Nothing Ventured! – 29/9/15

After all the off the field drama of the last twenty-four hours I was hoping to write an article that concentrated solely on the football and our first match under the new Head Coach, Lee Carsley, but in truth there is very little to say about Tuesday night’s drab and dismal two-nil home defeat to a distinctly average Birmingham City team, and even less if I do not want to be particularly gloomy or negative in my comments.

This was a tepid, desperately disappointing and below-par performance where we created little and there was no pace, energy, passion or spark of ingenuity and even less creativity about our game. We played pretty passing football in our own half where the ball was sent back and forth interminably between the defenders and we got nowhere. There was no cutting edge and the entire team lacked the confidence to try and play through two banks of four Birmingham players who funnelled back and simply waited patiently for the ball to be given to them by our players which they did with monotonous regularity.

Our possession figures approached seventy percent but this was a meaningless statistic as the overwhelming majority of our ball retention took places in areas where we were never going to hurt the opposition. The team lined up in a 4-3-1-2 formation but as has been the case all season, the midfield was desperately disappointing with Diagouraga attempting to hold things together without much success and Kerschbaumer flitted in and out of the game. Ryan Woods finally earned his first start and the best that can be said about him was that he was neat and tidy and rarely gave the ball away but he never hurt the opposition or created an opportunity. We desperately missed a creative dynamo playing behind the front two who could stretch the opposition and run at them and ideally make things happen.

Djuricin and Vibe played as the strike duo and the Austrian found space on a couple of occasions in the first half without getting any real power into his shots and the closest they came was when Vibe streaked clear down the left channel after the break but shot straight at the keeper with the unmarked Djuricin screaming for the ball to be squared to him in front of a gaping goal.

In truth we lacked any pace or cutting edge and looked lightweight and both strikers were easily smothered out of the game.They never managed to hold the ball up although the service they received was spasmodic at best and the ball generally sailed three feet over their head rather than at their feet.

Button made one excellent save from a close-range header but the game seemed to be drifting ever so slowly to a nil-nil draw which in the scheme of things might not have been the worst result in the world as it would have meant that we would have earned our first clean sheet of the season, but it wasn’t meant to be. As it was, all that we could celebrate on the night was for the first time all season going into the break drawing at home and not losing. Big deal!

The defence finally dozed off at a right wing corner with twenty minutes to go and Morrison easily outjumped O’Connell to score with a thumping header. Perhaps the players were distracted by an injury to McCormack just before the corner came in and we seemed to lack concentration and were punished yet again at a set piece. Alan’s game went to pieces after that, hampered as he was by his injury and it was surprising that he was not replaced by Josh Clarke, unused on the bench. As it is Donaldson’s theatrical collapse earned McCormack his fifth yellow card of the season and an enforced rest next Saturday.

Surely there would now be a spark and a reaction as we sought an equaliser, but instead of going hell for leather and chasing the game we went even further into our shell. Our talisman, Sergi Canos was tightly marked and was totally unable to work his magic. As the game drifted towards its welcome close Alan Judge suddenly came alive, won a ball that was never his on the right flank, jinked inside his man and his brilliant rising left footed effort from the edge of the penalty area looked bound for the top corner, but, as is invariably the case this season, the luck was not with us and the ball hit the top of the crossbar and flew over.

To add insult to injury, Gleeson threaded the ball between our absent defenders deep into injury time and Clayton Donaldson bundled the ball home for the second goal, celebrated with silence as the hushed crowd quickly left the stadium, fed up, bemused and depressed by what they had witnessed.

The team has lost its Mojo and looked utterly drained of any confidence. I would have suspected that they would have upped their game given the appointment of the new Head Coach but if anything the performance went down a gear rather than up and Lee Carsley has much to do if the slide is to be arrested.

His post match revelation that he probably expects to leave the club at the end of the season and does not want the job on a long-term basis will also do nothing to raise spirits and expectations on what had already turned out to be a dismally disappointing evening and this massively negative announcement was the final kick in the teeth for Brentford supporters who are perhaps at their lowest ebb for quite some time.

There is, as we know, a toxic mixture of far too many new overseas players of unproven quality lacking leadership and trying to bed into a new team playing in an unfamiliar league with the established stars either sold or on the injury list.

Tonight the passion, invention and joy seemed to have been squeezed out of the entire Brentford team and for the first time in perhaps three years I was bored and distracted and found my attention wandering and my eyes glancing at my watch so sparse was the entertainment value being provided by a team seemingly afraid of its own shadow and unprepared to risk making a mistake by attempting anything ambitious or unexpected. This is how badly a team can be affected when it totally loses confidence.

Perhaps the evening was best summed up by Gogia, returning from his injury break and instantly hammering the ball miles behind the goal when shooting from a ridiculously impossible angle in the final moments of the match with his team mates queuing up in the penalty area and waiting for a simple cross which never arrived.

I have deliberately avoided using the R word until this point but for the first time this season I have to say that relegation would be an inevitability if performances of this ilk are repeated on a regular basis.

There were no redeeming features and there is absolutely nothing positive that can be said about tonight so I will end here and just hope for a massive improvement on Saturday when we need to demonstrate a completely different attitude if we are to have much chance of success at Derby County. You have to take calculated risks to win and tonight we simply played it safe and received our just reward.

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Why Marinus Has Gone – 28/9/15

Today’s news that Brentford Head Coach Marinus Dijkhuizen and his assistant, Roy Hendriksen have both left Griffin Park frankly comes as little surprise. The official statements from the club and Chairman Cliff Crown are brief, carefully worded and they take pains not to use the word. Parted company is the bland and anodyne expression used to explain their departure but let’s make no bones about it – the two of them have been sacked.

Dijkhuizen lasted a mere one hundred and twenty days in his post. Appointed on the first of June he departed on the twenty-eighth of September having presided over a mere nine competitive matches. Whilst he was officially titled Head Coach, he was team manager in everything bar name and should therefore be compared against previous occupants of that position.

Let’s get the history out of the way first. In modern times the previous shortest managerial tenure at the club was Eddie May’s who lasted nineteen games in his three months in charge followed by Leroy Rosenior and Terry Butcher who was in charge for twenty-three games and Scott Fitzgerald who managed one more match.

Eddie May potentially presents an interesting parallel for those of us who are conspiracy theorists. An unknown appointed out of left field from Dundalk with indecent haste by David Webb in August 1997 at a time when the club was in total disarray with a squad that had been decimated by the sale of players and the arrival of unknown journeymen replacements, he quite understandably struggled to get results and when the repeated promises of funds to improve the team failed to materialise he was sacked along with his assistant Clive Walker in November 1997, after just four league wins had left the club embroiled in a relegation battle which they ultimately lost on the last day of a quite dreadful season.

May was perceived as Webb’s dupe, the fall guy for the previous manager who had taken over as Chief Executive with the prime intention of ensuring that funds were brought in so that the club was debt free before it was sold to Ron Noades the following year.

Are there any similarities when we come to consider the reasons and rationale for the change in management that took place today?

I have thought long and hard about matters and whilst the start we have made to the season has been horrible there have certainly been extenuating circumstances. Let’s get the hard facts out of the way:

  • Brentford have gained only eight points from their first eight Championship matches and find themselves in nineteenth place, only two points off the bottom of the league
  • We have conceded the first goal in every match bar one and have yet to keep a clean sheet
  • The Bees have won only two matches, both against teams just promoted from Division One
  • We have lost two of our first four home games, could quite easily have lost all four and have trailed at half time in every game
  • A weakened team lost by four clear goals to Second Division Oxford United in the Capital One Cup
  • Performances have been stuttering and inconsistent, we find it hard to start matches on the front foot and there is no settled pattern of play

That is the prosecution case but there is an equally strong case for the defence that more than explains away our less then impressive start to the season:

  • Let’s try and keep a sense of perspective and simply take stock and recognise just how far we have come in such a short space of time particularly given our lack of resources compared to the overwhelming majority of our Championship rivals
  • The enforced sale and departure of five leading players from last season’s squad in Andre Gray, Jonathan Douglas, Moses Odubajo, Alex Pritchard and Stuart Dallas which rendered Dijkhuizen’s preseason preparations almost meaningless
  • Last season’s team included five potential match winners and game changers in Jota, Alan Judge, Odubajo, Pritchard and Gray – a figure currently reduced to one
  • A relentless and seemingly ever-increasing long-term injury list that has rendered key players such as Jota, Andreas Bjelland, Max Colin, Philipp Hofmann, Lewis Macleod and Josh McEachran hors de combat
  • The consequent need to blood members of the Development Squad who will certainly all benefit from the experience but for them to compete in the Championship at this stage of their career is a tough ask
  • Being forced to name only six substitutes including two goalkeepers at the strongest team in the league in Middlesbrough
  • The need to bed in simultaneously nearly half a team of newcomers from around Europe who have no knowledge of English conditions and The Championship and are not being buttressed by more experienced players around them
  • PitchGate – a total embarrassment for the club which necessitated the re-turfing of Griffin Park and the cancellation of the Birmingham home game
  • The scandalous situation at Jersey Road where the main training pitches are still unusable

Whilst there have been some rumblings and murmurings from supporters spoiled by the constant stream of success over the past three seasons and used to the wonderful attacking flair of Mark Warburton’s playoff team last season, the overwhelming majority of Brentford supporters are extremely patient and fair minded and were prepared to give Marinus more time, particularly given the almost insuperable problems he faced that were totally out of his control.

That being said there were growing concerns about his commitment to an impotent and restrictive 4-3-3 formation that patently wasn’t working given the limited resources he had and required constant changes on the hoof when we were chasing games that were already slipping away from us. Lasse Vibe, a proven international striker was hamstrung from being forced to play out wide on the right wing where he has been an isolated figure, rather than more centrally where he and Marco Djuricin looked a highly potent threat when they were finally allowed to play closer together.

Konstantin Kerschbaumer was an ever present in the team despite seemingly overwhelming evidence that he was unable to cope with the physicality of The Championship and the presence of expensive new signing Ryan Woods on the bench who has been clamouring for a start.

I have spoken to many of the key protagonists over the past few weeks and I have found absolutely no evidence that Marinus was in any way shape or form, overruled, instructed, hamstrung, restricted or second guessed in any of his key responsibilities in terms of picking the team, training and preparing them for action and most crucially in terms of game management, tactics and substitutions. He was given an entirely free hand and the freedom to act as he best saw fit. So any comparisons to Eddie May are totally inaccurate and invidious. Marinus was no puppet and was allowed to be his own man.

He had bought into the Brentford project and was happy with the new management structure. He was consulted on all player moves both in and out and whilst he would have liked some additional loan signings to cover for the current injury crisis, Marinus was content with the quality and calibre of the new signings.

So why then did he leave if he was not being made the scapegoat for a series of poor results that were to a large degree out of his control? Now this is where I have to resort to speculation and informed guesswork.

Perhaps the alarm bells were beginning to ring with the powers that be because of some of the onfield tactical and selection problems that I have previously mentioned earlier in this article as well as exploring in depth yesterday.

He also suffered in comparison with his predecessor. Mark Warburton was certainly a hard act to follow and his successor needed to get off to a flying start, something that was denied Marinus.

Warburton was also a workaholic control freak, in the nicest sense of the words. He arrived early at the training ground and left extremely late. Training routines were meticulously planned and organised well in advance and the players knew exactly where they stood and how they were going to spend their days.

It would appear that Marinus and Roy Hendriksen did not run such a tight ship in terms of either time keeping and preparation and a far more laissez faire atmosphere prevailed. This apparently did not go down well with either players or management.

I believe that today’s action has been taken by Matthew Benham on the recommendation of the Co-Directors of Football in order to nip matters in the bud before they can be allowed to get out of hand and beyond control.

It cannot be denied that this is an enormous blow to the credibility of the new regime at the club and I am sure that the media will not be slow to point fingers and make fun at our expense. Such are the vicissitudes of life and we will just have to cope with this opprobrium as best we can.

Brentford pride themselves on doing things differently to other clubs, thinking out of the box and acting far smarter than their rivals.  An enormous amount of due diligence was done before Marinus was hired and he interviewed exceptionally well and seemed to tick all the boxes. However the fact remains that actions speak louder than words and apparently he has not convinced the powers that be since he arrived and drastic action has been taken sooner rather than later to avert the slump before too much damage is done.

It could reasonably be argued that this is an extremely brave move rather than a panicked knee jerk reaction and this could even be a turning point for us in what is developing into a tough season and one where consolidation is perhaps the best we can hope for rather than pushing on from last season’s massive and incredible achievements. As they say – one step backwards – two steps forward!

Lee Carsley is an excellent choice to take over the mantle as Head Coach. Supported by Paul Williams he is a known entity who has already gained the unconditional respect of the entire squad. He is an experienced and proven international footballer who can put his caps on the table and he has previous managerial experience at Coventry City. Most importantly he has a deep working knowledge of The Championship and he will be keen to put one over one of his old clubs, Birmingham City, at Griffin Park tomorrow night.

So on the surface this has not been a good day for the club, but when you drill down deeper and think matters through, then perhaps it has been a brave and correct decision to relieve Marinus and Roy of their jobs.

All will surely be revealed and become apparent over the coming weeks and months.

Time For Changes – 27/9/15

Now that really hurt!

Any defeat is upsetting but some are far more so than others and yesterday’s loss to Sheffield Wednesday certainly came into that category.

I left Griffin Park with an awful sick feeling in the pit of my stomach and the walk back to my car was a long and depressing one.

I have long since learned to put defeats behind me very quickly if I am to retain my sanity and maintain any semblance of a normal family life, but last night it was difficult for me to do so given the circumstances of the loss.

The first half was pretty much a mirror image of every home game this season. A slow start, marked by a total lack of incision and penetration with few chances created and the midfield never getting forward to join and support the isolated Djuricin with Vibe wasted and ignored on the right wing. Judge was our only creative outlet with Toumani and McCormack both sitting deep and Kerschbaumer invisible.

The visitors finally realised that we were really not up to much, and slowly took control with Bannon elegant in midfield and the Giant Haystacks figure of Nuhiu their fulcrum in attack. Dean marshalled him well but when the delivery is right he is almost impossible to stop and he hit the bar with a fearsome header from a corner.

Button saved well twice as we came under the cosh whilst Westwood was totally untested at the other end. The only rays of hope for the Bees were the two fullbacks. Josh Clarke overcame a nervous start but once he settled down he gave us a real attacking outlet on the right. Jake Bidwell too did the same on the other flank and he came the nearest for the Bees when Judge picked him out with a lovely curling cross which he met with a volley which kissed the crossbar as it flew over.

When the goal came for the visitors it was really no surprise given their extra cutting edge but again, it was a soft one which highlighted our general lack of awareness. A long punt from the keeper was played back by Nuhiu to Bannan wide on the left. He then made a wonderful positive run into the area losing Dean as he did so. Tarkowski dozed and saw the danger too late as Bannan’s perfect through ball set the striker in on goal. Tarky challenged from the wrong side and it was an obvious penalty.

Bidwell was covering behind him and might even have averted the danger had Tarkowski not committed himself. Surely a yellow card at worst, but the referee Geoff Eltringham dithered, vacillated and allowed the Wednesday players and their vociferous bench to get in his ear and after a long and interminable delay and conversation with his assistant the red card was produced and finally Nuhiu scored from the spot. A triple whammy for the Bees on the day – penalty, goal, red card and Tarkowski will now also face a one game ban unless we are able to make a successful appeal against the decision.

We managed to get into the halftime break only one goal in arrears but in truth the game resembled nothing more than an average Championship team playing a mediocre Division One outfit. We had effort and hard tackling in abundance but we demonstrated no craft or cutting edge in what was an extremely poor and vapid first half performance.

O’Connell came on to boost the defence and it was no surprise to see Kerschbaumer sacrificed. He has started every league game so far this season so I wonder exactly what it is that the coaches and analysts are seeing in him that is being missed by pretty much every Bees supporte? He has obvious ability on the ball, can see a pass and makes decent late runs into the area but he is being patently outmuscled and overmatched at present and his influence on games is, quite frankly, utterly nonexistent. The matches simply seem to pass him by and without meaning to be cruel the closest he came to an opposition player yesterday was during the pre-match handshake when he and his fellow Austrian, Nuhiu, enveloped each other in a bear hug, otherwise he was nowhere to be seen.

I appreciate that the more he plays, the faster he will hopefully become acclimatised to the Championship but at the moment he is a total passenger and given our current plight we cannot afford to carry anyone who is not fully pulling his weight. Our midfield is unbalanced, outnumbered, outmatched and outplayed with monotonous regularity and much of that is due to the fact that McCormack and Diagouraga are occupied in their defensive duties and neither of them are likely to open up opposition defences.

Ryan Woods came on for the final push and impressed from his first touch. He is well used to the hustle and bustle of the Football League, if not the demands of the Championship, but he looks a far, far better bet than Konstantin. He plays with his head up, pushes forward to support the attack and rarely wastes a pass. It is quite baffling why he has not been given his opportunity to date. He must start on Tuesday instead of Kerschbaumer but that is a decision for Duikhuizen.

We have another home game on Tuesday and it will be instructive to see the team that Duikhuizen selects. He has proven to be an effective coach who is not afraid to change things when they are not working – and our current formation really isn’t doing so! I would hope that he takes heed of yet another appalling first half performance at home and that we do not start with the customary ineffective 4-3-3 setup which means that Vibe is never in the game and unable to play close enough to Djuricin who is currently living off scraps.

At the interval yesterday I reflected on the Birmingham match early last season when we lost Tony Craig in similar circumstances and were trailing deservedly at the break. I took comfort from the fact that Birmingham sat back in the second half and allowed us to seize the initiative and we were able to rescue a point. Maybe Sheffield Wednesday would become similarly complacent and feel that they had already completed the job?

My hopes and prayers were answered and with Judge moved into a more central role where he dictated play, and Vibe finally playing closer to Djuricin we took control. Wednesday were forced backwards and were rarely an attacking threat in the second half. O’Connell was a revelation, giving us balance on the left side of defence alongside the imperious Harlee Dean. He also showed an unsuspected ability to hit accurate long passes and even hit a thirty-yarder not too far wide.

We now have a welcome problem in central defence with four excellent players competing for two spots. Dean is an automatic choice and a reformed and far more mature character and we must get his new contract sorted and recognise and reward him for the progress he has undoubtedly made in recent months. Tarky was imperious at Leeds and is the best creative option we possess but he loses concentration, as was shown yesterday, and both Barbet and O’Connell are now breathing down his neck.

Who will play on Tuesday if the red card is not rescinded? Your guess is as good as mine and I would be happy with either Barbet, so impressive against Preston, or O’Connell. If I had to choose I would go with Barbet as he has far more ability on the ball than O’Connell and we need somebody at the back who can ensure that we maintain possession.

Despite our second half dominance, chances were few and far between. Djuricin met a beautiful Bidwell cross flush on his forehead and his header crashed against the bar but he had moved too soon and the flag was up. Judge’s free kick from wide out on the left evaded everybody straining for the ball in a crowded six yard box and pinged against the post, but again, more surprisingly this time, the flag was up from an assistant referee who seemed hell-bent on doing his best to frustrate our efforts.

Bidwell is surely going to break his goalscoring duck shortly and he saw the whites of Westwood’s eyes before his shot was blocked by the keeper. We were knocking at the door but had to rely on Button making a fabulous low save from a long range effort from lithe substitute Joao which kicked up off the turf before being pushed away by the straining keeper.

Button’s next contribution was equally effective as he was first to a loose ball near the halfway line and picked out Judge with a perfect fifty yard lobbed pass and Alan brought the ball under instant control and sent a sublime curling effort just inside the far post for a well-deserved equaliser.

Media staff member and Programme Editor Mark Chapman also deserves mention for his manic celebration, beautifully caught by the television cameras, which showed just how much he cares!

Now the force was with the Bees and the game seemed to turn on its head when substitute left back Helan received two crass and stupid yellow cards for fouls on the marauding Clarke and Canos. The Bees turned the screws and an unlikely winner seemed on the cards. Canos tore their left flank apart and was unstoppable. He ran and jinked but never overplayed and then the moment came. He twisted his way to the byline and pulled the ball back perfectly to the unmarked Vibe who surely had to score. He had time to think and maybe even control the ball but his instant volley raged over the bar.

On such moments are games won and lost as deep into injury time another frenetic attack broke down, a swift counter attack saw the ball played towards Joao, he miscontrolled, and the ball bounced off the helpless O’Connell’s back right into the path of the marauding forward who was not to be caught. He finished impeccably and the game was lost in an instant.

A point would have felt like three given the way we had started the game and our one man disadvantage for so long a period and perhaps we chased the game too hard once we had equalised and left ourselves open and too exposed at the back. That is a mere quibble but the fact remains that we lost against a very average team and we gave ourselves an uphill task and far too much to do.

We have conceded first in all four home games, gone two down twice, and let in eight goals, or two goals per match. We have barely started any of the games until the second half when we already had a mountain to climb and reacted accordingly by changing our formation and approach. Vibe has been wasted out wide and Kerschbaumer has contributed little or nothing. These are in my view indisputable facts and for all the problems we face in terms of our current injury crisis they have to be addressed – and quickly too, if we are not to fall into the relegation zone.

We will probably more than hold our own once we get back the likes of Jota, but other injured players such as Macleod, Hofmann, Colin, Gogia and McEachran are still relatively or totally untried and unknown to us and, with the exception of Josh, are new to the English game and will need further time to settle down, reach full match fitness and find their feet. We therefore need to stay in touch and pick up points as and when we can until we manage to strengthen. This will need a change of personnel, style and formation when we play at home as we cannot keep having to come back from behind. We have trailed in every game this season bar one and it is proving to be too much of a handicap.

There is still talk around the club of maintaining the progress of last season. This is arrant nonsense and claptrap and we need to face facts. Until further notice we are in a relegation scrap, early days though it might still be. This is no time to be complacent or say that things will simply get better.

There is much that is out of our control but we still have to do far better with all the situations that we can influence. For all the good things that we did after the break, and the last second kick in the teeth, yesterday was a massively missed opportunity to pick up at least one point. Every point is crucial, even at this early stage of the season and there are immediate changes that need to be made – now.

A Real Dilemma! – 26/9/15

I really wasn’t too sure who I wanted to win last night’s West London derby between our two hated rivals Fulham and Queens Park Rangers. Unfortunately Football League regulations do not yet allow for a verdict of nul points to be awarded so I was feeling utterly conflicted about the eventual outcome.

Perhaps I would settle for a nil-nil draw with lots of injuries – nothing too painful but certainly lingering and long-term to be suffered by the likes of star players Ross McCormack and Charlie Austin and the game to be refereed by Keith Stroud at his enigmatic best and be littered with a series of red and yellow cards which would leave the two teams seriously weakened for the challenges that lie ahead throughout the remainder of the season.

The outcome was a surprise as Fulham pulverised QPR by four goals to nil and the score could easily have been doubled had they taken more of the clear chances that they created on the night. French teenager Moussa Dembele was a towering target man who combined pace and power in abundance and proved a handful for the Rangers defence. Hopefully he will not remain for too much longer at Craven Cottage before a Premiership team snatches him away.

The aforementioned McCormack was far too clever for the visitors with his movement and scored twice and O’Hara and Pringle dovetailed beautifully in midfield. Fulham it has to be said looked like a team bursting with purpose, poise and confidence and their previously porous defence was barely tested on what turned out to be a night of shame and humiliation for the visitors.

Rangers barely mounted a challenge, ran up the white flag from the early moments when they conceded a ludicrously soft opening goal and after they eventually managed to carve open the Fulham defence with an admittedly lovely move which ended with Luongo spurning a golden chance to equalise by firing carelessly wide, their heads went down and they allowed Fulham to take total control.

Success in the Championship is obtained by a winning combination of perspiration and inspiration and you have to demonstrate both qualities if you are to prevail. On the night Fulham, to their credit, certainly did so and the entire team, apart from the totally unworked Andy Lonergan in goal sweated buckets as well as playing some beautiful one touch football but their task was made far easier by the fact that Rangers were not prepared to press or challenge or do any of the unseen and nasty work off the ball that is necessary if you are to ensure that possession is won back after it is conceded. Rangers never really appeared to want to break sweat on the night and their lack of commitment is highlighted by their only committing ten fouls throughout the game and barely putting in a tackle worthy of the name.

The question has to be asked if Fulham were simply unstoppable on a night when everything came off for them and they performed to their full capability, or if they were in truth made to look far better than they really are by a totally inept and craven display by QPR? The jury is out on that matter, but last night’s match certainly reinforced the fact that the overall quality of Championship players is exceptionally high and the majority of teams possess game changers – players who have the ability to take a game by the scruff of its neck and turn it in favour of their team by virtue of one moment of brilliance.

By the end of the evening QPR had degenerated into an ill-disciplined shambles exemplified by the totally inept Chery stalking straight off to the dressing room in an apparent hissy fit after being dragged off and substituted before the interval and top scorer Charlie Austin limped off on the hour with what appeared to be a hamstring injury which hopefully will be a serious one and take quite a while – ideally over a month – to heal!

Their supporters were reduced to silence by their team’s pathetic display and it is also interesting to note that there was much made of the fact that they brought 4,000 fans to Craven Cottage – over two thousand less than we took to our match there last season!

I have a rather annoying acquaintance who is as fanatical about his beloved Queens Park Rangers as I am about the Bees and he persists in sending me a series of taunting texts and tweets whenever his team wins or we loses. Interestingly enough he seems to have gone very quiet over the past few hours and I wonder if I will hear from him today? I somehow think not!

The humiliation of QPR has certainly brought about a more than decent start to the weekend, ignoring of course the necessary but unpalatable fact that as a result Fulham took the three points on offer. What would top things off perfectly would be for Brentford to do the business this afternoon against a tough and resourceful Sheffield Wednesday team that will be bursting with confidence after beating Fulham and then Newcastle United in their last two matches.

They had the better of us last season with a fairly even goalless draw at Griffin Park followed by a totally self-inflicted one-nil defeat in the return match when we conspired to miss a plethora of gilt-edged chances and then set up the winning goal for our opponents on a plate after yet again overplaying at the back and losing possession in a dangerous area of the pitch.

Our confidence will have been boosted by last weekend’s much needed victory over Preston North End and the defence will also be strengthened by the return of James Tarkowski who has recovered from his calf injury. There are some selection dilemmas for Marinus Dijkhuizen today in terms of whether he retains Josh Clarke at right back and who he selects to play in midfield. Will Ryan Woods get his long awaited first start for the club? Marinus will also have to decide whether Sergi Canos merits a start or if his flair is best used as a substitute when he can come on and ideally wreak havoc against a tiring defence.

Wednesday carry a real threat up front where they combine strength and flair in abundance and today would be an ideal time for that long awaited first clean sheet of the season to arrive.

These are interesting and challenging times for a Brentford squad that remains seriously depleted in both numbers and quality. Our fighting spirit however is not in any doubt and if we can somehow find a way to overcome adversity and obtain at least four and ideally six points from today and next Tuesday’s home game against a revitalised Birmingham team then the season might be on the verge of taking off.

A View From A Blazing Meteor – 23/9/15

I wrote an article the other day inspired by Sergi Canos’s blistering home debut, about other young players who started off like a house on fire at Griffin Park and then fizzled out for a variety of reasons and never really made their mark.

One of the players I mentioned was 70s striker Richard Poole who has strong views on the subject:

Well Greville your list could go on and on. At the time when I was promoted into the First team I was playing for Brentford FC in the South East Counties Under 18 League against the likes of Chelsea, QPR and Fulham and we always tried our utmost to ensure that those  bigger teams knew that they had been in a game when they came up against the Bees!

As you know I came into the side as a sixteen year old apprentice in February 1974 and just a week later my friend Kevin Harding followed me into the first team. We were coming straight from junior football into a team that had just been relegated to the bottom division the year before and we were fighting a desperate battle to avoid the need to seek re-election. You must remember at that time in the Fourth Division there was no automatic relegation but the bottom club had to be re-elected by its peers and although I do not know the political ins and outs and how the system worked, I still wonder to this day what would had happened to us if we had needed to seek re-election to the Football League. How would our arch enemies QPR and Fulham have voted? Would they have done their best to see us kicked out of the League?

We could not take the chance of that happening so we just did our best to ensure that we finished out of the danger zone. So here we were like new born babies coming into a team that still boasted inspirational veterans like Peter Gelson and Jackie Graham. Kevin and I trained each day with our boyhood idols and we were welcomed with open arms and treated so well along with Roy Cotton, another promising player from the Under 18 team.

Having avoided the threat of re-election we all started the new season with fresh hope and enthusiasm but alas, things did not work out and John Docherty replaced Mike Everitt as manager midway through the season. So here I was with a new manager who had been my team mate when I made my first team debut and who now would sign me as a professional footballer on my eighteenth birthday.

Although I have made it clear previously that I seemed to fall out with him, it was only later on in my life that I realised certain things about that difficult time that I am still unable to put into words even to this day over forty years on.

Yes I did play a few games for him generally in midweek at the likes of places like Tranmere and Northampton and I always tried my best but I feel even now that I was not given a proper or decent chance.

The tipping point came in April 1975 after I came on as a substitute and helped the team to a good result at Lincoln. I was delighted to be named in the team the following week against Southport but was surprised to see that both Roger Cross and Micky French were in the team too. I must confess that I thought that having three centre forwards in the starting line up was bizarre in the extreme.

I did not see much of the ball in the first half and at half time I was replaced by Alan Nelmes – a striker replaced at home by a defender in a match that was still goalless. What did that say about my prospects at the club? No wonder I left soon afterwards! But I still treasure to this day the fact that I played in the red and white stripes of my beloved Brentford and no one can take that away from me.

Anyway before that fiasco, about half way through that season I came to a very difficult decision and asked to be put on the transfer list or even loaned to a non-league side as I just wanted to play first team football somewhere!

We had a reserve team that year and I always gave my best when I played for them but I simply needed to stretch myself and progress. Maybe I was not good enough but I thought I could do somebody a service if they gave me a chance!

Anyway John Docherty refused to let me go and said he needed me. And yet he barely played me and I was frozen out of the reckoning.

Nothing had changed at the end of the season and I was given a free transfer. We played an end of season game against Hounslow and several clubs approached me directly and said that they would come and watch me play as they knew I would be a free agent. This was an opportunity for me to put myself in the shop window and earn myself a decent move.

Little did I know what was in store for me! John Docherty announced the team just before the match and amazingly I was the only one of all the players who had been released not to be given a game. I wasn’t even put on the bench.

I could not believe it and when I spoke to the manager afterwards and told him that there had been clubs there to watch me play all he said was “You should have told me beforehand.”

To this day I do not know if he was scared that I might go to another club and do well and make him look bad, or if he thought I was not good enough to play in the Football League. Eventually I joined Watford although I was also asked to sign for SC Toulon, one of the top teams in France so I must have had something about me!

I still look back at the Brentford Junior team I played in and in my opinion it contained so much ability in the year I made my first team debut but none were retained apart from me and I can tell you I was by no means the best player in that talented side.

When John Docherty arrived we were swamped by a lot of fairly decent young players who he knew from his previous club, QPR, but not many of them lasted long or made any impact at Brentford.

It is a shame that I fell out with the manager and at the time I was a starry eyed kid who was living the dream but I think that today’s young players are not as naive as I was but despite everything I regret nothing and would not change a moment of those incredible five years I spent at Brentford as both an apprentice and as a professional footballer.

When John Docherty became manager I think he had the choice of running either a Youth or a Reserve side and even though I came straight into the First Team from the Juniors i think that not having an Under 18 team was a big mistake. Most of the time we had first team players coming back from injury, some of whom even refused to play in Reserve games.

We were in the Midweek League and going to places like Peterborough or Southend I think was not too enticing a prospect for some First Team players! We also had lots of trialists as well so you never knew who was playing with you from week to week whereas we knew each other in the Youth Team and could develop partnerships on the pitch.

I really think that the club wasted a massive opportunity as there were several talented youngsters who were not really given a chance to impress. Brentford and the management did not know how to bring these players into  the First Team.

John Docherty preferred skilful ball playing players but in the Fourth Division you needed more than that. Just look at some of the players he brought in. Some of the youngsters like Danis Salman did work out but not too many others did.

In my first year as a apprentice with Frank Blunstone in charge the Youth Team felt part of something great in the making and this even continued under Mike Everitt but I think when John Docherty took charge, and do not forget he inherited quite a few players he had played with and others who were brought in by Mike Everitt too, I really think that things did not go as well as they should have done.

Trenchant views and plenty of food for thought from Richard Poole who felt totally frustrated and stifled as he was forced to leave the club he loved and where he still thought he could have made the grade had he been given a decent chance to establish himself.

I will try and finish the article covering lots of other blazing meteors who promised so much over the years at Brentford but who never fulfilled their potential in the next few days.

I will end on a lighter note.

I was reading a programme from January 1987 today and my eyes were drawn to a letter from a certain Mr. R. P. Marsh from Ealing who ccould barely contain his excitement:

It made a nice change to hear that we had secured the services of David Geddis on a month’s loan with a view to a permanent transfer. I have long been an admirer of Geddis and the prospect of him playing up front with Robbie Cooke is the sort of Christmas present I could really enjoy.

Here’s hoping that Geddis and Cooke can give the new Brook Road stand the send off it deserves against Middlesbrough.

Oh dear!!

Geddis was a total disaster – a damp squib rather than a blazing meteor who missed at least three sitters in that aforementioned Middlesbrough game, was dragged off at the interval and his services were swiftly dispensed with – if not swiftly enough for most Brentford supporters!

Blazing Meteors – Part One – 22/9/15

Young Liverpool loanee Sergi Canos’s mesmerising and eye-catching home debut as a second half substitute last Saturday who turned the game on its head and inspired the Bees to victory has persuaded me to recall some other youngsters who made an immediate impact for Brentford.

I missed John Bostock’s memorable debut against Millwall when he took the game by the scruff of its neck and scored twice from a clinical volley and then direct from a corner. I had a bad back, my Achilles’ heel for anyone interested, and it’s lucky that I was safely tucked up at home in bed as I suspect that all the excitement would have given me a relapse and put me into spasm!

Unfortunately Bostock flattered only to deceive and could not maintain his form and he soon fell out of contention and eventually drifted into obscurity in Belgium where he remains to this day.

Being a half-empty kind of guy I’m going to concentrate on some other eventual failures – players who began like worldbeaters and blazing meteors but for a variety of reasons soon blew themselves out and became damp squibs who never really made the impact that had at one time had looked likely or even inevitable.

So where shall we start?

How about with Andy Woon, a tall, powerful and raw long-haired striker who arrived from non-league Bognor Regis and was soon thrown into the deep end and asked to inspire and reinvigorate a toothless Brentford team on its inevitable and irrevocable journey towards relegation. Stan Webb had already proved beyond doubt that he was not an adequate replacement for the departed John O’Mara, and Woon made history and an instant impact when he became the first Brentford player to score a hat trick on his debut in a totally out of the blue five-goal thrashing of a listless Port Vale team.

Nobody could be expected to keep up that type of form and Woon inevitably suffered from unreasonably raised expectations. Andy hung around for a couple of seasons, even scored a few more goals but he never threatened to repeat the magic he displayed on that unforgettable afternoon in February 1973 when he looked like an absolute world beater and everything he hit went in.

Richard Poole became the second youngest ever Brentford player when he made his debut at the age of sixteen years and five months. The crowd took to him straight away as he was a local boy who was playing for the team he had always supported and his coltish enthusiasm did much to inspire the Bees to pull away from the bottom of Division Four.

The future looked bright for the tall, rangy target man but it just never happened for him. He fell out with the new manager, John Docherty, and disappeared from the scene. He had a short spell at Watford where he played against us in the unforgettable Paul Priddy double penalty save match before moving to France where injury sadly brought a halt to a once promising career.

Paul Walker captained the England schoolboy international team and a glittering future was predicted for the diminutive midfielder. He made his first team debut as a fifteen year old schoolboy but despite his obvious ability it just never happened for him.

He had great vision and passing ability and could ghost past players but he never looked fully fit or a well honed athlete and his early promise was never fulfilled. Fred Callaghan seemed to believe in him and he scored a memorable volleyed goal at Walsall in Terry Hurlock’s televised debut match but he eventually ended up playing in South Africa.

I watched sixteen year old striker Gary Rolph made a massively impressive debut in the FA Cup at Colchester where he showed a maturity well beyond his tender years and scored a coolly taken goal, but that was as good as it got for him and he soon fell away.

Willie Graham arrived as an unheralded trialist from Northampton Town but Bill Dodgin saw something in him and he slotted in perfectly in midfield alongside his namesake Jackie Graham and David Carlton as the Bees won promotion from the bottom tier. The magic only lasted a season as he was unable to cope with the demands of the higher division and he was never a major influence again.

Billy Eames was a diminutive winger who scored on his debut and was man of the match on his debut as a trialist against Lincoln City. Surely Bill Dodgin would offer him a contract, but for some reason he didn’t and Eames retired and became a teacher.

Lee Frost took Griffin Park by storm as a marauding winger during a productive loan spell from Chelsea but he was a totally different player when he joined us on a permanent basis two years later. He was moved inside to partner Gary Johnson where he totally failed to impress and looked lightweight and he soon left the club and the professional game.

Tony Spencer was another who lost a promising career to injury. A composed young defender who was on the verge of establishing himself in the team, he suffered a serious knee injury from which he never fully recovered and he was forced to retire before his twentieth birthday.

Tony Lynch was a speedy winger who promised far more than he ultimately delivered before Frank McLintock released him. All credit to Lynch as he fought his way back to the Football League with Barnet for whom he played against Brentford.

Robbie Carroll was an underrated striker who scored regularly when given a chance but couldn’t manage to establish himself in the team. He never appeared to be particularly valued by the management and rejected the offer of a monthly contract and signed for Fareham Town.

The immortal Steve Thorne of fanzine fame scored a long range thunderbolt on his debut at Gillingham and ended up scoring the winning goal in his one and only Football League appearance.

Paul Birch cost ten thousand pounds from Portsmouth and scored an excellent goal at Fulham. He looked full of promise and hard running but surprisingly retired from football when barely twenty years old and became a successful businessman.

Andy Driscoll made an immediate impact with a wonderful solo goal against Blackpool as an eighteen year old winger of immense potential. His promise was never to be fulfilled as he never recovered from a serious knee injury and he eventually became a personal trainer. A  tragic loss as he could have been a star.

Kelly Haag was a prolific scorer at junior level notching fifty goals in a season but he was unable to make the step-up to senior football with Brentford but played for Fulham and Barnet with more success.

Winger Rob Peters is best remembered for a free kick goal at Huddersfield that helped us earn a playoff berth in 1991 but he never really made the grade.

I will try and complete this list in a day or so.

A Star Is Born – 20/9/15

A lot of good things came out of yesterday’s match against Preston North End. Most crucially, the Bees won for the first time this season at Griffin Park after coming back from a one goal deficit having conceded a demoralising goal within the first minute of play.

We also discovered a potential star in young Liverpool loanee Sergi Canos who almost singlehandedly turned the game in Brentford’s favour when he came on as a substitute on the hour with Brentford on top but still struggling to find inspiration and an equaliser.

Canos of the twinkling toes and fast, nimble feet was simply too good for the visitors. He played with his head up and saw openings quicker than anyone else in the field. He was as brave and determined as he was skilful on the ball, he was a pest as well as a talent and he made an immediate impact by seizing on an excellent Diagouraga through pass, cutting in from the right wing and his low cut back was comfortably converted at the near post by the predatory Lasse Vibe who scored his third goal of what promises to be a successful season for the striker.

Confidence flooded back into the team and the game turned on its head soon afterwards when Bidwell’s header found Djuricin who turned his marker and under stiff challenge still managed to stride into the area and plant the ball unerringly between Jordan Pickford and his near post.

Suddenly from almost out of nowhere we have a flourishing and dangerous strike partnership with five goals between them in only four games.

From then on there was only one winner and Brentford comfortably survived a long ball barrage from a now dispirited and it has to be said, limited Preston team that had run out of ideas, without too many heart in mouth moments.

This was a must-win match if the Bees were to avert the recent slump and avoid being sucked into the relegation zone, and with the training injury suffered by Max Colin resources were stretched even further with Josh Clarke given his first league start at right back.

He recovered well from an appalling start with Preston attacking down his flank and he was left trailing by Doyle whose centre was met by May. Button saved heroically but Daniel Johnson easily converted the rebound and the Bees were coming from behind get again – the story of this entire season so far.

The first quarter hour was shambolic as Preston found time and space as Brentford were like rabbits in headlights and they wasted several gilt-edged chances to score that crucial second goal that would surely have killed the game almost at its outset.

Alan Judge was everywhere and his influence, energy, effervescence and example allowed a shell shocked Bees team to finally claw themselves off the floor and start to compete.  From then on their superior technique came to the fore and the first half chances came and went. Kerschbaumer missed twice after finding time and space in the penalty area, Vibe had his shot blocked from close in and Pickford saved well from Bidwell and sensationally from a free header from Barbet which looked bound for the net.

Button too arched backwards to tip over a close range header from Joe Garner and prevented the striker from scoring his first goal of the season.

After halftime Brentford took control as Preston sat back to defend their lead but it was not until Canos came on and we moved Vibe from out on the right wing where his talents had been wasted, to play just behind Djuricin did the tide fully turn and the Bees finally took advantage of their superiority.

There will be far tougher tests than Preston, starting next Saturday when Sheffield Wednesday come to town, but you can do no more than beat the opponents you are facing on the day.

The defence settled down after an uncomfortable start and Barbet gave us balance and composure on the left hand side and formed a strong and effective partnership with man mountain Harlee Dean. Tarkowski should get his place back when his calf heals but the young Frenchman has impressed since he was thrown in two games ago.

Ckarke too looked good going forward but less so defensively, and we were far more solid when Alan McCormack moved back from midfield to replace him and if, as looks likely, Colin is yet another long term absentee then it will be interesting to see who gets the nod next weekend.

Canos too looked like the ultimate impact substitute but it will surely be tempting for Marinus Duikhuizen to start him against Sheffield Wednesday in the hope that he can weave his magic from the off.

We are still short of experience and inspiration  which is hardly surprising when you consider our injury list which shows few signs of diminishing – if anything it is getting even worse.

The midfield trio of Diagouraga, McCormack and Kerschbaumer competed well but lack pace and attacking brio and Ryan Woods must surely be close to his first start.

Jermaine Udumaga came on near the end but was completely outmatched and overwhelmed despite having a shot blocked after more Canos magic, and we are desperately short of cover up front.

The fixture list is relentless and unforgiving and reinforcements are still desperately needed if we are to maintain our impetus or even keep our head above water in the short term. A third striker who can spell Djuricin and Vibe and a creative spark to assist Alan Judge would be more than welcome additions next week.

This win has given us some welcome breathing space and much needed confidence but we are still fragile and punching above our weight given how stretched we are in terms of player availability.

The good news has to be that the newcomers are all learning on the job – even if it is the hard way, and they will all benefit in the long run from having to be thrown in at the deep end.

The crowd dipped below ten thousand for the first time this season, which is not totally unexpected given our shaky start to the season and the problems we have faced but the fans were patient and understanding for the most part and there is a general feeling of sympathy, support and understanding towards Dijkhuizen given his torrid introduction to the hot seat.

A good day then for the Bees after the worst of all possible starts and we all left the ground relieved and wreathed in smiles – but it could all have been so different had Preston taken their early chances and if a star had not been born. On such narrow margins are games decided. We move on re-energised and with increased hope and enthusiasm.