After the agony and the ecstasy, something of an anti-climax. Brentford finally won promotion to the second tier last season after an absence of 21 years, having missed out in the dying seconds of the previous campaign and then losing a play-off final. Things were far more low-key yesterday, although their supporters went home happy after a late goal rescued a draw they barely deserved.
There are worse results than a share of the spoils in the first game at a higher level, even against a team that only just avoided relegation last season. It provides a dose of reality but you still get a point. However, Brentford had lost their way after a bright start and were lucky not to be more than 1-0 down before substitute Tommy Smith, who has played in the Premier League for three different clubs, scored a deflected goal five minutes from time.
“He’s 34 but he’s a clever player who will get fitter in the next few weeks,” Mark Warburton, the Bees manager, said. “I’m disappointed that we didn’t play as we wanted to but it was testament to the players that we came back. We have a lot of young players and it was a big ask for them. Charlton were very direct but teams are not going to come here and let us play and we have to learn from that.”
Both goals, in fact, were scored by debutants who have known better things. One of 10 new Charlton signings, Igor Vetokele, an Angola-born, Belgium-qualified forward who has exchanged the Champions’ League with FC Copenhagen for the Championship, put the visitors ahead after 64 minutes.
Charlton manager Bob Peeters had mixed feelings about his own debut as a manager in England after spells at Beveren, Gent and Cercle Brugge in Belgium – and two years as a Millwall player. “If you get a point away from home you’re normally satisfied,” he said. “We expected pressure in the first 25 minutes and we were very good in the second half. We needed to make it 2-0 and we would have clinched the game, but it’s a law in football that you must take your chances. But it’s the most important thing that you create chances. You don’t normally get four big chances away from home.”
Brentford began well. The impressive Alex Pritchard, on loan from Tottenham Hotspur, shot just wide from 25 yards and his pacy dribbles were too much for Yoni Buyens, who interrupted one balletic slalom at the expense of a yellow card.
What they lacked was a finishing touch to their clever play. Too often, a lone attacker was outnumbered by four defenders. And even when a deflected shot from Alan Judge sped towards the top corner of the Charlton net, former West Ham goalkeeper Stephen Henderson managed to touch the ball to safety. Perhaps that persuaded the gods of football to smile on him moments later when he misjudged Stuart Dallas’s cross only for Jonathan Douglas to fail to anticipate his error.
But Brentford, as Peeters had expected, began to run out of steam towards the interval and Charlton gained the ascendancy. Vetokele forced Brentford goalkeeper David Button to parry a shot from distance and then demanded an even better save from the goalkeeper with a far-post header, Button flinging out his left hand to deflect the ball on to the upright and relieved to see Romanian forward George Tucudean blast the rebound over the crossbar. The reprieve was temporary, though, as Vetokele was left unmarked in the 64th minute to beat the taller Button to Johnnie Jackson’s near-post corner from the right and head home.
Substitute Callum Harriott should have made it safe for Charlton after Vetokele beat Button in a race for a through pass, but his hurried shot hit the underside of the crossbar instead of the vacant net, and Charlton paid the price when Smith cut in from the left and his shot glanced in off his former Portsmouth team-mate Tal Ben Haim.
Brentford almost won it when Judge’s curling free-kick smacked against the bar, but Warburton knows that they must improve, although he is not sure whether he will be able to count on Adam Forshaw, the reigning League One player of the season, who was omitted from the squad after two bids of around £1.8m from Wigan Athletic, managed by his predecessor, Uwe Rösler. “If another club wants our player, pay the going rate or back off,” Warburton said. “Adam has an ankle injury but he has to get his head right before he comes back to us.”
Brentford (4-1-4-1): Button; McCormack, Tarkowski, Craig, Bidwell; Douglas; Odubajo (Tebar, h-t), Judge, Pritchard (Smith, 78), Dallas; Gray (Proschwitz, 66).
Charlton (4-4-2): Henderson; Solly, Ben Haim, Bikey, Wiggins; Gudmundsson (Fox, 90), Buyens, Jackson, Cousins (Moussa, 90); Vetokele, Tucudean (Harriott, 62).
Referee: James Adcock.
Man of the match: Vetokele (Charlton)
Match rating: 6/10