I 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!