DONCASTER ......1 Pen miss costs club promotion
TEN months, 46 games, endless twists and turns. And in the end it came down to one single kick.
The clock in the corner of Griffin Park had long passed 90 minutes when Toumani Diagouraga tumbled in the box and referee Michael Oliver blew to give Brentford a debatable penalty.
Score, and the Bees were in the Championship. Miss and opponents Doncaster were up instead.This was drama whittled to a fine point, sport at its purest and most visceral. Bums squeaked, eyes were averted.
In the Doncaster dugout, Rovers striker Billy Paynter dropped to his knees in prayer, unable to watch the defining moment of Donny’s season.
And then Marcelo Trotta stepped forward and picked up the ball. Quite why is anyone’s guess. Skipper Kevin O’Connor is the Bees’ regular taker and was No.1 choice on the day. But despite his protestations, Trotta wrestled the ball from his grasp, clearly bewitched by the prospect of a place in history.
Then he missed, thundering his kick against the bar. Griffin Park erupted in fury, Donny broke and just seconds later James Coppinger swept home to heap misery on the hosts.
It was telling that, in the aftermath, few Brentford players moved to console the tearful Trotta.
And though he kept his anger in check, it was clear that Bees boss Uwe Rosler held the striker accountable.
“What do you want me to say?” said the German. “We don’t hang players out to dry here. We as a group have to deal with that situation. It will be dealt with internally and I will hold people responsible for that.”
Pressed on whether Trotta should have taken the kick, Rosler said: “No. He was not first choice.We had three takers. Kevin O’Connor was first, Harry Forrester was second and Trotta was third.When we were awarded the penalty, I thought we would score.When I saw what happened out there, I wasn’t so sure.”
For a Doncaster side who came to defend and did it wonderfully, the sea-change was just as dramatic. Had Brentford scored, the Yorkshire outfit would have been facing the play-offs having been in the top two for all but three days in 2013.
But with Bournemouth only drawing at Tranmere, that late goal from Coppinger – tapped into an empty net after a break from Paynter – snatched the League One title with the final kick of the season.
“It’s 20 years to the day since I got promoted with Wrexham,” said Donny boss Brian Flynn, who took charge when Dean Saunders departed for Wolves in January.“But this is just as special.
“One minute we’re standing there looking at the play-offs. A minute later we were champions. You couldn’t write a story like that could you? We didn’t know that we’d won the title until we got back in the dressing room. If you’d offered me second six weeks ago, I’d have said yes. And I’d have taken it at the start of today. But having that letter C beside your name just makes it that little bit more special.
“It was frantic out there. It was frenzied. It wasn’t a classic because of the occasion. They tested us to the full but our experience showed.”
Brentford had their chances – an early Bradley Wright-Phillips shot that was cuffed against the post, a couple of headers from corners – but Donny and Flynn deserve great credit for a stifling job that worked to a tee. At times they pushed the limits of gamesmanship but their defending, tracking and covering was nothing short of immaculate, especially from skipper Rob Jones.
It helped though, that Brentford played into their hands. Renowned for keeping it down, the Bees too often launched it forward. With McCombe and Jones both on the thick end of 6ft6ins, it was never going to work.
“We played very much with our heart, but not with our heads,” admitted Rosler. “But we will learn from that. We are allowed to feel sorry for ourselves.” STEVE Davis was quick to share the limelight with former manager Dario Gradi after Crewe signed off the season by fielding a starting XI full of academy graduates.
A Luke Murphy penalty and a late Chuks Aneke goal saw the Railwaymen claim a final-day victory over Walsall, made all the more special with the fact that every one of the starters started life at the club.
Crewe’s emphasis of youth dates back to Gradi’s arrival 30 years ago and although he is no longer at the helm, Davis wasn’t about to let the club legend’s influence be ignored.
“It is brilliant to field the academy graduate players and this is what the football club is about,” Davis said.
“Gradi deserves to be out here with us, because he’s played as much of a part as we have.
“He should take great credit with the work he has done. This is the result with what he has done with the players.
“They were brought to the club and he helped them with their development and now they are playing.
“When we started the season, I could never have dreamed of us getting 64 points. We knew it was going to be very tough, but gradually we have improved and adapted to the league’s requirements.
“With a little bit more consistency as individuals and is very disappointing, because I have just seen the incident and it is not a penalty,” he said.
“I thought we played very well on a really, really tough pitch. Both teams tried to play the right way and it is great what Crewe Alexandra have done. All the work that goes on and the momentum we want to try and take into the following season is undone by a poor decision.
“It is unfortunate, but I take great pride in the run that we have had and what the players have given me all season. But full credit to Crewe – they fielded a team full of academy graduates.”
LOAN STAR: Crewe’s Chuks Aneke