When Brentford come to Town it`s always worth a watch. From the 4-4 draw on the final day of the 2010/11 season to the 3-2 victory in January of 2012. This game was no different and was a great advert for the Championship. There was two conflicting playing styles with Brentford playing a possession-based approach, Town on the other hand were more direct and effective especially on the counter.
Town continued to prove that they are competitive against teams that are in-form and are at the top of end of the table. Taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture, with a busy festive period and a number of matches in quick succession, it was important for Chris Powell to re-instil the confidence that Town had during the 8-match unbeaten run, as well as kick-starting the momentum to pick up points and change good performances into results. Brentford on the other-hand were on a 5 match winning streak and it was going to be a difficult game for Town, having said that, Town were unbeaten in 6 games at home and Chris Powell continued to make the John Smith Stadium a difficult place to pick up points and Town extended the unbeaten run at home to 7 with an impressive victory over the bees.
Coming into a difficult match, Chris Powell had to alter the spine of the side due to injury with Joel Lynch being replaced by Murray Wallace and also Jonathan Hogg coming back into the side. This may have been a blessing in disguise with Town being winless in five games. Chris Powell set his side up in the 4-3-3 formation with Alex Smithies in net, a defence of Jack Robinson, Mark Hudson, Murray Wallace and Tommy Smith. The midfield trio were Jacob Butterfield, Conor Coady and Jonathan Hogg with Nahki Wells and Sean Scannell providing the width and Grant Holt being the lone striker. Mark Warburton on the other hand set up his Brentford side in the 4-2-3-1 formation with David Button in net, Odubajo, Dean, Craig and Bidwell making up the defence. Veteran Jonathan Douglas sat next to Diagouraga as holding midfielders and a fluid attacking trio of Alan Judge, Alex Pritchard and Jon Toral who caused Town trouble all afternoon behind Andre Gray who led the line fairly ineffectively.
Tale of the Tie:
The game started competitively however it became obvious from the on-set that Brentford were a footballing side that enjoyed getting the ball down and passing it and the fact that the start of the game could be described as scrappy was better for Town. The way that Brentford has set up was causing the Town midfield a lot of problems, unlike the previous home match, Brentford dominated possession in a similar manner to Sheffield Wednesday however unlike Wednesday, Brentford had a lot of creativity and movement. Alex Pritchard and Alan Judge in particular were picking up very dangerous positions in between the lines of the midfield and defence however Alan Judge was unable to steer his strike in as it flashed wide of the post. Jonathan Douglas was next to miss a guilt-edged chance as he had a free header at the far post but could only head it wide. Town`s first chance came when Nahki Wells drifted in from the wing and following a knock-down, he raced through however his shot on his left foot hit the side-netting.
The combination of trio of attacking midfielders as well as the athleticism and power off Diagouraga was causing Town problems in terms of retaining possession. However on the first occasion that Town remained composed in possession and played out from the defence through the midfield due to Brentford`s high pressing when Jacob Butterfield received the ball in the centre of the park, he had the time to play the ball as Brentford`s shape had collapsed and players were out of possession, his pass with the outside of his foot found its way into Jack Robinson`s path, his cross seemed to be a poor one as it headed towards the centre-half covering Grant Holt however a late run from Nahki Wells picked up the ball and as he played the ball across the face of goal as Grant Holt just missed it with a desperate lunge, Sean Scannell came in at the far post and placed the ball into the corner leaving Button no chance. Scannell got the goal that his performances this season had warranted but usually his lack of composure was his main hindrance. Following this goal against the run of play, Town began to grow into the game however Brentford were still dangerous, direct runs from Pritchard and Judge as well as good build-up play contributed by Toral was putting Town on the back foot however Town kept in shape and remained resilient. In the 25th minute, Smithies pulled off the first of many spectacular saves, reacting to a shot that took a late deflection and could`ve easily looped over his head however he palmed it over the crossbar. Town were back in the ascendancy and Tommy Smith, Nahki Wells and Jacob Butterfield all had shots saved by David Button who like Smithies had a very good game which kept the score line respectable.
A common footballing cliché, this game was a game of two halves. Where Brentford had dominated and conceded against the run of play, in the second half, it was the other way round. Town started very brightly and the movement of Butterfield, Wells, Holt, Scannell and also the marauding full-backs in Smith and Robinson were causing the Brentford defence endless problems and in the 48th minute following good hold-up play by Holt, a clipped ball over the top by Butterfield got Robinson in behind down the left hand channel and for the second time, he was directly involved in a Town goal, this time his cross was converted home inadvertently by Jake Bidwell who was attempting to cover Sean Scannell who had gone for a diving header. The game died down and the intensity lessened for a while until in the 58th minute, a Jack Robinson long throw was controlled excellently by Grant Holt just outside of the 6 yard box and his acrobatic effort just missed the post. In the 64th minute, Wells did well to stay onside as another clipped ball over the top was misjudged by the Brentford centre-half however Wells couldn`t capitalise as he fired straight at Button from point-blank range. It could`ve proved to be a costly miss as in the 70th minute, against the run of play, following an intricate Brentford passing move, newly introduced Tommy Smith played the ball into the unmarked Jonathan Douglas` path and he prodded home causing Town to have a nervy final 20 minutes. Just prior to the goal, Andre Gray was replaced by Nick Proschwitz, the ex-Hull City man proved to be much more effective, holding the ball up well and linking up with the midfielders unlike Andre Gray who struggled to get into the game.
In the 78th minute after a sustained period of pressure exerted by Brentford, Town gave away a needless foul on the edge of the area following a scrambled clearance and after much consideration, Alan Judge lined up the free-kick and forced a spectacular save out of Smithies to keep Town in front. Brentford continued to attack as Town dropped deeper and in the 85th minute following a Brentford Corner and a skirmish in the box, the ball was played to Dean and his shot was parried excellently by Alex Smithies. That wasn`t to be the end of the drama as another Brentford attack was only prevented due to a goal-line clearance from Tommy Smith. Town managed to hold on and secure an excellent three points.
Man of the Match:
Alex Smithies was named the official man of the match following a string of top-quality saves that had caused him to have international recognition earlier on in his career however there were multiple excellent performances, Jacob Butterfield and Sean Scannell continue to be consistently good, Jonathan Hogg coming back into the side gave Town energy and bite in midfield and if it wasn`t for him then Town`s midfield would`ve been completely overrun.
Another excellent performance was by Jack Robinson, he was defensively solid, he was caught out of position however he recovered excellently and provided a lot offensively with his runs down the wing and his distribution in terms of crossing and passing were both excellent.
Another notable mention is to Murray Wallace, I questioned his involvement prior to the game due to his poor performance against Bolton however he proved me wrong with a strong composed performance at the back, not only did he keep his composure and concentration against a very attacking intelligent Brentford side but his distribution of the ball was also excellent, picking out Town players in space and relieving tension when Brentford did pile on the pressure.
The referee for the game was Eddie Ilderton, his performance could easily be described as below-par. He was inconsistent and made numerous questionable decisions. A blatant hand-ball from a Grant Holt flick had to be given from the linesman, Ilderton then went on to give the Brentford defender a yellow card for deliberate handball (which was the correct decision) however how he can justify the booking when he didn`t judge the incident to be a foul, I do not know. Later on in the game, following a skirmish in the box, Tommy Smith went down with a blatant head injury which Ilderton had spotted however he didn`t decide to stop play until Brentford lost possession and Town were on the counter to the dismay of the fans.
Alongside that, although Brentford did play very attractive football, there was a side to the game that I did dislike, their players particularly Pritchard, although being one of the best players on the pitch, himself and Odubajo were extremely theatrical when going to ground. This may have swayed Ilderton`s judgement as last on, Nick Proschwitz looked to be taken down in the area however nothing was given. Andre Gray was also a serial offender as with every ball that came towards him, his hands were directly in the face of Mark Hudson and on other occasions Murray Wallace, however neither the referee nor linesman gave anything. The highlight of the game was Ilderton replicating Dean`s tantrum before giving him a yellow card however hopefully for the next game, we`ll have more competent consistent refereeing.
What I gathered from the game was that Town`s playing style is effective against any opposition. Brentford showed a lot of quality and intelligence and their playing style of having late runners from midfield proving to be extremely dangerous however despite winning player of the month, I think if Nick Proschwitz had started instead of Andre Gray then Town may have been in a lot more trouble. Sean Scannell and Tommy Smith continue to impress as an attacking unit and the trio of Smith, Scannell and Butterfield down the right-hand side has proved to be a very effective means of creating chances.
Chris Powell has shown his managerial acumen with his management of the injuries which could`ve proved costly ones especially the omission of Lynch against a Brentford side that was scoring for fun however Chris Powell proved his worth with his selection of Murray Wallace and the inclusion of Jonathan Hogg. I think this match was between two sides who will not have any worries of relegation as Town extended the gap to 7 points from the relegation and left Town 8 points off the playoffs, it left Town quite literally: Mid-table.
I said at the beginning that this was an important victory to re-instil confidence in the squad, Chris Powell now needs to somehow transfer his side`s excellent home form into results away from home. With Norwich only having 1 win at Carrow Road in the last 8 games, this would be the perfect opportunity for Town to start producing away from home. Overall, the victory over Brentford was a significant one which can be the beginning of the momentum needed for a vital part of the season.
A poor Christmas period can lead to a relegation scrap (Town under Simon Grayson being the perfect example). Therefore Powell needs to manage his squad and attempt to keep injuries to the minimum as well as maintaining the team`s morale at a high level which I`m sure he will as a motivator and man-manager. Following this performance and result, I`m looking forward to next week`s game against Norwich City where I think can pick up all three points if they can replicate a performance like this one.
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