Pep – Yes Or No? – 17/11/15

The rumours about Brentford’s potential interest in bringing in current Swansea Assistant Manager Pep Clotet as our new Head Coach received a fairly mixed response from many of the readers of my initial article.

Bill Benn spoke for many of us when he commented:

I hope we keep Paul Williams who has played a big part in the recent upturn of results.

Some, like Jim Rourke felt that his lack of managerial experience counted against him:

My comment would be is that when Pep gets the top job things have not gone well. I would suggest also his appointment as Monk’s assistant coincides with the downturn at Swansea. Sorry to be so negative!

Mark Croxford took issue with this viewpoint and I feel that his rebuttal contains much sense:

How can that be true? Last year Swansea had their best ever season – and that coincided with Clotet’s appointment.

Swansea are probably the nearest model to the way that Brentford operate so it seems to make a fair bit of sense to be interested in someone from there.

Whether he would be the right appointment remains to be seen, of course, and it’s a big jump from being the adviser to the decision maker but with a team of coaches to share the burden, maybe it would be a good move for him?

beesyellow22 expressed his thoughts very emphatically:

The situation at Griffin Park has become like a soap opera this season – it’s hard to keep on top of what’s happening anymore!

Like you Greville, I would love for Carsley to stay in place until the final ball is kicked next May, but apparently the owner does not share this point of view. I understand and appreciate the desire to get the new man in place ASAP but who’s to say it won’t be another Marinus situation – particularly given Clotet’s poor managerial record? We could then find ourselves onto our fourth head coach before we’ve barely gotten into 2016!

If Clotet is indeed to be the new head coach at Griffin Park, then good luck to him. But the big fear for me is that the players have already been through so much already this season, that to get a new man in now could have a real adverse effect and undo all the fantastic work that has been done since Marinus and Roy were given the bullet.

Let’s see what happens, but Clotet’s (admittedly youth-based) managerial record does not fill me with excitement or optimism. In fact, if the plan is to bring in a guy with predominantly youth management experience, why the hell not give the job to Mr. Brentford himself – Kevin O’Connor? He’s doing a great job with the development squad, he knows the club inside out and he is Brentford through and through. Unlike Pep Clotet.

Bill Benn seized upon the hole in this argument – the fact that any managerial change is coming at the request of Lee Carsley and not necessarily Matthew Benham and his Directors of Football:

This is nothing to do with Matthew Benham. Lee Carsley simply doesn’t want to be a manager and wants to go to other pastures as soon as the new coach is in place.

I suggest you check out Lee Carsley’s background in football management too as he hadn’t been too impressive in the short periods he’s been caretaker boss. King Kev as manager at the current time…God give me strength

beesyellow22 was quick to come back in his defence:

It is all very well talking about Carsley not being impressive but facts are facts. We won four on the bounce. The players now know what they are doing. The players are happy once again. The training methods are now working. The players are fitter and stronger. The players (seem to) enjoy playing for Lee Carsley. Pretty much the same players who were failing under Marinus.

“Nothing to do with Matthew Benham”  – this is also extremely wide of the mark! Of course it is everything to do with Benham. Benham is the driving force and the beating heart behind everything that happens behind the scenes. He is a successful and driven businessman and someone who plays to win. Hence the (apparent) decision to now dispense with the services of the man who has a) dragged us kicking and screaming out of a relegation dogfight and b) won the Skybet Championship Manager of the Month award for October! This has EVERYTHING to do with Matthew Benham, presumably hastened by Carsley’s consistent reiteration that he does not want the job.

And why the derision re Kevin O’Connor? How is he any less of a suggestion than Clotet? At least he is passionate about Brentford FC and his early results as Development Squad Manager would appear to be extremely encouraging (I’m interested to hear what your reaction was when Warburton was given the manager’s job…)

Rebel Bee then gave his opinion on the current situation:

In the main I’m with beesyellow22 on this, let’s just rewind to the statements that came out of Griffin Park when Lee Carsley was put in charge until the end of the season. So that went well then didn’t it, as it seems he can’t get away fast enough – so why did he take it and why didn’t Brentford FC just say it was going to be a very short term move?

If Clotet does join I can’t see Carsley or Williams being part of the team going forward. And what has Clotet actually achieved in the game to justify our pursuit of his services?

There seems to be a fascination with overseas coaches, ironically I’d now convinced myself that Edinburgh and Smith could be decent appointments.

Here we go again.

Bill Benn stuck firmly to his guns:

bees yellow22, you said that Lee Carsley is leaving due to Matthew Benham which is complete rubbish and a slur against our owner. How many more times does Lee Carsley have to say that he  doesn’t want the job? In actual fact he hates it and wants to move on.

Lee Carsley has done a good job and I also would have liked him to have continued but he just doesn’t want to. He wants to coach young players as he does with the England Under 19s and it gives him the flexibility for him to work on other things outside of football. I was not dissing Lee Carsley by saying look at his CV but it’s just an example of if he was on our list today as a target check out his history before joining us and you could find many negatives.

We have had an horrendous injury list this season and unfortunately picked the wrong coach in Marinus Dijkhuizen, but this can happen to the best (Manchester United for example.) You might think this season is a soap opera but I among many other fans have enjoyed some great times this season with number one beating that lot down the road as well as our performances against Charlton, Leeds, Wolves, Bristol City and Blackburn to name a few.

When the new manager comes in I expect Lee Carsley to help the transition for a week or so and Paul Williams to stay. I know the majority of our fans will get behind the new man and also expect the usual uninformed clap trap to continue on message boards.

Rebel Bee still hadn’t given up and had an excellent point to make:

Bill we know you’re not dissing Lee Carsley, but if he doesn’t want the job and hates it so much then something has happened right? As a reminder here are the relevant quotes from our Chairman’s statement when he was appointed:

“The Club has moved swiftly and decisively in order to maintain its long-term vision and philosophy. That’s why Lee Carsley has been appointed as Head Coach for the remainder of the season. Lee has shown with the Under 21s that he is an outstanding leader. His work at the training ground has been hugely impressive whilst coaching the development squad and has demonstrated he understands the Club’s philosophy and the ambitions of Brentford FC. We believe these qualities will help Lee settle into his new role effectively and quickly”.

As to his reasons for not wanting to continue, we can only guess and speculate – I don’t blame Matthew Benham for this at all, however the management team shouldn’t get a pass for the Duikhuizen disaster.

I do wonder why once again why we have managed to make a mess of this, even if it is just in the way it was communicated. As for “uninformed clap trap” – really is that your answer to anyone who sees it slightly differently? I think you can do better than that.

Bill Benn was more conciliatory in his response:

“Clap trap” wasn’t aimed at you but the more extreme stuff that has been aimed at Matthew Benham on other forums and social media sites whenever there are decisions being made. I would agree our PR has been dreadful at time over the last twelve months. Lee Carsley has never ever stated that he wanted to be manager until the end of the season although others have been quoted suggesting that for reasons I don’t know, maybe wishful thinking. It’s no secret that he gives a lot of time to charity work and being in youth football gives him the time to do that. I wish him all the best and look forward to the new Head Coach taking over hopefully this week.

As was Rebel Bee and it is hard to argue with what he had to say:

Fair do’s Bill, but there are some wide of the mark views on both sides of this. Like you I have enjoyed some great days already this season – with Charlton and QPR the stand outs. I don’t expect Brentford FC to be top six or chasing promotion either.

I love the league and I’d just be happy to stay in the division with a bit to spare. I’d just like to see us settle down with the coach and players pulling together and playing some decent stuff. And I’d like the club to communicate and do its PR a bit better, so that we don’t need to speculate so much.

I will end with Peter Lumley who had a more radical and resigned viewpoint:

Whoever is appointed it will be just another Matthew Benham gamble with little regard for the views of the Griffin Park faithful.

For my money the “dream ticket”would be Kevin O”Connor and Paul Williams.

Thanks to everybody who participated in the discussion and I think that there will be far more to say as the situation develops over the week. For what it is worth here is where I stand:

Lee Carsley was the obvious immediate short term appointment when the decision made not to continue with Marinus. Who knows how hard he had to be persuaded in order to convince him to take the job and agree to take the reins until the end of the season?

If there was any doubt at the time about his willingness to remain in post until May then it was a mistake to make the statement confirming that he would do so. What I suspect is that Lee did agree to do so, however reluctantly, but soon realised that he had made a mistake and has been actively trying to relinquish his position ever since. This is terribly disappointing given how well he has adapted to the role and the positive response that he has obtained from the squad as is reflected in our improved results and style of play.

We therefore need to make another appointment and whoever we choose will be a gamble to some extent. Clotet is an interesting prospect for all the reasons I outlined in my previous article in terms of his obvious coaching ability and the lovely football that Swansea attempt to play. How will he do when elevated to the Head Coach role and will the players buy into his approach? These are imponderables that cannot be answered.

I suspect that a firm decision has yet to be made and that the situation will not be resolved quickly.

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Stick Or Twist? That Is The Question – 10/11/15

According to Sky sources Brentford are actively engaged in trying to recruit a new permanent Head Coach and might even be close to be making an appointment.

Two names are supposedly in the frame with Gillingham manager Justin Edinburgh and Walsall’s Dean Smith both apparently under serious consideration. There is also talk that we are considering a British-based foreign manager.

Who knows if there is any truth in these rumours and we’ve learned at our cost that you cannot discount what is being said as we are still smarting after poo-pooing and dismissing out of hand the article in The Sun suggesting that Marinus Dijkhuizen was on the way out and yet, despite our scepticism, he was sacked less than a week later when the general feeling was that he would be given more time to turn things around at Griffin Park.

On the surface it would appear an irrational decision to upset the applecart and make fundamental changes particularly at a time when things are going so well at the club. Just to recap, we are coming off a month in which Lee Carsley won the Manager of the Month Award and Alan Judge was also named Player of the Month to complete an incredible winning double.

After losing his first two matches and presiding over two appallingly insipid performances against Birmingham and Derby County, Carsley took advantage of the opportunity provided by the international break to put his own stamp on affairs and he spent valuable time with the squad on the training ground and what has happened since is barely short of miraculous.

We have played six games since then and taken thirteen of the eighteen points on offer, beating Rotherham, Wolves, Charlton and most notably, QPR, drawing with Blackburn Rovers and losing to promotion favourites, Hull City.

You The results have been sensationally good, particularly given the state of affairs when he took over when confusion reigned, results were poor and performances even worse with the team unrecognisable in terms of both personnel and style from the salad days of last season when the Bees, under the reassuring and empowering management of Mark Warburton, took the division by storm.

The recent turn around encompasses far more than a massive improvement in results as Lee Carsley, not ignoring or forgetting the contribution of his sidekick Paul Williams, can take full credit for the following changes:

  • Improving the fitness levels of a squad that was visibly wilting in the final minutes of matches
  • Making training sessions sharper and better organised
  • Totally changing the playing style and increasing the pace and tempo of our game with players pressing far quicker and higher up the pitch
  • Reintroducing the slick, quick passing game that worked so well last season
  • Switching from the 4-4-2 and 4-3-3 formations favoured by Marinus to the 4-2-3-1 set up that worked so well last season
  • Encouraging possession football but with an end result rather than possession for possession’s sake
  • Relying on the proven, Championship experienced homegrown players remaining from last season and taking the rump of the new foreign signings out of the firing line where they had generally struggled to keep their heads above water

From what I have heard the training ground is a happy place at the moment and the smiles have returned to the faces of the entire squad who totally believe in their new interim Head Coach.

Alan McCormack, a player who has particularly benefited from the influence of Carsley and is once again a mainstay of the team, has been extremely vocal in terms of confirming how much the squad would like Lee to become the permanent Head Coach.

Given all of the above it would seem that he should be a shoo-in for the post given his popularity and obvious success, but there is where the problems begin.

Lee is an honest man who has unequivocally stated on many occasions since his appointment to the job at the end of September that he has no interest in the position on a permanent basis as he wants to concentrate on his first love, coaching young players, rather than becoming a first team manager or head coach, and he has remained true to his word and not once has he changed his tune or gone back on his initial assertion that the job was not for him, stating:

I didn’t ask to be a football manager and when I retired, my first thought wasn’t I want to be a manager. I want to coach Under 21 and Under 18 teams, that’s where my strength is.

In fact he has also gone on record as saying that the Brentford job is far too big for a rookie boss without any relevant experience.

Normally you would take these words with a pinch of salt and as the normal negotiating ploy of a man cynically pretending not to be interested in the job but in reality doing everything in his power to be seen to be reluctantly accepting the accolade. But with Lee, what you see is what you get and barring a remarkable and totally unexpected volte-face I cannot see him becoming our permanent Head Coach.

So what happens now? Why upset the applecart when everything has gone so well and Lee’s approach and success has bought us the time to make a measured decision about the next appointment? That is a damn good question and one that I cannot answer apart from reminding everybody about what somebody very close to the action said to me about Matthew Benham last season.

Whereas Mark Warburton’s view of life was If it ain’t broke then don’t fix it, Matthew Benham’s motto is far more akin to It might not be broken but let’s keep improving it.

Matthew Benham is dedicated to developing his beloved Brentford both on and off the pitch and if Lee Carsley has made it clear that he is not the right man for the job or if indeed Benham has independently come to the same decision, then perhaps he has decided to fill the post with the best possible candidate as soon as possible.

Maybe Carsley has also intimated that he would like to relinquish this role for his own good reasons well in advance of the end of the season and that a more immediate change needs to be made.

Those are the only possible interpretations as surely the Bees have learned from February’s fiasco and are not merely looking to sound out potential candidates now and then bring one in at the end of the season. All that leads to is chaos for all parties when the news inevitably leaks out.

The downside is that I cannot see Lee Carsley remaining at the club once a new man takes his place and to lose a man of his ability would certainly be a sad loss to the club. His previous job as Development Squad Manager has been filled by Kevin O’Connor who has started exceptionally well in his new post and I cannot see Carsley relegating himself to becoming the assistant to the new Head Coach as this would seem to make little sense for him and probably not suit the new man either. Perhaps he can increase his involvement with the England set up or seek a position as Academy Director at a Premier League club? In any case his success at Griffin Park has deservedly put him and his achievements into the spotlight.

So what happens now and who are the likely candidates under consideration? I have to say that given Carsley’s popularity and success to date I fully expected him to remain in charge until the end of the season, and that, of course, might still be the case.

I also thought that Brentford would probably select somebody who would not be available until the end of the season and ideally avoid the need to pay his club any compensation.

Both Dean Smith and Justin Edinburgh have proven themselves to be astute operators in the lower divisions and Dean in particular has established an excellent reputation for playing decent football and bringing through young talent and Romaine Sawyers and Tom Bradshaw have both caught the eye this season, as has Bradley Dack at Gillingham.

Neither Smith nor Edinburgh have managed in The Championship but either would be reasonable options, although of the two I would be far happier with Smith as I believe he would be far better attuned to how we want to do things at Brentford.

Having been badly burned once with Dijkhuizen I am certain that a prerequisite for any new Head Coach will be a sound working knowledge of the Football League and I would be staggered if we bring in somebody who hasn’t already had some managerial experience in England.

As Sky have intimated he could also be a foreigner and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, for one, has gained a flood of admirers for his work at Burton Albion over the past year and he would tick many of the boxes although he would still be a calculated risk.

I have always been a fan of Slovisa Jocanovic who led Watford to promotion last season but he has taken on a new challenge at Maccabi Tel Aviv.

We have just started a fortnight’s international break and this could turn out to be a crucial time for the club and whatever decision is taken will have enormous ramifications for the future success or otherwise of the club.

Having made such a poor appointment in Dijkhuizen, Brentford cannot afford to make another mistake and it might well be that the best decision is to do nothing and leave well alone, unless Lee Carsley has made it perfectly clear that he wants out as soon as possible.

A Real Dilemma! – 26/9/15

I really wasn’t too sure who I wanted to win last night’s West London derby between our two hated rivals Fulham and Queens Park Rangers. Unfortunately Football League regulations do not yet allow for a verdict of nul points to be awarded so I was feeling utterly conflicted about the eventual outcome.

Perhaps I would settle for a nil-nil draw with lots of injuries – nothing too painful but certainly lingering and long-term to be suffered by the likes of star players Ross McCormack and Charlie Austin and the game to be refereed by Keith Stroud at his enigmatic best and be littered with a series of red and yellow cards which would leave the two teams seriously weakened for the challenges that lie ahead throughout the remainder of the season.

The outcome was a surprise as Fulham pulverised QPR by four goals to nil and the score could easily have been doubled had they taken more of the clear chances that they created on the night. French teenager Moussa Dembele was a towering target man who combined pace and power in abundance and proved a handful for the Rangers defence. Hopefully he will not remain for too much longer at Craven Cottage before a Premiership team snatches him away.

The aforementioned McCormack was far too clever for the visitors with his movement and scored twice and O’Hara and Pringle dovetailed beautifully in midfield. Fulham it has to be said looked like a team bursting with purpose, poise and confidence and their previously porous defence was barely tested on what turned out to be a night of shame and humiliation for the visitors.

Rangers barely mounted a challenge, ran up the white flag from the early moments when they conceded a ludicrously soft opening goal and after they eventually managed to carve open the Fulham defence with an admittedly lovely move which ended with Luongo spurning a golden chance to equalise by firing carelessly wide, their heads went down and they allowed Fulham to take total control.

Success in the Championship is obtained by a winning combination of perspiration and inspiration and you have to demonstrate both qualities if you are to prevail. On the night Fulham, to their credit, certainly did so and the entire team, apart from the totally unworked Andy Lonergan in goal sweated buckets as well as playing some beautiful one touch football but their task was made far easier by the fact that Rangers were not prepared to press or challenge or do any of the unseen and nasty work off the ball that is necessary if you are to ensure that possession is won back after it is conceded. Rangers never really appeared to want to break sweat on the night and their lack of commitment is highlighted by their only committing ten fouls throughout the game and barely putting in a tackle worthy of the name.

The question has to be asked if Fulham were simply unstoppable on a night when everything came off for them and they performed to their full capability, or if they were in truth made to look far better than they really are by a totally inept and craven display by QPR? The jury is out on that matter, but last night’s match certainly reinforced the fact that the overall quality of Championship players is exceptionally high and the majority of teams possess game changers – players who have the ability to take a game by the scruff of its neck and turn it in favour of their team by virtue of one moment of brilliance.

By the end of the evening QPR had degenerated into an ill-disciplined shambles exemplified by the totally inept Chery stalking straight off to the dressing room in an apparent hissy fit after being dragged off and substituted before the interval and top scorer Charlie Austin limped off on the hour with what appeared to be a hamstring injury which hopefully will be a serious one and take quite a while – ideally over a month – to heal!

Their supporters were reduced to silence by their team’s pathetic display and it is also interesting to note that there was much made of the fact that they brought 4,000 fans to Craven Cottage – over two thousand less than we took to our match there last season!

I have a rather annoying acquaintance who is as fanatical about his beloved Queens Park Rangers as I am about the Bees and he persists in sending me a series of taunting texts and tweets whenever his team wins or we loses. Interestingly enough he seems to have gone very quiet over the past few hours and I wonder if I will hear from him today? I somehow think not!

The humiliation of QPR has certainly brought about a more than decent start to the weekend, ignoring of course the necessary but unpalatable fact that as a result Fulham took the three points on offer. What would top things off perfectly would be for Brentford to do the business this afternoon against a tough and resourceful Sheffield Wednesday team that will be bursting with confidence after beating Fulham and then Newcastle United in their last two matches.

They had the better of us last season with a fairly even goalless draw at Griffin Park followed by a totally self-inflicted one-nil defeat in the return match when we conspired to miss a plethora of gilt-edged chances and then set up the winning goal for our opponents on a plate after yet again overplaying at the back and losing possession in a dangerous area of the pitch.

Our confidence will have been boosted by last weekend’s much needed victory over Preston North End and the defence will also be strengthened by the return of James Tarkowski who has recovered from his calf injury. There are some selection dilemmas for Marinus Dijkhuizen today in terms of whether he retains Josh Clarke at right back and who he selects to play in midfield. Will Ryan Woods get his long awaited first start for the club? Marinus will also have to decide whether Sergi Canos merits a start or if his flair is best used as a substitute when he can come on and ideally wreak havoc against a tiring defence.

Wednesday carry a real threat up front where they combine strength and flair in abundance and today would be an ideal time for that long awaited first clean sheet of the season to arrive.

These are interesting and challenging times for a Brentford squad that remains seriously depleted in both numbers and quality. Our fighting spirit however is not in any doubt and if we can somehow find a way to overcome adversity and obtain at least four and ideally six points from today and next Tuesday’s home game against a revitalised Birmingham team then the season might be on the verge of taking off.

Tipping Point – 23/8/15

Did as well as could be expected given what little we had, might be a fair description of Brentford’s performance at Turf Moor yesterday.

Burnley were tough, well organised and uncompromising and proved hard to break down, but in all honesty they were pretty dour and uninspired and were really there for the taking, particularly as they were lacking in confidence given that they were still searching for their first victory of the season.

Brentford more than matched them throughout the first half when we pinged the ball out to both wings with pace and accuracy with Diagouraga linking the play skilfully, and but for some pretty insipid finishing from the otherwise lively Vibe, a good save by Heaton from Judge’s well placed free kick and Hofmann not gambling and anticipating a couple of opportunities from penetrative balls into the area, we would have been comfortably ahead.

As it was, the home crowd was already beginning to moan and mutter and get on the back of their team when Brentford unforgivably gave away the initiative at a time when they were in total control and conceded yet another soft goal from Burnley’s first corner kick when Jones’s excellent delivery left Hofmann floundering at the far post, he lost his man and Keane headed home easily without much of a challenge. Maybe there had been a foul on Hofmann who claimed that he’d been pushed, but he was guilty of ball watching and we need to show better organisation and far more determination when defending set pieces or we will continue to suffer the consequences. Surely our set piece coach should also be looking at how we defend them as well as helping us to take advantage of our own opportunities.

Our heads went down at this self inflicted blow and Burnley gratefully took control without ever seriously threatening a second goal.

Our threat also disappeared for long spells, but we improved when Colin made an excellent debut as a second half substitute. He is pacy, plays with his head up and uses the ball intelligently and he looked to be an excellent replacement for Moses Odubajo. Finally some good news!

We flitted in and out of the game throughout the second half and went close with a long range effort from Kerschbaumer whistling narrowly over the crossbar and auxiliary striker Harlee Dean, easily our man of the match, almost getting on the end of a loose ball in the area during a late but abortive flurry.

As it was Burnley just about deserved the victory on the overall balance of play but had the Bees scored in the first quarter of the match, as they surely should have done, then Burnley heads would have gone down and Brentford would likely have emerged victorious.

In all honesty Brentford were totally hamstrung through lack of options. With the late sale on Friday of Andre Gray, who was an interested onlooker from the main stand, and the injury list still biting deep into our limited resources, pretty much every fit senior player was included in the squad and, as for the bench, it was utterly threadbare, and more resembled a kindergarten than being fit for purpose for a purported Championship promotion contender, with Senior, Udumaga and Clarke all included, and as Alan Judge ruefully admitted afterwards, it contained a mixture of defenders and kids and gave us no flexibility to change things.

Hofmann in particular needed a break as he had run himself out with little support but he was forced to lumber on given the lack of a suitable alternative.

I have written at length over the past week about our approach and provided a rationale for why we have allowed so many players to leave. I have to admit it hurt me to watch Stuart Dallas make such an impact and create the Leeds equaliser against Sheffield Wednesday and he would have made a real difference for us up at Turf Moor, it was similarly galling to see Jon Toral look so lively for Birmingham against Derby (I did try and refrain from mentioning how impressive Clayton Donaldson looked too but I failed dismally) but we have made our bed and we now have to lie in it.

We were promised an increased depth and size of squad with adequate cover in every position but so far that has proved to be a chimera. Injuries and sales, forced and otherwise, have meant that we have been reduced to using raw development squad recruits just to fill the bench and ensure that we have the requisite number of seven substitutes.

To be frank, I did not expect there to be quite the level of upheaval that has taken place recently and that we would pretty much be looking for an entirely new team.

A reported opportunity to earn the thick end of ten million pounds for Gray from Burnley when the add ons are included made the deal inevitable, and we have almost doubled our record sale figure in less than a fortnight. I have no complaints about any of the sales as long as those who have left us as well as the long term injured are adequately replaced – and quickly.

Without Moses, Gray and the injured Jota we have lost all of our pace and dynamism and much of our guile and we look a pallid and lethargic shadow of the exciting, speedy and vibrant team of last season that cut opponents to ribbons, but I fully realise and pray that things can change very quickly if we are able to complete deals for our prime targets and they then settle down quickly into a new team and pattern of play. Big ifs though!

Max Colin (great name) made an encouraging start at Burnley but Vibe, Hofmann and Kerschbaumer have, quite understandably, yet to find their feet in the hustle and bustle of the Championship. All have contributed little cameos to date with Kerschbaumer’s wonderful back heel at Bristol last weekend which helped set up our opening goal and his beautifully weighed pass yesterday that created  a massive chance for Vibe that he spurned. Vibe and Hofmann have also had their moments, particularly with the fourth goal at Bristol, but they have been pretty rare and spasmodic.

We have played some excellent football in spurts in each of our opening three league matches but we have looked disorganised, disjointed and open in defence, vulnerable at set pieces and lacking cover from the midfield and without Gray, pretty toothless up front. The loss of Douglas has nowhere near been covered adequately and with the departures of Pritchard, Dallas, Douglas and Gray, and Jota’s injury we now have to replace nearly three quarters of the goals we scored last season, and frankly I cannot see where they are going to come from.

It is hard to overestimate the impact that the injuries, combined with player transfers have had on us. As we came into the last couple of weeks of the preseason I fully expect that Dijkhuizen was planning on starting with the following team – until fate intervened:

  • Button
  • Odubajo
  • Dean
  • Bjelland
  • Bidwell
  • Diagouraga
  • McEachran
  • Jota
  • Judge
  • Gogia
  • Gray

Five of that likely starting eleven have either left the club or are currently unavailable for the long term and with Douglas and Dallas also departed we are really creaking at the seams. Midfield was our strong point last season with a combination of goals, pace, flair and flexibility and several selection options too, whereas now we are struggling for bodies and balance.

The season has barely begun but what happens over the next week or so up until the end of the transfer window in my opinion will set the tone for how the remainder of the season will pan out. Yes, of course we can sign loan players from early September too but we need to get some semblance of a settled team as well as strength in depth and give Marinus a realistic chance to build and develop his squad. We are a bit of a shambles at the moment – understandably so, given all the circumstances, and yesterday I hope we reached our nadir and the tipping point as I do not expect to see such a weak squad again for the forseeable future.

We drastically need reinforcements, but they have to be of a suitable calibre and character, and players who are ideally not just short term bodies intended merely to paper over the cracks. It would be a gross overstatement to say that we are currently in crisis mode regarding the size, quality and battle readiness of our squad but we are certainly cash rich and player poor – a horribly dangerous combination that could lead us to be held to ransom and perhaps have our pockets picked as the dreaded deadline approaches. The international break also cannot come quickly enough as it will allow us the time to regroup and ideally integrate new players into our system.

We are running out of time and much has to happen over the next week or so and this is the time when our joint Directors of Football need to earn their spurs. Gentlemen –  it is over to you.

Some Other Opinions – 21/8/15

I wrote a long article yesterday giving my opinion on what is currently happening at Griffin Park. Since then the water has been further muddied by Andre Gray turning down Bristol City’s offer and returning to train with the Bees. Just when it appeared that everything had settled down again, at least for the next few days until the madness resumed, news broke of an apparent nine million pound offer from Burnley and that the move could even be completed in time for Gray to make his debut at Turf Moor tomorrow – against, of course, Brentford! You really could not make this up!

Who knows what the truth is as Burnley are not renowned for flashing the cash around, and your guess is as good as mine regarding whether Gray will actually play tomorrow, and if he does, for which team. We supporters are just totally confused and heartily fed up with a situation that appears to be spiralling away out of control. We just ask for resolution one way or the other, but in today’s crazy world of football when money talks and agents rule the roost, there appears to be little that we can do apart from sit tight and hold out for the valuation that we have set on the player to be met by a team that he actually wants to play for. Pretty obviously Brentford is no longer high up on his list!

We also pray that should Gray finally leave us that sufficient time remains for him to be suitably replaced and for other players also to be added to what is a thin and beleaguered squad at present. I well suspect that moves are afoot behind the scenes and Gray’s future does not predicate everything that is being planned by our brains trust, but the clock is ticking.

The person I really feel sorry for is poor Marinus Dijkhuizen who must really be questioning his decision to join this mad house given everything has been thrown at him recently. How can he make any plans for tomorrow’s match when he does not know who will be playing for his own team, let alone the opposition? My heart goes out to him and we need to be very patient and understanding towards him.

Maybe there will be further news to report as the day progresses but I suspect that this sad and sorry saga will drag into next week or even beyond.

As for my article, several fellow Brentford supporters also had trenchant opinions that I would like to share with you all.

Rob Boyce commented:

I would certainly agree that consolidation is required, and that with the influx of new players the opportunity arises to mesh them into a potent force, once (hopefully) the injury situation improves. I also agree that the updates on the pitch and injury situation are a welcome change in communication, and hope that they are continued periodically.

Headlangdon felt similarly:

Fantastic post Greville. A properly considered, long term / long game article. I am not so sure that we are still considered a ‘stepping stone’ anymore, due to Benham’s revolutionary ideas. Maybe we are more of a championship enigma, with poachable players, though – as we keep building, this will change. I am happy to sit and ride this journey out instead of rushing it. Lets back the players, lets back Marinus and #InBenhamWeTrust.

Rebel Bee held stronger views:

 

As always a great read and today’s edition does raise a few areas where i’d like to challenge you a little. Always though in a friendly manner as I know we share the some love for this amazing football club – or folk club as Marinus now calls it. 
Firstly, I accept that BFC are financially one of the smaller clubs in the top two divisions, but we can’t allow this to become a litany for failure though. Firstly we have a very wealthy owner, whilst his generosity should not be taken for granted I doubt he’ll see us as financial lightweights in this league. We also have a growing fan-base, increased commercial income and a new stadium on the horizon, that I believe we will fill. We are a big club to those in Leagues one and two and we simply have to do what is being done to us and find / take their better players.

I don’t see much evidence of this right now, we are doing our work in Continental Europe.  I would like us to find another Andre. Moses and alike here.
 Sure we have to be prudent and there is this outbreak of madness amongst our rivals at the moment as they chase next year’s Premier League and Sky monies – leave them to it and if crazy money is offered for our players which we cannot match then let’s do the deals and get as much in for them as possible, then reinvest. Smart work here can bridge the income gap to some extent, Bournemouth and others have made it work! 


Then we come to those magical stats, not mentioned so much in the piece today, but i’ll simply pose the question. How many of our summer signings have been made based on the new analytical stats based formula -not a complaint just really interested to know? I have my doubts and would imagine that the pace of change has forced compromises here. 


Then to communication, firstly I give huge credit to Mark Devlin for the work he does and the way he communicates – under his watch we are way better than ever before in areas he touches. As for the rest – woefully inadequate and worse than ever in my view. With all this change and uncertainty a few reassuring words and an update on “the plan” from the top would go a long way. I know that Matthew Benham isn’t seeking the role of “gobby” attention seeking owner or front man – I have no issue with that, but someone needs to step up, also to give more public help and support to Marinus.

What have we heard so far, nothing from the Chairman, nothing from the Director of Football who achieved much notoriety as a master communicator and motivational speaker. A little more from Director of Football number two – our very own Alan Turing (Mr Giles), usually with fairly clumsy remarks. And that’s it. Come on guys – some “Churchillian” positivity is needed here and now, something we can all get behind – is it so much to ask or are we just too needy? 


Finally on to Andre – luckily we won’t get mugged off here, to my addled brain he wants out and wants to go to Hull City, he was apparently at their game on Sunday or at least watched it on television! We have the fee we want but not from them. now I truly hope that Andre stays with us, but I now doubt it very much, and we have to be wary of Bruce and Hull playing games to let this run on and on to weaken our hand, also for “someone” to suggest to Andre that he make himself unavailable for selection due to the “stress” of it all. I hope Andre is better than this, but either way I think they will all meet their match in our Mr Benham. We are 
still a work in progress and there is much to improve upon, but BFC are rising – get used to it people.



Paul Dryden said:

An excellent post as ever. Could we possibly imagine say three years ago purchasing players for six hundred thousand pounds and then selling on for nine million around a year later? We do have a small squad and an horrendous injury list but hopefully just round the corner Mr Lewis Macleod will be making his long awaited debut! If he is as good as they say he is then we are in for a treat.



Stephen Burke 
stated:

It’s a real shame about Gray – he has obviously had a very productive summer/pre-season and come back a better, stronger player who could score thirty goals in a season.
 As to everything else, who is pulling the strings at the club? If as seems likely it’s Matthew Benham, it would be good if he could tell us what’s going on. But PR has never been his strength!



Richard Poole wanted us to kick on:

Great stuff Greville but I think even us supporters should be thinking differently if we as a club want to push on from last year and I do not mean throwing the cash around. Yes it is great that we are selling and buying players and beating our transfer record  but we are not that “Little Old Brentford” any more, we are a Championship team which showed last year that we fully deserve to be in this league. OK we need a bigger ground to go with our status but we are in the Championship so let’s do our best to stay there or dare I say go further. This is the best opportunity in years to establish Brentford FC in the higher tiers of football so i hope we give the coaching team what they need and have no regrets at the end of season as we all know in football how things can change so quickly.

Mark Croxford , as always the voice of reason said the following:

That’s an excellent analysis.
 I do feel a little sorry for Dijkhuizen as he has made two or three references to the fact that he is “only the Head Coach” and yet he is getting plagued during every interview with questions about transfers, incoming players, etc. I understand the questions have to be asked and we all want the answers but I do think he’s been left a bit exposed.

He made a rueful “at last” comment when asked about football matters during a recent interview.
 To the outsider, he’s Brentford’s manager and is being treated as such. The Evening Standard last night started their article by saying that “Dijkhuizen will be allowed to spend the whole £8 million…” 
If the club really wants to hammer home the message about the new structure, I do think there needs to be a bit more effort to include some of the decision-makers in the necessary public part of the process – and I don’t really mean Matthew Benham.
 The way the new set-up was announced, I’d have almost expected the Head Coach to do the pre-match and post-match interviews only – and leave all the other stuff to someone else!



Does anybody else have anything to add? If so please let me know bearing in mind that matters might well have changed yet again by the time I have finished writing this!

What’s Going On? – 20/8/15

So what’s going on at Griffin Park as bemused Brentford supporters anxiously await the puff of white smoke that will finally confirm the departure of Andre Gray and the inevitable conclusion to what has developed into a never ending saga that has dragged on for several weeks now?

On the face of it the evidence is damning as Gray will be just one more addition to what now seems to be a massive and increasing exodus of players from Griffin Park since the end of last season.

Alex Pritchard, Jon Toral, Richard Lee, Tommy Smith, Alfie Mawson, Nick Proschwitz, Will Grigg, Stuart Dallas, Tony Craig, Jonathan Douglas, Moses Odubajo are the others who are no longer with us, and there have now been massive changes and upheavals to the settled squad that ended the season just a few short months ago in May.

However it is only when you look at all the departures in greater detail and analyse the reason for each one that you can obtain a full understanding of what has been going on.

Richard Lee retired as also did Kevin O’Connor and Smith and Proschwitz were both deemed surplus to our requirements. Grigg too was not thought to be the answer to our needs up front despite his rehabilitation at MK Dons last season and to obtain a cool million pounds from Wigan for a player who has never found his feet at our club was surely good business on our part – if not an inspired purchase in the first place.

Alex Pritchard’s future was simply out of our hands as the loanee returned in triumph to his parent club, Spurs. Would that we were able to find a way to spirit him back to Griffin Park as his influence is sadly missed which is hardly surprising given how talented he is and how effective he was at playing the killer pass that opened up the opposition defence.

Jon Toral also returned to Arsenal after his loan spell, although there were certainly rumours that we had tried to retain his services either on loan or a permanent basis and I confess that it came as a real surprise to me when he joined Birmingham. It is open to question whether he would have played sufficiently often for us as a loan player to have kept Arsenal happy but I was half-expecting that he would become a permanent Brentford player as he would have been an excellent addition to the squad.

Alfie Mawson simply and understandably felt that he would not get a look-in at Griffin Park and joined Barnsley for whom he scored his first goal at Millwall on Tuesday night.

Stuart Dallas was another who felt that he would receive more opportunities elsewhere given that he was seen more as a valuable substitute rather than as an automatic first choice at Brentford. The fee of around one and a quarter million pounds represented a massive return on the sum paid by the club to Crusaders but I suspect that his value might well increase in coming years as he gains more experience, and hopefully our interests are protected with a sell-on clause.

The Jonathan Douglas situation has been discussed to death on message boards recently and I would agree that his influence was waning on the pitch and that he was unlikely to reconcile himself to becoming a bit part player. His departure was therefore the best solution for all parties although I still feel that he has yet to be replaced adequately particularly given Josh McEachran’s injury. Tony Craig was another who needed to leave with our gratitude for services rendered over the past three years.

Our hands were then completely tied regarding the loss of star fullback Moses Odubajo to Hull City as a three and a half million pound release clause had been inserted into his contract in order to ensure that he joined us in the first place from Leyton Orient a year ago, at a time when bigger fish were also sniffing around him.

Hull offered us the money and we could not get anywhere close to competing with them in terms of the wages they were able to offer him given the income they have received from their spell in the Premier League plus the massive parachute payments they are currently in receipt of.

It pains me to admit it but we are still small fry and remain well down the football totem pole. We are totally stymied and our growth is restricted by the limited capacity and lack of resources of Griffin Park and I understand that our income is in the bottom three of all twenty-four Championship teams.

No wonder we are losing our stars to clubs who can pay them better. We might say that we are bigger than say Hull City or even Bristol City, but we are deluding ourselves to even think that that is really the case. Maybe in years to come once we have moved into our new stadium at Lionel Road and reached the Premier League, or even stabilised in the top half of the Championship, we can then match what is being offered by others to our top players but for the time being we simply have to accept facts as they are.

We are on more than a stepping stone and a proving ground where players receive a platform and the necessary support and encouragement to thrive, shine and improve. The best of them will then be picked off by bigger clubs than us who will certainly offer higher wages and perhaps even a better professional opportunity.

Footballers have a short career and an even shorter window of opportunity. Today’s budding star is tomorrow’s broken leg or free transfer and I would never blame any footballer for chasing the main chance and following the money trail.

Let’s assume that Andre Gray is earning around four thousand pounds per week at Brentford. This is a guess and I might well be miles out in my figure. Bristol City then come in and offer to pay him perhaps sixteen thousand pounds per week. What can he be expected to do in the circumstances? What would you do if you were offered the same choice?

I will tell you what will happen with Gray if you haven’t already worked it out for yourself – he will quickly get his agent to see if a higher profile club is prepared to pay Brentford the required fee and either match or better the salary on offer.

If nothing else is forthcoming then he will surely sign for Bristol City as he cannot afford to allow such an incredible financial opportunity to perhaps quadruple his salary to slip through his hands. Nor should he be expected to. Loyalty for, and love of the club is for us supporters, not professional footballers. They have to look after Number One.

Let’s now look at the situation for Brentford. Bristol City have apparently had an offer of nine million pounds accepted, perhaps seven million pounds down and an additional two million pounds dependent upon performance. Let me just repeat those figures and allow them to sink in. Seven million pounds down and an additional two million pounds dependent upon performance. This for a player we bought for around six hundred thousand pounds a year or so ago. Ideally there is also a sell-on clause included too. This is double the previous record fee received for a player!

If we turn down an offer of this magnitude we risk having a disgruntled player on our hands whose value could quickly spiral downwards.

Similarly, promising young players are happy to join us as they are secure in the knowledge that they will be in the shop window at Griffin Park and it becomes a win/win situation for all parties. We sign players who might otherwise have spurned us and we also benefit from the transfer fees that we eventually receive when they move on.

Should the Gray deal go through then we will have taken in over twelve and a half million pounds in transfer fees this summer with the potential of further payments to come.

The Brentford model is very simple and straightforward. We utilise our proprietary statistics and mathematical modelling techniques to identify hot young prospects who have either been ignored or undervalued by our rivals. We buy low then sell high once another club has reached our valuation of the player. Every player without exception is for sale assuming we receive adequate compensation.

The key though is what we do with all the money we receive. We are not asset stripping or hoarding the cash as some critics have asserted, and the money taken in is not siphoned off to pay off debt. Yes, some will go to endure that we remain within the stringent requirements of Financial Fair Play but the the majority is reinvested in the squad. The more money we bring in from player sales the more we can spend on investing in new talent.

Last year we sold Adam Forshaw and spent over a million pounds each on Moses Odubajo and Jota and around half that sum on Gray and Scott Hogan. Now we have upgraded exponentially as the money we have received from our outgoing players has enabled us to invest around six million pounds on the likes of Andreas Bjelland, Lasse Vibe, Philipp Hofmann, Josh McEachran, Yoann Barbet, Maxine Colin and Konstantin Kerschbaumer. There is also talk of us trying to bring in another four players before the transfer window shuts at the end of the month. That is a very tight deadline and we will do well to get suitable players in by that time and other clubs will also try and take advantage of our situation and charge us a premium.

The more we bring in, the more we can spend – it is a very simple formula. This year we spent over two million pounds, easily a club record fee, on Bjelland, and maybe very soon, given the extra transfer sums that have been received, we will be in a position to spend even more money on a player.

The problem is that the pressure is always on us to keep unearthing more and more uncut gems so that the conveyor belt can keep moving. It is far too early to say how successful any of our new signings will turn out to be and it is perhaps one of the cheaper newcomers, Andy Gogia, who might well turn out to be the most valuable, if he meets our expectations and turns out to be as good as is anticipated. With serious expenditure comes serious risk. Not all our signings will come off and some will fail to perform as well as expected.

Will Grigg turned out to be a total bust for us, but in the end we succeeded in more than doubling our total investment in him when we sold him to MK Dons. It was a close run thing though, as at one time it seemed that we might well lose a significant sum on him, but thankfully he performed well on loan at MK Dons last season which enabled us to set and obtain a fee for him that a year or so ago seemed highly improbable.

We have now spent heavily on seven players in recent weeks, and the more we spend the more we can lose as well as gain. Thankfully the analysts seem to have got it right far more often than not up to now but there will be increasing pressure on them to keep doing so as the stakes get even higher.

There is also concern that there are too many moves and changes taking place in too short a time, particularly when you also take into account the number of injuries we have recently been incurring – and not just any old minor injury, but serious long-term ones that have incapacitated the likes of Bjelland, McEachran and Jota. To some degree there has been little that we can do as most of the injuries occurred late on in the close season or in the first couple of matches of the new season at a time when most of the player sales, with the exception of Moses and perhaps now Gray, should he finally leave us, had already been completed. I see that as bad luck rather than poor planning however I feel for the new Head Coach as in many ways he has been handed a poisoned chalice as well as a massive opportunity.

Marinus Dijkhuizen has certainly got massive support off the field in terms of his coaching and specialist staff and he has indubitably been provided with all the potential tools with which to do the job, in terms of the number and quality of new players who have arrived. However his planning must have been hindered firstly by the unprecedented number of injuries, secondly by the Griffin Park and Jersey Road pitch fiascos and now by players being sold around him, admittedly for all the good reasons previously provided, at a time well after he had presumably completed his preseason preparations with his original squad and had already made decisions upon his best team.

Assuming Gray leaves and given the current injury crisis, it is anticipated that there will be yet a further influx of new players, plus of course Maxime Colin, into the squad over the next couple of weeks. All well and good certainly, as we are really short of numbers at present and this will also provide evidence indeed of the club’s determination to keep strengthening but it falls on the Head Coach to integrate yet more players into his squad – no easy task once the season has already started and the games come thick and fast.

The supporters are slowly warming to Dijkhuizen and appreciate his tactical flexibility, phlegmatic approach in accepting how things are and his bravery in terms of switching players and formation when things are not initially working out on the field. He will need patience and an understanding of the task and obstacles that he is currently facing but the omens are good for him and I feel that he has made an excellent start in what is a challenging new job.

We have to trust in the strategy employed by the club as it is the only sensible one given our financial constraints and it is surely the one that will continue to allow us to punch well above our weight and outperform clubs who are far richer but perhaps not as smart, brave or well informed as we are.

Given less radical changes since the end of last season and a bit more stability I would have been confident that we could have kicked on from even last season’s incredible fifth place achievement. Now I think we will need to retrench, regroup and allow our new group of players and coaches to bed in and settle down. We hoped for promotion, and still do, but now I think, despite what must obviously be a far higher playing budget than last season, that we will probably have to settle for consolidation.

It is still far too early to say whether we will be successful this season, or if we have perhaps bitten off more than we can chew. We have certainly been singleminded and relentless in pursuit of our goal but I would question whether we have attempted to do too much to soon and if evolution rather than revolution might have paid greater dividends. Matthew Benham is certainly a risk taker but he is only a taker of considered and educated gambles and we must believe in him and his team, accept a few growing pains and the vicissitudes of ill fortune and hope that the season turns out well.

Good communication is also essential. It really helps to reassure us when we are kept in the loop by the club. We were recently given helpful updates regarding the pitch repair and also the current injury situation which helped inform us and set minds at rest. I understand that a Fans’ Forum is planned for the near future. I appreciate that Matthew Benham is never one to seek the limelight and make public utterances but in this case, given the circumstances, his presence would be massively reassuring as it would be extremely helpful to hear things straight from the horse’s mouth.

One Week In – 18/8/15

Mark Croxford is a long-term and well-respected Brentford supporter and author who is an astute observer of the Brentford scene and he has produced a fascinating overview and his own personal viewpoint regarding our start to the season which was published yesterday on the Griffin Park Grapevine fans’ message board and Mark has kindly agreed to allow me to reproduce his article here as it deserves the widest readership possible:

One week in …
… and it’s far too early to make assessments, but here goes!

Our new Head Coach has shown naivety and bravery in equal measures over the course of the three games. I can’t say that’s entirely unexpected but Marinus’s success or failure will no doubt be somewhat based on how well he balances these two traits.

I wrote some weeks back that I felt that the Sporting Directors had not lived up to their summer promises and I still subscribe to that view, as so much emphasis was based on having a big squad allowing Dijkhuizen to be able to rotate … “we want so much more choice than last season, etc, etc.”

I know that injuries have hampered their efforts but – even allowing for the long-term losses of Bjelland, Jota and McEachran, we are still left with a squad of just nineteen (and that’s assuming Andre Gray stays). We have to assume that this season’s planning took place with the names of Hogan and Macleod on a separate piece of paper.

Ron Noades said little that I concurred with but I do recall one of his comments being that one should always assume that between ten to fifteen percent of the playing squad will be unavailable through injury at any one time. So that’s about par for the course then – the huge drawback being that this batch are predominantly long-term absentees. By the way, that figure of nineteen also includes the likes of Tebar, Yennaris and Saunders who we may not have expected to see play for us too often.

So how great an impact will all the injuries have on us? I reckon Bjelland is a massive loss. His brief forty minute display against Oxford was uninspiring to say the least, but he was clearly brought in to be the mainstay of a back four which was hoped and intended to be far less porous than last season. Can O’Connell and Barbet fill his boots? Who knows, but over the course of a whole season the prospect of one of these two talented but inexperienced youngsters playing such a key role is a big, big gamble. I don’t for one moment believe that anyone really expected Dean and Tarkowski to form our central defensive partnership for the start of the season and I’d be amazed, and frankly disappointed, if they are there for the duration.

Jota’s loss for up to four months is also a major blow. Aside from the entertainment value he provides, the goals he contributes are priceless. Personally, I don’t think his assists are anywhere near good enough – he has so much possession in dangerous areas but delivers such a small percentage of assists – but just look at last season’s goal-scoring credits. We scored seventy-eight goals in the Championship. Take away the thirty-seven goals netted by Jota, Pritchard, Douglas, Dallas and almost half have disappeared. If Gray’s sixteen were to go too, I reckon that’s practically three quarters of last season’s goals that need to be found from elsewhere!! I’m not saying it’s impossible to achieve, but what a monumental ask!

McEachran’s absence is a frustrating one. Maybe he was meant to be the holding midfielder and yet from the very, very limited view that we’ve had of him in preseason, he doesn’t look to be someone to provide the defensive shield that the back-four is crying out for. We’ve seen already that Toumani probably doesn’t play that role either and the failure to have acquired a player like Mokotjo might prove to be the biggest mistake of all.

What of the other newcomers who have so far remained fit and healthy? Gogia is a more exciting wing-man than Dallas but far less effective in providing a left-sided attacking/defensive partnership with Bidwell. That might change as he gets used to English football but will he be able to contribute the goals and assists that Dallas did? Hopefully so.

Kerschbaumer has got potential without doubt. So far he’s shown himself to be a willing worker and hard-runner but, and as is only to be expected in his early days, he alternates between impressive and invisible and does not influence the game in the way that Douglas was able to do. Maybe the loss of Douglas was inevitable and welcome off the field, but on the pitch his replacement is not obvious at the moment.

Yoann Barbet looks promising but it has to be remembered that this time last year, he’d never kicked a ball in anger in a first-team professional game so patience will be a necessary virtue in his development. 

Jack O’Connell looks the real deal – and it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that he’ll turn out to be the unexpected star of the season. He certainly played well on Saturday when he replaced Tarkowski – another addition to the injury list!

And so to the front men. The Andre Gray scenario changes so rapidly that by the time I’ve finished typing this, he might have gone elsewhere! If he does, I genuinely fear for the season ahead. It has taken him a year to develop into the player he is and ready-made replacements within budget may not exist.

Philipp Hofmann will score goals I believe, but maybe not as many as the tally that Gray notched last season. Lasse Vibe may score goals too, but he looks to be someone who firstly needs a bit more time to become accustomed to the pace and strength of Championship football and then needs to find a suitable role for himself within the team framework.

Going back to where I started and the activities of the Sporting Directors and the recruitment team, I can’t see much likelihood of a late influx of players to boost the ailing numbers, so perhaps this really will be a genuine season of transition and stability with the January window proving to be the busiest we’ve seen since the Andy Scott days.

I reckon the shopping list so far reads: a replacement for Bjelland (on and off the field), a strong and effective defensive midfielder (six steps up from Alan McCormack) and a true “number ten”  or playmaker as have we got anyone within the squad who can currently play that role effectively?

A couple of loans wouldn’t go amiss either – a wide player to cover for Jota’s absence and a left-sided player to compete with the only two currently at the club (Bidwell and Gogia).

And as for Andre Gray? Who knows what will happen and if so, when? But don’t forget all those goals that need to be made up! I’m not thinking about that any more – it’s too frightening.

Thanks, Mark for taking the time to provide so cogent and well thought through an article. He makes many good points in particular about the missing goals that we will have to replace from midfield as well as the potential implications of losing Andre Gray and as always he has carefully researched his facts before he makes his opinions known.

Personally I think that the jury is still out and that it is far too early to make any judgements about how this season will progress.

The Head Coach appears to favour a 4-3-3 formation and ideally to play Gray and Hofmann together. Will the extra goals that such an exciting attacking partnership provides, rather than last season’s lone striker policy, make up for the lack of defensive cover from midfield that was exposed as such a major weakness at Bristol City last Saturday? I have my doubts on the limited evidence to date.

The relentless procession of injuries has come as an unwelcome and unexpected blow, they have already hit us hard and their impact could well be long-term and far reaching. I remain hopeful that swift action will be taken in the transfer market to help redress the problems that Mark has so clearly outlined, but it remains to be seen, and perhaps this season will be far tougher than a lot of supporters have envisaged and in that case consolidation in the Championship should be regarded as acceptable progress in its own right and a triumphant progress to the giddy heights of the Premier League might have to wait for another year or so?

What does everybody else think? Please make your opinions known.