With neither the greasy spoon nor the glass of wine before the game helping to assuage my hangover, I was grateful for another well-contested but ultimately quite comfortable win. There are days when high excitement and nail-biting finishes are very enjoyable, but I’m pleased this was not one of them. Although better than Walsall, Brentford lacked a real cutting edge and, like Walsall, their best chances came when we were coasting at 2-0 up. Having been gifted the opener, the game was all but won with a five-minute spell of sublime possession and movement which bamboozled Brentford and ended with Burton playing in Sam, who finished like a man who’s forgotten what it’s like not to score. The game was worth it for that spell alone.
Same starting line-up once again, with Sodje named as one of the subs, while of the forwards Dickson remained out of the picture (the programme contained a piece outlining the prospect of him going out on loan), with McLeod, Wagstaff and Tuna named; presumably McKenzie needs a little time to get up to speed. The early exchanges were quite even, with Carl Court always offering Brentford an outlet, and we were taking some time to get into our stride. Then just as the crowd were getting a little restless Brentford gave us the lead. A cross-field ball into the box in the direction of Sam produced a weak header by their full-back, which left Sam clear. Instead of shooting from a narrow angle he looked up and squared it to Burton in acres of space. I’m not quite sure what happened next as with a goalkeeper and defender on the line Burton’s effort didn’t seem to go cleanly into the net. Never mind, everyone was soon celebrating, so it must have gone in.
The goal settled us down and the midfield started to click into action. Brentford tried to respond, but some promising situations came to nothing, thanks to a general reluctance on their part to shoot, some timely tackles, and the occasional great block, especially one from Semedo after their winger had got to the byline. Charlton seemed to have a point to prove and embarked on that spell of pass and move, as if to demonstrate that if they were so inclined they could outclass their opponents. The ball was worked forward and back and around, finally it was played to Burton who deftly played in Sam, who buried it in the corner. When the DVD of this season comes out I hope they have the sense to include the whole period of play, not just the end result.
Brentford faced embarrassment and responded with a couple of crude tackles, one on Burton and an especially poor one on Bailey, which might have merited more than a yellow card. In both cases, with our player receiving treatment we had to take the resulting free kicks down to 10 men. Silly rule, when there is no flexibility allowed. Nevertheless, we saw out the remainder of the half without much further incident.
It was surprising that Brentford didn’t really up the pace early in the second half, as they needed a goal to get back into the game. But I guess most teams at this level don’t really have a higher gear. As it was we had the chances to put the game to bed, but this time didn’t take them. Bailey and Youga twice created mayhem down the left and squared first to Burton, who shot badly wide, then to Shelvey, who hit over. A third goal and we could have really relaxed, but as it was Brentford weren’t entirely out of it and, with Court giving Llera some problems, Charlie MacDonald coming on, and their left-winger tricky, Brentford enjoyed their best spell in terms of chances. The real one came when Court escaped his marker and got on the end of a cross. The header had goal written all over it, but Elliot pulled off a wonderful reaction save to turn it away.
They did also hit the bar from a free kick, and deserve credit for sticking to their task, but as the game came to a close we were pretty comfortable. Most of the time Brentford were let down by poor delivery from set pieces. Wagstaff had come on for a tiring Sam, while McLeod replaced Shelvey – and caused problems with his pace. He almost scored having worked his way into the box, their keeper pulling off a good save, and when he did put the ball in the net was ruled just offside. Pleasing to see he looked up for taking the opportunity, with McKenzie now waiting in the wings.
So that was it. Another game, another win. And next up its former West Ham manager Alan Pardew. Have to think about what reception he deserves; let’s not forget he was the near-saviour for us when he joined, and no doubt he didn’t want to fail in the following season-and-a-half. I’ll settle for another win and let Pardew well alone to see if he can learn from his mistakes.
Elliot: 8/10. Would have been a 9 for that fantastic save, but has to lose a point for coming for and missing a couple of the more dangerous crosses.
Richardson: 8/10. I thought he had an excellent game. Got forward much more than in previous appearances, to good effect.
Youga: 7/10. Decent enough game and worked well with Bailey down the left.
Llera: 7/10. Not as comfortable and assured as in some other games, with Cort providing a very physical challenge, but won the headers that mattered.
Dailly: 7/10. Caught out a couple of times, but generally calm and assured – except when berating Llera once or twice. Good to see they care and three goals conceded in six games, with four clean sheets, speaks for itself.
Bailey: 7/10. Seemed to struggle to get going in the mixed early period of the game, but came into it more either side of the break and put in the usual committed display.
Semedo: 9/10. My man of the match again. Another splendid display of helping to protect the defence, including a great block when we were in danger, plus good work going forward and astute use of the ball.
Racon: 7/10. Not bad at all; one move which he instigated down the right in the second half could have resulted in a goal even better than the second we scored.
Sam: 8/10. A constant threat and took his goal superbly. To go from can’t score to three in two games has to give him a good boost.
Shelvey: 7/10. A mixed game, should have scored, but he gets involved in so much of what we do.
Burton: 7/10. His goal was handed to him on a plate, but you’ve got to be in the right place to score them; he was in the right place again in the second half but missed badly. Otherwise generally good work bringing others into the game.
Subs: Wagstaff (7/10 – well, he can’t score straight after coming on every time); McLeod (8/10 – looked lively and dangerous, good to see that he’s still got something to offer us).