These statistics are not guilty exactly of fibbing, but don’t accurately tell the story: take a look to see that Brentford won a memorable victory. For the record: 69 per cent possession, 17 shots to the visitors’ 11, nine shots to four on target, nine corners to four and, in the calculation where the lowest number wins, only four fouls committed to Middlesbrough’s nine. To mix a metaphor, such figures suggest a slam dunk for the home team.
Ah, but the vagaries of the beautiful game: the one relevant stat missing from those above is the scoreline at the end of 90-plus pulsating minutes.
Middlesbrough, having lost only twice so far in this Championship season, looked slick and assured from the start, which had been preceded by a minute’s applause in tribute to Brentford technical director Rob Rowan, whose death earlier in the month was marked also by his listing at No. 5 in the match programme line-up.
With Ollie Watkins, Said Benrahma and Romaine Sawyers all missing from the actual starting eleven, Thomas Frank’s enforced new-look team looked, on paper, somewhat makeshift, which injuries had determined was just what it was. Early on so difficult was it for the team to find a way into the opposition’s half that one could almost detect the sense of achievement when they managed to do so.
But as the match progressed a well-drilled defence began to stem the oncoming tide of Boro attacks, while up front Neal Maupay was irritating the life out of the visiting centre backs, so much so that when he threatened once again to burst into the opposing penalty area, only a haul on his shirt that might have won a tug-o’-war contest prevented him. Referee Mr John Brooks, close enough to read the maker’s label on Maupay’s kit, was unmoved to take action.
He did respond, however, when muscular Boro target man Jordan Hugill used his muscle over-vigorously on Chris Mepham. Yellow card duly issued, Hugill’s impersonation of a butterfly, arms flapping so hard he was in danger of taking off, was presumably a new take on the traditional ‘What me, guv?’ response.
Daniel Bentley blocked and then caught an inadequate shot from the well-placed Hugill and Moses Odubajo saw his fierce finish tipped over the bar. By the interval Brentford had the edge and the visitors’ reputation of having the best defence in the division – remarkably conceding only eight goals in 17 outings – was being severely tested.
And the Bees really hit their stride for ten minutes immediately following the interval, dominating so thoroughly that the visitors were looking extremely rattled. Then –following such uplifting passages of play, there is often a sobering ‘then’ – a long ball into the Brentford box saw Bentley and Odubajo collide, allowing butterfly-impersonator Hugill ironically to sting like a bee.
Five more minutes and, just when optimists were thinking things couldn’t get worse, things got worse, a beautifully-flighted cross from Dael Fry enabling Marcus Tavernier to take advantage of awful marking – that’s awful in the sense of non-existent – to score simply.
The same old, same old story? Perhaps, for although the Bees continued to cause no end of problems for that acclaimed defence – the introduction of Josh Dasilva and Emiliano Marcondes successfully added extra energy – it was too little, too late when Alan Judge capitalised on a short corner to score, typically, with a raking shot that may have taken a whisker of diversion as it sped into the far corner of the net.
Middlesbrough, gratefully one suspects, returned home sitting in second position in the table. Brentford, with contenders Sheffield United, West Brom and Swansea next on the fixtures list, languish in fifteenth.
A shame, we were worth a point, I suggested to my mate Charlie. ‘No, all three’, he growled.
A keen student of statistics is Charlie.
Brentford: Bentley, Dalsgaard, Konsa, Mepham, Odubajo (sub Henry), McEachran (Marcondes), Yannaris, Canos, Macleod (Dasilva), Judge,
Middlesbrough: Randolph, Fry, Baath, Flint, Friend, Clayton, Howson, Downing (Wing), Besic (Saville), Tavernier (Ayala), Hugill.