Errors are made and there’s a need for some latitude at this time of the year. But I thought the club would have known that the best I could do was to get to The Valley by around 15.30, given that the flight back was scheduled to arrive at Gatwick at 14.10. Delaying the kick-off for 15 minutes was appreciated, but was just never going to be enough. Apologies accepted. By the time I’d settled into the seat, sherry-laden bag in hand, all I really wanted was a win by whatever means, especially after New Year’s Eve in Seville had been ruined by events at Orient (and witnessed in the Texas Lone Star bar; I promised to buy a T-shirt if we won but that just didn’t happen).
So I cannot comment on the first 15 minutes, having been informed that Cort and Pritchard would start in place of Taylor and Russell. A bit surprising it has to be said, not because Pritchard hadn’t earned a chance but rather that, with Jackson coming back and being asked to play a second game in a matter of days, the option of the reliable Hughes wasn’t taken if Russell needed a break. That said, with games in a short space of time you just don’t know what niggles have been picked up and who’s not really available. So no problems, but you have to say that through the remaining 75 minutes or so we struggled to put passes together and to control the game in any meaningful way. You have to give some credit to Brentford, who are no mugs – and if they could shoot would surely have taken something from the game. I’m happy enough to write the game off as a hard-won victory, just as Orient has to be dismissed as just one of those days. But, while happy, let’s just say that in terms of passing, movement and control we were second-best for most of the game. Instead, with Wright-Phillips starting to look out of sorts in a more worrying fashion than before, we seemed happy to rely on additional aerial power from set pieces, with Cort, Morrison and Kermorgant, plus Jackson, undoubtedly a threat all afternoon. From a footballing perspective it wasn’t great. But a win in a congested period means a good deal is forgiven, especially as a failure to pick up three points would have meant one victory in five. As it is, we’ll take being five points clear, have some fun at Fulham, and then gear up for the two Sheffield games.
Brentford played it around well enough and had mobile forwards, but ultimately they lacked the firepower and composure up front to emerge with anything. While having the bulk of possession in the first half, all they had to show for it was a couple of shots from outside the box and a moment of panic when Hamer came and punched out a lowish cross only to see it rebound and fortunately settle back in his arms. We had one moment when Green got through, but the absence of midfield dominance meant we were feeding off scraps in a pretty ordinary game of football.
The opener came out of nothing. A ball dinked into the box should have been headed clear; instead their defender slipped, leaving Morrison alone but with his back to goal and the ball hovering around his head. Their keeper made the poor decision to try to claim it and instead became stranded as Morrison made the necessary contact to nod it home. That was about it for the first half.
The second period had two fairly distinct periods. After a mixed opening we did finally put them under some sustained pressure and had the chances – nearly all of them involving high balls in, arguably justifying the selections and approach - to kill off the game. Jackson drifted in beautifully late to a ball in only for his steered header to go just wide, I along with the rest of the East Stand thought another had been nodded in only for it to become apparent that the header went into the side netting, and finally another header crashed back from the upright and somehow wasn’t buried. Amidst all of this, Wright-Phillips was having something of a mare, not proving as effective as Kermorgant in harrying when out of possession and seeming out of sorts, as demonstrated by a left-foot shot after Green had set him up which went for a throw.
The goal didn’t come and Brentford, having survived the storm, came back into it, having made three substitutions in a short space of time. We had to endure two free kicks awarded just outside the area, one perhaps harshly given for handball and the second one for a shove (apparently by Kermorgant) which was a bit tough to argue with. Both saw one of them try to unsettle Hamer by standing in front of him as he lined up the wall; both were wasted, with the first shot blocked and the second well over the bar. Solly picked up a yellow for deliberate handball to stop one going over his head and Cort was to suffer a similar fate. And finally their guy was played in on the left side of the box only for him to hit the shot over the bar.
Just as they weathered the difficult period, so did we. The newly arrived Clark came on for Wright-Phillips and Wagstaff replaced Jackson and by now we just wanted the clock to run down. Instead we were happily deprived of a worrying stoppage time as a ball in from the right was cleverly protected by Kermorgant (he didn’t touch it but made sure the defender didn’t either) and fell to the onrushing Green. He took it to the keeper, checked inside onto his right foot, and slotted home. Hughes came on for the final few minutes and it was job done.
We’re top of the league, we’re five points clear, and we have nothing to complain about. OK, it wasn’t pretty and the bucketload of sherry purchased in Seville has gone back to Lyon with Suzanne (she had the bag checked in). In the greater scheme of things, I’ll live with it.
Hamer – 6/10. All considered, he didn’t actually have a serious shot to save (he should have done, but that’s their problem). Missed badly one cross in the second half and his strange punch in the first could have cost us. It didn’t, I assume he sits out the cup game if that covers his suspension.
Solly – 7/10. Basically fine; picked up the yellow for one that would have gone over his head.
Wiggins – 8/10. Read the game very well as usual and dealt with all thrown at him.
Morrison – 8/10. Notched another and generally commanding in defence. No problems.
Cort – 7/10. Not sure why Taylor was rested, but did well enough and may have made a decisive challenge to put off their guy when he seemed to be in.
Jackson – 7/10. Tough ask to come back and play a second game in a few days but looked cultured and assured, nearly scored.
Hollands – 7/10. Not a bad game, but at no stage did we dominate midfield. Deserves credit for playing with a variety of partners of late, which can’t help him.
Pritchard – 7/10. Here too not a bad game, but you can’t expect everything to be fluid when new combinations are tried.
Green – 7/10. Gets the extra mark for the goal, but otherwise a bit peripheral as the service to him was lacking.
Kermorgant – 8/10. I thought he strived tirelessly in the cause today and deserves some credit for our second.
Wright-Phillips – 5/10. Disappointing. Dry spells happen to all goalscorers and you just get on with it. Today there was too much shrugging of the shoulders and complaints, while his hold-up play was weak. Has shown – and is obviously capable of – much better.
Subs – Clark (6/10: rusty start, so we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt; looks like back-up for Kermorgant); Wagstaff (6/10: no real impact coming on late); Hughes (can’t give a mark for a couple of minutes, bit unlucky not to start as he did well alongside Hollands before Russell came in).