As said by a similarly disappointed Brentford fan leaving after the 1-0 home defeat to Doncaster Rovers this afternoon. It would be too easy to agree. Particularly if, like me, you are currently stuck on a train northwards filled with exuberantly celebrating Doncaster fans.
In retrospect, failing to take the opportunity to gain automatic promotion out of the third tier of English football by managing to win our last home game of the season fits all too neatly into the narrative of “same old Brentford, don’t want to go up”. After all, we had the same chance in 2002 against Reading and failed to take it. Yet the manner of the failure was if anything more galling this time round. Bees fans were almost unanimously and uncharacteristically optimistic ahead of this afternoon’s game. Certainly far more so than I remember them being in 2002 when the club was in dire straits financially and everyone knew that the first team were playing through exhaustion and injury in the knowledge that almost all of them would be playing for other clubs the following season whatever the outcome of the match. Barring a Damascene conversion of then owner Ron Noades to spending his own money to offer the senior players new contracts and the manager, Steve Coppell reassurance that there would be an increased player budget, even had we won the best to look forward to would have been a season of futile struggle against relegation. Even after Martin Rowlands scored to put the Bees ahead the feeling many had was that an equaliser was inevitable, and so it proved.
The photo shows the moments of hope just before Marcello Trotta took the penalty in front of the home end at a packed out Griffin Park which, if scored would have sealed promotion. As this was in the second minute of time added on at the end of 90 minutes, barring disaster beyond even Brentford’s capabilities, it would have been enough. Yet, as history will record, straight after Trotta’s meatily struck shot which sent veteran keeper Sullivan the wrong way rebounded safely off the crossbar, Doncaster went down the other end and scored to win and seal the League 1 Championship.
Had the team merely got the 0-0 draw that a largely attritional game between the team with the best home record playing at home against the team with the best away record could have been predicted to achieve it would just have been a bit of a disappointment. For much of the game that looked exactly like what was going to happen. Neither team’s keeper had very much to do all game. Doncaster like their South Yorkshire neighbours, Sheffield United, are a large and physical team. Brentford’s players could perhaps have been protected more by the referee but did seem to go to ground a little too easily. However, in the last ten minutes, space started to open up for the Bees and they passed the ball around incisively and with movement. Meanwhile Doncaster seemed somewhat caught in two minds as to whether to seek to see out the draw that would have guaranteed promotion. When the referee pointed to the penalty spot in the dying seconds of the game the momentum was with the Bees. Trotta was insistent on taking the penalty- having scored one in front of the Blades fans at Bramall Lane the week before as well as the equaliser against Hartlepool, having the confidence to claim the penalty was what you would normally want from a centre forward. After the game it seems to have transpired that club captain Kevin O’Connor had been nominated to take penalties in the game by manager Uwe Rosler.
Perhaps O’Connor might have scored and exorcised the demons he’d talked of earlier in the week from his involvement as an unused sub in that game against Reading in 2002. Perhaps not. I don’t think the fact that Trotta is on loan from local (past) rivals Fulham meant anything other than in providing fans with another reason to hate him for his miss in a way that they wouldn’t have done had club stalwart O’Connor missed. As a young, Italian player, Trotta can’t really be expected to know of a rivalry between Brentford and Fulham which hasn’t been seen in a competitive match since he was a toddler. It certainly wouldn’t have made any sensible professional player try not to score what would have been the most significant goal of their career to date. The enormity of the miss could be seen in the disconsolate and inconsolable way he left the field at the end of the match. I wanted us to go up as much as anyone and have endured an hour of Donny fans singing their championship but am already sanguine enough about the game to write about it. I would be surprised if Trotta wasn’t replaying the moment in his head right now and beating himself up over it.
So, now, the dreaded play offs await. No Bees fan will need reminding that we’ve never been promoted through the play offs in the six times we’ve attempted it, nor that that has included two depressingly one sided finals or that our other finals appearances in the JPT Trophy have also been fruitless. Still, despite today’s loss, I am positive that we have the best chance we have ever had of breaking that curse. It will all depend on whether Rosler can lift the players again and importantly whether the fans can bounce back rather than revert to a fatalistic acceptance of failure. I’d still prefer not to meet the Yeovil team that beat us heavily twice in the ordinary season, particularly as we won three and drew one of the games against the other two clubs in the play offs, Swindon and Sheffield United.