A six-goal thriller at St James’ Park and much improved display in many respects, however more poor defending has let us down once again.
We came back from losing positions twice, had over 20 shots, played some good attacking football and had the chance to win it late on, but it’s a real kick in the teeth to score three goals at home and come away without the victory we so badly need.
What’s even more frustrating is results elsewhere left us bottom of the table. Norwich won 2-1 against Southampton in their first game under Dean Smith, relegation rivals Watford thumped thumped Man Utd 4-1, Burnley and Palace shared a point in a 3-3 draw at Turf Moor and Aston Villa beat Brighton on Steven Gerrard’s debut.
Back to the game itself, Eddie Howe made three changes from the side who drew 1-1 at Brighton as he watched on from his hotel room, bringing in Fabian Schar, Joe Willock and Joelinton for Emil Kraftth, Isaac Hayden and Miguel Almiron; who hasn’t long returned from South America.
(STARTING 11: Darlow – Schar, Lascelles, Clark – Murphy, Shelvey, Willock, Ritchie – Joelinton, Saint-Maximin – Wilson)
The system wasn’t that much different, with us playing three centre-backs once again, however the approach was much more attacking, seeing Murphy and Ritchie often venturing forward and runners arriving into the box.
Jamaal Lascelles opened the scoring with a towering header, only for Ivan Toney to fire the Bees level with a low strike Karl Darlow had to do better with.
Rico Henry then arrived unmarked at the back post to make it 2-1 to the visitors on the half hour mark, but their lead didn’t last long as Joelinton fired into the bottom corner five minutes before the break. A confident finish from the big man and a goal his superb first half display thoroughly deserved.
The second half saw us concede yet another avoidable goal to edge Brentford back in front with 30 minutes to play. Murphy and Shelvey were weak in the challenge, the ball fell to Onyeka – who wasn’t closed down quick enough – and the midfielder’s shot was deflected in off Lascelles.
An unfortunate own goal for the skipper, but another one that felt avoidable.
Nevertheless, we battled on and were rewarded when a Ryan Fraser cross was bundled home at the back post by Allan Saint-Maximin. The Frenchman jumped into the Gallowgate to celebrate and there was a real feeling of belief around St James’ Park that we could go on to win this in the 15 minutes that remained.
The game was on a knife edge at this point, with us looking tired and Brentford also looking for a winner of their own, and it looked like we were about to win it when a brilliant run by Saint-Maximin set Joelinton through on goal.
The Brazilian latched onto his through ball and the stage was set, but just as 50,000 fans inside St James’ Park were off their seats and waiting for the net the bulge, he cut inside, lost his footing and the chance was gone.
A real shame for the big man, who deserved to be the match winner in what was a man of the match display from our £40m man.
So, a point it is. A much improved performance, filled with more action, attacking intent and exciting football that could soon equate in wins if we continue to build on what we watched today.
However, with results elsewhere going against us and defensive frailties letting us down again, it’s absolutely vital we pick up wins in upcoming home games against Norwich and Burnley – especially when you consider the frightening run of fixtures that await us over the festive period.
Back to the positives, I thought Shelvey looked much better, with his sweeping balls in behind causing Brentford’s back line problems all afternoon.
Joelinton put in his best display for the club, not only taking his goal well but showing for the ball, linking up nicely, imposing himself physically and putting in a real shift for the team.
Saint-Maximin also looked lethal in patches in a wide role and Ritchie seemed a little more like his old self, however the likes of Darlow, Clark, Lascelles, Schar and Longstaff didn’t do themselves many favours, with the latter struggling during his second half cameo.
Next up, a trip to Arsenal next Saturday, but as ever the final word must go to Wor Flags, who paid tribute to the absent Eddie Howe with another brilliant display.