A Match Too Far – 27/4/16

This was the game that nobody really wanted to play. Brentford’s visit to Hull City had been put off for a seemingly interminable period of time owing to the apparent difficulties in scheduling the home team’s FA Cup replay with Arsenal what seems a lifetime ago.

Having played only three times in March this was to be Brentford’s seventh game of a ridiculously packed April schedule, a situation that should never have been allowed to occur and one that was to prove a match too far for a thin, exhausted and beleaguered squad.

Hull City had already safely secured their position in the playoffs and all they had to play for last night was to help ensure that they finish up in fourth place and therefore get to play their forthcoming playoff semifinal second-leg tie at home.

As for the Bees, it was simply a case of trying to continue their recent unbeaten run and ideally get through the match unscathed before Saturday’s massive and much anticipated local derby against Fulham.

Hull City are the moneybags of the Championship, a situation that I have previously written about with great envy when I outlined the eye-watering sums they received throughout their stay in the Premier League, figures that are now being boosted even more by an ongoing series of Parachute Payments following their recent relegation to the Championship.

Given their riches, resources and overall opulence which totally dwarf the likes of Brentford and are beyond our wildest dream, it would not be unreasonable to say that Hull have an unfair advantage over the rest of the division and in essence have totally underperformed this season as they really should have run away with the league title.

As it is, owing to their inconsistency and lack of goal threat their hopes of automatic promotion have long since disappeared and they will be forced to rely upon the lottery of the playoffs if they are to fulfill expectations by returning to the Premier League.

Steve Bruce was afforded the luxury, unheard of for Dean Smith, of making seven team changes last night whilst still being able to put out a starting eleven bristling with ability and experience, and as for his substitutes’ bench – words fail me and I am green with envy!

Just take a moment to examine the wealth of talent that Bruce could call on should the need arise:

  • Allan McGregor
  • Curtis Davies
  • Shaun Maloney
  • Ryan Taylor
  • Robert Snodgrass
  • Tom Huddlestone
  • Chuba Akpom

Seven players, four of them full internationals, worth millions of pounds and probably earning between them a sum close to Brentford’s entire playing budget.

That’s just the way it is in a league composed of the haves and have-nots and where there is a vast chasm between the top six teams and the remaining also-rans who are pretty much of a muchness in terms of the overall depth and quality of their squad.

Brentford had already learned to their cost about the strength and depth of the Hull squad in the previous meeting between the two clubs last year at Griffin Park when after the Bees had totally dominated the first half without reward and were still well in the game after the break, the visitors simply went to their bench and brought on two massively talented replacement players in Huddlestone and Diamé. They turned the game on its head and a brave and commited Brentford team which had finally run out of steam and imagination was unable to cope with their fresh legs and minds as Hull effortlessly went up a gear, and we were left trailing in their wake and subsided to an unfortunate defeat.

David versus Goliath with us facing their atomic weapons with peashooters.

Last night the Bees were again short of options and named in their squad pretty much every player who was anywhere near match fitness although given that this was their seventh game in less than four weeks they were running on empty with many of the players patched up, half fit and in desperate need of respite.

Colin, Kerschbaumer and Vibe were rested from Saturday’s team with Clarke, Swift, recovered from injury, and Djuricin starting in their place.

That is quite simply the way of the world when a small and overworked squad has been ravaged by a nonstop series of injuries throughout the entire season. Fixtures have to be fulfilled even though we are nowhere near being on an even playing field.

Despite these drawbacks Brentford had put together an amazing run of five wins in their last six games and had risen from the depths of the league to a highly commendable tenth place and shown grit, skill, organisation and determination in abundance but last night was simply a match too far and the Bees had nothing left in the tank and gently subsided to a two goal defeat.

Brentford played their normal neat brand of short passing football but shorn of Vibe’s pace and hard running and with Djuricin easily snuffed out by Maguire there was very little goal threat and Hull eventually seized control and were rewarded with two close-range goals after the Bees failed to prevent crosses coming in from either flank.

Harlee Dean, otherwise so impressive on the night, was aware of the threat behind him and stretched in vain to clear, but could only find the roof of his own net and Diamé bundled in the second right on halftime which totally ended the game as a contest.

In between Diomande missed a penalty which was most generously awarded by a referee in Darren Bond who barely gave the visitors a decision all night, not that Hull really needed his assistance.

The excellent David Button got down quickly and well to make the save but that was a rare high point for an outmatched and exhausted Brentford team who struggled to cope with Hull’s pace and power on the break.

The second half was played at exhibition pace and we were saved any more embarrassment and could even have scored when the impressive Josh Clarke was brought down a fraction outside the box according the referee – I wonder if he would have been as hawk-eyed if the incident had occurred down the other end, and Sam Saunders also curled a late free kick inches past the post.

Otherwise the sole entertainment was in watching home substitute Chuba Akpom doing his best to keep a wide berth and stay as far away as possible from the belligerent Alan McCormack who would have just loved to have been given the opportunity to teach the young upstart a much-needed lesson in manners after his behaviour during his unimpressive loan spell at Griffin Park back in 2014.

Worryingly, indestructible skipper Jake Bidwell limped off with a hamstring strain late on, thus ending his bid to play every minute of the season and hopefully both he and Vibe will be passed fit to face the challenge of local rivals Fulham on Saturday.

I am sure that given the magnitude of the occasion, tired bodies and minds will have recovered in time for the weekend and Scott Hogan will also be ready to be unleashed upon our unsuspecting neighbours.

Last night was an irrelevance and we move on.

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Day Off! – 23/11/14

flsWhat a lovely, peaceful and satisfying day I had yesterday.

After long lie in to sleep off the excess celebrations from the night before,  I woke up with a smile on my face as I realised that the incredible and momentous events of Friday night had really happened and weren’t merely a dream.

In fact the reality was far better and more satisfying than anything I could have ever dared hope for.

Brentford had beaten their old enemy in the most satisfying of circumstances and sent them scurrying back to SW6 whining and moaning with their tail firmly between their legs.

Even more than that, Brentford had risen to the challenge and massive expectations of their fans and put on a performance that will live long in the memory, one that must also have thrilled, surprised and amazed everyone watching the live broadcast of the local derby on Sky Sports.

The days of us crumbling and choking on the big occasion seem firmly behind us and the team seemed to relish the challenge and enjoy the opportunity to strut their stuff before a national audience.

I have to confess that I watched the entire programme twice, once when I came in late on Friday night, and again, just to check that it wasn’t a figment of my imagination, on Saturday morning.

I was right the first time, we really had put on a notable performance that had even the hardened Sky pundits waking up and taking notice and appreciating our style, approach and quality.

Griffin Park, too, looked at its best, resplendent and sparkling in the glare of the floodlights and the scene was set for a magnificent game of football where the presumed underdogs and no-hopers seized the initiative from the off and blooded the nose of their illustrious and wealthy opponents.

I am not going to rehash my match report as I wrote that yesterday, but suffice to say that I was suffused with pride watching the events unroll on-screen yet again.

How Ross McCormack, danger that he was, could have been named as Man of the Match was a decision so ludicrous that I simply laughed in disbelief.

Was I being paranoid or was this simply more evidence of media bias against Brentford?

The fact that the studio pundit, Billy McKinlay, was a former Fulham coach might have had something to do with it, but if a Fulham player had to be chosen, then the blindingly obvious candidate was their goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli, the elastic man, whose series of wonderful saves kept the Cottagers in the game and almost led to them pulling off a totally unmerited victory against the odds.

Perhaps they had simply been unable to pick out one Brentford player when in truth all fourteen shone equally on the night?

Whatever the circumstances, the choice of McCormack highlighted the danger of making such a decision well before the end of the game, as I firmly believe that the Man of the Match had been selected at a time when Fulham were still winning the game.

I take my hat off to Ross who was magnanimous when interviewed after the game, looked fairly sheepish and embarrassed when accepting his award and conceded that Brentford had been by far the better team and fully deserved their victory.

The Daily Mail published a full and effusive report on their website but otherwise our achievement went largely unnoticed in yesterday’s media.

Good, let’s stay under the radar for as long as we can!

A long day now stretched in front of me without the normal stresses and concerns of a Saturday in the football season.

The Bees had more than done their stuff, the pressure was off and I could simply relax, smug in the knowledge that whatever happened we were certain to end the day still firmly ensconced in the Playoff zone.

I watched the Huddersfield versus Sheffield Wednesday no-score bore draw at lunchtime and whilst you have to make allowance for the passion of a local derby, there was so little quality on display from either team, and the Bees looked light years ahead of  both of them on the evidence of that game.

I awaited the other results with keen interest but felt totally confused and conflicted.

Should I be looking at the teams at the top or bottom of the league?

Did I want Derby or Blackpool to lose?

With the innate caution and pessimism ingrained in a Brentford supporter of long standing, I was first drawn to the relegation zone and noticed with relief and satisfaction that we are now thirteen points above Rotherham who sit uneasily in twenty-second place.

Can they make up the gap on us, are we going to be OK and avoid the dog fight at the bottom of the league?

Panicky thoughts such as these flashed through my mind until I took a deep breath and began to analyse the situation more objectively.

We have now played eighteen of our twenty-three opponents, and yes, we are likely to find it harder when we play everybody for the second time, as forewarned is forearmed but a cataclysmic collapse like the one we experienced back in 1993 just isn’t going to happen again.

AM:PS2We really do have so much more quality and are so much better equipped for the gruelling demands of the Championship both on the pitch and behind the scenes.

That is not to say that we will not experience some good hidings between now and the end of the season given the calibre of some of the opposition and players who will be facing us.

I finally accepted that in reality there really isn’t too much for us to worry about and allowed my eyes to rise and examine the top of the Championship table.

There we were, sitting proudly in fifth place, and long may that situation remain.

Who knows where we will end up as we are on a magical and momentous journey which will end, we know not where, but it is great fun to be part of it.

And given what most of us have been through over the years supporting our beloved Brentford, the disappointments, the raised hopes and shattered dreams, I really do not think many people would deny that it is about time that we had our time in the sun.

It is OUR turn now.

Mark Warburton turned up as a guest on the Football League Show last night.

In his calm, understated manner he talked total sense, gave credit where it was due and his sharp analysis contrasted with the bumbling inanities and cliches spouted by the ineffable Steve Claridge who he totally outshone.

Mark advised caution and hoped that we would remain out of the spotlight for as long as possible.

Most of me hopes that he is right but I really feel that the cat is out of the bag as is evidenced by this comment from Sam Lewis’s match report in today’s Football League Paper:

While rivals Fulham were parading themselves in the Premier League and playing in a European final, envious Brentford were pottering around in the bowels of the Football League in a half-empty stadium.

How the tide of the Thames has turned in West London.

It’s taken sixteen years for the clubs to collide in the league, but what is it they say about good things coming to those who wait?

Brentford are flying high in the play-off places.

Their new stadium is coming and if they keep this up, so are United, City, Liverpool and Chelsea.

How I wish I had written those wonderful words.

Just to cap a perfect day, the phone rang at about seven o’clock and it was Paul Shrubb ringing to say what a fantastic time he had had at the match, how welcome he had been made to feel and how incredible it was to walk onto the Griffin Park pitch once more to receive the acclaim of the Brentford supporters.

Days don’t really come much better than this.

It’s Academic Mr Reeves – 30/8/14

So it’s farewell to Jake Reeves who has just had his contract terminated by mutual consent after making forty-seven appearances for the club.

Personally I think that this is the correct decision as at twenty one years of age Jake needs to play every week in order to continue his development and prove himself as a football league calibre player.

Unfortunately our progress has left him behind and he was highly unlikely to be anything other than an emergency replacement given our strength in midfield.

Taking into account the still awaited departure of Adam Forshaw, Jake was probably our eighth choice central midfielder behind Douglas, Tebar, Toral, Jota, Judge, Pritchard and Diagouraga.

The competition for places is fearsome and he has lost out in the battle.

But that is not to say that he has been a failure.

Perish the thought!

For any youngster to come through the Academy system, sign a professional contract and actually get to play in the Football League is a massive achievement and not one to be denigrated.

No more than ten percent of all youngsters who join Academies get to the point where they are offered professional terms, and of those lucky ones, only a tiny fraction ever make it to the First Team.

Jake arrived at Brentford at the age of sixteen from the Tottenham system and found a great supporter in Uwe Rosler.

He played well against Stoke City in a preseason friendly back in 2011 and was in the First Team squad for three years.

The weight of expectation was on him and he often delivered.

Supporters did not take into account his tender years and lack of experience and perhaps expected too much of him too soon. 

He needed to get into the rhythm of first team football but was rarely given the opportunity of a run in the team when he might have gained in confidence and been able to fully express himself and demonstrate his burgeoning talent. 

He sometimes looked like he was trying too hard and forcing things in an attempt to influence the game and make an immediate impression when he came on as a substitute.

Jonathan Douglas too, a formidable performer, occupied his preferred spot in front of the back four, and was not to be moved or swept aside.

Jake, though, more than held his own when given the opportunity.

I well remember his wonderful performance at Sheffield United in that crazy match at the end of the 2012/13 season where he dominated proceedings and pinged any number of defence splitting passes.

He was a true quarterback that evening and he looked like an experienced and battle hardened veteran rather than the inexperienced tyro he really was.

He made a memorable cameo appearance as a substitute against MK Dons in 2012 and played one of the passes of the season – a perfect slide rule effort that put Harry Forrester directly in on goal.

Sometimes, though, he looked like a little boy lost.

Rosler hung him out to dry by playing him against Stevenage in the land of the giants one miserable Tuesday night and he disappeared without trace as the ball was bashed without purpose from one end of the field to the other.

Last season he managed a well taken, crisply finished goal against Staines, impressed as a late substitute on many occasions and ended his Brentford career perfectly when his incisive, perfectly disguised pass inside the defender, laid on Alan Judge’s goal against Stevenage in the last minute of Jake’s last game.

The iconic image of Jonathan Douglas placing a protective arm tenderly around Jake after David Luiz’s cowardly assault is one that is also etched indelibly in my memory and demonstrates how highly Jake was regarded by his team mates.

Jake goes to Swindon with the good wishes of all Brentford supporters ringing in his ears.

He was one of ours and almost made it with us, but our progress was too much for him to keep up with and the time had come for us to part.

Our standards have risen exponentially over the past three years and only the cream of the crop will now have the ability to make it at Griffin Park.

Given the boost of regular first team football, Jake could still develop further but Swindon’s style and approach will suit him and he could well become more than a First Division player.

As we cancelled his contract, it is unlikely that we have negotiated a sell on clause to reward us for the part we played in his growth and development as a player but even so he represents another real success for the Brentford Academy system.

Ideally we will develop players who become regulars for our own team and Montell Moore, Josh Clarke and Alfie Mawson show every sign of doing so in the years to come.

There are also some wonderful prospects coming through at some of the younger age groups and I anticipate a conveyor belt of talent emerging over the next few years. 

But we should also take pride in the likes of Luke Norris and Aaron Pierre who are now trying to make their way elsewhere having received an excellent grounding at Brentford.

The other week, Michael Onuvwigun, a tall, leggy, young midfielder emerged as a substitute for the Chesterfield First Team, and I well suspect that this was a source of great delight to his former coaches at Brentford.

As I outlined earlier, the road to success in football is a long and tortuous one, and for a young prospect to rise to the level of the Football League at any club, even if not at Brentford, is a worthy achievement and one not be be sneezed at.

Jake Reeves has already proved to be a success and there is far more to come from him, and from others like him too.

There is now an established development pathway for young players at Brentford, and having had the pleasure of watching some of the talented youngsters in both the Under 18 and Under 16 teams play last Saturday, I am confident that there are many players already within the system who will have a successful career within the game, ideally at Brentford.

Ambition Personified – 18/7/14

alexBrentford FC media guru Mark Chapman totally nailed it with his tweet yesterday:

“It wouldn’t be a proper Summer unless we signed Swindon’s best player from the season before.”

Cutting – certainly, maybe even a bit cruel, but totally true.

For Jonathan Douglas read Alan McCormack. For Alan McCormack now read Alex Pritchard.

No wonder the Swindon message boards are beside themselves and drowning in vitriol.

What is more ironic is that Swindon, who rejoiced in being seen as Tottenham Hotspur’s nursery team last season are now fast becoming Brentford’s feeder team!

For all their demeaning comments, most Swindon fans bemoaned the loss of both Douglas and McCormack and the drive, skill and passion that they had provided the Robins over the years.

The disappointment they felt over the loss of the two Irishmen is nothing compared to their fury at losing their star player from last season to a team that Swindon supporters resolutely refuse to accept has overtaken and far surpassed them in terms of infrastructure, financial solidity and prospects for the future.

Alex Pritchard was a shining star at The County Ground last season.

On a season long loan from Spurs he rapidly proved himself to be one of the most exciting prospects in the division and finished with eight goals and an identical number of assists.

He terrorised opponents with a combination of pace, skill and directness and was a danger from long range with his ability from set pieces and eagerness to shoot with either foot.

His temperament let him down on occasions and he had some disciplinary issues but hopefully he is maturing and can be handled by Mark Warburton and David Weir.

Pritchard caused the Bees problems last season with a live wire display at Griffin Park where he helped set up the first goal and forced a wonderful late save from David Button and at the County Ground he led Alan McCormack a merry dance, forcing a penalty kick and being a constant danger.

The news of his arrival on a season long loan has been welcomed with enthusiasm by Bees fans who see another missing link being filled.

Pritchard will bring pace and guile to Brentford’s left flank and he and Jake Bidwell are certain to combine effectively and ensure that they provide a constant left sided threat to all opponents.

Pritchard is Brentford’s fifth preseason arrival and the gulf in quality between all of them and say, Rotherham’s “Dirty Dozen” is boggling.

Rotherham have mainly brought in experienced journeymen and some gambles. Fair play to them, maybe that is all that their budget allows.

Brentford, for their part have signed proven La Liga experience in Marcos Tebar and he is expected to add tackling ability and vision to the midfield.

There have also been unsubstantiated rumours both on the Transfer Rumours website as well as our old friend and comfort blanket, The Griffin Park Grapevine, that concerted efforts continue to be made to bring in other foreign players.

Personally I hope that these stories are true as I believe that there is more value for money shopping abroad and we can potentially find and afford players of a calibre that are beyond our reach in the UK.

That being said we haven’t done too badly so far with our other new additions!

We have succeeded in signing proven talent at First Division level in the anticipation that they can continue to develop and thrive in The Championship.

In Alan Judge, Moses Odubajo, Alex Pritchard, not to mention Adam Forshaw, James Tarkowski and Jake Bidwell, Brentford now possess six of the best players from last season’s First Division and the signing of Andre Gray, probably the best player in The Conference, further reinforces Brentford’s approach in the transfer market which is to identify the best affordable young talent in the lower leagues and hope that we can develop them further as we progress through the divisions.

There is talk of Scott Hogan, Rochdale’s emerging young striker joining the Brentford project, and given his growing reputation and burgeoning talent, he would also fit the bill should he eventually sign for the club.

My holiday plans mean that I will miss the preseason games at Boreham Wood and Barnet, ironically the two matches closest to my North London home but I’m sure that there will be excitement to spare as the season gets underway – and personally I can’t wait to see our new players in action.

The Bees started with a 3-1 victory at Boreham Wood last night and first reports indicate that it was a comfortable initial run out but something quite remarkable occurred.

Jake Bidwell broke his duck and scored his first goal not just for the club, but also, I am reliably informed, his first since he last played “Three And In” in his local park in Liverpool as a youngster.

He so nearly scored what would have been a crucial late equaliser last season at Swindon so I shall end this article where I started, with mention of The Robins!