The Fans Have Their Say – 9/2/16

There is a lot of muttering and murmuring at the moment from some Brentford fans, the majority of whom I suspect are fairly wet behind the ears in terms of the length of their support and never lived through the bad old days of the likes of Stan Webb, Murray Jones and Eddie Hutchinson and many others of that ilk, players whose second touch was generally a tackle and who could also be relied upon to send the majority of their shots into orbit.

These fans have understandably become spoiled by the success of the incredible last three years which have seen Brentford finally climb out of the depths of the third tier of English football and rise to the Championship for the first time in over twenty years and then come within a hairsbreadth of reaching the unforeseen heights of the Premier League by playing a wonderful brand of effervescent, attacking football.

They are expecting our progress to be maintained and for the squad to be enhanced. Spend, spend spend is their mantra as if they were reincarnations of Viv Nicholson of pools win fame from 1961 and there is a feeling of deep frustration and even anger at the recent sales of so many talented players and their not being immediately replaced and no understanding of the realities of the situation that we face.

I always try to look at both sides of any story or subject concerning Brentford FC and then attempt to provide a measured opinion ideally based on analysis and research as well as sounding out the views of others rather than just on simple emotion and gut feeling.

In this instance I am fully prepared to nail my colours to the mast and in response to all the criticism I would simply refer you all to the words of the then Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, when in 1957 he asserted that the people have never had it so good.

Here is what I think about our current situation:

1. We are punching way above our weight in what is only our second season in the Championship

2. The dictates of Financial Fair Play mean that we cannot just throw money that we don’t have at improving the squad

3. Even if we could why should Matthew Benham spend more than he has budgeted, a sum which is already generous in the extreme

4. Last year was a massive overachievement due to brilliant young players, a team ethos, good management and coaching, a lot of good fortune regarding injuries and first year syndrome and the time to take an educated gamble was last January but the opportunity was lost

5. Our best players have been snatched away because they were all more than good enough to progress higher, and were offered wages in some cases two to three times what they earned at Brentford by clubs awash in revenue due to the benefits of larger stadia and Parachute Payments

6. Players chase the money – that is a given as theirs is a short and risky career and they must strike whilst the iron is hot and unlike in previous years when we took what we could get, we are now recruiting far better players who all have other options and they and their agent can generally call the tune

7. Given our lack of revenue, which is in the bottom four of the Championship, we could not afford to keep them or risk a divided dressing room so we made sure we got top dollar for all of them, something we have never achieved before in our history

8. This money has and will continue to be invested in new players but not until the end of the season when we can extract maximum value rather than in January when it is a sellers’ market

9. We are now hamstrung by massive over-expectations caused by a dangerous and intoxicating combination of excitement, impatience and ignorance

10. We are looking to progress but cannot do so at the pace we set last season – nobody could – and it is quite impossible to replicate or even build upon our success given the financial realities of our situation and the fact that many other clubs are now trying to replicate our recruitment model and use analytical scouting techniques

11. Yes there were some daft, ill-thought and unrealistic comments earlier this season from people high up at the club which raised expectations and should not have been made which are now coming back to haunt them – and rightly so

12. This is how it is going to be until we get to Lionel Road and with enhanced revenues we will then have a bigger budget to play with

13. How it is going to be is still pretty damn good in my opinion given our post war history as we should remain a mid table Championship team playing good football until we can afford to invest more in the squad

14. We already have some wonderful young players in Colin, Barbet, Hogan, Bidwell, Woods and McEachran and the foundations are in place both on and off the pitch

15. All will be well as long as we continue to recruit properly. In 2014 we recruited brilliantly, in 2015 half the signings have come off and half have yet to do so and we could also do with some luck with injuries

16. Everything hinges on who leaves and who comes in this Summer. This is the key, we have to continue to bring in young promising and undervalued players from both at home and abroad who we can develop and improve – some will come off and be successful and others won’t

17. The time to worry will be if we do not make serious efforts to rebuild the squad in the close season. How we attempt to replace Alan Judge, should he leave, as I expect him to do, will be very illuminating

18. The remainder of this season is about consolidation and experimentation – no more – no less

19. Be careful what you wish for and remember where we have come from if you continue to criticise Matthew Benham and tell him to get his cheque book out

It is only fair that I now publish the comments and opinion of some of the readers of my column in order that everybody can read all of the differing points of view and then come to their own conclusion about the current situation.

Bill Benn was very emphatic in his support of our strategy:

Why take notice of television pundits slagging off our club and owner? Just ask yourself why aren’t they managing a football team?

These are the same people who slated Ranieri at the start of the season. Let’s be fair, management is hardly an easy job as Garry Neville is finding out.

We are a club which is very much in a state of transition. I think at times like this fans should just get behind the side and support what the club is trying to achieve.

Players don’t want to play for little clubs with small crowds when big clubs with big wages come calling. We can’t control that and all we can do is get the correct money for them, something we have never done in the past.

We lost a game at Brighton – so what?  We were great in our last away game at Preston now we are rubbish!

Let’s keep things in proportion.

Cris Glascow was not feeling as bullish or positive:

The club’s hierarchy shouldn’t be surprised if a number of newer fans retreat into their own bunkers rather than wasting money watching some of the impotent performances that have been served up recently.

I hope they think seriously about how the playing side is being run at the moment.

It’s all very well saying we are safe (we aren’t yet) but a run of poor performances to the end of the season will just encourage our few remaining talented players to leave, thinking that the club has no real ambition.

Cutting your cloth according to your budget is one thing. Showing a lack of direction or momentum is quite another. 

Russell Hawes was not happy with the way we lined up on Friday and I also wonder if the favoured 4-2-3-1 formation best suits the players we currently have:

My thoughts on the performance – neither Vibe, Djuricin or Hofmann suit the lone striker role. The five man midfield is fine with attacking flair but not with Sam, Woods, Josh and Swift. It is just never going to work. Judge is dropping deeper and deeper to get in the game and our striker is barely getting a touch.

We need to play to our strengths. Barbet and Woods are great passers so use their ability to play longer passes to create different openings.

Vibe or Djuricin need a partner up front and I would play Hoff and Vibe, sit Judge behind and use Canos, Swift/ Gogia down the wings with a holding player, Woods or Josh. The back four would remain as they are but concentrate on defending!

Rebel Bee is also worried about our current thinking and what lies ahead of us:

A very bad night and it was unfortunate that it was live on television, when it really needed burying amidst a busy midweek schedule. Yes it’s open season on us with the media at present, much of the criticism is unjust but we aren’t helping ourselves are we?

Do we have problems in the camp again, do we have enough to get through to the end of the season, and is Dean Smith going to be up to this job? I’m asking myself these questions today.

I’m also concerned by the now seemingly huge task of putting a new side together in the summer.

Whilst I totally get that our resources are not at the level of many other clubs in the division, please let’s not use this “little Brentford, we can’t compete” stuff as a comfort blanket for some of the things that patently aren’t working as hoped.

I’ve just watched Leicester win big at Manchester City, they top the premier league and are real contenders – if we blindly follow the resourses argument then this just shouldn’t be happening. So why is it? I’d say they have a great coach, excellent recruitment here and abroad, and a real team ethic. Leicester have a strong spine, tight defence and a real outlet up front – and he came from Fleetwood! This is totally relevant to us and where the real real debate should be right now.

Worryingly, most of our divisional rivals have strengthened whilst we haven’t, some of the sides below us will now fancy their games to come against us.

The season has been a mess and without Lee Carsley we’d be in real trouble.

Sorry to those that don’t like my views, I Iove our club deeply the same as you all do. I’ll be at Hillsborough next week, but I go both in hope and fear in equal measure.

Rob O also expressed his concerns:

I’m at a loss about what I think and feel is going on at the club at the moment. I was at Preston the other week and we did play well and it was an enjoyable day out. I watched pretty much the same players at Brighton and they were completely out of sorts and not far off humiliated.

Tempo, drive and positivity seem to be the difference in the two performances. I think perhaps we should fine the players if they pass backwards or sideways, at least when quick forward movement is on.

Everything was so slow and laboured – tentative would be the word I’d use. The players seemed to be intimidated. Maybe we just don’t like playing on Friday nights!

I fully appreciate the rational arguments about our relative size, Matthew Benham’s dedication and huge sums of money he’s invested and the amount of work going on off-field in all sorts of areas.

But supporters are generally not rational when it comes to football and we seem to be losing the emotional argument – the feel good factor.

The Bees are not an easy sell at the moment. My son and his friend are thirteen and I must admit I struggle to put into words for them what’s happening (in a positive sense), though intellectually I know things are far better than they were only a few years ago.

Peter Lumley urged that we maintain a sense of perspective:

I have no great desire to defend Sky but in recent times I have heard Ian Holloway, in particular, make some very complimentary remarks about the progress of Brentford and the quality of their football.

We have to take the rough with the smooth.

Ray Bailey got it in one, in my opinion:

Being a pessimist by nature, I still look to see how far we off relegation rather than looking up the table before we reach fifty-one points!

I believe some people need to get a reality check on our current position in the league.

Yes, last season was brilliant and I couldn’t believe some of the football we were playing, but since winning promotion I’d certainly take our current position any day.

I’m afraid I do still worry about Dean Smith being the right man but he needs to be given time to get his style across and build his own team and then we’ll see.

The pundits were doing my head in as well, especially as they were trying to portray that we were willingly selling all our best players, just because somebody bid for them rather than the players wanted away as was the case!

So what sort of ambition have we got? Well, with crowds of ten thousand what do they expect us to do?

I’m sure Rotherham and Bristol City fans would give their right arm to swap with us!

Once we get into Lionel Road and hopefully get bigger crowds, then I will start to dream that one day we might reach the giddy heights of the premiership, but it’s going to be a massive struggle, just look at Nottingham Forest and Leeds and how many years they’ve been trying and that’s with bigger crowds than we are going to get!

So, come on everybody, let us smell the roses and enjoy the current ride rather than expect overnight success! 

Paul Fletcher also remains to be convinced:

I would hope the two Directors of Football realise that the latest exodus of experienced Championship proven players cannot be balanced by the signing of two untried kids and an extended contract given to a player who is anything but a Championship regular.

I honestly feel sorry for Dean Smith and sincerely hope he is given the opportunity to show us what he can do.

I am less enamoured by the performance of Messrs. Ankersen and Giles however, who having failed with the recruitment of Marinus as Head Coach have not inspired with the majority of players they have brought to the club. Certainly only Woods and Colin have been close to the quality of signing we made prior to their appointment.

We are at a bit of a crossroads I believe and decisions need to be made that convince players we value and supporters alike that we are building a better squad in the long term .

Gordonbankole feels that mistakes have been made and lessons need to be learned:

A club in transition? No problem with transition – just depends on whether it’s rough or smooth, and I’d suggest the last twelve months have been pretty rough after three years when we pretty much got everything right.

It was very important that the Head Coach appointment after Warburton was right, and sadly we got it wrong. Do we have a better gaffer than Warbs now? I’d say not.

Do I have faith in the Directors of Football?

I didn’t like Giles to start with, but in fairness he has become the mouthpiece and has been open and forthright. As for Rasmus? Sorry, but no.

We need someone working with Giles who has deep knowledge of and significant contacts within English football. 

The team? Very poor recruitment in the summer, especially up front. But not just up front. We are a lot weaker now in all areas other than goalkeeper.

I understand how those ridiculous parachute payments have hindered us, but not all the departures were forced.

The Danish effect? I’m really not sure it’s helped us, and in fact I’d argue things have gone downhill since attention was divided. Half and half scarves? Burn the bloody things.

Matthew Benham? Still a legend without whom we would be unsustainable, a brilliant owner for the club but someone who needs to learn from a number of mistakes over the last year.

I guess we were extremely lucky to have such a fantastic last few years when he was literally beyond reproach, but this doesn’t mean he is beyond criticism now. We are so lucky to have a fan as owner, but the whole hierarchy will need to look at this season and think about how they could have done things better.

Lee Carsley? Thanks a million mate. The form either side of your tenure has been relegation standard. With you it was promotion standard.

I hear the season is over already. Sorry, but until we have fifty-two points on the board it isn’t. I remember 1993.

On current form over the last ten games suggests we will only hit this in games forty-one or forty-two.

Graham wrote from America and perhaps distance lends perspective:

Greville – I’ve been following your blog for many months now and really appreciate your articles and the discussions they provoke.

They allow long-range fans like me to stay connected to all of the ins and outs of following the Bees, so thanks for your tireless efforts!

I did want to weigh on the current topic of where the club is headed as, being an exiled Bees supporter (in the US for over twenty years) it seems that from a distance the current season is proving be much more of a roller coaster than last year (wonderfully documented in your book).

Other than a couple of weeks in February last year when Warburton’s exit was made public, it seemed there was generally a good vibe around the club.

After all, most of us long-suffering fans expected last year to be a battle for survival in the second tier. Once the first few victories were achieved it felt like mostly a positive continuation of the promotion season with an unimaginable appearance in the play-offs.

This term by contrast started with the pre-season excitement of all the new signings, followed by the rapid exit of four key players, ridiculous injuries, PItchgate, the Marinus debacle etc.

Then it was up again on the back of the Carsley revival, combined with confusion over the head coach position. And most recently, the hit-and-miss start to the Smith era and the loss of even more first-teamers (if you include Pritchard’s loan ending, we have now lost seven of last season’s first eleven). With the Tarky strike added for good measure, it’s been a pretty draining campaign this year.

So, as many have previously stated, being a long-term Bees supporter, I’ll take mid-table in our second season in the Championship in a heartbeat.

Keep in mind of the six clubs promoted in the last two seasons – Brentford are the highest placed (albeit now tied with Wolves) and Rotherham, MK Dons and Bristol City are all in a dogfight at the bottom.

And look at how Doncaster and Yeovil have fared since they stole promotion from us in 2013.

Establishing a multi-season presence in this league would be a great achievement and a platform from where to push on once the new ground is built.

That all said, we definitely need those three extra wins to put any concerns to bed. Then we can enjoy the rest of the season and play the role of spoiler – defeating Fulham in the penultimate game of the season to send them down! We can always dream, right?

Peter Lumley would also like some answers from the club:

We are fast approaching the first anniversary of one of the most controversial days in the club’s long history (11 Feb 2015).

It was the day we were told that if Brentford were to successfully compete in future with bigger and wealthier clubs it would have to replace the weaknesses of human judgement and experience with the virtues of statistical analyses.

Unsurprisingly, the consequences of that fateful decision are still with us today. One is that a large segment of the UK’s football community is under the impression that Brentford is a club that is at war with itself!

Please can someone at the club put a hand on his heart and tell me that I have got it all wrong? Also that supporters have a good chance of seeing their team reach the Promised Land of Premier League football at Lionel Road South by the end of this decade.

Would it be too much to ask the club’s owner to give a considered response to the thrust of the comments made by so many loyal and passionate fans?

Spanish Bee had a few points to make:

Being criticised by pundits on Sky TV should be seen as a badge of honour. If you don’t believe me ask any fan of Valencia, I can’t print what my mates there would say. We should adopt a Millwall attitude, “nobody loves us and we don’t care”.

The manager is very limited in his options because we don’t have a variety of ingredients, as people here have clearly identified, nobody capable of the lone striker role, no ball winning midfielders and no pace. This would suggest to me that we have a recruitment problem, ironic no?

If Matthew Benham planned major changes this time last year, how much more important is this year? If we don’t get the summer signings right, next season could be very difficult. So who is responsible for recruitment?

Rebel Bee tried to sum everything up:

The huge response to this blog is telling, and whilst there are differing viewpoints there is a lot of consensus too.

Nobody has a bad word to say about Matthew Benham, nobody is unhappy at our mid table position. Where we all seem to find consensus is exactly where fair questions and debate are needed.

beesyellow22 also saw the bigger picture:

I’ve stayed out of this until now because pretty much everything’s been said. But I guess I’ll add my two pennyworth.

Rather boringly, I think I’m probably something of a fence-sitter.

I, like all of us, was blown away by what happened last season. Having said that, I was not such a Warburton fan that I wasn’t occasionally left frustrated by his apparent lack of a plan B (i.e. what do we do when the likes of Middlesbrough work out how to nullify our 4-1-4-1).

This season promised much and I was quite excited when Marinus was appointed, along with the summer signings (Kerschbaumer, Barbet, Vibe, etc.).

Marinus went, Carsley came in, things looked good. Then Carsley went (then came back, then went again), then Smith came in.

Thirteen games later, we’ve won four drawn three and lost six.

Admittedly not a great return, but some slack does need to be cut, as we were extremely unlucky not to beat Fulham, lost to a last minuter at Cardiff, were again unlucky to lose to Birmingham, played great against lucky Boro, and probably should have beaten a lacklustre Leeds. Had those results worked out as a win, a draw, another draw, a win and another win, then Smith’s record would read, won seven drawn four and lost only twice, which would have given us all considerably more heart and reasons to be cheerful.

Whilst I fully understand the frustration felt by many Bees supporters at the moment, I am rather uncharacteristically erring on the side of optimism.

I think it is understandable to feel somewhat dejected and perhaps even disillusioned by much of what has transpired this season – particularly when compared to the miracle of 2014/15.

But I do think we still have to put it all into some kind of context. Yes, this season hasn’t worked out the way we hoped it would. But surely when we achieved promotion to the promised land when we beat Preston two years ago, most of us would have been extremely delighted were we to then consolidate and become a recognised, established Championship team for three or four seasons, before making a serious and sustained push for the Premiership – ideally in our new stadium.

Of course last season raised expectations – including my own. But memories of 1992/93 remain pretty vivid, and surviving in this massively competitive division for several seasons should not be seen as failure!

Yes, it’s been a disappointing season in terms of players that have left, and maybe we as fans should have been better prepared for the exodus in the wake of Warburton parting company with the club.

To lose the outstanding quality of the likes of Odubajo, Gray, Dallas and Tarkowski has been tough to take – but footballers are a fickle bunch and none of the above love the club as we do.

Pritchard was always only going to be with us for one season and Douglas was never going to keep his mouth shut once the writing was on the wall for Warburton.

Losing Jota has been a particular blow, but bad things happens as they say and who knows, perhaps once things settle down for him all will be better and our Spanish maestro will become a Bee once again.

As for players that have come in, Colin looks excellent, Barbet has great potential and Woods is outstanding. Yes, the likes of Gogia, Kerschbaumer, Hofmann, Djuricin and Vibe have question marks hanging over them, but they continue to gain more Championship experience with every game they play and who knows how much better they could all be next season?

It’s deeply depressing when we get dismantled the way we did on Friday and even more so when compared to what we did last season.

But the fact is, that was then and this is now. We are in a state of massive transition and we need to be realistic about our goals for this campaign. Will we get into the playoffs? No. Will we get relegated? Probably not. Do we have to stick together as a club and support the team for these final, vital sixteen games? Yes – because we certainly aren’t safe yet and we need to carve out four or five more wins to make sure.

Are we allowed to voice our frustration and disapproval about what has happened over the last twelve months? Absolutely. But let’s not lose sight of everything we’ve achieved – and where we all hope we’ll be by 2021 – in a fantastic new stadium in the Premiership.

If we achieve that, the disappointments of this season will suddenly seem less disappointing.

David Meyer raised an interesting point too:

I remember seeing the first few league matches under Marinus and thinking, why are we moving so ponderously, where is the speed and movement we had last season?

Then Lee Carsley took over and it was all back. Now we are slowing down again. Our movement off the ball last season and under Carsley threw other teams into confusion, it undermined their tactical plans.

Often they ended up not knowing quite what to do or where we were. Now our every pass is to a player accompanied by a marker, no one is in clear space, stronger players can just edge us off the ball.

Everything is too static. I really hope at some point Dean Smith catches on to this or with the type of players we have, we are going to start sliding.

Would anybody else like to add to the debate?

Thank you.

 

Season On A Knife Edge – 18/12/15

Almost exactly a year ago Brentford won by three goals to two at Cardiff City. The Bees put on a sparkling first half performance, perhaps their best of the season, which saw them sprint into a three goal lead.

Alex Pritchard pulled all the strings in midfield and scored early on with a peach of a drive, placed precisely low into the corner from twenty yards. His perfect chip then sent Andre Gray away behind a defence caught hopelessly square for the predatory striker, in the midst of a hot streak, to lob the ball over Marshall with the ball dropping in a perfect parabola into the roof of the net. Jota then scored a goal of breathtaking brilliance from the far corner of the penalty area after a quick breakaway that left the Cardiff defence chasing shadows.

With the boos of their supporters ringing in their ears which were still burning after a halftime tongue lashing from manager Russell Slade, Cardiff attempted to regain some lost pride and launched an arial bombardment at a Brentford team that sat back, evidently feeling that the job was done.

Lacking the massive influence of the injured Jonathan Douglas, the defence was exposed and could not deal with the threat of Kenwyne Jones and conceded twice. The last few minutes were hairy and nervous in the extreme but Brentford eventually held on for a well-deserved victory in a game that saw them both at their imperious best and frustratingly sloppy worst.

Cardiff extracted some element of revenge by reversing the scoreline when the two teams met again on Tuesday night.

This time it was the home team who took control early on and were deservedly two goals ahead at the break.

Their cause was helped enormously by a limp performance from the Bees who slept walked through the first half, created very little and conceded two soft goals.

Brentford recovered their poise in the second half and took the game by the scruff of its neck.

The home fans were then forced to endure some of the free flowing football that the Bees have made their trademark, and after totally dominating possession, Brentford scored a late equalising goal which would surely earn them a point which was perhaps the least they deserved after the quality of their comeback .

But it wasn’t to be and there would be a sting in the tail as Cardiff showed sufficient character to sneak a totally unexpected last gasp winner which yet again owed much to some disorganised defending and tired minds and bodies.

It is illuminating to compare the makeup of the team that Brentford fielded in each of these matches.

Last season Brentford lined up as follows:

  • Button
  • Odubajo
  • Dean
  • Craig
  • Bidwell
  • Diagouraga
  • Douglas
  • Jota
  • Pritchard
  • Judge
  • Gray

Substitutes:

  • Bonham
  • Tarkowski
  • Saunders
  • Toral
  • Dallas
  • Smith
  • Proschwitz

Last Tuesday the team was:

  • Button
  • Yennaris
  • Tarkowski
  • O’Connell
  • Bidwell
  • Woods
  • Diagouraga
  • Kerschbaumer
  • Judge
  • Swift
  • Vibe

Substitutes:

  • Bonham
  • Colin
  • Dean
  • Saunders
  • McEachran
  • Hofmann
  • Jota

There have in fact been far more changes in the past twelve months than I initially thought had been the case.

Only four players, Button, Bidwell, Diagouraga and Judge, started both games, although nine players were named in both squads.

In the meantime we have lost the services of Odubajo, Craig, Douglas, Pritchard, Gray, Toral, Dallas, Smith and Proschwitz.

They in turn have been replaced by Yennaris, O’Connell, Woods, Kerschbaumer, Swift, Vibe, Colin, McEachran and Hofmann.

I have previously written at length about the reason and rationale behind so many of the enforced changes in the makeup of the Brentford squad and given the quality that we have lost, the injuries that we have suffered and the need to assimilate so many new players, not forgetting the management hiatus and change, we have done remarkably well to recover from our stuttering start to hold a top ten position in the Championship table and to be in a position to challenge for a playoff spot.

I think it is entirely fair and reasonable to call us Brentford Lite this season as we are trying to play the same way as last season but also make bricks without sufficient straw as, unsurprisingly given the calibre of player that we have lost, we lack the overall quality in key positions that we possessed last year.

Last season we spread our goals across the midfield and we have certainly missed the goal threat of Pritchard, Jota and Douglas, however the efforts of Judge and to a lesser degree, Swift, mean that have not suffered too badly in comparison. Similarly, the cumulative total of goals scored by Djuricin, Vibe and Hofmann surpass the efforts of Gray – and of course, Proschwitz, at this stage of last season.

The return of Jota and Judge’s continued excellence in front of goal should also mean that our goal tally from midfield increases and that we will be able to overcome the fact that neither Diagouraga nor Woods appear able to hit a barn door with their efforts. McEachran also does not have a track record that inspires me with any confidence regarding his prowess in this area.

What worries me more are our defensive frailties and the number of unforced errors we are making resulting in so many soft goals being conceded.

The excellent David Button has only managed four clean sheets to date which is hardly surprising given some of the defensive aberrations being committed in front of him.

In fact it is quite hard to recall any goal since Rotherham’s long range screamer that could properly be described as unstoppable, and even that only came about after Bidwell carelessly gave the ball away.

Fulham’s second goal arrived as a result of some really excellent interplay between two highly gifted strikers in McCormack and Dembele but we could still have defended it far better.

The goals we conceded against Blackburn, Nottingham Forest, Bolton, the first against Fulham and all three against Cardiff were without exception down to avoidable individual errors.

It is almost impossible to win matches away from home if you need to score two or even three goals simply to draw.

The way that we play leaves us vulnerable at the back given that our central defenders split as soon as Button gets hold of the ball and the two fullbacks bomb forward at every opportunity.

The second goal at Cardiff illustrates the problem as Swift dwelt on the ball and was dispossessed in midfield and the fullbacks were nowhere to be seen as Cardiff immediately turned defence into attack.

We are now in an interesting period with players returning from injury and a series of tough matches compressed into a tight timeframe over Christmas and the New Year.

Dean Smith must surely rotate the squad and spread the load but at the same time work even harder on our defending which has been pretty laughable at times lately.

Tenth is about right at the moment but we can now go in either direction.

Integrate the new and now fit players into the team, lose no stars and perhaps even strengthen slightly in January, then a charge towards the playoffs is a real possibility.

Continue to donate goals as if we are a charitable foundation and we will struggle to remain in the top half of the table.

The weather and pitches will start to deteriorate in the new year and we are always going to rely upon out-footballing rather than out-battling the opposition as that is what is ingrained in our DNA.

I expect us to eradicate some of our defensive frailties and go on to greater things over the next few months but the season, for me is now poised on a knife edge.

Groundhog Day – 18/5/15

imagesSo despite their best efforts Brentford’s season came to its conclusion at the Riverside Stadium on Friday night. The Bees just couldn’t pull back the one goal deficit from the first leg, conceded again halfway through the first half when Tomlin’s long range effort received a helpful deflection off Harlee Dean which took it beyond Button’s reach, and then carelessly lost possession twice after the break and were ruthlessly punished by breakaway goals from Kike and Adomah. A four goal aggregate defeat in the tie was cruel indeed on Brentford who deserved slightly better but it cannot be denied that we were comfortably second best overall.

For us to reach Wembley there were several prerequisites. We needed to be at our absolute best and to be brave and positive on the night. We also had to display the self-belief and confidence to play our own game and take care of the ball. We needed leaders on the pitch who would set a personal example and help encourage their team mates. Most crucially, we had to be clinical in front of goal when chances came our way. Unfortunately none of these boxes were ticked and we subsided to a comprehensive defeat.

We must give credit where it is due. Middlesbrough were everything that we weren’t. Tough, big, strong, compact, organised, street-smart, determined, ruthless, comfortable on the ball, quick to turn defence into attack and deadly in front of goal.

Their game plan worked a treat. Firstly, just as had been the case at Griffin Park, they let us know they were there and knocked us out of our stride and never allowed us to build up a rhythm by commiting a series of cynical and deliberate fouls whenever we threatened to break forward. They gambled correctly that the referee would not intervene early on and by the time Lee Mason belatedly decided to exert his authority and use his yellow card, it was far too late and the damage had already been done. We were nervous and tentative and never managed to break at pace as Middlesbrough funnelled back and denied us any space as soon as we reached the congested midfield area.

Leadbitter and Clayton chased and harried and snapped at our ankles from the first whistle. They were relentless and tireless in their efforts to snuff out danger before it developed and not to allow us the time and space we needed to hurt them. But they were both far more than water carriers and mere defensive spoilers as they demonstrated a real ability to read the game and to pass the ball accurately and with precision.

Both Jonathan Douglas and Toumani Diagouraga have been inspirational for the Bees this season but it was instructive to compare their overall effectiveness and impact upon the game with that of Leadbitter and Clayton who clearly demonstrated the difference between excellent players and the true elite at this level.

With our creativity stifled at birth, Jota, Judge and Pritchard flickered into life only intermittently and were never an influence on the game. Our chances were few and far between and there was no margin for error. We simply had to take our opportunities when they fell our way, but we let them all slip.

Early on, Jota shot weakly from outside the area and his effort was easily saved but our two key moments came either side of halftime. Judge’s angled cross eluded the straining head of Ayala and Gray was left with a clear sight of goal but his weak headed effort was going nowhere when it hit a defender and was deflected straight to the keeper. We came out far more determined and positive after the break and straightaway the overlapping Odubajo’s perfect low centre was somehow missed by Gray as he attempted to turn the ball in from right in front of goal. That could have been a turning point as if he had scored it would have silenced the crowd whose anxiety would doubtless have transmitted itself to the team. That was it until a sweet move opened up the defence near the end but substitute Chris Long was pressurised into slicing his angled effort well wide of the goal.  I doubt if we have ever created fewer chances in a match over the course of the entire season but you have to give due credit to the job that Middlesbrough did on us as well as acknowledge that we did not do ourselves justice on the night.

Harlee Dean was by far our best player closely followed by Moses Odubajo, David Button and James Tarkowski. Jake Bidwell appeared to be mesmerised by the pace and twinkling feet of Albert Adomah and was far too preoccupied with his defensive responsibilities to help support his ailing attack.

We did our best but it never really looked as if it would be enough and Middlesbrough finished up beating us four times in a row over the course of the season, scoring ten times with us managing one measly goal in reply, despite our knocking on the door so many times, particularly in our two home matches.

Could and should we have approached the game in a different manner? I would, in passing, refer you to Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Mark Warburton and Plan A anybody? We basically played the same game four times against Middlesbrough with identical results on each and every occasion. It would certainly have been brave and maybe even foolhardy to have tinkered with, or even changed a formula that had worked so well throughout the season and that had indeed been responsible for getting us to the playoffs in the first place. Managers are paid extremely well to problem solve and be flexible and imaginative where necessary but nothing changed and on Friday our limitations and shortcomings were yet again ruthlessly exposed.

It would be churlish indeed to carp and criticise given how wonderfully well we have performed all season and the amount of pleasure that Brentford have provided to all lovers of pure attacking football around the country. Mark Warburton’s loyalty and commitment to his squad was also laudable and their sense of unity and togetherness certainly played a large part in our success, but our failure to strengthen in January when the opportunity apparently presented itself, meant that we were forced to rely on a small squad and there were precious few options available to freshen things up or make significant changes off the bench.

I know that I have mentioned it before, but I still believe that the most illuminating statistic of the season is the fact that thirteen of the eighteen players in our squad on the opening day of the season on the ninth of August last year were still involved when the season finally drew to a close on the fifteenth of May. The five who fell by the wayside were Richard Lee, Marcos Tebar, Nico Yennaris, Montell Moore and Nick Proschwitz. They were replaced by Jack Bonham, Toumani Diagouraga, Jota, Jon Toral and Chris Long. So with the exception of Chris Long, who arrived in January, and Liam Moore who came and went in the new year, the squad remained almost unchanged for the entire season, something that I doubt has ever occurred in modern day football where there is invariably a high turnover of players who come and go and are seen as replaceable assets.

That was the way that Mark Warburton wanted to manage and it will be fascinating to see whether his ultimate successor favours a different approach next season in terms of squad size and rotation and, indeed, our overall formation and pattern of play.

That is for the future and now is the time simply to reflect on all the incredible events of the past nine months and salute the Bees and everyone involved with the club for providing us with such an incredible season that came so close to returning us to the top flight of English football for the first time in sixty-eight years. Friday’s match ended in a cacophony of sound as the travelling Brentford supporters paid a raucous and heartfelt tribute to their team and its supporting cast of Mark Warburton, David Weir and Matthew Benham.The imminent departure of Mark Warburton and David Weir certainly marks the end of this chapter but the story has barely yet begun.

I Believe! – 15/5/15

  • I believe that we can win at Middlesbrough on Friday night
  • I believe that Brentford will be playing at Wembley in the Championship playoff final
  • I believe that we can still win promotion to the Premier League
  • I believe that the tide will turn and it will be fourth time lucky for the Bees against Middlesbrough
  • I believe that we will be more clinical in front of goal and, in our most important game of the season, take some of the massive chances that we have previously let slip
  • I believe that the entire squad will go out totally focused on the job in hand and determined that this will not be the last game in charge for Mark Warburton and David Weir
  • I believe that we are a “team” in every meaning of the word and that our unity and sense of togetherness will help us triumph
  • I believe that the Middlesbrough fans and local media feel that the tie is already won and that they can book their tickets to Wembley
  • I believe in the power of hubris to bring about nemesis
  • I believe that we will get stronger and stronger as the game progresses and Middlesbrough will wilt
  • I believe that the pressure of the occasion, nerves and the weight of expectation will affect the Middlesbrough team and supporters alike and that we will take full advantage
  • I believe that Mark Warburton will have devised the perfect game plan which will enable us to reel Middlesbrough in and then take advantage of our pace and cutting edge
  • I believe that the influence and example both on and off the pitch of our band of experienced and good professionals like Jonathan Douglas, Tommy Smith, Alan McCormack and Tony Craig will help motivate and instruct their team mates and get them over the line
  • I believe that we will have learned the lesson from our previous capitulation at the Riverside Stadium last year and that it will be payback time on Friday night
  • I believe that the passionate support of our two thousand fervent and rabid supporters will help inspire the team to victory
  • I believe our incredibly talented midfield will outwork, out hustle, out pass and outrun the opposition
  • I believe that we will snuff out the threat of the likes of Bamford and Adomah
  • I believe that we will defend like lions
  • I believe that Brentford will become the talk of the football world after their performance on Friday
  • I believe in Mark Warburton
  • I believe in and give thanks for Matthew Benham and his vision and support for the club
  • I believe we will have a long, exhausting but triumphant journey home in the early hours of Saturday morning and we will barely feel our fatigue as we will be floating on air
  • I believe that Middlesbrough will be unable to cope with the pace and marauding forward runs of Moses Odubajo
  • I believe that the referee, Lee Mason will stamp down on Middlesbrough’s antics and protect our ballplayers from intimidation and bad tackles
  • I believe that Adam Forshaw will be regretting his move from Brentford at the end of the game on Friday
  • I believe that we deserve to get to Wembley given our overall skill and quality as well as the sense of adventure and positivity that we have displayed all season
  • I believe that Harlee Dean and James Tarkowski have developed into an excellent central defensive partnership and are finally beginning to realise when it is safe to play out from the back and when Row Z is called for
  • I believe that David Button is one of the top three goalkeepers in the Championship and that he will prove it again at Middlesbrough
  • I believe that Jake Bidwell is an unsung hero who just gets on with his game and performs with great quality week in and week out
  • I believe that Jonathan Douglas and Toumani Diagouraga will not allow Middlesbrough to settle on the ball and that they will provide our attacking players with a stream of accurate passes
  • I believe that Middlesbrough will be unable to cope with the flair, interplay and shooting ability of Jota, Alex Pritchard and Alan Judge
  • I believe that Andre Gray will take his opportunities and be the match winner on the night
  • I believe that Stuart Dallas will make a massive impact coming off the bench with his directness and hard running
  • I believe that there will be eighteen Brentford heroes tomorrow night at Middlesbrough
  • I believe that this is our year and that we are destined to get promoted
  • I BELIEVE IN BRENTFORD

Playoff Agony! – 12/5/15

I was watching a playoff semifinal second leg on television last night where a team in red was playing at home to a team wearing yellow. The reds went into their home game leading by two goals to one having scored an injury time winner against the run of play in the first leg away to the yellows, who had worn their normal colours of red and white stripes in their home game. The away team came into the second leg feeling cautiously optimistic given the narrowness of their defeat last week, however their hopes were totally and utterly shattered when the home team roared into a seemingly unassailable three goal lead within the first seventeen minutes.

Surely the tie was done and dusted, but the yellows doggedly fought back, scoring twice before the break, but they could never quite catch up and near the end were trailing by five goals to three on the night and by three goals overall, before two late goals by the brave and persistent visitors tied the score at five goals each. The yellows now only needed one more goal to force extra time and fate finally seemed on their side when the officials signalled an unlikely seven minutes of added time.

The force was with them as the yellows huffed and puffed and came close to a winner on the night with the home team paralysed by nerves and their supporters howling and shrieking for the final whistle, but, despite a few close shaves, their entreaties were finally heard and time eventually ran out for the brave visitors. The reds had triumphed by seven goals to six on aggregate after what was probably the most exciting playoff match I have ever seen, punctuated as it was by a series of great goals, goalmouth scrambles, near misses and some of the most abysmal defending that you could ever hope to see. In other words a coach’s total nightmare and a neutral’s delight.

In case anyone is a bit confused, I was of course referring to last night’s pulsating and unforgettable match between Swindon Town and Sheffield United and can anyone else see the connection and similarities to what happened in the first leg of our playoff semifinal last Friday at Griffin Park and the fact that Middlesbrough will be wearing their normal red shirts and the Bees will be in yellow when we meet again on Friday? Hopefully the only thing that we will have in common with the Yorkshiremen when we play Middlesbrough will be in our scoring five goals away from home although that would certainly be beyond our wildest dreams and an extremely tall order given how few goals Middlesbrough have conceded at home over the course of the Championship season just finished.

Certainly we will have to defend a darn sight better than United did and we certainly cannot expect or count on Boro to be as profligate in defence as Swindon were last night given how gritty, determined and organised they proved to be last week, not to say how dirty they were, fouling with impunity whenever they felt threatened by us. That is for the future as our fate will be decided on Friday and in the meantime we can but dream, count off the minutes, hours and days – and worry!

Given our involvement I have watched all the other playoff matches compulsively and with great interest and I can honestly say that I have yet to see any other team play football of a quality, panache, style and elegance anywhere near that displayed by Brentford. In the other Championship tie, Ipswich proved to be as obdurate and tough as we expected and Norwich too were well organised but possessed slightly more attacking flair. That tie too is poised on a knife edge and could go either way when the two bitter rivals meet again on Saturday.

Preston had a fairly comfortable passage against a Chesterfield team who flattered only to deceive and failed to take any of the chances that they created over the two matches. They could not match the threat of Beckford and Garner who scored all four of Preston’s goals between them. As Graham Westley said on Sunday, it is goals and attacking flair that win playoff games and Beckford proved the truth of that statement with an outrageous long-range effort that more than rivalled Paul Evans’s famous effort for the Bees at Burnley. In Division Two Stevenage and Southend have it all to play for after drawing a rough and tumble first leg which saw referee Keith Stroud’s trigger finger twitching on several occasions when matters threatened to get out of hand, but somehow he resisted the temptation, despite every encouragement given him by two enthusiastic sets of players, who at times lacked control and self-discipline, and restricted himself to awarding a series of yellow cards.

Wycombe Wanderers are, of course, close to our heart given that they are currently fielding no less than seven former or current Bees in their lineup. Sam Saunders, Nico Yennaris and their Player of the Season, Alfie Mawson, are all currently contracted to us however I suspect that only Mawson is seen as having a long term future with Brentford given that he has been offered a new two-year contract. He might decide, as did Luke Norris last year, that it is time for him to move on, but given that he is only twenty-one and is still seen as a potential first team prospect, perhaps he would be best served by extending his contract and having another loan spell away from Griffin Park next season and see how he progresses. It was so pleasing to see Sam Saunders totally dominate the first leg and pull all the strings in midfield, including a beautifully disguised free kick which set up the third Wycombe goal. He so deserves to play a full season in somebody’s first team next season even if it is unlikely to be at Brentford. Nico Yennaris also showed that there is clearly something about him and he has really impressed with his versatility and attacking forays. Maybe the chance could still come next season for a player whose career at Griffin Park has yet to get off the ground? Aaron Pierre, Sam Wood, Paul Hayes and Marcus Bean comprise the contingent of ex-Bees at the club and hopefully they will be able to cling onto, or even extend their narrow one goal lead against Plymouth and earn a richly deserved, if totally unexpected promotion.

What the last few days have demonstrated to me is just how compelling and fascinating the playoffs are to disinterested viewers totally unconnected to any of the competing teams. For supporters whose teams are participating, they are a total nightmare however much you pretend it doesn’t really matter whether your team wins or loses and have done well just to reach the playoffs. Whenever I have sat in front of the television set with my eyes glued to the action, I have tried to switch off and forget that my own team is involved, but I really cannot prevent myself from kicking every ball and putting myself in the place of the supporters of all the other teams I am watching. Well on Thursday night I will be watching the Division Two doubleheader but my mind will be firmly on the Riverside Stadium and our impending date with destiny.

We Can Do It! – 10/5/15

It is merely halftime in our playoff semifinal against Middlesbrough and whilst we go into Friday’s second leg at the Riverside Stadium trailing by one goal there is absolutely no reason at all why we still cannot prevail and keep our promotion dream alive. The tie is still wide open, it is not a foregone conclusion that everything is lost and here is why we can win the match on Friday.

We know exactly what we have to do. It is quite straightforward and simple, only a win will do and winning away is something that we do extremely well. In fact given our ability to counterattack and break at pace we often look a better and more dangerous team on the road and we won a massive eleven times away from home this season, more than anybody in the Championship except AFC Bournemouth, Watford and Norwich. We know how to win away from Griffin Park and we never go into an away game looking for anything other than a win, and once having taken the lead we keep going for the jugular and do not sit back and invite pressure onto us. We scored a massive thirty-two goals in our twenty-three away games, the sixth best record in the league, and we know no other way to play other than to attack.

Our defensive record away from home is slightly less impressive as we leaked thirty-one goals, but only six teams conceded less and we managed to keep five clean sheets, including one at Leeds United where we withstood the relentless physical assault of a determined and aggressive home team wound up by over twenty-thousand rabid, vociferous and baying supporters. We were also victorious at the cauldron that is the New Den where we were inspired by the powder-keg atmosphere and put on a sparkling display.

Playoff games are won by teams that display the right temperament and do not buckle under pressure and one thing that we can take for granted is that we won’t be fazed by or give in to the pressure of the big occasion or large and hostile crowds. The bigger the crowd, the stadium or the heritage, tradition and reputation of our opponents the better we seem to rise to and cope with the challenge.

This is leaving aside the very fact that even being in the playoffs is beyond the wildest dream of any of our supporters, as who amongst us would have dared suggest last August that we would have emerged victorious on our travels to teams of the calibre of Nottingham Forest, Millwall, Cardiff City, Norwich City, Leeds United, Blackburn Rovers, Fulham and Reading? You would have been laughed out of court or more likely people would have said that you needed your sanity testing! And yet we won away to all these massive names and in many cases gave them a football lesson too. Oh, and I will also mention our recent visit to Derby County where, although we were denied a victory at the death, we played our illustrious opponents off the pitch and silenced the stadium.

It is also payback time given that we have played Middlesbrough three times already this season and lost on every occasion, and indeed we have only scored once against them in two hundred and seventy minutes of play and that came after an out-of-character goalkeeping howler. But the figures hide the fact that we created chance after chance in the last two matches and were only denied by a combination of poor finishing, desperate defending, great goalkeeping and sheer bad luck. I can still remember Stuart Dallas’s shot clanging off the goalpost and his two second half efforts in January that seared inches over the crossbar. Andre Gray could have had a hat trick last Friday, and what about the two incredible saves by the giant Dimi Konstantopoulos who denied Jonathan Douglas at the death in January and who also stretched out a prehensile hand to turn away his looping header in the first leg? We just need to be more clinical, ensure that there is some tangible end product from all the possession that we will undoubtedly have next week, maybe even have some better luck in front of goal and on the law of averages surely it has to be our turn now?

Professional pride will also have an important bearing on how matters turn out on Friday. As Mark Warburton, all the players, as well as the five hundred and sixty-seven supporters who had the misfortune to travel to our first encounter at the Riverside Stadium in September will testify, we were “Middlesbroughed” on the day and never turned up at all. For once we fell below our high standards, never competed and suffered the consequences. We were cut to pieces by an excellent team, lost by four clear goals and from all reports it could easily have been seven. That non-performance has been used by the management as a motivator all season long and as a grisly reminder of what can happen when you under-perform.

The players will surely not allow that to happen again, particularly in a match of such importance. I fully expect them to show a combination of organisation, determination and commitment as well as no little skill to put on a performance that will make us all proud of them as well as impress the watching millions.

Let’s be honest, the prize is extremely high with the players competing for the opportunity to play in the most heralded match of the season at the national stadium at Wembley with the carrot of a place in the Premier League at stake. What more can you ask for? For the Brentford squad, most of whom were pretty much unknown on the wider stage at the start of the season, they are playing for contracts and their careers and will also be looking to impress whoever it is who comes in to replace the soon-to-be-departed Mark Warburton. If there is not a place for any of them under the new regime at Griffin Park they will be looking to impress potential new employers.

There is a wonderful sense of togetherness amongst this close-knit Brentford squad. We only used twenty-four players all season in the Championship and of those, four – Scott Hogan, Marcos Tebar, Betinho, and Nico Yennaris, made a mere seven appearances between them. Mark Warburton maintained his loyalty to his squad, made minimal changes and whatever we all may think about the lack of strengthening in January, his faith in his players was amply rewarded by the achievement of the coveted playoff spot. All eleven players who started the first match of the season against Charlton way back in early August last year will, if fit, be involved next Friday, with eight expected to start and three on the bench. In addition two of the seven substitutes that day will likely also be in the squad. I have no way of checking, but I would think that this is a rare if not unprecedented feat and bears testimony to the consistency and togetherness of the squad.

Loyalty works both way and the players have all made it abundantly clear how much they owe to their manager and they will be determined to ensure that Mark Warburton leaves on a high and not with a damp squib. Ideally that would mean that the season and his Brentford career ends with him holding the Championship playoff trophy aloft at Wembley with the ultimate objective of promotion to the Premier League finally accomplished. That might still be a pipe dream at this juncture but what I can be certain of is that this Brentford team will not go down easily and without a fight.

As for Middlesbrough, they certainly boast an exceptional home record, losing only three times all season and conceding a miserly twelve goals, far and away the best record in the Championship. All they have to do is keep another clean sheet and Brentford’s goose will be cooked, but maybe their late winner at Griffin Park might even work against them? Perhaps there will be some uncertainty about whether they should stick or twist, maybe they will sit back and invite us onto them hoping to pick us off on the break? If so we will need to take advantage of the chances we create as well as ensuring that we keep the back door locked when the likes of Adomah and Bamford threaten our goal.  Certainly it will need us to be at our best and combine skill, ingenuity, creativity and composure with the more plebeian but equally essential attributes of sweat, toil, organisation and commitment.

The Middlesbrough team, bench, management and supporters all rubbed our noises in it at the final whistle last Friday, wildly celebrating their late and fortuitous victory as if the job was done and their Wembley place already confirmed, and it would give us all enormous pleasure to pay them back in kind.

It has to be said that history is not on our side as no Championship team has previously gone into the playoff final after losing the first leg at home. Southampton and Leicester went the closest in 2007 and 2010 respectively, winning away after losing at home but both lost out in the eventual penalty shootout. So the odds are certainly stacked against the Bees but this team has already accomplished so much in this momentous season so why should they not be denied their place in history?

I will give the last words to Graham Westley whose Stevenage team have reached the League Two playoffs this season. Here is his recipe for winning the playoffs:

It IS about adventure. It IS about being brave. You have to score goals to win so you have to play goal scoring players to get through. It IS about playing on the front foot, getting out there and attacking the situation. It isn’t for the faint hearted. It IS for the brave.

Now which team do his words remind you of? We CAN do this!

The Dreaded “P” Word – Part Two – 7/5/15

There was a gap of five years before the playoffs reared their ugly head again in 2002, and once more it was heartache for the Bees. I still find it hard to believe that a team that boasted the talent of players such as Ivar Ingimarsson, Darren Powell, Gavin Mahon, Martin Rowlands, Paul Evans, Steve Hunt, Steve Sidwell, Lloyd Owusu and Ben Burgess could not grab one of the top two places in the league table but Brighton and Reading proved to be just that little bit better,  although we demonstrated our ability by doing the double over the eventual champions, Brighton, including that unforgettable four-nil thumping we handed out to them at Griffin Park on a magical night when Ben Burgess was utterly unplayable.

Unfortunately Owner Ron Noades had lost interest in us by then which resulted in the squad being weakened, and valuable assets in Mahon and Paul Gibbs were sold off at vital stages of the season without a hint of a replacement and the inspirational Jason Price was also allowed to leave at the end of his short term contract. Worse still, Ben Burgess damaged his hamstring whilst on international duty and with no new loanee arriving on transfer deadline day, our most potent striker was forced to see the season through despite being unable to summon up a gallop and his goal threat unsurprisingly disappeared.

As always we seemed to be our own worst enemy and no wonder manager Steve Coppell called it a day at the end of his only season in charge. Mark McCammon frittered away a glaring late opportunity to earn us a vital win at Queens Park Rangers, so, shades of Doncaster in 2013, we went into the final showdown needing to beat Reading to go up whilst our visitors simply needed to draw.

The tension was unbearable as we could barely dare to watch what was happening on the pitch. After a first half of shadow boxing with Reading more than happy to slow the proceedings down, the game burst into life when Owusu’s electric run down the left flank saw the ball pulled back to Martin Rowlands, at the time still a Griffin Park hero, who thrashed the ball low into the net. Reading finally decided to make a game of it given their need to score and we funnelled back and gave away the initiative hoping to hold onto what we already had. As is so often the case a one goal lead is a mere chimera and the ineffable Jamie Cureton secured a permanent place in our chamber of horrors by poaching the all-important late equaliser with a clever lob, and time stood still as the ball dropped just inside the post.

So near yet so far. I confess to the ultimate heresy of leaving the game a few minutes early after Paul Evans had wasted a chance from a late free kick, I just could not bear to watch the blue and white hordes cavorting around the Griffin Park pitch and lording it over us whilst we were left jilted at the altar once again.

I contemplated the playoffs with as much enthusiasm as Sisyphus must have done, clutching his boulder looking up at the steep hill in front of him, but we rallied and finally did to Huddersfield what they had done to us back in 1995. It was payback time with a disciplined defensive performance away from home followed by a brave recovery from Paul Smith’s early aberration at Griffin Park. Roared on by a passionate home crowd we scored twice through Darren Powell and then Lloyd Owusu to earn the right to play Stoke City at the Millennium Stadium.

The stakes were high, as this was the last chance saloon with promotion to the second tier on the one hand, the certain loss of Steve Coppell and the breakup of our squad on the other, should we lose. I am afraid that I made the long journey to Cardiff filled with trepidation as I felt that the dice were loaded against us and unfortunately I was proved correct. This was a step too far for a team that had been systematically weakened by niggling injuries and outgoing transfers. Death by a thousand cuts, indeed. We had peaked and could not compete on the day with a strong Stoke City team packed full of expensive imports. We subsided to a comfortable two goal defeat with the ultimate irony of BBB scoring the clincher into his own net when attempting to clear a free kick. The journey home was horrible, as we all knew that this was the end of an era and that the next few years were going to be extremely tough both on and off the pitch.

The following two seasons were simply about survival and avoiding relegation, and thanks to Wally Downes in 2003 and the ultimate Great Escape under new inspiration Martin Allen, we earned ourselves some much needed breathing space. Allen rebuilt and patched up the squad on a shoestring and imbued them with his own passion and confidence. A team led by the experienced Stuart Talbot, Chris Hargreaves, John Salako and Deon Burton, buttressed with the youthful enthusiasm of the likes of Alex Rhodes, Sam Sodje, Jay Tabb and the elegant Michael Turner gelled together and had a remarkable season culminating in a totally unforeseen run to the fifth round of the FA Cup where we almost defeated Premier League Southampton as well as a late charge towards the playoffs. It all looked like it was going to fall apart when we lost three consecutive games in April but we eventually fell over the line when Scott Fitzgerald’s late winner at Wrexham earned us a playoff place.

Could this be fifth time lucky as we sought to overcome a stuttering Sheffield Wednesday? Their recent home record had been appalling but instead of attacking them, Martin Allen for once misread the situation and played an ultra defensive lineup which gave a nervous home team the initiative, and we returned to Griffin Park facing a one goal deficit but with the feeling that we had squandered a real opportunity to take the tie by the scruff of the neck.

The second leg was far more even and the turning point came when Wednesday keeper David Lucas somehow kept out a Deon Burton effort that seemed bound for the back of the net. Our hopes ebbed away and two breakaway goals sealed victory for our visitors before a late consolation by Andy Frampton heralded a nonstop cacophony of noise from the Brentford fans who knew that the tie had slipped away from them but were simply celebrating and acknowledging the achievement of a team that had massively over-performed.

Promotion looked well on the cards the following season as DJ Campbell’s arrival from non league at last gave us a real goal threat and the elegant Darren Pratley roamed around the midfield with menace. Yet once again we let things slip through our fingers and contributed massively to our own failure. Campbell was sold to Birmingham on the back of his two brilliant goals that ensured us a wonderful FA Cup giant killing against Premier League Sunderland, and his replacement Calum Willock proved to be a total misfit who managed to go through almost half a season scoring only one goal. Lloyd Owusu tore his groin playing in a nondescript friendly match against Stuttgart for Ghana and our striking options were restricted to veteran Marcus Gayle and Isaiah Rankin.

Automatic promotion was still totally in our hands but, as always, Brentford found a way to seize defeat from the jaws of victory. Sam Sodje, such an inspiration at the back, self-destructed when his proposed move to Southampton fell through and, losing focus and concentration, became a defensive liability. We failed to win any of our last four home games and became paralysed by fear and apprehension whenever we scored first, funnelling back in a vain and desperate attempt to cling onto our lead. Victory at Bournemouth on the final day of the season allied to a defeat for Colchester at Yeovil would have been enough for promotion but it wasn’t to be and we finished third in the table.

A Leon Knight inspired Swansea were given a helping hand when Referee Keith Stroud controversially sent off Stuart Nelson when Brentord were a Jay Tabb goal up and coasting in the first leg and we were pegged back by a cruel late deflected equaliser. Surely now we were in the catbird seat, but once again disappointment was to strike as a desperately poor performance from a toothless Bees team saw us subside to a two goal defeat. Zero for six and counting! I was pretty numb by now and expected little else than the loss that we suffered. We just did not seem to do playoffs and had developed a complex about them and our inevitable losses became no more than a self-perpetuating prophecy.

Our final playoff failure in 2013 is still too sore and fresh in the memory to need much retelling and I am certainly not going to rake over the coals by forensically deconstructing the Trotta penalty fiasco against Doncaster. We drew at Swindon thanks to Kevin O’Connor’s brilliantly taken injury time penalty and the home tie remains one of the best and most exciting games I have ever seen. We were seemingly coasting with a three-one lead. Marcello Trotta was imperious and Clayton Donaldson a constant danger, and quite frankly, we could have scored at least six times but were pegged back with two late goals that highlighted our constant weakness from corner kicks.

A dreaded penalty shoot out in a playoff match surely represented two opportunities for heartache for Brentford, but we rose to the challenge with all five nominated kickers scoring emphatically and Simon Moore’s plunging save followed by Adam Forshaw’s perfect conversion of our last kick saw us earn a trip to Wembley. Surely this time? But no, a stunning Paddy Madden volley early on was like a dagger to our hearts, and the lumbering Dan Burn’s header gave us a mountain to climb at the break. Talk of climbing, I was ready to leave Wembley by any method available at halftime and had to be persuaded to stay, given how deep I was in the depths of despair.

So near yet so far, as Harlee Dean’s thumping header gave us false hope but we squandered a plethora of chances to allay our playoff bogey and it was to be yet another desperate tramp back to the car interrupted only by an unscheduled stop at a rubbish bin where I deposited my Clayton Donaldson autographed shirt which had more than outlived its potency as a lucky omen.

Given this tale of never-ending failure and despair, why then am I looking forward with relish to tonight’s playoff match against Middlesbrough? Quite simply because this is a totally different and unique situation. All our seven failures in the past were in the Division One playoffs. Now we are in uncharted waters for the first time and are actually on the verge of reaching the Premier League. Something that would have been quite preposterous to even contemplate a mere year or so ago.

I quite appreciate that Matthew Benham and his intrepid team of analysts had us down to finish in sixth or seventh place this season and we have now met his expectations by reaching the playoffs. That being said I see this as being a free hit for us as hardly anybody outside the club really expected us to get there and even fewer now expect us to win the playoffs.

With the pressure off we can play with freedom and without the weight of pressure and expectation. It would really not surprise me if we beat Middlesbrough and then triumph at a packed Wembley against either Norwich or Ipswich. I have already visualised this happening in my dreams and imagination and I live in constant hope of it coming true.

Tonight is therefore a time for celebration and not apprehension. What has happened in the past should not concern or worry us. If we pull it off then it will be an astonishing achievement which will go down in the annals of the club’s history. If not – this time I can live with it without my Summer being ruined.