Boosted by new recruits, with 3 on the pitch and one on the bench, Town’s resilience prevented a technically superior Brentford from scoring for the second time this season and secured a very well earned point as the Cowleys recalibrated their squad in ways which may only become clear over the next few months.
A flawless debut by Stearman, a very promising introduction for Toffolo to the rigours of the Championship and glimpses of Smith Rome’s youthful talent, despite a totally anonymous first half, were encouraging and an early reassurance that the disastrously wasteful recruitment which has all but destroyed any lasting Premier League legacy will not be repeated.
Bar a very late scare as the team rather wilted as they clung on to their reward, Brentford’s rightfully lauded front 3 were largely frustrated by a dogged home side who have been shipping far too many goals of late.
A relentlessly dull first half suited the struggling Terriers and provided an ugly but necessary platform against high flying visitors who will be hungrily looking above them at a team who, pre-Christmas, were nailed on automatic promotion winners seemingly imploding.
Easy on the eye but rather ponderous in the final third, the visitors caused few problems before the break despite having the lion’s share of possession and a predictable defensive block from the hosts worked well. With 2 debutants in the back four, up against a seriously talented attack, the turgid fare can be forgiven and particularly if it translates in to a solid foundation for survival.
While Brentford’s lack of penetration was a little surprising, Town’s inability to muster any sort of threat was frustrating and the hard working Campbell cut a forlorn figure unsupported up front. Needs must, however.
Smith Rowe, starved of the ball but too often unavailable to receive it, looked on as the game completely bypassed him; he improved in the second half but it was probably the wrong game for his introduction as Town focused almost entirely on quelling their opponent’s flair, sacrificing commitment to attack.
It was something of a surprise, possibly not least to the Bees, that Town started the second half on the front foot and enjoyed a 15 minute period which should have seen them take the lead.
A bright start brought an early corner and encouraged the somnolent crowd for the first time. An excellent ball from Chalobah nearly released Grant but the somewhat out of form leading scorer couldn’t quite control and the opportunity passed.
It wasn’t long before his next one which proved to be something of a turning point. Smith Rowe, now a little more prominent, was set free down the right and his low, well hit cross evaded a dozing centre half and fell to the feet of Grant, 6 yards out. The pre-Christmas Grant would have buried the chance but he blasted over instead. Perhaps the reported interest in the striker died in that moment.
Smith Rowe had a reasonable effort comfortably saved and the wind in Town’s sails dwindled thereafter.
Sensing the moment for the home side had passed, Brentford reasserted control and began to dominate the ball again. Still over elaborate and lacking crispness once higher up the pitch, they were subdued by a defence marshalled by the experienced centre back pairing and a disciplined shape.
Mental and physical tiredness started to take their toll, however, and an under hit pass by Grabara to Schindler created avoidable danger. The visitors were unable to take advantage but were encouraged that cracks were appearing.
Schindler stopped a Brentford break on the halfway line to earn a booking and was a little fortunate not to be shown a second with a clumsy foul just minutes later and a visibly wilting Town were now clinging on in some desperation.
With just minutes left, Brentford’s big opportunity arrived. Clever, quick passing freed Dasilva on the right but the youngster’s well struck shot hit the upright and away to safety with Grabara beaten.
A defeat would have been hard on Town who fought valiantly and particularly hard on Stearman who simply didn’t put a foot or head wrong in a debut which will rank among the best ever for the Terriers. Remembering how early mistakes tarnished the unfortunate Elphick, the ex-Blade’s consummate display carries genuine hope and his vast experience can only help the bid for survival.
A game which attracted just one booking and a paltry 2 minutes added time in the second half pointed to an absence of the gamesmanship the Cowleys have found necessary to employ for their entire tenure (not least down at Griffin Park), and possibly reflected a greater trust in a team with, finally, their own choice of player integrated.
It is no mean feat to blank a clearly talented, if somewhat underwhelming on the day, Brentford team twice in a season where they may finally, and hopefully, be rewarded with a shot at the top league their unique approach deserves. Doubly so if elevation thwarts the ambition of our neighbours.
If the wastrels can be offloaded and maybe another new face introduced in the 10 days of useful preparation time ahead, the pervading gloom attending the dismal Stoke and Barnsley performances could be vanquished and a brighter future secured.
We live in hope.
(And that’s it from me until 29/2. 60 today and heading off to this place for a few weeks)