That’s It For Now – 25/5/16

It has certainly been a long, hard season jammed full of ups and downs.

We have been taken to the heights and also plummeted to the depths.

I cannot think of another season in which our fortunes have fluctuated so much, so wildly and to so great an extent.

Thankfully we ended on a real high and we are now all looking forward to the next season with a real sense of anticipation and excitement.

I fully expect that the close season will also be jam-packed with activity as some players arrive and perhaps others will leave.

Maybe there will also be more positive news about progress on the new stadium at Lionel Road?

In any case I am sure that there will be much to ponder on and write about.

That leads me onto this blog.

I wasn’t sure if there was the overall interest in my continuing to write it throughout last season or if I could also summon up the energy and enthusiasm to keep it going.

My ego also demanded that if I did, then it would have to be good enough in terms of its content and style to ensure that it was up to scratch.

I am glad that I did carry on as there was always something new to write about – some good – some bad, and I have really enjoyed myself and I hope that you all have too.

It has been worth the late nights and early mornings and staring at a empty computer screen willing my brain into action.

After writing the best part of three hundred thousand words, I am now going to have my own break, firstly to have a rest and recharge my batteries and also to finish off my next book.

Growing Pains will feature the best/worst of the blog and will cover in detail all of the key events of last season, both on and off the field.

For those fed up with me, it will also include lots of fantastic and illuminating specially commissioned articles and forewords from insiders and experts such as:

  • Matthew Benham
  • Cliff Crown
  • Phil Giles
  • Tom Moore
  • Billy Reeves
  • Phil Parry
  • Jim Levack

They, and several others will be providing their own thoughts and assessment on what happened last season and, more importantly, how we will do next season.

There will also be a fascinating update on how Mark Warburton has been doing in his new role at Glasgow Rangers.

Hopefully there will be something for everyone to enjoy.

The book will be published within the next six weeks or so and I will provide you all with updates as soon as I have more news.

As for next season… Who knows? Again I feel a bit conflicted as I do not want simply to produce more of the same.

I am not sure if I have anything new to say although I’m certain that what transpires at Griffin Park will provide me with lots of fresh ammunition.

That is a decision for another day assuming that some of you actually want to keep reading what I write.

In the meantime thank you to everyone of you who has read what I have written or posted a comment or even provided an article.

I am eternally grateful to all of you.

Have a good Summer!

My Not So Beautiful Laundrette – 19/5/16

Ian Westbrook is an old friend of mine and we have been exchanging Brentford memories and war stories for more years than I, and I suspect he, would like to remember. He and his brother Hugh, as well as their late father, David, have been fervent Brentford supporters for decades now and the baton has also been passed down to the next generation with Ian and Hugh’s children too. Ian has provided today’s article which deftly provides his answer to the difficult problem I am sure most of us have faced at some point. How are you supposed to keep in touch with the Bees when you are not at the match and marooned abroad? I hope you enjoy reading about his adventures which clearly demonstrate his ingenuity and determination not to miss out:

Where is the weirdest place you have been to follow a Brentford game that you were unable to attend?

I have kept in touch with the Bees’ progress in all the usual spots when I have had to miss a game – listening to Bees Player at home or at work, following scores on BBC Radio London and Beesotted’s excellent Twitter service while on the move, via Soccer Saturday or thanks to text updates from friends who had been there.

But the start of this season provided me with a new dilemma because we had to take our family holiday straight after the opening match against Ipswich. Our two weeks in the USA, split between New York and Boston, covered the away games at Bristol City and Burnley, both due to start at ten o’clock local time, and, at a quarter to three, our time, the home matches with Oxford and Birmingham and I was the only person who wasn’t too unhappy when that one was called off.

Clearly we weren’t going to be sitting in our hotel room until midday waiting for the Saturday matches to finish, or staying in all afternoon for the evening games, so I accepted that we would have to wait to learn the scores while out and about. First up was the Capital One Cup tie with Oxford. As the game kicked off, my wife, son and I were enjoying one of the best tourist things we did on our holiday – walking across the Brooklyn Bridge back into Manhattan. My son and I noted that the match was under way, but didn’t worry ourselves too much while we enjoyed the skyscrapers becoming ever bigger as we approached one of the main parts of the Big Apple in hot sunshine.

Once over the bridge and around half an hour into the game, we spotted a Starbucks and nipped in to use the Wi-Fi to check up on our progress. The first score we saw was three-nil to the visitors and I was relieved we hadn’t known that while halfway across the bridge, or who knows what we may have done!

Next up Bristol City – and a relaxed start to the day meant that we could enjoy the kick-off and dulcet tones of Mark Burridge in our New York hotel room. We went out after that to a street festival and were out of touch with proceedings in the West Country until around twenty minutes from time when my son and I persuaded my wife and daughter that it would be good to spend some time in a café, which just happened to have Wi-Fi. We were inside in time to hear Philipp Hofmann seal the points and celebrated with iced coffee!

A week later we were in Boston – and following the match at Turf Moor proved a whole lot harder. We managed to grab an early update, including Burnley’s goal, while in a shop but a tram journey and walk through the boiling hot streets were enjoyable but football-free. The match was well into the second half by this stage and we had no way of knowing whether we had got back into the match as we strolled through a suburb. But suddenly we found a small parade of shops and on closer inspection one had Wi-Fi – not the lovely baker with the smell of fresh bread wafting out on to the pavement, but the laundrette next door. Unattractive it may have been but it had the connection I needed – and it worked too, and I settled down to watch other people’s clothes spin round in the massive machines as Mark Burridge’s voice finally filled my headphones.

It was a frustrating final fifteen minutes as Brentford tried and failed to snatch a point and my emotions as Konstantin Kerschbaumer shot over the bar and then a Harlee Dean header was blocked must have looked very strange to the woman emptying clothes into a basket, and even stranger when I showed my disappointment as Burnley cleaned up to take the points.

There were a couple of other matches during 2015/16 that I followed from afar. At the end of October, my son did his now annual race in the junior Great South Run in Portsmouth. We have been to this event on numerous occasions, usually having to miss a Bees home game in the process. We had never been able to get our football fix as Pompey had always been away – but as luck would have it, this year they were due to play at home to Mansfield. With my son’s race finishing at two – far too late to get to The Valley to cheer on the Bees – we walked over to Fratton Park, had the luxury of paying on the day and found ourselves in the end split between home and away fans. The game finished goalless but on at least a couple of occasions, we drew odd glances as we started celebrating when not much was going on in front of us – because we’d found out that Brentford had scored at Charlton!

More recently, I had to follow some of the Huddersfield game on the final day of the season via London Underground Wi-Fi on the way to work. The Wi-Fi works at lots of the stations on the tube – but it disappears in tunnels so it needs firing up each time the train is at a platform. I’d followed the first half and early stages of the second with Bees Player at home – and on my five-minute walk to our local tube station heard both the Terriers’ equaliser and then Scott Hogan restoring our lead. As the reception cut out when we moved into our first underground tunnel – the commentary remarkably kept on going, so while I was a long way under the city itself I heard Hogan making it 3-1 as it happened! I also heard Lasse Vibe’s goal while connected at another station but missed John Swift’s effort.

Our USA trip wasn’t the first time we had been away during the football season. In December 2002, we made a trip to Australia to visit family – missing several Brentford games. I can remember receiving a phone call from a now dearly departed friend with the result of our LDV Vans Trophy match against Kidderminster whilst in view of Sydney Harbour Bridge.
But the strangest way, in the pre-Bees Player and Wi-Fi days, we found out a result during the holiday occurred on the weekend before Christmas. We had driven halfway along the famous Great Ocean Road and were spending the night in an amazing bungalow close to a town called Apollo Bay. The accommodation was a long way up a hill – so high in fact that when a mist rolled in across the ocean at a rapid rate, we were above the band of cloud which appeared. Family at home knew that I, together with my Leyton Orient-supporting father-in-law, were keen to find out our Saturday results so had arranged to have them phoned through to the complex. First thing Sunday morning, we had a knock on the door from a member of hotel staff clutching a piece of paper in her hand with a message that meant absolutely nothing to her – but everything to us! It was from that handwritten note that we learned the Bees had drawn at Loftus Road and Orient had won at Swansea’s Vetch Field.

Novel as all these result-finding methods are – I can honestly say that I still prefer actually being at the game itself!

End Of Term Report – Part 3 – 17/5/16

Here are my thoughts on the remaining members of the Brentford squad as well as the players who left us during the season :

21. Lasse Vibe. Danish international striker Lasse Vibe signed for the Bees for around one million pounds from IFK Göteborg shortly before the beginning of the season and went straight from playing in the Swedish Allsvenskan to the Championship without the benefit of any preseason break. He found a place in the team playing firstly on the right flank  where he was a peripheral influence but he scored his first goal with a stunning long-range curling effort against Reading when moved into a more central role. He played alongside Marco Djuricin but won a regular place in the team as the sole striker after Djuricin’s injury against Blackburn. From then on Vibe pretty much trod a lone furrow up front until Scott Hogan’s recovery from injury late on in the season and eventually the pressure told on him and his effectiveness greatly diminished as he was slowed down by the effects of fatigue and overwork. After scoring with a fulminating volley against Huddersfield in mid-December he went over three months without scoring and clearly demonstrated that he was not best suited to the physical demands of playing as a target man. Smash the ball at or over his head and he would always come off second best against giant central defenders who totally outmuscled him and invariably won the physical battle, and with his confidence shot to pieces, he went on a ghastly run of poor performances marked by a series of missed chances and scuffed shots. He had hit the wall and the Championship was proving a tough learning curve for him. No striker scored for the Bees from the second of January until the second of April, a run of twelve matches that saw only eleven goals scored by Brentford and the abyss was beckoning until everything changed in the March international break. Vibe went away with the Danish squad and returned a new man, apparently revitalised by his international recall. Suddenly there was a spring in his step and his luck finally turned. Firstly when loanee Leandro Rodríguez suffered a hamstring injury which necessitated his withdrawal from the fray at Nottingham Forest and his replacement by Vibe and then when home defender Kevin Wilson’s gaffe gifted him a goal. Finally the floodgates opened as with confidence restored he went on a wonderful run of seven goals in seven games, and what goals they were. Close range tap-ins, flying headers, sumptuous outside of the foot finishes and long-range rockets. Everything he touched flew in and he ended up as equal top scorer with the highly creditable total of fourteen goals. More importantly, we learned to play to his strengths as his pace and vision enabled him to time his runs and get in behind defenders and he looked twice the player he had been just weeks earlier. The fans took to him from the beginning because he never let his head go down even when things were not going well for him and he was always a chaser of lost causes. He played with a smile on his face and the crowd responded to him. How far has he come in so short a time? A few weeks ago and I would not have been too upset if he had decided to leave at the end of the season, now I can’t wait to see if he can improve even more next season.

22. Jack O’Connell. Jack had a frustrating season as he was never able to establish himself in the team but at times he certainly looked the part in our central defence. He twice enjoyed runs of four and then three consecutive matches after Dean and Barbet’s red cards but he was unable to keep his place given the strong competition he faced. He scored a goal from a corner against Fulham and, unlike our other central defenders, he always looked dangerous at set pieces, and but for a brilliant save he would have repeated the dose in the home match against our old rivals at Griffin Park. At twenty-two he is still a youngster and he could yet develop into an excellent defender and a real asset. He lacks pace but reads the game well, is strong in the air and is no mug with the ball at his feet. I hope that he is patient and that we find a role for him next season.

23. Jota. Who could ever have imagined Brentford doing so well despite Jota starting only one game all season? Jonathan Douglas’s rugged challenge cost Jota damaged ankle ligaments which required surgery to repair and he had barely returned to the substitutes’ bench in December when personal issues forced his return to Spain, initially on loan to Eibar. Brentford treated him with sensitivity and compassion given the circumstances and we will simply have to wait and see whether he will be in a position to return within the next year or if we have seen the last of the Spanish maestro. I personally doubt that he will play for us again and, if so, we will need to maximise our return for him which will not be easy given that he will, I am sure, only wish to sign for a Spanish team. As for replacing him, you can’t, as how do you find another genius?

24. Akaki (Andy) Gogia. Andy Gogia was another foreign prospect signed on a free transfer from the lower leagues in Germany. A quick and tricky winger, he impressed with his pace, skill and energy in the preseason friendly against Stoke and scored with a deflected long-range effort. He started the season in the first team but it soon became clear that he needed time to get used to the pace and physicality of the Championship and also become more accustomed and attuned to living and working in a foreign country. His cause was also hindered by some niggly injuries and he never started a match after the beginning of October. He impressed in the Development Squad and looked more direct and effective when coming off the bench late on in the season. Hopefully he will be one for next season and he will surely receive another opportunity given that we will be looking for a new winger.

27. David Button. At twenty-seven years of age, and coming off his second consecutive season as an everpresent in the Brentford team, David Button is probably not yet at his peak and might improve even more, but he has firmly established himself as one of the most consistent and talented goalkeepers in the Championship. What a bargain he has proved to be since we rescued him from the depths of the Charlton Athletic reserve team for a mere one hundred and fifty thousand pounds. He certainly received sufficient practice last season as he faced more shots on goal than any other keeper in the league and he invariably met and overcame the challenge. He was directly responsible for only two goals, at home to both Middlesbrough and Charlton but otherwise he was reliable, dependable, consistent and also inspired and brilliant on occasion. His save from Garner at Preston was stupendous and one of the moments of the season and at times he seemed to be playing Derby County on his own at Griffin Park. He can still sometimes be tentative and vulnerable when dealing with crosses but he is otherwise technically extremely sound and invariably gets the basics right. His use of the ball when in possession was as calm and accurate as ever and he started so many of our attacks as well as providing a wonderful assist for Alan Judge’s goal against Sheffield Wednesday. Button now has a tough decision to make given that his contract expires at the end of next season. Should he seek pastures new or extend his contract at the club? He is guaranteed first team football in a young and improving team at Griffin Park, but could he do better professionally and financially elsewhere? The latest indications are that he might well decide to stay and every Brentford fan will fervently hope that this is the case as we are very fortunate to have him.

28. Nico Yennaris. Last season was a coming of age for Nico whose career at Brentford had appeared to be drifting into oblivion and many were surprised when his loan move to Wycombe Wanderers was not made permanent. Maxime Colin’s injury changed everything and Lee Carsley gave him the opportunity to deputise for him. Nico played like a man inspired, tough, tenacious in the challenge and eager to overlap, he ensured that Colin was barely missed and Nico was unfortunate to lose his place when the Frenchman recovered. His consistency was rewarded with a new three year contract, a move that initially attracted much criticism from some Brentford supporters but Dean Smith knew exactly what he was doing and the decision is now looking an extremely good one. He believed in Nico who was converted into a highly effective defensive midfielder who played a massive part in our late season success. He was all-action and all-energy, relentless in his tackling and pressing but he also showed his great ability on the ball and he passed it quickly and accurately. Nico was ideally suited for Brentford’s pass and move approach and he also scored two well-taken goals. From a player who at one time seemed to be going nowhere except out of the exit door, Nico proved to be a revelation and ended the season as the most improved player in the team and enjoying life playing for the first time for a Head Coach who believed in him. Of all the stories of the season, Nico’s was perhaps the most positive, surprising and satisfying.

29. Yoann Barbet. The best that I can say about French central defender Yoann Barbet’s progress is that the departed James Tarkowski has barely been missed. Signed from Chamois Niortais for a fee of around half a million pounds he was another unknown player from abroad who was definitely seen as one for the future. He impressed in his initial first team appearances as he vied with Jack O’Connell to be the deputy for the first choice partnership of Dean and Tarkowski, but his big opportunity came with the departure of Tarkowski and he certainly seized it. He received a temporary setback after an unfortunate red card at Sheffield Wednesday but he learned from the experience and soon scored his first goal for the club against Charlton. He proved to be a rugged defender who loves a slide tackle and he showed a good turn of pace. He also demonstrated great skill on the ball and sprayed long and accurate passes out to the right wing, memorably assisting on a wonderful goal for Alan Judge at Preston. He has adapted quickly and well to his new surroundings and is another star in the making for the Bees.

36. Josh Clarke. Josh certainly made the most of the opportunity given him to develop his skills as a fast, overlapping fullback and fought his way into the first team. Everybody loves a local boy made good, and his pace, enthusiasm and attacking brio shone through. He obtained some valuable experience on loan at Barnet, started four matches for Brentford and also impressed when coming off the bench, helping to make Scott Hogan’s late equaliser against Bristol City. He has been offered a new contract for next season and I hope that he decides to remain at the club, as at only twenty-one years of age there is still time for Josh to emerge and develop into a regular first team player.

37. Courtney Senior. Still only eighteen, Courtney Senior impressed in the preseason friendly at Boreham Wood showing pace and skill on the right wing. He made his first team debut against Oxford United and twice was an unused substitute before returning to the Development Squad for the remainder of the season. His time has yet to come, but he is a real talent.

39. Tom Field. Tom made an assured and highly competent debut as a nineteen year-old deputy for the injured Jake Bidwell in the local derby against Fulham. He showed great composure and an excellent temperament. He was never overawed by the occasion, defended well and also swung in a perfect right wing corner which was thrashed into the net by Scott Hogan. Another one for the future, and better still, he comes from a Brentford supporting family.

47. Sergi Canos. A total breath of fresh air, Sergi arrived on loan as an unknown eighteen year-old from Liverpool via Barcelona’s academy. He left the club with his head held high as a firm fan favourite having scored seven times in thirty-eight games and he totally surpassed expectations and proved to be a massive success. He so obviously loved every minute of his stay and played with enthusiasm, a smile on his face and with a real joie de vivre. Given his age and lack of experience he was inconsistent but he possessed the ability to turn a game on its head as both Preston North End and Nottingham Forest discovered to their cost and he was always full of tricks. He worked hard and learned how to track back but he had the pace, dribbling ability and sheer ability to create havoc at the other end of the pitch, netting after a mere twenty-one seconds at Huddersfield and scoring unforgettable goals at Reading and MK Dons. He made a massive impression on everybody at the club and we all took great pride and joy in his achievement when he made his Premier League debut for Liverpool on the last day of the season. Have we seen the last of him? Maybe but perhaps not, as if he is not considered good enough for Liverpool’s squad next season or does not agree a new contract, then perhaps he might yet return to Griffin Park and thrill and inspire us once more?

Andre Gray, Toumani Diagouraga, James Tarkowski, Ryan Williams, Josh Laurent, Leandro Rodríguez and Jermaine Udumaga all made appearances for the Bees this season before leaving the club. It was a forgone conclusion that Gray would go elsewhere and move up the food chain as he was a star in the making andcoveted by clubs who could pay him far more than us and we also had to sell him in order not to fall foul of Financial Fair Play restrictions. He played twice for us, firstly as a late substitute against Ipswich where he helped turn the game in our favour and scored a well-taken goal bursting down the middle at pace to put us back into a game that seemed lost. He and Philipp Hofmann also played together at Bristol City and terrified the opposition with Gray scoring with a perfect half volley at the near post as well as contributing to two other Brentford goals. He clearly demonstrated that he was a man in form and one who would take the division by storm – but unfortunately it was for Burnley and not us. Toumani Diagouraga was a wonderful servant of the club but we did well to extract a half million pound fee from Leeds for a player whose performances had declined from their impossibly high level of the previous season. He was no longer such a dominating influence on proceedings and his game suffered from the absence of Douglas alongside him, which forced Toumani to attempt tackles far more often, something that was not one of his strengths. He left with our gratitude and best wishes. The same cannot be said for James Tarkowski who acted in a totally unprofessional manner by virtue of his decision to down tools before the Burnley home game. As with Gray, we extracted a high fee for him and the progress made by Barbet means that he has hardly been missed. Tarkowski was his normal frustrating self, combining moments of brilliance both in defending and on the ball with times when he lost concentration, over-reached himself and cost us dear. Leandro Rodríguez was a loan signing from Everton who was brought in to support the flagging Lasse Vibe. He pulled a hamstring in his second match before he really had the chance to show us anything and returned to his parent club. Laurent, Williams and Udumaga all made brief appearances without convincing the club that they had what it takes to merit further opportunities.

Easy Pickings! – 1/5/16

I took my Fulham supporting friend, Phil, to the local derby at Griffin Park yesterday afternoon and warned him not to make an exhibition of himself when seated in the Braemar Road stand, wear black and white or do anything else that might out him and reveal his true allegiance. If truth be told, the only time he became animated during what turned out to be a long and trying afternoon for him was when he heard his fellow Fulham fans jeering their team with an heartfelt and scornful chorus of you’re not fit to wear the shirt and it was only with difficulty that he managed to restrain himself from joining in, and I honestly could not have blamed him if he had.

I am reliably informed that back in the day, the Fulham programme used to include a prominently placed advertisement for The Samaritans and given their abject surrender and total lack of fight I suspect that it will not be too long before it reappears, and I can certainly think of one angry and sadly disillusioned supporter who might well avail himself of their services.

Fulham were a total disgrace on the day, lacking drive, positivity and commitment and really were not at all up for the fight. The fact that it was supposed to be a keenly contested local derby with West London bragging rights up for grabs barely seemed to have registered with them and they ran up the white flag and surrendered from the moment when Brentford hit them hard and early and scored two goals within the first seven minutes of the game.

Their highly paid team of mercenaries capitulated without a struggle or a whimper and for all their possession and neat football they barely threatened and apart from Ross McCormack who drifted in and out of the game but struck the woodwork twice and forced David Button into his only action of what was perhaps one of his easiest afternoons of the season, Brentford were the only team who looked as if they had any interest in either competing or scoring goals.

The Bees, by contrast were fully aware of how much this match meant for their supporters and how poorly they had played at QPR recently abd put in a massive shift in order to ensure that we all went home happy.

The quality of their performance was all the more praiseworthy and meritorious given how ludicrously stretched were our resources and our eighteen-man squad included two Academy products in Reece Cole, who spent the match on the bench and young left back Tom Field who made a remarkably composed and assured debut when surprisingly given the nod to replace the injured Jake Bidwell, who missed his first match of the season.

Lasse Vibe, Marco Djuricin and Alan McCormack were also late injury absentees and our selection problems for this match simply mirrored what has invariably been the case pretty much every week since last August as there has been a nonstop and seemingly ever-growing procession of players who have missed large chunks of the season, and yesterday was no different with the likes of Macleod, Bjelland, McEachran and Judge joining Bidwell, Vibe, Djuricin and McCormack on the injured list.

Hopefully we have now used up all our bad luck and next season will see us have a near full strength squad from which to choose. Scott Hogan, as last man standing, made his first ever Championship start for the Bees and Sam Saunders joined Woods, Yennaris, Canos and Kerschbaumer in a small but mobile midfield quintet.

Any nerves were settled within the opening seven minutes which saw the Bees take the game to their opponents who could not cope with their energy, drive, pressing, direct running and movement off the ball.

The appalling Ashley Richards, a total liability at right back where he proved to be a one-man fifth column before his merciful substitution at the interval, was forced back towards his own goal by Field and was robbed of the ball on halfway by Canos, perhaps illegally, but Mr.Haywood who let the game flow admirably all afternoon, saw no evil and Sam Saunders made a lung-bursting break from his own half and was criminally allowed to run opposed towards the edge of the Fulham penalty area. Canos picked him out perfectly and Sam’s finish was audacious, instantaneous and immaculate as he flicked the ball perfectly over the advancing Bettinelli with his first touch.

Fulham resorted to bickering amongst themselves and Parker and Ince gave their hapless teammate a real mouthful and the game was won and lost in that instant. Even better was to come when Yennaris and Woods combined to win the ball back in midfield, and Kerschbaumer played a perfect first time through ball in between the two slow and lumbering central defenders Ream and Stearman who were dozing in the sunshine blithely unaware of the danger, like a pair of wildebeest in the Serengeti totally oblivious to the presence of a lioness lurking in the long grass. Scott Hogan was too quick in both thought and action for both of them, he was switched on and alert and ran on unopposed and finished perfectly and without fuss into the corner.

Fulham were stunned and out for the count and spent the remainder of the half passing the ball sideways and backwards, going absolutely nowhere. Brentford pressed, harried and defended in numbers and never gave an inch and it came as little surprise when they stretched their lead from their first corner when Field’s perfect inswinger was thrashed into the roof of the net by the predatory Hogan – who else?

McCormack might have made a game of it right on halftime but squandered an excellent opportunity, hitting Button’s post when given a clear sight of goal and Fulham heads went down even further and team left the field to a deafening crescendo of boos and jeers.

Hogan had taken some knocks and sensibly was not risked after the break and he has now scored an impressive and unlikely five goals from eight attempts at goal in little more than ninety minutes of action and yet despite his absence there was no respite for Fulham who were as yellow as their shirts, as Canos went up top and ran his opponents ragged.

Fulham had most of the possession as the home team invited them onto them, but it was the Bees who created the best chances when they repeatedly used their pace and cohesion to create havoc in a demoralised defence. Kerschbaumer and Canos both might have scored twice but for Bettinelli who also saved brilliantly from O’Connell’s rising effort.

All three substitutes, Jack O’Connell, Andy Gogia and Josh Clarke played a full part in the victory and Gogia joined Kerschbaumer in coming so close to his first ever Brentford goal when he curled an exquisite late effort inches wide.

All fourteen Bees were heroes with Field making an exceptional debut before suffering a calf injury and he was given support and encouragement by all his teammates who talked him through the game. Both Dean and Barbet were peerless and largely snuffed out the threat of McCormack and second half substitute Dembele and Max Colin was also back to his imperious best. Woods, Saunders and Yennaris dominated the midfield and Alan McCormack’s physicality was barely missed.

Unfortunately this might well be the last that we see of Sergi Canos at Griffin Park and if so, he will have left on a high as he has been wonderful for us and we have been equally good for him. He can hardly have expected to have played thirty-seven times in the Championship as a nineteen year old and with six goals, including that incredible effort at Reading, his contribution has been immense and he has lifted everyone with his coltish enthusiasm and all he lacks is a tail to wag.

Fulham were rightly described as an embarrassment and shameful by their manager, Slaviša Jokanović and I suspect that there will be a clear-out at Craven Cottage given how narrow has been their escape from relegation to League One. In contrast, Brentford played as a team and this was their sixth win in a magical month that has seen them gain the incredible tally of nineteen points and score the same number of goals and rise from the edge of the relegation zone to the dizzy heights of tenth place in the Championship.

This is an incredible achievement which I will dissect in much more depth after our final game next weekend but so much credit is due to everyone at the club as well as the fans for the way in which we have all pulled together and this unity has been rewarded with a resurgence in results, performances and confidence despite the nagging and ever-present  problems caused by injuries and exhaustion.

The squad has been tested to its fullest extent and every player has responded brilliantly and risen to the challenge, and nobody has been found wanting, and despite the recent loss of one of the best players in the Championship in Alan Judge we have clearly demonstrated a grim determination to succeed and have fully deserved to rise up eight places in the league table.

We cannot match the likes of Fulham for the time being in terms of our income, squad numbers and, indeed, overall quality but where we leave them trailing far behind us in our wake is in terms of our spirit, shape, effort, planning, organisation, energy, ethos and determination never to give in, plus of course our exceptional team behind the team..

Brentford are a club to be proud of and Fulham, for all their riches, heritage and tradition could not live with us.

Judgement Day – 12/4/16

Ipswich Town used to be justifiably acclaimed and renowned throughout the football world for the dignified and principled way that they went about their business. Unfortunately things seem to have changed and men of real integrity and class like Bobby Robson and former chairman John Cobbold would doubtless be turning in their grave if they had still been alive to witness the straits that their once great club was reduced to last Saturday.

Not content with crippling Brentford’s star player Alan Judge with a tackle from out of the dark ages Ipswich piled insult onto injury by their blinkered reaction to Luke Hyam’s uncontrolled and dangerous lunge.

There was not a hint of remorse, an apology or even any awareness or an acknowledgement of the seriousness of the situation and the unacceptability of his player’s behaviour from beleaguered manager Mick McCarthy who truly beggared belief when he instead turned matters on their head and attempted to deflect attention away from the incident by bemoaning his club’s apparent misfortune on the day.

Anything that could go wrong, did go wrong, whined McCarthy and he reacted with incredulity to Brentford manager Dean Smith’s remarkably restrained reaction to Hyam’s early challenge (if you can dignify it with that word) which he described as being merely a bit naughty and deserving of a straight red card.

McCarthy replied: I’m disappointed if he’s said that. I think he’s won the ball. I’ve actually complained to the referee as to why it’s a booking if he’s won the ball. I don’t think it’s naughty at all.

I really do not think that his words require further comment from me or any reasonable or objective observer and a cursory look at the match footage renders his claims laughable.

I appreciate that managers are expected to protect their players in public but you cannot defend the indefensible and retain your credibility and McCarthy would have been far better advised to have refrained from saying anything at all if he found it impossible to make the unreserved apology that was without doubt called for.

I have now lost all respect for a man who I had previously considered a decent and intelligent individual – it is amazing what pressure and the disappointment at dropping away from contention for the playoffs does to somebody’s judgement.

His players simply followed their manager’s appalling example. Luke Varney, himself the perpetrator of a two-footed tackle from behind on Ryan Woods after the interval that rivalled Hyam’s earlier attempt for its maliciousness, premeditation and spite gave his team mate the benefit of some quite considerable doubt:

There was no malice in it at all, we all know Luke, he gets stuck in and we’d never stop him doing that. If I thought there was any malice in it I’d know. I’ve had a couple of those tackles off him in training in the last week, he’s that sort of player.

Yes, we do all know Luke and he certainly is that kind of player as his disciplinary record attests.

Hyam himself eventually made a mealy-mouthed, carefully drafted and weaselly attempt at an apology which was as badly timed and directed as his tackle which broke Alan Judge’s leg, in which he asserted that there was nothing malicious in the tackle and I hope Alan recovers quickly.

In other words whilst he regrets the result of his challenge he saw nothing wrong in what he actually did. Incredible!

Players have a duty of care towards their fellow professionals and Hyam totally abrogated his responsibility on Saturday.

We Brentford supporters are still too angry and distraught to give an impartial view so I will let the final words on this subject go to a totally objective observer in former Eire International fullback Paddy Mulligan who certainly did not sit on the fence when asked to comment on what he had seen:

It’s not football as far as I’m concerned. It was a horrible, horrible tackle. It was an over-the-top tackle. It was two-footed and there was absolutely no excuse. The referee didn’t even send the player off. It’s quite incredible really. It was a really nasty tackle.

There really is nothing more to say after that and I only wish that the referee, the hapless Phil Gibbs, had seen the incident in the same light as Mulligan and taken the appropriate action.

The real losers in this situation are Alan Judge, Eire, Brentford FC and our supporters.

Judge has suffered a serious injury as well as the cruel and totally unfair blow of being denied his perhaps once in a lifetime opportunity of playing on a world stage at the forthcoming Euro 2016 tournament, a prize that he had more than deserved after his series of incredible, consistent performances all season where he had been the shining light in the Brentford team and scored fourteen goals and assisted on eleven more. At twenty-seven years of age he is approaching his peak and had just made his full International debut with the promise of more caps to come.

It is hoped that this is a clean break without complications and that he will return to action speedily and without any permanent damage or handicap. At this stage there can be no guarantee that this will be the case and given that Judge is a player who relies upon his acceleration, change of pace and ability to turn quickly, to wreak havoc upon the opposition, who knows if he will return as the player he was and who he was still developing into?

Hard though it is to speculate, it is even possible that this injury will be a terminal blow to his career and we will all have to live with the uncertainty for several months to come. Even if he makes a full recovery he will lose perhaps the best part of a year from what is inevitably a short career as a footballer.

Judge will also lose the opportunity of making a lucrative move in the Summer as it seemed inevitable that he would leave the club perhaps for a team in the Premier League.

Given his quality, commitment and the length of his service to us, no Brentford fan would have begrudged him that move, one that now appears likely to be denied him, at least in the short term.

He would likely have been playing at a higher level than the Bees next season and he fully deserved that opportunity as well as the massively increased salary that he would have earned. Footballers live under the permanent shadow of a career ending injury at any time and cannot be blamed for chasing the money when it is on offer.

There is also a knock-on effect as Brentford too would have been banking on receiving a fee of around three to four million pounds which might well have comprised the greater part of our transfer kitty for the close season. That money will now not be coming into the club and that loss means that we now all have even more reason to figuratively pull on a Burnley shirt and will them onto promotion given the three and a half million pounds that we will receive in bonus payments should they go up to the Premier League.

As for Judge, who knows what happens next? The nightmare scenario is for him to require all or the majority of next season to make a full recovery, play not at all or at best very little for us and then, having been paid by us all season, leave the club next July on a free transfer when his contract expires. Surely that cannot be allowed to happen but the situation might well be out of our control?

Perhaps we will now offer him a new contract which could be considered more carefully by Judge and his agent given the changing circumstances?

Maybe he will be fully fit and playing again before Christmas which will enable us to sell him in the January Transfer Window? That would be the best option in my opinion should Judge still be determined to seek a new challenge elsewhere.

So many questions and imponderables and no immediate answers. As always appears to be the case with Brentford, bad luck seems to strike when all is otherwise going so well.

Whatever happens over the coming months we shall just have to get on with things and make the best out of a difficult situation.

No player, however talented, is irreplaceable and if Alan does leave, or is out of action for a long period then I am sure that moves are already afoot to replace him although we might now be scrambling around to find the necessary funds. Kemar Roofe is the nearest that I have seen to a like-for-like replacement but he might now be well out of our price range.

I will end on a positive and simply thank Alan Judge for all the pleasure, enjoyment and success he has given us and I can clearly picture some of the amazing goals he has scored for us this season like the curler at Charlton, the screamer against Rotherham followed by a rare header and the solo effort against Derby. I can also afford to ignore some of his more interesting efforts from the penalty spot!

He is a crowd pleaser and a player full of effervescence and tricks who has been a privilege and delight to watch. Without him we would probably now be reconciled to visiting the like of Accrington Stanley next season, so we should simply give thanks for what we have already received from him , perhaps even hope for more and wait for the future to sort itself out as it will inevitably do.

I’m Tired – 23/3/16

  • I’m tired of all the infighting between Brentford fans – something that is tearing our great club apart
  • I’m tired of the lack of tolerance and manners being shown by some of our supporters
  • I’m tired of genuine supporters being bullied, abused and denigrated because others disagree with their opinion
  • I’m tired of the toxic atmosphere that seems to pervade everything and everyone in and around the club at the moment
  • I’m tired of reading page after page of endless negativity, arguments, insults and vituperation on all of the message boards
  • I’m tired of reading the sick and appalling comments regarding Dean Smith recently on Twitter, some of them potentially actionable in my opinion
  • I’m tired of having to referee disputes between readers of my own blog site – not something that I ever expected to happen
  • I’m tired of reading comments accusing our best player of selfishness and of not caring about the club
  • I’m tired of being accused of being self-serving and encouraging negativity on BFC Talk when entirely the opposite is true
  • I’m tired of trolls who seek only to cement discord by spreading their poisonous bile
  • I’m tired of the attacks on Matthew Benham without whom…
  • I’m tired of the ceaseless blame culture which is helping to wreck our season
  • I’m tired of my own sour grapes
  • I’m tired of the inquests which should all be delayed until the end of the season when I am certain that lessons will be learned and changes will be made
  • I’m tired of the massive over promising from the club which has led to unrealistically raised expectations
  • I’m tired of self-proclaimed experts spouting off and pontificating
  • I’m tired of know-it-alls who seem to be taking a positive delight and glorying in our current misfortune
  • I’m tired of not enjoying anything at the moment regarding Brentford FC both on and off the pitch
  • I’m tired of not being able to persuade any of my friends to come and watch us play this year
  • I’m tired of watching a vibrant, brilliant and exciting team that played without fear become boring, slow, pedestrian and mediocre
  • I’m tired of having to make excuses when in reality we are totally underperforming
  • I’m tired of watching players who are simply not up to scratch do their best to compete in the harsh world of the Championship
  • I’m tired of an obsession becoming a chore
  • I’m tired of going to sleep worrying about the Bees and waking up doing exactly the same
  • I’m tired of this season
  • I’m tired of going to away games recently expecting nothing
  • I’m tired of going to home games recently expecting nothing
  • I’m tired of losing games week after week
  • I’m tired of counting off the games until the end of the season
  • I’m tired of praying that there will be three Championship teams even more inept than us
  • I’m tired of bemoaning just how far we have fallen so quickly and how easily it might have been avoided
  • I’m tired of waiting for a striker to score a goal for us
  • I’m tired of waiting for Harlee Dean to score for us
  • I’m tired of waiting for us to get more players into the opposition penalty area
  • I’m tired of waiting for us to show bravery and attempt positive passes rather than go backwards and sideways
  • I’m tired of the disgusting behaviour of some of our supporters at away games
  • I’m tired of the barracking of some of our players during and after recent matches
  • I’m tired of waiting in vain for a referee to do his job and send an opponent off after he has tried to cut one of our players in two
  • I’m tired of horrid abuse being laughed off and excused as mere banter
  • I’m tired of our never ending injury jinx
  • I’m tired of excuses
  • I’m tired of feeling disappointed and conflicted about us struggling in the Championship when I would have given my eye teeth to have merely got there a few years ago
  • I’m tired of rumours and innuendos that are never backed up or substantiated
  • I’m tired of our inflexibility in our approach towards transfers
  • I’m tired of waiting for Championship tested players to arrive in order to reinforce our beleaguered squad
  • I’m tired of thinking about the furore there will be if tomorrow ends without another loan signing
  • I’m tired of asking kids to do a man’s job
  • I’m tired of pointless comparisons between Lee Carsley and Dean Smith
  • I’m tired of people failing to recognise that we have a Head Coach and not a Manager
  • I’m tired of supporters not accepting that Dean Smith plays a key role in player identification and recruitment
  • I’m tired of nonstop and ignorant criticism of Dean Smith which does not take into account the problems he is facing
  • I’m tired of continual references to Mark Warburton and how he was fired
  • I’m tired of fans bemoaning the lack of news and PR from the club and then complaining when the likes of Matthew Benham and Phil Giles are interviewed by supporters
  • I’m tired of the mainstream football media treating us like a laughing stock and just hoping and waiting for us to implode
  • I’m tired of Adrian Durham and his mindless shock jock jeering
  • I’m tired of Pitchgate
  • I’m tired of us shooting ourselves in the foot
  • I’m tired of the thought of the supporters of other relegation haunted clubs like Rotherham, MK Dons and Fulham taking comfort from the obvious dissension in our ranks
  • I’m tired of waiting for the Lionel Road CPO decision to be announced
  • I’m tired of counting off the days, months and years until we arrive at Lionel Road and just hoping that we can survive in the Championship until then
  • I’m tired of being patronised and laughed at by my Watford and Queens Park Rangers supporting friends
  • I’m tired of all the moaning about our association with FC Midtjylland
  • I’m tired of all the pointless match day parking restrictions around Griffin Park
  • I’m tired of all the ignorant criticism about our set pieces which are greatly improved this season
  • I’m tired of living in fear of being hit by the damn ball in Ealing Road
  • I’m tired of conspiracy theorists spouting nonsense about Matthew Benham’s plans for us
  • I’m tired of waiting for our Academy to develop some worthwhile prospects
  • I’m tired of our slavish devotion to a 4-2-3-1 formation when we do not possess the players to suit it
  • I’m tired of reading about Jota’s accomplishments back in Spain when I want him back with us
  • I’m tired of poor Lewis Macleod’s never ending bad luck and injury traumas and feel so sorry for him
  • I’m tired of having to remind people that we need to remain united if we are to survive this season unscathed
  • I’m tired of waiting for next season when hopefully we can repair some of the damage that has been inflicted this season
  • I’m tired of writing this blog

Pointing The Finger! – 22/3/16

Immediately after the disappointment of the Blackburn Rovers defeat on Saturday I gave my suggestions concerning what we should do next and how the team and management should use the International Break productively in order to both rest up and also prepare for the next crucial batch of eight matches in April which will decide our immediate fate.

I also suggested that a change of formation as well as approach would probably serve us well as if the way we are playing at the moment continually fails to provide results, as has been the case, then you need to change it or risk more failure.

Rightly or wrongly it has always been my stated policy to provide Brentford supporters of all persuasions with the platform within this column to express their own opinions. Sometimes I agree with them to a greater or lesser extent, more often I do not, but despite our differences we all share a passion for the Bees and are in awe of what Matthew Benham has done to revitalise our club, and it also provides a catalyst for other supporters to respond and have their say.

Lately emotions and tempers have been rising and patience and tolerance are in short supply, hardly surprising given the events since the turn of the year and I can well understand why people feel the way that they do.

By sharing conflicting opinions on the club I am not trying to rebel rouse, neither am I aiming to cause mischief or gain attention for myself and I have urged us supporters many times to unite and get behind our team at such a crucial time when perhaps our ambitious plans for the immediate future are at risk should we return to the lower divisions. Inquests and recriminations can wait until later.

I fully intend to continue as I have done and today welcome back Jim Levack who has been a regular contributor to this column and he now shares his view about what is happening at the club, how we have allowed ourselves to get into this mess and what can be done to improve matters and I concur with some but not all of what he has to say:

In almost half a century of watching Brentford I can’t recall a time when the club has been more riven by division than now. Fans fighting fans, terrace arguments, acrimonious and frequently personal internet battles, the current situation is sad beyond belief.

Not even during the dark days of Webb and Noades were the fans so divided over the right way to take the club forward. I have my own personal view of where the blame lies for this rift but it’s an opinion far too unpopular and incendiary to ever share.

Irrespective of what I think, one message board has almost four thousand posts on the subject of Dean Smith and a relatively low thirteen hundred on the subject of the Co-Directors of Football.

And that, in a nutshell, is the problem.

Because Phil Giles and Rasmus Ankersen are Matthew Benham’s right hand men, they have inexplicably escaped much of the criticism for the current slide towards the trapdoor.

Why? Their job is, as the club widely and foolishly proclaimed last season, to identify undiscovered talent with potential to avoid paying the ludicrous transfer fees and wages that make other clubs financially unstable.

I say foolishly because the second we did so and effectively got rid of Mark Warburton – no, he wasn’t sacked but we made his position untenable – the whole football world turned against us to the extent that if we now move for a player it sets alarm bells ringing.

No problem with the concept though. The strategy makes perfect sense for a club with limited revenue streams like Brentford. But why did we feel the need to shout about it?

Strip the whole thing down and the players we’ve brought in – Woods and Colin being notable exceptions – are patently not ready to play in a thriving Championship side, let alone one fighting for survival.

Last season’s side had a great balance, strong competition for places and a ruthless edge.

If Pritchard got knocked about, Douglas was there to drag him to his feet and snarl at the bloke who did it.

Diagouraga, if the ball did get past the midfield, mopped up the bits and pieces and gave it away simply and accurately, a fulcrum if you like.

Tarkowski and Dean were a peerless combination, Gray was powerful, quick and usually clinical, the likes of McCormack couldn’t get a start.

When Pritchard wasn’t doing it we had Jota, Dallas, Toral, or even Odubajo bombing on as well as Judge, all capable of producing a moment of magic.

We effectively had a four-pronged attack as well as creative, vibrant, skilful, quick options on the bench who could change a game that was drifting away from us.

Saunders and Yennaris were plying their trade in League Two. Now they are pivotal to our survival.

Don’t think for a second I’m denigrating the current squad in any way. They are, mostly, technically strong with huge potential, but are being asked to do the job of seasoned professionals with several years knowledge of the Championship. That’s not fair or sensible.

Josh McEachran is a case in point. We were told that he was the Douglas replacement. Don’t make me laugh!

Skilful yes, intelligent occasionally, but a ball winner? I’m sorry. The sooner he casts off the Chelsea starlet tag and starts bossing games as his talent suggests he surely can, the better. He was given the opportunity when Blackburn went down to ten men and singularly failed to take it.

Now we have a midfield lacking steel and stature that is overrun on a weekly basis.

McEachran and Woods are so similar it’s painful to watch, Judge has drifted into an I’ll play where I want thanks mentality to the side’s detriment, and Canos and Swift are young lads with huge potential who would benefit from a protector alongside them.

The best football teams are combinations of different characters, personalities, types of players, but if I had to pick one word to describe the current Brentford side, it would be lightweight.

Dean Smith must go posts and worse have littered social media whilst Rasmus and Phil have got off relatively lightly.

Grossly unfair in my view as they have effectively assembled this squad for Smith whose use of the word “finally” on bringing in Leandro last week was perhaps the first public hint of his frustration.

It’s far too easy to go to the other extreme and actually blame the Co-Directors of Football for everything too, as I’m sure they are moving heaven and earth to bring in loanees. Their reputations are, after all, on the line here.

I know that several quality players have been lined up for the Summer, but I’m guessing they won’t want to play in League One so we need to sort out this mess soon or I fear for our immediate future.

As Greville confirmed in his interview recently, Phil Giles comes across as a likeable, thoughtful and decent bloke doing his best and I’m sure he’s crunching the numbers to get it right, but sometimes football is – as I said at the time of Warburton’s exit – about far more than numbers.

As far Rasmus, I’m not entirely sure what his role is or the extent of his involvement at Brentford so it’s probably unfair to comment. Suffice to say that I’m sure he’s feeling the pain the same as Giles.

What I will say though is that the signings of Gogia – remember him? – and Kerschbaumer epitomise the malaise surrounding our new system.

I’ve watched Kerschbaumer closely when he’s played and although he may well become a decent player in the future, his positional awareness is poor. The best players have an unerring ability to be in the right place at the right time and if I’m honest it’s an innate ability and not one easily learned.

The ball never breaks to him because he’s constantly out of position. When it does, he’s brushed off it far too easily at the moment.

Now, after all the carefully placed pro-pieces in the media surrounding our strategy, whenever we approach a club or agent they think one of three things:

  • This lad must be better than we think if Brentford are in for him.
  • We can get more money for him if Brentford think he’s good.
  • If Brentford want him and see something in him, then bigger clubs will too so I can get him more money in wages.

Last season I read somewhere that Matthew Benham’s theory meant that a side near the bottom wasn’t necessarily bad because over the course of a campaign things even themselves out as luck plays its part. Right now though I’m reminded of the saying “you make your own luck in this game.”

The bottom line is that most Brentford fans with a brain have seen for many months that we lack steel, guile, bottle, balls, size, strength or whatever you want to call it. So why couldn’t Giles and Ankersen when the window was open?

If it’s because we don’t want to play that way and won’t abandon our principles then that’s arrant nonsense and, I hate to say it, arrogant in the extreme.

We also lack quality where it matters, but I accept that only comes at a price and, if rumours of a sudden cash squeeze are to be believed, it’s one we’re not prepared to pay whatever the outcome.

However, and here’s the stark truth, we are now staring trips to Northampton and Oxford in the face unless the squad is strengthened fast or the approach or pattern of play changes.

My fear is that a refusal to stray from the principles of finding young fringe Premier League players – unless they are exceptional talents – will not help our cause at a time when we currently need people with knowledge of this league.

To bleat on about Smith not being able to motivate the same side Lee Carsley had at his disposal is a red herring.

Carsley had Tarkowski and Diagouraga, two key players who both, in differing ways, played their part in ensuring the back four didn’t look vulnerable.

Importantly he was also given a short-term brief by Matthew Benham to steady the ship, stop the rot and stabilise by whatever means possible after the Dijkhuizen departure.

By contrast Smith has been told to work towards a longer term project with far less quality to call on. I might be wrong but I’d put a few bob on the fact that in confidential company, he isn’t happy at having his reputation put on the line by the club’s lack of activity in January, however valid the reasons for doing so.

That same lack of activity and dare I say it Big New Ambitions will, I hope, be reflected in season ticket prices for next season when people will adopt a once bitten, twice shy approach.

So what is the solution? To stick or twist? It’s a dilemma that Matthew Benham, as a gambling man, may well be relishing but I for one am not.

It’s fairly obvious to me – bring in a quick, pacy young winger on the fringes of a Premier League start and a mid-twenties defensive midfielder with a bit of bite and Championship know-how because a youngster in that role simply won’t do given our current predicament.

Maybe easier said than done at this stage of the campaign given our cash constraints, but the financial ramifications of relegation will be far more damaging than a few extra quid shelled out now.

I’ll leave the final word to this probably over long ramble to Jeff Stelling, whose stunning on screen analysis of Aston Villa’s season and predicament made me sit up with a start.

Without detriment to our new signings – some of whom may well go on to be real assets to the club IN TIME – or our scapegoat manager, there are clear parallels to be drawn.

If you haven’t seen it take a look at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oL_zCdeIyQ8