It’s impossible not to enjoy Brentford. That’s the theory. The actual, proper terracing, the low roof over the terraces, the largely amiable opposition fans, the plethora of pubs within the vicinity, the happy memories of Bob Dewhurst’s thunderbolt, the match of the 90s in which the Great Escape became a reality, the wonderful 2-0 win under Steve Bruce (and under the floodlights). You can’t not enjoy Brentford away. You just can’t…
Testing that theory to the maximum on Saturday afternoon would be: Marshall, Kane, Kingsley, McKenzie, Ridgewell, Henriksen, Irvine, Bowen, Evandro, Grosicki and Campbell. Benched were Lichal, Burke, Pugh, Dicko, Milinkovic, Long and Martin. Each sub has a story, none of which reflected well on the club come 5pm.
We started off in barnstorming fashion. Literally every good thing about the game for the first 20 minutes involved someone in a black and amber shirt. Campbell was doing the work of two men up front, Grosicki’s pace was terrifying the home defence, Irvine was dictating the midfield with Evandro’s silky touches causing further bedlam for the Bees. They couldn’t touch us. That second half against Rotherham was an aberration. We. Were. Back. We were all jab and no knockout blow however. As good as our approach play was – and it really was – one-time City target Bentley in the home goal was untroubled. In fact, the first keeper to be troubled was Marshall, who parried a shot back into play. The Scotsman retrieved the ball safely only for Maupay to go in unnecessarily late, much to the disgust of the Tigers defence. Maupay was rightly booked, Marshall was slightly crocked.
No matter, because we’re ace. We’re in the ascendancy. And in the 24th minute we score. Grosicki and Kingsley combine on the left for the former to send in an inch-perfect cross for Fraizer Campbell who heads into the top corner. It had been coming. Brentford had nothing. We were all over th… ah fuck they’ve equalised.
Benrahma – more of him later – runs at our ‘defence’. No one is interested. He finds Mokotjo who slides the ball slowly and methodically to Marshall’s left. Marshall doesn’t move. He doesn’t move twice more before half-time when the ball hits the back of the net, either. The first of these incidences occurs five minutes after Brentford equalise. Benrahma does one of those horrible twisty mini-runs in the box – think Osvaldo Ardiles in the 1981 FA Cup final; think Alex Dyer against Villa at Boothferry Park in about 1987 – and then curls a ball into the postage stamp of the postage stamp. The goal is in many ways a thing of beauty. Except all I can focus upon is our defence’s inability to get anywhere near Brentford’s forwards.
Benrahma shoots narrowly wide on 40 minutes, because we’d obviously not been paying attention before, but then on 43 minutes really turns the screw. Kingsley is pathetically dispossessed on the half-way line. Brentford break. City havethree or so decent chances to clear. Each is spurned. It falls to Benrahma. You know the rest. 3-1. Three goals that have cut through our defence as if it wasn’t there. That’s because it wasn’t there. Three goals in which Marshall has been rooted to the spot. He had reason for the second but not the first and the third. If he was injured – which it seems he was – come off. If he wasn’t – and he seemed to be able to do most other things required – then at least make a fucking effort.
Half-time comes. We’re all a bit shellshocked. Marshall is a bit more than that and goes off injured, with Long replacing him.
But then comes the second half. If we score next, who knows? Nigel’s masterminded a few comebacks. And we’re all over them again. Evandro had a brilliant volley tipped over, Bowen is only prevented from scoring by a last-ditch tackle. Grosickiis causing all sorts of problems. This is more like it. We’re looking great again. We can do th… ah, they’ve scored. One of our many long, stupid, loopy corners doesn’t do anything, we commit too many men in their half, they break, Watkins gets a shot in that Long parries. Watkins is the first to react. He’s the only one to react in truth. He nods the ball over for Maupay to tap in. And that’s the game. 4-1.
Want me to continue? Really? OK. Irvine goes off injured. This is a bad thing, because Jackson’s a very good player. But it might solve a headache for Nigel. You see, we offer no protection to our defence from midfield. Don’t get me wrong, our defence is shit – the full-backs can’t tackle and our centre-backs have been recruited from a nursery and a retirement home – but the quartet would fare much better with a Stewart or Batty in there. Irvine and Henriksen want to play similar games. And they don’t want to get ugly. Their positional sense isn’t what it should be at the base of the midfield when they play as a duo. It should really be Irvine or Evandro in that false number 10 position or whatever the fuck they’re calling it these days. I hope Jackson’s OK. I hope Nigel rethinks his midfield.
Anyway, nothing of note really happens for a while now as Brentford toy with us. Grosicki makes a few decent runs with no end product. Long pulls off a few decent saves. But the game’s gone. All that’s left is for more piss-weak defending to usher in a Benrahma hat-trick. Fair play to him too. It’s one of the more memorable attacking displays against City. Think Fitzroy Simpson for Swindon in the early 90s; think Marcus Stewart for Bristol Rovers in the mid-90s; think Jo Kuffourfor Torquay in 2005. He was simply too good for us on Saturday. That said, it doesn’t take much to be too good for this defence.
Milinkovic and Burke get a run out but thankfully Brentford declare at 5-1 and our misery is at an end. You want an autopsy? You’re going to get one.
Marshall has been one or our best performers across the whole of this season, but on Saturday he showed why various managers were right to prefer Jakupović and McGregor to him. He’s a good shot stopper but his command of his area and his positioning can be poor. The injury doesn’t excuse that. The defence we’ve covered. I feel for McKenzie. Young defenders have the toughest of introductions and he’s obviously a bright talent. He just gets little protection and guidance. I’d like to see him play alongside Elphick. I have no desire to see him play alongside Ridgewell ever again. You’ve read what I have to say about the centre-midfield, which leaves the front four. Bowen was quiet by his standards, while Grosicki wasn’t, he just wasn’t particularly effective either. Evandro only fancied it in spurts, while Campbell was his typically effective self.
Which leaves the subs. How would Lichaj and Burke not improve this defence? The former in particular and the latter to some extent have shown that they actually can defend, and we didn’t see a lot of that on Saturday. Why have we signed Pugh? We have a plethora of wingers. Why weren’t those wages allocated to another defender? The Pugh signing makes even less sense with Milinkovic falling back into favour. Or if we weren’t signing a defender with that money, why not a forward? Martin and Dicko are not really options to replace Campbell. They are men who wear Hull City shirts and run about a bit but don’t do much. Nigel’s done a lot of good things this past few months, but when your recruitment is sparse you have to make it count. He hasn’t made this count. We didn’t need Pugh. We urgently need strengthening in other areas. God I miss Elphick.
The players stopped trying yesterday too. They seemed to care as little about the future of this football club as our owners do. We travelled a long was for this. We paid a lot of money for this. We deserved much better. We won’t go down and we won’t go up. But if the players are so disrespectful as to already have their heads on a beach somewhere in the Caribbean, they could at least tell us that before we embark upon these journeys.
You never know when you’re going to stand on a terrace for the last time. If the Allams keep hold of Hull City it is unlikely that that occasion will have been Saturday. But if it was, it was a horrible way to see out such a wonderful way to watch football..
Richard Gardham (via Tiger Chat)