Going to Kenilworth Road is like travelling back to Dickensian times. A horrid, squalid, filthy stadium half hidden amongst the maze of terraced houses, the decrepit Lego-like DIY hospitality boxes strung erratically all along one side of the ground, the ghastly cramped away end with no leg room and that dark, dank, narrow alley behind the stand where you anxiously watch out for Bill Sikes lurking in the shadows.
Luton is never the friendliest or most welcoming of venues and Brentford contributed to the gloom by subsiding to a disappointing two – one defeat in last night’s friendly match.
In truth, there wasn’t too much wrong with the actual performance with the Bees enjoying plenty of possession, fizzing the ball around comfortably where it didn’t really count, but there was a lack of devil, precision and penetration in the final third and when chances were created they were squandered and busy keeper Elliot Justham brought off a series of acrobatic saves to earn a narrow and hard fought victory for his team.
The goals conceded were sloppy in the extreme. An unopposed simple far post header from a corner by Luke Wilkinson and then, late on, veteran Calvin Zola was allowed to bustle his way, elbows jutting, to the edge of the box and slide a well placed shot into the corner of the net. Poor defending and perhaps a wake up call for a Brentford team which, up to tonight, had been sailing serenely through the preseason with three consecutive clean sheets.
The rump of the squad featured last night but the big guns in Gray, who received a rapturous reception from his former supporters, Judge, Dean, Bidwell, Diagouraga and Jota did not see action until the dying embers of the game and it was a mixed squad which competed for most of the proceedings. Several other likely first teamers such as Button, Kerschbaumer, Odebajo and Vibe were nowhere to be seen.
This game epitomised what preseason matches should be all about, gaining match fitness, shaking out the cobwebs, getting used to playing with new team mates and most importantly, allowing the team management to assess the quality and depth of every member of the squad.
It is generally accepted throughout football, except apparently at Bashley where the manager has already lost his job after some poor preseason performances, that the actual results are of secondary importance.
Nobody likes losing, particularly at lower league opposition but if last night helps us improve our learning curve and some of the weaknesses that were clearly demonstrated are also eradicated before they become costly, then that is fine by me.
I am sure that our complete first team, whatever that is, would have defeated Luton but that would surely have proved little as our new Head Coach needed to see some of the so called lesser lights in action against what turned out to be a more than decent Luton team which played crisp football and pressed and covered like demons. This was a good work out and Dijkhuizen must have been left with much to chew over.
Some of the squad did their prospects no harm but others unfortunately did not fare so well.
Bonham and Smith were relatively untroubled, had no chance with either goal and both looked the part in goal. Yennaris was always involved and overlapped eagerly but he never entirely convinced. I see him as a benchwarmer at best, valuable to have around but unlikely to start. Barbet looked every inch a footballer, calm, composed and powerful with a hint of pace and a real eye for a pass. He looked really at home at left back.
O’Connell played the entire match and did his prospects no harm. He is probably nearer the back of the queue than the front but he looked an exceptional defender in the making with the advantage of being left footed. Tarkowski and Bjelland also each had a decent runout and were under little pressure. Quite who starts at centre half is still an utter mystery to me – a nice problem to have.
Williams is slight with a low centre of gravity but busy and always on the move and looking to bring others into the game. He lacked some sharpness, but this will come. He also came close with a swerving free kick that forced a full length save. I would best describe him as a sleeper, he’s not ready to start for us yet but one day, in the not too far distant future, he could well be.
He was partnered in midfield by Tebar and McCormack, neither of whom really advanced their case for selection. Tebar was peripheral and lightweight and Alan had one of those nights when he lost touch and concentration and gave the ball away far too often.
Dallas was dangerous when fed the ball but was too often starved of possession and Gogia always looked to be positive and forced a great save from the keeper, however he needed some reminding about his defensive responsibilities.
The Hoff scored his first goal for the club, turning in a Gogia cross with such lack of fuss and economy of effort that the two hundred and forty-two Bees fans scattered behind the goal far away in the Stygian gloom at the other end of the pitch barely realised that the ball had gone in. Hofmann was determined and clever on the ball and always shot on sight. He will be a danger, score goals and create chances for others, but he lacks the dynamism and sheer pace and energy of Andre Gray.
Gray terrorised the opposition and we looked far more potent once he came on. Only a brilliant save denied him a goal with his first touch and he miscontrolled with the goal yawning right at the death.
Yes, the result was disappointing, as were some of the individual performances too but the peripheral squad members all got some valuable match practice and the Head Coach is now surely far closer to deciding who will be included in his first choice starting eleven.
Saturday’s team against Norwich will certainly be near to the one that will begin the first game of the season against Ipswich but valuable lessons were learned last night and whilst I hate losing any game this was a mere skirmish – the real battle commences on Saurday week.