Reasons to be cheer-ful
Reporter: MATTHEW CHAMBERS
Date online: 31 March 2014
Athletic 0, Brentford 0
HE CAME back, he saw a new-look Boundary Park, he didn’t quite conquer. But James Tarkowski did at least have the consolation of flattening his mate.
There was a smile on both their faces as Tarkowski hauled up his friend James Wesolowski to try to avoid a booking from referee Scott Duncan.
The trick worked too - but his West London team-mates didn’t have everything their own way in an oddly invigorating afternoon.
While a point meant a move closer to the 50-point mark that will likely ensure safety, the end result could and should have been even better.
Danny Philliskirk claimed a push in his back when he rose to meet a Gary Harkins cross - but he probably should still have hit the target from barely six yards.
And before Wesolowski had his own presentable shout for a spot-kick, James Dayton embarrassingly fluffed an attempted lob when set clean through in the second half.
At the other end, the best the promotion-chasing Bees could muster against a generally rock-solid and organised defence was a volley from Stuart Dallas which brought a sharp save from under-employed Athletic goalkeeper Paul Rachubka.
Athletic’s football was often good. The counter-attacking was potent, particularly in an end-to-end first half, and the threat levels of Lee Johnson’s side exceeded those of the considerably well-heeled line-up put out by former City worker Mark Warburton – whose gentleman’s agreement to allow Tarkowski back to Boundary Park on loan disappeared as quickly as a stock trade.
“He was keen to play,” Warburton said of Tarkowski afterwards. ”His family came to watch and he had a fantastic time at Oldham. He was very composed and showed a good range of passing. He will be a very good player for us.”
Just as the ground has suddenly changed, so too has the atmosphere at Boundary Park. Aided by a constant drumbeat, a wall of noise existed where once it was mainly silence punctuated by groans.
Tarkowski probably wondered where he was. Still, Athletic have moved on since he departed for the Big Smoke two months ago – on the field as well as off.
Up against one of the most potent attacks in League One, the now-settled back four rose to the
Particularly excellent on the day was James Wilson, who met plenty in the air while reading the game very well to quell almost all danger.
The former Bristol City man also nearly netted with a strong far-post header which forced a stooping save from Brentford ‘keeper David Button.
Wilson’s is certainly one contract Johnson will want to extend come the summer.
Noise levels rose in the second half, with Athletic’s supporters sensing that the drum-aided racket was aiding their team.
After Wilson’s header was pushed out after 48 minutes, Brentford started to pin back the home side.
On came Dayton to try to reverse that trend by getting the Bees defenders racing back towards their own goal.
By now the contest was getting tasty, with challenges flying in all over the pitch. Harkins hammered a low shot which was saved low down by Button and then set in Dayton with a scything through-ball from his own half. The run was timed perfectly but Athletic’s winger tried to lob the ball over the goalkeeper and made little contact, making the shot a simple catch.
Johnson clearly scented blood, with a switch to 4-4-2 seeing the increasingly-influential Harkins pushed into his natural number 10 role.
As the board was held up to showcase an extra five minutes of playing time, few Athletic fans vocalised their dismay. The collective view was that it gave Athletic a better chance to go out and win the game - which says plenty about how this newly-solid, sharp counter-attacking side fared against a team gunning for promotion.
Tarkowski may end up going up. For Athletic, now unbeaten in four, things are at least looking up.
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