Shambles – 11/8/15

Despite the unexpected and remarkable fillip of two goals on Saturday against Ipswich so late that they arrived almost at the end of the classified results on Sports Report, there was still an almost perceptible sense of foreboding before tonight’s Capital One cup tie against Oxford United.

Head Coach Marinus Duikhuizen had announced that he would make extensive team changes and give valuable match practice to his previously unused squad members as well as some deserving members of the Development Squad.

Supporters with only a short memory could recall recent matches in the same competition when a similar course was followed without much success.

Two seasons ago a young team, naive and wet behind the ears was massacred by a full strength Derby County who thankfully and mercifully declared at five after a mixed squad had barely squeaked through in the previous round against Dagenham.

Last season another weakened side played out that remarkable 6-6 draw against a plucky Dagenham team who were almost allowed to win a game in which we had threatened at times to run riot.

The Griffin Park pitch, so lush and true last season was another massive concern as despite extensive close season attention, it now resembled nothing more than a sandy beach painted green and the uneven, lumpy and bumpy surface was a ticking time bomb which threatened ankles and cruciates alike and had defied Brentford’s best efforts to play our customary brand of incisive one touch football on Saturday, and stymied by the vagaries and inconsistencies of the surface, the Bees had resorted to an inelegant and untypical long ball game.

There had also been an ominous silence regarding Andre Gray. Perhaps no news was good news but we remained in total ignorance about his future and whether he would be in the right frame of mind to be included in the starting eleven.

The injury list was also growing on a seemingly daily basis with Alan Judge, Jota and Harlee Dean, Josh McEachran and of course, Scott Hogan all unavailable and, as for Lewis MacLeod, mention of his name brought about a bemused shrug as the current whereabouts and state of fitness of this elusive young man remained a closely guarded secret.

Well, however concerned we were at the prospect of the match, the reality was far worse than even the greatest pessimist could have envisaged as a ludicrously weak Brentford team which treated the competition, the opposition and, indeed, our supporters with utter disrespect was hammered by an experienced and commited and crucially, unchanged Oxford United team who barely had to go through the motions or break sweat to stroll to an easy four goal victory. And we were lucky that it was only four.

Oxford were a team who played as a cohesive unit, Brentford were a disparate rabble, a cobbled together collection of strangers and callow kids who lacked leadership and frankly were a disgrace to the shirt.

In the club’s defence the Head Coach had stated that he would rest players but nobody could have expected the eleven players who actually started to have rested to the extent that they did throughout a first half which saw them lethargically chasing shadows and falling three goals behind within ten minutes.

All three were the result of staggering and almost laughable defensive howlers by Bjelland and Bonham which were ruthlessly punished by Sercombe, Hylton and, spectacularly with a forty yard lob into a empty net by Roofe after the hapless Bonham went walkabout.

There were eleven, yes, eleven team changes from Saturday with none of the starters against Ipswich being named in the team. There were seven debutants in Bjelland, Barbet, O’Connell, Williams, Udemaga, Laurent and Senior and the team was completed by Bonham, Clarke, Vibe and the most experienced player on view in Yennaris.

Indeed the entire team had played less than ten first team matches between them. No wonder the performance was shambolic as such a scratch eleven who had never played together before and surely never will again could not be expected to succeed against a team of hardened opponents who played to win.

Just to make things even worse Bjelland limped off before the interval and then your correspondent was hit flush on the head by an errant Brentford shot during the half time break and knocked over, thus ending his active participation as a spectator.

A suitable ending to a terrible evening and thanks to the club’s paramedics who were helpful, kind and solicitous to me as I felt extremely dazed and shocked.

I am told that the second half was another non-event for Brentford who finally lost by four clear goals.

Squad rotation is one thing, what Brentford did tonight is quite another. We have lots of promising players with massive potential and tonight will have done them no good whatsoever as they were hung out to dry and perhaps some budding careers have even taken a backward step.

Play a couple of them certainly, but surround, protect and encourage them with a coterie of first teamers. To make eleven changes and field a team with so little experience was a disaster waiting to happen and a catastrophic decision by the new Head Coach who fully deserves the criticism he is sure to face.

This was a night of shame and embarrassment for the club coming at the worst possible time just when a new regime is seeking to establish itself with the fans.

Dijkhuizen has inherited a tough enough job with all the raised expectations after last season’s achievements and the massive success of Mark Warburton, without making it even harder for himself, something that he has now done after the disappointing events of tonight.

I am going to bed now feeling a bit dazed and sick and the blow on the head, nasty as it was, is not the sole cause of my discomfort.

The Dreaded “P” Word – Part One – 6/5/15

So it’s to be the playoffs for Brentford, news that was greeted by every Brentford supporter with utter relief and jubilation which given our appalling playoff record over the past twenty-four years might appear on the face of it to be a strange and perverse reaction. The only positive thing that can be said about Brentford and the playoffs is that at least we are consistent – consistently awful in fact, as we have so far failed to win promotion through this route on every occasion that we have reached the dreaded playoffs – seven in all. Amazingly enough there is one club, Preston North End, whose ineptitude makes our record look almost acceptable as having blown automatic promotion on Sunday they are about to embark, doubtless with fear and trepidation, upon their tenth playoff campaign with a one hundred percent failure rate.

If our past record wasn’t bad enough we really have nobody else to blame apart from ourselves given that the playoffs were the bastard child invention of our former chairman Martin Lange back in 1987 when he saw them as a way of maintaining  and extending interest on the part of clubs who would otherwise have seen their season fizzle out once their hopes of automatic promotion had disappeared. The playoffs have rightly been considered a complete success by armchair supporters as well as by everybody not specifically involved in them as they undoubtedly add a sense of theatre, occasion and excitement even though they represent pure torture to the nervous followers of the teams actually competing in them.

Our first experience of the playoffs arrived in 1991 when we crept into sixth place in Division Three on the back of a well timed and frankly unexpected run of five victories in the last six games of the season. We had never really mounted a challenge for automatic promotion and were more than happy and gratified to have obtained a playoff spot particularly as a patently unfit Dean Holdsworth had fired blanks all season and we were totally beholden to Player of the Year Graham Benstead who had performed a series of miracles in goal.

The playoffs were a novelty, an unexpected gift and we were naive ingenues with absolutely no expectations and totally unaware of the devastation and horrors that a playoff failure could wreak on us. Tranmere awaited us, a team that had already defeated us twice that season, but we felt no fear as we were just pleased to be there. The first leg was at home and we totally dominated, scoring first through Terry Evans after a well-worked Wilf Rostron free kick and missing several other chances to put the tie well beyond our listless opponents. The match turned on its head after the break when Tranmere’s previously anonymous striker Steve Cooper performed his party piece by rising as if on springs to head home two identikit goals from corners. Little did we know at the time that Steve had excelled as a gymnast as a youngster which probably helped him in his athleticism and ability to leap in the air to score his trademark headers. We were stunned and wondered if Cooper bore a grudge as he had also scored four times against us for Newport County six years previously. We fought back from these body-blows and eventually salvaged a draw when Kevin Godfrey lobbed a late equaliser past the static Eric Nixon. We travelled to Prenton Park more in hope than expectation and lost narrowly by a single scrambled goal in a game of few chances where we dominated possession but lacked incisiveness in front of goal. Given the novelty value of our situation I don’t remember any real sense of sadness or loss at the time, that would come in good time after some of our future playoff disappointments.

1995 was a case in point and I am still traumatised by how cruelly we were treated and what fate laughingly had in store for us. We had a vibrant exciting team inspired by the goals of the FT Index, Nicky Forster and Robert Taylor who managed forty-seven goals between them. We were tough and organised in defence and had a potent threat from set-pieces in marauding full back Martin Grainger. This was the one and only season when, owing to the reorganisation of the Premier League, there was a trickle-down effect which resulted in only one team receiving automatic promotion from Division Two. There are no prizes for guessing who finished second! Promotion was in our own hands and we let it slip. Without mincing words we choked in the last month of the season, scrambling a last minute equaliser at home to an abject Chester team, then losing meekly in a crucial midweek promotion clincher at our closest rivals Birmingham City who did the double over us before allowing a Bournemouth team seemingly doomed to relegation to beat us in our last home game.

This time we felt totally different as the cup had been dashed from our lips and faceless bureaucracy had denied us the promotion that was indubitably our just reward for finishing second. Surely we would right the wrong done to us by winning the playoffs, and cementing promotion at Wembley would be a wonderful way of doing it. I felt that our victory was assured as it was so obviously right and proper that we did so, but unfortunately nobody had informed Neil Warnock and his tough and driven Huddersfield team. We drew a hard-fought first leg away from home with Nicky Forster scoring a well-worked team goal and his strike partner Taylor improbably and almost unbelievably skying over an empty net with the goalkeeper already lying helpless on the floor for an iconic miss.

We scored early on at home through a cool, calm and collected Grainger penalty kick but we took our foot off the gas and were punished by Andy Booth after Dearden was surely impeded. Both teams became increasingly cautious and cancelled each other out, afraid to risk defeat by opening up and going for the winning goal. The dreaded penalty shootout arrived and Huddersfield blinked first when Dearden saved brilliantly, but Denny Mundee, who had scored twice from the spot against Steve Francis at Huddersfield the previous season blew the chance to put us two goals ahead when he was outguessed this time by the keeper. Jamie Bates too criminally failed to put his foot through the ball and one kick later our season was over. We left the stadium in utter silence, disbelieving and devastated at the turn of events. Had we really witnessed what we thought we had seen? How could we have lost that tie? Was life really that cruel? Twenty years on and I still ask myself the same questions and, yes, it hurts even today to remind myself of that torrid evening when it all unravelled for us. Of all our playoff failures 1995 perhaps rankles the most given the circumstances although as we will see, 2013 comes close behind!

We needed a year to recover from the trauma of 1995 but we came again in 1996/97 when we again tanked promotion through our own inadequacies and mis-management and were forced to rely yet again on the playoffs. Surely we should by now have known better? The new four-pronged spearhead of Forster, Asaba, Taylor and Bent inspired us to an eleven match unbeaten run at the start of the season and we were coasting at the top of the league when the quite staggering decision was taken in January to sell Nicky Forster to arch-nemesis Birmingham City for a mere £700,000. He was never replaced, the prolific Carl Asaba was mysteriously shifted out wide to the left wing and the remaining seventeen league matches produced a mere eighteen points. We failed to score in ten of our last fourteen games and won only once at home after Christmas. We can all speculate as to why the management stood idly by and allowed our promotion challenge to disintegrate as we limped into the playoffs holed below the waterline. Miraculously we recovered our Mojo for the tough-looking playoff Semi Final against Bristol City and surprised everyone, including perhaps ourselves by winning both legs and qualifying for our first ever playoff final against a Crewe team bursting with young talent and ideally suited for the massive Wembley pitch. Having been taken to the heights by the renewed confidence and organisation we displayed against Bristol City, we plummeted to the depths of despair and embarrassment by playing like a disorganised rabble at Wembley. We had Statham sent off, were totally outclassed and could easily have lost by six goals rather than the one that the opposition actually managed. Our Neanderthal long ball style could not cope with the short passing and clever movement of our opponents. Crewe outplayed and out-thought us, hit the woodwork three times and the heroic Carl Hutchings cleared the ball off our goal line on two further occasions.

I was left fairly unmoved by our defeat in 1991, and was distraught in 1995, but this time I felt humiliated and angry and was just glad to leave Wembley as fast as the crowds would allow. We lost a lot of fans that day when we capitulated and completely failed to compete. It is time to stop now as I need to take a deep breath and have a break before I resume this tale of disaster and disappointment.

Could Be Better But Not Bad! – 9/12/14

fa 3Well, OK, it wasn’t one of the really big boys but Brighton at home is by no means a terrible FA Cup draw.

Like most Bees fans, I am sure, I sat at home glazed with boredom waiting for all those fatuous interviews to end and thinking that I would scream if I saw Ronnie Radford’s thunderbolt yet one more time.

Eventually the interminable preliminaries were over and the draw commenced.

Ideally I wanted a Premiership team home or away as I would love to see us given the opportunity to pit our wits and skill against theirs.

Often recently when watching one of those faceless, boring clubs in the lower rump of the Premier League, you know exactly who I mean, an Aston Villa, a West Bromwich Albion, or a Sunderland perhaps, teams suffused with fear and negativity, with the sole aim and ambition of remaining in the league next season, I begin to daydream and wonder if we could match them.

I know it was only a friendly match, but we beat Crystal Palace in preseason and shocked them with the quality of our football.

Maybe we could repeat the dose if the chance arises later in the competition.

We would be starting with a massive advantage given our confidence, self-belief and attacking style. Mark Warburton would change nothing and send us out to take the game to the opposition and I honestly feel that we would have a massive chance of winning. 2

Sadly that opportunity was denied us last night but maybe our time will come later in the competition.

For once a tired cliche is correct as we simply have to be patient and take each game as it comes and beat whoever is put in front of us.

Remember, to get to Chelsea we first had to dispose of smaller fry like Boreham Wood, Bradford City and Southend United.

What about 2004/5 when we had four awful draws against Bristol City, Hinckley, Luton and Hartlepool before we finally drew the plum in Southampton?

I also would have taken one of the minnows, a Blyth Spartans or a Dover, perhaps, as it would have been great fun to have been in the media spotlight cast as the pantomime villain, as the whole nation geared up to support the underdog.

Such a match would also have helped ensure that we do not became in the slightest bit complacent after our recent run of success and I would have thought that we would have too much about us to become the victim of a giant killing, assuming we went into such a game with the correct attitude.

We have the recent example of the debacle earlier this season at Dagenham to remind us what happens if you take your eye off the ball against any opponents.

All that hopefully will be in the future, as long as we first dispose of Brighton.

I suppose it is a further indication of just how far we have come when a home draw against a decent Championship team was greeted with so little anticipation and a sense even of let down and disappointment.

In the cold light of day it is a more than reasonable draw.

Would any of you have preferred the likes of Doncaster, Rotherham or Cardiff away?

Yes, given the financial climate, the club might need to be clever and creative in its marketing in order to attract a near full house at Griffin Park but I am certainly looking forward to the match, and not simply as a stepping stone to the next round. fa

As we continue to learn to our cost, any match where we are not fully focused and on our game will result in our being punished as teams take ruthless advantage of our mistakes.

Perhaps we will take the opportunity to give a run out to some of the squad members frustrated by their lack of match practice?

It would be good to see the likes of Marcos Tebar, Sam Saunders, Nico Yennaris and, of course, James Tarkowski back in action and demonstrating exactly how strong and committed a squad we really have.

Brighton have under-performed so far this season and might well find the game a welcome distraction from the relegation fight that they surprisingly find themselves in.

Will they see this game as one in which they can play totally without fear and pressure, or will a team bereft of confidence gently subside to another defeat?

The answer to these questions, and more will be revealed, in early January, but I for one am looking forward to a match where we too can play without thinking about league points.

Who knows if we are going to be able to sustain our current level of form and results.

Perhaps we will continue to take the Championship by storm and sustain our challenge for the top six, or dare I even to whisper these words, automatic promotion.

Maybe we will fall away and end up in mid-table, a position that most of us would have gone down on bended knee and begged for at the start of the season.

Whatever happens, the league will take care of itself and the FA Cup provides us with another opportunity to showcase just how far we have come as a club.

Wouldn’t it be marvellous to progress to the Fourth Round and then get a massive televised tie against a Premier League giant where we could strut our stuff against the best, show off our prowess to the nation and allow Mark Warburton to test his wits against a household name?

Maybe it would be the turn of Andre Gray or Jota to thrill and enthral the viewers with their sublime skills?

The money would, of course, come in pretty useful too, but the FA Cup should still be about the glory, and perhaps some fairy dust still awaits the Bees.

But first we need to beat Brighton and I hope that all Brentford supporters will summon up the enthusiasm to be there on the day to shout us onto victory.

Who knows what could await us in the next round?

A Hard Lesson Learned – 27/8/14

Fulham 1It is never a nice feeling when you lose a game, and a defeat to your local rivals is particularly galling.

Brentford huffed and puffed but were unable to make their first half dominance count, and gradually ran out of steam and ideas before subsiding to a narrow one nil Capital One Cup defeat to Fulham.

I am sure that most fans will be feeling a sense of frustration and disappointment today but it is also important, once emotions cool down, to look at things with more perspective and see the wider picture.

Fulham came into the match reeling from their four consecutive Championship defeats, but in reality their team was sharp and incisive on the night, played some lovely patient football and created a plethora of chances.

Away from the pressures of the league, they played with the shackles off and looked exactly what they are – a team packed with high quality, expensive and experienced footballers, some of whom with extensive Premier League and International experience.

Brentford will have learned much from last night, in particular the overriding need to protect and keep the ball better and to be far more incisive and clinical with their chances.

For all Brentford’s possession and dominance, particularly in the first half when Fulham’s narrow diamond formation allowed them much space to attack down the flanks, they created very little in terms of chances and actual shots on goal and after the break, when Fulham opened up more and gained in confidence, the Bees never tested their keeper at all.

The final pass has to improve, and the players need to try something more expansive in the final third of the pitch rather than just take the safe option.

Defences are better and more sophisticated at this level and more guile is needed to break them down, as Brentford are beginning to learn.

In truth, whilst understanding how important this game was to the supporters in terms of local pride, Mark Warburton also needed to rest some tired and aching limbs and give much needed minutes of action and match practice to some of his squad players who were chafing at the bit.

It was tough to reconcile both requirements and, indeed, something had to give.

Brentford missed “big” players like Alan McCormack and in particular, Jonathan Douglas who would have provided a much neeeded protective barrier in front of the back four, which came under a lot of pressure.

We were also denied the midfield prompting, direct running, liveliness on the ball and pure inventiveness of Alan Judge and Alex Pritchard that would surely have opened up the visitor’s defence and created chances for Nick Proschwitz, who replaced Andre Gray up front.

The Spanish trio of Tabar, Jota and debutant Toral played together for the first time in midfield and at times they shone and combined well.

Toral grew into the game and his hard running and delicate ball skills look to be an enticing proposition as he gains in experience and confidence.

Jota too is a real talent and had our two best efforts on goal last night.

We repeated the AFC Bournemouth three card trick from a free kick on the edge of the box, with this time Tabar pushing the ball wide to Toral who placed an instant pass into the path of the third man runner Jota who forced a wonderful save from the keeper.

The Ole’s rang around the stadium.

It was a move touched with genius that deserved a goal.

Inspiration matched with perspiration, and testimony indeed to hours well spent on the training ground.

A clever short corner routine also opened up the Fulham rearguard on the stroke of halftime but Jota’s hard low shot came back off the near post.

Fulham 2Toral headed over too but that was really it in terms of clear chances created in the first half despite the hard running of Dallas and Odubajo’s energetic overlapping from his new right wing back position.

Fulham took over after the break.

Button was alert in goal and Dean and Tarkowski dealt manfully with everything that was thrown at them.

New skipper Bidwell now had his hands full but still managed to break out menacingly down our left flank.

The tide was turning though, and after McCormack had a goal disallowed for offside the breakthrough finally arrived following the best move of the game.

A fast exchange of low passes culminated in McCormack’s one-two with David and a delicate side-footed finish past the stretching goalkeeper Button.

In truth it really didn’t come as a surprise and was well deserved.

It was a move of high quality and the speed and timing of McCormack’s run highlighted why he had cost so much money and it left Tarkowski chasing shadows.

The Bees huffed and puffed but constantly gave the ball away in their final third and dillied and dallied on the ball without getting the ball into the box.

Two late chances for substitute Scott Hogan, finally making his long-awaited debut after injury, and Tommy Smith were sent narrowly over the bar from the edge of the area and that was that.

The game ended with Fulham cutting us open on the break and fully deserving their win.

Had we scored early on when we were on top and Fulham were tentative and still settling into the game, then who knows, maybe we would have taken control and the Fulham heads might have gone down.

As it is the hard facts are that we still await a home win, have yet to keep a clean sheet and have gone behind in every game so far this season.

As I said, a tough learning curve.

We could have made it easier for ourselves by fielding a stronger team last night, but it is a marathon and not a sprint and something had to give in terms of using the entire squad.

We might be licking our wounds today but in the long run, easing the likes of Jota and Toral into the team is no bad thing.

We were beaten, and it hurts to have lost the local bragging rights, but we move on and frankly the Rotherham match, on Saturday, is far more important to our season – and we will still have two more opportunities to gain some element of revenge!

Excitement? – You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet! – 14/8/14

I did my best to stay awake last night through ninety minutes of sheer, unalloyed tedium, halfheartedly watching Cardiff City meander past a horribly inept, disjointed and disinterested Coventry City side in the televised Capital One Cup match on Sky Sports.

fulMy interest was slightly piqued at seeing ex-Bees Simon Moore and Kadeem Harris in the Cardiff squad.

Moore was largely untroubled in goal and could pretty much have taken a book out onto the pitch with him, so insipid were Coventry, and Harris looked as if he had scored a well taken winning goal after a typical lung bursting run, but the replay showed that it was an own goal.

I was waiting for the opening act to finish before the main part of the evening’s proceedings – the hugely anticipated draw for the second round of the Capital One Cup.

Cup draws are normally carefully choreographed, bland and anodyne, but this one was shambolic and went spectacularly wrong.

Cues were missed, teams were misidentified and utter chaos reigned with the inept presenter resembling a rabbit caught in headlights.

But out of the confusion and incompetence one fact remained totally clear – Brentford had been drawn at home to Fulham.

The Bees had received an incredible windfall and an unexpected and perhaps even undeserved reward for Tuesday’s laboured and inglorious victory over Dagenham in that twelve goal thriller.

You wait seventeen years to play Fulham in a competitive match and then, like buses, three come along all at once.

The Championship match at Griffin Park in November has already been selected for live television coverage so the cup clash might not be similarly chosen, but all will be revealed in the next few days.

But wider coverage does not matter a fig – this is a private battle between two bitter local rivals.

Our paths have crossed a few times in cup competitions since the late eighties.

The two teams were drawn together in the Football League Cup in 1988/89 when a goal after eighteen seconds from Andy Sinton and that remarkable long range Exocet from Roger Stanislaus which has gone down in folklore, gave us a 2-2 draw at Craven Cottage.

fulThe Bees came out on top in the second leg when Gary Blissett’s extra time goal gave us victory in a match best remembered for an unsavoury incident which saw Fulham striker Gordon Davies stretchered off unconscious with Jamie Bates protesting his innocence and later being questioned by the police.

In the same season Brentford won a totally uneventful Sherpa Van Trophy match by two goals to nil at the Cottage.

The nineties again saw several Cup clashes between the two teams.

Graham Benstead gave a goalkeeping master class in a 1-1 Leyland DAF clash on a freezing night at Fulham who totally dominated the proceedings.

In 1992/93 Brentford were comfortable winners by four goals to nil on aggregate over two legs of a tame Coca Cola Cup First Round clash.

Fulham took some semblance of revenge the last time the two teams played against each other in a Cup tie in November 1995, when Tamer Fernandes allowed a harmless cross to squirm out of his grasp and drop just over the goal line to give Fulham a narrow victory in an Auto Windscreens Shield match.

As if this season wasn’t already exciting enough, now we have something extra special to look forward to.

This new campaign has already got off to a dramatic start with our home opener against Charlton followed by the non stop thrills and spills of the twelve goal cup tie with Dagenham & Redbridge, all underpinned by the drama, or rather, soap opera of the ongoing Adam Forshaw transfer saga.

Excitement? You ain’t seen nothing yet!