It was a beautiful lazy and sunny Sunday afternoon in Boreham Wood and even the short walk from the car park was hard work in the blistering heat. The sun beating on my back and the tropical heat made a mockery of the fact that the football season was fast approaching but despite the sweltering conditions there was a spring in my step if not a song in my heart as Brentford’s first preseason friendly in the UK was a milestone that I was certainly not going to miss.
But this was far more than just a mere football match, this was a rite of passage marking the beginning of another nine month’s worth of – who knows what, and also the long awaited opportunity to meet up with lots of old friends and acquaintances, compare suntans, swap tall stories about the happenings of the past couple of months without our regular football fix and look forward with relish and anticipation to what lies ahead of us over the coming season.
Boreham Wood has become a regular fixture on our preseason calendar over the past couple of years and it is always a pleasure to visit this ambitions and friendly club, particularly as their excellent Meadow Park stadium is no more than a relative hop, skip and jump from my North London home.
The afternoon was a pleasant and successful one as Brentford strolled to a comfortable three – nil victory against a Boreham Wood team which, as always, tried to play positive and pleasing football without exhibiting any killer touch. The presence of the willing but limited Ricky Shakes in the home team, a Brentford regular no more than eight years ago, gave further evidence, if it was really needed, of just how far we have come in the intervening period.
Neither David Button nor Jack Bonham were greatly extended in the Brentford goal with Button’s comfortable first half diving save from a long range Montgomery effort the nearest that either of them came to being brought into serious action.
If truth be told Brentford did not create too much themselves, but were far more clinical when their opportunities arrived. Andre Gray was a livewire up front, with his pace and movement far too much for his more cumbersome opponents who were left with twisted blood after his sinuous turns. Gray it was who converted from the spot with a shimmy and half stop to deceive the keeper and then a side foot neatly into the corner after Nunn panicked and upended the striker as he was running harmlessly into a blind alley following his air shot in front of goal – shades of Reading at Griffin Park last season when Pritchard seized upon Gray’s similar aberration to score our second goal.
Stuart Dallas was a lonely and peripheral figure largely starved of possession on the left wing, but he showed just how lethal he could be when he emerged with assists for the other two goals. First he passed inside, Douglas dummied cleverly, thus creating some space for Jota who needed no second invitation to control the ball and send it searing unerringly into the top corner of the net with a twenty-five yard thunderbolt with, naturally, his left foot. James Russell was left clutching thin air and the keeper was beaten for a third time on the stroke of halftime when Judge’s long diagonal cross was miscontrolled by the hapless Nunn who will surely today be praying for divine absolution after his two ghastly errors and Dallas passed the ball inside for Gray to poke home without fuss from close range.
That completed the scoring although Gray came close to a hat trick when substitute keeper Preston Edwards just managed to block his sharp angled effort at the near post.
The victory and three goals scored were the icing on the cake, and such a comfortable victory even against second rate opposition will certainly help to boost confidence, but what really mattered and was the subject of close scrutiny from the Brentford masses in attendance was the quality of Brentford’s performance, the formation employed and the players who took part.
After a slow start Brentford gradually captured their rhythm, kept possession well and calmly played the ball around the back four whilst probing for openings. Surprisingly the two left footers Bjelland and Barbet formed the first half central defensive partnership with Bjelland looking completely comfortable on the right hand side whilst Barbet was strong and positive on the left.
It is far too early to make any sort of accurate prediction concerning the makeup of the team for the first league fixture on the eighth of August but in my initial analyses of all the potential permutations I was fully expecting that Bjelland and one of Tarkowski or Dean would probably get the nod in central defence against Ipswich next month, but yesterday changed my thinking as it was plainly evident that Bjelland and Barbet could also play together given that Bjelland was more than happy to use his right foot.
Yennaris and Bidwell were efficient if largely untroubled at fullback. Diagouraga sat in front of the back four allowing Douglas to move forward and they dovetailed well and used the ball effectively. Jota and Dallas hugged the touchline, with Jota encouragingly showing as much energy in defence as he did in the opposition half of the field and Judge was given a free role acting as the playmaker feeding the bullets for Gray.
Practically an entirely new team took the field for the second half and the new back four of Odubajo, the freshly clean shaven Dean, O’Connell and McCormack was barely tested with Moses offering us a welcome attacking outlet when he overlapped menacingly.
Diagouraga and McEachran played as a screen in front of the defenders and Josh still looked a pace behind the others but gradually grew into the game. Jota and the lively Courtney Senior played out wide with Kerschbaumer operating from box to box and Gray up front. The Austrian looked an excellent addition to the squad with his nonstop running and energy as well as a good touch on the ball.
The fun started with twenty minutes to go when the three players remaining from the first half, Diagouraga, Jota and Gray wearily left the field after a job well done. Tarkowski went into an unfamiliar holding midfield role and Aaron Greene replaced Jota but the referee refused to allow the already substituted Yennaris to return to the field and Brentford were forced to play out the match with ten men, gaining experience for a situation that hopefully they will rarely find themselves in throughout the course of the forthcoming season.
The Bees took up a 4-2-3-0 formation, which, with the pacy Greene valiantly attempting to fill two gaps and play right wing and centre forward simultaneously, looked strangely symbolic and symptomatic of our current struggle to fill the striker role adequately. With the recent sale of Will Grigg to Wigan, a decision with which I totally concur, Andre Gray is pretty much the only striker left at the club barring a few promising youngsters who are not yet considered to be in the first team reckoning.
It is far too early to start panicking as I am sure that there is frenetic activity going on behind the scenes to fill the gap but I am also well aware of how hard it is to acquire strikers of the requisite standard at a realistic and reasonable cost. Brentford also play with only one genuine striker which is a difficult role to master, so it is essential that the correct decision is made about who we eventually bring in, both as potential first choice and as cover.
Even more worrying have been the rumours which refuse to go away regarding the possibility of Gray leaving for pastures anew. Who knows if it is necessary for us to sell any of our prize assets in order to keep within the draconian requirements of Financial Fair Play and, if that is, indeed, the case, we will only sell from a position of strength and ensure that our valuations of players are met before they leave the club, and anyone leaving will also be replaced. The potential loss of Gray, in particular would create a massive problem given the lack of an obvious replacement. At this point last season we had already acquired Gray and Scott Hogan and we eventually found our third striker, Nick Proschwitz, immediately before the first game of the season.
Football supporters are never happier than when they have something to worry and moan about so I make no apologies for focusing on a potential problem as well as highlighting the many positives that came out of yesterday’s match.
Football is back and all is well with the world!