Beesotted’s Jim Levack looks back at a match day we are unlikely to forget in a hurry – the day Brentford took on a deservedly beat Manchester City won their own patch.
Five minutes into Brentford’s historic win over arguably the best team on the planet, a trademark Ivan Toney backheel set the standard.
It was an impudent, confident touch that almost carved the Champions open and one that perhaps made them reconsider the threat from their relative pauper visitors.
But as any Bees fan who’s had the privilege of watching him for the past few seasons knows, Ivan is far, far more than just a goalscorer. He’ll drop deep to link up play, gladly have a physical battle and dig in to defend for the team.
His two ‘memory bank’ goals were merely the icing on the cake of a calm, assured team performance where the gameplan went almost perfectly to plan.
This was Ivan at his impudent, combative best… an intelligent centre forward that the less aware will glibly dismiss as just an old school target man.
So despite the delirium at the final whistle and ale-fuelled afterglow that followed, my joy was punctuated every half hour or so by a bubbling anger.
How is this man not going to represent my country on the world stage? Just as that early touch unnerved City, his fearless approach would surely be a huge asset in Qatar.
Given the fact that his stats stack up as the most prolific finisher behind Harry Hotspur, his unparalleled penalty record and the fact he’s doing it for a side unfancied outside TW8, his omission a national disgrace.
Not a surprise though. Despite the many laudable things “nice guy Gareth” has done in his tenure to bring solidarity and values to the England set-up, he’s always been a safety-first merchant.
His list of achievements makes for a commendable CV and he’s sound, solid and safe in front of the media… perfect for the FA suits.
Just as Warburton and Smith brought different facets to the Brentford job, Southgate has steadied the ship. Management is all about evolution and he’s played a significant part in the national side’s development.
But now he’s shown he’s no longer the man for the job. The bravery Brentford showed at the Etihad nowhere to be seen in our national side. And it will cost us dear in the Middle East.
Anyone who knows anything about the game believes Ivan should be on the plane. Certainly, those who watch him week in, week out do… and there’s the rub. Southgate, on the few occasions he’s deigned to check in at the G-Tech, has gone with a “why should I take him?” rather than “why wouldn’t I take him?” rationale that will mean a quarter final spot is our best hope.
Southgate is rightly well respected in the game, but nearing the end of his stay with the Three Lions, is even less likely to want to risk rocking the boat by bringing a new dynamic to the squad for fear of upsetting his regular picks.
None of this is based on a Brentford bias. I want England to win the World Cup but I know 100% that Ivan’s swagger will pose more of a threat than Callum Wilson nursing yet another minor knock or illness. Big club bias right there.
No. The problem here is Southgate’s desire to see out his stay without controversy, and Ivan, like many great artists, is an enigma, a one-off who could easily be accused of arrogance.
I’ve interviewed and seen interviews with the bloke and that’s not the case. He’s down to earth with good family values, a wry sense of humour and, crucially, a desire to prove his doubters wrong. And he will.
Perhaps Southgate’s biggest failure was not to even try Ivan for 15 minutes in two meaningless internationals. At least have a look at the fella. If he didn’t cut it, then he could have cited that to his rapidly growing list of detractors.
As it is, England’s exit from this World Cup will always be a “what could have been” moment for Southgate, a manager who will forever be judged on not having the guts to take a chance on a game-changer.
Sure, Ivan’s an edgy individual. That’s what makes him great – but as far as I’m concerned if he keeps putting the ball in the net I’ll live with the odd off-the-cuff aberration.
Fortune favours the brave as we saw in Manchester.
Sadly, it’s an attribute missing in our national coach whose refusal to listen to media pundits and ordinary fans will end up being his epitaph… especially if it goes to pens.