A televised away game at 5.30pm on New Year's Eve is not for the faint hearted. Ffion Thomas was one of the brave and hardy souls who trudged to Griffin Park in hope rather than expectation...
Random star performer
Sky Sports, who decided the ideal way to ring in 2017 was to broadcast the clash between Championship mid-table behemoths Brentford and Norwich directly up against the minnows of Liverpool and Man City over on BT Sport. In return for stamping all over the New Year’s Eve plans of thousands of home and away fans they were rewarded with a turgid 0-0 draw and, presumably, a thin sliver of the audience share. Luckily for them, Cameron Jerome and referee Oliver Langford at least provided some talking points.
Moment of the match
Cameron Jerome’s miss turned the narrative of this game from a potential solid away performance and a much-needed three points into yet another frustrating missed opportunity. After a series of failed attempts, where despite having two up front we rarely had either of them meaningfully on the end of anything, we finally got a ball to the feet of a striker in space directly in front of the goal – and it was spooned over the bar. These things happen, but Alex Neil will have been cursing that one louder than anyone.
It was perhaps misjudged of Brady to go in quite as forcefully as that on Woods on the halfway line, but given it was six of one and half a dozen of the other, a straight red was ridiculously harsh. The neutrals (on Twitter at least) thought so too – turns out some of them were watching after all.
Biggest positive to take
It was good to see a solid defensive performance despite the brave new world of a change-up in formation and personnel, and, of course, having to batten down the hatches a man short at the end. To be fair, Brentford didn’t pose much threat – after all, this is a team that we beat 5-0 less than a month ago – but when John Egan burst through and went down in the last minute, watching from the other end I was astounded not to see the referee point to the spot. On viewing the highlights, it turns out it was a perfectly timed tackle from Ryan Bennett that saved us the point.
The bizarre sense of entitlement in some quarters that, on leaving the pitch at the end of the game in close proximity to away fans shouting abuse directly at him, Alex Neil should be waving back, or stopping to chat. Yes, it’s nice when the players and management come over and applaud the fans to acknowledge the sacrifices of money and time that following the team away involves, but actually demanding an response – which would, in this instance, of course just spark more abuse - is needy and childish. Let’s maintain some semblance of dignity, please – because whatever you think of him as a football manager, no-one can say that Alex Neil isn’t doing the same.
This is a game that usually sells out straightaway, but thanks to Sky Sports, Network Rail and recent form there was lots of room to spread out on the terrace. The 1,190 were in good voice though, with plenty of the kind of gallows humour that only really comes when you’ve lost your last six away and are standing in the cold watching a 0-0 draw 125 miles from home with the prospect of locking arms with your Club Cabbage neighbour for Auld Lang Syne somewhere near Elveden. Probably. The crowd were behind the team throughout; it was good to hear some unhelpful strains of ‘We want Neil out’ after 10 minutes drowned out by the loudest ‘kick it off’ I’ve ever heard. Well done that man.
Jez Moxey’s midweek video nasty, coupled with the general aura of festive inactivity around the club at the moment, meant I think we all knew that the Alex Neil soap opera would run on to Monday whatever happened at Griffin Park. And given what actually transpired – an improved performance laced with missed chance frustration and a healthy dose of refereeing injustice – it gives the club their justification in doing so. Monday at Carrow Road won’t be one for the faint-hearted, though – Derby are a very solid side who, although held by struggling Wigan on Saturday, are unbeaten in ten and have a penchant for clean sheets. Go a goal down and things will get stormy. Happy New Year – hold on to your butts.