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.