Thursday, 17 January 2013

Brentford 2 Southend United 1

“We’re coming for you, we’re coming for yooooouuuu, Champions of Europe, We’re coming for you!”

Deep into stoppage time, with the ball in their possession at the safe end of the field, the three sides of Griffin Park of a Brentford persuasion finally summoned the courage to sing the song they had desperately wanted to sing all evening.

It would have been belted out far earlier but for the outstanding performance of Southend goalkeeper Paul Smith, who produced the best performance of any stopper I’ve ever seen at any level. 

With Southend’s defence often blown away by Brentford’s lightning-fast attacking style, it was Smith, and his dozen or so world class saves - not to mention an incredible penalty stop - that kept the 1,300 travelling fans clinging on to hope of an upset. The League Two side came far closer than they should have been allowed.

Inspired by the performance of Mansfield the other weekend, and also by Mark’s excited chat about how Southend had fought back from two goals down in the first game, it didn’t take much to persuade me to re-visit Griffin Park for this Tuesday night replay. His girlfriend, Steph, joined us too on what was one of those hideously cold nights where your toes feel like they’ve packed a suitcase and buggered off on holiday.

I think Mark brought me along because of my atrocious record of having watched 180 minutes of Southend play and not seen anyone score, which is the kind of jinx you want when facing a side third in the division above you. All on the away terrace would probably have taken a goalless 120 minutes and then bought a ticket for the penalty lottery which, given some of Southend’s other Cup games this season, they would have fancied their chances in.

The trip to South-west London was done straight after work, via the Piccadilly line station of Boston Manor, which inevitably produced the following amusing photograph...

Northern Line (Lincs Branch)
As I found out when I visited late last year, Brentford is mainly famous for having a pub on all four corners of the ground and after deciding against the first one we came across, it wasn’t much of a walk to the next, the cosy Griffin Pub, which did a superb pint of London Pride and a very nice BBQ cheeseburger which was undoubtedly better than the cheap, hint-of-horse gristle (maybe) served inside the ground.

There was as excellent turnout from Essex, with the away fan count 1,271 out of 6,526. I’m sure that second figure included a fair number of Chelsea fans who had made the short trip to see whom they would be facing the weekend after next. The Shrimpers support was certainly not shy in making some noise and, among them, was the guy who played Simon’s Dad in The Inbetweeners, which was pretty random.

There was something magical about staring out from the terrace as a Cup tie with so much at stake kicked off, the icy dew on the pristine green surface glistening under the floodlights and a clear, crisp and starry sky overhead. 

I was soon snapped out of it as Southend started playing some “boomerang football” - a tactic which lasted most of the evening. With Paul Sturrock opting to play five at the back and three in midfield, every clearance of a Brentford attack was simply collected and returned with interest. 

The result was a one-sided first half and by the peep of the half-time whistle, it was a miracle that Southend weren’t already out of the Cup. It was the Paul Smith show, producing a low stop to keep out Harry Forrester and then a reflex action to deny Clayton Donaldson.

He then turned away an Adam Forshaw cross which was dropping under his crossbar and later frustrated all three for a second time with a cheetah-like show of reactions. It was practically chance-a-minute at times, but Brentford broke through just the once. Lee Hodson delivered a cross and Paul Hayes stole in to finish from no distance at all. 

It was a blessed relief to hear the whistle, but as I said to Mark, as long as it remained 1-0, Southend would have a chance to equalise at some point. I think we only half-believed it though. 

Funnily enough, Southend had their best spell in the first 15 minutes of the second half and Michael Timlin missed a glorious opportunity right in front of us. But then the status quo resumed and, from one of their many direct attacks, Brentford were awarded a penalty. 

As Forrester stepped up, it was a truly heart-in-mouth moment but, though his kick was firm, Smith incredibly managed to push it wide of the post. The Brentford website match report called it “a save for the ages.” 

Hope sprung eternal and, as prophecised at half-time, Southend did equalise. 21 minutes remained and, after the penalty save, The Bees lost their way a little. In a rare glimpse of the second-half action down our end, Southend won a free-kick and Ryan Leonard’s first touch after coming on found the head of Barry Corr who couldn’t miss.

There were wonderful celebrations all around us and I was just relieved to see an actual Southend goal after about 250-odd minutes of trying. Poor Steph, who already looks as though she’s hired two bodyguards whenever she’s out with me (6’5”) and Mark (6’7”), was squeezed in the middle of our celebrations as though being hugged by a couple of Tolkien ents. 

Sadly, Uwe Rosler’s Brentford are no pushovers and to their immense credit, they recovered their composure and found the winning goal. Forshaw released Donaldson and he crashed in an unstoppable shot, possibly deflected, past Smith at his near post. 

They may have come back in the original game, but Southend had nothing left to give on this occasion and the five minutes of stoppage time didn’t bring the expected onslaught. 

So it was disappointment for us but great joy for Brentford, who can look forward to a first FA Cup West London ‘derby’ with Chelsea since 1950. 

Next Match Hoping to watch Boston United at Harrogate Town this weekend but the weather forecast does not look promising!