A win! It wasn’t always pretty and we relied on a generous penalty decision, but it was the result we desperately needed. With 24 hours to clear his head, Matthew Philpotts picks out five lessons learned.
1. Local heroes, same midfield old woes
We begin with a variation on a famous philosophical question: if Sean Longstaff runs and no-one sees it, does it actually happen? I ask because a widespread belief has emerged that the absence of this largely unseen contribution has been the primary contributor to our ongoing midfield travails, both at the beginning of this season and the end of the last. Without that invisible running, so the argument goes, Bruno is isolated and the whole backline exposed.
Well, from where I was sitting yesterday, it looked very much that whatever has been ailing our midfield it isn’t the absence of wor Sean. Yes, we kept a clean sheet, but we were outnumbered, out-muscled and out-passed in the centre of the park once more. The only difference was that Brentford didn’t have the same quality to exploit it as City, Liverpool, and Brighton.
There’s an old truism that nothing makes a player seem better than not being in the team. Not only are they happily immune from the taint of defeat, but they also become a blank canvas onto which fans can project their own personal theories and preoccupations.
See also Anderson, E.
2. Wingers can have two feet
Bloody hell? What’s this? Wide attacking players with two functioning feet? Surely not.
Comfortably our best player of the match, Anthony Gordon was typically bright, energetic, and creative. Crucially, unlike our erstwhile occupant of the right-wing berth, Gordon offered a dual threat, not only cutting inside but also attacking round the outside.
Meanwhile, if Barnes struggled at times with a lack of space, especially in the first half, he increasingly exercised an influence, using his strength and pace to create his own opportunities. He also whipped a couple of crosses from the byline with his left foot to match Gordon on the other side.
Now, if only Barnes had had an actual overlapping threat from his left back to keep the defence honest…
3. Substitutions with an eye on Milan
Having seemingly been set on using the same three substitutes at the same point in every match, no matter the situation, Eddie changed tack today – was it me or was the press also deliberately softened, presumably in response to recent setbacks?
So instead of replacing the entire forward line with half an hour to go, the only sub to see action was Miggy and then only for seven minutes of normal time. Isak and Tonali, in particular, were called on for nothing more than a gentle jog up and down the touchline.
Presumably, this was a decision taken with Milan in mind. Expect the usual first XI to start on Tuesday, except for our hamstrung Brazilian enforcer.
4. Referees have become afraid to referee
I’ve no particular opinion on Craig Pawson. He’s barely grazed my consciousness during his ten years as a PL referee. In fact I’d struggle to pick him, or any current referee, out of a line-up. Trelford Mills apart, all match officials are pretty much anonymous as far as I’m concerned.
But that ten years of experience at the highest level – including refereeing World Cup qualifiers and Champions League ties – at least suggests that Pawson’s been around long enough to know his own mind as a referee. So why did he officiate yesterday with all the confidence and authority of a new-born lamb sent in as a trainee teacher to a reform school for delinquent wolves?
Maybe he was avoiding anything rash and weighing all the sources of evidence available, as he did in dialogue with the linesman for our distinctly fortuitous winning penalty. But throughout the match he was hesitant and indecisive, not giving simple decisions until complaining players or the crowd had apparently swayed him.
Of course, his only moment of decisiveness was the second penalty when he blew without hesitation, only to be instructed to reconsider by VAR. That he changed his mind was as predictable as Bruno falling over under pressure.
It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that referees no longer trust themselves to make decisions. And who can blame them?
5. The ticket queues are getting longer, not shorter
Arriving at the ground just after 5, the scene behind the East Stand was pretty chaotic. Leazes Terrace was full to the brim with multiple overlapping and intersecting queues. Towards the Gallowgate corner, meanwhile, the two queues snaked all the way down Terrace Place.
In other words, three games in and the delays caused by digital ticketing seem to be getting worse not better. In theory, of course, holding a card against a reader can hardly take any longer than holding a phone. But in practice we’re dealing with human beings who, presumably, don’t always have the right screen already open on their phones when their moment comes.
But why would things be getting worse, not better?
Two entirely speculative and no doubt misguided theories from your TF correspondent in the Leazes. First, the concerted message to arrive early (and consume more poor quality over-priced club food and drink) has faded in fans’ minds, who are now arriving pretty much as they always have done.
Second, the were more first-time digital attendees for Brentford than for Liverpool. Certainly in my queue and around me in the seats were plenty of non-ST-holders attending either on successful ballot entries or transferred season tickets.
And while we’re on the subject, there were plenty of empty seats in the Millburn and four right around me in the middle tier of the Leazes. Pretty impressive when we apparently live in a time of insatiable demand for tickets.