Brentford and Norwich City both felt the full effects of the festive calendar so it's no surprise neither were at their best during this contest, with both unable to find rhythm throughout.
Two sides struggle to find a foothold in the game
Keen restart their push for play-off places, Norwich did well to keep the ball throughout the opening exchanges but a lack of cohesion between the attackers left hard work unpunished and passes routinely not reaching their target. The Bees, for their part, did well to stifle their visitors, Andreas Bjelland was kept busy on the right as Alex Pritchard and Ivo Pinto looked to make things happen. A searching ball from Robbie Brady, one of the Irish international’s first touches in the game gave Nelson Oliviera something to get his head on in the box, forcing Brentford goalkeeper Daniel Bentley into making the first save of the night.
The Bees' shape allowed them to settle and move forward in waves, a cross-field ball from the right found Tom Field and the hosts soon had their first corner, a dangerous looking ball that the visitors needed three attempts to clear. The longer the half wore on the more assured the hosts looked and whilst Sullay Kaikai’s effort from outside the box might not have been the most profitable use of the ball it had the fans in fully voice as John Ruddy made the low save.
Even with concerted pressure from the Canaries they never looked to produce, going forward in numbers on the ball yet it was inevitable the move would fizzle out, up against a Brentford team that were playing with a real purpose, both on and off the ball. Their first corner of the game taken short and easier to read than a birthday card, Brentford once again had it covered. The two teams traded off possession, the Bees seeming less although the home team, the New Years crowd looking for more hunger from their side although they continued to threaten when they got forward.
Wasted chances sum up a tedious encounter
Whilst the Bees showed glimpses of exactly why they have just two wins from their last ten games, the visitors were keen not to end the year on the same limp note they’d started. Cameron Jerome managed to get in a muddle at the far post as he tried to connect with Brady’s ball.
As half-time neared the Canaries did their best to sing on the pitch but their football carried the same inevitable air as ever, a better team easily could have been up. Another Brentford push was eventually dealt with as yellow shirts flocked back to block the path for the Bees, but it promoted a hopeful ball towards Jerome. Having beaten his marker to the ball, the attacker made a hash of his shot as he was one-on-one, the ball getting stuck under his boot in full-flow. The ball quicky recycled for the hosts as Scott Hogan finally got a sniff, Griffin Road in full voice as the pressure seemed to reach breaking point as Hogan pulled the trigger, the ball comfortably clearing the top of Ruddy’s goal.
Doing their best to end the half with a bang after having noticeably faded in attack, Brentford did at least have a clean sheet to show for their efforts.
As was apparent during the first-half, it seemed as if either team were going to break the deadlock it would involve a counter-attack, which is exactly what occured as the hosts created another half-chance not long after the restart as Ryan Woods sped away following a Brady free kick. Having skipped past Pritchard, Woods bombed on and his cross into the box for an arriving Hogan was just too close to Ruddy and the 'keeper gladly plucked the ball from the air. Although there was good industry about what the Bees did it was easy to understand their recent plight, a growing team but far from the finished article, they wanted to put on a show for their fans but couldn’t quite shift into gear.
The football was predictable but the hosts still found space to get forward, Kaikai a willing outlet; his shot just before the hour was blocked for a corner as the Canaries still failed to answer questions in attack. The away attack still disjointed.
A half chance for the visitors saw Jerome fail to time his run to meet Oliviera’s cross at the backpost, two quick sparks of life from the Canaries, typical of their game this season, the team from Norfolk were unable to sustain any high tempo for long. The Bees were, in tandem, unable to capitalise on the gaps in midfield or the sporadic nature of their hosts, despite warming noise from their cold fans on a cold December night.
A foul just outside the box gifted Brentford their best chance, Kaikai’s ball in sent back across goal by Hogan before Field nodded the ball onto the roof of Ruddy’s net. Not for the first time of the night, one chance promoting another at the other end of the pitch as Jerome found space out on the left, cutting in, his ball skimmed across Bentley’s goal before bouncing wide. The game hadn’t been pretty at any point and the longer the two remained deadlocked the less likely it was to blossom into anything beautiful, both teams happy to see the back of 2016.
In his last involvement of the game Pinto sprinted off down the right, finding the space to run into, his cut back in the box enough to evade the centre-backs, Jerome’s volley blasted over. With the pendulum swinging in their direction, Josh Murphy used his first touch to fire the ball goalwards with Bentley off his line but the finish was a poor attempt as the over-committed former Southend United 'keeper blocked the ball with his knee.
With the last ten minutes approaching the Bees amped up the tempo, but failed to make anything happen in the 18 yard box, yellow shirts more than happy to block their efforts. The home side spurred on even more as their opposition were reduced to ten, Brady given his marching orders for a reckless challenge, the resulting free kick earning the hosts a corner. The fans in full voice as the Bees began to hound the away box.
The home faithful were left incensed in the last minute of regular time as Hogan appeared to be clipped in the area after slipping between the centre-backs, the ball flashed across the line moments later as the Canaries somehow smuggled the shot clear. Both teams trying to find last minute magic but still the finish was lacking, groans rising from the stands as the stalemate played out, the Bees unable to find their stinger, those in yellow scrambling to clear a last barrage.