Groundhog Day – 18/5/15

imagesSo despite their best efforts Brentford’s season came to its conclusion at the Riverside Stadium on Friday night. The Bees just couldn’t pull back the one goal deficit from the first leg, conceded again halfway through the first half when Tomlin’s long range effort received a helpful deflection off Harlee Dean which took it beyond Button’s reach, and then carelessly lost possession twice after the break and were ruthlessly punished by breakaway goals from Kike and Adomah. A four goal aggregate defeat in the tie was cruel indeed on Brentford who deserved slightly better but it cannot be denied that we were comfortably second best overall.

For us to reach Wembley there were several prerequisites. We needed to be at our absolute best and to be brave and positive on the night. We also had to display the self-belief and confidence to play our own game and take care of the ball. We needed leaders on the pitch who would set a personal example and help encourage their team mates. Most crucially, we had to be clinical in front of goal when chances came our way. Unfortunately none of these boxes were ticked and we subsided to a comprehensive defeat.

We must give credit where it is due. Middlesbrough were everything that we weren’t. Tough, big, strong, compact, organised, street-smart, determined, ruthless, comfortable on the ball, quick to turn defence into attack and deadly in front of goal.

Their game plan worked a treat. Firstly, just as had been the case at Griffin Park, they let us know they were there and knocked us out of our stride and never allowed us to build up a rhythm by commiting a series of cynical and deliberate fouls whenever we threatened to break forward. They gambled correctly that the referee would not intervene early on and by the time Lee Mason belatedly decided to exert his authority and use his yellow card, it was far too late and the damage had already been done. We were nervous and tentative and never managed to break at pace as Middlesbrough funnelled back and denied us any space as soon as we reached the congested midfield area.

Leadbitter and Clayton chased and harried and snapped at our ankles from the first whistle. They were relentless and tireless in their efforts to snuff out danger before it developed and not to allow us the time and space we needed to hurt them. But they were both far more than water carriers and mere defensive spoilers as they demonstrated a real ability to read the game and to pass the ball accurately and with precision.

Both Jonathan Douglas and Toumani Diagouraga have been inspirational for the Bees this season but it was instructive to compare their overall effectiveness and impact upon the game with that of Leadbitter and Clayton who clearly demonstrated the difference between excellent players and the true elite at this level.

With our creativity stifled at birth, Jota, Judge and Pritchard flickered into life only intermittently and were never an influence on the game. Our chances were few and far between and there was no margin for error. We simply had to take our opportunities when they fell our way, but we let them all slip.

Early on, Jota shot weakly from outside the area and his effort was easily saved but our two key moments came either side of halftime. Judge’s angled cross eluded the straining head of Ayala and Gray was left with a clear sight of goal but his weak headed effort was going nowhere when it hit a defender and was deflected straight to the keeper. We came out far more determined and positive after the break and straightaway the overlapping Odubajo’s perfect low centre was somehow missed by Gray as he attempted to turn the ball in from right in front of goal. That could have been a turning point as if he had scored it would have silenced the crowd whose anxiety would doubtless have transmitted itself to the team. That was it until a sweet move opened up the defence near the end but substitute Chris Long was pressurised into slicing his angled effort well wide of the goal.  I doubt if we have ever created fewer chances in a match over the course of the entire season but you have to give due credit to the job that Middlesbrough did on us as well as acknowledge that we did not do ourselves justice on the night.

Harlee Dean was by far our best player closely followed by Moses Odubajo, David Button and James Tarkowski. Jake Bidwell appeared to be mesmerised by the pace and twinkling feet of Albert Adomah and was far too preoccupied with his defensive responsibilities to help support his ailing attack.

We did our best but it never really looked as if it would be enough and Middlesbrough finished up beating us four times in a row over the course of the season, scoring ten times with us managing one measly goal in reply, despite our knocking on the door so many times, particularly in our two home matches.

Could and should we have approached the game in a different manner? I would, in passing, refer you to Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Mark Warburton and Plan A anybody? We basically played the same game four times against Middlesbrough with identical results on each and every occasion. It would certainly have been brave and maybe even foolhardy to have tinkered with, or even changed a formula that had worked so well throughout the season and that had indeed been responsible for getting us to the playoffs in the first place. Managers are paid extremely well to problem solve and be flexible and imaginative where necessary but nothing changed and on Friday our limitations and shortcomings were yet again ruthlessly exposed.

It would be churlish indeed to carp and criticise given how wonderfully well we have performed all season and the amount of pleasure that Brentford have provided to all lovers of pure attacking football around the country. Mark Warburton’s loyalty and commitment to his squad was also laudable and their sense of unity and togetherness certainly played a large part in our success, but our failure to strengthen in January when the opportunity apparently presented itself, meant that we were forced to rely on a small squad and there were precious few options available to freshen things up or make significant changes off the bench.

I know that I have mentioned it before, but I still believe that the most illuminating statistic of the season is the fact that thirteen of the eighteen players in our squad on the opening day of the season on the ninth of August last year were still involved when the season finally drew to a close on the fifteenth of May. The five who fell by the wayside were Richard Lee, Marcos Tebar, Nico Yennaris, Montell Moore and Nick Proschwitz. They were replaced by Jack Bonham, Toumani Diagouraga, Jota, Jon Toral and Chris Long. So with the exception of Chris Long, who arrived in January, and Liam Moore who came and went in the new year, the squad remained almost unchanged for the entire season, something that I doubt has ever occurred in modern day football where there is invariably a high turnover of players who come and go and are seen as replaceable assets.

That was the way that Mark Warburton wanted to manage and it will be fascinating to see whether his ultimate successor favours a different approach next season in terms of squad size and rotation and, indeed, our overall formation and pattern of play.

That is for the future and now is the time simply to reflect on all the incredible events of the past nine months and salute the Bees and everyone involved with the club for providing us with such an incredible season that came so close to returning us to the top flight of English football for the first time in sixty-eight years. Friday’s match ended in a cacophony of sound as the travelling Brentford supporters paid a raucous and heartfelt tribute to their team and its supporting cast of Mark Warburton, David Weir and Matthew Benham.The imminent departure of Mark Warburton and David Weir certainly marks the end of this chapter but the story has barely yet begun.

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14 thoughts on “Groundhog Day – 18/5/15

  1. yes end of a great chapter but not the end of what i feel will be a great story we got a lot going for us .Just hope they get the new manger in qiickly and start rebuilding on the great foundation MW has left and to you greville thanks you for this blog that help me on a personnel note to rediscover my bees

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    • There won’t be a manager Richard, there will be a head coach and numerous other coaches. I think we are going to be quite shocked by what comes next, for better or worse. Very interesting interview just on the radio with Michael Calvin of the independent, good insight on MB & statistical modelling, quite complimentary about MB but felt that MW, with his unconventional route into management, was the perfect fit for the new system & definitely not an old school type manager.

      I’m uneasy about it but it’s done now so let’s see.

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      • The interview was on the H&J show Talksport, they said it was so interesting that they’d have him back as a studio guest for a longer interview. He was extremely well briefed on MB & the new DoF’s.

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  2. Good summary – a game too far & beaten fair & square by a side with a stronger player in almost every position. This has not been the case much over the season, but highlights what we’d need to push on, all the great , creative midfield play in the world won’t be enough if you don’t tackle, allow soft goals & miss a high proportion of presentable chances. These areas need improvement to go a step further. I felt this was achievable with MW but the task now falls to others, time will tell.

    I’ve enjoyed this blog over an unforgettable season & I really hope you continue with it. The future will be interesting & whilst I have some concerns I remain optimistic & trust in MB. That said I feel that we shouldn’t go on blind faith alone & should be able to question things without making trouble or looking for problems. This blog seems a perfect vehicle for balanced opinion & raising questions.

    We will now have 2 directors of football & other key staff sharing roles with MB’s other interests – I wonder how this will work in practice – especially when FCM will be in the champions league next year. Hopefully BFC will get the attention it needs?

    Keep up the good work anyway – always look forward to the blogs.

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    • Thanks for your kind words. Trying to keep it going for the rest of the month and then will have a think about the future, but the book of the blogs is already well into production and should be published in a couple of months or so!

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  3. Things might have panned out differently had we incurred more injuries and had to bring players in.apart from Hogan we were very lucky on that front.im not saying we would have been more or less succesfull

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  4. Hi rebelbee so it i understand My bees will be working like rugby club !Well i wait and see what this brings thou i have seen this from European lower league sides i will hold back to see how this works but i do not see any premiership side working this way maybe Newcastle just a little .and anyway its the Chairmen who puts his money into the club BUT!

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    • Like a rugby club but with stats modelling about who we sign, and, à la Brailsford and Woodward, work on those extra 1 or 2 percent, As you say, hasn’t been tried in English football before, but I’m waiting to see how we get on over the next two or three years. After all, we’ve done it the conventional way for the past 80 odd years, and it hasn’t brought us very much. Dinosaurs ruled the earth for millions of years and seemed perfectly suited, but it was the small, quick, adaptable and more intelligent mammal that eventually won.

      We’ve been on an upward curve for the past three or four years. The owner thinks this is the way to continue. I for one am happy to give him a chance – especially since he hasn’t served us too badly so far.

      Whether the experiment works or not, I think the least Benham deserves is that it should be allowed to run. If it does work, we’ll be in heaven; if it doesn’t, we’ll be no worse off, even a little better, than we have been throughout most of our history.

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  5. yes Andre the dinosaurs lost but do you remember how it all finished for them it all blew up just hope that does not happen here I am all for change if this moves us nearer the promised land and we have come a long way in recent years and what ever happens my Brentford will always be close to my heart and you bees fans

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