Date: 2 November 2010
There’s something amiss when a team can play as well as we did tonight, and dominate so much of a game (I don’t think Jalal had any saves to make), and yet we all go away frustrated at the end because of two points dropped. Brentford (who were a very poor side, and it’s hard to understand how they managed to beat Exeter so convincingly at the weekend) must be laughing their heads off at the thought that we’ve now dropped out of the play-off zone, overtaken by pre-season favourites Southampton and Charlton, thanks to nothing that Brentford nor the referee did (two Brentford handballs were ignored in the first half, but we shouldn’t be dependent on decisions like that anyway), but simply the fact that we always lacked the killer ball.
We arrived just as the whistle was being blown to start the match. The Magpie & Crown is back to its usual self, and apparently a bit brighter inside following a coat of paint and new lighting, except that it no longer provides Thai food. Not in the evenings anyway. So we left early, thinking we were allowing plenty of time to pick up sausage and chips on the way to the ground - but this seemed to take up all our time. So, as we arrived, the match was starting; and it took a while to suss out the team line-up. As expected, in the absence of Cooper or Garry, Bartley was playing centre back. This was achieved by playing 4-4-1-1 with Arter just behind McQuoid up front. But to our surprise Pugh had also been dropped (owing to a foot injury, we later learned), as a result of which Feeney had been switched to the left wing with Bradbury on the right. This gave the flexibility, at times, for Arter to drop level with Robinson and Hollands, while Bradbury and Feeney surged forward (effectively a 4-3-3 system). Which is precisely what we did a lot of, early on. Bradbury in particular seemed rejuvenated, excelling in his new position, getting forward again and again, attacking far more than Pugh would have done, and distributing the ball very well indeed. You’d never have thought our squad was getting thin again - given how well Arter and Bradbury were playing. But thin we are: injuries to Garry, Cooper, Pugh, Symes and Molesley; Ings, Partington and Nelson out on loan. As a result we only had six men on the bench tonight, including Stockley.
But three of the six were strikers, which became ironic as again and again we showed an inability to turn dominance into goals. Statistics would later show Bournemouth had eleven goal attempts in this game, to Brentford’s three. But, for some reason or other, we’re not scoring. We played as good a first half as we have anywhere. Smith and Bradbury ran and passed well, Arter put in an excellent chip to Hollands at one point (but Holland’s shot went wide), and McQuoid also had shots at goal. All of this was played out right in front of us as both teams, surprisingly, played towards their own fans in the first half - leaving us wondering who’d won the toss. But at half time the score was still 0-0.
The break afforded an opportunity to observe just badly designed Brentford’s stadium is. We’re back at the western end; while the open end we stood in a year or two back now has a roof on it and is allocated to home fans. Well, the area behind our away end is just a narrow corridor - along which it would be almost impossible to move anyway. But add the fact that it’s trying to cope with people going to and from the toilets, as well as to and from the snack bar, and it becomes just bedlam. There are crush barriers that are achieving nothing other than crushing people; and allowing people to stand in this corridor to smoke only makes the situation worse. It’s hard to see how this set-up can possibly be safe. You queue and push and shove for ages to get into a toilet that’s deserted; you do the same again to get back to a piece of terracing that’s almost deserted too. (We took 900-odd fans; which is not bad given that the overall attendance was only 5278 - some thousand to 1500 less than we achieve at Dean Court these days.)
By and large, the second half comprised more of the same. Eddie avoided the temptation to make any changes, though I predicted Fletcher would come on for Arter on the hour mark. Sure enough he appeared on the touchline right on cue, ready to do just that, and Cherries’ fans began singing “Supafletch”. But then we scored: a brilliantly executed Hollands header off a well-taken Wiggins free kick. The Chelsea supporter who’d come along with me was particularly thrilled to see this. And Fletch sat down again!
But 1-0 wasn’t enough, given our dominance up to this point. And there was always a risk of losing this slender lead. In fact, this happened very quickly. A Brentford player apparently lost his footing near to Marvin Bartley, and Brentford were awarded a penalty, from which they scored easily. We didn’t give up. Fletch came on, for Arter as predicted, ten minutes later than originally planned; but this made little difference. Fletch did have one or two goal-scoring opportunities himself, and we continued to apply pressure at the far end of the pitch where it was always hard to see detail. Wiggins had a shot at the very end, but the scoreline remained stubbornly at 1-1, identical to the last away match I’d watched - at Brighton.
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):