As ever it’s the hope that kills you. An early goal, up at the break, can’t help but start to think what the three points would mean, even if nobody was in any doubt then that we would still have our work cut out to emerge with something from the game. Brentford raised the intensity and pretty much pummelled us in the second half. Even so, it required a debatable penalty decision (OK, first reaction was that it was a dreadful decision) to draw them level, followed by what looked at first suspiciously like an own goal from a corner to win them the points.
You could see the hurt and frustration from the players at the end of the game, even before it as Cullen, whose challenge had been deemed to be a foul for their penalty, picked up a yellow for a tackle that was just the other side of determined (although it paled in comparison with a very poor one from one of their guys in the second half). Balance of play and chances had Brentford streets ahead, but they only mean something for the neutral. The major fact was that for over an hour of the game we were ahead. When that happens and you lose there’s no avoiding the deflation, given the importance of every game now, making it hard to focus on the positives (another determined performance which saw us compete against one of the league’s best sides). And there’s not the time for that, it’s a game lost, focus on the next one. Perhaps just keep in mind that our season will end in either triumph or failure and last night won't be the decisive result.
Too late to go over the game in detail (and if truth be told due to technical problems I missed actually seeing most of the first half, wasn’t really aware we might have added to the early lead provided by Bonne’s close-range header). The second half was obviously a struggle and that Brentford scored twice wasn’t a real surprise, just the nature of their goals was hard to take when set against more excellent saves from Phillips (even if he repeated the habit of pushing out shots in the fashion which resulted in Millwall’s goal) and one which crashed against the underside of the bar. Unlike Cardiff and others, Brentford didn’t get desperate or run out of ideas, rather displayed the signs of a team confident in its ability to turn things around.
When the season resumed it wasn’t rocket science to look at our fixture list and see where the priorities lay. Games away at Cardiff, Brentford and Leeds you assume anything out of them is a bonus (albeit with some element of doubt as nobody could be certain how teams would perform after the break, especially early on). The first game at Hull was essential to get something out of, ‘home’ games against QPR, Millwall, Reading and Wigan, plus away at Birmingham, were the ones that surely had to provide the bulk of the points for us to stay up.
We ‘won’ the first three-game mini-season with the victories against Hull and QPR, plus the bonus point at Cardiff, to haul ourselves back out of the relegation zone. Having now lost two of the next three, we have failed to take the opportunity to give ourselves a cushion. So be it. It goes without saying that it is crucial we get something from Reading on Saturday; perhaps not a must-win game but it is a must-not-lose.
Of course how we go into that game is now out of our hands as we wait for tonight’s results with fingers crossed. The weekend results after Friday’s defeat went pretty well, now it’s over to Middlesbrough, Hull and Wigan (and it will be very important to see how they shape up in light of their situation, not least with our game against them coming up). With at least nine teams involved in the relegation scrap, four/five games left, and nobody truly adrift, there are still too many permutations to make confident predictions, with many games between sides around the bottom.
We resumed the season in the bottom three and we are still in a better situation than then. On a points-per-game basis we would still avoid relegation (Wigan bottom if they get the 12-points deduction, then Luton, then Barnsley, we would be were we stand now, 20th, fractionally above Hull and fractionally below Middlesbrough). May it stay that way.