15. Stuart Dallas
Stuart Dallas can look back with great pride at his season’s accomplishments. He established himself in the Northen Ireland squad and looked fully at home in the international arena. He also played over forty times for Brentford, scored eight valuable goals, played on either flank as well as filling in seamlessly at centre forward and full back. Dallas was often a victim of the numbers game given that we possessed so many quality midfielders and was a real danger coming off the bench when he was often able to turn the match in our favour.
Strong, quick, direct, powerful, good in the air, and with a rasping shot, he is a manager’s dream and he will go down in Brentford history for scoring two wonderful, unstoppable and unforgettable goals at Craven Cottage against the old enemy, Fulham.
16. Jack Bonham
Jack Bonham played only once last season and impressed against Brighton in the FA Cup and, more importantly, kept first choice David Button on his toes through his quality performances in training. He proved that he is developing into an excellent goalkeeper but at some point he will need to gain some Football League experience ideally through a loan spell away from Griffin Park.
17. Jon Toral
Another loanee who played with a level of maturity way beyond reasonable expectations given his total lack of experience before he joined the Bees. To end his debut season at the age of twenty with thirty-four league appearances and six goals, including a couple of magnificent volleys and a hat trick against Blackpool, was no mean achievement. Tall, rangy, comfortable on the ball, technically excellent, and with a few tricks in his repertoire, he has a glittering career ahead of him, hopefully at Griffin Park, if a suitable deal can be negotiated with Arsenal for whom he has signed an extended contract.
18. Alan Judge
He was the team dynamo, a never-stop-running bundle of energy, our go-to guy who simply made us tick. His contribution was immense with three goals and a team leading thirteen assists and he was badly missed during his extended injury break early in 2015. He was always able to spot and then execute long range passes and create gaps in the opposition defence. His long range shooting was as powerful as ever even though his radar was often a bit off, but his perfect curling match-clinching free kick at Fulham was one of the moments of the season. His immense contribution was finally recognised when the Irish Messi won his first Republic of Ireland full senior call up on 12 May 2015, when he was named in the provisional squad for two matches the following month. Perhaps our most important and influential player overall.
19. Andre Gray
In his first season as a regular Football League player Andre Gray totally defied expectations by scoring eighteen goals and barely missing a game. All this whilst playing in a totally new position for him as a lone striker at a level three leagues above what he had experienced on a regular basis before. His overall contribution was absolutely staggering and some of his goals were eye-opening and quite brilliant in their execution – think of Derby, Wolves and Watford at home and Millwall and Cardiff away. No wonder that scouts were queuing up to cast their eye over him. Of course he showed his inexperience and was by no means a complete player. There is still much room for improvement and I think that he will perform even better when playing in a wider position supporting another central striker, but it remains to be seen if our new Head Coach will change our system and play with two strikers.
Andre was frustrating as he missed a ton of chances, but he created so many of them for himself, and ploughing a lone furrow was an exhausting and thankless task. Next season he will be even better.
20. Toumani Diagouraga
What a season from a player who had pretty much been written off at the start of the season. He simply got his head down and when his opportunity finally came he produced a series of brilliant performances and he maintained his form until the end of the season. Dovetailing perfectly with Jonathan Douglas, with one sitting and the other playing in a more forward role, he was our ball-winner and quarterback who got us up and running and helped turned defence into attack with his unerring ability to find a man. His shooting was as appalling as ever but we really didn’t mind and expected nothing more. His level of improvement and consistency was staggering.
Being totally objective, our eyes were well and truly opened when we saw how impressive Leadbitter and Clayton were for Middlesbrough playing in a similar role to Diagouraga and Douglas and that is the level that we need to aspire to next season.
21. Alex Pritchard
Quite simply, Alex Pritchard was absolutely brilliant for us and was one of the most influential loanees we have ever had. This was, however, a double-edged sword, as the better he played, the less chance we had of signing him on a permanant basis. He also established himself in the England Under 21 squad and will be welcomed back to his parent club, Tottenham Hotspur, next season with every chance of establishing himself as a Premier League player.
He scored twelve times for us, demonstrated that he knew how to take a penalty – a rare skill for a Brentford player, assisted on another seven goals and made eighty key passes from open play, more than any other Championship player. Alex made a massive contribution to us in the new year, scoring eight times, including a quite brilliant long range curling effort at Derby that had us all drooling and blinking in total disbelief and he maintained an eye-opening level of consistency and commitment that was admirable in a young player and a loanee as well.
Alex always managed to find pockets of space in which to operate and he was mesmerising on the ball. To watch footballers of the skill and panache of Pritchard, Jota, Judge and Odubajo play together for Brentford was something totally beyond my wildest dreams and clearly demonstrates just how far we have come.
Who? Why? Answers on a postcard please.
If I close my eyes and allow myself to daydream I can see a clear image of Jota dribbling down the right wing with the ball seemingly tied to his bootlaces. Head up, he looks for openings, cuts inside with the ball glued to his left foot, leaving defenders trailing in his wake bewitched by his twinkling feet, before ending up with a perfect cross or effort on goal.
We expected a lot given his background and the record fee we had paid for him, but Jota, or José Peleteiro Ramallo, to give him his full name, was even better than we could ever have envisaged, and he ended a remarkable first season in English football with eleven goals and a glowing and enhanced reputation.
Even if he had done nothing else, he would have lived long in our memory as Jota – in the last minute! To score a season-defining late winner against Fulham was enough to make him an instant hero but to repeat the feat by scoring again late on at Craven Cottage, followed by a last gasp equaliser against Nottingham Forest in the next match truly beggared belief.
It wasn’t so much the number of goals he scored, although eleven was quite a tally for someone who played out wide, but the way in which he did so and the variety of goals he scored. A mesmerising dribble in a packed penalty area against Leeds, a close range tap-in against Reading, cutting inside and shooting from outside the box against Fulham, rolling the ball home through the eye of a needle against Wolves, a curling long range belter at Cardiff, finishing calmly and clinically against Blackburn, Norwich and Wigan, a brilliant near post volley at Fulham, running from his own half at Blackburn and picking his spot and a most unlikely header against Nottingham Forest. The pace of a long and exhausting season understandably seemed to take its toll in the last few games when he appeared to run out of steam and was less effective, but he did more than enough by virtue of his undoubted skill and bravery on the ball to attract the attention of Premier League predators. He will be even better next season as he becomes more attuned to the demands of the English game and I desperately hope that we can hang into him.
24. Tommy Smith
Tommy was consistency personified whenever he was called upon, generally as a late substitute. He always put in a shift, looking for the ball and using it sensibly and he was a valuable calming influence. He scored the opening goal of the season – a much needed late equaliser against Charlton, and contributed several assists, none more crucial than when he stood up a perfect cross in a packed penalty area that took out the goalkeeper and picked out Jota for his injury time equaliser against Nottingham Forest.
He more than justified his contract as he was also an excellent influence and example in the dressing room and if we do not see him again he leaves with our thanks, admiration and gratitude.