Well the loan window slammed shut on Thursday afternoon with barely a whimper from Griffin Park. As expected, no fresh blood arrived as Mark Warburton has made it patently clear on many occasions recently that he feels that his current squad is quite strong enough and fully capable of winning promotion from the Championship to the Premier League and deserves to be allowed to finish the job that has been started so effectively. There could still be an addition to our numbers given that finally after a three month injury hiatus, the so-called Invisible Man, Lewis Macleod, is expected to make his long-awaited debut for the club today in the Development Squad fixture against Nottingham Forest and if he can prove his fitness in that game as well as in a behind closed doors friendly arranged for early next week, he might yet come into contention for first team selection. Fresh legs, ideas and enthusiasm could prove vital at this crucial stage of the season when minds and bodies are feeling increasingly tired and jaded and he might just produce the spark that we require to climb back into, and then cement our position in the top six.
Alan Judge looked far more like his old self when he came on in the second half against Millwall last Saturday and he produced an outrageous piece of skill that brought about the penalty award for the first goal, and he revitalised us when it appeared as if we were bashing our heads against a brick wall and perhaps running out of ideas. Our form since Christmas has been patchy at best and there are many reasons for that, however the absence of Alan Judge who missed seven weeks of action through injury has perhaps been the biggest hurdle that we have had to overcome as he is the man who keeps Brentford playing, the inspiration for so much that is good about our play.
He is a total dynamo who combines energy and nonstop running with the vision and skill to both see and execute a long range pass and change the direction of the attack in an instant. I can still picture that rapier like thrust to the heart of the Brighton defence when he cut it open and sent Moses Odubajo darting inside their left back to score a sorely needed and confidence boosting opening goal. All the oles have understandably gone to Jota for that magnificent last minute, game winning finish against Fulham, but who was it who had the energy to win one final midfield battle and fight off the tired challenge from his opponent, bounce the ball seal-like on his head and then ping the ball unerringly fifty yards to Jota lurking unseen on the right wing – Alan Judge, of course? He was rushed back before he was fully recovered from his injury and we have had to nurse him carefully, and hopefully the international break will have enabled him to rest up as well as strengthen his knee, as a fit Alan Judge could be the difference between our gaining a Playoff spot or narrowly missing out. We also had a nasty shock when it was reported that Everton were considering recalling Chris Long, given injuries to two of their other strikers, but, thankfully, this has so far proved to be a false alarm and the Bees will rely on Long and Andre Gray to share the load upfront and hopefully score the goals that we need over the course of the next seven, or Please God, ten matches.
Our remaining conundrum is to decide the makeup of our preferred central defensive pairing, given that we have conceded six totally avoidable goals in our last three games and we cannot continue to donate goals as if we were a charitable foundation if we are to have any chance of gaining promotion. Harlee Dean and James Tarkowski are the men in possession but Tony Craig is breathing down their neck and perhaps his experience and leadership might be just what we need to get us over this period of defensive instability? Liam Moore is off with the England Under 21 squad, played for them last night, and is not around at the moment to challenge for his place. He has pace in abundance, an asset that his rivals do not possess and I just wonder if his time will come again, as it seems really strange that a player considered good enough to start for his country cannot establish himself in the Brentford team. I fully accept that his performance at Ipswich was ghastly in the extreme and the manager was entirely correct to take him out of the firing line, but given how porous we have remained, perhaps we now need to reconsider? I’m glad that this is Mark Warburton’s decision and not mine as I am totally bemused and perplexed at this problem and really am not sure what the optimum solution is.
Whilst nobody arrived at the club, two more went out of the exit door to join the evergrowing phalanx of Brentford players plying their trade away from the club on loan. Manny Oyeleke has joined Lionel Stone at Woking where they will both benefit from facing the pressure of a Playoff assault. Oyeleke has impressed every time I have watched him play but I can honestly see no real future for him at Brentford and I just hope he can get himself fixed up for next season and beyond. The other move came out of the blue and surprised everyone. Richard Lee, who recently announced his retirement at the end of the season has moved on loan to our neighbours and rivals, Fulham. His move was greeted by supporters with some degree of annoyance and disappointment on social media and he came in for some unnecessary criticism and personal abuse, but my view is totally different. You are a long time retired and if Richard sees this as a final chance to stay involved and maybe even play a last couple of first team matches before the curtain comes down on his long and distinguished career, then good luck to him. He cannot play against us and given that he was seemingly confined to Bees Player duties at Griffin Park, then how can anybody deny him this opportunity? OK, I will also let you all into a closely guarded secret, Richard will be writing a chapter for my forthcoming book on the season at Brentford and he has made the move to Craven Cottage purely so that he can provide a Fulham-orientated and related viewpoint on next Friday’s match and add fresh colour and perspective to his writing! Seriously though, I wish Richard all good fortune, and hope that he will be seen on the pitch again this season.
Sam Saunders and Nico Yennaris have also extended their loan spells at Wycombe Wanderers until the end of the season. They can be recalled to Griffin Park should the need arise, although I think is highly unlikely that the services of either player will be required. I watched eight current and ex-Bees play in the televised clash between Luton and Wycombe on Tuesday night and it was a slightly surreal experience – the ghost of Christmas past. Saunders ran the whole game and always seemed to find time and space in what was otherwise a frenetic promotion clash. Yennaris was good on the ball but was often caught upfield and easily bypassed in defence. Another Brentford player, Alfie Mawson, has been at Wycombe all season and he scored a wonderfully inventive winning goal on Tuesday and also looked so comfortable on the ball. Whether he can defend to the standard required in the Championship is another question and a decision will shortly need to be made on his future given that his contract expires at the end of the season. Like Aaron Pierre who defended stoutly on the night, and Luke Norris, he might well decide that he needs to move on but I hope that we manage to persuade him to extend his contract so that we can send him out on loan again next season and see how good a player he can become. Former Bees Paul Hayes, Marcus Bean, Sam Wood and Fraser Franks were also involved in the match and Hayes and Bean in particular showed their experience and ability and were highly instrumental in Wycombe’s victory. Hayes even managed to score with a perfectly placed penalty kick!
Jack O’Connell has been quietly impressive since he rejoined Rochdale on loan in January and it is clear that we have a major asset in the tall, blond defender who has also proved to be a massive danger in the opposition area at set pieces, an attribute that our current incumbents would do well to copy. He too could be recalled if Mark Warburton feels that a fresh face is required but he is probably one for next season, when I fully expect him to make his mark. Nick Proschwitz remains at Coventry City but seems to have disappeared into a black hole as he has not been seen in recent games for the Sky Blues following an apparently gruesome open goal miss that cost his new team a crucial victory against Bradford City. Well the die is cast, there is no more room to manoeuvre and Mark Warburton now has to play with the cards that he currently holds. Will they be strong enough or will we fall just short? I can hardly wait to find out!