For once the M1 was kind to us and the drive to and from Derby was swift, incident free and almost pleasant. If only we could have said the same about what came between both journeys and totally spoiled the day.
To develop the travel theme a bit more, apparently Derby striker Darren Bent was caught in traffic and was left out of the squad after his late arrival, not that his team needed him on the day. As for the Brentford team – they never turned up.
The Bees were second best from the first whistle and subsided without much of a fight to a two-nil defeat by a Derby County team that despite three consecutive away victories were still searching for their first victory in front of their own supporters.
Had the Bees even tried to start the game on the front foot and put the home team under any sort of pressure then they might well have caused problems and quieted a slightly nervous and apprehensive home crowd but as it was they were forced back from the opening whistle and the only surprise was that it took almost twenty minutes for Chris Martin to score.
A second followed just before the interval from Tom Ince and with better finishing and a more measured final pass Derby might well have run up a cricket score as they found space and time on both flanks and tore us open on numerous occasions and were in total control for the overwhelming majority of the match.
David Button was his customary heroic self and Dean and Tarkowski did their level best to make up for the myriad deficiencies exhibited by those in front of them although Dean was caught ball-watching for the first goal and he was left marking fresh air as Martin’s well-timed run gave him an easy chance to score.
Brentford were slow on the ball, timid and lethargic in their general approach, showed little or no incision and lost possession with monotonous regularity.
The lower than normal possession stat of a mere forty-six percent highlighted their main problem and weakness on the day. This really did not look like a Brentford team as we know it out there but eleven ill-matched strangers who had been cobbled together at the last minute.
As is now customary the midfield was neither fish nor fowl, providing little protection for the beleaguered defence and creating nothing of substance for the isolated Vibe and Djuricin who were forced to feed off scraps.
Vibe barely touched the ball in a performance of shocking ineptitude and his only real contribution apart from shooting wastefully wide early on was to shriek in vain for a foul when dispossessed deep in home territory when cleanly tackled and twenty seconds later he was still on the ground and the ball was in the back of our net as Derby broke from defence with with pace, intent and incision.
Woods worked hard and kept going to the end without much end result but Diagouraga was submerged as we were outgunned and outfought in the middle of the field. Swift came on for the last quarter and showed that he has skill on the ball and can see a pass and he will be an asset to us when he settles in.
For the home team, Bradley Johnson and George Thorne combined size and strength with footballing ability that we could not match. In comparison, we looked small, weak and frail and lacking in overall stamina and fitness without the skill to compensate, and were knocked off the ball far too easily and barely won a challenge or second ball all afternoon.
Last season we were similarly lacking in strength and brute force but it hardly mattered as you have to catch somebody before you are able to kick them up in the air and we possessed far too much pace and pure ability for most teams to bully us. Now the situation has changed as we are slow and ponderous and are being outplayed as well as outfought week after week.
Gogia and Judge started the match on the wings but were starved of possession and this was surely a day for a 4-3-3 formation as we were far too open and outnumbered in midfield.
Canos flitted in and out of the match when he replaced Gogia after the break but we only threatened – and spasmodically at that – when Hofmann replaced Vibe. He did well, held the ball up, even won the odd aerial challenge and at last gave us a target to aim at upfront. He came close twice, forcing Carson into a plunging save and seeing a late effort hacked off the line but we were well beaten on a day when we again resembled an overmatched and outclassed lower division team.
This was a terrible, spineless and abject performance against a decent team who were made to look far better than they really are by our disorganisation, failure to get the basics right and total ineptitude.
It is only a few short months ago since we played pretty much the same Derby team off the pitch in a performance packed full of confidence and brio but we are now a mere shadow of that team and those days are sadly long since gone and show no sign of returning in the immediate future.
Ten matches in is quite long enough for us to have a fair idea of how the season is likely to turn out and there is absolutely no point in my mincing my words.
We are currently in free fall and on the evidence of the last couple of games there is every chance of us plummeting straight back to Division Two unless the slide is reversed – and quickly, before what little confidence that remains drains away.
It does not take much to pinpoint what is going wrong both on and off the pitch but it is far harder to understand how to turn things around.
I have no intention of repeating the words that I have written so often over the last couple of months – words that come so easily now that they almost seem to write themselves. We all know about the ravages of Financial Fair Play, our lack of resources in comparison with the rest of the league and our utterly ridiculous injury list but despite all of these obstacles we are beginning to look a shambles of a club.
We botched the recruitment process for the Head Coach in the Summer and the club has at least held its hand up and rectified the problem before it got out of control. Then came the short term appointment of Lee Carsley and his unfortunate post match interview on Tuesday that further put the cat amongst the pigeons.
That being said our two worst performances have come since the departure of Duikhuizen, two defeats where we have barely looked like scoring and the body language of the players today spoke volumes.
It is trite and far too easy to say that matters will improve when we get our long-term injured players back. I am now not so sure as only Jota, who will take time to regain match fitness, and McEachran have any experience of this level of the game.
Our new foreign players resemble nothing more than rabbits caught in headlights as they have been thrown in and are currently well out of their depth and struggling to cope with the relentless mental and physical demands of the Championship. Are they good enough? Well the jury is still out and whilst Colin, Barbet, Vibe and Djuricin have all flickered into life spasmodically, far too much is being asked of them too soon and it is quite frankly unfair to expect too much of any of them.
We now have a welcome respite and a break of two weeks before what is now turning into a massively important match against Rotherham, a team that currently looks as if it will be competing with us to fill one of the three dreaded relegation spots.
So what do we do in the next fortnight or so to ensure that we arrest the slump?
Here are my suggestions, none of which are likely to make me popular with the powers that be at the club:
- Look to bring in an older head to mentor and support Lee Carsley. Somebody like Steve Coppell would be ideal for the role. He would command instant respect and be able to provide a wealth of experience and football knowledge that is sadly lacking throughout the club at the moment. Steve Perryman fulfils a similar position with Paul Tisdale at Exeter City and adds massive value. In truth I would really welcome a new Head Coach from outside to provide a fresh voice, outlook and perspective but I fear and suspect that is a step too far at the moment despite it being a seemingly obvious move
- I would offer our two Co-Directors of Football some external assistance too. Someone similar to Andrew Mills (now working at Millwall) who knows the English game inside out and has extensive contacts with agents, managers and coaches and can ensure that we are offered the right players and that we get the deals done for the right price without waste or extravagance. It might also be that come January we could be looking to move some players on too and we need someone experienced in handling such a difficult situation and getting players out of the door
- Compromise our ideals a little bit given our current circumstances and try and find, hard though it will be, a couple of battle hardened, wizened veterans who can become teachers and leaders, things that we currently lack both on the pitch and at the training ground. I can still remember a gnarled Jimmy Gabriel coming to us back in 1974. He could barely run or move around the pitch but he inspired a young team to play above themselves and avoid the threat of re-election
- More controversially, find a couple of independent non-executive directors, men of substance and experience who are not beholden to Matthew Benham, who will have the forcefulness of character and the strength of mind to make their opinions heard at Board Meetings so that the Owner’s wishes are not just nodded through but their implications are discussed and fully thought through before a decision is made. Sometimes the word no has to be heard
I spoke at length tonight with my friend and fellow Brentford fanatic Gary Marson and he summed up the situation far better than I ever could and I totally concur with his wise words and opinion so eloquently expressed:
The vast majority of Bees fans recognise that Matthew Benham’s philosophy is the only game in town. His approach of securing competitive advantage through innovation and risk has already secured us success beyond our wildest dreams and in the long term is the only realistic way in which we can hope to continue to punch so far above our weight in a stale and rigid footballing hierarchy where there is normally such a stifling correlation between financial resource and performance.
The present crisis therefore need not, indeed must not, mark the end of the Benham project. But in order to preserve the long term strategic vision, not to mention his enormous investment, he may be well advised to consider a short term tactical retreat and re-think the approach for the remainder of the season. This means supplementing the playing squad and management team, both of which appear to be desperately naive at the rarefied level of the English second tier, with the type of solid if unexciting domestic experience and organisational knowhow that we might have previously disregarded.
We have attempted open heart surgery to cure a minor ailment and as a result found ourselves in intensive care. Before we can begin to think about a healthy and sustainable return to full fitness we must do everything that it takes to ensure that the patient survives.
The future can still be ours, but for now it must wait.