Watford - who at this point had still not yet realised we had a long, long time left to win this game - will have breathed a collective sigh of relief. We wouldn`t have to break down this stubborn and energetic defence in open play to get us off the mark, we all thought.
All bravado from Deeney and Button initially, with the penalty spot scuffed up by a Brentford boot to the sighing, confident smile of the Watford captain, but it would be the impressive Button to take the kudos on this occasion. A very tame penalty skidded into Button`s beckoning arms, and three sides of Griffin Park erupted. A poor penalty, but it still had to be saved.
We would have to break Brentford down in open play.
Thank god we realised we didn`t have to win it any quicker than we did. The long balls turned to short passes, we probed and we kept possession. Brentford still caused us the odd problem, but by and large we were the team asking questions. And so we should have been.
The away crowd grew more and more frustrated, unhappy that we were made to wait for a goal that needed to come should we be worth anything near a top-six finish. Put simply, if we did not put this game to bed and get the three points, we didn`t deserve promotion. You should beat a team with ten men for almost an hour.
But we did make it.
But not without tension. And that`s why this game was so great. We were made to wait, we were given that last-minute winner ecstacy. We dug deep, made the right changes and won the right way - regularly forcing the home side`s depleted numbers into a save or a last-ditch tackle rather than going gung-ho and punting endless balls into the box from deep.
I did comment on 89 minutes that I couldn`t believe we weren`t going to end up winning this game. This was the type of game that any top side worth their salt would get a result from, opposition league standing aside. No sooner had that thought transformed itself into speech, Odion Ighalo guided a volley into the back of the net. Cue last-minute winner celebrations on the terrace. These are the memories we hope to have looking back on our promotion season.
An Injury Time Reflex
After scoring in injury time, after the celebrations and the relief, I still expected us to concede. Last season`s final run-in, where we seemed to let in a late goal to drop points every flipping game, has had a profound effect on me. I`m not just saying this, I fully expected Brentford to score.
A few more late goals scored by us rather than them might change my hard-wired pessimism, but that low ball that flashed across Gomes and the Watford goal just before the full time whistle was the source of communal palpitations on the away terrace. Stop doing that, Watford.
Brentford were neat, tidy, and full of determination when down to 10 men. As I`ve said previously, the Bees were the side that benefitted from the sending off initially, and to a man they battled as well as they played good, proper football.
In Jota they have got a bit of a maestro on their hands, who could spark their attack into life at any moment; in Gray they have a very capable striker at this level; and in Button they`ve got a top, top keeper, if last night`s showing was anything like his standard performance.
Aside from the folks on the pitch and on the touchline, Brentford are clearly a club driven by its community. I had the pleasure of chatting to a couple of the Beesotted guys before the match, and looking at the way they in particular conduct their business, there`s a lot of heart and close connections with the club there. It`s not dissimilar to our very own From The Rookery End, and the kind of access these groups get are a big part of what makes the club we support special.
So good luck to them. I like Brentford. I hope we find ourselves in the same division next season because this is the way away days should be. Friendly and unique, with a really exciting match to boot. Last night was the drama of football at its best. And we got to see Tommy Smith again for goodness' sake. Wonderful.