The Grass Isn’t Always Greener – 30/1/15

fThere might well be an old friend playing against us on Saturday but most likely Adam Forshaw will start the game on the substitutes’ bench and it will be interesting to hear what sort of welcome and reception that he receives from the aficionados on New Road.

His move from Wigan to Middlesbrough was described to me this morning by another Bees fan as “just another rat leaving the sinking ship.” Harsh but maybe accurate as he played a mere seventeen matches for Wigan and remained there for only five months before moving on.

It all looked so good for him when he left Brentford, but his dream move turned sour very quickly and he has explained his recent whirlwind state of affairs in an interview published on the Middlesbrough website today:

I had two great years at Brentford.We went very close in my first year there by getting to the play-off final. Unfortunately we missed out, but the following season we went one better and went up as runners-up. I know Brentford have a lot of good players but I am honestly surprised to see them doing so well this season.

People keep saying they will fall off but they are not showing any signs of it, so all respect to them, including the staff and players and everyone there. They will be tough opposition on Saturday. Their home ground is a bit of a fortress to them, so we’ll have to be really ready. They get about 12,000 fans and they are really close to the pitch. They are a good set of fans and they are a really good football team, but I am more than confident that we can go there and get a result.

 It’s been a strange last five days or so, it hasn’t been great on the pitch with Wigan and off it there have a few problems with the reshaping of the squad. When I found out an offer was being made, and that a bid had been accepted, then I was really looking forward to the challenge of coming to Middlesbrough. 

I loved my two years at Brentford. We got promoted and when I found out that Wigan wanted me, I was over the moon. I believed it was going to be a great move, something that would be good for my career. Unfortunately, it proved not to be. It was a tough five or six months and, like I said, when this chance arose I grabbed it with both hands. We were having a bad time on the pitch. They were some great players there and a lot of people say they can’t understand why they are in that position. It’s hard to put your finger on it. Putting that to one side, I’m now a Middlesbrough player and I’m relishing the challenge here. First and foremost, I know how big a club this is. Watching from afar, the style of play is really encouraging. That excites you. I’m a midfielder that likes to play football so to be coming into a team like this is really exciting.

Forshaw is just the latest player to join the brain drain or, less charitably, fire sale from Wigan and follows Callum McManaman, Roger Espinoza, Ben Watson and Shaun Maloney out of the exit door from the DW Stadium. Either they are clearing the decks and ridding themselves of all their prime sellable assets and top earners in preparation for a rocky road ahead and likely relegation to the First Division, or this is Malky Mackay’s last gasp effort to build a team in his own image that will keep them in the Championship.

As for Forshaw I hoped that he would realise that he would benefit from another year of seasoning at Brentford but his comments above make it clear that he did not expect us to perform as well as we have done and his head was turned and he felt that he was bettering himself by virtue of his move to Wigan.

Once Forshaw had made it clear that he wanted to leave and that his mind was made up, I really admired the way we handled a difficult situation that could easily have turned nasty, as we effectively put him on gardening leave, isolated him from the rest of the squad and concentrated solely on extracting the maximum value for him from Wigan. The deal was fiddly and protracted, and if we are to believe the rumourmongers, involved Wigan negotiating away the 50% sell-on clause we had with Everton, and all ended happily. We received top dollar for a young player who had cost us nothing and Wigan won the services of an exceptional talent.

What’s happened since hasn’t gone totally according to the script. We have gathered strength and momentum and barely missed him given our undoubted strength in depth in midfield and Forshaw surprisingly struggled to make any impact in an underperforming Wigan team and was in and out off he team. He was stationed in front of his back four when we played at Wigan and looked a mere shadow of the dominating presence that we had been accustomed to see at Griffin Park.

I can understand his desire to leave us even if I don’t entirely agree with it and despite the temporary upset it caused us I suspect and indeed hope that the move to Middlesbrough revitalises him as Forshaw is far too good a player to be struggling to make his mark in the Championship.

As it is he is still simply one more example of the Curse of Griffin Park and muddled thinking. Adam Forshaw is one more in an ever-growing list of players who thought the grass would be greener away from Griffin Park.

Simon Moore’s career has stood still over the past couple of seasons and he has played far fewer games than his talent has warranted. He is more than young and good enough to come again but he needs to play regularly at Championship level, something that would have happened had he remained at Bremtford.

Harry Forrester is the saddest case of all as Brentford and Doncaster have passed each other like ships in the night and, despite his gifts, he is now no more than an injury prone winger playing for an average First Division club who bursts into life and illuminates matches with his sheer ability far too infrequently. He made an cataclysmically poor decision to leave Brentford and it is one that I suspect haunts him to this day when he looks ruefully at how far we have progressed and how his career has gone backwards and become stymied.

A couple of months ago I would have added Clayton Donaldson to the Hall of Shame as both he and his new club, Birmingham City had both started the season slowly, but the Blues have recovered under Gary Rowett’s inspired leadership and Clayton has scored an impressive ten league goals and now resembles the dynamic, powerful leader of the line that we so enjoyed throughout his three years at Griffin Park.

The message to me is clear. Footballers have a short and unpredictable career and it is quite understandable that they seek to better themselves and maximise their earnings. But sometimes the seemingly obvious move is not in their long term best interest and it is best to simply do nothing.

I hope that our current crop of stars have learned from the examples above that given our rapid rise up the totem pole, our increasing profile, the quality of the coaching they receive  and the way in which we play the game, Brentford is a fitting and appropriate place for them to hone, develop and show off their burgeoning abilities and that the grass is not necessarily greener elsewhere.

Advertisements

Premier League – More Than a Pipedream! – 27/1/15

Stadium 2One of the many privileges of being involved with the recent Brentford 125th Anniversary Book was being able to read at first hand all the original press clippings about the club’s incredible rise from the depths of the Third Division to the top of the First in what seemed no more than a twinkling of an eye. The parallels between then and now are eerie, as an enlightened chairman discovered a manager from far out in left field, invested his total trust and faith in him and gave him the support and wherewithal to rebuild his squad from top to bottom, initially bringing in unheralded players from footballing outposts such as Middlesbrough. A reborn and revitalised team then swept all before them and completed their triumphant journey with promotion to the First Division in 1935.

Not content with that incredible achievement, they swept everyone aside and, over the next four seasons, they not only established themselves at the top level of the game but the Bees consistently challenged for the title playing a swaggering brand of attacking football with the team now buoyed by the arrival of a number of top international players who gelled into one of the best teams in the country. There is a marvellous clipping in the book which discusses with total sincerity the possibility of the Bees achieving a First Division Championship and FA Cup double. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be as the Second World War came at a time when Brentford were on the verge of greatness, with packed crowds at Griffin Park the rule rather than the exception, but by the time that peace was restored our time had come and gone, the money had run out and the team had grown too old to compete at that rarified level again.

The point to be emphasised is that Brentford have already created the precedent of rising from the third tier of English football to the top, albeit eighty years ago, and why shouldn’t we repeat that feat this year, as we are currently threatening to do? Who knows whether we can maintain our promotion challenge, but here we are, twenty-eight games into the season and we find ourselves in fourth place in the table, after a run of thee consecutive wins, two away from home, and with our previously disbelieving supporters finally beginning to accept that we are for real and that 2015 could actually be the year when history repeats itself.

All will be revealed over the next three months and let me just put things firmly into context by stating that whatever happens from now on this will still go down in history as one of the most amazing, incredible and memorable seasons in the club’s long and august history.

Over the course of the past couple of months there have apparently been some long and detailed talks between the club and the Premier League purely on a “what if” basis regarding the feasibility and suitability of Griffin Park hosting Premier League football should Brentford actually achieve promotion this season. Potential ground shares have also been considered however, despite there being no official announcement, I would guess that the club will decide to remain at Griffin Park if humanly possible should the unthinkable happen.

The last time we reached the pinnacle of the game Griffin Park was able to cram in almost forty thousand spectators, and contemporary photographs show quite clearly how densely packed the spectators were, with children passed down over the heads of other supporters to stand safely at the front of the terraces.

The average attendance throughout our previous spell in the First Division was around twenty-five thousand, which put the club on a par with the majority of its opponents,  however given the dictates of health and safety and the fact that the standing accommodation at the ground has been massively reduced, the capacity at Griffin Park is now no more than around twelve thousand, a figure that would be reduced even further if we were forced to become an all-seater stadium, as would be the case in the Premier League.

Griffin Park would comfortably be the smallest stadium ever to host Premier League football with Swindon, Blackpool and Oldham Athletic the previous holders of this unenviable record and Oldham averaged gates of just over twelve thousand in the last two of their three seasons in the Premier League.

The dressing rooms, floodlights, media and hospitality facilities at Griffin Park, whilst benefiting from recent upgrades and refurbishment, are totally in the dark ages compared with the majority of the top level clubs with their sleek and well-appointed new stadia and I am sure that the moguls at the Premier League preface their daily prayers with a special entreaty for the Bees not to darken their doors, at least until our new stadium at Lionel Road becomes a reality.

Personally I feel that our promotion would demonstrate that good football, positive management and careful planning can reap its justified rewards and I think that we would be a total breath of fresh air and revitalise what is so often a dull and predictable division, just as Blackpool did under Ian Holloway when they played an expansive brand of attacking football that embarrassed so many of their so called betters and almost led them to survival on the last day of a momentous season.

If you examine the European football scene there are also precedents that should fill us all with hope and prove that the promised land is no chimera. You need look no further than Sassuolo and Eibar who are both thriving in the top division of their respective leagues despite their lack of resources and infrastructure. Sassuolo are funded by one of Italy’s most prominent industrialists, Giorgio Squinzi who first invested in them in 2002 when they were homeless and semi-professional. Under his direction his team, despite coming from a town of less than forty thousand inhabitants, has risen to Serie A with their success based on a tight knit group of  young home grown players.

The Eibar story is even more astonishing. A tiny town in the Basque Country with a stadium holding just over five thousand supporters, they have been brilliantly managed by Gaizka Garitano and been promoted in just two seasons from the third division of Spanish football to La Liga. Despite a playing budget that would be sniffed at by many fourth tier teams in England they have built up a squad of mainly home produced players and developed a close-knit sense of togetherness that has enabled them to defeat technically far better teams.

jotaThey have also been assisted by some well selected loanees, such as Jota, who helped earn them promotion last season by scoring eleven goals from midfield. Eibar are the smallest club to reach the top flight and only eight teams in England’s top four divisions had a smaller average attendance than the Spanish side’s 2,901.

Jota is quick to see the parallels between his current and previous club:

There are a lot of similarities with Eibar and Brentford. No one expected Eibar to go up and no one thought Brentford would be this high in the table. But, hopefully, we can maintain our form and repeat what we achieved at Eibar last season. It is not going to be easy to stay in the position we are in but we are capable of fighting for promotion.

So fairy tales can come true, as has been proved recently in both Italy and Spain, and maybe next it will be Brentford who turn dreams into reality.

No Regrets! – 25/1/15

So where will you be at 4pm this afternoon? All I can say for certain is that none of us will be at Griffin Park eagerly awaiting the kick off for what would have been the first competitive meeting between Brentford and Arsenal since the 26th May 1947.

I wrote an article straight after our defeat by Brighton in the FA Cup Third Round entitled “Blessing in Disguise?” (http://tinyurl.com/omn2ppd) in which I discussed the pros and cons of our going out of the competition at such an early stage. I lamented the fact that we were missing the chance to test ourselves against one of the country’s top clubs as well as the profile and finance such a tie would bring us, but I also felt that it might prove to be an unwelcome distraction from our promotion challenge, as was the case in 2013 when we carelessly dropped crucial points before the Chelsea clash and also ended up with an unwelcome backlog of fixtures.

Whatever we all think about the benefit or otherwise of the FA Cup, the decision was taken out of our hands by the concession of two late goals against Brighton, but the one thing I am certain of is that nobody connected with the club wanted the burden of a replay and to add yet another match into what is already a relentless and exhausting fixture list. As it was, Alan Judge suffered an injury late on against Brighton and losing our most influential player for an unspecified period is a serious blow and we really miss his energy and influence despite our current run of three consecutive victories without him.

Given the absence of an FA Cup tie, yesterday’s planned Championship match at Norwich therefore went ahead as originally scheduled, one of only four such games that did so, and our wonderful result at Carrow Road totally ended the argument for me, as Brentford were able to tick off yet another league match on an afternoon when most of their rivals either rested or were distracted by their presence in the FA Cup, pick up another valuable three points, and our two-one victory, incredibly, the first in the League at Norwich since 1929, elevated the Bees to fourth place in the Championship and, more importantly, threw down the gauntlet to the rest of the division.

The highlights on the Football League Show clearly demonstrated our class and pedigree. Despite a bobbly atrocity of a pitch which seemed totally incongruous given Norwich’s long established tradition for playing the beautiful game, but made far more sense when the home team’s game plan was revealed, it was Brentford who adapted perfectly to the conditions, whilst it was their hosts who hoofed the ball unceremoniously from back to front with monotonous and mind-numbing regularity and only really threatened danger on the few occasions when the will-o’- the-wisp Nathan Redmond was allowed to run at an exposed Jake Bidwell.

Despite the fact that they were flattered by the margin of their victory at Griffin Park earlier in the season, Norwich had impressed me on the night with the quality of their football when players ran effortlessly off the ball into position and they held the ball well whilst probing for opportunities, but they now seem drained of confidence and appear to have morphed into yet another long ball clone of a team, far removed from the heritage of the club, and we simply picked them off.

Mark Warburton keeps saying that it is simply up to the players to keep believing in their own ability and realise that they are where they are in the league totally on merit and fully deserve to be challenging for promotion either automatically or via the playoffs. The players seem to be totally on message given the ease with which they rolled the ball around as if playing on a bowling green, kept possession and took care of the ball and pulled their opponents out of position with apparent ease. I really have no doubts on that score, the penny has finally dropped and the players fully realise that they have every chance of achieving what at the beginning of the season was considered to be the impossible and unthinkable – return to the top division after an absence of nearly seventy years.

I really do not care a jot (or even a Jota) for the media who remain ignorant and sceptical about our progress and prospects and fully expect us to blow up at any moment and what compliments we do receive are generally patronising and grudging in the extreme, but I am really referring to us, the Brentford supporters who are understandably still finding it hard to accept and believe the evidence of our own eyes concerning what we have been privileged to watch every week since early August.

We have only been turned over by two teams, Middlesbrough and Ipswich and yet I am sure that I am by no means alone in having this nagging feeling in my stomach as I travel to every Championship fixture home or away that this might be the day when reality kicks in and we receive a thumping and are put firmly back into our place. Rationally I know that such thoughts are arrant nonsense given that we have won fifteen of our twenty-seven league matches to date and given the run of the ball, we might well have won quite a few more too.

It’s about time that we learned to trust in the ability of the team as well as the management and coaching staff. Of course we might get a few more defeats as the season continues but I can honestly say that there is no other team in our league that plays the beautiful game quite like we do.

It really doesn’t seem to matter who the opposition is or how they line up against us and whether they try to out football us or intimidate us, we just keep on playing our normal game, retaining possession of the ball, probing for weaknesses and then suddenly increasing the pace and striking at goal. Nothing seems to faze us, if the opposition scores first or equalises, as was the case yesterday, then we simply shrug our shoulders and get on with trying to score another goal.

Apropos of nothing I am reminded of the great Danny Blanchflower who, when asked about the success of his Northern Ireland team back in 1958 said: “our tactics have always been to equalise before the other team scores.”

We are a team of midgets in what often appears to be the land of the giants and yet we rarely seem to get punished for our lack of height. We are blessed with two of the finest pure footballers ever seen in a Bremtford shirt in Jota and the ever-improving Alex Pritchard who finds little pockets of space and teases the opposition like a matador with his cape before sliding precision passes that split the opposition defence asunder and sets up chances for the willing Gray, Dallas and Douglas.

We have a very simple formula: to find really talented and gifted footballers and imbue them with the freedom and confidence to attack and express themselves without fear or recriminations.

After yesterday’s latest victory, Mark Warburton calmly stated that this time last year Brentford were playing against Gillingham, and who we play against at the same time next year totally depends on how far the players believe they can go.

It’s not the players I worry about as they all seem to recognise that they have a date with destiny, it’s us, the fans, who need to get on board with the manager’s wise words and quickly understand and accept that this is a team with a mission and one that more than possesses the quality to achieve all of its aims and ambitions.

 

Thanks To All Of You! – 23/1/15

bkI wrote my first BFC Talk blog on 19th June 2014 and this will be my 161st.

If I had known what I was letting myself in for then I seriously doubt if I would have started but thankfully, I did, and since that day the blog has become an ever increasingly important part of my life as it allows me to write pretty much anything I want whenever I want on one of my favourite subjects – Oh alright then, I will admit it, a major obsession of mine – Brentford FC.

More importantly, it has allowed me to communicate with and hopefully touch the lives to a small degree, of so many fellow obsessives who share my passion for this incredible football club.

I have also totally lucked out as I have been fortunate enough to choose to chronicle one of the most momentous seasons in the club’s existence, one in which everything has begun to come together and one in which the sky is pretty much the limit for our ambitions.

Today I simply wanted to say a heartfelt “thank you” to everyone who has taken the time and trouble to read anything that I have written over the past seven months. I had a look at the statistics earlier today and there have been over 43,000 views of the blog, a devilish 666 comments posted and almost 600 people follow my site every day and receive email updates. Some of them even read it from time to time!

These are incredible numbers which bear testament to the massively increasing levels of interest in the club, and our supporter numbers are growing by the month as we begin to emerge from under the radar where we have skulked for far too long, and people finally realise that we are for real.

On a personal level, I feel truly humbled and will continue to do my best to keep the blog going and find interesting topics to write about.

Please let me know what you would like me to cover – match previews and reports, player profiles, or perhaps more nostalgic and retrospective pieces harking back to our dim and distant past. If you tell me your preferences and even specific topics and subjects then I will do my best to write on demand and provide you all with what you would best like to read.

Similarly if anybody would like to write an article, answer some questions or provide their own viewpoint on Brentford, then I would be delighted to receive any contributions as I have done from people such as Donald Kerr, Billy Reeves and several other supporters.

rlNow please excuse me for blowing my own trumpet just a little bit, but I do have some special news to impart to you all. Richard Lee was kind enough to introduce me just before Christmas to the publishers of his wonderful book “Graduation” and much to my delight, surprise and no small amount of pride, Bennion Kearny have agreed to publish my articles in book and ebook form soon after the end of the season.

Richard Lee has also undertaken to write his own review of the season from a player’s perspective so hopefully the book will provide both an insider’s and an outsider’s view of this memorable and unforgettable season.

I signed the contract just the other day and the provisional title of the book is currently “Brentford FC’s Magical Year: 2014-2015″  but I am sure that between us we can all do a bit better than that and I would really welcome any suggestions for a snappier and more appropriate title.

Thanks for taking the time to read this self-indulgent burbling and I promise to be back on track again in a day or so and await your comments and suggestions with bated breath.

Half Time Report – Part 3 – 22/1/15

mirallasDid any Brentford supporter see that photograph of Kevin Mirallas and Leighton Baines squabbling over who was going to take a crucial penalty kick against West Brom on Monday night and not break into a cold sweat and cast their mind back to that truly horrible day in April 2013 when…… you know exactly what I am referring to, and I am not going to dredge up any more ghastly memories of the pre-penalty contretemps between Kevin O’Connor, Marcello Trotta, Bradley Wright-Phillips and Clayton Donaldson and what transpired afterwards.

Anyway, back to the player reviews and I fully expect to finish off my half time report in this article.

23. Jota

I just love it when the Bees sign players with just one name like Betinho and, of course, Jota, or José Peleteiro Ramallo, to give him his full name, who signed in August from Real Club Celta de Vigo for an undisclosed fee rumoured to be in excess of a million pounds. Jota is another indication that Brentford’s ambition and aim to be in the big time as he is a wonderfully talented inside forward who has a left foot that could open a tin can. The ball appears to be glued to his foot as he brings it under instantaneous control and is already on the move, head up, looking at the options he can choose from. He is a wonderful proponent of the lost art of dribbling as he glides past opponents with effortless ease. Mainly playing in an advanced wide right role, he can move inside menacingly and shoot from distance with that wand of a left foot as Fulham can attest. His injury time winner against our rivals would have ensured him hero status in his lifetime even if he wasn’t the most extravagantly gifted player I have ever seen wearing a Brentford shirt. He took a while to settle down in his new surroundings, Mark Warburton eased him in gently, and he also benefited from having other Spanish speakers around him in the squad, but it was quite obvious that he was a special talent and he introduced himself with a flourish by scoring a goal against Leeds of quite stunning quality, when he killed the ball instantly, somehow found space in a packed penalty area, dropped his shoulder, left two defenders on their backside and carefully found the roof of the net, all in less time than it has taken me to describe his achievement. He has already scored six times in eighteen starts and his long range effort at Cardiff where he found the top corner of the net with unerring accuracy was another eye opener. Tackling and pressing were alien concepts to him but he has learned quickly that there is no such thing as a luxury player in the Brentford team and he has learned how to do his fair share of the necessary dirty stuff off the ball and his determination to chase a lost cause towards the corner flag led to Lewis Dunk losing his cool, pushing the Spaniard to the ground and fully earning his second yellow card. Yes, he can drift out of games and run out of steam soon after the hour mark, but Jota is becoming a greater influence on matches and now attracts the close attention of his opponents, this providing extra room and space for his teammates. Alan Judge has monopolised free kicks close to goal up until now with Alex Pritchard generally in close attention but I suspect that Jota might also have something to contribute in this area. I never saw Johnny Brooks play and up until now Stan Bowles, who was in the twilight of his career, was without doubt the most skilful player I had ever had the privilege to see play for Brentford, but in a few short months Jota has easily taken over that mantle.

24. Tommy Smith

Tommy is the epitome of the good pro. A player of vast experience with over 550 games to his credit mainly at the Premier League and Championship level, at thirty-four year of age he has been brought in as much for his off field influence and as a good example as for what he can contribute on the pitch itself. He has only started one match and probably played a bit less than he either wanted or expected but he has made several valuable contributions when coming on as a late substitute, none more so than his late deflected equaliser on the opening day of the season that saved Brentford from what would otherwise have been a demoralising home defeat by Charlton. He has also made goals for Jon Toral and Jonathan Douglas. He might have lost a little pace but he is still an exceptionally clever player who reads the game well, makes intelligent runs and does not give the ball away cheaply. He is the perfect player to bring on to help hold onto a lead and close the game out. He is exactly what we need this season, a player who has vast experience and knows the Championship inside out and understands what is expected of him. He has played his role to perfection.

25. Raphael Calvet

Given his pedigree one would have hoped that he would have earned an opportunity by now but it hasn’t happened for the young French defender as of yet although he did well in the preseason games. He is not yet twenty-one and time is on his side. Calvet is tough and skilful but needs to get the chance to demonstrate his ability and get some experience of the Football League. Ideally he will get the opportunity for a loan move and benefit from it as much as Alfie Mawson has done from his spell at Wycombe Wanderers.

26. James Tarkowski

The season hasn’t really taken off for James Tarkowski as everyone, himself included, would surely have expected. He was a colossus in the second part of last season when his anticipation, strength and excellent use of the ball ensured that he cemented his position alongside Tony Craig and he started the season as first choice ahead of Harlee Dean. He played reasonably well but never touched the heights of last season and his performances were punctuated by careless errors and Ill-discipline. He was guilty of overplaying against Norwich which helped contribute towards the crucial opening goal, he conceded an unfortunate penalty at Watford when he made a needless challenge and his penalty kick against Leeds is probably still in orbit. He lost his place after being suspended for five bookings, some unfortunate, others a bit silly on his part and Harlee Dean seized his opportunity. Harlee had to wait for two months to get back into the team and after a couple of rusty performances now looks as if he is getting back to his best form. We now have three excellent central defenders competing for two spots in the team plus perhaps the possibility of a new face arriving before the end of the transfer window and James will need to be at his best in order to keep his place.

27. David Button

It has taken a bit of time but even the most grudging Brentford fans are finally realising just how good their goalkeeper is. Button has played every Championship match, kept seven clean sheets, and his shot stopping ability has come increasingly to the fore. Who can forget the reflex saves against Birmingham and Rotherham that helped win us crucial points and he has conceded very few soft goals. He could still command his six yard box better and does not use his physique as much as he surely should. Where he stands out is in his distribution. He sets the tone for our possession-led style and rarely kicks the ball long unless forced to do so, or if he can see the opportunity to set Andre Gray free with a quick clearance. He invariably rolls or kicks the ball short to a waiting defender and sets us on our way. From time to time it can misfire with disastrous consequences, as it did against Norwich, Fulham and Ipswich but more often than not we retain possession, probe for gaps and start an attack thanks to Button’s initial clearance. Button has grown in confidence as he has finally established himself as a first choice keeper after a multitude of loan spells and his improvement over the past half season has been massive and he has become one of the most reliable keepers in this division.

28. Nico Yennaris

The season has been a frustrating write-off so far for the young defender as he was forced off with an injury early on at Dagenham and has barely been seen since. He took time to recover, scored an excellent goal at Swansea for the Development Squad and eventually forced his way back onto the substitutes’ bench. He came on for a brief appearance as a substitute against Brighton in the FA Cup just long enough to admire the visitors’ two goals. At twenty-one Nico still has plenty of time to stake his claim either as a right back or defensive midfielder but he would have hoped to have been higher up the food chain after spending a year at the club.

33. Montell Moore

Montell made a memorable debut as an eighteen year old at Dagenham, scoring a well taken goal from the edge of the penalty area and assisting on three others. He has also sat on the bench six times without being called upon. He is a quick striker with an eye for goal and he has earned a new three year contract, proof indeed of the faith the club has in him. He has just been sent on loan to FC Midtjylland in Denmark on loan where he will gain valuable experience Definitely one for the future.

39. Nick Proschwitz

German striker Nick Proschwitz was not rumoured to be our first choice but joined the Bees in August on a free transfer from Hull City just before the first game of the season. He has only started one match in the absence of the injured Andre Gray at Blackpool and has invariably appeared as a late substitute. He scored a late tap-in to clinch the win at Rotherham but has otherwise struggled to make a contribution and generally looked off the pace. He has failed to demonstrate any potency in front of goal or the ability to hold the ball up consistently and he missed two gilt-edged late opportunities to win the Sheffield Wednesday match. The jury is still out although it must be hard for him to make an impact when he is only given the odd few minutes to impress on the pitch.

Finally, a few words of praise for Mark Warburton, David Weir, Simon Royce, Kevin O’Connor and the rest of the back room staff. We have totally surpassed everyone’s expectations except perhaps for theirs and they have imbued the players with confidence and self-belief and simply encouraged them to play football and remain positive at all times. Long may they continue to do so and given good luck with injuries there is no reason why we shouldn’t maintain our progress and success over the second half of the season.

Half Term Report – Part 2 – 20/1/15

I covered the first half of the Brentford squad last week and am now giving my analysis of the performances of some of the other players to date:

15. Stuart Dallas

Rodney Dangerfield was a famous American comedian and actor best known for his catchphrase “I don’t get no respect!” and I can imagine that Stuart Dallas might well entirely agree with his sentiment. Whilst I am certain that his contribution is valued by his manager and team mates, many supporters seem to give him short shrift and totally underestimate him despite his massive achievements to date this season. Never an automatic first choice, Stuart has scored four vital goals in only seven starts plus eleven appearances from the bench. The winning goal at Blackpool when he chased a lost cause and panicked the defender into an error, an incredible right footed volley into the roof of the Derby net which came out of nowhere and gave us a win that set us off on a long run of victories, a perfectly placed side footed goal which sealed the win against Wolves and another classic volleyed winner against Rotherham. Add to that the assists for Harlee Dean’s equaliser against Fulham and Andre Gray’s winner at Brighton and you can see just how much he has contributed to the team’s efforts this season. He also looked very comfortable when moved to an emergency right back role at Nottingham Forest. Stuart is a right footer playing on the left and is a constant danger when cutting in onto his favourite foot. He is good in the air, powerful and far quicker than he looks. He needs to track back more and support Bidwell better but for a youngster who has started a mere handful of league matches he is a quick learner and has shown that he is more than good enough to contribute at this level of the game. I expect him to become a regular starter.

16. Jack Bonham

Jack Bonham has quietly just got on with learning the game out of the spotlight of public scrutiny and has done enough on the training ground and in Development Squad games to earn a three year contract extension, proof indeed of the faith that the management team has in him and his potential to develop into a Championship calibre goalkeeper. The consistency of David Button has made the position of reserve goalkeeper a thankless one this season but, with the imminent retirement of Richard Lee, it is crucial that Brentford have somebody ready and capable of stepping in when the need arises as well as keeping the pressure on Button. Button’s massive improvement over the past year can partially be put down to the competition he faced from Richard Lee to keep his place and Bonham will need to do a similar job. Bonham was given a rare start against Brighton in the FA Cup and looked like a carbon copy of Button in terms of his desire to release the ball quickly and accurately to his defenders. He made a couple of decent saves, held onto a difficult cross under extreme pressure and also nearly made a hash of an effort from O’Grady that he failed to stop cleanly but the luck was him him as it inched past the upright. He looked exactly what he is, a player of raw potential who still needs a lot of seasoning. It will be interesting to see if he sits on the bench for the remainder of the season or if a more experienced keeper is brought in which would then allow Bonham to go out on loan and get some games under his belt.

17. Jon Toral

I remember thinking when we managed to sign Steve Sidwell on loan from Arsenal back in 2001 that it was a sign that we were a club on the rise and one to whom the big clubs would entrust their emerging talent. I had exactly the same feeling when Jon Toral arrived from the same club, but there is a key difference. Arsenal never really thought that Sidwell would make it at Highbury whereas The Gunners still have high hopes for Toral. As soon as he arrived at the club I spoke to an Arsenal fan  about him. This was at the time when the Adam Forshaw transfer saga was being being played out. It was obvious that he would leave Griffin Park, and it was simply been a question of ensuring that we were properly recompensed. “But how is Toral going to replace him” I asked and was immediately told that he was going to be even better than someone who had just been voted Division One Player of the Season. A likely story, I thought until I saw Toral play. At nineteen he has everything going for him as he has height, strength, skill on the ball, finishing ability, the ability to read the game, some pace and a little bit of devil in him too. He is mature beyond his years and it is no coincidence that our results became far more consistent after he had forced his way into the team at the end of October. He has scored two well taken goals, entered Brentford folklore with a howler of a miss at Brighton that will merit disbelieving replays for years to come and, more importantly, he has become an important cog in the wheel. We are good for his development and he is certainly good for us. Maybe, just maybe, we can sign him on a permanent basis, but I suspect that that is simply my wishful thinking rather than a view based on reality.

18. Alan Judge

Football is a game of opinions but I still find it hard to believe that Blackburn Rovers made the judgement call that Alan Judge wasn’t good enough to play regularly for them and allowed him to join us for a fee that has been estimated to be around £250,000. What a bargain, and he has been without a shadow of doubt our best and most influential player this season. Alan had a wonderful loan spell with us last season when he mainly played out wide on the left flank and he contributed greatly to our promotion with his goals, energy and accurate crosses, if not his penalty taking! Everything changed with the departure of Adam Forshaw and Alan was switched to a more central role to fill the gap, and he has taken to his new responsibilities with total aplomb. He is a human dynamo who never stops running and harrying, a terrier in human form, who inspires and chivvies his team mates in equal doses. Alan’s long passing is accurate and incisive as is evidenced by Moses Odubajo’s goal against Brighton and Andre Gray’s against Wolves when he split the opposition defence wide open. Something has to give and Alan’s goal tally has fallen away with only one goal scored to date, but eight assists and his energy and ability to keep the ball moving and to switch the focus of the play is more than compensation. Alan took a knock against Brighton a fortnight ago and we all hope that he is not out of action for too long as despite our last two victories he is already sorely missed.

19. Andre Gray

Let’s review our striking situation in more detail. The three main strikers from last season, Clayton Donaldson, Will Grigg and Marcello Trotta, whose goals helped us win promotion, have all left the club on either a temporary or permanent basis, two of our new signings aimed at filling the gap have barely featured owing to a combination of long-term injury and an inability to fit in to our system and our third new striker had played a grand total of four league games back in 2009 for Shrewsbury, in one of which he replaced Nathan Elder. And yet here we are with a highly respectable forty-two goals under our belt and the unknown striker has now reached double figures for the season. Talk about a gamble paying off! Andre Gray has been nothing less than sensational as he has seized the opportunity provided to him by Scott Hogan’s injury and established himself in the team. Strong, rangy and pacy, he showed his striking ability in preseason with well taken goals against Nice and Crystal Palace. He took time to settle down and learn to play the lone striker role demanded of him and cope with being bullied by giant defenders, but it all clicked into gear in November, and he has scored eight times in his last twelve league games. Of course he misses a lot too, as Brighton can attest, but he is sharp and predatory and a constant menace to defences. His goals against Derby and Millwall bear testimony to his coolness in front of goal and clinical finishing. Our initial investment of around £600,000 now looks as if it is an absolute bargain, and he can be as good as he wants to be, given how much he has improved and progressed since the season began. The predators are already sniffing around him, but Andre is sensible enough to realise that he still has much to learn but that he is in the perfect place to develop and express himself.

20. Toumani Diagouraga

The verdict was in on Toumani, who was perceived at the start of the season to be no more than a decent squad player who often flattered to deceive and had probably found his level in Division One. It looked for a while as if he was even going to be sent to Coventry and I doubt if there were many Brentford supporters who would really have mourned his leaving. He had served us well, but perhaps his time had come and our progress had overtaken his capabilities. Toumani decided to fight for his place, kept his counsel, worked hard in training and when his chance came he took it – and, boy, did he do so. He has been our best player by far over the past three months, playing alongside Jonathan Douglas, winning the ball, covering, harrying, running with the ball and providing an impassable barrier to opposing runners.What has changed, though, is his use of the ball. He has a new found confidence and rather than always making the simple five yard pass to a colleague he now has added longer and ambitious passes to his repertoire and he seems liberated by our policy of moving the ball swiftly and changing the direction of the play. His shooting is still laughable but we can live with that. Indeed, it simply adds to his charm. Toumani is Vieira reborn. He ensured that Douglas was barely missed at Millwall and he might yet replace him should Dougie not be with us next season. His level of improvement has been staggering and his influence shows no sign of waning.

21. Alex Pritchard

I hated Alex Pritchard when he played against us last season. A preening show pony who dived and and moaned his way through Swindon’s narrow victory over us but I also took note of his quick feet, two footedness, vision and rapier like ability to split a defence with one pass. When we followed our customary practice of signing Swindon’s best player I welcomed his arrival, but saw him more as a left winger. Little did I know that he was going to become a central midfielder who is becoming an increasing influence in every game he plays. Of course not everything he tries comes off and he needs to learn that sometimes the simple pass is the best option without having his imagination and sense of invention stifled, but he is becoming more influential and less likely to drift out of games. He also made a lung bursting run to cover for Jake Bidwell, who had been caught upfield and made a perfect tackle on a Blackburn attacker deep in the Brentford half. It was at this point that I realised that he was coming of age as a footballer and was fully integrated into the team. Four goals is a reasonable return so far, but he has the ability to reach double figures. Alan Judge’s absence might mean that he now gets the chance to take free kicks and his goal with a curling effort against Nice shows that he has the ability to capitalise upon them. He also scored from the one penalty he took at Nottingham Forest. It wasn’t the most convincing spot kick I have ever seen but it went in and hopefully he will maintain his successful record when next called upon. We have Alex for the remainder of the season and it is a deal that suits all parties. Let’s simply enjoy him whilst we can and be is only going to improve. We can worry about his longer term future, and whether it might be with us, at a later date.

22. Betinho

Scott Hogan’s serious injury incurred on 30th August left the club little time to replace him before the end of the August transfer window and it is to their credit that they managed to do so, however the gamble of signing Betinho has not paid off. He initially came to Mark Warburton’s attention during the Next Gen series where he had impressed as a regular goalscorer, and at twenty-one he had a highly impressive goal scoring record for both his club, Sporting Lisbon, at youth and B Level, as well as for the Portugese international teams at all age levels, up to and including the Under 21 team. At first glance, he appeared to be a classic goal poacher and a reasonable choice to replace Hogan, particularly at such short notice. Betinho made his debut as a late substitute against Norwich City, played for the final thirteen minutes, and then disappeared from the reckoning never to be seen on the pitch again at first team level. He sat on the bench for a month or so but was never called into action. I think the reason why is fairly straightforward. Our initial expectations for him were totally unreasonable and unrealistic for a young, inexperienced player leaving his native land to play in a strange and unfamiliar environment, and in addition be asked to play an entirely different role at an exceptionally high level of football. I  seriously doubt if he had ever been played as a lone striker before and the concept of tracking back and pressing, a prerequisite for a Brentford striker, would have been entirely alien to him. No wonder it hasn’t worked out as we all hoped and anticipated and it really hasn’t been his fault. We made a rushed decision that hasn’t paid dividends apart from giving Andre Gray the extra pitch time required to prove that he is a star in the making, so some good has come out of this situation. I hope Betinho returns home shortly and becomes a star and that our coaching and the care lavished upon him will have paid some small part in his development.

I will conclude this report shortly.

 

Half Term Report – Part 1 – 17/1/15

tatI have been putting this article off for a couple of weeks or more but the penny finally dropped that if I didn’t get it done this week then there really wouldn’t be any point in writing a half term report on every Brentford player given that the second half of the season would already be well under way.

As it is, we have now played twenty-six of our forty-six league matches so I can probably still just about sneak this in under the radar without many complaints about it being too late.

I am sure that you will all be relieved that I am not going to use any of those hackneyed school report type expressions so beloved of similar review articles, but I will simply tell you how I think each player has performed to date and what I believe might be in store for them for the remainder of the season.

1. Richard Lee

The mystery is why at the age of thirty-two, Richard Lee, a goalkeeper of proven ability who is also a great student of the game, has made less than two hundred first team appearances in his entire career. The answer is that he has been plagued by bad luck and a series of long-term injuries, generally at the wrong time, and has also had to deputise for keepers of the calibre of Ben Foster. This season has been no different. His chronic shoulder injury has prevented him mounting a serious challenge to David Button and his lack of fitness has meant that he has also been overtaken in the pecking order by Jack Bonham. His decision to retire at the end of the season is as measured and thoughtful as everything that he does and has come as no real surprise. Given his personality, drive, intelligence and enquiring mind he will have no problem in finding fresh challenges beyond football and it was fitting that his last appearance in a Brentford shirt, assuming there is no farewell cameo later in the season, saw him make two trademark swooping penalty saves to win the Dagenham & Redbridge shootout.

2. Kevin O’Connor

Kevin’s influence has moved from the pitch to the dugout and training ground as he has grown into his new role as Player/Coach and succeeded in gaining his B License. He made what is almost certainly his farewell appearance in a Brentford shirt at Dagenham and signed off perfectly with the winning penalty in the shoot out, taken without fuss and with metronomic accuracy into the bottom corner – as he would doubtless have done had fate not intervened and he had taken the crucial spot kick against Doncaster. Kevin has now made five hundred and one first team appearances for the club and is fourth in the all-time appearance chart, a mere fifteen matches behind Peter Gelson, in third place. His place in the Brentford pantheon is assured and he hopefully still has much to offer as a coach given the respect he engendered as a player.

3. Jake Bidwell

What’s there not to like about Jake Bidwell? At twenty-one he has played over a hundred games for the club, is an ever present this season, doesn’t get injured or suspended and simply goes about his business efficiently and without fuss. I feel that sometimes he is taken for granted and supporters don’t realise just how far he has come so quickly, and quite how good he really is. He is cool and calm in defence, does not make expensive errors, uses the ball simply and accurately and his ability to overlap and cross is crucial to the team’s shape and pattern of play. He has assisted on three goals so far and I am surprised that he hasn’t tried to claim that goal at Wolves when his deflected cross arched over Carl Ikeme. Perhaps he is waiting to break his duck with a real thunderbolt. He isn’t blessed with lightening pace and he was shown up by Scannell at Huddersfield, no disgrace there as he is a fast and tricky customer, but it is rare that he gets the runaround, he has never looked out of place in the Championship, and he still has much improving to do. Jake has had an exceptional first half of the season with the best still to come and he is an appreciating asset for us.

4. Lewis Macleod

The arrival of the Rangers wunderkind is a signal of pure intent and heralds our ambition to climb even further towards the top of the football tree. The tide has finally turned as it was ever the case that clubs further up the food chain cherry picked our best prospects and signed them for peanuts with us seemingly doffing our caps and proffering our thanks for the crumbs off the rich man’s table. Andy Sinton, Paul Smith and DJ Campbell anyone? Now the boot is firmly on the other foot as Little Old Brentford just waltzed into Glasgow Rangers, one of the most famous teams in the United Kingdom, took advantage of their straitened circumstances and divested them of their jewel in the crown, as is confirmed by the following comment on a Rangers message board: “twenty years ago we were buying players from Barcelona, now we’re selling them to Brentford!” At twenty years of age the whole world lies before him and we await his debut with baited breath. I fully expect that he will be given the time he needs to regain full fitness and settle down in a strange new city far away from home and I have no doubt that he will make an enormous impact before the end of the season. Class will out.

5. Tony Craig

TC has had a slightly inconsistent and up and down campaign to date. On the one hand his coolness, anticipation and ability to read the game and leadership ability has shone through, his left-footedness helps brings balance to the team and he has also developed an accurate long pass to switch the play to the right wing, however he has also been caught out from time to time on the wrong side of attackers, which has proved costly. His red card against Birmingham and Daryl Murphy’s second goal for Ipswich are prime examples of this worrying trait and he has also been bullied and overwhelmed by the likes of Grant Holt, Danny Graham and Murphy. Tony has fully earned his contract extension and he has the experience we need at this level but I do wonder if we will need someone with a little bit more power, height and strength as we continue to improve and upgrade our squad.

6. Harlee Dean

Harlee has been in and out of the starting line-up as we are still searching for our best central defensive partnership. He replaced Tony Craig after his red card against Birmingham and immediately impressed, but lost his place after the insipid display at Middlesbrough where he was by no means the only player to disappoint. His next opportunity arrived after James Tarkowski’s suspension kicked in and Harlee more than seized his chance. His confidence on the ball and willingness to adapt to our new system of playing from the back was evident. He made a costly error against Fulham through overplaying, but had the character and determination to recover and made amends with a glorious buccaneering equalising goal. He has shown signs of increasing maturity both on and off the pitch and his strength and aerial ability is more than welcome, but the jury is still out as to whether he will remain as first choice given the challenge he faces from Craig and Tarkowski and any potential new arrival.

7. Sam Saunders

Sam’s 2014 provides a great example of the topsy-turvy life of a professional footballer. Riding high as League One Player of the Month for December 2013 and fresh from a spell of four goals in as many games, Sam was struck down with a serious knee injury which, after a couple of false starts, kept him out until early November when he returned to the side with a cameo appearance at Millwall, where he managed to calm the nerves and help the team hold out for a hard fought victory. He has sat on on the bench since then and shown his threat with two well-taken, if fairly meaningless late goals against Ipswich. What reassured me more about his potential value to the team was that wonderful swerving cross from wide out on the left which Andre Gray should surely have converted for an injury time equaliser at Wolves. Sam definitely retains his magic with the ball at his feet and it did not come as a shock when he was offered an extension to his contract, but I was certainly surprised that he accepted it given that he could certainly take his pick of pretty much every leading Division One team and play every week for them. I suspect that Sam realises that it has been a long haul for him to reach the Championship from his humble beginnings in the Southern League and Conference South and he intends to relish this opportunity for as long as possible. He is a good influence in the dressing room and Sam will also pay Mark Warburton back for his continued faith in him.

8. Jonathan Douglas

Something amazing happened soon after halftime in the preseason friendly match against Crystal Palace. Marcos Tebar took possession from a throw in and slipped the ball to Jonathan Douglas who ran into the penalty area, dribbled past a lunging defender and then curled a gorgeous shot way beyond Speroni into the far corner of the net for a sublimely well taken goal which demonstrated that given self-belief and good coaching it is possible for a footballer to continue to improve even at the advanced age of thirty-three. JD is the heart and soul of the Brentford team, stationed just in front of the back four, he anticipates and snuffs out danger before it can threaten our goal. But that isn’t all, as Douglas has licence to roam and he has also developed the ability to make devastating late runs and sneak unseen into the opposition penalty area where he already scored five valuable goals as well as setting up a couple more. He has only missed one league match so far this season and Toumani Diagouraga ensured that he wasn’t missed too much that day, but he is a massive influence and he remains the most important player yet to sign a new contract for next season and beyond. He has been one of our most consistent players so far this season and I fully expect that he will maintain his sharpness. Hopefully he will get a new deal that is acceptable to him and also realise that he is unlikely to find as good a situation elsewhere as he has at Griffin Park..

9. Scott Hogan

The one major disappointment of the season was Scott Hogan’s season-ending anterior cruciate injury sustained totally accidentally and innocuously on his league debut as a late substitute at Rotherham when he went down as if shot with nobody near him. I was very excited when we signed Scott as he had scored nineteen goals for Rochdale last season and appeared to be a real footballer as well as a natural goalscorer. Scott was given the coveted number nine shirt too and was expected to become our first choice striker until fate intervened before he was able to get started. As of yet he has not been replaced and we remain shorthanded in attack, and we live in hope that a white puff of smoke will signal the arrival of a new striker any day now before the transfer window closes. Scott has been rehabilitating in America and will hopefully recover in time for the start of next season. We has all our best wishes for a speedy and full recovery.

10. Moses Odubajo

Moses was probably Leyton Orient’s best player last season and scored a goal in the playoff final at Wembley that simply oozed class. There seemed to be a lot of competition for his signature and it came as a bit of a surprise when Brentford managed to capture him for what was rumoured to be our first ever seven figure transfer fee. Moses took a few games to settle but offered us pace and width on the right flank. He became an almost instant hero when he scored a massively important late equaliser against Birmingham and also impressed when he took Alan Judge’s wonderfully weighted long pass into his stride to score emphatically against Brighton. For the most part, though, he flattered to deceive with insufficient end result for all his trickery. His season turned on its head when Alan McCormack suffered a long term injury at Bolton and Moses looked a different player when he was moved back to play as an attacking right back. Not only has he defended well but he has provided far more of an attacking threat when running from deep as he terrifies defenders and seems far more comfortable when he is facing the play and he provided a memorable assist for Andre Gray’s equalising goal against Derby County as well creating chances in almost every game he plays. It will be interesting to see what happens when Alan McCormack returns to fitness in the next month or so as Moses has added a new dimension to our game when attacking from deep.

12. Alan McCormack

Moving Alan from midfield to right back proved to be a masterstroke early last season and his defensive calmness and solidity as well as his excellent use of the ball played a key role in our successful promotion campaign, but despite that, some supporters were concerned that he might not have the pace or know-how to cope with the Championship. Opponents too seemed to target him as a potential weakness but Alan has proved as indomitable as ever. No winger gave him the run around, he scored an excellent goal against Leeds and his curling crosses proved to be a constant threat. His only aberration was a ridiculously wayward throw in which almost set up Andrew Crofts of Brighton for an early gift goal. He also looked totally his old combative self when given a rare start in midfield against Norwich where he would have scored but for the brilliance of Ruddy. Alan received an ankle ligament injury at Bolton but is now back in light training after his operation and should be challenging for his place within another month or so, and his return will provide us with another option and could allow us to move Moses Odubajo back to the wing. This will be another welcome selection headache for Mark Warburton.

14. Marcos Tebar

The Summer arrival of an established La Liga midfielder from Almeria excited most Brentford supporters and his performances in pre-season highlighted his skill on the ball and the way in which he seemed always to find time and space. He played alongside Jonathan Douglas and the two of them formed an instant partnership and dovetailed to perfection with one sitting and the other venturing forward. However when the league began in earnest Tebar did not look quite so unflustered and the games seemed to pass him by. He soon dropped out of contention despite impressing in a late run out as a substitute against Leeds United. He then suffered an injury and has only just regained his place on the substitutes’ bench. Hopefully there is far more to come from him as the jury is still out as to whether or not he can cut it in the Championship.

My player review will continue as soon as I can get it completed!