Date: 21 February 2015
I hate saying “I told you so” – but I could have called the outcome of this match in advance!
The problem, throughout this season, has been that the Cherries’ best results have all occurred away from home – and in faraway places at that (Wigan, Cardiff, Huddersfield, Rotherham, Blackpool and Birmingham); while results at home and in the southeast have been disappointing. This means that although fans are delighted to see their team at or near the top of the league table, we can’t really understand why this is the case. So a match at Brentford, with a capacity crowd in the away end making a racket under the low roof, (and an almost full home end too,) looked like a potential banana skin. The Cherries had drawn their last two matches (both at home), while Brentford had lost both of theirs and slipped from fourth place to seventh as a result; this didn’t bode well either.
Griffin Park seems even less like a Premier League stadium than the Goldsands! There are always queues into the street trying to access the away end; and dreadful congestion inside where those trying to get in, to get out, to smoke, to buy refreshments, or to access the toilets, all seem to get mixed up with each other. And the stewards don’t really help. They fail to manage the congestion when they simply order people around randomly; they’re extremely bossy when demanding to search your bags and your pockets; and they infuriate visitors by asking for their ticket a second time when it’s already been shown once. But of course the biggest inconvenience for away fans is the poor view; there was one corner of the pitch I couldn’t see at all. We have some happy memories of Griffin Park of course (top amongst them being the end of the “Great Escape” season); but on balance we’ll be pleased to see Brentford in their shiny new stadium in a year or two. Brentford’s pitch was also in a dreadful condition today; Boruc especially but also all the back four getting caked in mud early in the game, and other players slipping up on the sticky surfaces from time to time.
We lined up with MacDonald replacing the suspended Arter (which was accommodated by Surman moving to the left of the central pairing), and Francis back in place of Smith now he’s recovered from illness. Unfortunately three of our back four – Francis, Elphick and especially Daniels – seemed off-form today; Francis’ distribution being poor and Elphick on one occasion being given a massive telling-off by Boruc. MacDonald didn’t exactly seize his chance to impress either, being too quiet and playing – for my money – too deep. And Brentford played with more determination than us throughout. They’d merited – but not achieved – a draw against us last August, but this time they got a highly deserved victory. They were ahead after just nine minutes when Kermorgant lost the ball on the edge of the area and none of our defenders managed to prevent Douglas scoring with Brentford’s first effort on goal. Though at the far end of the ground, and hard for us to see, it was great that Marc Pugh capitalised on a Brentford defensive mix-up to equalise during the first half, against the run of play, though after this the situation deteriorated. Ritchie picked up a yellow card for a bad foul and deserved a second a little later – so was lucky to avoid a sending off for two yellows – but on almost the last stoke of the half Wilson gave away a free kick. It was a long way out, but far from punching the shot to safety (as he presumably intended to do) Boruc somehow managed to turn it into an own goal. (In fairness, he more than made up for this error with a string of excellent saves in the second half.) So we went into the break at 1-2 down, and lucky to still have eleven men on the pitch.
Fraser replaced Ritchie at half time as the latter had received a final warning (and, we later learned, a bit of a knock too). And the “wee man” proved to be our liveliest player in the second period. He and Wilson each had a number of opportunities to score in front of the visiting fans, but it wasn’t to be. Pitman came on in the 63rd minute for the (today) ineffective Kermorgant, and shortly after it looked as though his penalty-taking skills would be called upon. Fraser was upended in the area for what seemed like a sure-fire penalty; but Mike Dean the referee judged it to have been a dive and booked the Scot! Somewhat later Smith came on for the even more ineffective Daniels; and soon after this Pugh picked up a nasty knock, rendering him immobile for a while. But we’d already used all three substitutes so he just had to carry on. We arrived at five minutes’ added time still 1-2 down, as we’d been at half time, and then the almost inevitable occurred. As we pushed hard for the point, Brentford broke and scored at the other end. So 3-1 to them; we slip to third and lose our goal difference advantage over Derby. Meanwhile, despite all their efforts and a great result today, Brentford remain just outside the playoff zone for now.
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):
Francis (6), Elphick (6), Cook (8), Daniels (5);
Ritchie (6), MacDonald (6), Surman (7), Pugh (7);