At the halfway mark in Brentford’s first season in the Championship in 20 years the club was sitting comfortably in 5th spot on 40 points. A full 3 points more than Yeovil Town, its vanquishers in the League 1 Play-Off Final a mere 18 months ago managed in their entire season in the Championship. The administrative requirement for all Championship clubs to submit a report on how they would satisfy Premier League ground regulations by the end of January had gone from irrelevant bureaucracy to a live issue sparking reams of online debate over the merits of ground sharing and which of our hated local rivals would be least unpalatable a home while we waited for Susan (as owner Matthew Benham flippantly called the new ground at Lionel Road during an online Q&A).
When I booked tickets for the match away at Wolves, the picture was even rosier as we’d not yet played our 3rd v 2nd clash against Ipswich Town on Boxing Day and had recovered from the 2-1 defeat away at Huddersfield which brought a five game winning streak to an end by winning the next two games against Blackburn and Cardiff. Despite the 4-2 home loss against Ipswich, the fact that we’d beaten Wolves 4-0 at home only a few weeks back meant that I set off with OMB optimistic about our chances of returning to winning ways.
Unfortunately, the heavy traffic from Leeds to Wolverhampton through the frozen North was a portent of more gloom. After many diversions and a cross-country jaunt plus getting stuck in traffic going to Stoke’s home game, we arrived outside the ground half an hour after kick off. The Asda car park next to the ground was emblazoned with dire warnings about the need to pay for parking (a very reasonable £1 and the 2 hour limit wasn’t a problem as we were late – certainly better than the £7 Huddersfield charged for parking!). Unfortunately, none of the ticket machines was working so despite seeing a wheel clamp on one car in the car park, we risked it without a ticket. Then, a not very helpful steward sent us the wrong way so by the time I’d picked up our tickets from the “Only Foods and Sauces” burger van, we heard the whistle being blown for half time (PS thanks to Dan who picked up our tickets from the club on Boxing Day as I’d ordered too late to have them posted and to the cheery man at the charmingly named burger van for looking after them for us). The stewards who finally let us in told us that we were losing 1-0. Not a great end to 3 1/2 hours in the car!
By the time we’d sat down, OMB was already keen to go home. After Wolves went 2-0 up I was tempted to cave in. The Bees played the second half reasonably neatly but seemed too intent on trying to pass the ball into the net. Defensively, every time Tarkowski, recalled for Dean, got the ball I had my heart in my mouth as he attempted repeatedly to redefine “hospital pass” in getting the ball back to Button in goal. While Odubajo is dangerous going forward, he also gives me some worries when defending. He’d had a bit of a nightmare at the last game I saw at Huddersfield and I’d hoped that it was a one off, but perhaps not. The problem is that it isn’t clear whether he’d fit back into a more attacking role on McCormack’s return – we have no shortage of attacking midfielders.
Early in the second half, there was a decent Jota chance where he seemed not to have put enough power into his shot, but his shots are more about perfect placement than outright power so it was probably a better chance than it looked. After Wolves went down to 10 men for a second yellow for an unnecessary foul in our half, the Bees picked up the pace and got a goal back from an innocuous looking ball that was diverted into his own net by Batth. With 3 minutes and a minimum of 5 to be added on, the Bees pushed forward and Gray was unlucky to have his header hit the post. Having seen since the replay of Wolves’ first goal and their manager’s admission that it was way offside maybe a draw would have been a fairer result. Just as in the Huddersfield game, there was encouragement in the fitness of the players being up to increasing pressure right at the end and in their willingness to keep at it even when behind rather than to succumb.
However, it is looking clear that the 5 game winning run was making the division look easier than it is and that it will take some slog to get back to those results. Perhaps earlier in the season more clubs played us in the expectation that we wouldn’t be much good and so were less prepared. Our high league position and in Wolves’ case, having seen us thrash them once, means that opponents are more likely to set up properly against us rather than just do their own thing in the expectation that their innate superiority will prevail. In that regard, perhaps falling down the table a little is no bad thing as it’ll make it easier for other clubs to underestimate us again. Many games have had a late Bees rally and I think that despite recent disappointments, it is better that we’ve used them to turn draws into wins more than defeats to draws.
Next up is a FA Cup 3rd round game against Brighton. I’m not that bothered about a cup run this season when the prospect of an unlikely promotion is tantalisingly within the realms of possibility. That said, I think results against the top 6 are a good indicator of whether promotion is likely or strongly merited (eg the season before last we picked up only 2 points against the teams who were promoted, both Doncaster and Yeovil doing the double over us). In that respect we have only won once against the other 5 clubs in the top 6 and lost the other 4 games, heavily against Ipswich and Middlesbrough and narrowly against Bournemouth and Watford. But it might be a good idea if I stayed away a bit more as the club’s record with me in attendance is P4 W1 L3 which is relegation form!