Over two thousand Brentford supporters travelled to The Valley on Saturday afternoon by car, bus, train and boat all full of hope, if not expectation, that the Bees could put the troubles of the past week behind them and turn on a morale boosting display. But the only team whose confidence was boosted was Charlton who ended their long run without a win and strolled to an easy and comfortable three goal victory against a lethargic, dispirited and well under-par Brentford team.
Before the game the talk was that the mood in the camp was positive and confident and that the team was both determined and well prepared to put on a performance that would demonstrate their support for beleaguered manager Mark Warburton and ensure that their playoff charge was not derailed. So much for good intentions and brave words. The body language did not look right from the off and a well below strength team lacking the presence of Jake Bidwell, James Tarkowski and of course, Alan Judge, started slowly and soon got worse.
Brentford’s success this season has been based on a high tempo pressing game with the ball moved quickly and accurately from side to side of the pitch, maintaining possession for long periods whilst probing for an opening and when one appears for the pace to be increased suddenly so that we can take advantage. What we saw today was a team playing without belief and seemingly going through the motions. Their confidence and pace had been sapped as if by an unseen force as the ball was turned over with monotonous regularity, Gray was starved of support and resorted to niggly fouls, Pritchard and Jota were peripheral influences and Douglas and Toumani probed but to little effect. But for Button Charlton would have scored far more than their one first half effort as the defence in front of him creaked ominously. Moses seemed to be wearing lead boots so seldom did he forage forward and he was often left trailing and left gaps in defence, Craig and Dean were willing but porous and poor Nico Yennaris was the sacrificial lamb at left back where he was hung out to dry with little support either in front or beside him.
No shots on target was a fair end result for an anaemic and witless first half performance and thankfully the tempo increased after the interval but although we maintained possession better and even ventured into the final third more often, we never threatened and Charlton scored another soft goal on the first occasion they threatened. Jota and Douglas seemed to bicker as we prepared to kick off and the heads went down even further. We huffed and puffed and improved significantly when the invisible Jota as well as Diagouraga and Dallas were replaced by Long, Toral and the excellent Tommy Smith in a rare triple substitution which demonstrated the manager’s displeasure with what he was watching on the pitch.
Charlton panicked when they realised that they were on the verge of their first win for three months and did their best to help us by funnelling back into two banks of four and invited us onto them. Douglas and Pritchard forced comfortable saves from Henderson before we gave away a comic cuts goal in injury time which simply highlighted how poor we were on the day. All three goals were totally preventable and the defence hardly covered themselves in glory, Dean in particular being responsible for two of the goals with Craig running him close in ineptitude. This was not a Brentford performance that we witnessed yesterday – or certainly not one that I had seen since the dog days of the Andy Scott regime. We looked listless, rudderless and played without passion, desire or organisation and our customary sense of togetherness seemed to have disappeared as players did not run to support each other, create space or help their colleagues out.
Charlton are to be congratulated as they fully deserved their win but it is not sour grapes when I say that they were a poor team who we made look far better than they are. What does that make us then? Hopefully a good team having a bad day at the office, weakened by injuries and suspensions and a lack of depth in the squad rather than a team whose spirit has been broken by the undercurrents and uncertainty that has reigned at the club since Tuesday when The Times broke the news of Matthew Benham’s supposed decision to replace Mark Warburton at the end of the season. Hopefully this was a one-off rather than conclusive evidence that things are broken beyond repair.
So where do we go from here? That depends totally on what is said in the club statement that is expected to be released on Monday. Clarity, certainty, harmony and closure are needed if the club is not to be torn apart by the confusion and feeling of total negativity that currently reigns. Nobody at the club has covered himself in glory if the media stories, rumours and scuttlebutt circulating throughout the ground yesterday are correct. As sole owner, Matthew Benham is fully entitled to to change the management structure as, when and how he wants, however he was surely totally naive or badly advised if he expected his alleged exploratory and preliminary discussions with potential replacements for Warburton to remain confidential. Whoever leaked the story to The Times has also succeeded in totally destabilising the club and holing it beneath the waterline. As that infamous statement asserted on Tuesday, football is a village and it is very hard to keep matters secret, as has been proved this week.
As for Mark Warburton, given what he has achieved since he took charge, it is harsh indeed that it would appear that his contract is not going to be renewed, but there has to be a reason for this decision that on the face of it appears to be bizarre in the extreme. Has there been a breakdown in the trust and mutuality that seemed to mark his relationship with Benham? Who knows if Warburton flouted the owner’s instructions and refused to rubber stamp the signing of a number of foreign imports during the transfer window or why deals seemed to go sour at the last moment. He should know by now that Matthew Benham expects to get his own way and can generally back up his decisions with the statistics to prove his case. Did he also reject the offer of additional specialised coaching assistance? That is yet another relevant and unanswered question given how poor our set piece delivery was at Charlton.
The facts though speak for themselves. We are on the slide and the squad is currently weakened by fatigue, injuries and suspension and is sorely stretched. Yesterday the acknowledged achilles heel of lack of cover or enhanced quality at left back, centre half and striker came back to haunt us as Dean and Craig played as if running through treacle wearing gumboots, Yennaris was out of his depth and Gray, surly and isolated. If every Brentford supporter, and, it would seem, the owner can see where the problems lies and the funds exist to bring in quality rather than quantity and the right players were available and willing to come to Brentford, why spurn the opportunity? Another question that needs answering.
We brought in four players in the transfer window, but none of them have helped us, Laurent is one for the future, O’Connell has been sent out on loan when perhaps he might well have been better served remaining at the club, Macleod has not even trained with the squad yet through injury and Long is really not the answer. I am excited by all three of our permanent new additions but they all appear to have been signed with next season in mind when we desperately need new blood now.
I fully understand when Warburton states that McCormack, Bidwell, Macleod, Judge and Tarkowski will all soon be available for selection but the squad also needs enhancing with more quality as well as more numbers if we are to maintain our challenge. The loan window is now open and perhaps we will look to reinforce central defence and up front over the next few weeks but the question then has to be asked who will be in charge?
There are, as far as I can, see five possible outcomes which could be announced next week in a statement which obviously needs to come jointly from Benham and Warburton:
- Matthew Benham changes his mind and declares that he is going to renew Mark Warburton’s contract
- Benham and Warburton state that no decision about the manager will be made until the end of the season
- Mark Warburton will be staying at the club when his contract expires but in another capacity
- It is announced that Mark Warburton will be leaving when his contract expires but everyone remains fully committed to working together until the end of the season
- An agreement has been made to settle Mark Warburton’s contract and he is leaving immediately
Please let me know if I have missed something out but I have sat on the sofa with a glass of Pinot Noir racking my brains throughout most of Saturday evening trying to come up with every possible permutation and nothing else presented itself to me.
Numbers one and two are total non-starters and three seems highly unlikely, all for reasons that I have given at length in previous articles over the past few days. That leaves numbers four and five. Leaving The Valley today in the slough of despond, I was certain that it would be better for everyone if there was an immediate parting of the way as, cruel though it would be, that might well be the only way to bring club, owner, players, management and supporters back onto the same page. Now having listened to Mark Warburton’s positive and eminently sensible post match interview, I am not so sure.
Frankly I do not believe that anyone at the club yet knows what will be the outcome and I fully suspect that there will be talks and negotiations going on throughout the day when emotions have hopefully cooled after Saturday’s fiasco. Hopefully Saturday saw the nadir of our fortunes and our reputation, both of which have taken a massive battering over the past few days. I am totally sanguine about our mid and long term future, but it is the next few weeks and months that worry me, and I am sure, every other Brentford supporter. When fans are arguing vehemently with each other over the best way forward and some are even openly questioning Benham’s bona fides it is time to draw a line and end this madness.