The Long Good Friday! – 31/10/15

Please excuse the late appearance of this article but Friday was a long, long day.

I left what I thought was plenty of time to get to the ground as I wanted to savour the incredible atmosphere that would be generated by a packed Griffin Park – but it wasn’t to be.

The North Circular was a carpark owing to an accident at Hanger Lane and we inched forward seemingly centimetre by centimetre and were getting nowhere. Nerves were fraught and things were so bad that I even contemplated abandoning the journey and making do with the televised coverage – an appalling prospect given what this game meant to all true Brentford supporters.

Fortunately my friend Ian, a died in the wool Manchester United fan, calmed me down and he knew the back doubles and we roared through an industrial estate, eventually hit the Edgware Road and after the journey from hell left the car at Willesden Green, took the tube and finally arrived late, tired, hot and very bothered soon before kickoff.

Matters could only improve, and they certainly did so as the Bees put on a performance which incorporated an intoxicating and unstoppable combination of grit, determination, passion and organisation tempered with no little skill and ability and they fully deserved their reward of their first victory over the old rivals, Queens Park Rangers for fifty years.

Marco Djuricin became an instant Brentford legend when he outmuscled Clint Hill and got in front of the veteran QPR defender to score emphatically at the near post from Alan Judge’s perfect near post centre. Toumani Diagouraga, so imperious throughout, also deserves massive praise for his instant turn and trickery on the ball which created the space for his trademark disguised outside of the foot pass that set Judge away down the left flank.

A beautifully created and executed goal that fully deserved to win any game.

Of course Rangers had quality in their squad, but they could not match our sense of togetherness, will to win and total commitment and determination to work hard and cover for each other. Brentford have become a team again in every sense of the word and there was also much skill on display from us as we probed for openings.

The first half was a cagy affair with neither team prepared to take chances and risk defeat. Brentford had the lion’s share of possession but were unable to beat the press and get through a congested midfield. Judge, McCormack and Swift went close but it was the visitors who eventually showed some ambition and got the skilful Phillips and Luongo on the ball. The latter hit the junction of post and crossbar with a firm header and then the inside of the far post with a curler and had either gone in then I might well be writing a totally different account today, however fortune smiled on us and we certainly deserved the rub of the green given how hard we worked throughout the match.

The second half was a totally different story as the Bees started on the front foot and Rangers were reduced to long ball mediocrity and the imperious Dean and Tarkowski won every aerial challenge and the midfielders were always on hand to mop up the second balls. Bidwell was exceptional, anticipating and snuffing out any danger and he finally came out on top of his tussle with the speedy Phillips and Yennaris was never noticed, evidence indeed that he has settled into his role without fuss and he performed exceptionally well on the night. He has quite clearly demonstrated how well a player can perform when he is finally given an opportunity and feels that his manager has faith in him.

Good defending requires everyone to muck in and share the load and the Bees worked in packs to press and win the ball back. It is quite noticeable that the intensity levels have risen recently and we have gone up a gear and play far more on the front foot. We still pass the ball around the back four, probing for gaps but we have become far more risk adverse, get the ball forward quicker when it is necessary to do so and we are taking less chances of turning over the ball in potentially dangerous areas of the pitch.

The other key to our success has been reverting to a five man midfield. This means that Djuricin is forced to fend for himself and chase scraps but he never stopped putting himself about and he worked tirelessly and made a total nuisance of himself. He also had the energy and increased fitness levels to retain his composure in front of goal when the opportunities came. He took his goal beautifully, anticipating the centre quicker than his opponent and having the strength to ward off the physical challenge of his marker. He also came close immediately after halftime when he was left in space from McCormack’s clever flick and his instant volley was brilliantly saved by Green.

Diagouraga and McCormack covered each other and worked hard to win the ball back and then use it effectively and Judge, Swift and Woods dovetailed well, switching positions and ensuring that we won the midfield battle and showed some composure on the ball. Ryan Woods is quietly establishing himself as a player of real quality. He plays with his head up, rarely gives the ball away and wins far more than his fair share of challenges.

The three substitutes Kerschbaumer, Vibe and Hofmann also provided evidence that they are all finally coming to grips with the demands of the Championship and provided fresh impetus when they came off the bench. Most encouragingly the penny seems to have dropped with Hofmann and he used his size and strength to good effect and held the ball up well.

Alan Judge was substituted late on with a tight hamstring which might require an enforced rest but what a month the effervescent bundle of energy has enjoyed with three goals and four assists in his last four games. Championship Player of the Month perhaps? And what about the reluctant hero, Lee Carsley? He still insists that he sees his future in coaching and that he is simply keeping the seat warm for a more experienced manager. That might well be the case but the truth is that the players trust and respect him and have bought in totally to the methods and pattern of play that he and his coaching staff have introduced.

Remember that incredible November last year when Andre Gray won the Player of the Month Award and Mark Warburton was named as Manager of the Month? Perhaps history will repeat itself shortly with Judge and Carsley. Exciting times indeed and proof that two weeks is an extremely long time in football, as a mere fortnight ago we were in the depths of despair and were anticipating a horrid looking clash with relegation rivals Rotherham with apprehension and pessimism and with the abyss of the bottom three looming before us. Now four consecutive wins and twelve glorious points later we have been catapulted into the top ten in the Championship table and are now beginning to look at the playoff places rather than the bottom three. Proof indeed of the narrow margins in football and the massively competitive nature of the Championship.

I was a young impressionable schoolboy back in August 1965 and still remember the sense of wonder and excitement of being taken by my Father to Griffin Park for the opening day of the season clash with our neighbours QPR. I left the stadium skipping and jumping for joy after we had demolished our rivals and put six goals past the helpless Frank Smith. It has been a long, long wait for that feeling to be repeated.

The journey home last night was equally arduous and interminable but it really did not matter as I was walking on air and our long wait was finally over. Brentford had defeated Queens Park Rangers. I have waited over fifty years to write those words. The victory meant so much to me and I know it did the same to so many other Brentford supporters.

What a wonderful evening!

Advertisements

Brentford v QPR – The Rivalry! – 29/10/15

The tension and excitement are already building in advance of tomorrow’s local derby against Queens Park Rangers.

Last season’s matches against Fulham were eagerly awaited and anticipated and the celebrations went on long into the night when we completed the double over our near neighbours and joy was unconfined with Jota becoming an instant hero with his two unforgettable last second strikes.

That being said there are many Brentford supporters, in particular those of a slightly older vintage, who look upon the Fulham games as a mere taster for the main course – the clashes against QPR.

Why is that the case and how did the rivalry develop?

The first and most obvious reason is the proximity of both clubs to each other as Griffin Park is a mere four and a half miles away from Loftus Road, as the crow flies.

Families in Acton, Ealing and Chiswick would grow up either as Bees or Rangers fans and there was a good natured rivalry with some supporters attending the home matches of both teams at a time when it was less common to travel in large numbers to away games.

As the Bees fell from grace after the war and stabilised in Division Two before dropping to the third tier in 1954 the paths of the two teams crossed on a regular basis throughout the 50s until indeed the mid 60s.

Honours were fairly even and the derby matches at Griffin Park would attract massive crowds of up to eighteen thousand as the two teams competed for local bragging rights.

Transfers between the clubs were not uncommon but there was much disquiet when The Terrible Twins, George Francis and Jim Towers were scandalously offloaded to QPR in a blatant cost cutting move in 1961 at a time when the Bees were desperately shedding overhead when they were staring relegation to the bottom division in the face.

It just didn’t seem right to see two such Brentford stalwarts wearing blue and white hoops after such long, devoted and successful careers in a red and white shirt.

There was also a swop of wingers in which we sent the veteran George McLeod to Shepherd’s Bush and received the enigmatic Mark Lazarus  in return.

Initially we seemed to have got by far the better part of the bargain as the Kosher Garrincha was an effervescent ball of fire who rampaged down the right wing and celebrated his goals with his own individual lap of honour and then by shaking hands with members of the crowd. He became an instant hero with the Brentford fans but apparently fell out with the club after a petty dispute over a bonus payment that he felt entitled to. As a man of principle and also not one to argue with given his membership of a famous East London boxing family, he returned in high dudgeon to Loftus Road where he helped inspire Rangers to a League Cup victory and two promotions.

The ill-feeling and antipathy were raised to a fever pitch when early in 1967 at a time when Brentford were languishing in Division Four and an effervescent Rodney Marsh inspired QPR team was scoring one hundred and three goals on its way to winning the Division Three Championship and League Cup double, news broke totally out of the blue that plans were afoot for QPR to take over Brentford and move to Griffin Park with the Bees disappearing into oblivion.

Dennis Signy was General Manager at Brentford before later joining QPR and he was a close bystander to the entire shenanigans. He was interviewed many years later for the Vital QPR website which I would like to thank for reproducing extracts from his interview where he reminisced about the incredible happenings of that time:

The biggest story of my career over sixty years in newspapers and football came in 1967 … the QPR bid to take over Brentford.

The headline story went round the world yet, strangely for me, I did not write a word on the subject. I was General Manager of Brentford at the time – in fact, I started the whole saga.

It was a chance remark I made to QPR Chairman Jim Gregory that sparked off the soccer sensation of 1967. Billy Gray was my team manager at Brentford – having turned down an offer from Alec Stock to join him with Rangers – and he and I were standing in Ellerslie Road waiting for my wife to arrive for a game against Carlisle United, when we saw Jim.

The previous Saturday Bernard Joy, the famous ex-centre half who wrote so authoratively over the years for the Evening Standard, had produced a feature on the old theme of ground sharing and had linked Brentford and QPR as logical clubs to tie up.

Jim asked: ‘How many do you think we’ll get tonight?’

I told him: ‘I don’t know – about eighteen thousand. If you were playing at Griffin Park you’d get thirty thousand.”

From that casual remark we progressed to a discussion on Joy’s ground-sharing theme and, when Jim Gregory said that he might be interested in pursuing this further I said I would mention it to my chairman, Jack Dunnett, Brentford’s MP chairman.

I did – and that started the train of events that led to the eventual take-over bid. The two chairmen went into the appeals of ground-sharing but moved on to discuss the possibility of Rangers buying the Brentford ground  whose capacity at the time was thirty-eight thousand.

Various idea were thrashed around by the two wealthy chairman, including Brentford using Griffin Park on alternate weeks as tenants of Rangers.

I remember sitting in on some of the preliminary discussions as a modestly paid journalist who had moved into football management and knew more about headlines than balance sheets. I did understand, though, that both clubs were losing money heavily.

I was fascinated hearing sums of thousands and hundreds of thousands of pounds being bandied about between the Mayfair solicitor who was my chairman and the self-made millionaire from Rangers.

It was like Monopoly – with real money. I used to smile at being asked to intervene with important decisions.

The discussions evolved into this: – Rangers were to buy Griffin Park for two hundred and twenty thousand pounds and were to sell Loftus Road to the council for three hundred and ten thousand pounds. The ninety thousand pound surplus was intended to be used to improve Griffin Park. I was to be in publicity and fund-raising projects.

What was not known even when the story broke in the newspapers and on radio and television was that the two clubs were UNDER CONTRACT. After the breakdown of the merger talks Jim Gregory had proposed to Jack Dunnett: ‘We’ll buy you out, shares, ground, the players, the lot’.

The deal was announced with Alec Stock to be overall manager and Billy Gray and Bill Dodgin the coaches. 

The Daily Mail headlined: “Fans call it a sell -out”. The Daily Mirror: “Goodbye, Brentford” .

The next crowd at Griffin Park was a best-of-season ten and a half thousand and the fans left us in no doubt what they thought of the idea. “Who done it? Dunnett dunnit” was the poster I remember.

To cut it short, it never went through and I resigned some weeks later and Billy Gray followed me out of Griffin Park when Dunnett handed over to new chairman Ron Blindell.

Would it have been such a bad thing? I recall Alec Stock’s words: “This would be a great thing for us. If agreement is reached it will mean that we have a first-class ground for what is already a first-class team”. Jim Gregory said: “Economically it was a good proposition for Rangers”.

That is the whole point – it was a wonderful deal for QPR and one that would have brought about the end of Brentford FC.

Now does everybody begin to understand why there is now such antipathy felt by so many Brentford fans towards our neighbours from Shepherd’s Bush who were actively plotting to kill us and put us out of business less than fifty years ago?

What is far worse is that the whole appalling idea was welcomed by our own Chairman, Jack Dunnett, who was looking for a way out of the club after he became the Member of Parliament  for Nottingham Central after the 1964 general election and his extravagant expenditure on players over the previous few years had failed to pay off with the anticipated reward of promotion to the top two divisions.

A couple of years ago Dave Lane, Mark Croxford and I interviewed Jack Dunnett who although aged ninety-one was spry and fit with a handshake like a vice and here are his detailed recollections of what happened after the news was made public:

I did consider the views of the fans and I said that I would hold some public meetings. I’d seen enough of football supporters to know that it would be seen as a very unusual move but it had a lot of economic benefits.

I did have some misgivings so I called a public meeting and around a thousand people turned up. I’d already announced what it was about and I’d made it clear what we were considering. At the meeting, the fans wouldn’t have it and in fact it got so bad that I had to tell Denis Piggott to call the police and twelve policemen came to the ground to rescue me. I really did feel threatened.

I went onto the pitch with a microphone but I wasn’t really able to get my message across. It was very difficult. With hindsight, I might have suggested that the supporters should have selected a small group of representatives to come and speak with me. I remember Peter Pond-Jones, he was a difficult man. He just didn’t even want to consider the idea.

The reaction of the fans did surprise me somewhat because here I was, in good faith, trying to do something which would give the club a future. I think I was right too – how many times since 1967 have Queens Park Rangers not been in the top divisions? Within ten years Jim was in the First Division and finished second, they were in Europe and did fantastically well. If the amalgamation had gone through, Brentford would have been swept up in that.

I didn’t really care about whether QPR would have taken up more of the new club than Brentford – we’d have still been playing at Griffin Park. I wouldn’t have been Chairman of the new club as that would have been Jim Gregory. I’d have been a director. My objective was to secure a future for Brentford Football Club but without me having to run up and down between Nottingham and London.

I don’t recall that Brentford were losing all that much money at the time. We had a good commercial set-up but we didn’t have a surplus of money that would have enabled us to buy players. We certainly weren’t in danger of going out of business, there’s no way I would have allowed that to have happened.

I don’t think we could have sold the idea to the fans in a different sort of way. I spoke to some supporters after tempers had cooled down and it was apparent that they just didn’t want to be associated with their nearest rivals. Eventually, I could understand that but the main thing for me was to be able to progress through the divisions, to get to the First Division.

The fans seemed to want to rather stay where they were, at the bottom of the Fourth Division, than amalgamate with our rivals and get into the First Division, which I couldn’t understand at the time and still don’t understand. When we started discussing it, it looked to be a good deal to me.

I know that football fans are passionate about their club but to me, doing well means seeing my club go up the leagues and if it isn’t ever going to happen, then what’s the point? In those days, with a slice of luck and if you were well managed, a small club could go right up to the First Division. I proved that with Notts County.

I don’t think I would have benefitted financially. I didn’t care whether I got my investment back or not. I hadn’t paid money that I couldn’t afford and my business was doing well at the time.

Anyway, I was all set to carry on with things continuing as they were and then out of the blue I got a telephone call from Ron Blindell who had been chairman at Plymouth Argyle. He asked if he could see me and when I asked why, he said that he was interested in buying Brentford. He said he thought he could do better with Brentford than he’d done with Plymouth although I’m not sure how he came to that conclusion.

I told him that it would take a good bit of money to move the club on and that he’d also have to buy me out but he said he could find the money. I’ll never forget that we were having a cup of tea or coffee and I told him the figure we were talking about and he dropped his little gold pencil in surprise because the sum was much larger than he’d realised.

But he agreed and it was duly announced and he took over weeks later. As soon as the Brentford fans had made it clear they were against the amalgamation, the deal was dead as far as I was concerned. I didn’t try to push it further. Jim Gregory understood the position too. It had been a great idea though and well-planned apart from agreeing the name for the club but I wouldn’t have gone through with it without Brentford being mentioned in the name.

There is so much that I could wrote about my feelings regarding Jack Dunnett’s words and how they clearly demonstrate his total lack of understanding about how supporters feel and their passion for their club and their determination for it to retain its individual identity. We wanted a Brentford team wearing red and white stripes to be playing at Griffin Park – not some bastard child amalgam.

I will simply let his comments speak for themselves.

On Thursday the twenty-third of February 1967, Jack Dunnett resigned as Chairman and a new board, headed by Ron Blindell, assumed control of the club, with Blindell’s personal financial commitment amounting to one hundred and forty-five thousand pounds.

Brentford FC had been saved, not without a massive fight and the efforts of so many unsung heroes amongst our supporters who were determined to ensure their club’s survival. Austerity though was the rule for the next few years as a huge debt had to be repaid and we were forced to operate with a skeleton playing squad.

After 1965/66 when Brentford hammered QPR by six goals to one on the first day of a season that saw the Bees relegated – it’s Brentford innit, our paths did not cross again on the field until the early part of the current century when we played each other for three seasons. QPR were on the upwards slope and established themselves as a top division team, we hovered in the nether regions, simply trying to stay alive.

Occasionally we would sign some of their castoffs and rejects and in return we sold them our shining star in Andy Sinton, thus sabotaging our late season playoff push in 1989. We had a young Les Ferdinand on loan who was a mere shadow of the player he eventually became and other names such as Mark Hill and Mark Fleming will hardly be fondly remembered by Bees fans.

In 2002 we came so close to promotion but fell just short, not helped by dropping two vital points at Loftus Road in the last but one game of a momentous season. Who can ever forget Mark McCammon’s late header bouncing down and then over the crossbar from almost underneath it?

The final nail in the coffin of our relationship was hammered in by Martin Rowlands, for so long a crowd favourite at Griffin Park with his dynamic midfield play. His last couple of seasons were dogged by injury and his performances suffered. He eventually left for QPR on a Bosman free transfer and when his new team narrowly defeated a severely weakened Brentford team by a goal to nil after a tough encounter at Loftus Road he marked the result by goading and taunting the long-suffering Brentford fans by parading in front of them and kissing the Rangers badge on his shirt. This went down as well as you would expect and he has never been forgiven for his actions.

With he exception of two glorious matches at Griffin Park back in 1965 when the Bees scored eleven goals, matches that helped ensure that I became a lifetime Brentford supporter, Brentford versus QPR matches are generally tense and tight affairs with little between the two sides.

It is now fifty years since we last beat what I hope I have clearly demonstrated is the real old enemy and victory tomorrow night would be especially sweet.

Shared Thoughts – 27/10/15

It is amazing how quickly things have turned around and how our spirits have been revived. That is what three wins in a week can do for you particularly as they came at a time when it was hard to see any light at the end of a particularly dark tunnel.

My delight and excitement was shared by all my regular correspondents:

Michael Ohl was bubbling over with happiness:

I have to say the turnaround is nothing short of miraculous, how a team essentially with the same players can be so different. Clearly the talent is there, yes, the opposition as we can see is struggling as much as we were, but even so . . . and whilst things might have been different if Charlton had taken their chances, who is to say the final outcome would have been different?

We just don’t know and I don’t think we can take away all the credit that is due to the team. Also, Lee Carsley must take a lot of the credit. I read in last week’s League Paper how in his playing days he was a lynch pin and he seems to have taken this with him to his role as Head Coach aka Team Manager.

I really am looking forward to this Friday’s game.

Alan Dally was a bit perplexed and struggling to understand why things had changed so quickly:

What a strange game football is.

From a very nervy and in honesty a somewhat fortunate win against Rotherham, we seem to have grown massively in confidence. As many said at the time the result was far more important than the performance. It also had an instant positive impact on the belief of the players, as we put in a very professional performance against Wolves and ran out deserved winners. Then after a slow start at the Valley we eventually controlled the game and were comfortable winners.

I take my hat off to Lee Carsley who has obviously addressed the problem areas and we are starting to look like a decent team again. I personally don’t see us being as impressive as last season, but compared to a few weeks ago, just like the players, I am also growing in confidence.

Long may it continue, specially this coming Friday, as I so dearly want to beat the rabble from Shepherd’s Bush.

beesyellow22 as is his custom tried to analyse the reasons for our success:

Same comments as above, really. A truly miraculous turn around in a remarkably short space of time. I can do nothing other than take my hat off to Lee Carsley and the players. Brilliant stuff.

The stand out things for me are as follows:

1. The 4-2-3-1 formation, with no recognised wide players – yet Diagouraga, McCormack, Woods, Swift and Judge have all been absolutely outstanding in the last two games, providing energy, width, pace, power and outstanding attacking intent

2. The form of Alan Judge. Never has he more rightly deserved the moniker of the “Irish Messi”

3. The transformation of Nico Yennaris. Still early days and presumably Colin will be knocking at the door once fit, but again, well done to Lee Carsley for seeing something in a player many of us had written off long ago

4. The sudden resilience of the back four. Two clean sheets in a row – fantastic

5. The increased strength of the squad once Jota, Macleod, Colin, Saunders, McEachran et al return. Dare we now dream of the playoffs or better

Like everyone else, I can’t wait for Friday! The confidence is back, the energy levels are up and we all feel that we can beat anyone!

We don’t know who our manager will be this time next year, but let’s relish what’s happening right now and rise to the challenge of QPR as one!

Rebel Bee had his own explanation for the improvement in our results:

An excellent summary and I agree with all the great comments too, beesyellow22 has nailed it with his five key points. We love football so much because it can do this to you like no other sport -desperation to elation in a week!

We’ve all had differing opinions over what has gone on at Griffin Park over the past months, it’s been emotional and we’ve fallen out with our own at times. Barring a few on both sides of the debates I felt a sense of healing and togetherness in the stand on Saturday – ironic that it should come at the very place where the cracks opened so nastily a few short months ago.

That’s the first time I’ve seen us win at The Valley and it was so worth the wait. We were superb after that dodgy first ten minutes. Such a good away day there, and to play well in an iconic old London stadium left me feeling drained and emotional.

Whilst Judgey will deservedly get the headlines, huge credit goes to the other boys in midfield, and in particular to Alan Mac, who had possibly his finest game in a Bees shirt.

I now feel it was a brave and correct call to make the managerial change, it wasn’t nice how it went down but it has potentially saved the season. Some won’t like this fact, but Lee Carsley has gone back to basics, playing a largely British team who look fitter and happier than a month back – confidence and passion abundant and the foreign boys are correctly being drip fed into the Championship, some may turn out OK – others won’t.

We have turned a corner but mustn’t get carried away, we’ve taken three scalps at just the right time, but far bigger tests await in in the next two games at Griffin Park.

Greville could I possibly ask that you work your magic on a fitting piece ahead of the QPR game?

I was trying to explain to some of our younger fans why to many Bees they are our bitter rivals – not Fulham or others. It needs the historical context and facts to be explained properly as so many just don’t know what went down back in the 60s. You have the knowledge and the writing ability to do this justice.

No pressure then and I am girding my loins preparatory to writing something about our rivalry with QPR. and why it is so deep-felt and intense.

Let me end with an enthusiastic comment from Richard Poole who also has some salutary words of warning for us all:

I am writing this from far away but I am so happy for my Bees and, if you remember, I commented quite a while ago about how difficult it is for foreign players to accustom themselves to our way of football and to living in a foreign land – remember Betinho last season! I am also glad to see some youthful passion and enthusiasm in the side.

I so wish I was able to see Friday’s match against THEM but there is no no chance marooned out here in France. But all the same I will look out and hope for good news, but remember that football is a funny game so let’s not get too carried away at the moment!

The Good Times Are Back – 25/10/15

We shuffled into Griffin Park last Saturday with the reluctance of French aristocrats exiting the tumbrels on their way to the guillotine with the jeers of the tricoteuses ringing in their ears.

The season was balanced on a knife-edge and we simply did not know what to expect or how matters would turn out.

Had the international break provided new Head Coach Lee Carsley with sufficient time and opportunity to revitalise a demoralised looking squad that had disintegrated into a near-rabble and desperately lacked fitness, confidence, structure and organisation?

Eight days, three wins and nine points later we have had our answer and today the world is a far cheerier place for everyone associated with Brentford FC.

What a week it has been for us as we have in turn seen off the challenge of Rotherham, Wolves and now Charlton Athletic, scored seven times, conceded only once, kept two consecutive clean sheets and now find ourselves safely ensconced in twelfth place, in mid table and we can now start looking up rather than down.

I arrived at Griffin Park last Saturday with minimal and limited expectations and would have been happy with a return of four points from the nine on offer over the coming week.

If truth be told I had a recurring nightmare that we would end up with only one or two, so to end up with nine is an incredible achievement that is quite above and beyond my wildest dreams.

The amazing happenings of the past three games take me back to the same weekend last year when we were in practically the same place in the league.

A listless performance and a fully deserved defeat to a poor Bolton team led to some soul searching on the long, bleak journey home, and with Alan McCormack also lost to a serious ankle injury we next faced three seemingly insuperable hurdles within a week in the shape of Derby County, Nottingham Forest and Millwall.

We feared the worst but emerged with flying colours and came of age as a Championship team after three brilliant and unforeseen victories which saw Andre Gray establish himself as a forward of pace and deadly menace, and the impetus from our success paved the way to our eventual playoff challenge.

It is a really big ask to expect a similar outcome this season but we have certainly made a massive and praiseworthy recovery after an horrendous and appalling September when it looked as if the Bees were in free fall and looked likely to plummet into the relegation zone from where it would be extremely tough to emerge.

There were many reasons for our poor start to the season which have been well documented in great length previously, so I will instead discuss what has brought about this recovery and, more importantly, whether it can it be sustained?

Quite simply we are looking like a totally different team from the one that struggled so desperately under Marinus Duikhuizen last month. Lee Carsley has overseen a total sea change and the team now looks compact, organised, fit and bursting with confidence. Players know their roles and are encouraging and congratulating each other and also reminding everyone of their specific responsibilities.

If a gap emerges then there is somebody there immediately to fill it and cover their team mate. Everyone is pressing and tackling back, opponents are given no time to settle on the ball and, most crucially, we are moving and passing the ball quickly and sharply and finding gaps in our opponents’ defence.

These are definitely the signs of a successful team that is enjoying itself again and the style and quality of the football being played reflects this too.

Sergi Canos started the match against Rotherham but otherwise the team has remained unchanged with a strict 4-2-3-1 formation employed. The midfield has been our real strength with Diagouraga and McCormack anchoring and supporting the back four whilst still having the freedom and flexibility to move forward when the opportunity arises.

Alan McCormack made a triumphant return to The Valley – one of his less successful stopping off points in his long and illustrious career and he ignored the jeers of his erstwhile supporters to drive the Bees forward and he almost scored an unforgettable goal which would have guaranteed him his bragging rights, when his rasping twenty-five yarder rebounded clear off the underside of the crossbar.

Ryan Woods has found an ideal spot on the right side of midfield where he dovetailed perfectly with the ever-improving Nico Yennaris, and he is another who has helped to revitalise the team with his energy and all action style coupled with his intelligent use of the ball. There is so much more to come from him too.

John Swift has quickly become an automatic choice on the left side of midfield. He is tall, rangy and full of running, plays with his head up, glides effortlessly past opponents and is always looking for a defence splitting pass. He also relishes a good strong tackle and is no shrinking violet.

Swift is already becoming a massive influence on the team and marked an excellent performance with a well-taken headed goal from Alan Judge’s perfect curling cross.

That leads us to Alan Judge who is quite simply playing the best football of his career and is totally irreplaceable as the talisman of the team.

In the last three games he has scored three times and assisted on three other goals too. He is on the verge of international recognition and his recent performances demonstrate his sheer determination to earn that elusive first cap. He is playing on a different level to his team mates and is an utter inspiration.

Yesterday he and McCormack combined perfectly before he cut inside and curled a wonderful shot just inside the far post for a goal of awesome quality and confidence.

For the third goal he seized on a loose ball just outside our own penalty area, headed the ball past an opponent, showed instant control whilst under challenge before pinging a perfect fifty yard pass directly to the feet of Lasse Vibe who cut inside and buried the ball inside Henderson’s near post.

Those two goals highlighted our pace, energy and enthusiasm and demonstrated just how quickly we are now able to turn defence into attack and how we seem to have regained our speed of thought and action.

The five-man midfield has worked perfectly in the last two away games as we have dominated in terms of numbers and possession as well as in our ability to snuff out danger and launch dangerous counter attacks.

It remains to be seen whether we will retain this formation in home games when we are expected to set the tone and take the attack to the opposition rather than counter their moves as we do when we play away. Canos would be the obvious replacement for Toumani, however I would leave well alone as the current system is working so well.

Djuricin is also improving his match fitness and he worked tirelessly at Charlton. He is looking better in every game and I think that the best is yet to come from him. Hofmann and Vibe have both come on as late substitutes recently and scored well taken and important goals and they and Kerschbaumer are benefiting from having more experienced players around them and being allowed to develop and grow into the English game at their own pace rather than being allowed to sink or swim before they are ready.

Yesterday could have ended totally differently had Charlton taken the four gilt edged opportunities that they squandered in the opening fifteen minutes. As it was Brentford escaped unscathed from those early scares and slowly grew into the game before taking over and totally dominating proceedings. As Mark Warburton used to say, the margins between success and failure in this unforgiving division can be so narrow.

Finally it appears that the luck has changed and that things are beginning to go our way. That coupled with tons of hard work and organisation allied to the enthusiasm of youth has enabled us to arrest what appeared to be an irrevocable slump and our season has turned around.

There is so much to look forward to with the prospect of Jota, McEachran, Colin, Saunders and Macleod returning to fitness and further replenishing our once depleted squad over the next month or so.

To make the last week even better, the Development Squad also won twice with Sam Saunders scoring three times including two trademark free kicks and Lewis Macleod is also knocking at the door after two recent goals including a searing thirty-yard winner on Friday against Bristol City.

The good times are on their way back to Griffin Park and what a week lies ahead of us with Queens Park Rangers to come next Friday.

I can’t wait!

In The Dark – 22/10/15

We have got the builders in at home at the moment and the last few weeks have been a living hell with constant and seemingly never ending banging and crashing as they remorselessly get on with their work.

Whilst I am not looking for any sympathy, life has been pretty stressful and difficult as we have been reduced to burrowing ourselves away upstairs with access only to two rooms downstairs, and cooking is a real challenge and adventure at the moment with no kitchen and a rickety microwave doing the honours in the front room.

Disposable plates are the order of the day and we have coped as well as possible and my wife’s ingenuity has been stretched to its limits given the restrictions we have faced.

Given the situation we decided to get away for part of half term week and now find ourselves ensconced in the sanctuary of Luton Hoo.

It is an absolutely beautiful old country house hotel tucked away in acres of rolling woodland and is an oasis of calm and tranquility and traditional old-English splendour despite being a mere ten minutes away from the cosmopolitan hustle and bustle of Luton town centre.

I was under strict orders and a three line whip last night – total relaxation and absolute concentration on the matters in hand rather than thinking and commenting about affairs taking place simultaneously at Molineux.

Normally in such circumstances I speak with forked tongue and am guilty of flagrant cheating and, worst of all, I was once caught red handed and shamefaced listening to a Bees match commentary on BBC Radio London during a wedding ceremony in a synagogue.

Not one of my proudest moments and one that took me years to live down and the embarrassment still lingers when I recall it!

Last night was totally different as the surroundings were calm and quiet and the light muted and soothing.

We passed a lovely evening relishing the sort of pleasant and wide ranging shorthand conversation of a long married couple who can generally read each other like a book but happily still take massive comfort, pride, enjoyment and support from each other’s company.

It was also so good to be able to luxuriate and make the most of good food, wine and a great companion.

As far as the football was concerned I had willed myself in a near trancelike state of calm and tranquility and was reconciled to the outcome, whatever it might turn out to be.

I have expressed my view many times that I believe that our improvement will be slow and gradual and I have limited expectations in the short term until we get the likes of Jota, McEachran, Colin and Macleod back in harness.

We had already achieved my minimum expectation of three points from our next two games by virtue of the win against Rotherham and anything gained against Wolves was therefore a bonus.

They had looked vulnerable defensively against Derby last Sunday but the partnership of Afobe and Le Fondre spelled danger for our back four.

I was fully reconciled to a defeat last night and had no expectations beyond our putting on a decent performance and remaining competitive and in the game for as long as possible.

I had recurring nightmares of our porous defence cracking and crumbling under pressure and that we might subside without much of a fight and so the prospect of an evening without going to the match, listening to the Bees Player commentary or even receiving any score flashes or updates, whilst alien and even unique in my recent experience, did not, in the circumstances, seem to be too much of an imposition.

And so it transpired. We enjoyed a lovely meal, my phone buzzed a couple of times but the texts remained unread and unanswered.

It was not until we had finished our post meal cup of tea that I finally cracked and checked my phone and did a doubletake as the unexpected good news of our comfortable victory was revealed to me.

I have now watched the highlights and spoken to some trusted and reliable sources who were present at the game and it is plainly evident that confidence is finally returning to the squad and the long awaited first clean sheet of the season will only help in this process.

We seemed far more comfortable and confident on the ball with Judge, Swift and Woods dovetailing perfectly to create the opportunities for Djuricin and, later, Hofmann.

Toumani and McCormack protected the back four who were largely untroubled throughout the entire evening.

Djuricin and Hofmann both scored excellent and well taken opportunist goals which will do their confidence no harm either.

Kerschbaumer also put in a good shift as a late substitute, which is even more encouraging given his recent series of poor performances.

Of course we are still a long way short of where we need to be and we would be totally deluding ourselves if we felt that we are completely out of the woods yet, but let’s give credit where it is due, and the situation is far, far rosier than it was five days and six points ago.

We have now gained some momentum which will hopefully be maintained over the coming weeks.

As for me, I proved that Brentford FC is not necessarily the only or most important thing in my life, although sometimes I am sure that I give the erroneous impression that that is indeed the case.

Nothing can beat family, love and a good relationship and we are looking forward to another couple of days of rest and recuperation and some more peace and quiet before we return to the madhouse that is our home at the moment.

Will I be at Charlton on Saturday though?

I certainly hope so as a week without my Brentford fix is quite long enough!

Grudging Praise – 20/10/15

There was a bit of a mixed reaction to Brentford’s win over Rotherham on Saturday. Everybody seemed to share my feeling of utter relief that we had beaten a team likely to be fighting for their life at the bottom of the league at the end of the season but there was also a fairly widespread sense of disappointment and let down at our performance and the lack of quality on display.

Many seemed to feel that the match was more akin to a League One tussle rather than a Championship match and whilst I can see their point of view I stand by my opinion that it is no use crying over spilt milk.

I am certainly not too happy about where we are and how poorly we compare in so many ways with last season but I am also under no illusions and fully expect our recovery to be gradual and tortuous and it was totally unrealistic to expect a display of total football played with freedom and abandon given the nerves, lack of confidence and gloomy atmosphere that pervaded Griffin Park before Saturday’s match.

Michael Ohl had also managed his expectations:

As you rightly said Greville it was a win. Also, we didn’t have majority possession, yet still won, and I’ll settle for that. Yennaris, Swift and Woods impressed. We didn’t give away goals – their equaliser was unstoppable, although we did rely on Button, yet again.

There was more passion from most of the team. What mostly annoys me about some of the new signings, such as Hofmann, is not so much that I think they are poor buys, but more his visibly giving up, when the ball isn’t just at his feet. At least make the effort. We are also missing that spark of quality which can turn a game. Toumani can do that sometimes . . . Jota, I really can’t wait for his return.

Still it’s a start. But as Lee Carsley said – there is no time to sit back, Wolves are next.

Alan Dally was more sceptical and scathing:

Yes Greville the win was so important, but the first shoots of recovery? I have grave doubts. As you say Rotherham are more than likely going to be fighting an uphill battle against relegation, yet they were more than a match for the Bees.

I walked out of Griffin Park just shaking my head in disbelief, that how such a vibrant Bees side of a few months ago has turned into the rabble of a team that was on display on Saturday.

We are a mere shadow of the team of last season and unless something unique happens soon, we are surely set for relegation this season. Yes I know we have injuries and have lost a few players, but whatever happened to the proud boast that all the departing players will be replaced by somebody better? The evidence so far suggests exactly the opposite.

If we have to rely on the same people who brought these new players in again, then I have little faith in their ability to get it right the second time around; As they say those who got you into the mess, are unlikely to be the ones to get you out of it.

It is so depressing specially when you think to build on the last three years, we just needed a bit of fine tuning. Instead of that we have opted for wholesale change and are paying a heavy price. To me it is stupidity beyond belief. Still we live in hope that things will change for the better, but I wouldn’t bet much money on that happening.

Richard Poole was just happy with the win and the makeup of our team:

Well a win under the belt is all that matters to me and I am glad that finally we put a few youngesters into the team. We might not have had much choice but they did their bit and now is the time to progress from here. Last season has gone.

As you know football changes very quickly and I am looking forward to our next game. COME ON YOU BEES

beesyellow22 was cautiously optimistic but also bemoaned how far we have fallen:

Another great article which sums up pretty much the debacle of our performance yesterday and the key thing being the fact that after three defeats we finally got a much needed win. As you say Greville, there is no point constantly going over the same old thing week after week, game after game. What’s happened has happened and this is now where we find ourselves.

However, I do have to concur entirely with what Alan says in terms of walking out of Griffin Park after the match, shaking my head and wondering whether I’d somehow entered some kind of parallel universe, such is the difference between the Brentford side that finished last season and the current team we are watching at the moment.

Let’s look at the positives (apart from the win). Our reluctant manager had the wherewithal to revert to the successful 4-1-4-1 formation that served us so well last season. Also, he ditched the Ankersen/Giles Moneyball flops (Kershbaumer, Gogia, Hofmann, etc.) and gave youth a chance in the shape of Woods and Swift with the exciting Canos out wide. And possibly most importantly of all, he had the players psyched up from the first minute, with a level of pressing and desire that I have certainly not seen before this season.

Unfortunately however, that really is where the positives stop. Judge’s two goals aside, we were absolutely awful. For pretty much the majority of the game, it really did look like a poor League One side taking on another poor League One side. Lots of long balls from us, very little in the way of free-flowing possession football and a performance that at times resembled more of a Sunday morning game down at the local rec than a Championship-quality league match. But…

It was a win. And I actually thought that Carsley’s comments post-match were both refreshingly honest and totally accurate. We really did only play decent possession football for perhaps twenty of the ninety-six minutes. We did look jittery. But we did grind out the result, regardless of the fact that it was against possibly the division’s poorest side. We have the victory we needed, we now move onto Wednesday and we hope we can build on the positives of a rare victory.

For me, as we now look forward to going to Molineux, there are three things to ponder on. Firstly, as Alan (and Michael) touch on above, the Moneyball signings are extremely worrying. Yes, they need time to settle into Championship football, but that is quite simply time we no longer have! As has been discussed, Kerschbaumer looks utterly clueless, Hofmann is unimposing and Gogia is no Stuart Dallas. Barbet I like but Carsley apparently does not, whilst Vibe does, I think, offer some quality but could now find it difficult to work his way into a system that now employs only one striker. The point I am somewhat laboriously making is that these players were supposed to be the great new hopes for this season; players to replace the likes of Dallas, Pritchard, Douglas, etc. The paucity of quality shown by many of them surely has to give all of us cause for concern when it comes to the ability of Ankersen and Giles to get decent signings in.

The second thing is far more positive and touches on something you mention, Greville – namely we are inching ever closer to the likes of Macleod, Jota, Colin and McEachran finally coming back into contention. Outstanding players that will hopefully make all the difference to us and finally see us start to play the kind of football we were all so used to (and possibly spoiled by) last season.

And thirdly I go back to my prediction chart that you so kindly published a week or so ago. I know they are only predictions, but I said we’d lose at Derby and beat Rotherham, and so it turned out! I now believe we will lose at Wolves and Charlton, get a draw against QPR, then lose the next two to Hull and Blackburn! Defeatist talk? I don’t look at it that way! Even saying that we will lose all of those games, as long as we can then pick up eight points from twelve against MK Dons, Nottingham Forest, Bolton and Fulham, we will go into the home game against Huddersfield pre-Christmas on twenty points – just ten behind my thirty point mid-season safety target! And by then, we will hopefully have the likes of Jota, Colin, McEachran and Macleod back playing for us again.

So overall, a bit of a mixed bag. A poor performance but a great result. Messi-like brilliance from Judge, but still defensive question marks hanging over Harlee Dean (sorry Greville, I don’t think he’s the player he was last season, which may or may not have something to do with his current contractual situation). An encouraging show from Yennaris (I can’t believe I actually just typed that, but credit where it’s due – he played pretty well) but practically zero service to the forlorn-looking Djuricin (who I still think had as good a game as he could have done under the circumstances).

Let’s celebrate the positives, seek to eradicate the negatives and focus on the fact that things might, very, very, very slowly, be starting to get slightly better. Or not.

Rebel Bee also was not too impressed with what he had seen:

Relief is the definitely the word I’d use to describe my feelings coming out of Griffin Park on Saturday.

The main piece and other comments have covered most of the key points well, so all I can add today are some random observations.

Make no mistake that was a relegation battle, our results against the other strugglers are key.

Thank God for Judgey, and Button – we urgently need to sort out new deals for these two, plus the other key players – Tarks, Harlee etc.

With Woods in the side we did at least have a pass into midfield, and someone who can move it about.

All the coaching and improved fitness training from Lee Carsley can’t hide the backwards steps taken in squad quality and the level of many of the new signings. We got through on Saturday without the stats influenced newcomers who have all been flops so far.

Ankersen’s post match comments were optimistic in the extreme!

We need a striker (again). And if we’d only kept Dallas this side would look a whole lot better.

The division seems more even than last year with no real outstanding sides emerging yet, this gives us some hope that we can stay up.

Over ten thousand fans at the match – that is impressive, just imagine what we could achieve if we had got this season right.

I was pleased with the tribute to Martin Lange, which was nicely observed by the Rotherham fans too. Can somebody tell me if the current Chairman has said anything on his passing as I didn’t see a programme?

Captain Colon remarked upon our toughness – not a word often used about the Bees:

It certainly was an ugly but much needed win. I can’t remember a Bees team at home conceding so many fouls. Beautiful football it most certainly wasn’t but if that is what is needed, then so be it.

In passing, I was sad to see Uwe Rosler lose his job again yesterday but he must have gone into the Elland Road hot seat with his eyes open and well aware that Cellini’s itchy trigger finger would ensure that he needed to be an instant success if he was going to remain in his post beyond the short term. Quite what is next for him I am not totally sure, but it has been a horrible year for Uwe, and one that I would not wish upon anybody. I wonder if he now bitterly regrets his decision to leave Brentford as it has been nothing but failure for him ever since

On a happier note, the Development Squad won at Crystal Palace thanks to two late goals by Sam Saunders including a trademark free kick. Montell Moore also scored a cracker and Lewis Macleod got another ninety minutes under his belt, this time as a holding midfielder. Good news at last!

Maybe he and Sam will shortly be in contention for selection. What a pleasant thought to end upon.

Relief! – 18/10/15

The overriding emotion after yesterday’s narrow and hard fought two-one victory over Rotherham was simply one of relief.

Relief that we had arrested the rot of three successive defeats, relief that we had beaten a team likely to be in the relegation zone, perhaps alongside us, and relief that Lee Carsley had finally broken his duck as a Head Coach and led us to our first victory under his charge.

This was a game where, in all honesty, very little mattered beyond the result. A defeat would have seem morale and confidence amongst players and supporters alike plummet to new depths and the Bees would have dropped into the relegation zone for the first time this season.

Going into the game it hadn’t helped to watch a confident and revitalised Bristol City team totally outplay and pulverise a poor and dispirited Nottingham Forest on Friday night and to see them play the ball around with such precision and accuracy and a certain joie de vivre just emphasised how much the Bees needed to improve in order to get their season back on track and escape from the pack stuck around the bottom of the Championship table.

The three points that we eventually won, not without a desperate struggle, were the absolute priority and I believe that given the fillip of yesterday’s much needed victory, we will now improve slowly and gradually as we regain some confidence and cohesion.

It will also help if we can get some high quality reinforcements into the squad either from outside, during the January transfer window, or hopefully well in advance of then when the likes of Jota, Macleod, McEachran and Colin report back for duty as soon as they have recovered from long term injury.

I therefore do not intend to dwell too much upon the myriad shortcomings that were exposed yet again yesterday afternoon.

We know that the players currently available to us have not proved to be of sufficient quality or experience to get us to where we want to be in the Championship and to carp and criticise them might be good for the soul but is hardly likely to be productive in the great scheme of things.

To emphasise where we are at the moment, we were outpassed and out-possessed yesterday by Rotherham. Nothing really more needs to be said as there is really very little point in doing so.

We all know that our visitors are a set of decent, honest journeymen, toiling hard at a level that is probably just a little bit beyond them and we recognise and appreciate that they do their utmost to make up for their deficiencies in terms of class and ability through the virtues of organisation, effort and sheer hard work.

Please do not think that I am trying to patronise or denigrate them or minimise their achievements as I greatly admire Rotherham as a club for more than making the most of what they have, and it is fair to say that they played as much football as we did, if not more, and probably just had the edge in terms of creating opportunities.

Brentford had forty-seven percent possession of the ball and attempted three hundred and eighty-four passes of which sixty-seven per cent found their target.

Rotherham had fifty-three per cent possession and attempted fifty-two more passes than us with a slightly higher rate of accuracy.

In the corresponding match last season Brentford enjoyed sixty-six per cent possession and whilst comparisons are both pointless and invidious you can see how far things have changed in the interim period.

There is really no possible benefit in wailing, gnashing our teeth and bemoaning the fact that we have fallen so far from grace since the high points of last season and have also massively declined in terms of the quality of our squad and footballing ability – that is simply a fact that we have to accept and get beyond at the moment if we are to retain our sanity and sense of proportion.

The time for recriminations will come later on if the season ends in disaster. Now is simply a time for all hands at the pumps and for us to work together to help ensure our survival at Championship level as it would be a disaster of massive proportions if we allow our hard won Championship status to be surrendered come next May.

Apart from the victory there were many other positives to come out of yesterday’s match:

  • A five-figure crowd that, whilst quiet and muted at times, got behind their team and appreciated their efforts.
  • A positive up-and-at-’em start culminating in a quite brilliantly taken early goal from Alan Judge
  • Scoring the opening goal for the first time this season at home
  • A solid defensive display with Dean and Tarkowski particularly impressing
  • Nico Yennaris making the opening goal and playing his best ever game for the club
  • Ryan Woods playing in a holding role alongside Alan McCormack and looking calm and composed on the ball, winning his challenges and rarely conceding possession
  • Young guns Sergi Canos and John Swift justifying the faith shown in them and demonstrating their ability and youthful enthusiasm on their first start for the club
  • The imperious Alan Judge, scorer of two quite beautifully taken goals, including a rare header, and running the game from start to finish
  • Brentford scoring two excellently worked, constructed and taken goals
  • A recognisable and effective team shape being employed in the 4-2-3-1 formation that worked so well last season
  • A determination and will to win, evidenced by the Brentford players putting their body on the line and defending desperately during the six interminable minutes of injury time when Rotherham threw the kitchen sink at us
  • A team selection which ignored the claims of all our fit if underperforming preseason foreign signings in Barbet, Kerschbaumer, Vibe, Hofmann and Gogia and contained seven of last season’s tried and tested squad, plus Woods and recent loanees, Canos, Swift and Djuricin

I fully recognise the lack of quality on display at times yesterday, our inability to keep possession, the lack of incision, the paucity of attempts on target, the fact that Djuricin must surely have been suffering from a communicable disease, so isolated was he upfront, the languid start to the second half that cost us so dear and our appalling marking at opposition set pieces where we relied far too much upon David Button’s brilliance to save the day.

I would also hope that somebody introduced Philipp Hofmann after the game to returning legend Robert Taylor as I think that they could have had a most productive conversation on centre forward play that would have greatly benefitted our new German striker who still has so much to learn about the demands of English football.

Yesterday was still an improvement on what we have seen recently and you can only beat the opposition that is facing you on the day.

We now have two tough away games in the next week at Wolves and Charlton and I will withhold any judgement until after we have played both of these matches. I would hope and expect that we improve gradually from game to game but I have no real expectations of a massive change in our fortunes until the injured players return.

But hey – WE WON!