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Brentford 2 Watford 1 (10/12/2021) 11/12/2021

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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1- I live in a village.  Not a town, a village.  As such the driving that I’m used to is the careful navigation of rural lanes, village streets, and the more or less predictable monotony of the motorway to and from Vicarage Road.

The A406 is something else.  The stretch from Brent Cross anticlockwise towards Brentford is like descending into the meridian trench in the Death Star, a rattling narrow channel where it’s everyone for themselves and a wrong move, an ill-timed exhale could prove fatal.

Stay on target.

That we’re making the rare step of heading into London by car reflects the practicalities of an evening kick off with an already exhausted 12 year-old and a stadium whose nearest tube station will be closed after the game.  That, and the fact that Nem and Nick have offered a parking permit, a warm welcome and a hearty plate of macaroni cheese to fuel pre-match reflections.

I haven’t seen Nem since she, Kieron, Paul and I navigated A-Level French together.  Thirty years on, Kieron still resents the imposition of French A-Level upon his teenage years while Nem is a French teacher.  Go figure.

Nem is another to have learned football since school, her and Nick follow the Bees home and away. She’s also developed a healthy level of football fan’s superstition which manifests itself in walking to the ground down the middle of the street, though this obligation appears to be relaxed, mercifully, as we approach busier thoroughfares and the M4 causeway looms over us.  The walk from their home to Brentford’s new ground has taken us past what’s left of Griffin Park, plus two of the famous four pubs on the corner.  One, The Griffin, still thrives;  another’s doors are closed, perhaps for good.  I ask about the heartache of leaving Griffin Park without being able to “say goodbye” during the pandemic.  Nick is philosophical;  goodbyes had been anticipated, and the new ground’s attractions cast such sentiment aside very quickly.

2- As with much that Brentford do, that new stadium is a well-thought out, expertly designed thing despite being squeezed into a tight fit adjacent to the north circular like a novice’s first go at Minecraft (I imagine) with access routes that will, one suspects, need to be passed on down generations for fear of being forgotten.  It strikes a fine balance;  modern but cosy, attractively wonky without being weird and with a decent array of kiosks if you’re prepared to look for them.  Daughter 2 turns her nose up at her “hot water with a bit of chocolate” but otherwise it’s a fine venue for her first evening away trip.

We find ourselves up in the gods, a couple of rows forward from the peak of the away “corner” underneath a low metal roof that will amplify the considerable noise around us as the evening progresses.  Nem and Nick will later comment on the volume, “the loudest of the season”, and this is fuelled no doubt by the proximity of the venue and the fuel of Friday night drinking.  There is a precarious rowdiness in the concourses and I have cause to hold Daughter 2’s arm on the way through before she throws me a look to remind me that she’s no longer six.

brentford

3- Claudio Ranieri’s line-up yields a couple of surprises, not least the absence of Imran Louza.  The Moroccan’s renaissance after his early season false start has nonetheless seen him withdrawn early by and large, and perhaps in this and the benching of João Pedro he had half an eye on a busy week of games.  In Louza’s place came the formidable figure of Juraj Kucka.

This development in particular painted a clear picture of how the football itself, now that we’ve gotten around to having to talk about it (and let’s face it, you all watched it and none of you want to relive it any more than me), would develop.  So it proved.  The first half’s action was straight out of a cheese grater, neither side able to exert control over proceedings any more than one might control a stray carrier bag in a hurricane.  Occasional moments of quality rose above the morass – Baptiste fashioned an acrobatic shot to force Bachmann to tip over, Mbeumo curled an effort around an attentive Troost-Ekong for the keeper to make a slightly showy save – but given that he was playing in front-ish of a wildly receptive gallery we’ll forgive him the flourish.  

That attack came down our left where Jeremy Ngakia, despite his willing and physicality, was becoming the latest candidate not to look much like a Premier League left back.  The untidiness of the game suited us the better however, particularly once we’d taken the lead.  This followed Joshua King wandering in from the right to plant a shot onto the foot of the post; from the corner that followed Emmanuel Dennis headed home.  This reflected no Watford superiority in terms of the balance of play.  There was no “play” to balance.  Instead it reflected the game’s moment of quality to that point, the Les Ferdinand leap into the air from a standing start, check your WhatsApp whilst waiting for the cross to arrive and still thump home.  Individual moments of quality will decide games at this level, even rubbish games like this one.

So the remaining 20 minutes or so of the half were conducted to a celebratory cacophony from the away corner.  Accompaniment was provided by an improvised percussion using some form of reverberating metal mesh alongside the wall of the stand.  It was impossible to persuade the resultant noise to obey the rhythm of the chant, in the context of which the efforts of those responsible were nonetheless appallingly unsuccessful.  The resultant din matched the chaos on the pitch which, as above, suited us down to the ground.  Any further goals were only going to arrive by accident, and we had the lead.

4- Whilst Claudio Ranieri’s record since taking over isn’t particularly impressive when summed up in terms of points per game, the reality is that these figures are distorted by the strength of the opposition in recent fixtures in particular and the paucity of options open to him.  It’s difficult to pick out failings in strategy or decision on the coach’s part;  we’ve lost games either because we’ve been playing very good teams, or because the options open to Ranieri were inadequate.

Until today.  As discussed here previously, the rapid “sorting” of the midfield has been Ranieri’s most immediate achievement but it’s a precarious thing.  In the context of a high pressing game a metronome (Louza), a ball-carrier (Sissoko) and a terrier (Cleverley) is a sound formula.  In replacing Louza with Kucka you sacrifice a lot of creativity in favour of brutality.  Nonetheless, it looked like being enough.

There may be Other Stuff that we don’t see.  Scratch that, there will certainly be Other Stuff that we don’t see, but it would have to be pretty significant stuff to justify the decision to withdraw Cleverley in favour of a newly bleached João Pedro on 57 minutes.  To be balanced… it’s unreasonable to gasp in breathless admiration at the audacity of this attacking move, an extra forward in João Pedro at the front of the midfield, when it works and then to complain the first time it crashes and burns.  Nonetheless, this was the outcome we’d all feared when this was first given a spin.  It was just weird.  

Brentford were compromised to a similar to degree to ourselves by injuries, COVID tests and suspensions.  Nonetheless, with a more accommodating midfield in front of them they channelled the urgency that they’d shown since the start of the half and started to dominate the game.  Immediately it wasn’t a scruffy bunfight any more, it was a rear-guard action.

We managed to fashion a couple of chances, the first by exploiting an obvious weakness on the left of Brentford’s defence where Vitaly Janelt was a makeshift centre-back.  A rare contribution from João Pedro, whose performance lacked any of it’s usual tenacity, saw Dennis take control as we broke.  He fed Joshua King whose overcautious finish, easily fielded by Fernandez, summed up his willing but unsuccessful evening.  Later King broke down the left and played a ball into space for Sissoko – to whom kudos for still seizing the reins even when he wasn’t having his best game either.  As Sissoko burst onto the ball he was grappled to the ground by Jansson, whose track record suggested a reliable recklessness.  A yellow, not a red, just about, but there won’t have been much in it.  Whether Michael Oliver factored in the consideration that Moussa with the ball at his feet in front of goal barely constitutes a goalscoring opportunity only he will know.

But the heavy traffic was at the other end.  That our defending is appalling is accepted, but this is only true sometimes.  Sometimes is often enough of course, but there would have been stuff to admire here if only we’d gotten away with it.  Bodies in the way.  Questions asked. Decisions forced, that sort of thing.

We didn’t get away with it.  Jansson’s conversion of Goode’s flick-on went to VAR, so maybe we were a little unlucky there – not in the decision itself, offside was invented to deter goal hanging rather than marginal infringements in any case – but in that it wouldn’t have been very far from a visible infringement and the penalty doesn’t happen if the first doesn’t.  And then the penalty itself which seemed to result in Ghoddos standing on Troost-Ekong’s leg on review.

All of which irrelevant.  We’d handed initiative to the hosts, they’d seized it and capitalised.  That penalty was preceded by five minutes of “wise old head” Juraj Kucka losing his composure completely and charging around in a manner that screamed “make it stop, make it stop”.  We’re allowed to do that in the stands Juraj, but we’re paying for the privilege.  And then Troost-Ekong’s lunge in itself was wild and invited inadvertent contact, another rash decision from a supposedly senior player. The final frustration was watching Bachmann, otherwise all but faultless, sell himself far too readily as Mbeumo converted the spot kick.  We lost the game, deservedly so.

5- It’s difficult to constructively vent your frustration in such circumstances.  Difficult to convey or provide positive conduit to the profound emotions that result.  Some of those around us, again even allowing for this difficulty, failed dismally.  One philosopher standing next to Daughter 2 bellowed “f*** off” repeatedly at each of the Watford side who had the temerity to approach and acknowledge the support.  We were trapped amongst this at the top of the stand as it emptied underneath us and once again I was concerned at Daughter 2’s staying power.

“That was a bit disappointing, wasn’t it?” was my completely inadequate if perhaps less obnoxious attempt to channel that same frustration.  There followed a couple of seconds of silent contemplation as we trudged back towards our rendez-vous with Nem and Nick.  “It was a cool experience”, she eventually replied, quietly.  That’s my girl.

Nem and Nick had by far the worst of the arrangement as it turned out.  Given the lack of any real controversy or contention in the game, sulking quietly and (I am assuming) unprovocatively wasn’t very difficult on my part.  Nem and Nick, however, were deprived of the joy of revelling in a late and unlikely victory by our presence – at least until we got back to the Griffin where Nick, having politely invited us in for a drink, said his goodbyes and dived inside.

A game that we’d set up as pivotal in our heads went against us.  It nearly didn’t.  In the cool(er) light of Saturday, the rattle back down the trench having been navigated at much higher speed than was possible on the way, after a night’s sleep… however catastrophic, it was one game.  For all that we’ve gained three points in six games that’s three more than “The Other 14“‘s survival rule (lose against the big six, otherwise win your home games) mandates.  As Daughter 2 confirmed, it was a cool experience however frustrating.  Whatever your Friday night would have otherwise entailed it surely wouldn’t have encompassed such peaks and troughs (and, in my case, the chance to meet up with an old friend).

On to Burnley, where we’ll find out how consequential this one was, perhaps.  For the first time this season we won’t make an away trip.  Good luck to those that are.

Stay on target.

Yoooorns.

*Bachmann 3*, Femenía 3, Ngakia 2, Cathcart 3, Troost-Ekong 2, Kucka 1, Sissoko 3, Cleverley 3, Dennis 3, Hernández 3, King 2

Subs:  João Pedro (for Cleverley, 57) 2, Sema (for Hernández, 76) NA, Tufan (for Dennis, 91) NA, Rose, Kabasele, Louza, Fletcher, Angelini, Elliot

Comments»

1. iamthesunking - 11/12/2021

Hahaha! The walking in the road is because I am scared of stepping in dog poop. I’m still scarred by the time the husband stepped into one crotte with one foot, and another with the other foot immediately afterwards. We so enjoyed seeing you. Can’t wait for the next time! 🐝

2. paullbaxter - 12/12/2021

I realise that the games that really irritate me are the ones where I know what’s going to happen before it does. At 80 minutes I would have taken a draw because we had invited Brentford on to a point where it was attack against defense. I’m encouraged only in that CR was as irritated as I was. At one point all four members of our defense were on the right side while Brentford had two free forwards on our left but we survived because of Brentford’s ineptitude in picking them out. As a North West hornet I’ll be at Burnley this week. Let’s hope CR’s talking to that he gave the players today has an effect.

3. David - 12/12/2021

I have a huge soft spot for Brentford who like us have tried to do things differently. Their decision to scrap their youth team and look for young players who have either made it “secondary leagues” or failed in premier teams has drawn scorn from the establishment.

This affection did help soften the blow but gosh that last 10 minutes made my walk home to Putney miserable. Anger at a particular player has never helped me get over a game but I won’t be disappointed if I don’t see Kucka every play for us again.

4. John V - 12/12/2021

Matt, another wonderfully crafted piece, it’s a pity our on field performances don’t match your reports, thank you as always. Oh, the journey along the North Circular between Brent Cross and Hanger Lane will never be the same again!

Matt Rowson - 12/12/2021

Thank you, Sir

5. Harefield Hornet - 12/12/2021

Notwithstanding the odd personnel choices and substitutions you’ve mentioned I believe the main issue on Friday was in the minds of the players. Following a succession of free punches this was a game we and them were expecting to win. Brentford’s sheer bloody mindedness prevented this as much as anything else and a nervousness crept into the performance which we haven’t seen for a while. CR recognised this and mentioned it afterwards . What he does to prevent it happening again is key to our survival this season?

6. Graham French - 12/12/2021

Thanks for this, & all the recent reports, Matt. This, & the Chelsea game, are the first I’ve been to since the hugely enjoyable opening game against Villa.
What a contrast between this offering & our energetic & dogged display against Chelsea. It does seem that, Villa aside, we only really raise our game for the “big” occasions.
I live just a couple of miles from Brentford & my adult daughters (& many of their, & my, friends) support the Bees. The hymenoptera derby is therefore always a bit of an occasion, & there’s a lot to like about Brentford, a club with quite a few similarities to ours. The consensus was that a draw, in what was a championship quality match, would probably have been a fair result

7. Rupe - 12/12/2021

The lack of investment in the defensive department has been unfathomable to me. It cost the club relegation last time and it will cost the club relegation again unless addressed immediately at the start of the January transfer window.
The defence needed an overhaul immediately after the FA Cup Final debacle. Kabasele and Cathcart should not have received contract extensions. Troost Ekong showed last season that he clearly wouldn’t be up to standard in the Premier League and is currently costing the club a goal a game. The signing of Danny Rose was a total false economy – his physical and mental issues were clear for all to see before his signing. Absolutely none of this is hindsight

Matt Rowson - 12/12/2021

Agree with your general point. Disagree on a couple of the specifics… Cathcart is always good to have around and is a very decent defender, Kabasele is not a first choice but a good guy to have as an option.

8. jtbodbo - 12/12/2021

My Dad taught me to drive – by allowing me to negotiate the A406 in his brand new Vauxhall. Was he mad ? Fortunately it was in 1963 and the football on show on Friday reminded me of games in those days, just speeded up. Given CR70’s obvious nous, I found the substitutions unfathomable. Swedish Ken was quite out of his depth and even if cleverley had to be substituted, surely Louza was a better option.
Whatever, thanks for the report -far more entertaining than the game, whatever the result.

9. Olly DC - 13/12/2021

Quality reflections as ever, but for once I don’t completely agree with everything on here. Admittedly only via the TV (where they agreed with your perspective), the whole midfield shape looked different to me. More of a 4-2-3-1, both with and without the ball. So maybe the JP for Clevs sub wasn’t totally bonkers (as a more natural 10), even if it didn’t have the desired effect. I think more of an issue was the extra defensive responsibility given to Sissoko, so he wasn’t at his rampaging best as in recent games. Agree that Louza has quickly become the (only?) solution who makes the 4-3-3 work properly, just like Hughes did last season.

Matt Rowson - 13/12/2021

But given that the original midfield lacked a real passer and was thus only effective as a destructive disruptive unit (and then only keeping us in the game by default) removing Clevs for JP – not a passer OR a destroyer really) was optimistic?

Steve G - 14/12/2021

I guess if we are being charitable in this season of goodwill we could say that, in the past, there has been criticism of us trying to sit on a one goal lead and retreating into our shell. If the introduction of JP had been followed by a second goal, we’d have been hailing Ranieri as a tactical genius with a positive mindset.

But in the event, as you say Matt, we ended up trying to fight a rearguard action with a team that was ill-equipped to do so.

Just a slightly ominous feeling that this result might come back to haunt us in a similar way to that 2-1 defeat at Villa Park the last time we went down.

Great report though, Matt, as always. Get your kicks on the A 406 – as the song didn’t quite say.


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