A Match Too Far – 27/4/16

This was the game that nobody really wanted to play. Brentford’s visit to Hull City had been put off for a seemingly interminable period of time owing to the apparent difficulties in scheduling the home team’s FA Cup replay with Arsenal what seems a lifetime ago.

Having played only three times in March this was to be Brentford’s seventh game of a ridiculously packed April schedule, a situation that should never have been allowed to occur and one that was to prove a match too far for a thin, exhausted and beleaguered squad.

Hull City had already safely secured their position in the playoffs and all they had to play for last night was to help ensure that they finish up in fourth place and therefore get to play their forthcoming playoff semifinal second-leg tie at home.

As for the Bees, it was simply a case of trying to continue their recent unbeaten run and ideally get through the match unscathed before Saturday’s massive and much anticipated local derby against Fulham.

Hull City are the moneybags of the Championship, a situation that I have previously written about with great envy when I outlined the eye-watering sums they received throughout their stay in the Premier League, figures that are now being boosted even more by an ongoing series of Parachute Payments following their recent relegation to the Championship.

Given their riches, resources and overall opulence which totally dwarf the likes of Brentford and are beyond our wildest dream, it would not be unreasonable to say that Hull have an unfair advantage over the rest of the division and in essence have totally underperformed this season as they really should have run away with the league title.

As it is, owing to their inconsistency and lack of goal threat their hopes of automatic promotion have long since disappeared and they will be forced to rely upon the lottery of the playoffs if they are to fulfill expectations by returning to the Premier League.

Steve Bruce was afforded the luxury, unheard of for Dean Smith, of making seven team changes last night whilst still being able to put out a starting eleven bristling with ability and experience, and as for his substitutes’ bench – words fail me and I am green with envy!

Just take a moment to examine the wealth of talent that Bruce could call on should the need arise:

  • Allan McGregor
  • Curtis Davies
  • Shaun Maloney
  • Ryan Taylor
  • Robert Snodgrass
  • Tom Huddlestone
  • Chuba Akpom

Seven players, four of them full internationals, worth millions of pounds and probably earning between them a sum close to Brentford’s entire playing budget.

That’s just the way it is in a league composed of the haves and have-nots and where there is a vast chasm between the top six teams and the remaining also-rans who are pretty much of a muchness in terms of the overall depth and quality of their squad.

Brentford had already learned to their cost about the strength and depth of the Hull squad in the previous meeting between the two clubs last year at Griffin Park when after the Bees had totally dominated the first half without reward and were still well in the game after the break, the visitors simply went to their bench and brought on two massively talented replacement players in Huddlestone and Diamé. They turned the game on its head and a brave and commited Brentford team which had finally run out of steam and imagination was unable to cope with their fresh legs and minds as Hull effortlessly went up a gear, and we were left trailing in their wake and subsided to an unfortunate defeat.

David versus Goliath with us facing their atomic weapons with peashooters.

Last night the Bees were again short of options and named in their squad pretty much every player who was anywhere near match fitness although given that this was their seventh game in less than four weeks they were running on empty with many of the players patched up, half fit and in desperate need of respite.

Colin, Kerschbaumer and Vibe were rested from Saturday’s team with Clarke, Swift, recovered from injury, and Djuricin starting in their place.

That is quite simply the way of the world when a small and overworked squad has been ravaged by a nonstop series of injuries throughout the entire season. Fixtures have to be fulfilled even though we are nowhere near being on an even playing field.

Despite these drawbacks Brentford had put together an amazing run of five wins in their last six games and had risen from the depths of the league to a highly commendable tenth place and shown grit, skill, organisation and determination in abundance but last night was simply a match too far and the Bees had nothing left in the tank and gently subsided to a two goal defeat.

Brentford played their normal neat brand of short passing football but shorn of Vibe’s pace and hard running and with Djuricin easily snuffed out by Maguire there was very little goal threat and Hull eventually seized control and were rewarded with two close-range goals after the Bees failed to prevent crosses coming in from either flank.

Harlee Dean, otherwise so impressive on the night, was aware of the threat behind him and stretched in vain to clear, but could only find the roof of his own net and Diamé bundled in the second right on halftime which totally ended the game as a contest.

In between Diomande missed a penalty which was most generously awarded by a referee in Darren Bond who barely gave the visitors a decision all night, not that Hull really needed his assistance.

The excellent David Button got down quickly and well to make the save but that was a rare high point for an outmatched and exhausted Brentford team who struggled to cope with Hull’s pace and power on the break.

The second half was played at exhibition pace and we were saved any more embarrassment and could even have scored when the impressive Josh Clarke was brought down a fraction outside the box according the referee – I wonder if he would have been as hawk-eyed if the incident had occurred down the other end, and Sam Saunders also curled a late free kick inches past the post.

Otherwise the sole entertainment was in watching home substitute Chuba Akpom doing his best to keep a wide berth and stay as far away as possible from the belligerent Alan McCormack who would have just loved to have been given the opportunity to teach the young upstart a much-needed lesson in manners after his behaviour during his unimpressive loan spell at Griffin Park back in 2014.

Worryingly, indestructible skipper Jake Bidwell limped off with a hamstring strain late on, thus ending his bid to play every minute of the season and hopefully both he and Vibe will be passed fit to face the challenge of local rivals Fulham on Saturday.

I am sure that given the magnitude of the occasion, tired bodies and minds will have recovered in time for the weekend and Scott Hogan will also be ready to be unleashed upon our unsuspecting neighbours.

Last night was an irrelevance and we move on.

Advertisements

Narrow Margins – 24/4/16

The Brentford bandwagon gathered further momentum yesterday afternoon when we won yet again this time away at MK Dons, relegating them in the process and the highlights of our amazing recent run can briefly be summarised as follows:

  • We have gained a massive sixteen points through winning five and drawing one of our last six games
  • Brentford are equal top alongside promotion challengers Brighton, in the form chart over that period
  • Dean Smith has gone from zero to hero in the mind of some of our more demanding supporters and he could well be in line for the April Manager of the Month Award
  • We have comfortably beaten hard, tough and physical teams in Bolton, Ipswich and Cardiff who have overpowered us in previous meetings
  • We have scored sixteen goals in those six games, second only to Brighton
  • We have conceded only five goals, a record bettered by only three teams
  • This is our most successful run since we returned to the Championship
  • Lasse Vibe has scored six goals in his last six games and finally looks the International striker he is
  • Scott Hogan has returned to the squad with a bang, scoring three goals in just over an hour’s worth of football and his return from long term injury gives us much to look forward to next season
  • We have won our last three away games, having previously only won once away since the beginning of the year
  • We have scored thirty-four times in twenty-one away games to date, the best record in the Championship
  • We have achieved this success despite suffering even more injuries to crucial members of the squad and being barely being able to name seven substitutes at times
  • Unlikely heroes have emerged with the likes of Nico Yennaris and Yoann Barbet excelling in recent games
  • Brentford now sit in tenth place in the Championship and are ahead of our West London rivals Queens Park Rangers and Fulham

That is all that springs to mind at the moment, but I hope you all agree that it is a really impressive list of achievements and one that would have appeared scarcely credible given how disappointed, worried and concerned we all felt as we shuffled nervously out of Griffin Park after our abject defeat to a poor Blackburn Rovers team a mere five weeks ago, our fourth loss in a row and one that left us looking apprehensively over our shoulder at the bottom three.

Now a top ten finish looks a real possibility as well as our being crowned Kings of West London should we maintain our form until the end of the season and ideally put Fulham to the sword next Saturday.

Following Brentford this season has been a real rollercoaster ride and never have Mark Warburton’s oft repeated words about games being decided by narrow margins appeared more wise and apposite.

We went into the first International break in October in deep despond in twentieth place with eight points and six defeats in our first ten games. The situation appeared dire but Lee Carsley and Paul Williams then inspired us to a run of four consecutive victories and by the time Dean Smith took over at the beginning of December we had risen to eleventh place with only one defeat in eight games.

Our last game of the year saw us win memorably at Reading after wonder goals by Ryan Woods and Sergi Canos and Dean Smith had led us to eighth place after three wins and only one loss in his first six matches.

The playoffs looked a possibility at the turn of the year but that is when everything went pear shaped as our next thirteen matches saw a massive decline in results with a mind-blowing ten defeats barely offset by a measly two wins and a draw.

That saw perhaps the nadir of our season as we went into the last International break in mid-March in eighteenth place with nervous thoughts crossing our mind about the possibility of dropping like a stone into the bottom three.

Our current run has seen all such negativity fade away and now we are looking upwards again and we find ourselves safely ensconced back in the top half of the table.

How do you explain a season in which our changes of fortune and constant ups and downs have resembled a game of Snakes And Ladders? Of course there is much that can be said about our massive and ongoing injury list which has seen so many key players missing large chunks of the season, the need to bed in a raft of new players, many of whom had no experience of the Championship or English conditions, as well as the squad having to cope with the differing approaches of three Head Coaches.

That is all very well and true, but I also feel that luck and good fortune – and the lack of them, have had a massive influence on our results. Dean Smith made an interesting comment recently when he stated that we are not playing much differently or better now than when we lost to the likes of Charlton and Blackburn in March. In other words games have been decided by a moment of genius, a piece of good or bad luck or the whim of a referee’s decision.

Being as objective as possible, four of the ten defeats in our last poor run could just as easily have ended in Brentford victories as Birmingham, Middlesbrough, Charlton and Blackburn Rovers were distinctly fortunate to to beat us and we should also have beaten Leeds United when they escaped with a late draw at Griffin Park.

Now it is quite simply our turn to have fortune favour us and that has resulted in a massive rise in confidence and I also believe that the better players feel about themselves and their team mates the more luck they will enjoy, in other words you can help make your own luck.

If you look back at our victory at Nottingham Forest which saw the beginning of our recent run of success, the first half was sterile with very little action as two teams on a bad run cancelled each other out and the opening goal was always going to be crucial.

The game turned on a massive and horrific defensive error which saw Lasse Vibe gifted with an open goal. Suddenly the game appeared easier for our players, confidence flooded back into their veins and they began to take chances rather than play the easy and safe pass. Vibe in particular, a player who had not scored since mid-December has suddenly been transformed into a goal machine and has gone on a prolific scoring run.

I shudder to think about what might have happened had Nottingham Forest scored first – not that they ever looked like doing so. Nobody can say for certain, but I doubt if we would now be feeling so serene and confident – narrow margins indeed.

As for yesterday, we had far too much in our locker for a poor MK Dons team who needed a victory to keep alive their slim chance of avoiding relegation. They were boosted by a early goal by Maynard who converted easily at the far post when the tricky Murphy skipped past Colin and set the goal up on a plate for the striker.

We had started the game slowly and looked slovenly and lacking in sharpness, concentration and commitment but the goal roused us out of our torpor and Canos equalised soon afterwards with a brilliant effort from outside the box which curled in a perfect parabola over the straining Cropper into the top corner of the net.

Button saved us soon afterwards after Murphy skinned Colin yet again and Maynard’s close range effort was brilliantly blocked by the keeper.

After that escape we slowly took control and Vibe almost turned in a shot from Kerschbaumer which was dropped by an inept goalkeeper who also did his best to gift Vibe a goal when he delayed his clearance interminably and allowed it to be blocked by the alert striker.

One all at halftime was probably just about right but we bossed the second half with Woods moving into the centre of midfield and dominating proceedings and he dovetailed well with the excellent McCormack and Yennaris.

Cropper had injured his shoulder and was replaced in goal by the young Burns who was afforded little cover and appeared well out of his depth at this level of football. Soon after the restart Vibe was sent away by a Barbet clearance and took his shot early before the keeper was able to set himself and his effort was perfectly placed into the corner for a well taken goal redolent of a player full of confidence.

Even then we did our best to allow a poor team back into the game and dozed off in the sunshine but Barbet picked Maynard’s pocket as he raced clear on goal and Revell missed horribly from point blank range. Murphy’s danger was minimised when Clarke replaced Colin whose attacking flamboyance did not compensate for his defensive shortcomings on the day.

Djuricin came on for Vibe and hit the top of the bar with a flicked header and he helped set up Woods for a rasping drive for the nerve-settling and match-clinching third goal which also followed a flowing move.

Now it was just a question of how many and Bidwell obliged with a fourth when his free kick from way out on the right touchline drifted past all the straining bodies in the penalty area and ended up in the far corner of the net. Gogia who had a brief runout as a substitute then came close to a fifth and the match ended with Brentford in total command.

A comfortable win indeed but one that could quite easily have gone the other way had MK Dons not been so wasteful with the opportunities that we so generously gifted them throughout the match.

Narrow margins yet again!

A Lot To Play For – 21/4/16

There was much to celebrate after Brentford’s victory over Cardiff City at Griffin Park on Tuesday night.

We can can take great satisfaction at cocking a snook at our old friend Russell Slade and yet again tweaking his tail and  and his forlorn and dejected manner at the end of the game was a source of great joy to us all and highlighted that he fully realised that defeat to the Bees had pretty much scuppered Cardiff’s rapidly diminishing chances of making the playoffs.

Frankly, Cardiff were a very mediocre outfit, big and strong certainly but totally unimaginative in their approach and sadly lacking in incision and creativity. They mainly threatened from set pieces and long balls and for a team so limited to finish in the playoff zone would be a travesty and I suspect that there will be some bloodletting and many changes afoot in South Wales at the end of the season.

As for Brentford, the season just keeps getting better and it’s a real shame that there are only four games remaining given how exceptional our form has been over the past five matches.

The thirteen points that we have gleaned over that period has made a top half finish a real possibility, something that few of us would have thought possible a mere few weeks ago and that would be a fitting reward for a team that continues to over perform and show total commitment despite being down to the bare bones and running on empty.

Team selection was a formality last night as we played pretty much everyone who was still fit. Colin could not be risked after his long term injury problems and might well require an operation but there was a silver lining to this cloud as this meant a rare start for Josh Clarke and the youngster more than fulfilled his manager’s expectations with a solid performance in which he defended impeccably and maintained his concentration but also provided a exciting attacking outlet.

He is developing into a real player and his use of the ball was excellent. He is playing for his future and I suspect that last night went a long way towards ensuring that he is offered a new contract.

Alan McCormack has also reached his appearance target for a new contract and will now remain with us next season, an achievement that will be generally welcomed. He has been a massive influence on his teammates both on and off the field and the likes of him and Sam Saunders are worth their weight in gold as they act as teachers, mentors and exemplars  to what is predominantly a young and inexperienced dressing room.

He knows how to manage the game as well as the referee and poor, hapless Stuart Attwell appeared at times to be looking at Macca for approval before blowing his whistle.

We are not the biggest or strongest of teams and victories over the likes of Bolton, Ipswich and Cardiff auger well for the future as these are the types of team that have so often bullied and knocked us out of our stride but no longer is that the case as with the likes of McCormack and Harlee Dean in our team we are no longer a soft touch.

On paper you could look at perhaps half of the Brentford starting eleven last night and wonder if they were all good enough to play in a team that aspires towards the upper reaches of the Championship but the sum of the whole is far greater than that of the individual parts and we have become a team in every meaning of the word.

The first half was accurately described as  dismal by Dean Smith as the visitors dominated possession but did very little with it apart from Pilkington heading wide from close range from a corner. Brentford ran, pressed and covered but there was little quality on view and apart from a Clarke cross which fizzed narrowly past a static Vibe in front of goal and a Woods effort high, wide and not very handsome we were chasing shadows and were more than happy with a blank scoreline at halftime.

Dean Smith’s words at the break ensured that the intensity levels were raised and with McCormack, Woods and Yennaris becoming more influential the chances began to arrive. Marshall saved well from Macca, Kerschbaumer shot over and Vibe missed horribly when he could see the whites of Marshall’s eyes after he and Woods were set free on a two-on-one breakaway after a Cardiff corner was cleared.

The game closely resembled the home match against Nottingham Forest last year when a listless first half was followed by a far more dynamic performance after the break and the common denominator was Sergi Canos, a real live wire who injected some much needed pace and directness into our play. His wonderful back flick played in Bidwell who shot wide and we improved even more with the arrival of Scott Hogan which led to Vibe dropping back into a more withdrawn role.

Cardiff seemed to have shot their bolt and Button was untroubled except for a smart stop from Pilkington and our pressure finally told with seven minutes to go when Bidwell’s left wing corner was flicked towards goal by Yennaris on the near post and Barbet seized upon a ricochet off a defender to smash a close range shot onto the bar and Hogan, Johnny On The Spot, again reacted quickest to slot home the rebound.

As if one goal wasn’t enough, along came another straight away when Yennaris won a midfield challenge and set Vibe away down the middle and he timed his pass perfectly to Hogan who swept the ball past Marshall from a tight angle. Another perfect finish from a striker rapidly recovering both confidence and sharpness.

It wouldn’t be Brentford if we didn’t make a drama out of a crisis and we did our level best to self destruct when Cardiff mounted a late long ball barrage aimed at the massive substitutes Zohore and Ameobi. The former scored when Dean got caught underneath a hoof down the middle and there were two more narrow escapes before Stuart Attwell brought proceedings to a halt.

Four games remain and all that is left for us is to attempt to go through April and May undefeated, finish the season in the top ten, give Fulham a good hiding and win the West London Championship mini league.

Not much to look forward to is there?

What Might Have Been – 19/4/15

Just imagine how Brentford supporters would have felt way back in August last year if they had been able to look into a crystal ball and read the three names nominated last week on the shortlist for the 2016 Championship Player of the Year award.

Judge, Gray and McCormack were the three names announced and whilst few of us would have been surprised to see the first two on the list, McCormack’s would have been an entirely different matter and surely nobody would have anticipated Alan having a career year that enabled him to scale such heights of achievement!

Doubtless, we would also have felt that retaining the services of Andre Gray and his mounting goal threat, watching live wire and spark plug Alan Judge taking the league by storm and seeing Alan McCormack play his role to perfection as the minder and protector of the more skilful and less physical members of the team, meant that Brentford would have succeeded in building upon the success of last season when they reached the playoffs and perhaps come even closer to achieving their seemingly impossible dream of reaching the Premier League.

Taking that thought just a step further, I wonder just how far last season’s team could have progressed in the highly unlikely circumstances that we had been able to ignore the dictates of Financial Fair Play, the hungry predators waiting to pounce and the economic realities of our situation and managed to keep them all together for another year?

Who knows what the answer would be but that side contained so much burgeoning talent and it is a fair bet that with a couple of additions the team would have threatened to take the division by storm.

Let us now take a brief look at how the players who have left us have fared and examine whether they have furthered their career by leaving Griffin Park for pastures anew, and also how we have coped with their loss.

Moses Odubajo’s departure left a slightly bad taste in the mouth as we had no option but to comply with his release clause which totally undervalued him given the massive progress he had made since moving to fullback after Alan McCormack’s injury at Bolton. It is easy to complain though with the benefit of hindsight!

Moses impressed when playing for England Under 20s last Summer and there is every chance that he will have an International future ahead of him.

He has established himself in a Hull City team that looks as if it is playoff bound and has had a consistent season if not quite matching the heights of last year.

You always miss players of his calibre but Max Colin has proved to be an exceptional replacement who can defend and attack with equal dexterity and Nico Yennaris has also taken his opportunity well at fullback. We are more than covered for his loss.

James Tarkowski left under a cloud in January and is currently waiting patiently for his chance in a Burnley team that is on the verge of returning to the Premier League.

Any judgement on him is still clouded by the unpleasant and unprofessional way that he helped engineer his transfer through his controversial refusal to play against Burnley and the problems that it caused us in its wake.

He remains a genius in embryo, a frustrating combination of superlatives and pratfalls where he is just as likely to glide past three opponents as he is to overreach himself through overconfidence and lack of concentration and set up a soft goal for the opposition.

Yoann Barbet has settled down well as his replacement and is rapidly learning on the job. He has the ability to hit accurate long passes as Preston and Bristol City found out to their cost but shares his predecessor’s penchant for overplaying at times. Tarky is currently a far better bet given his extra experience but Barbet is fast improving, is a potential star, and we have certainly looked more balanced playing a left footer on his natural side.

There is not much more to write about Jonathan Douglas than has already been remarked about at great length here and elsewhere. He had a massively impressive first half of last season but his performances gradually tailed off as he was grossly overplayed by Mark Warburton. Even so he was highly influential and provided a shield for the back four as well as making effective late runs in to the area and scoring a career high eight goals.

He has done enough at Ipswich this season to earn a contract extension but his overall influence is waning and I believe that we are missing a similar type of player rather than the man himself and I have no regrets at his having left. Konstantin Kerschbaumer and Josh McEachran have both attempted to take over the mantle of being the all action box-to-box midfielder we crave but neither has really fitted the bill and there is a yawning chasm still waiting to be filled, perhaps by Yennaris. The biggest influence Douglas has had on our season was in injuring the majestic Jota, an action which cost us his services for the first four months of the season.

Toumani Diagouraga is another whose departure has hurt us more in the short term given his obvious ability and more unexpectedly his newfound goal scoring prowess that has emerged since he joined Leeds! Nico Yennaris has emerged as an unexpected hidden talent now that he has been given his belated opportunity to cement his place in midfield but I expect at least one new face to arrive in the Summer who will challenge for a place as a covering midfielder. As for Toumani, it was the right decision to allow an unhappy player to leave the club for a more than realistic transfer fee.

Stuart Dallas might possibly have jumped ship a bit early as he would surely have been a near automatic choice for us this season had he remained. He might well retort that he is now earning more money playing for a bigger club than Brentford, but with a mere four goals and five assists he has not really pulled up any trees at Elland Road and I am not convinced that their style of play really suits him. We have lacked a goalscoring winger all season and his directness and readiness to shoot on sight have been sorely missed. He has been a real loss.

Alex Pritchard’s brilliance in the second half of last season made it a total certainty that he would not be returning to Brentford and indeed, he was expected to be challenging for a place in the Spurs team of all stars however a serious ankle injury sustained when playing for the England Under 21 team has ensured that a season that promised so much has instead become a total write off as he has barely featured for either Spurs or West Brom.

Alan Judge took over his mantle as playmaker at Brentford and succeeded beyond our wildest dreams with a massive return of fourteen goals and eleven assists but we have come nowhere near replacing the skill, effervescence and goal threat of last season’s midfield. How could we?

John Swift has enjoyed a tough baptism of fire but has shown signs of developing into a real talent and his tally of six goals is highly impressive for one so inexperienced. He, Judge, McCormack, Saunders, McEachran, Kerschbaumer, Yennaris and the highly promising Ryan Woods and Sergi Canos have all ensured that our midfield remains the strongest part of the current squad but in Jota, Pritchard, Judge, Douglas, Diagouraga, backed up by Dallas and Toral we possessed perhaps the finest midfield at the club in living memory.

At first sight, Andre Gray has been perhaps our biggest loss given the twenty-two goals he has added to the two he scored for the Bees right at the start of the season. He has developed into the most dangerous striker in the division and there are no limits to the heights that he can achieve given his improvement this season since he joined Burnley.

Of course we have missed his eager running and predatory instincts in front of goal but between them Vibe, Hofmann, Djuricin and Hogan have almost matched him as they have scored twenty-one times between the four of them – a really impressive total, and proof that we have managed pretty well without Gray even if none of our current strikers can compare with him in terms of individual quality.

That is a trend that in my view has been repeated throughout the squad. We have without doubt lost the services of a large number of exceptionally talented players who blended together so well to form last season’s wonderful team, but when you look more closely you can quite clearly see that whilst some have been missed more than others, most of their replacements have stepped up to the mark and have been hits  rather than misses and they are all still improving as they gradually acclimatise to a new situation.

The overall success of last season has not, of course, been equalled and perhaps never could be given our current resources but the reality of our performances this season on both a team and individual basis is far more impressive than the myth.

Finally my apologies for my really poor and obvious Alan McCormack joke at the beginning of this article and many congratulations to Andre Gray, the Championship Player of the Year as well as to the runners up, Alan Judge and of course ROSS McCormack of Fulham!

A Good Ending – 17/4/16

There was a real end of term atmosphere at Griffin Park on Saturday as the normal prematch tension was missing given that the Bees had as good as guaranteed their Championship survival with their recent run of three consecutive victories. We could therefore afford to relax and hopefully just enjoy a good performance without being afflicted by the normal relentless pressure.

The Bees responded and played with freedom and on the one hand were unfortunate not to come away with all three points against Bristol City but on the other were more than relieved to earn a draw thanks to an injury time equaliser – and how long is it since we scored a last minute goal, something that used to be a Brentford trademark?

The performance was for the most part confident and positive and the crowd responded with gusto to the team’s attempts to play a measured and incisive short passing game.

Brentford are back on the right track and are now beginning to resemble exactly what they are at the moment, a more than decent Championship outfit which has regained its self belief and really should have had far too much in their locker for a game but limited Bristol City team still not totally free of relegation fears.

Brentford started brightly and repeatedly carved the visitors open, sometimes with their unwitting assistance through casual defending, without making them pay and quite simply we let them off the hook.

Lasse Vibe spurned three decent chances to maintain his recent goal scoring spurt, Canos had a venomous volley blocked by a lunging defender and Yennaris was twice too high from presentable opportunities on the edge of the area and there was also a decent penalty shout for an apparent handball in the area which the referee ignored.

The ball was passed around quickly and with accuracy as we probed for openings. McCormack was the quarterback ably assisted by Woods, Yennaris and Saunders. Bidwell and Colin rampaged forwards and Barbet’s radar was spot on with a series of accurate crossfield passes.

And yet for all our dominance the goal would not come and were fortunate not to concede twice on the break when the dangerous Kodjia used his electric pace to burst clear. Barbet stopped him on both occasions but they were close run things indeed as on another day he might well have been penalised firstly for a professional foul and then a trip.

Lee Tomlin had been a peripheral influence on proceedings but right on the interval he finally roused himself from his apparent torpor, left Woods trailing in his wake, found some space where none seemed to exist and his perfectly placed effort unerringly found the bottom corner for a goal of quite stupendous class and quality. Quite rightly he milked the applause and threw our taunts back in our face.

The goal was a body blow but the Bees kept their nerve and if not as fluent in their passing and movement as they had been before the break they still took the game to the opposition and came close through headers from McCormack and Vibe which both forced exceptional saves from O’Donnell.

A defeat would have been hard to take after all the quality and effort on display and Dean Smith’s substitutions were on the money as Hogan, Kerschbaumer and Clarke all made a crucial late contribution that saved the day for the Bees.

KK played a wonderful long pass that split the defence and the backspin held it up long enough for Hogan to rampage through and fall under Baker’s challenge.

A penalty it was and in the absence of Alan Judge there was no dispute as to who would take it and Hogan looked set to score his first goal for the club after nearly two seasons’ worth of injury torment.

Unfortunately Richard O’Donnell, Dean Smith’s former first choice keeper at Walsall was the party pooper as he plunged to his right to save Scott’s well hit effort.

More frustration for us all to endure, but there was to be one last twist in the tail when, well into stoppage time, Josh Clarke hit a deep cross which Bidwell headed back and Hogan demonstrated his poaching ability by anticipating the chance, reacting far quicker than the defenders and diving forward in the six yard box to head the ball into the corner for a fully merited equaliser.

Scott Hogan has worked so hard and without any complaint to come back from not one, but two potentially career ending injuries and he fully deserved his late reward.

Brentford have lacked a striker with the instincts to score those scruffy but crucial close-in chances since the days of Bradley Wright-Phillips and Charlie MacDonald and Hogan looks sharp, hungry, keen and eager and quite determined to make the most of his opportunity and he will prove to be a massive asset next season.

It was fascinating to compare and contrast the approach of the two teams yesterday. Brentford were ravaged by injury and could barely fill the substitutes’ bench but the entire team played with commitment, energy and confidence. They all knew and kept to their role and were a team in every meaning of the word.

A few weeks ago I advocated a move to a 4-4-2 formation, but I was completely wrong. Our well-established 4-2-3-1 setup suits us and the players we currently have and they are comfortable with the system. I would also like to praise Dean Smith as he has managed to revitalise a drastically weakened squad and get the most out of his limited resources.

There are probably at least four members of yesterday’s starting eleven who most supporters would not feel are of sufficient quality to play in a team seeking to establish themselves in the top half of the. Championship but you would never have realised it as they all played out of their skin and demonstrated that we are all about the strength of the team as a group bonding together rather than a series of individuals.

That is what we have to do given the reality of the situation and the financial restrictions that we have to face. Bristol City also have a wealthy owner and possess a large and well appointed stadium and have gone in a different direction. They were over ambitious in the preseason, craved a marquee signing and made ambitious but doomed bids for players like Andre Gray and Dwight Gayle who were never going to join them. They therefore bungled their recruitment through overreaching themselves and have instead got by with a raft of expensive loan signings.

Bristol City have brought in twelve loanees this season in Callum Robinson, Ben Hamer, Liam Moore, Nathan Baker, Elliott Bennett, Simon Cox, Richard O’Donnell, Ben Gladwin, Alex Pearce, Lee Tomlin, Adam Matthews and Peter Odemwingie. Without them I am certain that they would have been marooned at the bottom of the table and contemplating a return to the third tier but what they have done has worked and bought them some time and Tomlin in particular clearly demonstrated his Premier League ability, so it is hard to criticise their strategy, but I cannot begin to guess how much they have spent on bringing them all to the club.

Clearly theirs is a policy that we cannot afford to follow even if we wanted to do so and yesterday demonstrated that with a little bit of tinkering and a few clever additions we will be a force to be reckoned with next season.

Don’t Miss This Book – 16/4/16

Some books are hard to get into but are eventually worth the struggle, others make my eyes glaze over almost from the opening pages and bring about an irresistible urge to fall asleep, but just sometimes you hit the jackpot and pick up a book which engages and delights you from the opening paragraph and you find yourself totally captivated and nodding in agreement with the author’s comments as well as totally identifying with everything that he says.

Apologies for the radio silence over the past couple of days but I have just been indulging myself and was totally engrossed in a wonderful new book mysteriously and enigmatically titled Gus Honeybun, Your Boys Took One Hell Of A Beating by Simon Carter.

So what on earth is this all about and who or what is Gus Honeybun? Quite simply, Simon Carter is a journalist who has enjoyed a love affair with Exeter City for the past thirty-seven years and the book is almost four hundred pages worth of an intoxicating mixture of ecstasy, joy, pride, shock, horror, resignation and shattered expectations as he recounts his memories of following a mediocre lower league football club in their fight for survival against almost insurmountable odds.

As for Gus, he was a Janner, a nickname for all those unlucky enough to be born and (in)bred in Plymouth. He was a popular rabbit puppet who appeared on local television for almost thirty years and helped celebrate children’s birthdays by doing a series of on-air bunny hops and winks. That all sounds pretty harmless and uncontentious to me but unfortunately Gus was also a rabid Plymouth Argyle supporter and would appear on-screen proudly wearing a green and white Argyle scarf whenever they had a whiff of success – pure provocation and something that used to infuriate young Simon as a died in the wool Exeter fan who took particular delight in his club’s rare victories over their local rivals.

Fans of every other Football League team will identify with the exploits and adventures recounted in this book. Taking a total of ten supporters to midweek games up North in the depths of Winter, travelling away with no hint of expectation when actually scoring a goal, or at least winning a corner, was the most one could hope for. Losing miserably and spinelessly to the like of Warrington in the FA Cup with the further embarrassment of seeing your team’s myriad shortcomings transmitted to the entire nation through the live television coverage on BBC. The sense of utter frustration when you just know that your team will let you down whenever it really matters, but, never mind, you will still be there for the next game or the following season with the slate wiped clean knowing full well that further embarrassments and disappointments await you.

Carter writes well and concisely with short, sharp, staccato, tight sentences and he has a keen eye for a headline and an article that grabs your attention in the opening paragraph, draws you in and then never lets go. He is a fanatic without being an anorak or statto and non-Exeter City fans will be able to stay with the book without too much trouble as it deals with a multitude of themes and subjects that will resonate with every football fan without going into mind numbing detail of obscure games, players and events from long ago which would have far more limited appeal.

Carter does celebrate local heroes such as Tony Kellow, a squat goalhanger who, back in the day, often put Brentford to the sword, the late and much lamented Adam Stansfield, goal machine Darran Rowbotham and Peter Hatch, still living in Exeter thirty-five years after spearheading a massive four goal giant killing of Newcastle United, who Carter interviews and then writes about with much poignancy and pride. Sometimes it is good to actually meet your heroes when they turn out to be even better men in the flesh than in the imagination of a young boy.

Supporting a no-hoper is all about patience and tolerance and being able to take pleasure in small mercies and then relishing and celebrating the rare triumphs and achievements when they do come along and there is much here about the glory of winning the Fourth Division Championship in 1990 and gaining promotion back to the Football League in 2008 through the dreaded playoffs. Who can begrudge him the opportunity to play the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool in the FA Cup and achieve meritorious draws against both Premier League giants as well as earning enough money from the ties to help keep the club afloat?

Brentford fans will enjoy his account of the quite ridiculous 1982/83 season which saw Exeter barely escape relegation despite scoring eighty-one goals – generally enough to ensure a promotion bid, but Exeter also inconceivably found a way to concede a staggering one hundred and four times and their forty-six matches saw an incredible one hundred and eighty-five goals scored, or four goals in every match.

Eight of those goals came in that unforgettable game which Brentford won by seven goals to one. Carter witnessed this humiliation yet he was back, undaunted, bright eyed and bushy tailed for the next game which saw a massive improvement as his heroes only lost by five goals to one to Orient!

Football is also about friends and companionship and there are many amusing tales of derring-do as Simon and his mates travel the country more in hope than expectation and somehow manage to get back unscathed to their South Western outpost. Bizarrely he also comes across the likes of Brad Pitt, Freddie Starr and Uri Geller in the course of his adventures.

There is gallows humour in abundance and the book is an easy, fulfilling and amusing read but Simon’s account of his unrequited passion and love affair also has the power to stir the emotions and move you at the same time.

This is a book that should not be missed and it is highly recommended for supporters of any football club from Aldershot to Yeovil – apart of course from Plymouth Argyle.

GUS HONEYBUN, YOU BOYS TOOK ONE HELL OF A BEATING BY SIMON CARTER AND PUBLISHED BY PITCH PUBLISHING. AVAILABLE ON AMAZON FOR £12.99.

Brentford’s Injury Hoodoo – 14/4/16

Continue reading