Yes We Belong! – 31/8/14

Before the season began I really thought that given the strength of our squad and the calibre of all our new signings, that we would do just fine in the Championship.

But, do you know something, despite my outward confidence I still had a few nagging doubts.

After all this was a new standard of football for a predominantly young and inexperienced team and we were venturing into the unknown, given how few of our players had actually played at that level before.

Now would seem a perfect time, as we come into the International break, to analyse exactly how well we have done after the first five Championship matches have been completed.

By the way, I still can’t write the words “International break” without smiling, as they seem so incongruous when used in conjunction with Brentford FC!

That though does lead into a serious point, which is about us realising and fully accepting that we do fully belong in this higher sphere of football, and are not impostors.

Mark Warburton has used the expression about us “playing the shirt” and not the reputation or tradition of our opponents and he is totally correct in his assertion.

We fully deserved our promotion and have totally earned the right to test ourselves in the Championship and we need to take confidence from that and express ourselves in every match.

I believe that for the most part we have, in fact, done exactly that.

We have started the majority of matches on the front foot and taken the game to the opposition.

The only time we have failed to so was in the Birmingham game where we seemed strangely overawed even when we had our full complement of players, and gave the early initiative to our visitors.

The two week gap before our next fixture allows us to take stock and also acknowledge our achievements to date.

To be eighth in the table with eight points from five games is as much, or, if truth be told, far more than most of us would have expected.

As has been stated elsewhere, we find ourselves in our highest league position since 1952, and long may that continue to be the case.

In truth, with the exception of perhaps AFC Bournemouth and maybe even Charlton we have probably yet to play any of the top teams likely to challenge for honours.

But, in reality, nobody really knows at this early point of the season where anybody is going to finish.

Teams are still bedding in new players, managers and systems and the table hasn’t settled down yet.

I was impressed with Charlton’s solidity as I thought they might have been a soft touch, but the two tag team wrestlers in the centre of their defence kept us largely at bay and after they withstood our early onslaught we did well to recover and take a point.

AFC Bournemouth was perhaps our most important challenge to date, as we proved that we could compete on a level playing field with one of the best footballing teams in the division.

We lost narrowly, but deserved far better.

Blackpool proved that we could dominate and win a match in the Championship and the confidence flooded through our veins – players and supporters alike.

Again, this was a bit of a wake up call as, for all the home team’s failings and inadequacies, it was a tight match which we did our best to throw away with some profligate over passing in dangerous areas in the last few minutes.

But we won, and were finally off the mark.

Birmingham City was a curate’s egg of a performance.

We started slowly and got even worse after Tony Craig’s slovenly defending left us both a goal down and a man short.

But for David Button’s brilliance and Birmingham’s profligacy in front of goal, we would and should have been three down at the interval with the match well and truly over and done with.

Instead, Birmingham let us off the hook, gave us the initiative, and we grew into the game and started playing our game.

We ran rings around a limited team after the break and fully deserved a share of the points given to us by a beautifully taken late equaliser by Moses Odubajo.

Rotherham on Saturday was a total tactical triumph, where we drew the sting out of a direct but limited home team who seem to have regressed from the pugnacious but clever side who powered their way to promotion.

We had too much pace and ability for them to live with and picked them off on the break.

It was also illuminating to compare how the two promoted teams have prepared for the challenge of the Championship.

Rotherham have undertaken a trolley dash, bringing in a mixed bag of experienced journeymen professionals and have gone totally long ball in their approach.

Brentford have, if anything, gone even more purist and are trying to play out from the back and have placed their faith predominantly in emerging young talent.

I am not going to consider either of the Capital One Cup ties, as the Dagenham game was a freak occurrence and we played several of our unused squad players against Fulham.

So what have we learned in the first five games?

Firstly, that we can definitely compete at this level.

Every game has been tight, closely fought, and could have gone either way.

Nobody has hammered us, or even dominated us for long spells, neither, conversely, have we blown anybody away.

Mistakes are punished ruthlessly, as as been demonstrated in most matches, and you have to score when you are on top, as chances are at a premium.

Ball possession is paramount and you give it away cheaply at your peril, as you run the risk of not seeing it again for quite a while.

We have played a 4-1-4-1 formation with Douglas protecting the back four, and all the midfielders tasked with breaking forward to support the lone striker.

Away from home it has worked a treat as we are blessed with pace in abundance, although I was somewhat surprised to hear Alan McCormack state in a recent interview that he felt we had more pace last season.

Of course we no longer have Clayton Donaldson’s lung bursting runs, but Gray, Dallas, Pritchard, Judge and Odubajo are all fully capable of turning defence into attack in an instance and of getting into the box.

At home, where opposing teams sit deeper and invite us onto them, it is a different matter.

We are better and more dangerous on the counter attack and I believe that we might need to change the system at home and sacrifice a midfielder and play a second supporting striker.

Otherwise goals might well be hard to come by at Griffin Park.

What is not in any doubt is our team spirit, commitment and refusal to give in.

We believe in the style of football that has been drilled into us, because it works, and have resisted any temptation to go long and pump balls up to a targetman – not that we often play with one.

The players have also stepped up to the mark and proven that they are up to the challenge.

Saturday’s first clean sheet was long overdue and will have filled the defence with confidence.

David Button has certainly come of age in goal.

His distribution is crucial to our game but, more than that, he finally looks as if he is beginning to grasp just how talented he is and how he has the perfect build to dominate in aerial challenges.

Alan McCormack and Jake Bidwell are both reliable and consistent and have settled down quickly.

McCormack has proved his detractors wrong and is just as solid as ever.

Nico Yennaris will have to be patient and bide his time for his opportunity.

More intriguing is the battle for the central defensive positions, where, as I stated in a earlier blog, three into two doesn’t go.

Harlee Dean is a new man, fully fit at last, and having been restored to the team, it remains to be seen if he can hold off the stern challenge of the newly deposed Tony Craig, who has also been a model of consistency.

James Tarkowski is a strong defender and his composure and accurate passing are also key to our ball retention and commitment to playing the ball out from the back.

However, he does switch off and lose concentration once every game, and this will prove costly unless he can learn to eradicate these errors.

The Adam Forshaw situation remarkably remains ongoing at the time of writing, but I’m sure that Wigan will finally get the transfer over the line.

The saga can’t have helped us and I’m sure we didn’t bank on losing him quite this soon, but the Brentford juggernaut marches on unscathed, and Adam was seemlessly replaced by Jota and Toral before he had even left the building.

Midfield is where we are at our strongest.

A truly remarkable turn around given our traditional shortcomings in this area.

Douglas just gets better and his contribution is priceless.

Judge and Pritchard are tricky and incisive and whilst Jota and Toral are still easing their way in, their ability is obvious.

Tebar and a revitalised Diagouraga remain as cover and our strength in depth meant that the promising Jake Reeves was released to allow him to develop and play at Swindon Town – some small recompense for our having taken the cream of their crop in Douglas, McCormack and Pritchard!

Moses Odubajo, our first, but not last million pound signing, is class personified and has also demonstrated his versatility by playing well at fullback as well as on the wing.

He will be frightening when fully fit.

A word of praise too for Stuart Dallas who has fought for his place and improves with every game and is a real goal threat.

Tommy Smith is good to have around the squad too, as he knows the Championship from top to bottom and serves as a teacher, mentor and overall good example.

As we head towards the Transfer Deadline at the end of the month, I am sure Mark Warburton and his brains trust of David Weir, Matthew Benham and Frank McParland are deep in conversation about whether to stick or twist.

We are already trying to assimilate eleven new signings into the club and our way of doing things, but the horrific sounding injury to Scott Hogan means that another striker might be needed.

Andre Gray received the fillip of scoring his first Championship, or indeed, Football League, goal at Rotherham and he is visibly gaining in confidence.

Nick Proschwitz too will benefit from opening his account and he offers us something totally different with his strength and ability to hold the ball up.

Young Montell Moore made an astonishing debut at Dagenham with a goal and a couple of assists, but he is one for the future.

As for poor Scott Hogan, we will just have to wait and see.

I was particularly excited when we signed him as I was well aware of his ability, and I am sure he will prove to be a massive asset once we get him fit and back on the pitch.

It is also possible that we might be looking for some extra defensive cover before the window slams shut.

A left sided centre half who can also cover at left back might prove to be a worthwhile asset.

As you can tell from what I have written, I feel that we have settled down exceptionally well in the Championship and shown that we can cope with the new challenge, and, indeed, so far, we have taken it in our stride

But I am not in the slightest bit complacent.

There will be some tough challenges ahead and I am quite sure that we might well be on the wrong end of some hidings.

Most importantly, we have adapted our style of football and have remained totally positive in our approach.

As long as we continue in this vein and concentrate on playing our style of football, we will be just fine.

Perhaps we need some more firepower and certainly, some additional bodies up front, but the auspices for the rest of the season are excellent.

We are not in the slightest bit out of place and we fully belong in the Championship.

And one final point.

We have accomplished all of this without the services of long term injury victim and talisman, Sam Saunders!

Get fit and well soon, Sam, we really miss you!


2 thoughts on “Yes We Belong! – 31/8/14

  1. it is a bit like living in a dream at the moment. Compared to last time we went up… well, I’d like to see this year’s team play the 92/93 side every week….although we could certainly do with a Gary Blissett.

    I just hope that someone is tasked with making sure nothing untoward happens to Matthew Benham, because if it does, or if he decides to bail out….

    But enougjh of that. We are definitely good enough, More wins than losses at the moment -not sure how long that will last and still haven’t played the best in this division, but certainly don’t seem like relegation fodder at the moment, so the dream continues…


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