Jim Levack’s View – 12/1/16

I was putting off writing something today for a long as I could, as if at all possible I really wanted to avoid yet another superficially positive and cheery match preview of Brentford’s massive game against Middlesbrough at Griffin Park tonight.

It just felt like Groundhog Day as I think I have written five similar or pretty much identical articles since the beginning of last season all suggesting with rather more hope than conviction that this might finally be the time when we get our act together, change our approach, allay the ghost and break the seemingly irreversible hold and hoodoo that our visitors appear to have over us.

Let’s get the sad and unpalatable facts out of the way first:

  • Brentford have lost their past eight league and playoff matches against Middlesbrough.
  • Middlesbrough have kept eight clean sheets in a row – the current longest run in the top four tiers of English football.
  • Boro have conceded just 12 goals so far this season – a league-low total.
  • The last time we beat Middlesbrough in any competition was in an FA Cup Third Round tie in 1964 when we won 2-1.
  • Our last league victory over them was way back in December 1938 when we won a First Division match 2-1.

When you take all of the above into consideration it makes it pretty hard to put a positive spin on things and I was definitely not looking forward to trying to do so yet again.

Middlesbrough seem to be able to beat us at will and have a simple but highly effective game plan that we are as yet totally unable to counter that comprises softening us up by kicking us off the pitch early on under the gaze of a supine and benign referee, totally outmuscling us in midfield, absorbing our futile pressure and then picking us off on the break.

It has worked a treat every time.

Last season it just appeared that we played the same match four times against them with the self-same inevitable outcome on every occasion. We never seemed to lean or change or adapt our approach.

We frittered away more than enough chances to win three matches in our Championship encounter at Griffin Park this time last year before frustratingly losing to a sloppily conceded penalty kick and, surprisingly enough given how poorly we had been playing, we gave them an extremely hard game earlier this season when but for a couple of appalling misses from Marco Djuricin we might easily have come back with a point.

Anyway, just as I thought that there was no escape and I had no option but to try and find yet another new way of saying the same old thing, salvation arrived quite unexpectedly in the nick of time and totally out of the blue in the form of an unsolicited email which slithered into my inbox just when all looked lost.

Jim Levack, a valued contributor to Ahead Of The Game and one of the best informed and most knowledgeable, sensible, clear minded and objective Brentford supporters around, and a man whose writing ability leaves me green with envy, had unexpectedly sent me his take on what is happening in and around the club at the moment as well as his opinion on all the problems that we are currently facing.

His article is open and honest and very hard-hitting and I am printing it just as he wrote it as I also believe very strongly that my blog should offer a platform for everybody and it is good to hear from a selection of alternative voices rather than always just from me.

Here is what he had to say:

Within seconds of the FA Cup draw being made I was tweeted by a former colleague who warned me his Walsall side would be a tough nut to crack.

It read “Walsall and Brentford are not that much different. Don’t be fooled by the hype”.

I disagreed and insisted that as a club we were now operating on a different level to the Saddlers… after Saturday’s showing I’m not so sure.

The Cup exit, on the heels of a similar no show at Birmingham, has raised many questions in my mind and got me thinking that maybe it’s time to recalibrate exactly where we are.

So here, in no particular order other than how they came to me on my morning run, is the way I’m currently seeing things.

I might indeed be completely wrong on many as they are purely my personal opinions so apologies for that, but here goes…

1. We are not as good as we think we are – Sure we’ve bought some cracking technically gifted players, but football is about far more than pure technical ability. In fact the mental side of the game is probably more important for technically gifted players because it is what separates the good from the great.

We signed Konstantin Kerschbaumer who will clearly be a great acquisition once he acclimatises, but currently I’m not sure he’d get in the Walsall side and he would surely benefit from a season on loan in League One.

2. We can’t pass our way around more rugged sides who are up for a scrap – I’ve heard it said time and again this season by fellow fans that we don’t need a Jonathan Douglas type character to boss the midfield. What absolute rubbish! Every side needs a player who the opposition look at in the tunnel and think “I don’t fancy this”. It’s the first part of the battle won before a ball is even kicked. Ideally I’d agree with the purists that the best solution is a take no prisoners type of midfielder – a Bradley Johnson for instance, who is also technically talented but they ain’t cheap.

3. Our Academy is not producing anything yet – despite the excellent work by Kevin O’Connor and previously Lee Carsley, we’ve yet to see a single player come through to the first team for a regular starting place, a staggering fact when we should be getting all the teenage talent not wanted by Chelsea and the like. I appreciate that there is currently a review going on of our entire Academy structure and also appreciate tat we have some massive talent at all the younger age groups so perhaps we just have to be patient.

4. We don’t take the Cup competitions seriously – whilst Saturday was tricky due to the upcoming Boro and Burnley games, Brentford looked like a a side missing its spine – which it was. I’m all for trying to get six points in the league and accept it’s arguably more important to reach the playoffs, but if we struggle to beat the limited resources of Walsall, it suggests that…

5. We don’t have any real strength in depth – again, throwing on Marco Djuricin after weeks out injured and Kerschbaumer to try to rescue the situation spotlighted the paucity of options for Dean Smith, whose former side – on the up side – showed what he can create given time.

6. The rumour mill is affecting our approach – I’ve heard repeatedly from people I believe to be in the know that realistically promotion isn’t on the cards this season, certainly automatically, and the playoffs, whilst still  a more than viable target are at best an outside bet. If that is the case then perhaps we are really building for next season and, as a result, we shouldn’t expect much incoming transfer activity in this window.

If that’s the case and is not simply pub talk then it’s staggering and a massive kick in the gut for Brentford’s players, whose attitude could – and I stress the word could – be affected by it.

I lost count of the number of heavy first touches and quick corners Brentford’s leaden-footed players failed to close down yesterday, the display was lethargic and lacking any real desire. Could that be because they felt, even subliminally, that the Cup wasn’t a priority?

If I am correct then I fear many fans may not see it as a priority next season either and vote with their feet. It’s already happened with the Capital One Cup and the FA Cup seems certain to follow.

The fact is every season Brentford should be looking to win promotion because it breeds a positive go as far as we can mentality rather than a laid back one which potentially creates lacklustre performances.

7. Some players don’t want to be here – I’ve heard that a couple of players whose careers have either been resurrected or given a springboard to progress don’t want to stay and are hoping to talk to other clubs, though mercifully not Alan Judge. One or two of the same players haven’t exactly set the world on fire this season and have been prone to mistakes born out of carelessness, so perhaps it’s best if we get the best money for them and bring players in who do want to be here.

8. I’m very pleased for FC Midtjylland – but I don’t particularly want to see them walking round the Griffin Park pitch when my side are 1-0 down and I don’t have any real interest in them either way. That will be shot down as not supporting Matthew Benham… not so. It’s just that I only have eyes for Brentford and am not convinced that it’s easy to split your loyalties between two teams. Anyone who suggests otherwise doesn’t really understand football, again in my opinion. A PR flop.

9. We are far better than last season – again, I’d beg to differ here. We are much more of a work in progress, largely because we haven’t brought in any tried and tested players at this level. Potential is all very good and yes next season we may well storm the league, but to help the unproven players gel I believe you need a quality wise old experienced head or two.

10. A personal one this – I’m sick of hearing how less technically gifted sides like Birmingham who sit back and let us attack them are paying us a great compliment. The fact is that we struggle to break sides down who do that and due to a lack of concentration at the back this season, seem to get picked off on the break far too easily as was the case at Cardiff and Birmingham recently.

11. We don’t need a prolific goalscoring centre forward because we’re among the league’s top scorers – someone is missing the point here. Every side needs a proven goalscorer because it eases the pressure on the midfield to score. Yes, we’ve done well this season but in games where the midfield don’t chip in, we have been shown to be sadly lacking in potency in the final third. Our first shot on target against Walsall at home was in the forty-third minute – from a midfielder. Enough said.

It’s not all doom and gloom because we have come an incredibly long way, but I do think the last two games against Blues and Walsall should lead to a return to factory settings and a rather more humble approach and a recognition and acceptance that maybe there’s still a lot of work to be done.

That is what Jim Levack has had to say and I would welcome the opinion of everybody once they have read his words.


23 thoughts on “Jim Levack’s View – 12/1/16

  1. well i agreer on most of the points here epecially points 2 3 4 5 which i have brought up this year and last so the question is where do BFC go from here .Do we want to move on and FIGHT for maybe a promation place or wait till we have the new ground like some fans say .Well in my day we did not have the choice or we did IT WAS TRY TO WIN All OUR GAMES we play and stop the calculations football is for them who dare and i think there are a lot of teams who try to calculate too much when the solution is simple just play to our best and what comes comes.As for the players when they come off the pitch whatever the result the question they should pose is I GAVE MY ALL for the club and most importantly the fans who each week fork out the money to see BFC


  2. Good post Jim I don’t always agree with you but can’t really argue with any of that.I would add we weren’t as good as we thought last season as well as this one.We have the resources to improve this squad and replace the players who want out but keeping Judge is crucial.


  3. Sums up how I see things at the moment. Lee Carsley got us back on track by getting back to basics and with the spine of MW’s side paramount, plus one of 2 of the new signings. The more we deviate from that the more we start to look like the side under Marinus. My worry is that our valued assets wanted by rival clubs are all players signed when MW/MB were on the same page. Perhaps with the exception of Maxime Colin and Ryan Woods i’d struggle to think of a new signing that has even held their value.

    We need to remember the vision of BFC that was shown to our players when they were signed, especially the very best (Alan Judge) otherwise they will only see us as a club treading water and we’ll be permanently rebuilding the squad twice a season, potentially going backwards.

    I’ll be up there tonight and fully behind everyone throughout the game as always, but I can’t say that i’m not a bit worried.


  4. Agree with everything Jim wrote. Below are some of my observations on the issues raised.
    1. It’s clear that the quality in the squad has not improved from last season, in fact it has gone backwards. There are too many players who aren’t prepared to do the dirty work. There can be a mix of exciting, attacking football but also a bit of stout defence.
    2. People like to say Brentford don’t miss Douglas. While I have no doubts he was a divisive figure in the dressing room, what he contributed on the pitch during the games is something the club lack. He was an attacking threat and also got back into the midfield to mop up. This season, Douglas has scored three goals. Woods 1, Diagouraga 0, McEachran 0, McCormack 0, Kerschbaumer 0.
    3. Academies take time to produce talent. That said, at first team level the bar over the last few seasons has been raised. Jake Reeves, for instance, always seemed a year behind the progress of the club.
    4. I feel sorry for the people who will have to market next season’s Capital One Cup game. I would also blame the fixture schedulers for making sides in the top two divisions play midweek. The FA Cup third round should be sacrosanct – a week either side is clear to ensure sides play a stronger XI.
    5. This much has been clear since the start of the season. It’s a bigger squad than last season but the talent drop from regulars to cover is too high.
    6. I expect Brentford to do everything within their power (and FFP) to try and finish as high up the league as possible. I think another play-off defeat is the best the club can hope for. For me, it will be three of Middlesbrough, Derby, Burnley and Hull to go up.
    7. If a player doesn’t want to be at Brentford, then they should leave.
    8. I have other clubs I like and have fond memories of – it’s nice to see them win but, equally, I don’t care about them so much to be upset when they lose. I am ambivalent to FC Midtjylland – their results won’t impact on my day in the slightest.
    9. English experience was undervalued in the summer. Ryan Woods was probably the club’s best signing this summer – he is the only one to have played the first half of the season and had English experience.
    10. No side is paying Brentford a compliment by sitting back and counter-attacking. They see Brentford as vulnerable to the counter attack and they’d be right.
    11. Our last three goals have been a worldie, a keeper clanger and a screamer. We’ve not scored a ‘scrappy’ goal since before Christmas. A prolific centre forward would have done so.


  5. Great article Jim. Boro are on a different level to us financially and with that and a great coach they are aways going to be a tough nut to crack for any team.

    We are evolving and this season hasnt panned out, as yet, how we expected. However, its testament to our coaching staff as to how many offers are coming in for our players.

    Success breeds success and with every crowd pleaser we lose we are able to bring in a replacement from either abroad or from our lower divisions.

    Sooner or later though we need stability so after this season, when you could say we are established in this division, we need to attract and hold onto players that are going to get us into the premier and more important keep us there…that is the huge challenge ahead!


  6. Always find it hard to disagree with Jim he always seem to put across very reasoned arguments
    I totally agree that we are certainly not as good as we think we are. We should be honest and admit that only 2 wonder goals secured a win against Reading and we drew against a Brighton side that are on a slump and a goal drought of 5 games – we drew where 4 others won. We have yet to deliver any real result against any team above us in the league at best taking a point and we are realistically toward the top of the mid table teams. I am personally not totally sold yet by our new management team I see unfathomable substitutions where LC would make inspirational changes and a switch of formation. We seem now to be back to straight player swaps still some of which leave me scratching my head. I found it quite bizarre to take Hoff out and bring Macro on when losing this was surely a time to switch to 2 up front especially as by then Canós had drifted as he knew he couldn’t beat the left back. I have heard that certain ‘talented’ players are not rated by DS at this has led to issues
    So I am left wondering how well he has been brought all the players on to his way of thinking. Marinus used to take flack for a lack of passion on the side lines to be honest I have not seen it from DS as yet and 3 wins in 8 games isn’t a great return and that could be 3 in 10 by the end of the week. Rumours of players wanting away may not just be about big bucks on offer but also about team morale and management style. Certainly if the message is consolidation I can understand why the likes of Tarky would want to talk to Burnley – he could be in the premier league next season or consolidating with us. We have to be pushing hard on the pitch and off it to be ambitious every season and not just accepting mid table as ok while we wait on another round of summer inbound transfers. The pre match hype pre Walsall was about how far we could go in the competition the performance and outcome showed a vast gulf between realality and dreamland. Only last week I saw a TV clip on my Sky+ from when we beat Pompey at home in the ill fated play off season a few years back. In a rare interview MB was quoted as saying forget cup runs, promotions are what it’s about! Maybe this indicates the priority the club really has but to me a win last weekend was vital going into these two games we believed our own hype on how good we are and a dose of realality is needed


    • I can remember on a number of occasions last season talking to fellow supporters who all agreed that we were seeing the best football at GP for many years. There is no way that we could make the same claim over this season’s performances with the possible exception of the first half against Huddersfield.


  7. I’m certain there is noissue with management style and think Dean Smith is and will prove to be the perfect fit for us.
    Richard O’Kelly also comes very highly rated but there will always be a bedding in period in terms of management.
    The encouraging thing is that watching the way Walsall at times played around us gave me a vision of what we could be like in time under the auspices of Smith.
    But, as I mentioned, you need hunger twinned with ability. On Saturday we had the latter but imho not the former, at least at the same level Walsall did.
    Mantom, Bradshaw, Sawyers and Henry all good a cut above what we had in terms of energy and whilst they might not be technically as good at Championship level, desire helps redress the balance.


  8. Most Bees fans agreed that to progress we’d need better than TD and JD in the middle of the park. Yet here we are lamenting the departure of JD (rightly in the circumstances) and TD. I don’t know what went on behind the scenes with JD, but he was never likely to be sold or enticed away. With so much change elsewhere that should not be overlooked.


  9. Slowly and surely all that was achieved up to and including last season is being discarded with almost determined perversity. The sum of what we have now at the club appears far less than we had a year ago. I have no argument with the appointments of Dean Smith and Richard O’Kelly, but wonder whether they’ll still have the tools for the job once the window closes.The lack of ambition, if Jim Levack is right, is truly worrying.


      • Well I don’t get to see them more than a few times a year and have to follow on TV or Twitter and such, which do not give as true a view as going to the ground, so I tend to rely on your views as I think we mostly see things the same way. It was a kind of light-hearted apology for my change of loyalty. I hope that makes sense.


  10. Mike, please be aware that I didn’t say there was a lack of ambition medium to long term.
    I have every faith in Matthew Benham and think we have made strides forward – just perhaps not as huge ones as we’d like to congratulate ourselves on, that’s all.
    It’s more that perhaps my Walsall supporting mate was right… that we maybe aren’t as far down the road on this journey as we like to think we are. Walsall played their first Xl and we rested players, albeit only a handful, and it wasn’t enough to beat them at home.
    I don’t think our achievements are being discarded either, but I would like to see one or two fulcrum signings i.e. we got £9m for Gray so instead of spending @£2-3m on a replacement who will be good in a season or two, let’s spend £4m now on a ready made replacement or if not then someone like Ryan Woods (with Tidwell my player of the season so far) who understands the English game.
    Final thing – I think it’s fairly obvious we have very little pace in the side, so that clearly needs addressing.


    • Actually, speaking of signing people, what exactly have we done with the £11 million we got for Gray, Dallas and Odubajo? (How I got to £11 million: £1 for Dallas, £3.5 for Moses and £6.5 up front for Andre.) I know we spent £1 million on Woods, but where has the rest of it gone? I realise we can’t ‘do a Derby’ and spend £6 million on a Bradley Johnson but I think we’re all pretty much in agreement that we do need one or two reinforcements if this season isn’t simply going to fizzle out before the end of January. The question has been asked before: what’s happening re Kemar Roofe? How much realistically would it take to prise him away from Oxford? For me, a signing like that would be absolutely thrilling and give the whole club a boost – particularly at a time when fan faves like Toums and Tarky appear to be about to depart. Any thoughts, Jim?


  11. I do know there are names – and people far more in the know than me tell me they’re decent quality names – in the pipeline but I guess it’s a case of jigsaws and timings.
    I personally am surprised that we didn’t go in for Roofe after the Cup game and (presumably) ensuing scouting reports from the Kassam, because I’d have thought he’d be another in the Ryan Woods mould of signings, but there must be some reason for that that I’m unaware of.
    Problem with players like that is that unless you bid early, he scores goals against PL opposition and the price goes up.
    We can’t do a Derby or Burnley or Hull on fees or wages, but I would like to see us being more proactive in the market rather than replacing when people leave. Again I appreciate it’s a balancing act in terms of keeping players happy and playing etc, but there’s bags of young talent in the lower leagues here (not just on the Continent).
    The club’s PR on this side of things is very poor and whilst I applauded Phil Giles’ recent interview with Beesotted and the questions posed, his answers – whilst good – were fairly generic.
    Sometimes good PR isn’t just what you say, it’s what you do and I do feel that if supporters could see us hoovering up young talent here and there they might be less inclined to feel so negative.


  12. Well well well – the Iberian version of Andy Pipkin now gives a “light-hearted apology”. Considering some of the stuff written earlier in the season this is some conversion.

    I am frankly amazed we’re even mid-table considering the first ten games (thanks a million Lee Carsley), but I’ll still be happy when we hit 50 points.

    It’s all very well playing nice football in the middle third but we’re just not clinical enough at either end of the pitch.


  13. I had no idea who Andy Pipkin was, so I looked him up on Wikipedia and it says –

    “Andy is moody, contrary, has no respect for other sentient beings, appears to be unintelligent, has no interest in the world outside his local area, is very fat and plain lazy. Furthermore, Andy could be viewed as being genuinely intellectually disabled, but this could just be regarded as the manifestation of his ignorant nature, and the perceived corruption of his psyche owing to watching too much television”.

    So if it’s all the same to you I’d prefer it if you referred to me as a “Gilipollas”. 🙂


  14. Final word – the relevant part of the above is the “contrary” part. Anything else is purely coincidental…

    However, point taken re. spats. I shall try to avoid trolling the Trull!!

    Keep up the excellent blog Greville.


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