Now that the season is finally over the time has come for me to give my brief verdict on every player and how they each performed last season. Here is the first part with, of course, more to follow:
2. Maxime Colin. We were all concerned about how well we would be able to replace the talented Moses Odubajo and the biggest compliment that I can give Max Colin is to state that Moses’s name has barely been mentioned for many months now, so well has the newcomer done. Signed in mid-August from Anderlecht for nine hundred thousand pounds, he impressed on his debut as a substitute at Burnley and just got better with every game. Strong in the tackle and good in the air, his defensive positioning improved with experience and he was only given the runaround by Brighton’s Jamie Murphy and Josh Murphy at MK Dons. He had the pace and ability to rampage forward and dribble past opponents at will and his cross led to a classic headed goal by Lasse Vibe at Ipswich. Knee ligament and groin injuries cost him nearly half the season and led to the threat of an operation. Hopefully he will return for the new season fit and ready to go as he is an exceptional player who has already proved to be a bargain signing.
3. Jake Bidwell. At only twenty-three years of age Jake has already made over two hundred appearances for the club and proved to be a popular team captain. He is so unobtrusive it is easy to take him for granted and fail to recognise just how good he is. Unfortunately he suffered a hamstring strain at Hull and lost his ever-present status, missing the local derby win over Fulham. He also finally broke his scoring duck in his one hundred and eighty-sixth game for the Bees and obviously enjoyed the feeling so much that he scored twice more before the end of the season. He was cool, calm and collected and very tough to beat and when he did make a mistake against Leeds which cost a late equaliser it stood out all the more because of its rarity. He was always eager to overlap and his accurate crosses led to four assists and his left footed curling corners and free kicks also improved throughout the season. The only problem with Jake is persuading him to sign a new contract as his current agreement expires at the end of next season.
4. Lewis Macleod. Another injury-wrecked season for Lewis and we still remain totally in the dark about his capabilities. His deep-rooted hamstring injury finally cleared up in late 2015 and allowed him to show his ability in the Development Squad and score eye-catching goals against QPR and Bristol City which clearly demonstrated his quality and whetted our appetite for more. He finally made his long awaited and much-delayed debut for the Bees with an eight minute runout at Brighton before succumbing to the injury hoodoo yet again, suffering a medial ligament injury in training. Next season perhaps? Surely he deserves some luck and the chance to show us what he can do?
5. Andreas Bjelland. There was palpable excitement and perhaps some disbelief amongst the Brentford supporters when the club smashed their transfer record by paying two million three hundred thousand pounds to sign Danish international central defender Andreas Bjelland from FC Twente. His preseason was hampered by a groin injury and he was given a runout on a terrible Griffin Park pitch in the Capital One Cup tie against Oxford United and must have wished he hadn’t as he suffered a serious knee ligament injury and missed the entire season. A terrible blow for the club and player alike. He is now back in training and hopefully will be fit for selection at the beginning of next season. But where will he play given the recent success of the Dean/Barbet partnership? What a wonderful problem for Dean Smith to have.
6. Harlee Dean. What a turnaround for the defender who ends the season with two hundred appearances for Brentford under his belt and a new two-year contract safely signed. How things have changed for the central defender who at one time looked certain to walk away on a Bosman free transfer at the end of the season. He came of age throughout the season and allowed his feet to do the talking rather than behave like a loose cannon, ever-ready to shoot off at the mouth if something upset him. He visibly matured, got a lot fitter, benefited from the long-term injury to Andreas Bjelland and the transfer of James Tarkowski, to become an automatic selection, a team leader and a tower of strength. He would not have been Harlee if there had not been one faux pas, in his case, the ridiculous red card he brought upon himself against Nottingham Forest. He read the game well and the blend of a tough traditional defender like Dean alongside a ballplayer like Tarkowski and subsequently Barbet, worked a treat. He won most of his challenges both in the air and on the ground, rarely dived in, showed far more mobility and also demonstrated an unexpected ability to play the ball accurately out of defence. His main weakness was in the opposition penalty area where he showed an infallible tendency to misfire or head the ball wide of the goal. At twenty-four his best is yet to come and he is finally playing for a Head Coach who believes in him and that has made a real difference to him.
7. Sam Saunders. After two injury-wrecked seasons it seemed that Sam might well be on his way out of the club and indeed it appeared likely at one time that he would move to America and play for Tampa Bay. Fortunately Sam chose to remain at Brentford and he more than justified his contract extension with a series of exceptional performances which ensured that he is about to enter his eighth season at Griffin Park. Dean Smith rightly valued his experience and leadership plus his ability to help his less experienced teammates and Sam rose to the challenge as well as scoring three beautifully taken goals against Leeds, Ipswich and, most memorably, his lob against Fulham, which highlighted his talent and growing confidence. He reads the game so well and finds time and space in the crowded midfield area and his bubbly enthusiasm, knowledge of the game and ability to keep possession is of massive value to the team.
8. Marco Djuricin. But for an ill-timed injury at Blackburn a mere eight days after his goal won the long-awaited West London derby against QPR and gave us our first win over the old enemy for fifty years, Marco Djuricin might have ended up as one of the stars of the team, but fate was against him and his season, and almost certainly his Brentford career fizzled out in frustration and disappointment. The Austrian international striker signed on loan from Red Bull Salzburg in late August although his arrival had been rumoured in January 2015. He made an excellent initial impression, scoring a cooly taken goal within twenty-nine minutes of his debut against Leeds United and made it two goals in three games when he scored the winner against Preston a week later. Another goal arrived soon afterwards at Wolves and when he scored the winner against QPR, running adroitly to the near post to convert a Judge cross, it appeared that we had a new hero in our midst. He played on the shoulder of the last defender, was sharp in front of goal and was eager to shoot rather than pass and was beginning to adapt to an unfamiliar role as a lone striker. A serious ankle ligament injury was the beginning the end for him as he was forced to miss two months of action and never regained his fitness or sharpness on his return and drifted out of contention. A real shame, as Marco possesses a striker’s instinct, something instinctive that cannot be taught, and will certainly come again, but surely not at Griffin Park, although his status as a Brentford legend is assured.
9. Scott Hogan. Sometimes people do get what they deserve and receive due reward for all their effort, dedication and determination not to give in when everything appears to be against them. Finally the Gods are smiling down upon Scott Hogan after he suffered and then overcame two career-threatening cruciate injuries and missed the best part of two season’s worth of football. Much was expected of Hogan when he was brought in to play ahead of Andre Gray at the beginning of the 2014/15 season and now he finally has the opportunity to show us why we signed him. He has certainly been a man on a mission since he was introduced as a late substitute on the nineteenth of March against Blackburn Rovers. Further short run-outs followed against Bolton and Ipswich before he finally made his mark by winning and then missing a penalty kick against Bristol City, before netting his first goal for the Bees with a last-gasp predator’s header which earned us a point. Two more clinical finishes against Cardiff made us realise that this was a really special player who was single-mindedly determined to make up for lost time. He was being carefully managed by the medical team and his time on the pitch was strictly rationed, but Lasse Vibe’s injury meant that Scott was named in the starting eleven against both Fulham and Huddersfield and he rewarded Dean Smith’s faith in him with four more goals. He ended up playing less than two full matches, one hundred and seventy-two minutes in all, and yet he scored an incredible total of seven goals and clearly demonstrated that he is a cool, calm and deadly finisher who has the rare ability to ghost in behind defenders and find time and space within crowded penalty areas. He has been compared in style and approach to Jamie Vardy and has already attracted the attention of the Eire selectors. Brentford have certainly been rewarded for their faith in Scott and for extending his contract for another year before he made his comeback and next season cannot come soon enough for him. What a prospect he is and if he can stay fit we will have a magnificent striker on our hands.
10. Josh McEachran. There was much excitement when we signed Josh McEachran from Chelsea for seven hundred and fifty thousand pounds. He seems to have been around for ever but is still only twenty-three years old. But scratch beneath the surface and his CV was slightly concerning as he had had five loan spells at clubs like Middlesbrough and Watford without establishing himself and he desperately needed a home and a role as his career appeared to be drifting. Unfortunately nothing has gone right for him since he joined Brentford. The first half of his season was ruined by a training ground collision with Toumani Diagouraga which resulted in a fractured foot, and, incredibly, he suffered a similar injury in March which ended his season. In between he managed fifteen appearances without really making too much of an impact. He describes himself as a holder and a passer, dictating play and his approach should have suited our play given the manner in which we always try to play through the midfield, but despite showing glimmers of his ability with a dummy here and a perceptive pass there, it never really happened for him and his passing generally lacked incision or penetration and was too often sideways or backwards and he generally hung out a foot rather than tackle properly. Perhaps it is simply a case that he was simply lacking in match fitness and confidence? We can only hope that he recovers in time for the start of next season and that he can then show us what he is capable of.
11. Philipp Hofmann. The enigma that is Hofmann. So much ability but so little end result to date. Expectations were high when we signed the massive German Under 21 international striker and it was hoped that he could provide us with a different type of option upfront given his size and strength. His progress was hindered by a series of niggling injuries and he seemed to find the Championship a massive learning curve and did not appear ideally suited to the lone striker system employed by the club. He did not have the pace or mobility to run the channels and, despite his height, he was not strong in the air. What he did have, though, was an unsuspected ability, strength and trickery on the ball and a real subtlety of pass. He only started six games all season but still managed to score four goals, including a wonderful finish at Bristol City, a calm dribble around a stranded goalkeeper at Wolves and the triple-ricochet winner at home to Nottingham Forest. He also missed a simple headed chance to win the home game against Brighton. I hope that next season he proves that he has a real future with us and that he relishes the challenge of adapting to the Championship. The jury is out.