It looked like Brentford had blown it, as far as the play-offs were concerned. In the top six of the Championship for much of the season, a string of draws – usually after they had been in the lead – saw them slip to seventh. So, with one game to go, all the results needed to go their way today. Crucially, Derby needed to lose while the Bees won. Nothing else would be good enough. Both sides were at home and both were playing teams from the lower reaches of the division. That had to favour Derby, although they have been very wobbly in recent weeks, declining from favourites to go up, to nervy potential qualifiers for the play-offs.
I’d missed the fact that the games all started at midday; so when I checked the football to see the the latest on Leicester-Newcastle in the Premier League, I saw that the Championship games were about to end. And what I saw was amazing. Brentford 3 Wigan 0. Derby 0 Reading 3! That meant Derby finished with 77 points and Brentford went up to 78. Furthermore, Ipswich lost, so the Bees ended up fifth, on goal difference.
That means they will play Middlesborough in the play-off semis. I think this is winnable for Brentford, although the stats say otherwise. In the two games this season, the scores have been Middlesborough 4 Brentford 0 and Brentford 0 Middlesborough 1. But ‘Borough have been on the slide. For a long time they looked like they would be in one of the two automatic promotion spots; but they fell away at the end. Downward momentum. On the other hand the Bees have upward momentum after that last ditch qualification. So the psychological edge may be with Brentford, even if Middlesborough are probably the better team.
The other semi is tasty. An East Anglian derby between Norwich and Ipswich. No love lost between these two. I have a soft spot for both. I spent quite a lot of my childhood living on RAF bases in Suffolk and Norfolk. Ipswich and Norwich were the first two football teams I used to go to watch. The first ever game my Dad took me to was Ipswich v West Ham, probably 1972. The first game I ever went to just with my mates was Ipswich v Everton. I saw the game in 1976 at Norwich, when they beat the brilliant QPR side (Stanley Bowles their long-haired genius) which was vying with Liverpool for the First Division title, 3-2. QPR were so much better, but Norwich never stopped fighting and sneaked the win. Liverpool pipped the Rs to the title, and the latter never got near the prize again.
One of my worst football moments was at Norwich, too. It was after a game against Leeds. The Leeds fans marauded through the city centre, chanting, threatening. They went into Woolworths and just helped themselves to sweets and whatever else. The police were nowhere to be seen. My Dad and I stood still on the pavement as they rushed past us. I was very scared. We were unharmed, but an old man was dumped on the pavement, blood running from his mouth. In a state of shock. People gathered around to help him – he was OK. But it was a bit like having been in the path of a tornado. It didn’t last long, but it brought devastation in its wake. This was football, seventies-style.
Norwich will be favourites to go through to the final, and objectively, I’d put my money on them to win promotion. But of course my heart tells me the Bees can do it.