Did as well as could be expected given what little we had, might be a fair description of Brentford’s performance at Turf Moor yesterday.
Burnley were tough, well organised and uncompromising and proved hard to break down, but in all honesty they were pretty dour and uninspired and were really there for the taking, particularly as they were lacking in confidence given that they were still searching for their first victory of the season.
Brentford more than matched them throughout the first half when we pinged the ball out to both wings with pace and accuracy with Diagouraga linking the play skilfully, and but for some pretty insipid finishing from the otherwise lively Vibe, a good save by Heaton from Judge’s well placed free kick and Hofmann not gambling and anticipating a couple of opportunities from penetrative balls into the area, we would have been comfortably ahead.
As it was, the home crowd was already beginning to moan and mutter and get on the back of their team when Brentford unforgivably gave away the initiative at a time when they were in total control and conceded yet another soft goal from Burnley’s first corner kick when Jones’s excellent delivery left Hofmann floundering at the far post, he lost his man and Keane headed home easily without much of a challenge. Maybe there had been a foul on Hofmann who claimed that he’d been pushed, but he was guilty of ball watching and we need to show better organisation and far more determination when defending set pieces or we will continue to suffer the consequences. Surely our set piece coach should also be looking at how we defend them as well as helping us to take advantage of our own opportunities.
Our heads went down at this self inflicted blow and Burnley gratefully took control without ever seriously threatening a second goal.
Our threat also disappeared for long spells, but we improved when Colin made an excellent debut as a second half substitute. He is pacy, plays with his head up and uses the ball intelligently and he looked to be an excellent replacement for Moses Odubajo. Finally some good news!
We flitted in and out of the game throughout the second half and went close with a long range effort from Kerschbaumer whistling narrowly over the crossbar and auxiliary striker Harlee Dean, easily our man of the match, almost getting on the end of a loose ball in the area during a late but abortive flurry.
As it was Burnley just about deserved the victory on the overall balance of play but had the Bees scored in the first quarter of the match, as they surely should have done, then Burnley heads would have gone down and Brentford would likely have emerged victorious.
In all honesty Brentford were totally hamstrung through lack of options. With the late sale on Friday of Andre Gray, who was an interested onlooker from the main stand, and the injury list still biting deep into our limited resources, pretty much every fit senior player was included in the squad and, as for the bench, it was utterly threadbare, and more resembled a kindergarten than being fit for purpose for a purported Championship promotion contender, with Senior, Udumaga and Clarke all included, and as Alan Judge ruefully admitted afterwards, it contained a mixture of defenders and kids and gave us no flexibility to change things.
Hofmann in particular needed a break as he had run himself out with little support but he was forced to lumber on given the lack of a suitable alternative.
I have written at length over the past week about our approach and provided a rationale for why we have allowed so many players to leave. I have to admit it hurt me to watch Stuart Dallas make such an impact and create the Leeds equaliser against Sheffield Wednesday and he would have made a real difference for us up at Turf Moor, it was similarly galling to see Jon Toral look so lively for Birmingham against Derby (I did try and refrain from mentioning how impressive Clayton Donaldson looked too but I failed dismally) but we have made our bed and we now have to lie in it.
We were promised an increased depth and size of squad with adequate cover in every position but so far that has proved to be a chimera. Injuries and sales, forced and otherwise, have meant that we have been reduced to using raw development squad recruits just to fill the bench and ensure that we have the requisite number of seven substitutes.
To be frank, I did not expect there to be quite the level of upheaval that has taken place recently and that we would pretty much be looking for an entirely new team.
A reported opportunity to earn the thick end of ten million pounds for Gray from Burnley when the add ons are included made the deal inevitable, and we have almost doubled our record sale figure in less than a fortnight. I have no complaints about any of the sales as long as those who have left us as well as the long term injured are adequately replaced – and quickly.
Without Moses, Gray and the injured Jota we have lost all of our pace and dynamism and much of our guile and we look a pallid and lethargic shadow of the exciting, speedy and vibrant team of last season that cut opponents to ribbons, but I fully realise and pray that things can change very quickly if we are able to complete deals for our prime targets and they then settle down quickly into a new team and pattern of play. Big ifs though!
Max Colin (great name) made an encouraging start at Burnley but Vibe, Hofmann and Kerschbaumer have, quite understandably, yet to find their feet in the hustle and bustle of the Championship. All have contributed little cameos to date with Kerschbaumer’s wonderful back heel at Bristol last weekend which helped set up our opening goal and his beautifully weighed pass yesterday that created a massive chance for Vibe that he spurned. Vibe and Hofmann have also had their moments, particularly with the fourth goal at Bristol, but they have been pretty rare and spasmodic.
We have played some excellent football in spurts in each of our opening three league matches but we have looked disorganised, disjointed and open in defence, vulnerable at set pieces and lacking cover from the midfield and without Gray, pretty toothless up front. The loss of Douglas has nowhere near been covered adequately and with the departures of Pritchard, Dallas, Douglas and Gray, and Jota’s injury we now have to replace nearly three quarters of the goals we scored last season, and frankly I cannot see where they are going to come from.
It is hard to overestimate the impact that the injuries, combined with player transfers have had on us. As we came into the last couple of weeks of the preseason I fully expect that Dijkhuizen was planning on starting with the following team – until fate intervened:
Five of that likely starting eleven have either left the club or are currently unavailable for the long term and with Douglas and Dallas also departed we are really creaking at the seams. Midfield was our strong point last season with a combination of goals, pace, flair and flexibility and several selection options too, whereas now we are struggling for bodies and balance.
The season has barely begun but what happens over the next week or so up until the end of the transfer window in my opinion will set the tone for how the remainder of the season will pan out. Yes, of course we can sign loan players from early September too but we need to get some semblance of a settled team as well as strength in depth and give Marinus a realistic chance to build and develop his squad. We are a bit of a shambles at the moment – understandably so, given all the circumstances, and yesterday I hope we reached our nadir and the tipping point as I do not expect to see such a weak squad again for the forseeable future.
We drastically need reinforcements, but they have to be of a suitable calibre and character, and players who are ideally not just short term bodies intended merely to paper over the cracks. It would be a gross overstatement to say that we are currently in crisis mode regarding the size, quality and battle readiness of our squad but we are certainly cash rich and player poor – a horribly dangerous combination that could lead us to be held to ransom and perhaps have our pockets picked as the dreaded deadline approaches. The international break also cannot come quickly enough as it will allow us the time to regroup and ideally integrate new players into our system.
We are running out of time and much has to happen over the next week or so and this is the time when our joint Directors of Football need to earn their spurs. Gentlemen – it is over to you.