I could have flown to Lyon on Friday evening and had a relaxing weekend; wine, food and a laugh at the rugby (no, I wouldn’t have laughed). Instead I chose to delay departure to be able to take in today’s game, despite the prospect of having to surface at 03.30. We all make mistakes (and live with the consequences). Before the match, after Tuesday’s defeat, I really just wanted to watch a good game of football. After 20 minutes it was clear that wasn’t going to be the case, so I’d settle for a narrow, scrappy win. As that prospect faded there was at least 0-0, the scoreline both teams deserved. But such is our luck at the moment we didn’t even get that. It meant the game could be summed up by three headers from corners: our two from Llera hit the bar and brought out a superb save by their keeper, their uncontested one found the net. Brentford hardly deserved the win, apparently their first at The Valley since 1926 or something. But they’ll take it, as we would in their place.
The team - in the absence of Elliot, Bessone, Doherty, Jackson, Anyinsah and Benson (and Youga) – saw Fry return at left-back, with Jenkinson switching to the other side in place of Francis, Dailly and Llera in the centre, McCormack and Semedo in central midfield, Racon and Wagstaff taking the wide positions, and the incoming Nouble partnering Wright-Phillips up front. As a combination it was perhaps understandable, but I’m old enough and daft enough to think that you begin a game with your best team. Exactly why the two wide players we chose were considered better options than Eccleston and Reid (or at least one of those two) mystifies me. And the problems of looking to make changes were to be compounded as first Dailly (at half time) and then Jenkinson (replaced by Fortune and Solly respectively) had to depart through injury, leaving Powell with only one further change to try to win the game.
The first half was a case of poor football from two competitive but struggling teams punctuated by the occasional half-chance, usually the result of an error. Brentford had two early shots, one well saved by Worner, and then we had a couple, with Racon unlucky with a decent strike and then Wagstaff shooting over from a good position inside the box. Neither side had any sort of ascendency and for most of the time the defences were in control. What was worse was that both teams seemed to think that was OK. The game was one-paced and quite frankly dull.
It really didn’t change in the second half. Nouble you might say was having trouble finding his feet, having just arrived, but he gave the impression of having that problem period. To be fair he stuck at it and did have some moments. Our best period saw Racon well placed inside the box, but this time the shot was on his right foot and went over the bar, and then the corners, with Llera causing some mayhem as they just couldn’t handle him. If one of the two headers goes in at least the ending would probably have been different. But they didn’t and after that we failed to fashion a decent strike on goal. Brentford managed to smother Llera from further set pieces and the referee was never going to give the penalty rather than the free kick against us for the wrestling that went on. Reid came on for Racon, but to little effect. All that was left was the corner for them in the last minute of normal time to round off the day.
One point from seven games means that the rest of the season is about forgetting the league position and just focusing on improving. I want to see the players look as if they’re enjoying themselves; sure, it’s not easy when you’re losing, but the pressure and expectations have disappeared. We’re all resigned to another season at this level (although I can’t say I’ve rushed to fill out the season ticket application form) and I just want to try to enjoy what’s left. If the midfielder from Spurs is half-decent he has to start in the next game, along with Eccleston and/or Reid. At least there’s a week before the next one.
Worner: 8/10. Couple of decent saves and dealt with high balls much better than I’ve seen from him before. Didn’t seem to have a chance with the goal.
Jenkinson: 7/10. Another decent game before having to go off. But I have to say I don’t agree with those happy with Francis being dropped. Maybe he can use a break, but dropping to third-choice is harsh.
Fry: 6/10. No real problems but didn’t feature much going forward. I thought we might have switched him inside when Dailly went off.
Llera: 8/10. Deserves a good mark as he almost won us the game and managed to go through a game without a defensive howler (although someone has to take the rap for not picking up their guy for the goal).
Dailly: 7/10. No problems here either, hope there’s no serious problem.
Racon: 5/10. Playing out of position, some decent moments, including the first-half shot, but blew the chance with his right foot in the second.
Semedo: 5/10. In a game when we were never going to get caught for pace at the back he wasn’t able to contribute much. Worked hard enough.
McCormack: 4/10. Just ineffective. I’ve been in favour of him getting a run in the team, given the problems of the Semedo/Racon combination, but quite frankly we’ve had a good look and there doesn’t seem to be much there.
Wagstaff: 4/10. Came into it more in the second half after shooting over in the first when he should have hit the target, but still not a sufficient contribution.
Nouble: 5/10. Surprised on occasions and unfair to judge the guy just yet; no lack of effort.
Wright-Phillips: 5/10. No real service and generally contained.
Subs: Fortune (6/10 – OK, just want to see their goal again); Solly (6/10 – Good to see him getting a run, but tough on Francis); Reid (4/10 – I’m not sure he actually touched the ball; if he did I don't remember it).