And breathe. Ffion Thomas reviews the 4th and final game of a busy Christmas period, which may not have been perfect, but was great fun. Here's her look back at a potential final trip to Griffin Park.
Clawing out a point against tough opposition when not playing particularly well, combined with defeats for Leeds and West Brom, meant we gained rather than lost ground in terms of both the league table and our own sense of self-belief after a rocky week. Once City eventually got going, there was no repeat of Saturday’s jelly legs as we forced another barnstorming finish that had Brentford pinned back.
More poor set-piece defending gifted the home side the opener, while – in the first half at least – acres of space was left in midfield for them to mount a series of rapid counter-attacks from which we were lucky not to be punished beyond yellow cards for three of the back four when they were left with little other option. We won’t get far against West Brom in our crucial next league fixture with a similar lack of organisational discipline – but hopefully some basic revision of the fundamentals for our well-rested personnel in the next ten days will do the trick.
Moment of the match
Play being waved on when Pukki was put through in the box and upended at 0-0. Daniel Farke has pointed to the referee opting to position himself with several players blocking his line of sight as perhaps an explanation of why what appeared from any other angle to be a stonewall penalty was denied – and with it an opportunity to seize the game in its formative stages.
Random star performer
Tim Krul, who did more than anyone on the pitch to secure the point with two world-class reaction saves in the second half. He was steady too with the more mundane demands of his position, distributing well and picking off crosses with confidence, and never afraid to give his defence and midfield a good old-fashioned bollocking when Brentford were rampaging in the first half.
A combination of the lack of alternative options and the approaching finish line of this four-games-in-11-days marathon saw the same team start as three days previously, but the loss of Marco Stiepermann after just 19 minutes presented a problem with a paucity of physicality, pressing and presence – perhaps the height of Rhodes would have made a better replacement at that stage. But he got his call when Tettey was forced off on 52 minutes, and it was from that point onwards that we defied the tired legs to become increasingly dominant. Chucking on as many strikers as possible while piling forward again and again is never not fun to watch.
Griffin Park is a favourite of most Championship away fans. Its imposing floodlights that loom above the terraced streets ooze ‘old school’, with almost too many decent and welcoming local pubs to choose from and, of course, the potential to generate a great atmosphere in the claustrophobic lower tier of the stand the home fans call ‘The Wendy House’, housing as it does a rare second-tier away terrace that has defied all-seater legislation as the club’s planned move to a new home has dragged on.
But one stop up at the railway line at Kew Bridge the Brentford Community Stadium is now well under construction, and the Bees have just one full season left at Griffin Park before the wrecking ball hits in the summer of 2020 – so depending on how things pan out this season, we could have already made our last-ever visit. If that’s the case, we gave it a decent send-off with a rocking atmosphere behind the goal as City pressed for the equaliser and made it five trips unbeaten to this part of West London.
This might have been a game too far, so in the circumstances where little damage was inflicted elsewhere, we’ll take the point. Brentford were a tough nut to crack, much as they were at Carrow Road in October, and managed to nullify a lot of our usual threat – left-back Rico Henry in particular barely gave Onel Hernandez a sniff – while we failed to create much through the middle, relying on a set-piece for our own to make up for another failing on one at the other end. As ever, we kept going to the end with yet another goal in the last 15 minutes, and could even have nicked a winner.
We move on to the 3rd round of the FA Cup which, in the spirit of its obligatory annual devaluing, will provide a weekend’s respite after four games that have been exhausting to attend, let alone play in. Farke loves a cup run – as would I, no devaluing here – but there’ll be no complaints about substantial turnover in the 18 he names against Portsmouth. A little extra incentive to get ourselves in the 4th round comes with the fact it would guarantee the postponement of our home match with Sheffield United, now breathing down our necks two points behind, until a time when our depleted squad might be back to something resembling a full roster. Sadly, there’s not much we can do about delaying our trip to West Brom a week on Saturday. Rest up, lads...