Hot Stuff At Griffin Park – 24/7/16

The new season is now only two weeks away and it was clear from yesterday’s friendly against tough and skilful foreign opposition in Kaiserslautern that the squad is progressing in terms of fitness, structure and organisation although there is still much work to be done.

The heat was on in more ways than one, given the scorching weather conditions which necessitated regular water breaks and perhaps explained why the Bees abandoned their normal pressing game and funnelled back rather than challenging the opposition deep in their own half.

The match was apparently arranged a part of the Philipp Hofmann transfer deal a year ago and you would have hoped that the German fans held fond memories of their former hero, but such was not the case if the opinions of the Kaiserslautern supporters who I canvassed on my way into the stadium are to be trusted.

Paraphrasing their comments in order to protect the guilty, it would be fair to say that he is not missed by them in the least and we were roundly thanked for taking him off their hands. The Hoff certainly looks the part this season in terms of his overall fitness and we can only hope that he does finally show us what he is capable of!

I really see little point in providing a long and detailed match report but, in brief, the first half was evenly matched but cautious as both teams felt each other out. The Bees went ahead with a comic cuts headed own goal from a Macleod corner but were soon pegged back when we were caught square at the back and short of numbers. Lasse Vibe and Ryan Woods came close late on but a draw was the fairest result.

What is more important is how we performed and there was much to be pleased about as well as a few warning bells jangling in the background.

This was the first sight for most of us of Daniel Bentley and he looked calm and confident in everything he did in terms of shot stopping and defensive organisation. He looked slightly lost and bemused, though, at the way we expect our keeper to distribute the ball – quickly and accurately and to throw the ball short at every opportunity and frankly, he struggled to do so. He sold Barbet horribly short early on with a kicked clearance and we were fortunate to survive the defensive mess that followed. I have no qualms about him though and he will prove to be an excellent successor to the departed Button.

Colin was his normal bubbly and effusive self, calm in defence and rampaging forward at every opportunity. He cost us serious money (for us at least) but at some point we will sell him for a massive fee. Dean and Egan were solid and unspectacular but looked worried when clever opponents ran at them. Tom Field was given a much-needed rest and Barbet filled in adequately at left back but did enough to convince us that this is not his preferred or best position. Chris Mepham came on towards the end and is clearly going to be a future first teamer, as will Tom Field.

Alan McCormack and Josh McEachran played in the holding role and left me totally unconvinced. Macca ratted around, left his mark, both physical and verbal on the opposition and made one brilliantly forceful forward run that ended with him shooting at the keeper when he should have scored but we desperately need better. Josh looked confident on the ball and pinged his passes sharply and with accuracy but he reacts rather than initiates, was far too easily knocked off the ball and lacked the strength to win it back.

Ryan Woods showed us how it should be done when he came on in the second half. Demanding the ball at every opportunity and driving us forward by sheer force of character as well as ability. He hammered a long-ranger inches over and his passing was crisp and accurate and always positive. Nico Yennaris is nursing a knock and at present I see him and Woods starting and I fear for Josh as he has not shown the leadership we require. I might be judging him harshly given his two serious injuries but we need to see far more from him. Unless we bring in a Kevin McDonald type of player we run the risk of being overrun from time to time. He will prove to be a decent signing for Fulham and again clearly demonstrates how we are outgunned financially as I am quite certain that we also expressed an interest in him.

There was much to admire in midfield where both Lewis Macleod and Romaine Sawyers drifted in and out of the game but from time to time clearly demonstrated their massive ability both on the ball and in dribbling past opponents. Macleod might well thrive in a more central role but he is a pure match winner and a certain starter. Sam Saunders did what Sam does, show calmness and quality on the ball but interestingly enough, gave up his set-piece duties to Macleod and Sawyers.

Scott Hogan has been nursing an ankle injury and played 45 minutes. he got into good positions and always found space in and around the box. If he gets the correct service he will score goals, it is as simple as that. Lasse Vibe is fit, sharp and raring to go and it is a real shame that we will lose him for the duration of the Olympics.

Hofmann came on against his old team mates and ambled around in the sunshine like a geriatric out for a brief stroll and did nothing to convince us of his potential worth to us.

We fielded a trialist in Manny Ledesma, an experienced Argentine winger with Championship experience at Middlesbrough and Rotherham. He has also played under Dean Smith at Walsall. It is unfair to judge someone on so brief an acquaintance and he showed some clever touches but I would hope that we are not in the market for a 28 year old journeyman.

A decent workout then which clearly showed that we have a more than decent young squad that still has gaps to fill at left back, defensive midfield, on the wing and up front. I am sure that there will be reinforcements coming in shortly and hopefully of the requisite standard and fitting the Brentford trademark in terms of being young, talented and with the potential to improve.

As always the first visit to Griffin Park for the new season was one to savour and the new season will, I am quite sure, also be one to relish.

Growing Pains – a four hundred page monster that covers all of the events both on and off the field from last season in my words and also those of the likes of Matthew Benham, Cliff Crown, Phil Giles, Billy Reeves and Phil Parry is now available in the BFC Superstore and via Amazon at

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Growing-Pains-Brentford-2015-Season/dp/1910515159/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1468052450&sr=8-1&keywords=greville+waterman

Please ignore what it says on Amazon – the book is available and in stock!

There is also an ebook version available for download to Kindle.

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Easy Pickings! – 1/5/16

I took my Fulham supporting friend, Phil, to the local derby at Griffin Park yesterday afternoon and warned him not to make an exhibition of himself when seated in the Braemar Road stand, wear black and white or do anything else that might out him and reveal his true allegiance. If truth be told, the only time he became animated during what turned out to be a long and trying afternoon for him was when he heard his fellow Fulham fans jeering their team with an heartfelt and scornful chorus of you’re not fit to wear the shirt and it was only with difficulty that he managed to restrain himself from joining in, and I honestly could not have blamed him if he had.

I am reliably informed that back in the day, the Fulham programme used to include a prominently placed advertisement for The Samaritans and given their abject surrender and total lack of fight I suspect that it will not be too long before it reappears, and I can certainly think of one angry and sadly disillusioned supporter who might well avail himself of their services.

Fulham were a total disgrace on the day, lacking drive, positivity and commitment and really were not at all up for the fight. The fact that it was supposed to be a keenly contested local derby with West London bragging rights up for grabs barely seemed to have registered with them and they ran up the white flag and surrendered from the moment when Brentford hit them hard and early and scored two goals within the first seven minutes of the game.

Their highly paid team of mercenaries capitulated without a struggle or a whimper and for all their possession and neat football they barely threatened and apart from Ross McCormack who drifted in and out of the game but struck the woodwork twice and forced David Button into his only action of what was perhaps one of his easiest afternoons of the season, Brentford were the only team who looked as if they had any interest in either competing or scoring goals.

The Bees, by contrast were fully aware of how much this match meant for their supporters and how poorly they had played at QPR recently abd put in a massive shift in order to ensure that we all went home happy.

The quality of their performance was all the more praiseworthy and meritorious given how ludicrously stretched were our resources and our eighteen-man squad included two Academy products in Reece Cole, who spent the match on the bench and young left back Tom Field who made a remarkably composed and assured debut when surprisingly given the nod to replace the injured Jake Bidwell, who missed his first match of the season.

Lasse Vibe, Marco Djuricin and Alan McCormack were also late injury absentees and our selection problems for this match simply mirrored what has invariably been the case pretty much every week since last August as there has been a nonstop and seemingly ever-growing procession of players who have missed large chunks of the season, and yesterday was no different with the likes of Macleod, Bjelland, McEachran and Judge joining Bidwell, Vibe, Djuricin and McCormack on the injured list.

Hopefully we have now used up all our bad luck and next season will see us have a near full strength squad from which to choose. Scott Hogan, as last man standing, made his first ever Championship start for the Bees and Sam Saunders joined Woods, Yennaris, Canos and Kerschbaumer in a small but mobile midfield quintet.

Any nerves were settled within the opening seven minutes which saw the Bees take the game to their opponents who could not cope with their energy, drive, pressing, direct running and movement off the ball.

The appalling Ashley Richards, a total liability at right back where he proved to be a one-man fifth column before his merciful substitution at the interval, was forced back towards his own goal by Field and was robbed of the ball on halfway by Canos, perhaps illegally, but Mr.Haywood who let the game flow admirably all afternoon, saw no evil and Sam Saunders made a lung-bursting break from his own half and was criminally allowed to run opposed towards the edge of the Fulham penalty area. Canos picked him out perfectly and Sam’s finish was audacious, instantaneous and immaculate as he flicked the ball perfectly over the advancing Bettinelli with his first touch.

Fulham resorted to bickering amongst themselves and Parker and Ince gave their hapless teammate a real mouthful and the game was won and lost in that instant. Even better was to come when Yennaris and Woods combined to win the ball back in midfield, and Kerschbaumer played a perfect first time through ball in between the two slow and lumbering central defenders Ream and Stearman who were dozing in the sunshine blithely unaware of the danger, like a pair of wildebeest in the Serengeti totally oblivious to the presence of a lioness lurking in the long grass. Scott Hogan was too quick in both thought and action for both of them, he was switched on and alert and ran on unopposed and finished perfectly and without fuss into the corner.

Fulham were stunned and out for the count and spent the remainder of the half passing the ball sideways and backwards, going absolutely nowhere. Brentford pressed, harried and defended in numbers and never gave an inch and it came as little surprise when they stretched their lead from their first corner when Field’s perfect inswinger was thrashed into the roof of the net by the predatory Hogan – who else?

McCormack might have made a game of it right on halftime but squandered an excellent opportunity, hitting Button’s post when given a clear sight of goal and Fulham heads went down even further and team left the field to a deafening crescendo of boos and jeers.

Hogan had taken some knocks and sensibly was not risked after the break and he has now scored an impressive and unlikely five goals from eight attempts at goal in little more than ninety minutes of action and yet despite his absence there was no respite for Fulham who were as yellow as their shirts, as Canos went up top and ran his opponents ragged.

Fulham had most of the possession as the home team invited them onto them, but it was the Bees who created the best chances when they repeatedly used their pace and cohesion to create havoc in a demoralised defence. Kerschbaumer and Canos both might have scored twice but for Bettinelli who also saved brilliantly from O’Connell’s rising effort.

All three substitutes, Jack O’Connell, Andy Gogia and Josh Clarke played a full part in the victory and Gogia joined Kerschbaumer in coming so close to his first ever Brentford goal when he curled an exquisite late effort inches wide.

All fourteen Bees were heroes with Field making an exceptional debut before suffering a calf injury and he was given support and encouragement by all his teammates who talked him through the game. Both Dean and Barbet were peerless and largely snuffed out the threat of McCormack and second half substitute Dembele and Max Colin was also back to his imperious best. Woods, Saunders and Yennaris dominated the midfield and Alan McCormack’s physicality was barely missed.

Unfortunately this might well be the last that we see of Sergi Canos at Griffin Park and if so, he will have left on a high as he has been wonderful for us and we have been equally good for him. He can hardly have expected to have played thirty-seven times in the Championship as a nineteen year old and with six goals, including that incredible effort at Reading, his contribution has been immense and he has lifted everyone with his coltish enthusiasm and all he lacks is a tail to wag.

Fulham were rightly described as an embarrassment and shameful by their manager, Slaviša Jokanović and I suspect that there will be a clear-out at Craven Cottage given how narrow has been their escape from relegation to League One. In contrast, Brentford played as a team and this was their sixth win in a magical month that has seen them gain the incredible tally of nineteen points and score the same number of goals and rise from the edge of the relegation zone to the dizzy heights of tenth place in the Championship.

This is an incredible achievement which I will dissect in much more depth after our final game next weekend but so much credit is due to everyone at the club as well as the fans for the way in which we have all pulled together and this unity has been rewarded with a resurgence in results, performances and confidence despite the nagging and ever-present  problems caused by injuries and exhaustion.

The squad has been tested to its fullest extent and every player has responded brilliantly and risen to the challenge, and nobody has been found wanting, and despite the recent loss of one of the best players in the Championship in Alan Judge we have clearly demonstrated a grim determination to succeed and have fully deserved to rise up eight places in the league table.

We cannot match the likes of Fulham for the time being in terms of our income, squad numbers and, indeed, overall quality but where we leave them trailing far behind us in our wake is in terms of our spirit, shape, effort, planning, organisation, energy, ethos and determination never to give in, plus of course our exceptional team behind the team..

Brentford are a club to be proud of and Fulham, for all their riches, heritage and tradition could not live with us.

Narrow Margins – 24/4/16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Narrow margins yet again!

What Might Have Been – 19/4/15

Just imagine how Brentford supporters would have felt way back in August last year if they had been able to look into a crystal ball and read the three names nominated last week on the shortlist for the 2016 Championship Player of the Year award.

Judge, Gray and McCormack were the three names announced and whilst few of us would have been surprised to see the first two on the list, McCormack’s would have been an entirely different matter and surely nobody would have anticipated Alan having a career year that enabled him to scale such heights of achievement!

Doubtless, we would also have felt that retaining the services of Andre Gray and his mounting goal threat, watching live wire and spark plug Alan Judge taking the league by storm and seeing Alan McCormack play his role to perfection as the minder and protector of the more skilful and less physical members of the team, meant that Brentford would have succeeded in building upon the success of last season when they reached the playoffs and perhaps come even closer to achieving their seemingly impossible dream of reaching the Premier League.

Taking that thought just a step further, I wonder just how far last season’s team could have progressed in the highly unlikely circumstances that we had been able to ignore the dictates of Financial Fair Play, the hungry predators waiting to pounce and the economic realities of our situation and managed to keep them all together for another year?

Who knows what the answer would be but that side contained so much burgeoning talent and it is a fair bet that with a couple of additions the team would have threatened to take the division by storm.

Let us now take a brief look at how the players who have left us have fared and examine whether they have furthered their career by leaving Griffin Park for pastures anew, and also how we have coped with their loss.

Moses Odubajo’s departure left a slightly bad taste in the mouth as we had no option but to comply with his release clause which totally undervalued him given the massive progress he had made since moving to fullback after Alan McCormack’s injury at Bolton. It is easy to complain though with the benefit of hindsight!

Moses impressed when playing for England Under 20s last Summer and there is every chance that he will have an International future ahead of him.

He has established himself in a Hull City team that looks as if it is playoff bound and has had a consistent season if not quite matching the heights of last year.

You always miss players of his calibre but Max Colin has proved to be an exceptional replacement who can defend and attack with equal dexterity and Nico Yennaris has also taken his opportunity well at fullback. We are more than covered for his loss.

James Tarkowski left under a cloud in January and is currently waiting patiently for his chance in a Burnley team that is on the verge of returning to the Premier League.

Any judgement on him is still clouded by the unpleasant and unprofessional way that he helped engineer his transfer through his controversial refusal to play against Burnley and the problems that it caused us in its wake.

He remains a genius in embryo, a frustrating combination of superlatives and pratfalls where he is just as likely to glide past three opponents as he is to overreach himself through overconfidence and lack of concentration and set up a soft goal for the opposition.

Yoann Barbet has settled down well as his replacement and is rapidly learning on the job. He has the ability to hit accurate long passes as Preston and Bristol City found out to their cost but shares his predecessor’s penchant for overplaying at times. Tarky is currently a far better bet given his extra experience but Barbet is fast improving, is a potential star, and we have certainly looked more balanced playing a left footer on his natural side.

There is not much more to write about Jonathan Douglas than has already been remarked about at great length here and elsewhere. He had a massively impressive first half of last season but his performances gradually tailed off as he was grossly overplayed by Mark Warburton. Even so he was highly influential and provided a shield for the back four as well as making effective late runs in to the area and scoring a career high eight goals.

He has done enough at Ipswich this season to earn a contract extension but his overall influence is waning and I believe that we are missing a similar type of player rather than the man himself and I have no regrets at his having left. Konstantin Kerschbaumer and Josh McEachran have both attempted to take over the mantle of being the all action box-to-box midfielder we crave but neither has really fitted the bill and there is a yawning chasm still waiting to be filled, perhaps by Yennaris. The biggest influence Douglas has had on our season was in injuring the majestic Jota, an action which cost us his services for the first four months of the season.

Toumani Diagouraga is another whose departure has hurt us more in the short term given his obvious ability and more unexpectedly his newfound goal scoring prowess that has emerged since he joined Leeds! Nico Yennaris has emerged as an unexpected hidden talent now that he has been given his belated opportunity to cement his place in midfield but I expect at least one new face to arrive in the Summer who will challenge for a place as a covering midfielder. As for Toumani, it was the right decision to allow an unhappy player to leave the club for a more than realistic transfer fee.

Stuart Dallas might possibly have jumped ship a bit early as he would surely have been a near automatic choice for us this season had he remained. He might well retort that he is now earning more money playing for a bigger club than Brentford, but with a mere four goals and five assists he has not really pulled up any trees at Elland Road and I am not convinced that their style of play really suits him. We have lacked a goalscoring winger all season and his directness and readiness to shoot on sight have been sorely missed. He has been a real loss.

Alex Pritchard’s brilliance in the second half of last season made it a total certainty that he would not be returning to Brentford and indeed, he was expected to be challenging for a place in the Spurs team of all stars however a serious ankle injury sustained when playing for the England Under 21 team has ensured that a season that promised so much has instead become a total write off as he has barely featured for either Spurs or West Brom.

Alan Judge took over his mantle as playmaker at Brentford and succeeded beyond our wildest dreams with a massive return of fourteen goals and eleven assists but we have come nowhere near replacing the skill, effervescence and goal threat of last season’s midfield. How could we?

John Swift has enjoyed a tough baptism of fire but has shown signs of developing into a real talent and his tally of six goals is highly impressive for one so inexperienced. He, Judge, McCormack, Saunders, McEachran, Kerschbaumer, Yennaris and the highly promising Ryan Woods and Sergi Canos have all ensured that our midfield remains the strongest part of the current squad but in Jota, Pritchard, Judge, Douglas, Diagouraga, backed up by Dallas and Toral we possessed perhaps the finest midfield at the club in living memory.

At first sight, Andre Gray has been perhaps our biggest loss given the twenty-two goals he has added to the two he scored for the Bees right at the start of the season. He has developed into the most dangerous striker in the division and there are no limits to the heights that he can achieve given his improvement this season since he joined Burnley.

Of course we have missed his eager running and predatory instincts in front of goal but between them Vibe, Hofmann, Djuricin and Hogan have almost matched him as they have scored twenty-one times between the four of them – a really impressive total, and proof that we have managed pretty well without Gray even if none of our current strikers can compare with him in terms of individual quality.

That is a trend that in my view has been repeated throughout the squad. We have without doubt lost the services of a large number of exceptionally talented players who blended together so well to form last season’s wonderful team, but when you look more closely you can quite clearly see that whilst some have been missed more than others, most of their replacements have stepped up to the mark and have been hits  rather than misses and they are all still improving as they gradually acclimatise to a new situation.

The overall success of last season has not, of course, been equalled and perhaps never could be given our current resources but the reality of our performances this season on both a team and individual basis is far more impressive than the myth.

Finally my apologies for my really poor and obvious Alan McCormack joke at the beginning of this article and many congratulations to Andre Gray, the Championship Player of the Year as well as to the runners up, Alan Judge and of course ROSS McCormack of Fulham!

A Good Ending – 17/4/16

There was a real end of term atmosphere at Griffin Park on Saturday as the normal prematch tension was missing given that the Bees had as good as guaranteed their Championship survival with their recent run of three consecutive victories. We could therefore afford to relax and hopefully just enjoy a good performance without being afflicted by the normal relentless pressure.

The Bees responded and played with freedom and on the one hand were unfortunate not to come away with all three points against Bristol City but on the other were more than relieved to earn a draw thanks to an injury time equaliser – and how long is it since we scored a last minute goal, something that used to be a Brentford trademark?

The performance was for the most part confident and positive and the crowd responded with gusto to the team’s attempts to play a measured and incisive short passing game.

Brentford are back on the right track and are now beginning to resemble exactly what they are at the moment, a more than decent Championship outfit which has regained its self belief and really should have had far too much in their locker for a game but limited Bristol City team still not totally free of relegation fears.

Brentford started brightly and repeatedly carved the visitors open, sometimes with their unwitting assistance through casual defending, without making them pay and quite simply we let them off the hook.

Lasse Vibe spurned three decent chances to maintain his recent goal scoring spurt, Canos had a venomous volley blocked by a lunging defender and Yennaris was twice too high from presentable opportunities on the edge of the area and there was also a decent penalty shout for an apparent handball in the area which the referee ignored.

The ball was passed around quickly and with accuracy as we probed for openings. McCormack was the quarterback ably assisted by Woods, Yennaris and Saunders. Bidwell and Colin rampaged forwards and Barbet’s radar was spot on with a series of accurate crossfield passes.

And yet for all our dominance the goal would not come and were fortunate not to concede twice on the break when the dangerous Kodjia used his electric pace to burst clear. Barbet stopped him on both occasions but they were close run things indeed as on another day he might well have been penalised firstly for a professional foul and then a trip.

Lee Tomlin had been a peripheral influence on proceedings but right on the interval he finally roused himself from his apparent torpor, left Woods trailing in his wake, found some space where none seemed to exist and his perfectly placed effort unerringly found the bottom corner for a goal of quite stupendous class and quality. Quite rightly he milked the applause and threw our taunts back in our face.

The goal was a body blow but the Bees kept their nerve and if not as fluent in their passing and movement as they had been before the break they still took the game to the opposition and came close through headers from McCormack and Vibe which both forced exceptional saves from O’Donnell.

A defeat would have been hard to take after all the quality and effort on display and Dean Smith’s substitutions were on the money as Hogan, Kerschbaumer and Clarke all made a crucial late contribution that saved the day for the Bees.

KK played a wonderful long pass that split the defence and the backspin held it up long enough for Hogan to rampage through and fall under Baker’s challenge.

A penalty it was and in the absence of Alan Judge there was no dispute as to who would take it and Hogan looked set to score his first goal for the club after nearly two seasons’ worth of injury torment.

Unfortunately Richard O’Donnell, Dean Smith’s former first choice keeper at Walsall was the party pooper as he plunged to his right to save Scott’s well hit effort.

More frustration for us all to endure, but there was to be one last twist in the tail when, well into stoppage time, Josh Clarke hit a deep cross which Bidwell headed back and Hogan demonstrated his poaching ability by anticipating the chance, reacting far quicker than the defenders and diving forward in the six yard box to head the ball into the corner for a fully merited equaliser.

Scott Hogan has worked so hard and without any complaint to come back from not one, but two potentially career ending injuries and he fully deserved his late reward.

Brentford have lacked a striker with the instincts to score those scruffy but crucial close-in chances since the days of Bradley Wright-Phillips and Charlie MacDonald and Hogan looks sharp, hungry, keen and eager and quite determined to make the most of his opportunity and he will prove to be a massive asset next season.

It was fascinating to compare and contrast the approach of the two teams yesterday. Brentford were ravaged by injury and could barely fill the substitutes’ bench but the entire team played with commitment, energy and confidence. They all knew and kept to their role and were a team in every meaning of the word.

A few weeks ago I advocated a move to a 4-4-2 formation, but I was completely wrong. Our well-established 4-2-3-1 setup suits us and the players we currently have and they are comfortable with the system. I would also like to praise Dean Smith as he has managed to revitalise a drastically weakened squad and get the most out of his limited resources.

There are probably at least four members of yesterday’s starting eleven who most supporters would not feel are of sufficient quality to play in a team seeking to establish themselves in the top half of the. Championship but you would never have realised it as they all played out of their skin and demonstrated that we are all about the strength of the team as a group bonding together rather than a series of individuals.

That is what we have to do given the reality of the situation and the financial restrictions that we have to face. Bristol City also have a wealthy owner and possess a large and well appointed stadium and have gone in a different direction. They were over ambitious in the preseason, craved a marquee signing and made ambitious but doomed bids for players like Andre Gray and Dwight Gayle who were never going to join them. They therefore bungled their recruitment through overreaching themselves and have instead got by with a raft of expensive loan signings.

Bristol City have brought in twelve loanees this season in Callum Robinson, Ben Hamer, Liam Moore, Nathan Baker, Elliott Bennett, Simon Cox, Richard O’Donnell, Ben Gladwin, Alex Pearce, Lee Tomlin, Adam Matthews and Peter Odemwingie. Without them I am certain that they would have been marooned at the bottom of the table and contemplating a return to the third tier but what they have done has worked and bought them some time and Tomlin in particular clearly demonstrated his Premier League ability, so it is hard to criticise their strategy, but I cannot begin to guess how much they have spent on bringing them all to the club.

Clearly theirs is a policy that we cannot afford to follow even if we wanted to do so and yesterday demonstrated that with a little bit of tinkering and a few clever additions we will be a force to be reckoned with next season.

Mind Games – 29/3/16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good Hunting! – 13/3/16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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