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Success for Gibraltar in FA Cup. Defeat for Brentford at home to Notts County.

7 Jan

Brentford 0 Notts County 1. A result that it sure to cause a few rumblings on the Richter scale of FA Cup shocks. None moreso than because it means Gibraltar, currently placed 205th in the FIFA World Rankings, have representation in the fourth round. Size and reputation counted for nothing with talismanic Gibraltarian International Liam Walker proving key to the Magpies’ cause. He came on at the death to ensure County broke Brentford hearts and condemn the Bees to defeat despite throwing the proverbial kitchen sink at the visitors. A shame it hadn’t happened 90 minutes earlier.

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There had been so much optimism before kick off

I’ve seen Liam in action twice this season and neither appearance has been a happy time for the Brentford. The first being the occasion of a World Cup qualifier at the end of August. Despite his best efforts – very much the star performer for Gibraltar in that one – Belgium finished it by taking their visitors beyond brackets and close to double figures with a 9-0 win in Liège.

It was the same day Maxime Colin and Jota joined Harlee Dean in the triple transfer to Birmingham City. Fortunately, things would eventually settle down for the Bees on that front and form would return, quite spectacularly. Not so much for the Blues. Equally spectacularly.

On Saturday, the boot was on the other foot. It was the away team, again inspired by Walker, who came away with a result that the bookmakers had failed to anticipate. It was the home team – picked by Dean Smith – with a performance that was dialed in against one of spirit, fight and a desire to win that the Bees had failed to anticipate. They’ll have been dancing in the streets of Gibraltar last night.

That, or Sax II.

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Yet it proves, yet again, what happens when you underestimate the opposition. See also: Walsall at home in the third round two seasons ago. As expected, changes were made but there was enough first team experience in the starting XI and on the bench to have done better. Much better. It was an opportunity for players to step up, seize the opportunity and shine. Sadly, the only ones to do that were Notts County.

All the talk in the media would be of Jon Stead’s goal. True, it was very special. Yet it should have been as much about Notts County putting in a complete and consistent team performance. From the moment of kick off to the Walker inspired denouement. The Magpies showed it in spades. The Bees looked second best.

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All over at full time – Walker the winner.

Dean Smith would use his post match interviews to declare, “It was probably not what we deserved”, adding “I thought we had the lion’s share of possession and bossed the game for large periods. I certainly didn’t think we deserved to lose.”

As has been said oh so many times, that’s just not how football works. I’ve got huge respect for Dean but he’s wrong on this one. Chances count for nothing. Neither do possession stats. Balls in the back of the net are the only thing that matters as a means of measuring progress to the fourth round on paper.

For the record, the game ended with possession of 53%- 47% in our favour. Less a Lion’s share and more a narrow margin. The goal charts ended 1-0 in Notts’ favour. Equally narrow but that’s all they needed.

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At least Buzz and Buzzette got their hands on the cup

I suppose we can concentrate on the league. And that IS a good thing from some respects. IF we are going to go for it. The gap to the bottom three surely already too huge whilst the play-offs are just six points away. A concerted surge towards the top and this will be nothing more than a statistic in the record books. At least, for our top brass.

Yet for the fans, the FA Cup is still huge. And the chance for a run in this oldest of tournaments is always something to get supporters salivating. Tin foil trophies had been made in the morning. Some long journies undertaken to get to Griffin Park.

We had the ability to win it but too often the Bees looked out of shape. Captain Josh McEachran unable to lift his team. With Lasse Vibe and Andreas Bjelland missing (in the the club shop), Ryan Woods missing (in the pub, but on the soft drinks) and Nico Yennaris just missing, we lacked our solid spine. Players had the chance to make a name for themselves. They didn’t take it.

On the flip side, Emiliano Marcondes, making his debut, showed those first flashes of the potential we have all read so much about. Indeed, but for that Walker inspired backs-to-the-wall performance in the final few moments, things could have been different when the Dane’s header came back off the post.

But with County looking solid as The Rock, not even the wonderful Alan Judge could make a difference. He looked sharp, fit and fast as he made a long overdue and thrilling return to the side. There was no challenge shirked and one moment of genius to free fellow substitute Ollie Watkins that had the crowd on their feet, anticipating a goal. Sadly, it wasn’t to be.

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Alan Judge in full flow – very much a sight for sore eyes

We’ve lost in the Cup before. We’ll do it again. The saddest thing about Saturday was that lessons of the past should have been learned. Yet when the club hadn’t even put FA patches on the first team shirts, perhaps our longevity in this tournament was pre-ordained.

At home, our own third round ritual of making the tinfoil trophy ended with it the replica cup being consigned to, then retrieved from, the dustbin. “Daddy. Do we have to throw it away? Can’t we keep it for next year?” asked HB. Not even I’m that mean and so it was duly salvaged. With optimism like that, it’s tough to be overly despondent this morning. It’s just a shame we’ll have to wait 365 days to feel it once again.

All that remains to be said is congratulations to Notts County, Liam Walker and Gibraltar. The FA Cup loves to throw up a story and with the Magpies in wonderful league form too, could this be the year they are the underdogs to make a run towards Wembley?  The year that Gibraltar, whose previous international ‘highlights’ include conceeding the faster ever International goal (Christian Benteke in 8.1 seconds in the opposite fixture with Belgium) and equalising against minnows Scotland in a Euro 2016 qualifier at Hampden Park, make that next step up on the World stage?

That’s my one consolation from this one. And I’m clinging to it.

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A solitary Gibraltarian flag held aloft at Griffin Park

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Another Brentford cup run consigned to the wastebin of Griffin Park history

Nick Bruzon

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Tin foil ready? The FA Cup third round is huge in our house. Could this be our year?

6 Jan

The FA Cup third round is upon us as Brentford host Notts County. Infact, it has already begun although any lingering thoughts about being able to watch Friday night’s game between Liverpool and Everton were extinguished as quickly as they arose. Only one person rules the remote in our house and suffice to say: 1) It isn’t me, and 2) Jamie Oliver’s Friday night food thingy was on at the same time as James Milner and Virgil van Dijk were doing their thing at Anfield.

But that was then and this is now. Nothing is going to get in the way of the big one at Griffin Park this afternoon. With last year’s cup ‘run’ ending somewhat underwhelmingly at Chelsea, could today be a springboard for bigger and better things?

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Another Wembley dream continues today

I’m not going to pretend I was overly disappointed about missing out on the Liverpool game (he says, grabbing the crowbar), given my own thoughts on the TV selections which you can read in today’s copy of BEES – available on the forecourt and around the ground.

Besides, I’ve also got a lot to thank Jamie Oliver for. He is directly responsible for my own getting married to the ever understanding football widow Mrs B. Although that’s a story as convoluted as the naked photo shoot with Graham Norton and probably best left for another time.

But whereas Friday was nothing more than a passing interest in Everton attempting to upset the odds, today is totally different. It is as much about progression for our beloved Brentford as it is in erasing a personal ghost from the past (not Jamie Oliver).

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Jamie Oliver (right) – has his moments. Not many, but….

Daddy? Why did Brentford play rubbish and why did the trophy end up in the bin after the game?” Not my words but those of four year old HB as we had one of those key chats in father-son life yesterday morning – did he want make a tinfoil FA Cup for today’s game?

Whilst there’s only ever one answer to that question, the conversation then moved on to how Daddy Bees have fared over the years and just what happens if we can win just 6 games in this most famous of competitions.

Good questions, son. ‘Bin day’ had been the third round back in January 2016 when relatively new head coach Dean Smith came up against his former side Walsall at Griffin Park. Like Notts County today, they were divisionally lower than us and like our visitors today, the Bees were hot favourites. At least to those, looking in. If ever there had been a potato skin waiting for us to slip up on here it was. Brentford duly obliged.

From an early morning high of Bacofoil based cup construction and optimism about potential fourth round opponents, a passionate visiting support and Saddlers’ team who had more than a point to prove left our dreams crushed. Our replica trophies in the bin. Could Notts County do the same today?

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Third round day 2016 had started so well. The ending was rubbish.

Well, go into this game with anything less than full focus and it could well happen. Dean Smith has already promised changes although those players likely to come in have more than enough first team experience between them. Josh Clarke will surely return. Could Alan Judge start? Neal Maupay up front? Josh McEachran and Lewis Macleod in the middle? Luke Daniels between the sticks? There’s Flo Jo and a certain Emiliano Marcondes lined up to make his debut. Could it be today? How much will Dean rotate or could his press conference proclamation simply be an attempt to throw Notts County off the scent.

He used yesterday’s build up to note that “We will patch the players up as best we can for Saturday and we have others wanting minutes. We will go in to the game to try and win it. We will make some changes but that is more to do with players being spent after what they have put in over the past four games.

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Passionate away support can be key – as we’ve learned

Not entirely unexpected given the huge exertions we’ve been through in the league over the last two weeks. At least due reward was given there. And at least Dean further acknowledged that, “Notts County will be a potential banana skin for us. They will be very tough. They have done fantastically this season. They have good, experienced players, we have to make sure there is no complacency and play to our strengths.”

Whatever happens today, I just want our boys to give it their all. Whomever starts, I DO expect to win. The again, I always expect to win regardless of the opposition ! We limped out at Chelsea last season where, despite the obvious calibre of our opponents, no real attempt to even try and go for it was made. Brentford sat back and paid the ultimate price. The tie was less a banana skin for Chelsea and more a delicious peanut butter and banana sandwich served up for our hosts to enjoy en-route to the final.

Losing to Walsall and Chelsea both hurt. Yet as much for it being another year until we get the chance to ‘go again’ in the Cup. Well now that chance is on us and I can’t wait. Roll on 3pm when it all starts once more.

See you there.

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Buzzette – up for the cup

Nick Bruzon