A Day To Forget – 11/2/15

pacoFootball has a way of taking you to the heights and then allowing you to plummet to the depths and as good as Saturday was, with our triumphant day out at Leeds, Tuesday was ten times worse, in fact I would go as far as saying that I cannot remember a day as depressing to be a Brentford fan since – I really do not know when, but I am sure another disaster will eventually come to mind.

The day started with the massive shock of experienced journalist Matt Hughes’s exclusive story in The Times claiming that Matthew Benham has already made the decision to dispense with manager Mark Warburton’s services at the end of the season and that clandestine talks were held in Spain last week with Paco Jémez, the Rayo Vallecano coach with a view to him taking over the reins at Griffin Park next season.

The former Deportivo La Coruña, Real Zaragoza and Spanish International centre back has impressed as a manager with an attacking, positive and progressive bent but no more so than Warburton, a true diamond in the rough who has led the Bees to promotion and a totally unexpected position in the Championship playoff zone and established a justified reputation as one of a new breed of modern forward looking managers.

He has operated on a rolling twelve-month contract since succeeding Uwe Rösler, and according to the article, he has apparently been told that it will not be renewed at the end of the campaign irrespective of what he achieves for the remainder of the season. The club issued a verbose, vague and wooly statement that in essence did nothing to allay the supporters’ fears and merely confirmed that Warburton will remain in charge for the remainder of the season, that his abundant qualities have been noticed by other clubs and that Brentford FC is simply keeping its options open should the need arise given that we are a progressive club who do talk to other people within the game to learn about other ways of doing things, and to consider novel strategic approaches to the game. 

What on earth are we supposed to make of that tortuous gobbledegook? Who on earth knows and only time will tell, but like many other supporters I felt that New Brentford were not like other clubs and did not shoot themselves in the foot nor wash their dirty linen in public. The statement begs more question than it provides answers and leaves me with the firm belief that the original article is pretty close to the truth and that our current manager’s days at the club are indeed numbered.

Who can tell who leaked the story to the journalist and I would only assume that nobody at the club intended for it to break at such a sensitive time in the season when we are poised to make our promotion push and that our statement is merely a quick response to a story that has broken unexpectedly. From Mark Warburton’s point of view, if the bad news has in fact now been confirmed to him by the owner, does he stick or twist? Will yesterday’s events make him even more keen to remain in situ until the end of the season when his contract expires and simply try and see the job through and lead Brentford to promotion, or will he seek to jump ship and find long term stability should another opportunity immediately present itself, and thus leave us totally high and dry?

No employee can be blamed for looking after his own interests and ensuring his own and his family’s future. I think it will be the former and he will be more steely-eyed and determined than ever to leave at the apex of his success if his contract is indeed not going to be renewed.

As for an explanation for this shock decision, should indeed there be truth in it, I can only assume that Matthew Benham is looking to accelerate the development of the club which is already running far ahead of schedule and believes that just as Uwe Rosler was an improvement over Andy Scott and Mark Warburton, a far better bet than Rosler, he simply wishes to upgrade yet again and is already looking to the future and has made the cold and dispassionate decision that by bringing in a foreign coach and allowing him to invest he will be in a better position than Warburton to attract high quality players from around Europe and build a truly cosmopolitain team that can sustain a place in the Premier League and allow Brentford to sup at the top table.

Benham has both the funds and the single-minded focus, drive and ambition to make his plans come to fruition and he is not renowned for making either hasty or irrational decisions or ones unsubstantiated by facts. His data and statistical driven approach has been an unqualified success and I suspect that he sees himself playing a key role in shaping the club’s overall strategy, recruitment policy and playing approach.

What about the club’s fantastic and highly qualified back room staff? Will men of the calibre of David Weir, Frank McParland and the array of analysts and fitness coaches also be swept away with the bathwater and will any new arrival have to rebuild from scratch?

There is only one person qualified to answer such questions and our reclusive owner is not speaking. As the sole owner of the club what Matthew Benham wants, Matthew Benham gets and so far he has made very few mistakes.

Do I want a foreign manager and a team packed with continental imports – no, not really. I would ideally like a blend of foreign and home grown talent as Spaniards such as Jota and Toral have made a fantastic impact and I certainly want us to continue improving, but not at the cost of losing our West London identity. I am certainly not a Little Englander but I want a sense of balance and proportion to reign and I hope that Matthew Benham bears that in mind when deciding how best to progress.

bidAs if that was not unsettling enough, just to pile Pelion on Ossa, Brentford came across referee Keith Stroud at his enigmatic worst on Tuesday night as every major decision went against the Bees and led to an unlucky and contentious home defeat to promotion rivals Watford. Jake Bidwell’s one-footed challenge was late and slightly high but the red card was instantaneous as was the decision to penalise Jonathan Douglas when the ball bounced off his shoulder, although the brilliant Button saved Troy Deeney’s spot kick.

Stroud has so much previous against Brentford it is hard and pretty pointless to know where to start and I do not want to demean myself by resorting to pointless personal abuse. Just as Leeds moaned about Graham Salisbury on Saturday we are doing the same about Stroud last night as he choked the life out of us and we finally subsided to a late and totally dispiriting defeat after fighting so hard and even having the temerity to take the lead when Andre Gray, a colossus throughout, ran onto David Button’s perfectly placed long clearance, shrugged off his marker, hanging onto him like a limpet and hammered an unstoppable shot into the roof of the net. Brentford scoring a Route One goal is almost beyond belief but it inspired us and we so nearly hung on for a well deserved point, but it wasn’t to be as a last minute goal brought Watford the points and an unmerited double over the Bees.

But it gets still worse. James Tarkowski, so impeccable in everything he did, suffered at the hands of Deeney and limped off soon after half time. Let’s hope that it is nothing more than a dead leg and that he will recover quickly. Barring the miracle of a successful appeal (although we did get Ricky Newman’s Stroud inflicted red card against Huddersfield rescinded back in 2006) we are struggling for a left back for the next three games. Stuart Dallas deputised valiantly tonight and Tony Craig, Nico Yennaris and Alan McCormack will all come into consideration at Charlton on Saturday particularly as new signing Jack O’Connell, who has extensive experience at left back was yesterday loaned back to Rochdale for the remainder of the season. Maybe a decision that is now looking a little shortsighted and premature.

The season has been one of total pleasure and progress and yesterday was undoubtedly a major setback. What happens now is totally up to our owner and I suspect that Matthew Benham is not a man for turning.

I Hate Watford! – 1/10/14

wat2I know, I really shouldn’t have said that, it’s a bit puerile and I should know better and be a bit more sportsmanlike and even handed in my post-match comments.

But, you know what, it is pretty damn hard to be calm and measured in what you write when you have just watched the Bees put in a wonderful performance against one of the Championship’s promotion favourites and totally undeservedly end up with absolutely nothing.

A point would have been a fair reward for all their efforts tonight, but yet another soft penalty just before halftime and a world class half volley from Vydra sent the Bees home empty handed.

That was hard enough to accept, but as I mentioned in my article yesterday, I had to be on my best behaviour, sat, as I was in amongst the Watford season ticket holders.

They soon twigged that I was a Brentford supporter and took great delight in joshing and patronising me at every opportunity, acknowledging how unlucky we were at the penalty award and remarking constantly about what a decent team we were, and at the final whistle I was told that we had really deserved a point.

Abuse I can handle, and, indeed, it is something that I expect at away grounds, but half-baked compliments and condescension from opposition supporters who I know are inwardly rejoicing at my team’s misfortune are just impossible for me to take.

Brentford replaced Pritchard with ex-Hornet Diagouraga, who joined Douglas in bolstering the midfield, but early on Brentford received a real chasing and were only saved from going behind by some desperate defending after a flurry of corners, and the ball rebounding off their crossbar from a close range header from Ighalo who was destined to have a far greater influence on the match later on in the half.

The Bees slowly grabbed a foothold into the game and went close through Douglas, who only half hit his excellent opportunity, before an electrifying run from Jota saw him dance inside from the left wing, leave two defenders in his wake and see his long ranger turned over the bar by Gomes.

watfJudge then hit a searing volley just wide from thirty yards.

So nil-nil it was at the break – or it would have been had referee Graham Salisbury not given a really soft penalty right on the interval when Tarkowski and Ighalo clashed and the forward went down very easily and in installments after the challenge.

Who knows whether it was the linesman who signalled for the penalty as the referee took an age to make up his mind before belatedly pointing to the spot, almost as an afterthought.

Ighalo made a total hash of his spot kick and insult was added to injury when he was fortunate enough to see the ball bounce off the diving Button which allowed him to plant the rebound into the net.

Watford had deserved to be in front after all their early pressure, but Brentford were by far the better team in the latter part of the first half and the goal came as a hammer blow at a time when they were dominating the game.

Mark Warburton described the penalty  award as “shocking” and “appalling” and it was just one more in a catalogue of decisions that have gone against Brentford so far this season.

Brentford continued to press after the break and twice the ball flashed across the home goal without anyone getting the crucial touch.

Gray’s shot was comfortably saved and Jota shot wide.

Finally the equaliser came after ten minutes of Brentford pressure, and what a beautifully worked goal it was.

Odebajo came inside off the left wing and passed the ball beyond Douglas to Judge. Douglas continued his run and Judge’s instant pass inside the defender was perfectly weighted for Douglas to take in his stride and from a difficult angle place his shot just inside the far post despite the best efforts of Gomes to push the shot wide.

The Bees were now in total control and a low cross almost found Gray in space at the far post.

Surely the goal was about to come, and come it did, for Watford, out of the blue and from their first shot of the second half when a cross from the right was half cleared and headed by Douglas seemingly out of the danger zone, but the ball was returned with interest by Vydra with an incredible and unstoppable half volley from just outside the penalty area.

Brentford took time to recover and the final twenty minutes were more even.

Odubajo’s trickery found him space as he turned inside but he blazed an acceptable chance high over.

The ball never seemed to fall Brentford’s way in and around the home penalty area and moves constantly broke down in the last third.

Pritchard replaced Diagouraga and Proschwitz came on for Jota without noticeable effect.

Watford ran the clock down and wasted time with impunity before they were reduced to ten men in injury time when Pudil held back Gray as he ran through on the right flank.

Button was up for the free kick which resulted in a full length save from Gomes from a well placed Bidwell header.

So near for the youngster who is still waiting for his first ever competitive goal for the Bees.

Watford then caught us out on the break and almost scored a third goal which would have been so cruel on a Brentford team that looked visibly distraught and crushed at the final whistle, worn out as they were by their efforts.

This really was an excellent performance and once the disappointment wears off there will be many positives to take from the match.

Brentford learned the hard way yet again that missed chances come back to haunt you as the opposition are sure to have a gifted player who will score a goal from nothing.

Vydra’s fulminating volley was the fourth goal scored against Brentford from outside the box in recent games, and each one has been totally unstoppable.

As for Mr Salisbury, his penalty decision was unspeakable and harsh beyond measure.

Surely at some point soon our luck will turn and referees will give us our fair share of decisions which are currently all going to the opposition.

I pride myself as being as objective as possible but it is getting beyond a joke now and decisions like last night’s are costing us dear.

We need to be more clinical and stop turning the ball over so cheaply in dangerous areas of the pitch.

I must sound like a broken record so often have I said that this season.

I am also concerned about our strike force.

Gray gave everything  and lasted for the entire match but Proschwitz again looked off the pace and Betinho remained on the bench.

He has been with us for the best part of a month now and we have seen him for barely a quarter of an hour in a forlorn hope late appearance as a substitute against Norwich.

We need him to contribute now as we are seriously underwhelming and short of numbers up front and Gray is running himself ragged without any support.

Goals are in short supply and our beautiful approach work deserves a better end result.

This was a frustrating evening as we could, and indeed should, have got something out of the game.

Mark Warburton will need to lift the squad before Saturday’s tough match against Reading.

Most of them looked out on their feet at the final whistle and it may well be that some changes will be necessary to rest some tired legs.

In a day or so I will be feeling happier about the quality of our football and overall performance, but for now I am totally resolute in my view that I hate Watford.

Into The Hornets’ Nest – 30/9/14

deeneyIt’s a local derby for Brentford tonight when they visit Vicarage Road to take on a Watford team that has serious promotion aspirations.

In other words yet another mountain for Brentford to climb, but to be honest we are saying the pretty much the same before every match as there really is no such thing as an easy game in the Championship.

Watford have made a solid start to the campaign and are a vibrant attacking team jam packed full of extravagant foreign talent brought in by their owner, Giampaolo Pozzo.

And yet this just might not be the worst time to play them for a variety of reasons.

Watford had a long and exhausting journey back home from Blackburn on Saturday and the Bees will hope that they are still leggy and recovering from all their travelling.

Star striker and team fulcrum and inspiration Troy Deeney is still absent through his hamstring injury, not that Watford are short of other excellent striking options, and Oscar Garcia yesterday resigned as Head Coach through health reasons after a stay of less than four weeks, following his recent heart scare.

We obviously all wish him a full and speedy recovery and recuperation and he has quickly and seamlessly been replaced by his assistant, former Fulham coach, Billy McKinlay, who is an experienced and wily old bird.

garciaLet’s hope that I haven’t simply been clutching at straws as Brentford will need all the help they can get and also perform at their optimum if they are to make the short journey home clasping one, or even three, precious points.

There is a strong ex-Watford connection at the club.

Brentford manager Mark Warburton, formerly head of the Watford Academy will be keen and determined to make a successful return to his former stamping ground.

His squad also contains two former Watford heroes in Richard Lee and Tommy Smith, however injury will most likely reduce their role to that of cheerleader, a state of affairs that must be extremely frustrating to the pair of them who would have welcomed the opportunity to perform in front of their former supporters.

Lee’s injury will allow another ex-Hornet in Jack Bonham to sit on the bench.

Toumani Diagouraga also had a spell at Vicarage Road and, if selected tonight, will want to prove to his former employers that they were wrong to let him go.

watfordBrentford come into the match on the crest of a wave and bursting with confidence after Saturday’s best performance of the season and three points against a Leeds team who were totally outplayed and outclassed and were fortunate to escape with only a two goal defeat.

It would be easy for Mark Warburton to say “same again” and, injuries permitting, send out the same eleven who performed so well.

He adopted that approach after our excellent and vibrant performance against Norwich and sent pretty much the same team out four days later at Middlesbrough, but his decision totally backfired when they ran out of steam and were hammered by a rampant home team.

There were three late substitutions on Saturday when Pritchard, Jota and Gray were taken off and replaced by Tebar, Proschwitz and Diagouraga and I wonder if any of them plus perhaps Dean, Toral and Betinho will feature from the start tonight?

A key to achieving success this season will be to use the full complement of the squad and the necessity to rest players when required.

This is particularly important this week when we play Watford tonight followed by yet another tough game (aren’t they all!) on Saturday against Reading.

At least we do not have the problem of travel weariness given the absence of long journeys this week.

Given the injuries to Lee, Smith, Dallas, Saunders, Hogan and Yennaris the manager’s options are fairly limited unless he decides to blood some of the youngsters such as Calvet, Clarke, Moore and perhaps even Bradley Clayton, yet another gem to emerge from the ranks of the Academy.

Their time will certainly come, perhaps later on in the season, but I still feel that the squad needs boosting by another couple of bodies as the pressure and tiredness begin to take their toll.

At least we will have another International Break (how I love that term when used in connection with the Bees) after the Reading match when we will have a full fortnight to recharge our batteries.

The Bees have sold out their entire allocation of just over two thousand tickets and that number will be boosted by at least one as I will be sitting on my hands in the Watford end accompanying a Hornets season ticket holder friend of mine.

Let’s hope that a few things happen tonight that, given where I am sitting, I will be unable to shout and applaud about!

For those of you too young to remember, there was a keen rivalry between the two clubs, particularly in the mid to late 70s, before Watford motored on ahead on their journey to the top division, under the inspired leadership of Graham Taylor.

The last time we won at Vicarage Road was back in April 1977 when Andy McCulloch’s majestic header, accompanied by Paul Priddy’s two incredible penalty saves gave us a very satisfying one nil victory.

That completed a rare double as the previous month a large and expectant crowd under the floodlights at Griffin Park saw an electrifying three goal burst in the opening quarter of the game which enabled the Bees to cruise to victory.

As always there is a back story and apparently Jackie Graham made it perfectly clear to his team mates just before the match in the tunnel exactly how much it meant to him to beat our local rivals, and, probably more terrified of their own skipper than the opposition, the Bees came out of the traps like scalded cats and hammered their opponents.

Watford took full revenge the following season when they cruised effortlessly to victory by the same score at Griffin Park.

The season ended with both teams being promoted from the Fourth Division and an honours even draw at Vicarage Road.

As ITV’s “The Big Match” coverage confirms, we then played out a thrilling three-all draw the following season in a match notable for the appearance of the Playboy Bunny Girls and the phantom whistle just before Watford’s second goal.

Marvellous memories.

In our last brief spell in the second tier of English football, an appalling home team penalty decision for hand ball when the ball was driven against Billy Manuel from point blank range settled the match and contributed greatly to our eventual relegation, so perhaps we are looking for some payback tonight.

Some of you might have read the regular correspondence I have been receiving from former Bees and Watford striker Richard Poole and I hope that he is anxiously looking out for the result tonight from his home in France, and I am pretty sure which team he hopes to win too!

Games between the two clubs are invariably passionate and exciting and I expect nothing less tonight.

Let’s just hope I can keep my mouth shut during the game or my enjoyment of the proceedings could be curtailed and end earlier than I would like!