I really don’t think anyone either at the club or supporters alike needs any reminding that Brentford FC is currently on the crest of a slump after a truly horrid run of six defeats in seven games since Thomas Frank took over the reigns as Head Coach in October. What is more important is coming up with a strategy to help arrest the slide before it becomes terminal. So here is my action plan which would hopefully help do the trick.
- Accept that there are issues that need addressing urgently but keep calm and don’t panic – we have all been here before. Remember that ghastly run of only two wins and a solitary draw in thirteen games in early 2016, yet we recovered and finished the season in sparkling form with seven wins in the last nine matches. We CAN and WILL recover from this as good players do not become bad overnight and our squad is jam-packed full of excellent players.
- There were murmurings from within the club after the Sheffield United game about the negative reaction by the crowd to Tuesday’s game. I know it is hard when we lose after a truly dire and insipid performance but we all have to stay together and, to use a cliche, “Keep the Faith” however hard it is to do so. Thomas Frank and the squad are obviously well aware of how badly things are going and really do not need any reminding from us fans. Frank has also been working with one hand tied behind his back given the length of the injury list and the fact that, Sod’s Law, it is many of the most valuable players that have been affected. The tragic death of Robert Rowan should also help put matters into context and perspective and his loss has understandably had a deep effect on everyone involved with the club, both on and off the field. In other words cut them all a bit of slack!
- Get Thomas Frank the extra coaching help he desperately needs. There is a gaping hole alongside Frank and Brian Riemer both on the bench and at the training ground. We need another experienced Assistant Coach who understands and has good knowledge of the Championship, someone who can ideally organise a defence and can speak to the players in their own language. Thomas Frank is an excellent coach but I wonder if a native English speaker might help him get his ideas and instructions across more succinctly and pithily particularly in the crucial moments immediately before a game and at halftime.
- Keith Millen has been a constant presence at recent Brentford matches. He has vast experience and an excellent reputation, knows the club and the division well, is a clear communicator and would fit the bill, as of course would another former club employee in Lee Carsley, if he were also available.
- We have conceded by my reckoning six goals from set pieces in our last seven games – a truly shocking and frightening figure which clearly demonstrates our lack of organisation and concentration. I know that there is a lot of hard work going on at the training ground to address this problem, including a double session yesterday, but I would strongly advocate that we drop our zonal marking policy and go man-to-man. We lack height and strength throughout the team and allowing taller opponents a free run at the ball is costing us dear.
- For a variety of reasons we have recently lost leaders and talent throughout the club. Dean Smith understandably left for so-called better things, Robert Rowan is no longer with us and Chief Executive Mark Devlin is also on the verge of leaving the club after seven years of exemplary service. You can’t lose people of this calibre without there being a hopefully temporary negative impact. Dean was a popular figure at the training ground whose very presence commanded respect. He knew his job inside out and was an exceptional man-manager who apparently made a point of making the time to speak individually to every player each day. He was a leader and an inspiration and his are tough boots to fill. Thomas Frank has to rise to the challenge, move out of the background and prove that he too is a leader and motivator rather than just a talented coach. Can he adapt to becoming THE man rather than a number two. He did it at Brondby so hopefully he will succeed given time, encouragement and support. It is far too soon to even begin to guess how Robert Rowan can and will be replaced as his personality, influence, knowledge and contacts will be greatly missed. A new Chief Executive will also take time to be recruited and start in post. Perhaps in the meantime it would be helpful and supportive for Phil Giles to base himself at the training ground for the next couple of months where he can be seen and consulted on a regular basis.
- The appointment of one or more Club Ambassadors might also be helpful not just in terms of PR and fan engagement but also in providing the benefit of their broad knowledge and experience of the game. Mark Bright performs a similar role at Crystal Palace. There are several potential candidates such as Dean Holdsworth, Marcus Gayle and Nicky Forster.
- The goalkeeping situation has to be addressed as Daniel Bentley had gone from being one of the best goalkeepers in the division to amongst the worst. Why? He appears to lack confidence and he is constantly making poor decisions and he is even struggling with shot-stopping which is the most straightforward part of a goalkeeper’s game. Thomas Frank has made it clear that Bentley is his first choice when Dean Smith had given an opportunity to his deputy, Luke Daniels, who seemingly did little wrong. Bentley should be responding to the faith shown in him and performing better than he is and his body language is also not encouraging. All that has changed from last season where he recovered from a dodgy early season spell is the appointment of a new goalkeeping coach replacing the long-serving Simon Royce. Perhaps his current inconsistency is simply as a result of getting used to the different methods employed by a new coach but it is crucial that a goalkeeper goes out onto the pitch boosted and full of confidence and feeling that he is both supported and rated. Is there something in the current set-up that needs examining?
- Romaine Sawyers has been appointed as team captain replacing the captaincy by committee policy introduced by Dean Smith which in itself recognised the lack of a true leader in the squad. We have a young team that would not respond well to a constant bawling out and finger pointing but is Romaine still the best choice? Has Chris Mepham got enough on his plate at the moment without the added burden of the captaincy?
- Brentford’s medical team is rightly recognised as being dedicated and totally professional. Would it be fair to suggest that after Scott Hogan broke down with a re-occurence of his cruciate injury soon after returning to training that every possible care is taken to ensure that players do not return to action until they are absolutely certain that they are ready? Could the likes of Rico Henry and Josh Dasilva be given an opportunity sooner rather than later?
- There is work that needs to be done with the midfield which is currently not firing on all cylinders and lacks balance. Lewis Macleod has surely underperformed and sleepwalked his way out of the team and Josh McEachran totally divides opinion. Many feel that Ryan Woods has not been adequately replaced and that we miss his ability to anticipate and snuff out danger and set the attacking tempo. Kamo Mokotjo is badly missed as he could in my opinion provide experience, a much-needed shield for the beleaguered back four as well as use the ball well. He could replace McEachran who is perhaps a luxury we cannot afford at present. Romaine Sawyers looked reinvigorated on his return to the team on Tuesday and brought us vision and movement. He will also be relishing the opportunity to play against his former team West Bromwich Albion on Monday. Josh Dasilva would certainly be a gamble as he has yet to start an EFL match but from what we have seen in his brief appearances he would provide a strong and positive box-to-box presence that is sorely needed. Perhaps Frank needs to be brave and take a chance on him lasting a full match.
- Until Ollie Watkins, Said Benrahma and to a lesser degree Marcus Forss return from injury our choices up front are sorely limited. Sergio Canos lacked both energy and discipline on Tuesday and his non-performance raised many questions about his fitness and attitude. Alan Judge is surely a short term solution. We desperately need a fit Ollie Watkins to provide strength and support to the ever-willing and dangerous Neil Maupay and on his return Benrahma need to prove that he is more than a peripheral influence flitting in and out of matches and also demonstrate better self-discipline. Without them I would play Moses Odubajo or even the seemingly forgotten Josh Clarke on the wing although it is possible that Watkins and Benrahma will return to the squad on Monday. Emiliano Marcondes has already proved to be an influential impact substitute who has shown increased determination although is hard to see where he fits in as a starter at the moment unless he replaces or partners Sawyers as a Number Ten.
- Rico Henry has been back in training for quite a while now and would provide balance and attacking brio at left back and must surely replace poor Yoann Barbet who suffered a ghastly game against Sheffield United. Until Julian Jeanvier recovers from a troublesome and unspecified hip problem we have little option but to stick with Chris Mepham and Ezri Konsa who are two brilliant individuals, both eventually bound for the Premier League, whose partnership is currently far less than the sum of their parts.
- Hard though it is we need to try and start playing the Brentford way again, something that we have seen less and less of recently. We thrive on slick, quick short passing and potent wing play to create space and pull teams apart, but this is something that has largely disappeared lately as we have been hamstrung by lack of confidence and that injury list. We have become slow and predictable and allowed grateful opponents time to form two solid banks of four to thwart us. The sooner we are able to get key players back onto the field the better our results will be.
- The elephant in the room is the January Transfer Window in which there are a frightening number of permutations. Do we stick or do we twist? Will clubs meet our high valuations for our most attractive players in Mepham, Konsa, Maupay and Watkins. How many can we afford to sell? How easily can we replace them first? How do we maximise value from the large rump of players who will be out of contract in either 2019 or 2020? Can we keep them motivated? Brentford traditionally do not like spending in January at a time when prices are inflated. Will we keep to the model or maybe break the mould and bring in some much needed experience? Can we afford to buy home grown players or only rely on foreign gambles who do not demand the wages we cannot afford to pay? Will we change our policy and loan in players to provide a short term boost and fill gaps? It is likely that there will have to be a major squad rebuild at the end of the season but what happens when largely depends on our results in the short term and how we address our current poor run. Watch this space for a more detailed analysis in the next month!
The situation is worrying in the extreme but not yet drastic. We need to keep believing in what we are doing, but also change what is patently not working – and that is probably more than the mere tweaks initially promised by Thomas Frank. I have made a few suggestions which would hopefully improve rather than aggravate matters. What does everyone else think?