It’s Time For Us To Beat Our Bogey Team – 5/4/16

No opposing team ever enjoyed visiting Burnden Park, home of Bolton Wanderers in the late 50s as they knew exactly what they were about to receive. Nat Lofthouse, The Lion Of Vienna, would be ever ready and willing to chase lost causes up front and as Manchester United’s Harry Gregg would attest in the 1958 FA Cup Final, no goalkeeper was immune from the threat of a massive shoulder charge, a challenge that would bring about an assault charge today but which remained legal in those far off days and one that left a dazed goalkeeper and ball together in the back of the net for the goal that clinched victory.

Things were not much better at the other end of the pitch where the likes of Roy Chopper Hartle and Tommy Banks awaited.

Hartle was half of one of the most terrifying fullback combinations to grace the top flight of English football in the last century. He lined up on the right flank and was partnered by the equally pugnacious Tommy Banks on the left. There was no respite or escape for any tricky winger.

Play on the right then he faced the awesome strength of Banks, switch flanks and the tender mercies of Hartle awaited him. Legend has it that most teams were beaten even before the game began, particularly when they heard Hartle shouting to Banks, Hey Tommy, when you’ve finished knocking the living daylights out of that fella, chip him over here and let me have a go!

Bolton have maintained a reputation for being hard and tough to play against and even in the Sam Allardyce glory days when for several years they performed way above expectations and cocked a snoot at the Premier League big boys they were certainly no shrinking violets.

Brentford have had real problems coping with Bolton since we were promoted to the Championship and have yet to find the answer. The Bees were physically second best in every department in their first clash last season. The giant Mills and Ream towered over Andre Gray who barely touched the ball all afternoon and we were never afforded any time or room to play our own style of football – or given any protection by an indulgent referee. Bolton received six bookings to our none, a fact which tells a story on its own and we subsided gently to a fully deserved defeat as we never looked up to the challenge we faced.

We never really got started in the return match late on last season at Griffin Park. Playoff nerves were jangling and perhaps got the better of us and we were unable to find any rhythm. Even then we dominated possession and would surely have won but for that incredible and unforgettable aberration when a combination of Button, Diagouraga and Tarkowski unerringly managed to turn a short goal kick for us into a daft equalising goal for our visitors.

We played Bolton for the third time without managing a win back in November when, again, for all our domination and pretty football we were unable to make our possession count and squandered chance after chance of making the game safe after John Swift’s excellent opening goal. We were not helped by a ludicrous booking for an alleged dive by Swift when he was taken out in the area and Mark Davies escaping with a yellow card for an horrific lunge on Diagouraga. We were always vulnerable to crosses and set pieces and finally conceded a scrappy equaliser and could even have ended up losing a game which we should surely have won.

Tonight provides us with our fourth opportunity in the last two seasons to win a match against what is always a tough and obdurate Bolton team. Given that they remain marooned at the bottom of the league, are doomed to relegation, have yet to win away all season and are currently without a manager after the departure of Neil Lennon you would think that the dice are finally stacked heavily in Brentford’s favour.

Hopefully that will turn out to be the case although we have struggled far too often this season against the tougher and more rugged teams such as Birmingham, Rotherham and Blackburn who have taken full advantage of our physical shortcomings and inability to battle on every occasion when it is necessary.

Last season we possessed sufficient pace, guile and sheer ability throughout the team to outplay most but not all teams that wished to engage in a battle with us but unfortunately our more limited resources at the present time mean that we have found it far more difficult to prevail in this situation given that we are quite unable to fight fire with fire and without the likes of Gray, Jota, Pritchard and Odubajo we can no longer outclass the opposition.

On Saturday we put on a disciplined performance in which the defence appeared far more organised and the midfield quintet worked extremely hard in terms of their pressing and challenging. Lasse Vibe too made a massive difference when he came on as a substitute as he worked the channels tirelessly and eventually we were able to find sufficient space to allow our footballing skills to come to the fore.

Tonight we will have to repeat that winning combination and outwork Bolton in all areas of the pitch. Should we do that then there is still sufficient quality remaining within our team to ensure that we create and hopefully take our chances in front of goal.

We will also have to wait anxiously until just before kickoff until we know who is fit enough to play. We were without McEachran, Swift, Hogan and Hofmann on Saturday and Colin, Judge, Yennaris, Rodríguez and Button all picked up knocks during the match. They have not had too long in which to recover and I am sure that the treatment room has been full with our medical staff working overtime.

We are really down the bare bones and Josh Clarke made his first appearance off the bench for over six months on Saturday when he replaced the limping Colin. He slotted in perfectly although the match had long since been won before his late arrival. I still think that there is a footballer in Josh and I hope that he is given another opportunity to prove that he deserves a new contract for next season.

Leandro Rodríguez hobbled off with a damaged hamstring just before halftime and unfortunately that might well be the last that we see of the young loan striker. We therefore need at least one of Hofmann, Djuricin or Hogan to have recovered sufficiently from injury or illness to take his place in the squad tonight as five fit strikers have rapidly been reduced to one.

A win tonight would pretty much guarantee our Championship place for next season as well as help to restore some confidence and a general sense of wellbeing amongst our supporters. A victory over Bolton is also long overdue as it was way back in April 1992 when we last came out on m against them.

It is now time for us to allay our bogey and I am pretty sure that we will.

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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?

It’s Time For Our Luck To Change! – 18/3/16

Mark Warburton was always one to say that matches in the Championship were invariably closely fought, tightly contested and generally turned on a mistake, a moment of genius or the whim of a referee’s decision.

In other words the result hinged on a hairsbreadth and narrow margins prevailed.

Who can recall the home game against Norwich last season which to a disinterested observer appeared to end in a conclusive and comprehensive three goal victory for the visitors?

Brentford fans knew far better, as a contest totally dominated by the Bees was decided by a series of outstanding saves by the unbeatable John Ruddy, a momentary loss of concentration by James Tarkowski which led to the crucial opening goal and the referee’s incomprehensible decision not to award a seemingly stonewall penalty when Alex Pritchard was clearly sawn off at the knees a few moments later.

Brentford go into tomorrow’s match after a run of three demoralising defeats to Rotherham, Charlton and, most upsettingly, local rivals Queens Park Rangers.

On the face of it, losing to three teams who can hardly be described as Championship powerhouses is worrying and does not bode well for the immediate future.

Confidence both on the pitch and the terraces is quite naturally at a low ebb at tthe moment and the season is now poised on a knife edge.

Will the team belatedly recover its poise and with one bound be free of the looming threat of a relegation dog fight or will we all be in for an exhausting, stressful and nerve shattering last ten games of the season?

A closer examination of the key moments in each of the last three games should provide some crumbs of comfort for supporters whose nails are bitten to the quick, whose nerves are clanging and who are quick now to remonstrate and express disapproval when things go wrong on and off the pitch.

John Swift and Philipp Hofmann both missed glaring chances to equalise late on at Rotherham when scoring seemed by far the easiest option.

Who knows how the home team would have responded to such a mortal blow so soon after they had gone ahead in the match for the second time?

Maybe heads would have gone down and a revitalised and re-energised Brentford team would have gone onto an unlikely victory?

Having recovered from conceding a daft goal within the opening twenty seconds Brentford were dominating proceedings against Charlton and having deservedly equalised were pressing hard for the go ahead goal.

The opportunity came early in the second half when Josh McEachran saw a gap in the leaden footed Charlton defence and his perfectly weighted pass sent Sergi Canos streaking through on goal but unfortunately he pulled his effort narrowly wide and the chance had gone.

A goal then, and the Bees would probably have scored at least once more afterwards and gained a morale boosting victory.

Even at Loftus Road last weekend there was a massive turning point almost immediately after QPR had taken the lead when Ryan Woods pinged a twenty-five yard effort off the post and it bounced out instead of in. An equaliser right before the break would surely have deflated the home team and then, who knows what might have happened?

Narrow margins indeed and maybe it is finally time for the fickle finger of fate to point in our direction and for the ball to start running in our favour after so long a period when we have been totally starved of good fortune?

There has already been some very good news this week which hopefully we can build upon with the long overdue signing of a new loan striker in Uruguayan forward Leandro Rodríguez from Everton.

He is largely untried in this country but comes with a good reputation and a decent goal scoring record for River Plate and at twenty-three he is hopefully mature enough to take this opportunity in his stride and if he is as successful as our previous loanees from Everton we will have nothing to complain about.

Scott Hogan also came through another Development Squad outing on Monday and clearly demonstrated his disappointment when taken off near the end. Perhaps a good sign and maybe he will be considered fit enough to take his place on the bench tomorrow?

Given the lack of bite and incision this year from any of our three strikers and their overall impotence, the arrival of Rodríguez and the possible presence of Hogan will give us a huge boost as we face a massive and tough tackling Blackburn defence which takes no prisoners, as Marco Djuricin can surely attest given the serious injury he suffered after a horror-show challenge in the first meeting between the two teams.

Encouragingly, Max Colin is also back in training and contention for selection and will hopefully come through the match without breaking down as his steadiness and attacking forays have been sorely missed and his return will provide us with an additional potent weapon in our armoury.

Alan Judge will certainly return to his best position behind the striker after last week’s failed experiment at Loftus Road and he will want to impress against his former team as well as try to catch the eye of the Eire team management, given that he hopes to make his full international debut in the next couple of weeks.

News also broke yesterday of a players-only behind closed doors meeting which was held earlier this week when some home truths were undoubtedly spoken and individuals reminded of their respective responsibilities and how much is currently at stake.

A similar such inquest after the Stevenage debacle in 2013 had a massively beneficial effect as the Bees immediately went on a long and uninterrupted run of victories.

Would that there is an identical reaction starting tomorrow afternoon!

Our recent record against our visitors is excellent with two wins and a draw in our last three meetings.

We scored six times in our two encounters last season, marked by Jota’s magnificent solo effort at Ewood Park and given that our goals were scored by Jota twice, Gray twice, Douglas and Long someone else will need to step up to the plate tomorrow.

It doesn’t necessarily take much to change a seemingly never ending run of poor results and performances and tomorrow would certainly be a perfect time for the Gods to smile down upon us.

All we can do as fans is unite as one and provide loud and unconditional support throughout the entire game.

Beyond that matters are totally out of our hands, but let’s keep our fingers crossed!

Brentford FC & Boxing Day – 24/12/15

The prospect of playing promotion challengers Brighton & Hove Albion on Boxing Day is an exciting and enticing one as the Bees will have the opportunity to test their mettle and their own playoff credentials against one of the Championship’s best teams, and one that has only just lost its undefeated record at the twenty-second time of asking. A quite remarkable achievement and we will need to be at our absolute best in order to come out of the match with any reward.

As we await Saturday’s match with a mixture of relish and impatience I thought I would attempt to take our mind off the match by looking back at some of the more memorable Boxing Day tussles we have enjoyed – or not as the case might be – over the past few decades.

Our first Boxing Day clash of the 70s was away at Scunthorpe, hardly a local derby or crowd pleaser over the festive season! A more than healthy crowd of just under five thousand saw a late Roger Cross goal give us an undeserved equaliser.

The following season a bumper crowd of over eighteen thousand crammed into Griffin Park in the anticipation of seeing top of the table Brentford pulverise perennial strugglers Crewe Alexandra but the plucky visitors hadn’t read the script and the Bees squeaked home with a trademark header from John O’Mara.

Our 1972 Boxing Day defeat at Bournemouth was remarkable for us scoring twice away from home for the the first time in that horrible relegation season – our hosts, of course, scored three times, but also for Jackie Graham actually scoring with our well-rehearsed pantomime season free kick where two players pretended to argue with each other before a third took a shot at goal.

The 1973 match against Newport County was the one thousandth consecutive match covered by the Middlesex Chronicle’s George Sands and also the last game played for us by Stewart Houston before he departed gratefully to Manchester United.

I wonder just how many loyal and bleary eyed Brentford supporters caught the coach at eight o’clock on Boxing Day 1975 and were eventually forced to endure a goalless draw away at Exeter City? At least they must have been able to catch up with their sleep, before, after and probably during the game!

Boxing Day 1977 was appropriately named as it will always be remembered for the fisticuffs between Andy McCulloch and Aldershot’s behemoth of a defender Joe Jopling which resulted in the Brentford striker seeing red in more ways than one. Not a happy day all round as our promotion push was dented by a narrow defeat after an error by Len Bond and I sulked all the way home.

The following year saw Barry Silkman give a sumptuous display for Plymouth Argyle but two late Dean Smith goals saw the Bees come out on top.

1983 saw Brentford host Wimbledon on Christmas Eve, the last time a Football League match has been staged on that day, and the visitors won a seven goal thriller. 1984 saw a real Boxing Day dampener when a totally lethargic Brentford team never turned up and were hammered by three clear goals by a Bristol Rovers team who strolled to an easy victory.

Arsenal loanee Graham Rix lit up our easy three-nil win over a hapless Aldershot in 1987 and gave a performance that simply oozed class.

A goalkeeping error by Tony Parks led to a narrow defeat at Reading in 1989 and made me question the sanity of my decision to drive from Devon that morning to attend the game.

Our brief stay in Division One saw a memorable Boxing Day win over big spenders Derby County. Goals from Joe Allon and a perfectly placed own goal from Richard Goolouze ensured a much needed victory for the Bees.

Next season we won a ridiculous and farcical  match at Dean Court which saw Bournemouth keeper Vince Bartram slice a simple back pass comically into his own net and then scream abuse at his blameless defender – pure slapstick – and Steve Cotterill then missed two penalty kicks for the home team as we strolled to a three goal victory.

Orient were equally appalling the following season and after conceding three first half goals to a rampant Brentford, their entire team was sent back onto the pitch well before the end of the halftime break with a flea in their ear by their furious manager, John Sitton.

Brighton last came to Griffin Park on Boxing Day in 1995 for a match that surely should never have started given the frozen pitch and icy conditions. They certainly didn’t suit Dean Martin who was cruelly lambasted for his tentative performance by the Brentford faithful and appropriatelay enough the game was settled by a mishit cross by Dean Wilkins which floated into the far corner over the head of Kevin Dearden.

In 1996 we were forced to make the ridiculous journey to Plymouth but came back with a four-one win marked by a rare goal from Joe Omigie.

Brighton again came out on top the following season, this time at the Priestfield Stadium, and we beat Bristol City in 1999 in a match which saw Peter Beadle knock the ball out of Andy Woodman’s hands but the goal was allowed to stand.

Leon Constantine, who never scored a single goal for us, made a triumphant return in 2004 with a well taken second half hat trick which gave his new team, Torquay United a surprise win at Griffin Park.

The following year Brentford leapfrogged Swansea City and went to the top of the table after beating our rivals in a thrilling contest in which the unlikely duo of Eddie Hutchinson and Junior Lewis dominated the midfield and reduced Lee Trundle to a mere spectator.

Adam Griffiths gave Millwall a Boxing Day gift after twenty-three seconds in 2006 when he misjudged a backpass to Clark Masters and the game went further downhill from there as we were hammered by our near neighbours.

Not too many of our recent Boxing Day encounters have been very memorable, bar an excellent victory at Colchester in 2012 and the exciting three-two win over Swindon in 2013 marked by Sam Saunders falling flat on his face when about to take a free kick and after dusting himself off, he recovered and put his next attempt into the roof of the net totally silencing the jeering Swindon fans in front of whom he celebrated with a theatrical dive.

The least said about last season’s catastrophic Boxing Day collapse to Ipswich Town the better and I am sure that it is still fresh in the memory of most Brentford supporters.

Thankfully we seem to have a pretty decent record in matches played on Boxing Day and it is also good to note that more and more of these games are played against reasonably local opposition and we are no longer forced to endure endless trecks to the other end of the country.

As for the likely result of this year’s clash with Brighton, who knows, and hopefully it will be as exciting a match as last season’s five goal thriller. We come into the match in excellent form and Dean Smith will have some difficult decisions to make before finalising his squad.

I can’t wait!

Lull Before The Storm As Bees Prepare To Return To Action – 19/11/15

Preparations are well underway for Saturday’s attractive home fixture against Nottingham Forest and the Brentford squad will be full of confidence and raring to return to action after their enforced fortnight’s break.

That is not to say that they have had their feet up as they were subjected to a gruelling series of training and fitness sessions before they were given a well deserved few days off which allowed the foreign contingent to return home for a brief visit.

There was no rest for some, with Alan Judge, John Swift and Daniel O’Shaughnessy all involved with their respective international squads over the last week or so with Judge now playing for a place in the Eire squad which has qualified for next year’s European Championship Finals and Swift receiving his first heady taste of England Under 21 football which has hopefully whetted his appetite for more of the same.

Judge sounded particularly bright and chirpy in his Bees Player interview yesterday and he fully recognises and acknowledges that he needs to maintain the form he has shown recently if he is to spend next Summer in France as he so desperately wishes to do, and that can only be good news for us in the meantime.

In that regard I cannot remember the last time that a current Brentford player appeared in the finals of a major tournament such as the World Cup or European Championship and I well suspect that if Judge is named in the final squad, assuming of course that he is still at the club and perish the thought that he is not, that he will be the first Brentford player ever to do so.

Former Bees Brian Turner and Bill Slater played for New Zealand and England in the finals of the World Cup in 1982 and 1958 respectively and Hermann Hreidarsson came very close to qualifying with Iceland whilst still a Bee. Two more ex-Bees in Stuart Dallas and Will Grigg are also in line to play for Northern Ireland this Summer.

The squad has been strengthened with the return to full fitness of the evergreen Sam Saunders and Josh McEachran played half a game in last week’s friendly match against AFC Bournemouth and cannot be too far away now, with Jota and Max Colin hopefully shortly behind him.

I recently read a report that attempted to put a monetary value to the cost of player injuries in terms of wages, treatment, insurance premiums and the financial implications of fielding a weakened team. It was hardly surprising that Arsenal came out near the top of the list with their massive and ongoing injury list costing them a whopping twenty million pounds last season. The formula also highlighted that the less injuries you have, generally the better you perform with Premier League Champions Chelsea suffering the least number of injuries.

I therefore think that we have not paid Brentford nearly enough credit for the way that they have performed this season despite what can only be termed a crippling and seemingly never ending list of injuries that at one time affected nearly half the squad, including several star names.

We finally seem to be over the worst now, although I do not want to tempt fate but even now for every player we get back to full fitness, another one seems to be struck down. Our current healthy league position simply emphasises the quality and depth of the squad and maybe at some point fairly early in the New Year we will really have a selection problem when the majority of players return to fitness.

Talking about injuries, the news about Lewis Macleod and Marco Djuricin is not good and I would be surprised if we see either of them back in action before the New Year at the earliest.

That leaves the Head Coach – and don’t you worry I will come back to that complex situation very shortly – with a selection dilemma for Saturday’s match.

Lasse Vibe played well as a lone striker as a late substitute at Charlton and after Djuricin’s injury at Blackburn, scoring on each occasion and Philipp Hofmann did exactly the same at Wolves. Reassuring news, indeed, but I am more concerned about how they will fare as a lone striker at home when the opposition sits deep and packs its defence unlike the situation in the away games when the opposition was chasing the game and left huge gaps in their defence for us to exploit.

I would suspect that we will keep to our successful 4-2-3-1 formation which allows us to dominate the midfield rather than allow the two strikers to play together and it will therefore be up to whoever is picked from the start, and I think it will be Vibe, to demonstrate some upper body strength, vim and vigour, make intelligent runs and hold the ball up until the midfield can get forward to support him.

They have both had several months to settle down, find full fitness and become accustomed to the demands of the Championship and it is now up to them both to seize this opportunity as the squad and supporters alike are now relying on them to produce on a regular basis.

Alan Judge has demonstrated his sharpshooting ability in front of goal, scoring six times to date, which means that he has already doubled his tally for the whole of last season but we need Swift and Ryan Woods to step up to the plate too bearing in mind that Pritchard and Jota notched double figures last season and Douglas and Dallas were not too far behind them. We really need those extra goals from midfield and ideally Jota will supply some of them once he returns to action.

As you can see, I have made no mention of the back four as I have pretty much given them up as a bad loss in terms of their goal scoring potential and prowess.

Tarkowski was deadly from six inches in the last seconds against Ipswich and Bidwell is getting a fair bit closer with some of his efforts as he still attempts to break his goalscoring duck but despite the services of our Free Kick Coach our defenders either make the wrong run or the delivery is not up to scratch. I look back at the likes of Terry Evans and Micky Droy who caused havoc in the opposition penalty areas (as well as their own from time to time) and scored far more than their fair share of goals. Where are their like when we need them so desperately now?

Pep Clotet remains the elephant in the room.

Is he our preferred choice to become our new Head Coach? If that is the case, is he likely to agree to join us and if so, when? How long is Lee Carsley prepared to remain in his current role given his oft-stated antipathy to it? Can he even now be persuaded to stay until the end of the season? If he is replaced will there still be a role for him at the club? Could the powers that be have handled things any differently and gone public about what is currently going on?

These points and many more have been debated at great length both in my articles and on social media and who knows what will transpire, and when.

I have made my views perfectly clear.

  • Lee Carsley would be the ideal choice to remain as Head Coach given how well he has performed and the players’ response to him, but he has made it quite clear that he wants out as soon as possible
  • We are conducting a recruitment process as far under the radar as possible and the media leaks have not emanated from the Brentford end
  • No statement will be made until there is any firm news
  • Hopefully there will be firm news as soon as possible which will bring the current uncertainty to an end
  • Pep Clotet is an exciting option who comes highly recommended by the likes of Steve Coppell and he would fit in well with the management philosophy currently employed at the club
  • His appointment – as would anyone else’s, would be a gamble in terms of how he deals with the players and the myriad of coaching and support staff

Who knows how long it will take before there is anything more to say rather than mere speculation, but as supporters it is our right and privilege to have an opinion and air our views – and we have certainly done so!

Maybe now is the lull before the storm. Saturday’s match against an underperforming but improving Nottingham Forest team packed with big name players looms ever nearer and nothing must distract the squad and get in the way from their immediate priority which is quite simply to win the game.

Nothing else really matters.

Pep Talk – 15/11/15

JS53729436Talk is cheap and whilst all the rumours are still unsubstantiated, the fact remains that there is growing speculation that Brentford are closing in on their preferred choice to replace Lee Carsley as Head Coach. Much of the chatter is on social media but the mainstream press has finally joined in the fun too with The Daily Telegraph yesterday naming a new candidate, and one who had not previously been openly mentioned in connection with the club.

According to journalist John Percy, the Swansea City Assistant Manager, Pep Clotet, is in serious contention to take over at Griffin Park. It would appear that any leak has come from the Swansea rather than Brentford end given that Percy is the Midlands football reporter for the Daily and Sunday Telegraph and predominantly deals with the Premier League. Indeed only a few days ago, on the ninth of November, he wrote a detailed story about the current state of affairs at Swansea and revealed that their manager, Garry Monk, has effectively been told by the club’s chairman, Huw Jenkins, to agree to changes to the overall management structure of the club or risk losing his job given Swansea’s recent dire run of only one win in their past nine games. It is alleged that Jenkins has suggested that Monk must agree to bring in an experienced coach to assist him and in that regard the name of Colin Pascoe, a Swansea legend and Brendan Rogers’s former assistant at Liverpool, has been mentioned.

Now it emerges that Clotet, whose role at his current club might now be under real threat given the chairman’s apparent ultimatum, could be a serious target for the Bees and has apparently been interviewed by Matthew Benham over the past few days.

Is Percy jumping to conclusions or could there be some – or even a lot, of truth in his suggestion regarding Clotet which has now been picked up by other media outlets in Wales? Perhaps it would help if we examined Clotet’s background and credentials in more detail in order to see if he might fit the criteria required for Brentford’s new Head Coach.

He was born in Barcelona and is still in the first blossom of youth at only thirty-eight years of age. He had a totally undistinguished playing career before earning his coveted Pro License when only twenty-six years of age and took his first coaching role whilst still in this twenties at UE Cornellà before moving to RCD Espanyol’s where he worked with their youth teams. He then joined another local team in UE Figueres but was fired after only nine games as they were relegated from Segunda División B. He subsequently returned to his previous club, still in charge of the youths.

Not the most impressive of starts but all the time he was gaining crucial coaching experience which he then began to use to good effect at Espanyol before he was was spotted by Roland Nilsson at Malmö FF, who won the 2010 the Allsvenskan championship with Pep acting as his assistant. His first major Head Coach appointment then came at Halmstads BK but it ended in disappointment when they finished bottom of the table.

Still he kept moving on and learning and coached at Viking FK before catching the eye at Málaga CF where he began to make his name under Manuel Pellegrini by developing several  young players who would shortly make an impact in the first team.

Swansea City were impressed by what they had seen and in November 2013 Clotet was appointed academy consultant at the club before being promoted to assistant manager in May last year where he has remained ever since as manager Garry Monk’s main confidant and support.

Those are the bare facts which confirm that Pep has packed in a massive amount of coaching experience despite his tender years but we also need to put some flesh on the bones and for that I am going to Mike Calvin who profiled Garry Monk in his excellent recent book on football managers, Living On The Volcano.

Monk spoke extremely positively about Clotet when interviewed by Calvin. Apparently Pep was influenced greatly by the coaches at Barcelona and Johan Cruyff in particular before attending one hundred and sixty training sessions when Louis Van Gaal was in charge of the club in order to analyse the way he set up his teams to maintain possession of the ball. Closet is also renowned for breaking down matches into five minute segments so that he can assess thoroughly what is happening on the pitch and pass on information in real time to Monk. He is quite obviously open minded, thorough, relentless and committed to his role and would fit in perfectly with Brentford’s stats and analysis led approach.

There is talk that he came onto the Brentford radar last year when he was recommended to the club and was apparently considered for the managerial vacancy at FC Midtjylland over the Summer and given the situation at Swansea, it would appear likely that he might well be available and would perhaps not require us to pay compensation in order to acquire his services.

Like the majority of Brentford fans, I would prefer that Lee Carsley remained in post until the end of the season given the way that the squad has responded to him and the renewed sense of togetherness and organisation which has culminated in a series of much improved performances and results, however that does not seem to be an option given that it seems he is determined to leave his position as Head Coach as soon as possible given his total aversion to many elements of the job.

If that is in fact the case then we can only thank him for all his efforts on our behalf and for buying us enough time to make the right appointment to replace him. I would hope that there will still be a role for Lee at the club given his obvious ability but somehow I doubt if that will suit him and his ambitions. Hopefully if and when the new man arrives there will be a hand over period and given his popularity with the players I would anticipate that Paul Williams will be retained as a coach which will help maintain some element of continuity.

I am sure that this coming week will reveal whether or not Pep Clotet is the man for us. He appears to tick many of the boxes for us in terms of his background, reliance on stats and the fact that he has gained a massive amount of coaching experience around Europe given his relative youth. Most importantly, he has worked in England in the Premier League, fully understands the physical demands of the English game and is working at a club that is renowned for its excellent passing and possession based football. How players respond to him is something I am not qualified to answer.

I might be wrong – I normally am – but it would not surprise me if Pep is the man for us and that as long as he can get the players on board and convince them to buy into his methods then we might well have identified a massively impressive candidate who will become exactly the type of Head Coach that we have been seeking .

Hull City – A Tough Nut To Crack – 2/11/15

Hull City come to Griffin Park on Tuesday night bang in form as they are unbeaten in eight games and they sit proudly in second place in the Championship table and look certain to mount a strong promotion push in an effort to regain their recently lost Premier League place.

They are certain to provide tough opposition but the Bees are none too shabby themselves at the moment given their four consecutive wins and three clean sheets on the spin. They will also be bursting with confidence after that momentous first win in fifty years over close rivals Queens Park Rangers as our supporters almost blew the roof off at Griffin Park with their celebrations on Friday night.

There is further spice to the proceedings given the early return of Moses Odubajo following his controversial three and a half million pound move to the visitors just before the start of the season and Hull also made repeated efforts to divest us of Andre Gray before being pipped at the post by Burnley.

Some Bees supporters queried why Moses and Andre would even contemplate joining a team like Hull but the reasons were pretty clear to me. Despite their relegation last season they have retained a squad packed with Premier League experience and, buttressed by their parachute payments, they are able to make financial offers to prospective new signings that dwarf anything that we are able to put on the table.

Anyone who thinks that we are a bigger club than Hull City is totally deluding himself and that situation cannot conceivably change until we have moved into our new stadium at Lionel Road and ideally won promotion to the Premier League.

Our prospects against them depend to a large degree on the strength of the team that we are able to field. Friday’s match will have taken a lot out of us and there are sure to have been a lot of bumps and bruises that will need shaking off.

The inspirational Alan Judge, the fulcrum for so much of our recent success, was forced off late on with a tight hamstring and we will miss him desperately if he is not risked on the night. Better though perhaps that he misses only one match rather than several if he does further damage to himself.  He will also be looking forward to a potential return to his old stamping ground at Blackburn on Saturday as well as the two crucial Republic of Ireland playoff matches too. Personally I very much doubt that he will play against Hull City.

The squad is getting stronger by the week and if Alan doesn’t play then it will be interesting to see who replaces him with Sergi Canos and the improving Konstantin Kerschbaumer both in the frame. Canos is largely untested and unpredictable but he possesses that spark of creativity and individual genius that could make something happen for us and he would be the brave selection choice. Lasse Vibe might also have a case too depending on how Lee Carsley decides to set us up on the night.

Hull have generally had the better of things against us but there have been several memorable clashes in fairly recent times that still stir the emotions.

Surely none of the near eleven and a half thousand fans present will ever forget Brentford’s rampant performance in a Football League Cup Second Round tie in September 1968? Fourth Divison Bees blew their Second Division opponents away and flying winger Allan Mansley was unstoppable as he celebrated his recent twenty-first birthday with two goals in a wonderful and unexpected three – nil victory which saw the Bees defeat Hull for the first time in eighteen meetings. It was an incredible night of high drama and excitement with the supporters barely believing what they were witnessing.

Our next cup meeting in 1971 ended far less happily and in highly controversial circumstances when two late goals gave Hull an extremely fortunate FA Cup Fifth Round win over a brave and resilient Brentford team that deserved far, far better. Bobby Ross put us ahead with a classic diving header from John Docherty’s cross and Brian Turner’s shot which would almost certainly have sealed another giant killing cruelly came back off the post before a Hull equaliser that came against the run of play after a poor defensive clearance. Ken Houghton’s winning goal was dubious in the extreme after an aerial challenge on Gordon Phillips that was surely a foul and goalkeeper Ian McKechnie taking far more than the permitted four steps before whacking his clearance downfield. The rotund keeper then piled insult onto injury by celebrating the winner with a somersault.

The local paper report lyrically summed up our feelings far better than I possibly can:

Such a sense of outrage and grievance among the stricken, silent supporters of Brentford as they gazed despairingly at a Boothferry Park arena which had been so unbelievably vindictive.

Six thousand seven hundred and ninety-three fans filed into a chilly Griffin Park in December 1979 totally unaware of the drama that was to follow. The Bees had lost their two previous games and changes were afoot, one of which saw the reintroduction of striker Bob Booker who had signed for the club a year earlier in return for a set of tracksuits and had done little or nothing since then to suggest that we had not overpaid for his signature. Freshly returned from a confidence boosting loan spell at Barnet, he seized his opportunity and scored three times in an amazing seven – two victory over a shellshocked Hull City team. The rest as they say is history as Bob went on to become a Brentford legend.

Our title winning team of 1991/92 was also potent in front of goal and we took Hull City apart at Griffin Park early in the season with a four goal salvo before halftime. The best attempt didn’t count after Marcus Gayle almost broke the net with an indirect free kick and needed to have the rules gently explained to him as he cavorted in glee and wondered why nobody else was joining him in his wild celebration.

Squad rotation is traditionally something that is reserved for the upper echelons of the game but Brentford rested nine of their normal team for the last league game of the season in May 2005. The opportunity presented itself as Hull had already confirmed their promotion and the Bees had earned their playoff place with a last-gasp winner at Wrexham in the preceding match. Chris Hargreaves and Jay Tabb were joined by such luminaries as Jerrome Sobers, Charlie Ide, George Moleski and Ryan Watts and the Brentford team included no less than six debutants. Despite trailing to an early goal the young Bees ran, chased and harried and their efforts were rewarded with a headed goal from a corner by Sobers whose only Football League game this was to be. Not a bad way to both start and finish a career. Remarkably Jay Tabb won the game for the Bees with a beautifully taken late solo goal and over nine thousand fans went home happy although Sheffield Wednesday and our customary playoff oblivion were just around the corner!

As for Tuesday, hopefully there will be a five figure crowd as the Bees deserve a near full house given their recent efforts and success. Hull have the resources and strength in depth to rest players and utilise their entire squad. We have had an extra day’s rest and need to take full advantage of the additional recovery time and hope that Hull are also fatigued after their second long journey in a few days after comfortably disposing of MK Dons on Saturday.

This will be a tough challenge for Brentford and I can only anticipate thrills and spills given the history of our previous encounters with The Tigers.