Weak, Wet, Lily-Livered & Spineless – 28/2/16

Football is an emotional game and being a fervent supporter of almost any club means that you have to experience both the highs and the lows on a regular basis.

It is therefore so easy to over react and quickly lose sight of your sense of perspective so I make it a firm rule never to comment on a game when emotions are still running high immediately after the final whistle at a time when initial superficial and kneejerk reactions can so easily dominate and overrule common sense and clear judgement.

More often than not once everything has calmed down, you have taken a few deep breaths and sufficient time has passed to reflect on what occurred in a more measured manner, things can look a lot different to how they initially appeared the previous day.

It is also pointless to change your mind repeatedly about a team from match to match simply depending upon the result as many other factors come into play. In other words, they lost last week therefore they are useless, but they won the next game, so they are all heroes again.

I think we are all running the risk of falling into this trap at the moment when we consider what we are currently watching on the pitch at Brentford.

The knives were out recently when we lost three games in a row to the likes of Brighton, Sheffield Wednesday and Derby County and barely laid a glove on any of them and many supporters felt that we were in free fall.

We desperately needed some points on the board against Wolves in midweek in order to boost our flagging confidence and help ensure that we kept a safe distance between us and the stragglers at the foot of the Championship table.

We were fortunate indeed to come across a team as inept as we had been in our previous few matches just at the right time and we easily beat quite the worst team I have seen this season, and one that made the donkeys of MK Dons appear like Real Madrid in comparison.

One swallow does not make a summer and yet many rabid and one-eyed fans on social media and the message boards alike saw this win as a massive turning point and perhaps even as the precursor to a late run on the outside towards the playoffs rather than recognising it for what it really was, simply a much needed and long awaited opportunity for us to fill our boots against another average team like us on a bad run and having a particularly awful evening.

Credit to the Bees, they did not look a gift horse in the mouth and took full advantage and were not flattered by the margin of their victory.

But did it change anything?

In my opinion, not a jot or iota.

I certainly thought that we would have more chance of winning points against the likes of Wolves, Rotherham and Charlton than had been the case against the top teams, but as yesterday’s abject, weak and dispirited show against relegation favourites Rotherham clearly demonstrated, we are and will likely remain a soft touch and a poor or average team at best for the remainder of the season.

I was desperately praying and hoping that yesterday would show a new side of the Bees and that we would use the confidence gained from Tuesday’s victory to show some fire in our belly, fight fire with fire, stand up to the long ball barrage and onslaught of a typical Neil Warnock team desperate for the three points and scrap and win the right for us to play our football and eventually let our undoubted skill do the talking.

Fat chance!

That was not the case as depite dominating possession we did little with it, allowed ourselves to be pushed back and then wilted under the unrelenting pressure and conceded two utterly avoidable goals both totally down to appalling defending firstly by O’Connell and then by Canos.

Judge benefited from a soft and bizarre penalty decision to score from the rebound after Camp saved his weak spot kick, but the unexpected fillip of an equaliser right on half time was frittered away and did not give us the impetus to take the game to a home team that came out after the break still seething from the perceived injustice of the award.

Instead we allowed Rotherham to take the initiative, pen us deep in our own half and their pressure finally told, helped it must be said by poor defending by Canos and aided and abetted by a referee who had stood firm before the break but finally wilted under the pressure of a vociferous home crowd and who gave us absolutely nothing in the second half as the ball kept coming back into our half and we were never able to impose our preferred style of play upon the game.

What was particularly worrying was the number of aerial duels that we lost in our own penalty area as we were totally outmuscled, and also how infrequently we won the crucial second ball.

Brentford allowed themselves to be drawn into a battle, a fight to the death with a team desperate for the points and one that was always going to overpower us as we gently subsided to defeat and proved, yet again, that this team is totally incapable of scrapping for a result.

Swift and Hofmann between them ludicrously missed a glaring opportunity to equalise straight after we went behind and the game drifted away from us as the home team held on for a fully deserved victory and we rarely threatened to pull a late rabbit out of the hat until Vibe missed two last gasp chances to salvage something from the mess.

Everything that we already know about this current squad was reinforced yesterday.

  • We are rarely able to keep a clean sheet
  • We defend set pieces appallingly
  • An overworked back four receives little cover and support from the midfield
  • You have to win the second balls – and we don’t
  • There is barely a tackle in any of our midfield and we have a soft underbelly, and as I said last week, far too many chihuahuas and barely a pit bull in the team
  • We miss the influence of Alan McCormack terribly – that in itself is an indictment of just how weak we are
  • When the going gets tough half the team disappears and we are so easily bullied out of a game and are vulnerable to any team that attempts to outbattle us
  • We pretty much depend upon one man, Alan Judge, to both create and score goals
  • We do not have a striker worthy of the name
  • We have forgotten how to score late goals
  • For all our possession we create so very little and are powderpuff in attack
  • It is rare that we press as a team to win the ball back in key areas of the pitch
  • Our ratio of goals to shots on target is poor in the extreme
  • Despite the odd glimmer recently we rarely threaten or score from set pieces
  • Without Tarkowski we lack the ability to move or pass the ball out incisively from the back and beat the opposition press
  • We need to show some patience as the squad is packed full of young, callow and inexperienced players still finding their way in this division but the best two, in Swift and Canos might well be playing elsewhere next season

In sum, nothing has really changed since the dog days of January. We still have a weak and over matched squad largely lacking in pace, goals, experience, strength, determination, invention, desire and quite frankly, although it pains me to say this – balls.

All that is different is that thankfully we do not have too many of the promotion challengers left to play. What remains to be seen is how we stand up to the teams fighting for their life down at the bottom of the table.

From the evidence of yesterday, we might well capitulate to anybody who really wants to win and does not allow us any time to settle on the ball, and despite how appalling they are, I fear for us next weekend if Charlton employ the same tactics as Rotherham.

Charlton have also come up with a gem in the loan market with the pacy and skilful Yaya Sanogo from Arsenal and he could well lead us a merry dance next weekend if we are not careful.

I am pretty certain though that we will play enough uninterested teams, like us, merely going through the motions to ensure that we finish the season safe and sound in lower midtable mediocrity.

We desperately need to rebuild and examine carefully some of the blatant errors in recruitment that have been made this season and at some point soon I will go through the entire squad and give you my opinion on who will or should remain and who is likely to depart.

That, and the key question regarding how well we are likely to recruit fresh blood this Summer, is for the future though, and the squad now has a week to reflect upon their myriad inadequacies and shortcomings and then prepare to put on a performance next Saturday in what will be a tough and keenly contested local derby against an equally desperate Charlton team.

Are we up for the fight and this time, can we impose our style of football upon yet another team mired in a relegation battle?

I hope that the players’ ears are burning from the tongue-lashing that I expect they will receive after the Rotherham disappointment and every Brentford supporter can simply hope that we will put on an acceptable performance next Saturday.

Advertisements

The Inside Track – Football & The Media – 26/2/16

Peter Lumley has been a regular contributor to this column recently and his razor sharp reminiscences of over seventy years of watching the Bees are always welcome and of great interest.

Today he has used the knowledge gained from his professional experience of being a local journalist covering the club and then a public relations practitioner to provide his viewpoint on Brentford’s current PR stance and approach.

Peter, as always, holds strong opinions and trenchant views, and it is perfectly obvious that there is much that has happened at the club over the last twelve traumatic months that has certainly not been to his liking and which has left him feeling angry, concerned and confused.

There has been much debate recently regarding Brentford’s expertise (or lack of it) in communicating with various media outlets – newspapers, radio, television and social media in general. It is a subject that is close to my heart in that I have had the privilege of working on both sides of the fence, so to speak.

My first job on leaving school at the age of sixteen was to join the Middlesex County Times at Ealing as a trainee cub reporter with a special interest in sport. At that age I had already been a Griffin Park regular for six years since my first visit in 1942.

I should point out that the newspaper had a weekly circulation of over fifty thousand copies and covered an area embracing Ealing, West Ealing, Hanwell, Greenford and Northolt – a very fertile catchment area for Brentford fans at a time when the club encountered so many severe financial problems.

One of my primary objectives was to help the club by trying to expand the coverage and gain greater support. I also wrote a weekly column covering a range of local sports activities – similar to a blog in modern parlance. One regular feature of that column was references to Brentford of which at least ninety percent could fairly be described as more than favourable or positive.

Among my many sources of information were a number of players with whom I formed a friendship and who were always interested in what I had written about their performances and those of their team mates. And I can honestly claim that I never betrayed a confidence nor did I compromise their relationship with Griffin Park officials.

For all these reasons I looked forward to establishing a close working relationship with senior club officials to share in a common cause. But subsequent events proved otherwise. There were two local newspaper rivals at that time. One was the iconic George Sands, of the “Middlesex Chronicle” a lifelong bachelor who devoted much of his life to Brentford and covered every Bees game, home and away for season after season. The other was Ernie Gifford, of the “Brentford and Chiswick Times”. Both gave the impression that they watched Brentford through red-and-white tinted spectacles.

This quite naturally endeared them to the Brentford management, particularly the club’s General Secretary, the late Denis Piggott, who was also General Manager/Secretary for a brief period. And it was this fact that led me into my first confrontation with club officialdom. Regularly on Thursday mornings I phoned Mr. Piggott to try and glean any information of potential interest to my readers before going to press later on in the day.

Invariably Mr. Piggott was less than enthusiastic about giving any information away even though he was well aware that my intention was to try and whip up interest among potential supporters for the next match.

Mr. Piggott seemed much more interested in complaining about any criticisms I had levelled against Brentford performances in the previous week’s edition. The fact that I had significantly extended the coverage of Brentford games went utterly unappreciated.

On one very memorable occasion, when I had written an article that club officials took particular exception to, I walked across the Braemar Road forecourt to be confronted by the then manager, Malcolm MacDonald, who threatened to punch me on the nose if I ever repeated the perceived offence.

And my alleged criticism that caused so much consternation would look like praise compared to some of Greville’s critiques of recent Brentford performances, particularly the one at Brighton!

But one Brentford Official who did appreciate the extra coverage given to the Bees, warts and all, was the late, great, Eric White who for a number of years acted as the club’s Press Officer. We became firm friends right up until his sudden and untimely death.

Another was no less than Mr. Jack Dunnett, who as Club Chairman invited me and other journalists to his luxury home for a pre-Christmas party for players and club officials. Mr. Dunnett was later to become a villain among Griffin Park fans as he prepared to sanction a takeover by West London arch rivals, Queens Park Rangers.

Fortunately the club was saved from extinction by another wealthy benefactor, Mr. Ron Blindell who succeeded Mr. Dunnett as Club Chairman. Mr. Dunnett later moved to Nottingham on becoming their Member of Parliament.

My years covering Brentford games spanned the years 1948/64. It was a period that produced an exciting but nerve-racking roller coaster of a ride but was also dramatically newsworthy for a young local journalist.

1) There were two relegations from the Second Division to the Fourth and promotion back to the Third.

2) The retirement of that great manager, Mr. Harry Curtis, who in the pre-war days took Brentford from the Third Division to the First.

3) England international Leslie Smith, hero of Brentford’s two-nil victory over Portsmouth in the London War Cup Final at Wembley in 1942, returned to Griffin Park for a short spell on being released by Aston Villa.

4) Perhaps my favourite player of all time, Ken Coote, completed more than 500 appearances for the club.

5) The defection of two of the stars of that wonderful half-back line of Tony Harper, Ron Greenwood and Jimmy Hill.

6) The great Tommy Lawton was Player/Manager for a brief period.

7) The skill and artistry of wonderful players like Johnny Brooks, Peter McKennan, Johnny Rainford, Dai Ward and John Dick.

8) Starlets Peter Broadbent and Jimmy Bloomfield, plus the Terrible Twins Jim Towers and George Francis, who were both so deadly in front of goal were all transferred, much to the dismay of every Griffin Park fan. How we could do with two strikers of their calibre today?

All these events – good and bad – were the subject of detailed analyses in my reports and personal weekly column. But it was my reporting of the various setbacks that befell the club that caused me the greatest heartache in terms of my relationship with the club’s management who appeared to perceive any criticism in a local paper as an act of disloyalty.

As an aside, it was my experience as a journalist that led me to encourage a school friend of one of my stepsons to follow his dream of becoming a sports journalist. He is none other than Neil Ashton, the Daily Mail’s brilliant award winning soccer correspondent, who also has his own regular Sunday morning slot on Sky TV.

Back to the debate on how the club should handle criticism from the Press.

A number of contributors urge the club to hire the services of a professional PR practitioner with the specific responsibility to improve the image of Brentford among the various Press outlets and to the UK football community at large.

I take a contrary view based on my experience spanning some twenty years of working for an organisation that represented multi-national companies in an industry that has been regularly been under the media spotlight and has been the target of much criticism – the pharmaceutical industry.

I make these points to put into some sort of perspective the demands placed on such organisations to represent themselves to the press in the same way that football clubs, in general and Brentford in particular seek to influence media and public opinion.

My experiences convinced me that while PR practitioners have a role to play in routine press relations activities, organisations should always seek to rely on a chief or senior executive to step up to the plate and appear on television or radio to put the case on behalf of their club or company. They will always command more authority and credibility than is possible with a slick smooth-talking PR man or woman.

A good example of this was when Brentford’s joint Co-Director of Football, Phil Giles, gave an interview to explain the club’s position on bringing in new players (or not!) during the recent January transfer window.

Unsurprisingly, not everyone agreed with me but, on balance, I believe his contribution was appreciated by a majority of those who saw it.

In conclusion, I would like to mention a particular hobby horse of mine. I fully appreciate that benevolent club owner, Matthew Benham, has always pursued a policy of staying out of the limelight so far as his role is concerned. And, of course, no one should criticise him for that. It is clearly his right to do so.

But I sincerely believe that the so-called “sacking” of Mark Warburton just over a year ago was so controversial that it demanded a much more forthright explanation than was offered at the time by the club chairman on behalf of the owner. And who better to give that explanation to the media, and to thousands of loyal but baffled supporters, like myself, than the man who was the driving force behind the intended change of direction?

With the benefit of hindsight I hope he might be persuaded to give an update on what he, and members of the Board of Directors, believe has been achieved in the last twelve months towards the stated aim of improving the recruitment of better players and coaches.

Another Fans’ Forum could certainly provide an appropriate platform!

Thank you, Peter, for your fascinating insight into the paternalistic way in which football clubs viewed their local paper and the cosy relationship that existed far too often between them.

As for his suggestion and exhortation for better, more open and regular communication between club and supporters, I really do not see how anybody can disagree with him.

From my perspective I always feel that it is fascinating and instructive to hear it from the horse’s mouth from club officials as well as the players, past and present when they are contributing to Bees Player, and it is always illuminating to be made privy to the inside track on what is really going on in and around the club and to how footballers think.

What does everybody else have to say on this subject which is totally relevant given the current circumstances?

A Good Night – 24/2/16

What a difference a few days make.

On Saturday Brentford were clearly second best to Derby County but still managed to throw away an unexpected opportunity to win the game and we left the ground morose and concerned.

Last night I floated on air to my car, my face wreathed with smiles, both from pleasure and also, it has to be said, a fair bit of relief after the Bees totally outplayed Wolverhampton Wanderers and coasted to a three goal victory, their first at home this year.

Make no mistake about it, Brentford were very, very good in the night and ran rings round a Wolves team which was totally unable to cope with our pace, poise, invention and attacking incision.

Wolves, it must be said were totally inept and wandered round the pitch in a trance, as if mesmerised by the sheer quality of our performance.

I well remember a Walsall team similarly going through the motions at Griffin Park way back in January 2006 when it was patently obvious that they were not playing for their then manager, Paul Merson, who was swiftly jettisoned and quite frankly I fear for the future of the esteemed Kenny Jackett if last night is anything to go by, as his team appeared uninterested, disorganised and disinclined to get out of first gear.

Brentford scented blood and started out on the front foot and soon forced their opponents back.

Dean Smith had learned his lesson from Saturday and chose a far more balanced and attacking team with Judge, Swift and Canos all given license to get forward and down the flanks to run at a slow and porous defence that was swiftly overrun.

The visitors had chances on the break and Button made two early, but comfortable saves but it was predominantly one way traffic with Swift gliding past opponents at will and Canos destroying them with his pace.

A young colt brimming with energy and enthusiasm, he roamed both flanks and was a constant source of danger, heading just over and twice forcing saves from Ikeme.

Unlike Derby, who pressed us relentlessly and never gave us a moment’s peace on the ball, Wolves gave us the room, space and time to play, and without having to deal with massive opponents right in their face, Woods and McEachran took full advantage and pulled all the strings in midfield, driving us forward relentlessly.

Woods was a terrier, snapping at the ankles of his opponents and demonstrating his entire range of passes, both long and short.

Josh too showed that when given room he is a match winner and he both sees and finds passes that are totally beyond the wit, vision and imagination of most players at this level of the game.

The first goal was crucial as you felt that our confidence was only skin deep and would quickly evaporate if we fell behind particularly after playing so well.

Chances came and went with Judge cracking a shot onto the outside of the post, Swift forcing a flying save from Ikeme and Djuricin finding ever more inventive ways to miss, but our fears were unfounded as Wolves finally capitulated.

Brentford have only had the merest nodding acquaintance with good fortune lately but finally the Gods smiled down upon us, and not before time.

Judge put on the afterburners and roared into the area where he seemed to have been brought down but the ball fell perfectly for Swift right in front of a yawning goal. His instant shot was blocked by Ikeme but rebounded straight back to him, bounced off some part of his anatomy and dribbled into the corner of the net.

Not a goal to live long in the memory but priceless nevertheless as it was no more than Brentford deserved.

Button made a crucial save early in the second half, spooning McDonald’s effort around the post but Wolves soon returned to their torpor and the one way traffic resumed with the Bees totally on top.

Their dominance was duly rewarded by two quite excellently worked and taken goals.

McEachran spotted Bidwell’s run and threaded the ball to him through the eye of a needle. Judge returned the instant cross to Canos who controlled the ball and almost in the same movement thrashed it into the corner of the net.

Canos was a man inspired and shortly afterwards he twisted past two defenders before his low cross gave Swift a tap in.

It was now a question of how many as a rampant Brentford team with the shackles off played with a confidence and freedom seldom seen since the halcyon days of last season.

It was time for party tricks and Dean, a hero all night, rampaged down the middle like a modern day Nat Lofthouse before finally being overpowered on the edge of the area.

Vibe set up Bidwell whose effort was blocked by the overworked Ikeme who saved his best to the last when he somehow tipped O’Connell’s header away when a fourth goal seemed certain.

Brentford’s display ticked all the boxes last night:

  • The first home win of the year
  • Three goals scored, and it could quite easily have been six
  • A confident, pacy and vibrant performance
  • Our trademark short passing game returned with a vengeance
  • A much needed and long awaited clean sheet

The match statistics confirmed just how good a performance this was as Brentford dominated with fifty-eight per cent possession, had twenty shots on goal and made over five hundred passes, a much more Brentford-like figure, with a seventy-six per cent success rate.

Even more encouragingly, Josh McEachran, much maligned for his supposed defensive inadequacies, made seven tackles, more than anyone else on the pitch.

Everyone played their part in what was a real team victory, but Swift, Canos, Woods, Dean and Yennaris were particularly impressive and the injured Colin was barely missed.

Only Marco Djuricin was slightly off the pace but he still managed six efforts on goal and there is surely far better to come from him as he slowly regains fitness and sharpness.

Neutral observers were also greatly impressed by Brentford’s performance.

BBC reporter Jacqui Oatley commented:

Brentford lovely to watch. Passing and moving with pace, always an option. Teamwork, cohesion. Hope Alan Judge gets his chance with Ireland.

Nectar to our ears and totally merited and deserved praise given the overall quality of our display.

Dean Smith also deserves great credit for his bravery in the way he set us up as well as his positive team selection.

The team responded perfectly and will now be full of confidence before two tough matches against Rotherham and Charlton teams both fighting for their life at the bottom of the table.

Brentford are unlikely to be given as much space and time as they were last night but have the strength of character and sufficient skill on the ball to prevail.

Isn’t life beautiful when your team wins and plays well?

Pitbulls Or Chihuahas? The Midfield Dilemma – 23/2/16

I could barely take my eyes off Bradley Johnson on Saturday as he rampaged unchallenged across the Griffin Park turf, and woe betide anyone, friend or foe, who got in his way. A massively built man, he totally dominated the entire midfield area with an unstoppable combination of brain and brawn.

If he could not beat you with his subtlety and skill, and undoubtedly, he is a massively talented footballer with a howitzer of a shot who can really play the game, he would simply run through you and leave you dazed, beaten, bruised and helpless.

He is a veritable behemoth of a man who reminds me of the description of the Norman leader Bohemond:

The sight of him inspired admiration, the mention of his name terror.

His stature was such that he towered almost a full cubit over the tallest men.

There was a hard, savage quality in his whole aspect, even his laugh sounded like a threat to others.

That’s what you get for a mere six million pounds – a colossus who bestrides the entire midfield and stops the opposition from playing as well as scoring and making goals for his own team.

He it was who almost singlehandedly rallied his Derby team mates when their heads went down after we scored and by sheer force of personality raised them off the floor and inspired them to their late victory.

Watching him, I was green with envy as he exemplified exactly what it is we are missing from our squad – a leader who by force of personal example will make things happen and grab his team mates literally and figuratively by the scruff of their neck and inspire, cajole, or even terrify them and make them play to the very best of their ability – and even beyond.

Our team of lightweights and midgets tried their hardest and did their best but simply bounced off him and the likes of Josh McEachran and Konstantin Kerschbaumer wisely gave him a wide berth and kept their distance as they were all totally outmatched, outclassed and outmuscled – it looked more like men against boys than a competitive and even midfield battle.

With Alan McCormack currently sidelined with a lingering and frustrating calf injury we have nobody capable of fighting fire with fire and for all his vim, growl, tough tackling, energy and ability to manage the referee, Alan is not in the same class as Johnson, and nor should he be expected to be, but he is easily the best that we have and his example is sadly missed as we currently find ourselves on a run of demoralising defeats and badly lack the type of leadership and inspiration on the pitch that Alan can provide.

Jonathan Douglas performed a similar role exceptionally well for four years.

He is unfairly described on Wikipedia as a tenacious midfielder, whose strengths are focused on energy and aggression rather than technical skill, as in my opinion he greatly improved as a footballer last season developing a subtle and imaginative touch with his passing as well as the ability to ghost late and unseen into the penalty area, and he scored a career high of eight goals in a season.

Douglas it was who fought and won the majority of the midfield battles and his menacing presence enabled the likes of Pritchard, Jota and Judge to weave their magic safe in the knowledge that there was somebody around to protect them and exact retribution should an opponent take it upon himself to attempt to stop them playing by fair means or foul.

Even more importantly, Douglas, along with Toumani Diagouraga, acted as a shield and protector to the back four and helped keep opponents at a safe distance from our goal.

In order to describe how much we currently miss his influence I will simply provide the following shocking statistic – no Championship side has faced more shots on target this season than Brentford (one hundred and sixty-eight).

Proof indeed that as a team, we are not doing nearly a good enough job of defending from the front, pressing properly, winning the ball back and, of course, preventing the opposition from getting within shooting range.

Jonathan Douglas was an exceptional on-pitch leader who led by example and only slowed up and became tired and less influential when he was overplayed by Mark Warburton and only once rested last season when he was fit or available for selection. Not the most sensible policy for a player in his early thirties who would have benefited from the odd day off.

For reasons probably linked to his influence within the dressing room, Douglas outstayed his welcome at Brentford, his face didn’t fit and he became toxic and persona non grata and was released in the preseason, and it has come as little surprise that he has since flourished at Ipswich Town where he has played an important part in their efforts to reach the playoffs again at the end of the season.

It would seem that our current manager and Co-Directors of Football have not recognised the urgent, and to us fans, patently obvious, need to replace him with a similar type of player and we have certainly seen the results of that totally misguided policy in terms of the sheer number of goals and shots conceded at one end allied to the lack of creativity at the other.

To be fair to them, it might well be that they recognise that such a player able to compete at Championship level and combine skill with strength would cost far more than we are able to afford and there is no point in buying a second rate bruiser who will only give the ball away once he has won it.

George Evans might have done the job had we managed to get his transfer over the line but we seem to hold the naive belief that pure football will always win the day and appear to disregard the indisputable fact that sometimes you have first to battle in order to win the right to play.

Ryan Woods is certainly an excellent box to box footballer but is not a ball winner and he is currently paired with Josh McEachran who, for all his skill on the ball, vision and passing ability, is a non-tackler and does not pay anywhere near sufficient attention to the defensive side of his game.

A total recipe for disaster.

This season we have lacked a focal point, an on-field leader and inspiration, and someone with the ability to drive us forward and pick us up when things are going badly.

The time was, not so long ago, when we scored late goals as if by rote and never knew when we were beaten. Now the boot is on the other foot and it is rare that we recover from going a goal down and we have now conceded late goals in each of our last four matches.

Tony Cascarino hit the nail on the head the other day when he discussed the Championship and what you need to come out on top in that division and remarked:

It’s dog-eat-dog in that league and you need a few pitbulls. 

Players like Grant Leadbitter and Adam Clayton at Middlesbrough who ride roughshod over us whenever we come up against them, Darren Pratley, Hope Akpan, Dale Stephens, Joey Barton, Jacob Butterfield, George Thorne, Henri Lansbury and Kevin McDonald all combine the qualities that we so sadly lack and so desperately need.

Unfortunately all we have at the moment, apart of course from Macca, are chihuahuas.

Benham’s Gamble – 21/2/16

Three weeks ago, as soon as the Transfer Window closed with us three first team players down and the squad weakened and diminished, I described Brentford’s likely approach for the last three months of the season as follows:

Our strategy for the remainder of the season seems to be quite simply to hunker down, retreat into our bunker, make do with what we are left with and simply count off the days and get through the season before readdressing matters in the Summer and hopefully coming again next season.

I thought very carefully before I gave such a damning judgement and even did my best to verify my words and opinion before I committed them to paper and, indeed, I was assured by a very senior club contact that my assessment was entirely correct.

At the time I fully understood the rationale behind such an apparently negative and craven policy given our financial constraints and the fact that our transfer targets in January had all eluded us and we were quite simply not prepared to pay over the odds.

I realised that the majority of the supporters would not be happy, but I made the point that as long as we remained competitive on the pitch and continued to play our customary brand of exciting attacking football and won more than we lost, then perhaps we would be able to muddle through without getting holed below the waterline.

So what has happened since? Has the gamble paid off?

We have faced (I hesitate the use the word played) three of the leading Championship teams in Brighton, Sheffield Wednesday and Derby County and have emerged with our tails firmly between our legs after three heavy defeats with only one goal scored and a massive ten conceded.

It could be argued that, given our weakened and parlous state, all of these defeats should have been anticipated and we simply have to revise and lower our expectations and just accept that for the time being we are unable to match teams of that calibre.

If you take this line of thinking further then it would also be entirely fair to say that we should be patient, and delay further judgement until the fifth of March by which time we will have played against three more teams in Wolverhampton Wanderers, who are on the same amount of points as the Bees, Rotherham and Charlton whom we have all beaten already this season and in the case of the last two are engaged in a desperate fight to avoid relegation.

Five points or more from these games would perhaps confirm that we will be able to bumble along for the rest of the season and continue to hold our own and finish in a reasonable position in the Championship table.

That is all for the near future and we will certainly know far more about our short term prospects in a fortnight’s time but the prospect, however unlikely, of losing the next three games against teams who we would normally expect to beat is both worrying and frightening as our last three defeats have highlighted and confirmed that without mincing words, we are in a sorry and shambolic state at the moment.

Yesterday’s three-one defeat against Derby was a case in point. Afterwards, manager Dean Smith argued about narrow margins, and the fact that the game had turned on a couple of key incidents and that the final score could quite easily have been different.

Superficially and on a cursory glance, he is, indeed, quite correct in what he said. Had the officials penalised Tom Ince for handball when the ball crashed against him before bouncing unerringly to the unmarked Hendrick who equalised with ten minutes to go and if Bidwell’s last gasp header not been stopped by a combination of the swooping Scott Carson and Jacob Butterfield on the goal line then we would have come away with a draw and Chris Martin’s three-on-one breakaway goal with the last kick of the match would surely never have happened.

I am afraid that I will not buy or accept that explanation or reading of the match, nor, I suspect will the overwhelming majority of Brentford fans. We were absolutely battered in the first half where we played more like the away team, and a poor one at that.

We adopted a negative 4-1-4-1 formation with Yennaris sweeping up in front of the back four which featured O’Connell for the suspended Barbet. Woods moved to the right side of midfield with McEachran and Judge in the middle and the ineffable Kerschbaumer on the left and Vibe replaced Hofmann up front.

We were playing a Derby County team packed with expensive talent but also totally devoid of confidence after collecting three points in their first six games of 2016.

Surely we should have had a go at them given that we also desperately needed a win and were playing at home, but instead we set up in total damage limitation mode with no width or visible attacking intention? Yes, we certainly needed to tighten up after conceding so many soft goals recently, but surely not at all costs, as seemed the case yesterday where it appeared that a goalless draw was the summit of our ambitions.

We did threaten three times before the break, ironically all from set pieces which worked extremely well yesterday, a rare positive to take out of the game.

Yennaris was unable to get any power on a free header and then a beautifully worked and inventive corner kick routine (poached from the Bournemouth playbook, I believe) saw the ball cut back hard and low towards the edge of the box, Kerschbaumer jump over the ball and Judge had the time and space for a firm and well placed effort that forced Carson into a decent save.

Our best opportunity came when O’Connell stole in at the back post behind the straining Derby defence, and with Bradley Johnson hanging off him, could only head Judge’s clever free kick narrowly wide of the far post.

Otherwise it was a procession towards the home goal as Derby ran rings around us, quick to outmuscle us and pick up the second balls, winning the majority of the challenges and playing around and through us with a series of incisive one-twos.

Poor Lasse Vibe must have had a contagious disease, so isolated was he and we were barely able to get the ball out of our own half of the pitch.

Derby would have been out of sight and home and hosed had it not been for David Button who played Derby County on his own and made five exceptional first half saves, including keeping out Bidwell’s involuntary close range poke towards his own goal. He also thwarted Hendrick twice in close succession, Bent, and most memorably, Russell when the keeper somehow kept out a perfectly placed effort arrowing towards the far corner.

Quite frankly, we got out of jail and could and should have slunk off the field three goals down at the interval so poor and inept had been our performance.

To give Dean Smith his due, he changed our approach after the break and tried to get the team to play more in the Derby half and stretch the two lumbering central defenders who had enjoyed a totally untroubled game to date.

Our efforts were rewarded after fifty-two minutes when Alan Judge scored a goal entirely of his making when he robbed Hanson in midfield and roared down the right flank. He could not be caught and although forced wide he hit a brilliantly angled right foot shot that screamed past Carson for a goal of total and utter brilliance.

The game had turned in an instant and surely the Bees would take full advantage as confidence suddenly flowed through hesitant limbs and Derby heads went down?

Well, yes and no as we kept the visitors away from Button who was able to take a well-earned breather, but we never seemed to have the self-belief or incision to go for the jugular and seek the second goal that would surely have cemented victory.

Substitutions also played a crucial part in the outcome of the match. Derby were able to bring on players of the calibre of Martin, Ince and Blackman whereas we were restricted to the likes of the be-gloved Swift, Djuricin and Canos.

Slowly and inexorably we dropped twenty yards and retreated deeper and deeper into our shell and this seemed a self-inflicted move entirely of our own making rather than being caused by the sheer force of Derby pressure.

Where was the manager at this crucial point of the proceedings to encourage and exhort us to move up the field?

From a winning position, however unexpected and undeserved, we unforgivably conceded the initiative and invited Derby onto us and the inevitable occurred with two quick goals turning the game, once again, on its head.

Job seemingly done, Derby now made a similar error of judgement, sat back, ceded us the initiative and we dominated the last five minutes and should have scored four times.

Djuricin has lacked fitness and sharpness but he surely had to convert one of the two glaring chances that came his way, but he ballooned a snap shot high over and then criminally put his close range near post diving header over the goal with the net beckoning. Keogh almost deflected a cross into his own net and then Bidwell’s header from a Judge corner seemed to be arrowing its way in before being hacked off the line before Martin stole away to thrust the final dagger in our heart and seal the victory.

On the one hand we could have been looking at a thrashing had Button not performed his heroics but we were then unable to seize the opportunity to win the match when it unexpectedly presented itself to us.

This was not a Brentford performance as we have become accustomed to see and enjoy and we seem to have totally lost our way.

The defence is nervous and porous. The midfield where only Woods and Yennaris make any apparent effort to cover and tackle, does not protect the back four and lacks width and pace. McEachran is a luxury that we cannot afford as for all his skill on the ball he is a totally one dimensional player who contributes nothing to our defensive efforts and Kerschbaumer flitted in and out of the match to little apparent effect as well as carelessly losing his man when Christie scored the crucial second goal.

We have completely lost our pace, brio and incision. There was one isolated incident in the second half when we combined quickly down the left and almost tore the opposition wide apart before the move broke down on the edge of the penalty area but that was a rare exception to our plodding mediocrity.

Vibe improved after the break when he received some limited service and used his pace to stretch the Derby back four, but we were slow and stilted in our play, and perish the thought, more resembled a mid table Division One team than a Championship squad renowned for its invention and skill on the ball.

It surely cannot be denied that the team which won promotion in 2014 was far stronger in midfield and attack boasting as it did the likes of Forshaw, Saville, Douglas, Judge, Donaldson and Trotta, than is our current motley crew.

The Brentford that we know and love, cocking a snoot, out playing, out working and out pressing our so called betters has disappeared without trace for the time being at least and Ian Holloway, so often an admirer of our approach, has also noticed and remarked upon the difference in our recent play:

Brentford don’t look the same this season. They have lost their midfield security after selling Toumani Diagouraga. This time last year they had Jonathan Douglas and Diagouraga and now they have Josh McEachran from Chelsea and he doesn’t provide the same protection. They have started to leak goals, which is not good.

Salutary words that we would do well to take notice of and act upon.

Three statistics merely confirm our current malaise. Yesterday we only had a possession rate of forty-two per cent and, more worryingly, we only played one hundred and sixty-two passes, less than half our normal number, and our pass completion percentage was a pathetic sixty-one, which implies that we played far more hit and hope long balls than normal.

As I said – that is not the Brentford that we expect or even want to see.

Leaving aside some of the extremists on social media who have a totally unrealistic sense of expectation, there were far more worrying mutterings in my earshot coming from some of the hard core supporters both at halftime and as they left the ground feeling flat and deflated.

Most were bemused at how far and how quickly we have fallen and there was a sense of despondency and in some cases a reluctance to return to Griffin Park for the time being. This is worrying in the extreme.

Let’s face facts, we have taken a gamble, an educated guess that we already have enough points on the board and just about enough left in our tank to get us over the line, crawling if necessary, without sliding inexorably into relegation trouble, or indeed, perish the thought, the dreaded bottom three.

Everything Matthew Benham does is calculated and the fact that you can still get odds of two hundred and fifty to one against the Bees going down suggests that he has got it right yet again but this is a bet that he cannot afford to lose and even if it comes off what will have been its overall cost?

Our supporters rightly pay good money to watch a team compete and play a brand of football that stirs the soul and warms the heart. That is not happening at the moment and quite frankly seems a long way away for the remainder of the season.

I am not sure what else can be done now. We are stuck with a weak and ill balanced squad that currently appears unable to play the Brentford way. The decision has been taken not to go into either the transfer or now the loan market and even should we change our mind and attempt to bolster the squad I have serious doubts as to whether we could at this late stage obtain short term recruits who could provide the quality, steel, impact and experience that we need.

We are now hoist with our own petard and will simply have to see how matters turn out and if Dean Smith is capable of organising and motivating his limited squad and getting them to put on performances of the necessary calibre.

It is harsh and totally unfair to criticise a manager who has not been given the opportunity to build or put his own stamp on his squad but I would like to see far more from him in terms of how he selects his team and sets them up.

We need to toughen up and become less of an easy touch but also maintain a sense of invention and positivity.

Not an easy task at the moment and much will be revealed and become apparent over the next fortnight.

 

Good News! – 17/2/16


Good news has been scarce, sparse and rather thin on the ground lately given Brentford’s patchy start to the New Year, so let’s shout it from the rooftops – Harlee Dean and Nico Yennaris have both joined Sam Saunders in extending their contract with the club, Harlee for two years and Nico until 2019.

Given the recent departure for a variety of reasons of Jota, Toumani Diagouraga and James Tarkowski  and the accompanying uncertainty surrounding other squad members, it is encouraging to say the least to learn that two established players have decided to buy into the club’s stated determination to rebuild and strengthen the squad at the end of the season and thus remain part of the Brentford project.

We certainly needed to hear something positive this week following the avalanche of unanswered goals rippling our net recently and for differing reasons we should be absolutely delighted that both Harlee and Nico have staked their immediate future with the club.

Up until very recently I suspect that you could have obtained long odds on Dean making the decision to stay, as he and the football club appeared to have fallen out of love with each other and a parting of the ways seemed inevitable.

Harlee perhaps felt that he didn’t receive the respect that he deserved as well as maybe coveting the salaries received by several other Brentford alumni elsewhere. He had also oft bemoaned the fact that felt that he was the scapegoat and the one generally to be blamed and dropped when things went awry.

On the other side of the fence Harlee’s tendency to shoot from the hip and give vent to his feelings about all sorts of matters pertaining to the club, sometimes before apparently engaging his brain, did not apparently go down too well in some rarified circles and there appeared to be a Mexican standoff with the club not seeming to be making serious efforts to resign him and the player stating that he would be leaving at the end of the current season when his contract expired although he was hoping that something could still be worked out.

What was never in any doubt was the fact that Harlee would continue to give his all on the pitch and he has certainly done his utmost to put his finger in the dyke and try and stem the flood of goals that we have conceded.

Harlee wears his heart on his sleeve on the pitch (and off it too) and he has jumped, headed, tackled and covered to the best of his ability and has visibly improved as a footballer over the last couple of years and at twenty-four still has the potential to progress even further.

He seems to have learned from his impetuous reaction which saw him punished with a daft and totally avoidable and unacceptable red card against Nottingham Forest and has become a calming influence and a leader to those around him. He also reads the game far better which enables him to use and exemplify the old adage that the first yard is in the head and cover up his lack of pace.

He is now a proven and accomplished Championship central defender who anticipates and snuffs out much of the danger that threatens us and he has also gained confidence in the attacking system he has been asked to play in and has become an accurate long and short passer of the ball.

Thankfully he is yet to attempt Tarkowskiesque dummies and feints as he brings the ball out of defence and he is a footballer who is equally aware of his strengths and limitations.

So what happened to bring about this volte face?

On the one hand the club needed a quick triumph to reassure supporters given the setbacks of the past month or so and Harlee resigning has provided a statement of intent given that a senior, well established player who is also a firm fans’ favourite has not followed the general exodus out of Brentford FC but has seen and heard enough regarding our future plans and aspirations to decide to stay.

This decision also demonstrates that the opinions and wishes of Dean Smith are being listened to as the manager had made it clear that he wanted to have Harlee on board for next season and beyond.

The sale of Tarkowski also meant that Harlee was the only senior right sided centre half at the club and therefore a more valuable property than had been the case previously.

Despite his all round improvement Harlee might not have been seen as a player good enough to help take us to the heights of the Premier League and perhaps his continued stay at the club reflects that our ambitions have to some degree been put on hold or made more realistic until the move to Lionel Road comes to fruition.

I now wonder if we will attempt to bring in another defender to compete with him, such as Giklingham’s John Egan, whose name has been bandied about or whether Harlee will be seen as the undisputed first choice next season?

Hopefully Andreas Bjelland will be fit enough to play alongside him and Harlee will benefit from having an experienced partner, as he did when Tony Craig was there to support, encourage and prompt him.

Harlee excites and frustrates me in equal proportions, but I respect him for his passion and commitment and I am pleased that one of the few remaining members of the old guard will still be with us next season.

He really gets what Brentford is all about, he knows how much beating Fulham and QPR means to us all and he is a fighter and a warrior. We need more like him in the squad.

Lets just hope that he finally becomes more of a danger to the opposition at our set pieces.

That Wembley header seems a long time ago now but his Fulham thunderbolt will live long in the memory.

The announcement that Nico Yennaris will remain for a further three years was not greeted as effusively by many Brentford supporters but I really can’t see what they have to complain about.

Nico arrived a couple of years ago from Arsenal and given his Premier League pedigree, expectations were high but he was a damp squib, unable to displace Alan McCormack after Shay Logan’s departure and he fell into the shadows where he remained until Max Colin suffered a long term injury earlier this season.

He had also enjoyed a successful loan spell last season at Wycombe Wanderers alongside Sam Saunders and played in their losing Playoff Final against Southend United. Some were even surprised that he wasn’t unloaded permanently but he returned to Brentford patiently waiting his turn.

When it came he more than seized his opportunity and Colin was hardly missed as Nico put in a series of eye opening and dominating displays where he showed pace, strength and tenacity and he was more than unfortunate to lose his place when the Frenchman returned.

He remains in and around the team and filled in last Saturday in central midfield and came close to opening his goal account.

He has certainly demonstrated that he is quite good enough a player to cope with the demands of the ChampionshiSome fans expressed a view that signing Nico to a new contract shows a sign of lack of ambition.

To that I would respond that every successful team requires sonebody who can slot in well in a variety of positions without fuss whenever necessary and Nico fits that bill.

He is still very young at twenty-two and is visibly improving as he gains in confidence and might yet develop into a first team regular.

At present I see him as a versatile water carrier and do not expect to see him as a first choice but rather as a squad player deluxe who will do a fine job whenever and wherever he is called upon and having him breathing down their neck will help ensure that everybody else maintains their standard.

So, some good news at last for all Brentford supporters which will hopefully go some way towards allaying our slight concerns at our current situation.

All we need now is three points on Saturday as well as the likes of David Button and Jake Bidwell to follow in the footsteps of Harlee and Nico – surely not too much to ask for?

A View From The Swimming Pool – 14/2/16

Well it all started so well, as I managed to grab a sun lounger right by the side of the pool and listened with relish to QPR’s humiliation at the hands of their near neighbours, Fulham.

If truth be told I was slightly conflicted about that one but felt on reflection that Fulham’s victory was probably the best possible result overall given that the rules didn’t allow both teams to lose.

Now it was Brentford’s turn and everything was going like clockwork as Mark Burridge’s dulcet tones came over loud and clear and I looked forward to listening to a description of an improved display after the capitulation at Brighton.

I couldn’t really question the team selection. Hofmann deserved his opportunity after neither Vibe nor Djuricin had fully convinced lately and Yennaris and Canos would ideally provide us with legs and enthusiasm and some support for a striker who is not the most mobile.

It all started well with early chances for Yennaris, one that he should surely have taken, and Judge, before disaster struck after a mere five minutes with a long ball over the top being chased by Hooper with Barbet trailing in his wake.

The ball ran through harmlessly to Button but the coming together of Hooper and Barbet on the edge of be area was instantly adjudged a red card offence by a referee still in the Brentford half with no apparent clear view of the incident and who made an instantaneous and game changing decision without feeling the need to consult his assistant who was up with play and had not signalled for a foul.

A red card it was and as Barbet reluctantly dragged himself off the pitch, Dean Smith’s carefully worked game plan was in tatters almost before the game had started.

The Bees switched to a 4-4-1 formation which in reality meant 4-4-0 as Hofmann, isolated and outnumbered, disappeared from sight and left us without any real attacking outlet.

More crucially, Brentford no longer had an out ball or anyone capable of holding the ball up and giving a beleaguered defence some respite or any much needed time to reorganise or take a breather.

In retrospect I wonder if it would have been better had we withdrawn Hofmann rather than the unfortunate Kerschbaumer and concentrated on packing the midfield?

Sheffield Wednesday smelled blood and attacked relentlessly and it was now simply a question of whether a revamped Brentford back four with substitute Jack O’Connell now partnering Harlee Dean, could defend properly and keep them at bay.

Well the spirit was willing but the flesh was weak as it quickly became obvious that it was a merely a matter of how soon and how many.

Brentford shipped three soft goals before halftime and they all owed as much to muddled and inept defending as they did to attacking brilliance.

The second half was a damp squib as we concentrated upon damage limitation and the Bees avoided further embarrassment until the last minute when David Button conceded a fourth goal from an eminently saveable effort.

Our Man of the Match was Mark Burridge who played an absolute blinder. He succeeded in describing the shambles on the pitch without either gilding the lily or indulging in destructive criticism. He simply told it as it was and did an expert and professional job.

What is quite apparent is that this is now a team increasingly bereft of confidence, shorn of some of its best players, that is simply trying to limp through the remainder of the season unscathed until major squad surgery can be scheduled in the Summer.

I have already written at length about the rationale for such a reactive and seemingly unambitious strategy and I am not about to change my tune and criticise it as I well understand and accept why we are now in this position.

What I find of more concern is whether the players that currently remain available to us are fully capable of achieving what I feel are the two minimum requirements for the remainder of the season of keeping us competitive and maintaining interest and excitement amongst an increasingly concerned, demanding and critical fan base.

I am firmly of the view that sometimes it is necessary to take a backwards step in order to progress and now is certainly a case in point.

Our future progress is predicated totally on a combination of how well we clean the stables and how effectively we recruit fresh blood in the close season.

The last third of the current campaign is far too long to stand still and simply tread water and ideally we should be using the time to test out new formations, discover more about the players that remain and whether we should maintain faith in them, and ideally concentrate on improving them and eradicating some of the careless errors that punctuate our play from week to week.

All that in conjunction with winning some matches and keeping the fans interested, entertained and involved rather than counting off the days until the end of the season and looking over our shoulder at the teams below us.

It is unfair to read too much into a match where we went a key man down so early on and it is not so long ago that we comprehensively outplayed Preston on their own patch, so it is premature to panic but it cannot be denied that there are some worrying signs and that the warning bells are beginning to jangle.

What is particularly concerning is that the same worrying traits reoccur with monotonous regularity week after week and we don’t seem to learn from our mistakes or show many signs of improvement.

We have now conceded nine goals in the last four games and it would be hard to credit our opponents for any of them as they were all caused to a greater or lesser extent by avoidable individual errors.

We are a soft touch and have not kept a clean sheet since Boxing Day and have never really looked like doing so. We lack pace in central defence and are horribly vulnerable to long balls over the top as was clearly demonstrated by the horror show of a second goal yesterday which came from a long, straight goal kick which was criminally allowed to bounce before Hooper showed great skill and anticipation to score with an instant volley.

I would have thought that defensive solidity would have been a coaching priority in training and I’m sure that it is, but our efforts do not seem to be having much effect where it matters, out on the pitch.

There seems to be a lack of cohesion and we do not have mini partnerships developing on the pitch similar to the one for example between Odubajo and Jota last season and it would be so helpful if Colin and Bidwell could develop a similar relationship with a wide midfielder as it all looks so disjointed at the moment.

Dean Smith is beginning to take on a haunted look and I feel sorry for him as he can only work with what he has got.

Hopefully he can entice some pace, tempo and brio from a midfield quintet that looks slow, weak, small and overmatched.

Personally I believe that much of the problem stems from a lack of confidence which will only be restored by a win or two.

I am not so sure though if we can either rehabilitate or get much more out of our three ailing strikers, none of whom has contributed a jot since the turn of the year.

Leaving aside the screamingly obvious fact that our favoured 4-2-3-1 formation suits none of them, Vibe is shattered after a year of nonstop activity, Djuricin has shown nothing since his return from injury and Hofmann has much to do to prove himself after a performance of appalling sloth and ineptitude yesterday.

Unless Dean Smith or Richard O’Kelly are miracle workers I honestly have no idea how we can squeeze some performances, let alone goals, out of any of them.

Maybe the answer is to attempt to shake things up by bringing in a couple of short term loanees who can ideally plug a few gaps and provide a fresh impetus or something different?

Perhaps Alan McCormack will return from injury and add some steel and competitive edge?

Forgive me for even mentioning this but I also feel that we are too naive and nice. Every team we play seems to make a habit of committing strategic fouls which frustratingly nip our threat in the bud. Alan Judge has been a particular victim of this practice recently, and perhaps we need to follow suit where necessary.

As you all can see, all I have are questions and concerns and no real answers, and maybe we simply have to accept the situation for what it is and just do our best to be patient and fight our way out of it.

I have been supporting Brentford long enough to be more than grateful for our place in the Championship and am happy for us to consolidate slowly and gradually.

What does worry me is if we are not competitive.

We now have two eminently winnable home games coming up against a Derby County team in free fall and Wolves.

Let’s see where we are after these two matches before we get too concerned.

Two good performances and a minimum of four points gained would go a long way towards restoring our faith as well as a sense of calm, trust and patience.