I was feeling somewhat apprehensive as I awoke on Saturday morning with the wind already gusting keenly although realising that where I was, I didn’t appreciate the half of it where storm Dennis was concerned. My train appeared for the moment to be promised on time and I decided therefore to go by public transport as I really didn’t fancy driving. I was up early and peruse the news pertaining to Blues to see if there was any danger of postponement which thankfully there was not, when I came across a preview article from Bees supporter and blog writer Nick Curzon. He writes in an articulate and erudite way and I enjoyed his take on the upcoming game. He mentioned several key moments since the eighties when Blues had pipped his team to the post such as promotion campaigns to what is now the Championship when we were both in the third tier and I can tell it has coloured his judgement towards us over the years. It is tough when certain teams always seem to get the better of it particularly when you feel that it is not wholly deserved and I had considerable empathy with him as I read his well written and constructed article. However, he couldn’t resist one barbed comment when he stated that Blues just seemed to be the opposition in the way having stated earlier that he meant no specific disrespect. I have pointed out to him that from where I’m sitting, his latter comment is just that but the article is worth a read and I commend it to you here: https://nickbruzonslastword.wordpress.com/2020/02/15/there-wouldnt-be-a-more-beautiful-set-of-brackets-in-football-this-season/
I stepped out of the door to head for the station just after ten o’clock to be greeted by bright sunshine. The stellar globe was making its final appearance it seems before disappearing for the rest of the weekend. Storm? What storm? I was under no illusions and by the time I reached Blackwater, our star had gone and dark clouds were galloping across the sky at a lick and no mistake. At least the rain from earlier had stopped. The train did indeed appear bang on time and reached Reading in plenty of time for me to get my connection. The connecting train was 17 minutes late. I rang Chris and arranged for him to pick me up at Coventry which he dutifully did at about 12.45. We went back to the Oak in Baginton, picked up little Jack and we made our usual journey down the Coventry Road to St Andrews. A pint in the George, food at the Cookhouse, slow cooked Korean beef with sweet potato mash washed down with another pint and up to our seats for kick off.
Blues have prospered with three wins in the league on the spin having defeated Nottingham Forest, Bristol City at Ashton Gate and latterly in the week, Barnsley at Oakwell. The impressive showing against high flying Bristol was in total contrast to the gritty win against the Tykes and that game this week was exactly as I expected, a dull, dour, dreary affair with one goal to win it; fortunately, it was us that secured it and on the balance of play, the correct team won. Brentford are a good side at this level and have improved year on year since their return to the Championship. There is no doubt that they are knocking on the promotion door and they play attractive, slick, flowing football but although on paper there was reason to be wary, I suspected the conditions, particularly the wind, were going to be significant factors in the outcome. If anything, wind tends to mitigate against better teams and is known as the great leveller as was in evidence on Tuesday night. In other words, I foresee a tight match with the prevailing team being the one that dealt with the weather better.
Blues were unchanged with a four four two formation; Brentford set up four three three. The weather was dreadful with driving rain and windy conditions. Brentford kicked off attacking the Gil Merrick end and nearly found themselves in trouble when ex-Bee, Scott Hogan charged down a routine clearance from the back four resulting in the visitors having to scramble for a corner with barely seconds on the clock. This initial impetus was maintained and Blues nearly took an early lead when Jude Bellingham fired a beautiful curling shot past Raya from 20 yards only for the ball to thud off the base of the post. Brentford were rattled and Blues were getting a lot of joy down the left flank that Bellingham was occupying. Gary Gardner was looking dangerous with impressive surging runs and in one such he turned his marker darted down the left side of the box and crossed towards Scott Hogan who dummied his defender and allowed the ball to run on to Lukas Jutkiewicz who was on hand to slot in from close range for a deserved lead.
Brentford were all over the place and frankly could have been further behind if Mr Martin, the referee had given Blues a penalty for a foul on Bela as he burrowed into the box. It was the sort of challenge that on any given Saturday gets given. Add to the mix the let off with the woodwork and 3-0 would not have been out of place. However, football being what it is, Brentford broke quickly and forced a corner on the family stand side. The wind was blowing hard towards the Railway End goal and when the corner came in the ball was gripped by it diverting it close to the back post where Ethan Pinnock had an easy header for the equaliser. I’ve had an opportunity to review the TV footage of Brentford’s goal and whilst the wind played a part, it has to be said that Pinnock lost his marker far too easily and the free header when it came flashed inside the post where I felt Lee Camp could perhaps have done a little better. I don’t want to sound too churlish, given that Camp gave an arguably man of the match performance otherwise but keepers shouldn’t really get beaten there. In the end it was the one bit of poor defending from Blues in the afternoon and they were duly punished for it. The goal also came against the run of play but there you go.
The goal spurred the visitors who now looked so much more threatening in a game that Blues had dominated. Marc Roberts made an excellent block on Dru Yearwood’s shot when the Brentford front three carved a path through the Blues rearguard with free flowing passing that was beginning to demonstrate just why Brentford are challenging for the automatic promotion places. Blues defenders had to look lively to block further efforts from Marcondes and Norgaard as the visitors enjoyed their first real sustained spell of pressure. Blues did not let the equaliser dishearten them however and David Raya was also kept busy fielding a decent header from Marc Roberts and was fortunate when the in form Scott Hogan could only get the merest of touches to a bouncing ball in the box that went straight into the grateful keeper’s arms. Gary Gardner was making a number of impressive runs through the centre of midfield which were over robustly dealt with by Brentford on more than one occasion. From one a dipping free kick from Jeremie Bela was on target but Raya was in the right place to save comfortably. At the other end Lee Camp made an excellent save to his left for a corner as the dangerous Ollie Watkins bore down on the goal from a superb through ball from Marcondes. Benrahma tried his luck from 30 yards immediately before the break but Camp was equal to it once again. The resulting corner, which by rights should not have been taken as time was up, was defended well and 1-1 it was at the break.
The weather worsened as the players came out for the second half. It was blowing a gale in the direction of the away fans and punts from Lee Camp had to be measured if they weren’t to end up in the crowd behind the goal after one bounce. It was the sort of day when keepers have been known to score! The rain was lashing down and despite the efforts of the players, the quality of the football suffered. Nevertheless, the players have to be commended for making the game as good as it was if you look at it over the whole piece. Marc Roberts’ long throws were causing the Brentford defence problems and Jake Clarke-Salter almost restored Blues’ lead with ten minutes of the half gone when a bobbling ball couldn’t quite be bundled in in the melee that resulted when the ball dropped out of Raya’s hands. Hogan attempted a shot having picked up the ball in the box, turned inside and shot from a similar position from where he scored against Barnsley. A last ditch tackle from a defender thwarted the striker who went down lame as a result. I suspect he kicked his opponent’s studs on the follow through as the ball squirted away. Hogan limped on for another few minutes but was eventually replaced with twenty minutes left by Dan Crowley, back from injury himself.
Blues changed their shape to a 4-2-3-1 at this point and the game became attritional. Brentford nearly snatched the lead ten minutes from time when an unholy melee resulted from a cross from Benrhama to Marcondes whose shot was saved by Camp, Fosu then struck the post from the rebound and there were flailing legs as numerous players tried to clear in the six yard box. Fortunately, the ball was eventually hacked clear to loud, relieved cheers from the Tilton. Blues however were clearly going for the win themselves with their own endeavours and with six minutes left Gardner took off down the left flank only to be unceremoniously fly-hacked to the ground from behind by Norgaard who was in trouble because Brentford had overcommitted seeking the winner. Norgaard was booked but the challenge merited a red card all afternoon. The jeers of derision from the crowd at the sight of the yellow card told the story.
Blues continued to press in the last five minutes and with seconds left Brentford’s goalscorer, Ethan Pinnock clearly handled the ball in the box. I do not understand when over 20,000 people can see such a thing that the man in the middle and the assistant on the sideline can’t. Mr Marshall waved away Blues appeals and with them, two more points in all probability. The weather almost had the last say as a deep cross from Dan Crowley, oh so nearly, sailed over David Raya’s head from 35 yards. The keeper did well to fingertip the ball to safety. A draw was fair in the end and the unbeaten run stretches to ten games. A point from this is well earned; Brentford are a good side and have a chance of the big time especially if others such as Leeds continue to falter.
The Good: The slow cooked Korean beef and sweet potato mash from the Cookhouse.
The Bad: The weather conditions courtesy of storm Dennis.
The Ugly: The tackle by Norgaard on Gary Gardner.
Birmingham City: Lee Camp 8, Maxime Colin 6, Mark Roberts 7, Jake Clarke-Salter 7, Krystian Pedersen 7, Jeremie Bela 7, Gary Gardner 8, Ivan Sunjic 7, Jude Bellingham 8, Lukas Jutkiewicz 7, Scott Hogan 7 (Dan Crowley 75, 6)
Subs not used: Jefferson Montero, Connal Trueman, Wes Harding, Harlee Dean, Maikel Kieftenbeld, Callum Boyd-Munce.
Goals: Jutkiewicz 13.
Bookings: Colin 58, Clarke-Salter 60.
Brentford: David Raya 7, Henrik Dalsgaard. 7, Rico Henry 7, Julian Jeanvier 7, Ethan Pinnock 7, Christian Norgaard 6, Mathias Jensen N/A (Dru Yearwood 6 (Tariqe Fosu-Henry 70, 7)) Shandon Baptiste 6, Ollie Watkins 8, Emilliano Marcondes 7, Said Benrahma 7.
Subs not used: Luke Daniels, Luke Racic, Mads Roerslev Rasmussen, Cesar Joel Valencia Castillo, Halil Dervisoglu.
Goals: Pinnock 17.
Bookings: Yearwood 34, Dalsgaard 41, Norgaard 84.
Referee: Stephen Martin: 5; Mr Martin had a bit of a mixed game; for the most part he was fine but I felt he got at least two of the three key decisions wrong. The penalty appeal when Bela appeared to be felled in the box in the first half was questionable and I’m prepared to give the benefit of the doubt but the handball against Pinnock near the end was as clear as day; stonewall penalty that probably would have delivered all three points to Blues. Thirdly the cynical hack by Norgaard on Gary Gardner when the midfielder threatened to be clear in the 84th minute was unpardonable. The official issued a yellow card along with the free kick. I along with everyone in the Kop who had a clear view of the incident felt that it should have been a straight red. For two very poor decisions that affected the outcome of the game, Mr Martin gets only half marks I’m afraid.
Attendance: 20,379 (1,577 away fans)