Beesotted’s Jem Rampling reflects on another superb result against one of the Premier League’s much-fancied teams and another afternoon to remember as the Brentford story gets better and better.
Our first taste of the early Sunday kick off was a curious, conflicting affair. Either team could have won it, both had prolonged spells of almost total dominance, and in the end the fine margins sided with us. “You make your own luck”, as they say, and we surely did, keeping ourselves in the contest through resolute defensive work in a tricky second half to put us in the position to win it with the last meaningful kick of the game.
West Ham were strangely flat in the first half and we could have been out of sight within the first half hour. Mbeumo hit the bar early and Toney allowed Fabianski to a near post save when perhaps he should have scored. Henry was marauding up and down the left side and Onyeka surging forward through the middle. We fully controlled the action and West Ham offered little more than lumping it long to Antonio, who was being well contained by Jansson. Our link play was fresh and efficient, and it was entirely in keeping with the flow of the game when Canos broke and his saved shot fell for Mbeumo to squeeze the rebound more or less over the line for the opening goal. Baptiste sustained a shoulder injury on the half hour and the dynamic of the game was to change soon after. In his absence the Hammers showed some signs of life, creating a couple of half chances before the break and finding a little more joy on the overlap.
A brief tempest introduced the second half, yet as the skies brightened the Bees still found themselves weathering an incessant storm. West Ham were now dominating the midfield, finding dangerous width and stretching our defensive lines, Rice and Benrahma dictating the tempo of the game. A misplaced pass nearly cost us in the opening minute of the half and the trend was to continue as the short game went to pieces, the slick confidence of the first half had vanished and some careless mistakes crept in. Raya made a strong stop from Coufal, yellow shirts were crowding the box and trying their best to block everything the Hammers could throw at them but, on balance of play, there was little complaint when Bowen struck low from a half-cleared corner to level things with ten to go.
Frank might have been quicker to make his changes. Onyeka looked to be flagging well before that goal and Mbeubo had run himself into the ground chasing potential flick-ons and running lost causes. Perhaps his reticence to make changes has been influenced by the bombshell that Vitaly Janelt has human fallibility, the Man Machine suffering a thigh injury in the warm up to dispel the legend of his indestructibility. But there were signs that the game was escaping us before the equaliser, and the team would have been well served had the badgering Bidstrup been introduced proactively, rather than as a reaction to the goal.
In attempting to see the game out, we took to slowing the game down in a mature display of gamesmanship. Not the worst you’ll ever see, but a definite tactic. This started in the first half and served to frustrate the home fans who, like Wolves before them, seem to have missed the point that this is an established part of the game and that you earn the right to spoil if you are leading away from home. Having followed many more naïve Brentford sides over the years, I am delighted that we have worked this element of game management into our ethos and have little doubt that it contributes to those all-important fine margins.
Fine margins indeed… When most would have taken a draw, a rare venture into West Ham territory led to a free kick on the right and, in the fourth of three minutes of stoppage time, the loose ball fell to Wissa in space to rifle home. Not exactly a smash and grab, but I don’t think many of us had seen it coming.
All in all, something of a Curate’s Egg. As strong a thirty minutes as we have played this season, yet stretched as the game went on and fortunate to take the late win. Credit to the spirit and concentration of our defensive line who put the team in the position to win with another generally solid performance, in the absence of two key defensive players.
On a day when some of our bigger names were a touch below their best, the two wing backs were outstanding. Canos protected the ball with conviction and got forward in key plays. Henry did the work of two men, covering every blade of grass on the left side of the pitch, obstinate in defence and always offering himself in attack.
In the game’s most compelling dual Jansson took on the ominous, in-form Antonio and was more than a match for him. Pontus is quietly having a great start to life in the Premier League. A key component of our defensive organisation, he seemed to relish the physicality of today’s match up and maintained excellent concentration to rarely allow his opponent the upper hand. Pinnock, too, was strong and won most of what came to him in the air while Zanka joined the ranks with a solid and experienced performance of senior shithousery. Our forwards continue to get the plaudits but the defence are also flying, quietly setting the platform on which we achieve our results. Two goals conceded in four on the road is a commendable start to life in the top flight.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
We should probably give credit to our opponents, but the second half was a step down from the standards we have set so far this year. A little stretched in personnel having lost Ajer and Janelt before kick off, the midfield thinned out further after Baptiste’s withdrawal and in the second half were quite heavily overrun before Jensen finally found the pace of the game late on. The depth of the squad remains a source of anxiety and the midfield is under particular duress.
We gave the ball away too cheaply and in dangerous positions, and on another day would have been punished for it. Our short passing game, so astute in the first half, couldn’t be found in the second. And in our attempts to spoil the game, we gave away as many careless free kicks of the wrong kind as savvy ones. We must also improve our quality from set pieces, which were poor in Janelt’s absence. Wissa’s goal was unlikely, not least because we had looked so unthreatening from our attacking set plays. Corners and free kicks were easily contained and we seemed to lack cohesive strategy in these moments.
This is not a stadium built for football and it shows. What noise was made dissipated quickly into the ether and it was hard to sustain an atmosphere during the game. We sold out our allocation but these particular circumstances eroded the intensity of the support and the ambience was, on the whole, underwhelming in spite of our efforts.
West Ham, who sang their “bubbles” song quite nicely before each half, were otherwise as flat as their team in the first half although it is difficult to say whether their noise was simply lost to the acoustics of the stadium. Sixty thousand people, if that’s what it was, should have sounded a lot louder than they did.
It was, however, a lovely day out with some unexpectedly pleasant Hipster bars on the canal to enjoy before and after the game. The area seemed welcoming, although it was sad to see the Olympic stadium, a symbol of feel-good unity in the 2012 Olympics, now branded with the insignia of a tribal football team.
A last minute winner will always define the game, but in fairness we were fortunate to come away with the win today. Fully in control for the first thirty minutes, it was disappointing to see us lose our way against a talented side and allow mistakes to creep into our game. Concerns are particularly raised over a midfield thinned out in Janelt’s absence. Had this finished 1-1 we would have called it a satisfactory point against one of the league’s better teams, as it was we relied on the discipline and bravery of our defensive unit to keep us in the second half before snapping up our chance at the death. We’ll take it, because there will be days when things don’t go our way. And no doubt about it, a win at West Ham is a very good result no matter how it’s achieved. We go into the second international break in seventh, and that is a fine place to be.