Shopping List – 23/5/16

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Narrow Margins – 24/4/16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Narrow margins yet again!

A Golden Day – 3/4/16

I have been a massive John Mellencamp fan for many years now and there is a lyric from one of his songs that seems totally apposite to describe the events of yesterday:

Sometimes you’re golden, man that’s all I got to say

Yesterday turned out to be a golden day for almost everybody connected with Brentford FC, directors, players, management and supporters alike as we ended a depressing run of four consecutive defeats and celebrated only our third victory of  the year.

Unfortunately for some, like rabid Bees supporter, Paul Briers, the day didn’t start out too golden when he made the unremarkable discovery that pouring diesel into a fuel tank designed to receive unleaded petrol is not conducive to an effortless and trouble free journey. Similarly, Chairman Cliff Crown, and I am sure many others, were caught up in a massive M1 tailback around Luton and didn’t get there to share in the celebrations.

Minor quibbles as otherwise yesterday was a total triumph and provided some much needed respite for a team that had been in free fall and appeared to be dropping like a stone towards the bottom three. Now everyone’s face is wreathed in smiles again, there is an overall feeling of relief and some much needed confidence has been restored as we go into Tuesday’s home match against bottom of the table Bolton Wanderers a much healthier nine points, and a far superior goal difference clear of the hated MK Dons, marooned in the final relegation place.

Nottingham Forest, to be quite frank, were a shambolic disgrace on the day and ambled around in the Spring sunshine without any sense of purpose or menace and their defensive aberrations contributed greatly to all three of our goals, but all you can do is beat what is put out against you on the day and Brentford, for once, took full advantage of the opportunities that were put on a plate for them.

The experienced Kevin Wilson whose dithering led to Lasse Vibe scoring the crucial opening goal was subjected to incessant and totally unnecessary booing and vituperative abuse after his error and the apathetic and demoralised home crowd streamed away in droves as soon as the second goal went in. The European Cup winning glory days seem a lifetime away now for a once great club that appears to be rudderless and to be going nowhere fast and their supporters certainly did not appreciate their team losing twice in a season to the minnows of Brentford.

Dean Smith had sensibly concentrated on working on defensive organisation during the International Break, perhaps because most of his midfielders and strikers were either injured or away on International duty. His efforts were rewarded with a passionate and energetic display in which the back four played like a well drilled unit, covered for each other and, most importantly, eradicated the daft errors and lack of concentration that had cost us so dear recently. Forest, frankly did not get a sniff of goal and barely created a chance worthy of the name all afternoon and David Button enjoyed one of his easiest games of the season.

Dean and Barbet are finally developing an understanding and are turning into a cohesive partnership and once the Frenchman stops passing the ball to the opposition in dangerous positions he will be a formidable player. Max Colin made a triumphant return to the team, almost scored and defended with his life before, worryingly, limping off late on and Jake Bidwell was back to his unobtrusive best.

Our first clean sheet away from home for over five months was testimony to the efforts of the entire team as we certainly defended from the front. McCormack, Woods and Yennaris ran, covered, pressed and harried and never gave the lethargic home team time to settle on the ball and when one of our elaborate free kick routines backfired and set Forest away on a five-on-one breakaway reminiscent of Tony Craig against Oldham in 2013, it was Alan Judge who showed energy and total commitment to the cause by chasing back eighty yards and putting in a crucial last ditch tackle to save the day when all seemed lost.

Nico Yennaris covered every blade of grass, used the ball well and gave his best ever display in a Brentford shirt and was deservedly rewarded with his first goal for the club. A few repeat performances and he runs the risk of moving beyond grudging acceptance and becoming a firm fan favourite.

The first half was almost devoid of action and goal chances were at a premium and given the recent poor record of both teams the first goal was always going to be crucial. The injury bug bit yet again when Leandro Rodríguez damaged his hamstring and as he disappeared down the tunnel we wondered if we will ever see the Everton loanee again in a Brentford shirt. He now joins the likes of McEachran, Macleod, Swift, Hofmann and Hogan on the injured list where he might well be joined by Colin, Button, Judge and Yennaris who all suffered knocks yesterday and the selection process for Tuesday’s match might well be a formality as we are rapidly running out of fit players.

Someone’s injury however is another’s opportunity and Lasse Vibe, so lacking in strength, bite and verve recently took full advantage. He ran around like a scalded cat, his confidence restored by his recent appearance for Denmark and the time he spent with his high quality international team mates. He scored for the first time since mid-December when he got in behind Wilson and poked home Alan Judge’s perfectly placed lofted through ball which held up and needed to be dealt with by either defender or goalkeeper and when they left it for each other Vibe nipped in and scored.

Brentford visibly grew in confidence as Forest wilted in the sunshine and it soon became obvious that the only team that could deny Brentford the coveted three points was themselves and as long as we avoided a similar giveaway then a much needed victory was well in our sights.

The second goal came from an unexpected source when Bidwell’s right wing corner was somehow missed by Dean, in total isolation on the near post, and as he still remonstrated with himself, the ball caromed off a defender and dropped perfectly for Yennaris who just beat the straining Vibe to hammer the ball into the corner of the net. Cue wild celebrations with the travelling hordes tucked away in the corner of the pitch.

Inspired by his goal, Vibe ran the channels selflessly and when he got in behind Lichaj the hapless defender dragged him back and saw red. Victory was assured when Forest surrendered the ball in midfield and Vibe sent his pass into the now yawning gap on Forest’s right flank and Sergi Canos took the chance perfectly and angled his instant shot into the far corner. Game over!

Three goals, three points and a clean sheet. What more can you ask for? A few less injuries perhaps, but this was a day when everybody came together again and the entire club united. The fans fed off the team and the players responded to the massive support that they received.

This victory has hopefully arrested our slump but this is not a time for complacency as our last win, also by three clear goals over Wolves, was followed by a demoralising run of four consecutive defeats and we need to keep our foot on the gas and not feel that the job has been done. We still need at least one more victory to assure ourselves of Championship football again next season and the long-suffering supporters are also long overdue some victories at Griffin Park. There is still much to play for and the season must not be allowed to peter out with a whimper.

Hopefully yesterday, golden though it was, was a turning point rather than a one-off.

Mind Games – 29/3/16

It’s been a really strange and frustrating Easter weekend as, like I am sure so many others, I have been feeling lost and bereft without my customary football fix. I am sure that I will soon be corrected but I cannot for the life of me remember any other Easter in recent years which has coincided with yet another International Break and resulted in my having to find other ways to amuse myself.

I can still vividly remember Good Friday and Easter Monday last year which saw the nonstop excitement and adrenalin rush of those two unforgettable clashes against Fulham and Nottingham Forest. Hammering Fulham on their own turf will naturally go down as one of my best ever Brentford matches and I can still easily summon up all four of our goals on my personal memory bank and mental tape loop of great Brentford moments, but our late recovery from a seemingly insurmountable two goal deficit against Forest was perhaps just as massive an achievement as it simply exemplified everything good about us at that time and highlighted our relentlessness, never-say-die attitude and total refusal to give any game up for lost as Andre Gray’s clever turn and instant shot put us right back in the game and then deep into injury time Tommy Smith stood his cross up just above the straining hands of Karl Darlow where it was met by the bouffant hairstyle of Jota for a wildly celebrated equaliser.

Where has that spirit gone now, as we appear to have had the stuffing knocked out of us by a seemingly never ending series of body blows, some coming from out of the blue, others quite frankly self-inflicted, that have punctuated a season which promised so much but has ended up being such a cruel reality check to all of us, management, players and supporters alike. This season has been death by a thousand cuts and is still delicately poised and can go one of two ways as we now face a crucial nine match mini-season which will have so many repercussions for the club depending upon where we finish up after our final game at Huddersfield in less than six weeks’ time.

In that respect perhaps we all desperately needed and will greatly benefit from a two week break which ideally will enable us all to catch our breath, gird our loins and get ourselves ready for the struggle and potential torments or even triumphs that lie ahead as the Bees prepare to fight for their very Championship life.

We should all take some degree of comfort by recalling that we went into the last International Break in early October in total disarray on the back of three consecutive defeats, the loss of a Head Coach, the shocking and demoralising foot-in-mouth announcement by Lee Carsley that he had no desire to become the permanent replacement as well as sinking like a stone into a sorry twentieth place in the league table.

We only looked like going in one direction but Carsley apparently put his squad through a mini preseason bootcamp which addressed our lack of fitness and sharpness and we came out of the traps recharged and re-energised, a totally different team in every way, shape and form which won its next four games and went on to take twenty-eight points from fourteen games and ended the year in eighth place just outside the playoff positions. Promotion form indeed and an amazing turnaround which unfortunately has not been maintained since the new year began.

So we know that we can do it and let’s face it, depending on the results of the other strugglers, our minimum requirement for safety is probably a mere seven points from nine matches. Surely not too much to ask for? Given the run that we have been on since early January even that paltry target might seem a tough ask but hopefully Dean Smith will have used the time afforded him by the International Break productively and his ministrations and perhaps tweaking of his resources will hopefully produce the same effect as Carsley had in October.

There must be much for him to ponder on. Does he keep things as they were and hope that our luck will turn and we recover some form or will he freshen things up by changing the way that we play? He will also have to cope with an injury list that now has the names of Josh McEachran and John Swift added to it and we are all waiting anxiously for news about their potential availability for the run in. Given a likely shortage of midfielders will he decide to gamble by naming two forwards, not a formation that he has utilised previously either at Brentford or Walsall? Hopefully we’ll be able to glean some information as the week develops but we might have to wait until just before kickoff next Saturday before his intentions are finally revealed.

Our squad has looked mentally and physically exhausted and slowed down by a total loss of confidence which is hardly surprising as defeats beget more defeats and with every loss the pressure increases and self-belief withers on the vine. Players stop acting instinctively and instead start thinking about what once came naturally and they become afraid of taking chances and running the risk of making mistakes and having the crowd get on their back. As was clearly seen against Blackburn this results in a pallid and listless performance with the safe option taken at every opportunity and the ball being passed endlessly sideways and backwards with nobody prepared to put his head over the parapet and use his undoubted ability to try and make something happen for fear of failure.

There is one positive to consider in that Alan Judge and Lasse Vibe will both hopefully return to the club on a high and full of beans from their full international appearances for Eire and Denmark respectively over the past few days and that they might help raise the spirits of their team mates.

Reading the above which I believe succinctly sums up our current situation, perhaps the most important person at the club throughout this International Break is not Dean Smith but instead, Tom Bates. Who is he I hear some of you ask, did we manage to make a last minute loan signing before the loan window shut last week that has somehow remained unremarked upon? Unfortunately that is not the case, but that is another story given the injuries suffered in the last few days by Josh McEachran and John Swift which might yet rob us of their valuable services and reduce our selection options even further.

No, Tom Bates is a Performance Psychologist at the club who over the past ten years has worked with youth and senior domestic international athletes, coaches, managers and teams helping them to perform under pressure and be at their best when it matters the most. In his own words, Tom specialises in enhancing athletes’ mental and emotional performance states through creating, sustaining and improving supreme optimistic spirit and self belief.

That might all sound like gobbledygook, jargon and management speak but he has an excellent track record and if he can help revive the spirits of a dispirited squad that doesn’t seem to know where its next win is coming from then we will all owe him a massive debt.

Most Premier League footballers use sports psychology as a matter of course as it can help players to maintain or rebuild confidence, deal with anxiety or anger and keep their focus. Players are encouraged to try positive self-talk and convert their negative thoughts and fears into more positive ones. There is a sound scientific basis behind this as ideally thinking positively releases dopamine into the bloodstream which is linked to feelings of certainty and confidence and helps reduce cortisol levels, a hormone linked to stress and physiological reactions related to potentially harmful feelings and sensations of fight and flight.

Visualisation is another technique commonly used whereby players are encouraged to imagine and picture themselves succeeding in their specific tasks such as scoring from free kicks or saving penalty kicks and focusing on positive memories and recollections of doing the same on previous occasions.

Players might also be encouraged to repeat key words or phrases to themselves in an attempt to help regain focus when things go wrong or if the red mist comes down during a game.

I am barely scratching the surface as this is now a sophisticated science that has progressed way past early attempts in this field which included the notorious Romark, or Ronald Markham, to give him his real name, a hypnotist who was used by Malcolm Allison to assist Third Division Crystal Palace on their unlikely run to the 1975/76 FA Cup semifinal. Unfortunately it all ended in tears when he claimed that he had not been paid for his services and promptly put a curse on the club which apparently remains in force to this day.

Hopefully Tom Bates will be more successful in his efforts on our behalf. In the meantime I just have one question for him, can he please suggest something that will help keep all us fans calm, measured, united, supportive, positive, patient and stress free?

Good Hunting! – 13/3/16

Over three thousand Brentford supporters went to Loftus Road yesterday afternoon, perhaps more in hope than in expectation and for half an hour or so the team, and we will come back to its composition shortly, was well in the game with Canos twice and Judge going close before conceding a brilliantly taken but eminently avoidable opening goal which was totally demoralising after we had given as good as we had got.

Even after such a sickening blow we showed some fight and resilience and came so close to an immediate equaliser when Ryan Woods took a short free kick in his stride and drilled a long ranger against the post. The second half was a different story as after Judge curled narrowly but wastefully over we created next to nothing and the ball became a hot potato as we conceded possession with monotonous regularity and our final ball was invariably overhit or poorly directed.

We conceded two quite appalling goals after schoolboy errors firstly when Woods was dispossessed and then after Swift played a careless and suicidal pass across the midfield, each time leaving us with a yawning chasm down the middle. QPR took full advantage of both gifts, that horrible celebratory Pigbag tune blared out and assailed our senses and eardrums and yet another game had slipped away without any reward.

We collapsed like a pricked balloon as the fight and confidence drained out of us and the last twenty minutes was more notable for a mass exit as Brentford supporters left in droves, shocked, horrified, confused, infuriated and let down by what they had seen and, sadly, many of those who were left turned upon each other and the players too who were subjected to vitriol and insults as the game dragged on to its by now inevitable conclusion.

Such is the reaction however unacceptable and unattractive when a team loses for the ninth time in its last twelve Championship matches and subsides to a comprehensive and embarrassing defeat to its local rivals who quite frankly barely had to break sweat to beat us, so eager were we to help them given that all three goals came gift wrapped with a bow on top.

Effort and passion there most undoubtedly was – at least for the first three quarters of the match, but we played exactly like the team we have become over the horror show of the past couple of months, one that is desperately lacking in quality, imagination, creativity, pace, craft, strength in midfield, defensive organisation and most importantly, confidence.

Dean Smith took the brave if highly unusual step of leaving both of his two remaining fit, if pallid strikers, Djuricin and Vibe on the bench and playing Alan Judge up front on his own in a new 4-1-4-1 formation. The main thinking behind this move was to encourage the nimble Judge to run at the man mountain Clint Hill in the home defence. Perhaps Smith also intended a coded message and that this move, which quite frankly smacked of desperation, was also a cry for help to the two Co-Directors of Football and an acknowledgement that we currently do not possess a striker worthy of the name and that none of them merit a first team spot.

Judge did his best but was a fish out of water and he was never really able to hold onto the ball in order to create things and give his defence some respite particularly when far too many passes aimed at him were fired at his head rather than directed to his feet. His influence was sorely missed elsewhere as our main creator of goal chances and it has to be said that the experiment did not work and contributed to our defeat although Vibe was typically weak, anonymous and infuriating when he was finally introduced as a second half substitute.

Alan McCormack made a welcome return in front of the back four and helped shore us up and for a time appear more solid but he must accept some of the blame for the crucial opening goal when the dangerous Hoilett picked the ball up on halfway and was allowed to drift towards our goal as we simply backed off him. McCormack belatedly thought about making a challenge but criminally pulled out and allowed Hoilett to pass unscathed and, left in splendid isolation, the winger had the ability to curl a sublime effort into the top corner of the net. If you give a good player time and space he will punish you.

The game turned on this moment as the home team was energised and reinvigorated by a moment of sheer quality and noticeably went up a gear and after that near miss from Woods our heads went down and our challenge faded.

Dean Smith now appears to be simply rearranging the deckchairs and desperately trying to find some semblance of a structure or shape from the same small, ever diminishing and underperforming squad of players. We are quickly disintegrating into a rabble and are quite frankly in free fall and his face is taking on an increasingly haunted look as he seeks some answers and solutions which continue to elude him.

Whether the manager deserves criticism for not managing his limited resources better and ensuring that we at least put in a decent shift and make the most of what little we have is open to question. Comparisons at this stage with Lee Carsley are both pointless and invidious.

There is no appetite within the ownership of the club to make another change at this juncture of the season and such a move would be totally unjust and make us a laughing stock given that Smith has not been able to introduce a single new face while losing three key members of his squad as well as seeing the injury bug begin to bite deep again.

That being said the current state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue given that even with Bolton and Charlton seemingly doomed there is still a third relegation place left to avoid as Rotherham’s revival continues unabated.

The thought persists, indeed it is a raging certainty, that we should not have allowed ourselves to get into this situation with an ever worsening spiral of defeats but recriminations are for later, now we simply have to concentrate on the task in hand and do whatever it takes to ensure that we start next season in the Championship. Given our plans and ambitions, relegation is utterly unthinkable but it is looming up on the blindside and could still yet overtake us if we do not take strong and immediate remedial action.

My recent meeting with Phil Giles left me excited and reassured about the mid to long term future of the club but I was also extremely concerned about the here and now as it is no use having ambitious plans about squad strengthening in the Summer if we end up having to start next season in League One. The chances of this happening are admittedly still low but increasing by the week and at present it is hard to see where the two wins we need are going to come from.

I understand why we sold players and did not strengthen the squad in January given the exorbitant prices we were quoted for some of our targets but perhaps if you sell high as we most certainly did, occasionally there is the need to buy high too in order to maintain the status quo.

I think that our current fall from grace has taken the senior management totally by surprise and caught them with their pants down and we are struggling to cope with the situation.

Fortune has certainly not favoured us but it is hard to look back at the horror show that has been the story of this year and identify many matches where we were unlucky not to take points. We should not have lost at Birmingham or been beaten by Middlesbrough or even dropped two stupid late points at home to Leeds, otherwise we have very little to complain about and the results and performances speak for themselves.

So what can we do? Is there any potential salvation from within our current resources? I do not expect to see Colin or Macleod again this season and have no expectations of Hofmann once he recovers from injury. The only potential ray of hope is Scott Hogan, which shows just how desperate we are, as untested and half fit though he undoubtedly is, I would hope that he is given a place on the bench next weekend for what is now a crucial clash against Blackburn Rovers.

Perhaps his return would give us all a boost and fillip although it would be patently unfair on him to see him as our potential saviour. He is, however, enthusiastic and hard running and would provide us with an injection of energy and he is also untainted by the cloud and gloom that surrounds the team at present.

We need fresh faces and belatedly I am now certain that stringent efforts are being made to bring in short term reinforcements in time for next Saturday. We will need to take a deep breath and temporarily at least ignore our principles and accepted modus operandi.

Think about the likes of Bidwell, Schlupp, Berahino, Forshaw, Harris, Trotta, Pritchard, Toral, Swift, Long and Canos and they all had something in common being young, promising and inexperienced. What we need now are a couple of players who have been around the block a few times, battlers who know and fully understand the demands of the Championship and can lead and inspire our faltering squad as well as provide a spark in front of goal.

It will be difficult both practically and philosophically for us to do so as well as cost us a lot of money currently earmarked for other purposes. I fully expect that some of the war chest ideally being pigeon-holed and conserved for next season will now need to be used in order to pay for players who will probably be earning far more than our current squad. Such is life and we will need to be adaptable and flexible as our salvation is paramount.

Other clubs in and around us have found such players recently and have been able and prepared to pay the necessary wages in an attempt to ensure Championship survival. Blackburn sold their prime asset in Jordan Rhodes but have brought in high quality short term replacements in Jordi Gomez, Tony Watt and Danny Graham, who we will all face next week. Charlton signed Yaya Sanogo from Arsenal, suspended now but a striker who led us a merry dance last week. There is an unsubstantiated rumour going around that we were offered him first but turned him down. MK Dons brought in Alex Revell, Nottingham Forest, Federico Macheda, Huddersfield have just signed Rajiv Van La Parra and most noticeably Bristol City have splurged out on Lee Tomlin and Peter Odemwingie.

I am sure that most of these names will understandably make our Co-Directors of Football come out in hives and not all of them quite frankly, fill me with much too enthusiasm, but much as it pains us to do so, we will need to follow suit with someone of that ilk next week if we want to do absolutely everything within our power to ensure that our precious Championship status is preserved.

I wish our two Co-Directors of Football all good fortune in their quest.

Time For Some Answers! – 6/3/16

Normally the blog seems to write itself. I just sit down at the computer and the words generally flow without too much effort but today was totally different as I vacillated endlessly over the most suitable subject matter and how best to express my feelings.

My first reaction after Brentford’s inept, shambolic, disjointed and passionless performance as they stumbled to an appalling defeat against an equally poor Charlton team was to assert that since the entire Brentford team seemed to have gone on their holidays a couple of months too early then perhaps the blog should do the same and that I would make as much effort as the team had done yesterday and simply refrain from making any comment at all.

I then thought about giving vent to my feelings and forensically dissecting each player’s myriad shortcomings but that was far too depressing a prospect and quite frankly I would simply be repeating so much of what I have already written after previous unacceptable performances. After much thought I have therefore decided to give a brief summary of Saturday’s non-event and then look at highlighting some of the broader issues that now face us and attempting to find some solutions.

Facing a relegation haunted team sorely lacking in confidence we all hoped for a precious early goal that would ideally settle our nerves both on and off the pitch and that is exactly what happened and our prayers were answered as the ball hit the net less than twenty seconds after the opening whistle – unfortunately at the wrong end, as a Brentford team which still looked as though it was in its prematch huddle got into a mess at the back as a left wing cross was allowed to reach the unmarked Harriott who found space in a packed penalty area and easily slotted home.

Dean Smith said that our game plan had gone out of the window after such an appalling start, but surely we still had well over ninety minutes to put things right and address matters?

The Bees eventually clawed their way back into the match and played some reasonable football for the majority of the first half without showing much spark or invention. Swift and Canos shone spasmodically and the Chelsea youngster headed a glaring chance well wide of a gaping goal from a similar opportunity to the one he scored from at The Valley before refusing to fall down when clearly clipped and a penalty kick seemed inevitable.

Frankly it is unfair and unrealistic to put so much pressure on two such talented but inexperienced teenagers and expect them to pull a rabbit out of the hat more than occasionally.

As has happened far too often, Judge was left to forage alone and cut in from the wing to force a brilliant plunging save from Pope. Canos then slipped Djuricin clean through a square defence as the applause rang out in the twenty-fourth minute for the sadly departed Dean Langford but he showed his total lack of confidence and sharpness by allowing the keeper to block his shot when a goal seemed inevitable before Barbet marked a memorable God-given minute by heading home Judge’s corner kick when left totally unmarked and he scored his first ever goal for the club.

Surely the Bees would now take control, but we never found that extra gear nor succeeded in putting a wilting defence under any real pressure. Early in the second half Canos was sent away by McEachran’s exquisite pass but from an identical position from where he rippled the net against Wolves, he could only shoot wide of the post and quite frankly, that was that as we barely created another chance for the remainder of the match, and that miss was to come and haunt us when Charlton realised just how poor we were and finally awoke from their torpor, broke away down their left flank, and the totally unemployed Button could only paw a cross straight to Harriott who made a difficult chance look easy. A ghastly error from a goalkeeper playing against his former team.

The game drifted away from us as we gently subsided to defeat without making much apparent effort to recover as we lacked any shape, invention or frankly, passion. As has happened far too often lately our three substitutions seemed only to weaken us even more. Saunders replaced Canos who seemed to be our main threat although perhaps the fact that he had been booked and subsequently warned for a dive helped make Dean Smith’s mind up for him. Sam barely touched the ball and never played a dangerous pass or cross into the penalty area.

Djuricin gave perhaps the worst and most pathetic performance I have seen from a Brentford striker since the days when the likes of Joe Omigie and Neil Shipperley provided a non-existent goal threat and his replacement, Vibe, who at least gave the impression of breaking sweat, was easily smothered by the Charlton defence. Hofmann came on near the end for McEachran and lumbered around without noticeable effect and it was quite impossible to detect our formation as we degenerated into a hapless and shapeless rabble and we were fortunate not to concede a third as we were cut open repeatedly on the break.

Not for the first time this season the patience of the Brentford supporters was sorely tested and they made their displeasure known at the final whistle.

Charlton came expecting to be defeated but they were let off the hook as they out battled and outfought a Brentford team that was in reality anything but and fully deserved their ultimate victory.

Quite frankly we played with one hand tied behind our back given the lack of incision from our midfield where Woods and McEachran duplicated each other and never gelled as a partnership and Judge provided our only consistent threat but cannot always be expected to do everything on his own.

As has been the case for several months now we do not possess a forward worthy of the name and the Charlton penalty area resembled a cordon sanitaire so seldom did we get players into it.

This sad and sorry state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue, nor can the remainder of the season be allowed to drift away. Not only is this situation patently unfair and unacceptable to supporters who pay good money and quite reasonably expect some level of entertainment and effort in return, and are now justifiably feeling shortchanged, we are also beginning look at the clubs below us with apprehensive looks.

When we lost last month to the likes of Brighton, Sheffield Wednesday and Derby, the exhortation was for patience until we played Wolves, Rotherham and Charlton and then the points and performances would follow. Well those games have now come and gone and bar one bright spark when we hammered a Wolves team which played as if it was tranquillised, we have now lost comfortably and deservedly to two of the relegation favourites without putting up much of a fight. This is not how we expect a Brentford team to perform.

What happens now and where do we go from here? We all deserve some answers. Not because we are spoiled and have massive expectations but quite simply because the squad is patently far too weak and thin and with injuries again biting is now struggling to hold its head above water.

We all know and mostly accept the reasons why the squad has been diminished and denuded without any replacements, but we expected the remaining players at least to be competitive and to provide a reasonable and realistic level of competence, entertainment, effort and results for the remainder of the season before the necessary squad strengthening can take place, not too much to ask for, surely, but the wheels have now come off and Dean Smith is, perhaps unfairly, coming under growing pressure from supporters who are now losing patience and looking for a scapegoat.

That being said he appeared to be be a man in despair in his post match interview and one who was struggling to find the answers to the multitude of problems that currently face him.

Rather than play the blame game I would rather be constructive and look for answers, explanations and firm promises for the immediate and mid-term future as I am extremely concerned at the moment.

I have therefore contacted the Brentford Co-Director of Football, Phil Giles, who responded quickly and courteously and has agreed to meet me next week when I hope to get the answers to some of the questions that we would all like to ask him.

In that regard I have already sent him a comprehensive and voluminous list of question, not that I expect the answers to all of them given the limitations of time and the dictates of commercial confidentiality, but I shall report back on what I am told at our meeting and Phil has also agreed to provide some written answers which will be published as an article as soon as I receive it.

Here are the questions that I have posed and please let me know if there is anything else that you would like me to put to him when we meet:

  • How did a Maths & Stats graduate and a PhD from the University of Newcastle end up as Co-Director of Football at Brentford FC?
  • How much of your time is spent working with the club as opposed to Smartodds?
  • What is the division of roles between yourself & Rasmus Ankersen?
  • Roughly what proportion of his time is spent working for Brentford FC?
  • The role of the new breed of executive versus the traditional “football man” – discuss
  • Dealing with agents and rapacious clubs – are Brentford considered a soft touch or worthy adversaries?
  • How much contact do you have with your peers at other clubs?
  • How is the club now regarded by the rest of the football world?
  • “We look to be stronger after every Transfer Window” – please discuss with reference to the January 2016 Transfer Window?
  • How do you manage expectations amongst supporters who were told that any finish below fifth would be a comedown from last season?
  • What would be realistic expectations for the club until we move to Lionel Road
  • In retrospect was 2015 an annus mirabilis or a massive missed opportunity?
  • How can we possibly hold onto our prime assets when they are offered more money elsewhere or persuade the likes of Button and Bidwell to buy into us and resign?
  • Try before you buy a la Bidwell & Forshaw. Why have we stopped using this successful policy re loanees?
  • What is our relationship like with the top Premier League clubs?
  • What is your strategy for recruitment for the summer (within reason!)?
  • How much say will Dean Smith and Richard O’Kelly have in player recruitment both in terms of identifying targets and wanting to sign them?
  • Who has the final say?
  • FFP and its effect on us
  • How can a team with our financial constraints find and afford flair players who can make and/or score goals?
  • Please discuss our three strikers and how they fit into the current style of play?
  • Jota – discuss
  • How much of a gamble is it signing players from lower divisions at home and abroad e.g. Woods & Gogia
  • How attractive a proposition is Brentford FC for
  1. Young players from lower divisions
  2. Experienced Championship players
  3. Players from the EEC & beyond
  • What are the minimum expectations and KPIs for you and the club for the remainder of the season?
  1. Win as many matches as you lose
  2. Remain competitive
  3. Stay out of the relegation dog fight
  4. Continue to play the Brentford Way
  5. Bed in the new signings from abroad
  6. Persuade Button and Bidwell to resign
  7. Complete a recruitment list for next season
  • How would you respond to supporters who are feeling let down, confused & disappointed at the moment & will soon be asked to buy season tickets for next season?
  • Getting transfers over the line – discuss
  • Undisclosed fees. I understand why you favour them but they are the bane of our lives – discuss
  • What will it take to bring about a change in policy and for you to bring in loanees this month?
  • Where can you find loan players now who can add value to the team?
  • I appreciate that there is a review being conducted, but why has the Academy so far failed to produce a home-grown first team squad player?
  • Has the loss of some well-regarded Academy coaches had a detrimental effect?
  • Why do non-playing first team squad players rarely play in Development Squad fixtures?
  • Can you talk us through the process from acknowledging a need to signing a player i.e. how did we go from knowing we would lose Odubajo to signing Colin?
  • How advanced and complex is the proprietorial analytical data we use to identify and recruit players compared to the likes of Wyscout & Opta etc?
  • In reality how much does our approach really differ from most other clubs nowadays?
  • Can you explain the process by which we combine analytical and physical scouting?
  • Matthew Benham has stated that a player should be watched 100 times. How often do we watch potential players as opposed to watching DVDs and film clips?
  • What sort of physical scouting network do we possess or plug into?
  • How many analysts support yourself and Rasmus?
  • How do you evaluate players in terms of their character and likelihood to settle in the UK?
  • Do we have a constantly updated list of potential and VIABLE prospects from around the world?
  • How far down the pyramid do we analyse players and teams?
  • How happy are you with the 2015 batch of signings in terms of their current performance levels and were some thrown in prematurely?
  • Is it getting more difficult every year to recruit well?
  • What signing and sale have given you the most satisfaction?
  • What lessons were learned from the Marinus recruitment process when it came to appoint Dean Smith?
  • What qualities does Dean Smith possess that makes him the ideal manager for Brentford FC?
  • What are the benefits to Brentford of the association with FC Midtjylland?
  • We have sent them Moore and O’Shaugnessy, when will we receive one of their players on loan or a permanent basis?
  • Why so many injuries this season – coincidence or happenstance?
  • Scott Hogan – what can or should we expect or hope for?
  • When will we take the Cup competitions more seriously?
  • Is a box-to-box player with footballing and tackling ability on the agenda for next season?

 

Dean Smith – Thumbs Up Or Down? – 1/3/16

Given the indisputable fact that the Bees are currently in the midst of an appalling run of results since the New Year with only two wins and a solitary draw to set against seven Championship defeats, plus of course suffering a painful FA Cup giant killing at the hands of Walsall, it is hardly surprising, given the fickle nature and impatience of football supporters, that there have been murmurings and rumblings and some questions and concerns have already been raised about the new Brentford manager, Dean Smith and whether he is up to the job.

The criticisms levelled against him can best be summarised as follows:

  • He is not getting the best out of the squad and is out of his depth
  • We are porous in defence and concede too many goals
  • We no longer come back and recover after going behind in a match
  • The quality of football is declining and we no longer play the Brentford way
  • He is unable to attract new players to come and play for the club
  • His substitutions are ill thought through and generally make things worse
  • He is not animated enough on the bench and appears to allow things to drift
  • He sometimes refrains from acknowledging the Brentford supporters
  • He is not Mark Warburton or Lee Carsley – delete where applicable

How fair are these accusations? Have we hired another dud or, in the interests of fairness, do we need to make allowances for circumstances totally beyond his control that have made the manager’s job difficult if not impossible for the time being?

I wanted to get an informed, objective and detached view about Dean Smith so I asked former Chronicle journalist and now PA Match Day reporter Jim Levack to give his own measured opinion on a man, who, given his midland base, he already knew extremely well from his successful spell in charge at Walsall.

Here is what Jim had to say, and it certainly makes interesting reading:

When the constant stress of the football season ends in May, chances are you will find Dean Smith settling back to take in a rather more sedate sport.

As an ardent cricket fan he’s adept at playing the longer, more tactical game.

He did so to impressive effect at Walsall, where he repeatedly contended with an annual summer break-up of his squad only to return the following season even stronger.

That his squads were repeatedly torn apart by predatory clubs looking to pick up exciting young talent speaks volumes for his gift of spotting promising youngsters, developing them and then selling them for a profit.

Presumably that is what brought him to the attention of Matthew Benham, who I’m sure – unless he is a fool – will listen very closely to Smith’s end of season shopping list.

The jury is out on the club’s Co-Directors of Football, whose track record, at Brentford anyway, has so far been patchy in the extreme.

The signing of Konstantin Kerschbaumer, for a reported seven hundred and fifty thousand pounds, is symptomatic of a system that, in my view, will only work with strong input from a footballing man with great knowledge of the English game.

That man is Smith, a bloke who will stand by his footballing principles come what may and who is, most importantly of all, a good man who has been plunged into a difficult situation.

Comments on websites – this one included – suggesting he is “not the man for the job” or “out of his depth” are, quite frankly, totally laughable.

Kerschbaumer, contrary to some of the unkind comments being levelled at him, will be a decent player with bags of energy, good legs and an eye for an incisive pass… but not for another season or so when he has bulked up and shaken off his lightweight tag.

The fact that he is still playing and has not been sent out on loan to a League One side says more about the paucity of the squad and limited options available to Smith. Well I hope that’s the case anyway and nothing more sinister.

Smith has inherited a squad bereft of its quality players who have all moved on for a profit that the club couldn’t say no to. And that will be the way of things until we move to Lionel Road.

The loss of defensive lynchpin Tarkowski and midfield protector Diagouraga since he took the job has turned Brentford into a side that, without the presence of Alan Judge, does not look consistently competitive in a league that demands that at the very least.

We have a soft underbelly and has been chronicled elsewhere, there doesn’t appear to be the same fight and desire that the Griffin Park crowd have always demanded as a bare minimum.

I posted recently on another site the list of players who have left and – in my opinion – not been replaced on a like for like or quality basis. It was met with the inevitable responses of “yawn” or “stop being negative.” Not negative. Just realistic.

Smith, like a footballing Mike Brearley, is playing a tactical game and deploys an impressive dead bat forward defensive shot every time he is questioned about personnel… or the lack of it.

He has clearly been told plans are afoot for the summer, which is good news. I’ve heard some deals are close to completion already and other quality signings are on the radar.

Great news and a cause for optimism if Messrs Ankersen and Giles find the right people this time round and the existing signings finally come good after a bedding in season.

But here’s the rub. When my son and others like him stumped up the increased season ticket price – student rates were scrapped in favour of a young person’s card – they did so on the premise of a Big New Ambitions advertising slogan.

The club’s failure to remain properly competitive after January will make him and others think twice in future. After all two hundred and thirty pounds plus is a lot to a teenager doing an apprenticeship.

Should the ad blurb have read – “Big New Ambitions until we decide to call it a day and watch the season peter out midway through the season?”

I think we’ll be safe – Charlton will be a big game – but I do hope that next season’s season ticket prices reflect the wasted four or five months of this.

One thing is certain though. Dean Smith is the right man for the job and once he’s allowed to put his mark on a depleted squad, any doubts currently held will evaporate leaving the cynics to turn their attention to something or someone else… probably me after this.

Just to sum up, Dean Smith’s treatment – so far at least – has been like asking journalist Tom Moore to go into the office and asking him to knock out a back page or web lead without a laptop, Mac, notebook or recording device.

Smith is working with one hand tied behind his back given the lack of numbers and quality in his squad. 

Smith is no fool, is the best man for the job, is a great fit for our club and will have us challenging and competitive next season – of that I have no doubt.

I just hope we’re not being too cocky thinking that safety is guaranteed because at the moment we look neither of those things.

I am sure that many supporters reading Jim’s words will have much to say about the sentiments expressed in them and I look forward to the debate which is certain to ensue.

Where do I stand on this issue?

I feel that Dean Smith was an excellent match for our specific needs and requirements as he understands our approach and buys into it. He is an eminently intelligent, pragmatic and sensible man who motivates and inspires footballers and he can also manage upwards as well as down.

I also suspect that given his knowledge and experience of the lower divisions we have moderated our modus operandi and Smith will be intrinsically involved in all decisions regarding recruitment and it would not surprise me if we bring in several promising young players already well known to the manager.

It would be very interesting to know what his terms of reference are for the remainder of the season. Probably no more than remaining as competitive as possible, picking up enough points to remain well clear of the scrum in and around the bottom of the league, playing high tempo attacking football and continuing to integrate and involve the foreign signings from last Summer so that we are in a position to make informed decisions on their future and as to whether they are able to cope with the demands of the Championship.

That means a hopefully temporary scaling down of our lofty ambitions and frankly we are currently struggling to achieve even these limited aspirations given the recent run of results and disappointing performances.

In his defence, there have been some excellent spells of football but a lack of consistency, Smith has seen the loss of three quality first team players in January without any hint of replacements, good fortune has not been on our side with a succession of contentious refereeing decisions and injuries continue to bite deep into our limited resources.

Perhaps yesterday’s welcome and long-awaited return of Scott Hogan who came back with a bang with a poacher’s goal and a spirited sixty-minute run out in the Development Squad match against Crystal Palace will provide a much needed boost and hopefully Alan McCormack will also be in line for a much needed return against Charlton on Saturday.

In truth, I was disappointed with the negative and pusillanimous way he set the team up against Derby County which totally ceded the initiative to a team also struggling for confidence and in my opinion, contributed to our eventual defeat in a match where we never attempted to play our customary style of football.

It is also very easy to look back with hindsight, however I wonder if he now regrets throwing away the chance of a morale boosting FA Cup run by fielding a weakened team against Walsall particularly given our subsequent defeats by Middlesbrough and Burnley in what turned out to be a totally dispiriting and demoralising week?

To lambast the manager given the obstacles he currently faces is patently unfair, unrealistic and absurd and he needs and deserves our total support at the moment.

The time to judge him will be next season assuming that, as expected, he is given the necessary tools to work with and the opportunity to rebuild the squad in conjunction with the Co-Directors of Football and we recruit players with the required level of ability and experience.