Following a well-deserved 1-0 victory at Leeds on Saturday, Brentford climbed to fourth in the Sky Bet Championship table, settling themselves more comfortably for a play-off spot. Heads turned towards our Tuesday night meeting with fellow promotion rivals, sixth place, Watford. The Bees sought revenge after their unlucky defeat at Vicarage Road back in September, whilst the Hornets looked to leapfrog their competitor in the play-off zone.
Tuesday morning began with unnerving news for Bees fans. My usual scroll through Twitter before work was a massive mistake – with a tweet from The Times football correspondent Matt Hughes implying that Brentford manager Mark Warburton would be leaving us at the end of the season, whether he was rumoured to being sacked or departing to another club was not clear. Questions of worry and confusion streamed through my feed as fans were left baffled by the news, which quickly spread through social media and the story made its way into other news articles, including Sky Sports and BBC Sports news. The speculation was not made any more reassuring after Brentford FC themselves made a statement simply describing football as a “village”. No, I’m not quite sure that comparison is logical either. This response from the club only deepened the wound that had been opened to us fans, and on top of this it could not have come at a worse time giving our current success.
As I made my journey up the M4 to West London, the confusion temporarily subsided and the aim was to cheer as loudly as we could, screaming and singing our hero Warburton’s name. I’ve not missed the cold Tuesday night games, which result in possible frostbite or a frustrating 0-0 draw, but this particular game, however, could prove to be slightly more dramatic.
My mum had warned me about the man refereeing the match – Keith Stroud. Stroud is no stranger to controversy to Bees fans; we can all remember the game at Sheffield United a couple of years ago, when we were reduced to 9 men. The little man in the middle certainly has a thing about red cards. Sadly this match didn’t turn out to be any different.
From the New Road stand, Brentford fans swarmed around me and Griffin Park erupted as Mark Warburton entered the pitch, a warming welcome from his admiring fans. The atmosphere continued to buzz, with choruses of “Warburton, Warburton” shaking the stands and highlighting the praise our manager rightly deserved.
The first 20 minutes demonstrated the skilled Watford’s fast moving squad and saw both teams attacking each other from all angles. But, the game was completely changed just before the half hour mark when little man Stroud thought an incident involving Jake Bidwell’s’ high knee was far too dangerous and saw the left-back receive a straight red. Myself and fans around me were left stunned. What was even more frustrating, alongside this debateable decision, was the man in the black and white’s inability to notice Watford’s constant fouls. This only sparked more disgust amongst us.
Continuing the remaining hour with ten men, we thought the worst, and wondered: would we be seeing red again? As we shuddered into our seats, the rest of the first half proved to be nothing to worry about. Even with Watford’s strong physical players, especially the excellent Troy Deeney, Brentford pushed their opposition back and gave them a lot to work for.
Sighing at the relief of the half-time whistle, questions of who might be substituted to support the back four ran around our heads, we knew Watford would throw everything they had at us. But shortly after the second half had begun, James Tarkowski limped off to be replaced by Tony Craig, let’s hope this is not another injury. As the game went on, Brentford gave all they could and Watford struggled to stop the dangerous Andre Gray and Alex Pritchard marauding their way into the box. And on 50 minutes, Gray took an unbelievable shot past Watford keeper Heurelbo Gomes and Griffin Park exploded in celebration. What was even more triumphant was the Brentford boys leaping onto their manager, showing their appreciation and the close relationship the club as a whole holds.
Only a few minutes on, and a supposed “handball” by midfielder Jonathon Douglas gave Watford the chance to level the game from the penalty spot. Luckily, Deeney’s kick was weak and resulted in an easy save for Bees’ keeper David Button. However, a shot on 67 minutes could not be kept out and after continuous attacks, Watford finally equalised.
Praying to at least get a point out of the game, deservedly even under the circumstances, the final minutes felt like hours with both sides fighting for the three points. Although Brentford stayed resilient, our lacking of an eleventh man was clear. As the Bees become increasingly tired, Watford pressed and heartbreakingly, in added time, took the score to 1-2 and sealed the three points to take home.
The atmosphere around me was deflated and of disbelief. We have experienced many moments like this; last minute heartbreaks seem all too familiar when being a Brentford fan. With a chaotic morning of rumours, it seemed fate for our day to only get worse. Whatever the real goings on behind the scenes at BFC, we must remember that Brentford are still 6th in the Championship, with a number of games still to go and we have a hardworking team inspired and ambitious to get to the top. Whether Warburton goes at the end of the season can only be a concern when it becomes fact, and also when we know Matthew Benham’s reasons and future plans.
For now, we support and continue to sing our hearts out for a team we so dearly adore. Onwards we go to Charlton.