Brentford 2-0 Leeds United

I could feel the heat rising in my cheeks as the Brentford support cheered every pass in the dying moments of today’s match. The pain of losing, coupled with the anticipation of the goading that was already unfolding across Twitter, smarted.

The insolent dive of Ollie Watkins, for which he was rightly booked, served only to mock us further.

The indignance at the failure to award Patrick Bamford a penalty in the opening minutes was eclipsed only by disbelief that he didn’t shoot first time, or frustration at Tyler Roberts’ incredibly poor touch when clean through on goal.

The outpouring of love and respect for the manager, the affection towards the players, the fluid style of play this season has softened our normally steadfast resolve.

We are beyond the gallows humour that has defined us for so many years of abject failure. The number of people making gags for cheap likes on Twitter has dwindled to the point where we have someone bizarrely masquerading as an owl threatening to quit Twitter over a lack of positivity.

Stripped bare, this is footballing hurt in its purest form.

Gavin Massey’s brace signed our crucifixion order on Friday, but Griffin Park could not witness the resurrection of our promotion push this afternoon.

Our now-familiar dominance yielded 54 shots over the two matches; 13 on target. How many goals?


The promotion race has conjured a cauldron of relentless pressure into which our players have been plunged. Bielsa has been rightly praised for transforming a team that finished 13th in 2017-18, but of those players, how many bear the scars of the white-hot promotion gauntlet?

Only Adam Forshaw has experience of a promotion battle at the Championship’s business end and maybe that is why Bielsa opted for him over Kalvin Phillips to start, a decision that bewildered the most staunch supporter of the Argentine.

To his credit, Forshaw actually had a reasonably good game offensively, but his selection leaves our centre-backs, particularly the positional sense of Pontus Jansson, badly exposed.

Brentford were able to waltz through the centre of our midfield and defence on a number of occasions, most notably when Maupay swept through to give them the lead. Forshaw’s selection was a gamble and if any of Leeds’ early chances had found the back of the net, it may well have been one that paid off handsomely.

Shots were scuffed into the turf, poor decisions were made. Substitutions proved ineffective, although Dallas did produce some strong running and created chances down the left. The performance of Jack Clarke revealed a teenager understandably ill-equipped to deal with a pressure-cooker situation with which he is unfamiliar. It would be unfair to look to him as the prodigious Messiah of our ailing promotion push.

A win would have left us level on points in 2nd place and only three behind a Norwich side stuttering their way towards the finish line. We could have atoned for Friday’s defeat with victory in London today, but the 69-year old wait for a win away to Brentford looks set to roll into its eighth decade.

The image of a tearful Pablo Hernandez being consoled by Marcelo Bielsa at the end of the match struck a chord with all who were unfortunate enough to witness it and served as the manifestation of a weeping fanbase.

The statistics, the opposition, the analysis even, pale into insignificance against the pain, hurt and disappointment that is sweeping across our team, our club and our supporters this evening. As the adage reads, it is indeed the hope that kills you.

It’s the reason we looked on in misery in 2017 as the Garry Monk project petered out at the Pirelli Stadium, or why we lamented Larry’s 2011 crop finishing an agonising 7th. It’s also the reason why we dread the horrible environment of the play-offs.

In 2006, we looked on in expectation of a speedy return to the Premier League, only to look foolish as Watford gleefully shredded our hope. The fall was dramatic; we were in League One by the close of the following season.

Two years later, in 2008, it was Doncaster and James Hayter’s turn to crush our rising hope and condemn us to another year in the third tier.

We returned the following year buoyed once again by the hope of promotion, the antidote to suffering in the footballing wilderness. Again, we had our hope cruelly dashed, this time by Millwall.

I watched that game in a pub called the Beehive Bar in Belfast. As usual, there was general indifference around the bar, only myself and two friends really looking at the match.

I am animated when watching football – particularly Leeds and Ireland. It’s an involuntary reaction for which I offer no apology. I kick and head every ball, swearing with a profanity I possess in no other aspect of life.

Beckford’s missed penalty brought an angry sea of fucks and bastards. Becchio’s finish sparked delirium and drew some bemused looks from others present. Abdou’s equaliser almost sent a stool flying across the floor as the stinging snigger of the background drinkers set my face alight.

On the final whistle, I ordered three doubles. Gerdy expressed concern that he was expected to imbibe these, but Ciarán knew better. These were not for them.

I downed them and left the bar in search of the liquid amnesia that was much more easily sourced as a final-year university student.

It fucking hurt.

It always does, when hope is involved. They tell you it springs eternal, but the well is most certainly heading for drought.

Nevertheless, we continue to return. Our minds play tricks on us, discard the realities and focus on the stuff of pure fantasy. No matter how many times we attempt to convince ourselves that we’ll just relax, enjoy the last two games and get ready for the play-offs, we won’t.

Our imagination, our bloody deluded imagination, will tell us Norwich and Sheffield United are going to collapse, lose all their remaining games, which we obviously will win, to clinch promotion with a last-minute Berardi goal at Portman Road.

We know this is ludicrous, but dreams cannot be extinguished. The flame will never die.

Even if the play-offs end in the achingly familiar heartbreak of the past, we will turn our thoughts to the next challenge.

Hope will prevail in spite of all setbacks and the intensity of the pain rises with every heartbreak, but we are helpless to the mercy of the club we love.

The source of exasperation and exhilaration, of fantasy and frustration, of heroics and heartbreak will continue to sustain us.

We will march on together.

See you on Sunday.