Mark Croxford is a long-term and well-respected Brentford supporter and author who is an astute observer of the Brentford scene and he has produced a fascinating overview and his own personal viewpoint regarding our start to the season which was published yesterday on the Griffin Park Grapevine fans’ message board and Mark has kindly agreed to allow me to reproduce his article here as it deserves the widest readership possible:
One week in … … and it’s far too early to make assessments, but here goes!
Our new Head Coach has shown naivety and bravery in equal measures over the course of the three games. I can’t say that’s entirely unexpected but Marinus’s success or failure will no doubt be somewhat based on how well he balances these two traits.
I wrote some weeks back that I felt that the Sporting Directors had not lived up to their summer promises and I still subscribe to that view, as so much emphasis was based on having a big squad allowing Dijkhuizen to be able to rotate … “we want so much more choice than last season, etc, etc.”
I know that injuries have hampered their efforts but – even allowing for the long-term losses of Bjelland, Jota and McEachran, we are still left with a squad of just nineteen (and that’s assuming Andre Gray stays). We have to assume that this season’s planning took place with the names of Hogan and Macleod on a separate piece of paper.
Ron Noades said little that I concurred with but I do recall one of his comments being that one should always assume that between ten to fifteen percent of the playing squad will be unavailable through injury at any one time. So that’s about par for the course then – the huge drawback being that this batch are predominantly long-term absentees. By the way, that figure of nineteen also includes the likes of Tebar, Yennaris and Saunders who we may not have expected to see play for us too often.
So how great an impact will all the injuries have on us? I reckon Bjelland is a massive loss. His brief forty minute display against Oxford was uninspiring to say the least, but he was clearly brought in to be the mainstay of a back four which was hoped and intended to be far less porous than last season. Can O’Connell and Barbet fill his boots? Who knows, but over the course of a whole season the prospect of one of these two talented but inexperienced youngsters playing such a key role is a big, big gamble. I don’t for one moment believe that anyone really expected Dean and Tarkowski to form our central defensive partnership for the start of the season and I’d be amazed, and frankly disappointed, if they are there for the duration.
Jota’s loss for up to four months is also a major blow. Aside from the entertainment value he provides, the goals he contributes are priceless. Personally, I don’t think his assists are anywhere near good enough – he has so much possession in dangerous areas but delivers such a small percentage of assists – but just look at last season’s goal-scoring credits. We scored seventy-eight goals in the Championship. Take away the thirty-seven goals netted by Jota, Pritchard, Douglas, Dallas and almost half have disappeared. If Gray’s sixteen were to go too, I reckon that’s practically three quarters of last season’s goals that need to be found from elsewhere!! I’m not saying it’s impossible to achieve, but what a monumental ask!
McEachran’s absence is a frustrating one. Maybe he was meant to be the holding midfielder and yet from the very, very limited view that we’ve had of him in preseason, he doesn’t look to be someone to provide the defensive shield that the back-four is crying out for. We’ve seen already that Toumani probably doesn’t play that role either and the failure to have acquired a player like Mokotjo might prove to be the biggest mistake of all.
What of the other newcomers who have so far remained fit and healthy? Gogia is a more exciting wing-man than Dallas but far less effective in providing a left-sided attacking/defensive partnership with Bidwell. That might change as he gets used to English football but will he be able to contribute the goals and assists that Dallas did? Hopefully so.
Kerschbaumer has got potential without doubt. So far he’s shown himself to be a willing worker and hard-runner but, and as is only to be expected in his early days, he alternates between impressive and invisible and does not influence the game in the way that Douglas was able to do. Maybe the loss of Douglas was inevitable and welcome off the field, but on the pitch his replacement is not obvious at the moment.
Yoann Barbet looks promising but it has to be remembered that this time last year, he’d never kicked a ball in anger in a first-team professional game so patience will be a necessary virtue in his development.
Jack O’Connell looks the real deal – and it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that he’ll turn out to be the unexpected star of the season. He certainly played well on Saturday when he replaced Tarkowski – another addition to the injury list!
And so to the front men. The Andre Gray scenario changes so rapidly that by the time I’ve finished typing this, he might have gone elsewhere! If he does, I genuinely fear for the season ahead. It has taken him a year to develop into the player he is and ready-made replacements within budget may not exist.
Philipp Hofmann will score goals I believe, but maybe not as many as the tally that Gray notched last season. Lasse Vibe may score goals too, but he looks to be someone who firstly needs a bit more time to become accustomed to the pace and strength of Championship football and then needs to find a suitable role for himself within the team framework.
Going back to where I started and the activities of the Sporting Directors and the recruitment team, I can’t see much likelihood of a late influx of players to boost the ailing numbers, so perhaps this really will be a genuine season of transition and stability with the January window proving to be the busiest we’ve seen since the Andy Scott days.
I reckon the shopping list so far reads: a replacement for Bjelland (on and off the field), a strong and effective defensive midfielder (six steps up from Alan McCormack) and a true “number ten” or playmaker as have we got anyone within the squad who can currently play that role effectively?
A couple of loans wouldn’t go amiss either – a wide player to cover for Jota’s absence and a left-sided player to compete with the only two currently at the club (Bidwell and Gogia).
And as for Andre Gray? Who knows what will happen and if so, when? But don’t forget all those goals that need to be made up! I’m not thinking about that any more – it’s too frightening.
Thanks, Mark for taking the time to provide so cogent and well thought through an article. He makes many good points in particular about the missing goals that we will have to replace from midfield as well as the potential implications of losing Andre Gray and as always he has carefully researched his facts before he makes his opinions known.
Personally I think that the jury is still out and that it is far too early to make any judgements about how this season will progress.
The Head Coach appears to favour a 4-3-3 formation and ideally to play Gray and Hofmann together. Will the extra goals that such an exciting attacking partnership provides, rather than last season’s lone striker policy, make up for the lack of defensive cover from midfield that was exposed as such a major weakness at Bristol City last Saturday? I have my doubts on the limited evidence to date.
The relentless procession of injuries has come as an unwelcome and unexpected blow, they have already hit us hard and their impact could well be long-term and far reaching. I remain hopeful that swift action will be taken in the transfer market to help redress the problems that Mark has so clearly outlined, but it remains to be seen, and perhaps this season will be far tougher than a lot of supporters have envisaged and in that case consolidation in the Championship should be regarded as acceptable progress in its own right and a triumphant progress to the giddy heights of the Premier League might have to wait for another year or so?
What does everybody else think? Please make your opinions known.