My 10 yo nephew Ben came with me to the match and before the kick- off he commented on how tense he felt. The whole atmosphere was one of tension as the two form teams in the division prepared to meet each other. Both sets of fans were obviously aware of the quality of the opposition but also had a quiet confidence in their own team.
We started off on the front foot with both full-backs providing crosses but Brentford were soon up at our end of the pitch and only a block by O’Kane prevented James being troubled. Whilst the play by either team wasn’t fluent (by their usual standards) it was end to end stuff generally ending with crosses taken by the keepers or blocks made by the solid defences. Grabban was causing problems with his hard work running the channels, Pugh and Fogden were stretching Brentford out wide whilst in central midfield O’Kane and Arter were putting in really good shifts challenging their opponents and joining the attacks whenever possible. The fitness of the players seems extremely high as their energy was superb despite this being the third match in six days.
As the half wore on Brentford became more dominant but did not really create much and whilst James had a few moments for concern he was not called into any major action apart from one short range reaction save from Trotta which showed age has not affected his natural ability. We were not totally out of the picture though and were still breaking forward when Brentford lost possession. Nil nil at half time and the tension continued. Would Eddie be able to conjure up something during his half time talk as is the norm?
The answer was sort of. After an even start to the half we started to gain the ascendancy and O’Kane and Fogden in particular began to read the Brentford passing patterns and regularly made interceptions which saw us speeding forward again. The Brentford defence was solid, as you would expect, and repulsed all that we could throw at it. Our best efforts were a blaze over the bar by Pitman after Fogden had tried to bundle the ball in but been blocked and a shot wide from McQuoid from close range after being set up by Fogden. For Brentford the industrious Forshaw fizzed a shot over James’ bar, Arter made a superb last ditch block and in the final few moments there were mild penalty claims after Donaldson was supposedly bundled over by O’Kane. All Eunan was doing was shielding the ball back to James and quite how someone the size of Donaldson went down so easily in the situation was surprising.
This was a match where two good teams went head to head and full out but both have solid defences which held out fairly easily. All of our players had good games and put in real shifts. In my previous match report I stated that I did not think that Elphick and Addison looked an ideal centre-back partnership. Since the injury to Addison Cook has formed a really good pairing with Elphick and 4 consecutive clean sheets supports this and I feel much happier about the situation. We’ll have to see what Eddie does when Miles is fit again. The experience and calmness of James was a reassuring rock for the rest of the team (and fans). Both fullbacks bombed forward in the usual way although O’Kane and Arter seemed to hang back more than is usual, especially the latter. No doubt this was out of respect of Brentford’s attacking prowess and part of Eddie’s tinkering with our system to nullify this. Foggie and Pugh both defended well and covered consistently for their fullbacks but attacked with relish like all wingers when the opportunity arose. Both strikers ran their hearts out both in attack and as the first line of defence so much so that they were both substituted, first Pitman by McQuoid after 67 mins and then Grabban by Tubbs 11 mins later. For his tireless work which included seemingly covering every blade of grass and for his reading of the game for interceptions plus some raking passes my man of the match is Eunan O’Kane. For a small guy he punches (not literally) above his weight in challenges plus he talks to his team-mates all the time, a captain in the making for me.
Finally a mention must be made of the referee Tim Robinson (not the cricket umpire and former test player!). He was a late replacement for the experienced David Phillips and being a first year ref it must have been a daunting task to officiate such a high profile match. For there to be only one booking (Brentford’s Trotta on Arter in a role reversal from the usual and a bit harsh in my opinion) indicates what a good match he had. Some post match reports that I’ve seen indicate that some fans thought that he was inconsistent in what he penalised but this is not my view. It would have been easy for him to have been a ‘homer’ but this was definitely not the case.
On the tube back home I dozed off whilst Ben played on his ipod (they have their place when you need a bit of peace). The tension of the afternoon had finally got to me and made me feel really tired. No doubt many of the other fans felt the same and dozed off on their way home….hopefully not if they were driving.
AFCB: James, Francis, Cook, Elphick, Daniels, Fogden, Arter, O'Kane, Pugh, Grabban, Pitman
Subs: Jalal, Partington, McDermott, Hughes, Fletcher, McQuoid (for Pitman, 67 mins), Tubbs (for Grabban, 78 mins)
Phil Nesbitt, Cockfosters