Please Do Your Homework Mr. Samuel! – 11/5/16


I had not planned to write anything today as I had work to do and a book to finish but that all changed when I opened a copy of The Daily Mail at my breakfast table and my blood immediately started boiling to the extent that I wished the cover of the newspaper had contained a health warning.

Martin Samuel is an extremely well-regarded and deservedly much-lauded journalist who writes a column every Monday and Wednesday giving his take on the latest major happenings within the world of sport. I have to make a confession and say that I generally look forward to and enjoy his work as he certainly has a way with words, can turn an elegant and pithy phrase and enjoys exposing cant and hypocrisy wherever he finds it, as well as puncturing inflated egos and unjustified feelings of self-regard.

Given his exalted and rarified position and consequent concentration on the bigger fish, Brentford rarely come within his purview as we are far too insignificant and down the food chain to catch his regular attention. Today though was different as he let fly with a broadside that was as ill-conceived as it was ignorant and as lacking in logic as it was inaccurate. He really let us have it with both barrels and here is what he had to say:

As everything at Brentford is put through the analytics wringer, one presumes statistics do not just govern recruitment, but player sales. So it must have been some set of numbers that persuaded them to sell Andre Gray to Burnley – even for a club record six million pounds. Gray has scored twenty-three goals in forty-one league games as Burnley returned to the Premier League.

Brentford, meanwhile, have fallen from fifth to ninth, collecting thirteen points fewer than last season. With promotion worth in excess of one hundred million pounds, Brentford’s computer might need a reset.

Brentford first caught the eye of the national media late in 2014 as a team of plucky underdogs who were over performing to challenge at the top of the Championship, and had came from nowhere to compete with fellow blue-eyed boys, AFC Bournemouth, for a most unlikely promotion to the Premier League.

Timesgate and the botched announcement of the parting of the ways with Mark Warburton last February put us on the back foot and changed matters totally as the media unsurprisingly turned on us and then tried to devour us whole given our stated strategy of relying on statistical analysis and mathematical modelling.

Nobody bothered to take the time to discover what that really meant and we were convicted out of hand and perhaps out of our own mouth as faceless robots and automatons who would make every major recruitment decision on the basis of Computer Says, and were no longer relying in any way, shape or form upon the human element.

As we all know there is nothing that makes people feel more uneasy than new thinking and ideas and doing things differently to the norm, and the natural and default reaction is to mock, jeer, find fun and criticise rather than examine and analyse what is being mooted in a deep, thorough and analytical manner. That would be boring and require some effort, something nobody has the time to do, and journalists would far prefer the cheap headline and easy dig. And boy did we suffer, and continue to do so, as everyone from Martin Samuel, Daniel Taylor, Adrian Durham, Tony Cottee and pretty much the entire team of Sky Sports analysts has lined up to take cheap potshots at us and our approach.

What is so galling is that we are really doing nothing very different to the overwhelming majority of Premier League and Championship teams who rely to a great extent upon the use of statistics and data.

Where we differ is that in the normal Brentford manner, we are putting our own unique spin on things rather than just subscribing to the plethora of scouting databases that are readily available. We have also developed our own proprietary systems for how we both analyse and use the raw data, developed by Matthew Benham’s Smartodds company.

Analytics are used to identify and shortlist potential transfer targets but this is combined with physical scouting which also plays a crucial role in the recruitment process as former manager Andy Scott oversees a number of scouts who watch prospects in the flesh before any decision is made, and the recruitment process for a new Head Scout is also currently underway.

Given the tone and tenet of Mr. Samuel’s article it is both interesting and relevant to consider the words of Stats Guru Ted Knutson, until recently employed by Brentford, who wrote about his experience on his acclaimed StatsBomb website, and I hope he doesn’t mind my reproducing his words:

With a small recruitment team of two stats and six part-time scouts, we evaluated over one thousand players in a year for the first teams of Brentford and Midtjylland.

Yes, but were you successful? This is the most important factor, and obviously it depends on how you look at it.

After a disastrous start in the first nine games due to a poor manager choice, Brentford earned points at nearly a playoff pace, despite awful injuries in the first half of the season. The team also lead the league in goals scored and avoided an FFP-related transfer embargo.

And most importantly, they did it with one of the lowest wage budgets in the league and my estimate of a ten to eleven million pound transfer fee surplus in the year we were involved in recruitment.

I’m going to notch that up as success, while admitting that at the start of the season, I was hoping for promotion just like the owner and every other Brentford fan out there.

I wonder what Martin Samuel would make of that response as I feel strongly that he has been totally simplistic and superficial in his mocking words about the club?

Without wanting to repeat my normal mantra I would state that it was not Brentford’s desire or wish to sell Andre Gray to Burnley or indeed anybody else. We had no option but to sell him as well as other leading players such as Moses Odubajo, Stuart Dallas and James Tarkowski because they all wanted to leave the club.

Their heads had been turned by bigger and richer clubs generally swollen and inflated with massive Parachute Payments who were able to offer our best players mind-blowing salaries in a totally different stratosphere to what we could possibly afford. Odubajo also had a contractual release clause which was met by Hull City.

There is absolutely no point in keeping an unhappy, unsettled and dissatisfied player and Brentford have simply had to accept that for the foreseeable future that they are a stepping stone club which has to sell its best players whenever the predators come bashing at the door.

The club’s turnover and attendances are in the bottom three of the Championship and they are therefore competing with one hand tied behind their back. The dictates of Financial Fair Play has also necessitated the sale of players such as Gray who has now earned us the best part of nine millions pounds rather than the six erroneously mentioned by Mr. Samuel in his column.

To finish fifth and then ninth in such a competitive division which is otherwise awash with money is surely an incredible achievement given the restrictions and handicaps that we currently face?

Brantford were well aware of Andre Gray’s potential but had to sell him and could only ensure that they received their full valuation for him, which they did. Burnley have also just had to stump up a further promotion bonus payment with additional monies due should they survive next season in the Premier League, as well as a handsome sell-on percentage.

That has to be the Brentford way of doing business given a stadium that barely holds twelve thousand spectators. We buy low and sell high whilst punching way above our weight and playing attractive pass and move attacking football. There are already several other players in the squad from both at home and abroad identified through our combination of stats and physical scouting with as much potential or more than Gray.

As expected, Gray scored freely for his new club and his goals led them to promotion, but we replaced him with Lasse Vibe for a mere fraction of the cost and he scored fourteen times as we finished with seventy-two goals, equal top scorers in the division, ironically enough alongside Burnley.

All in all our four strikers scored twenty-nine times between them (more than Gray managed) with the amazing Scott Hogan returning from two serious cruciate injuries to score seven goals in less than two full matches.

Of course a player of Gray’s calibre was missed but we did a pretty good job of replacing him whilst still living within our means and finishing in a highly creditable position in the table with which every Brentford fan is delighted considering from whence we came.

Please Mr.Samuel do your homework next time and give some credit where it is due rather than take cheap shots which are totally unmerited. You are far better than that.

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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.

Bragging Rights – 9/3/16

I am fortunate enough to live in a pretty, leafy and quiet road tucked away in a beautiful backwater in North London where the days go by calmly and tranquilly without us being assailed by the constant irritating noise of passing traffic as thankfully it is neither a main road nor a cut through or rabbit run. Neighbours nod politely to each other as they pass each other on the street whilst walking to the nearby shops and tube station and always find the time to stop for a brief moment to enquire about the health of their respective offspring and how they are doing at school or university.

The odd creaking and arthritic labrador or relative bent with age is gently walked up and down the road to get some fresh air and exercise. Nobody pries or attempts to invade each other’s privacy and the nearest we have come to united action was when there was a dispute with the local council over rubbish collections and which of two neighbouring boroughs different parts of the road were situated in.

The residents are an eclectic bunch encompassing a variety of races, ages, backgrounds, creeds and religions, they keep themselves mostly to themselves and rarely reveal anything private or personal.

Imagine my amazement then when the peace was disturbed late in the afternoon of Saturday twenty-fourth of May 2014, a date now indelibly fixed in my fading memory.

I had been watching the Championship Playoff Final between Derby County and Queens Park Rangers and was left reeling from the shock of Bobby Zamora’s last gasp goal with the only shot on target that they managed all afternoon which somehow took the R’s to the Premier League on an afternoon where the Gods most certainly favoured them as they had been totally outplayed and the result was an aberration which quite frankly beggared belief.

The Bees had already secured their place in the Championship and whilst I knew that Fulham awaited us in 2014/15 the real prize was QPR and I was devastated that our prey had escaped us and had been snatched from our grasp in so unfortunate and unfair a manner and that the fates had yet again laughed in our face.

I needed to go for a walk around the block in order to calm down, get over my disappointment and settle my shattered nerves and as I passed a house no more than fifty yards from mine I saw something that still haunts me to this day.

Occasionally some of the local residents celebrate Christmas or Chanukah with a few muted and tasteful external decorations but this was different as the entire outside of this house was covered and daubed from roof to basement with Queens Park Rangers banners, scarves, posters and blue and white bunting. Lights flashed and music blared breaking the customary sepulchral calm and quiet of the neighbourhood and the drive was filled with cars full of raucous QPR supporters celebrating their unlikely achievement.

I had no idea that our street housed a rabid QPR supporter given that we are situated so far away from their heartland and whilst I am by nature a calm and totally law abiding individual my hackles rose and it was all that I could do to restrain myself from giving vent to my frustration and tearing down the decorations which so offended me.

Worse still, they remained in place, although thankfully fading, throughout that long hot Summer and it was not until the season began and it became obvious that Queens Park Rangers were in over their head and totally overmatched in the Premier League and were certain to return shortly from whence they came that they were dismantled at which point I calmed down and finally refrained from thinking poisonous and murderous thoughts every time that I walked past that house on my way home.

I wrote at great length about the longstanding rivalry and history between Brentford and QPR and the reason for the animus between both clubs before our first meeting last October and I was so delighted and proud to be present at what was our first victory over our bitter rivals for fifty years on an evening packed full of pride, effort, energy and passion – all of which was expended by the team wearing red and white stripes.

The entire Brentford team raised its game as every player was well aware of just how much the game meant to every home supporter. Beating QPR was everything to us all and the throaty roar of triumph at the final whistle almost raised the Ealing Road roof. We outplayed and outworked our opponents who strolled through the match and gave a limp and pallid display which seemed to imply that they felt that it was rather beneath them to be forced to sully their hands and share a pitch with a team and a club that was not on their radar and that they thought so little of and that aristocrats like themselves had no need to sweat.

Much has changed for the Bees in the months since that momentous victory. We were then in the midst of a brief but highly successful spell under Lee Carsley when the team seemed well organised, confident and extremely hard to beat. Everybody seemed to understand their role and there was a sense of togetherness with every player working hard to cover his team mates.

QPR rarely looked like scoring bar for two efforts from Luongo just before the break and once Marco Djuricin became an instant Bees legend by timing his run to perfection to convert Alan Judge’s incisive near post cross, our eventual victory barely seemed in doubt as we played out the remainder of the game with total confidence and determination.

This year has seen the Bees crumble and disintegrate and a weakened squad lacking so many of its best players and bereft of confidence and the apparent ability to either score goals or keep them out, is crawling and limping towards the finish line, praying that the games run out before they can be caught up and overtaken by the bottom three.

Despite their victory at Griffin Park last Saturday, Charlton Athletic as well as Bolton Wanderers appear to be beyond salvation but a resurgent Rotherham team, responding brilliantly to the management style of the inimitable Neil Warnock has now won three on the trot and we are beginning to look anxiously in our rear view mirror.

However insipid have been the team’s recent performances, the fans also need to do their bit, particularly on Saturday when just under three thousand Bees will face a hostile home crowd at Loftus Road. It was noticeable just how loud and intimidating the atmosphere was when we played at Rotherham recently as the home supporters provided unconditional support, forgave their heroes for all their mistakes and bayed for free kicks, real and imaginary. Brentford and, of course, the referee wilted under the relentless pressure as we eventually caved in for what could well turn out to be a damaging defeat.

Griffin Park has been like a morgue recently with the crowd seemingly stupefied and reduced to silence or at best groans of anger and disappointment given the horrendous lack of quality of so many of our recent performances.

We are now facing a drama which we can help become a crisis if we continue in the same vein. Of course the team needs to do its bit and at least show some effort, organisation, energy, bite, aggression and determination on Saturday – and some quality too would also not come amiss!

We supporters also have a job to do and we need to take on board the marvellous example of those long-suffering Rotherham fans just the other week. We have to provide a nonstop cauldron and cacophony of noise and simply exhort and encourage our team totally and unconditionally and for the entire duration of the game.

That is something that is well within our gift, everything else is out of our control and we can only hope and expect that Dean Smith selects the right team and game plan and that the players remember just how important this game is and perform accordingly both with and without the ball.

To beat QPR twice in a season, do the double over them and win for the first time at Loftus Road since the ninth of October 1964 would go quite some way towards ensuring that this season is remembered for far more than our recent fall from grace and nosedive towards the nether regions of the Championship table.

Saturday is a quite massive game for a variety of reasons, not least because I want to maintain and extend the bragging rights within my road and make sure that my misguided neighbour knows exactly who is the best Championship team in West London.

A Good Night – 24/2/16

What a difference a few days make.

On Saturday Brentford were clearly second best to Derby County but still managed to throw away an unexpected opportunity to win the game and we left the ground morose and concerned.

Last night I floated on air to my car, my face wreathed with smiles, both from pleasure and also, it has to be said, a fair bit of relief after the Bees totally outplayed Wolverhampton Wanderers and coasted to a three goal victory, their first at home this year.

Make no mistake about it, Brentford were very, very good in the night and ran rings round a Wolves team which was totally unable to cope with our pace, poise, invention and attacking incision.

Wolves, it must be said were totally inept and wandered round the pitch in a trance, as if mesmerised by the sheer quality of our performance.

I well remember a Walsall team similarly going through the motions at Griffin Park way back in January 2006 when it was patently obvious that they were not playing for their then manager, Paul Merson, who was swiftly jettisoned and quite frankly I fear for the future of the esteemed Kenny Jackett if last night is anything to go by, as his team appeared uninterested, disorganised and disinclined to get out of first gear.

Brentford scented blood and started out on the front foot and soon forced their opponents back.

Dean Smith had learned his lesson from Saturday and chose a far more balanced and attacking team with Judge, Swift and Canos all given license to get forward and down the flanks to run at a slow and porous defence that was swiftly overrun.

The visitors had chances on the break and Button made two early, but comfortable saves but it was predominantly one way traffic with Swift gliding past opponents at will and Canos destroying them with his pace.

A young colt brimming with energy and enthusiasm, he roamed both flanks and was a constant source of danger, heading just over and twice forcing saves from Ikeme.

Unlike Derby, who pressed us relentlessly and never gave us a moment’s peace on the ball, Wolves gave us the room, space and time to play, and without having to deal with massive opponents right in their face, Woods and McEachran took full advantage and pulled all the strings in midfield, driving us forward relentlessly.

Woods was a terrier, snapping at the ankles of his opponents and demonstrating his entire range of passes, both long and short.

Josh too showed that when given room he is a match winner and he both sees and finds passes that are totally beyond the wit, vision and imagination of most players at this level of the game.

The first goal was crucial as you felt that our confidence was only skin deep and would quickly evaporate if we fell behind particularly after playing so well.

Chances came and went with Judge cracking a shot onto the outside of the post, Swift forcing a flying save from Ikeme and Djuricin finding ever more inventive ways to miss, but our fears were unfounded as Wolves finally capitulated.

Brentford have only had the merest nodding acquaintance with good fortune lately but finally the Gods smiled down upon us, and not before time.

Judge put on the afterburners and roared into the area where he seemed to have been brought down but the ball fell perfectly for Swift right in front of a yawning goal. His instant shot was blocked by Ikeme but rebounded straight back to him, bounced off some part of his anatomy and dribbled into the corner of the net.

Not a goal to live long in the memory but priceless nevertheless as it was no more than Brentford deserved.

Button made a crucial save early in the second half, spooning McDonald’s effort around the post but Wolves soon returned to their torpor and the one way traffic resumed with the Bees totally on top.

Their dominance was duly rewarded by two quite excellently worked and taken goals.

McEachran spotted Bidwell’s run and threaded the ball to him through the eye of a needle. Judge returned the instant cross to Canos who controlled the ball and almost in the same movement thrashed it into the corner of the net.

Canos was a man inspired and shortly afterwards he twisted past two defenders before his low cross gave Swift a tap in.

It was now a question of how many as a rampant Brentford team with the shackles off played with a confidence and freedom seldom seen since the halcyon days of last season.

It was time for party tricks and Dean, a hero all night, rampaged down the middle like a modern day Nat Lofthouse before finally being overpowered on the edge of the area.

Vibe set up Bidwell whose effort was blocked by the overworked Ikeme who saved his best to the last when he somehow tipped O’Connell’s header away when a fourth goal seemed certain.

Brentford’s display ticked all the boxes last night:

  • The first home win of the year
  • Three goals scored, and it could quite easily have been six
  • A confident, pacy and vibrant performance
  • Our trademark short passing game returned with a vengeance
  • A much needed and long awaited clean sheet

The match statistics confirmed just how good a performance this was as Brentford dominated with fifty-eight per cent possession, had twenty shots on goal and made over five hundred passes, a much more Brentford-like figure, with a seventy-six per cent success rate.

Even more encouragingly, Josh McEachran, much maligned for his supposed defensive inadequacies, made seven tackles, more than anyone else on the pitch.

Everyone played their part in what was a real team victory, but Swift, Canos, Woods, Dean and Yennaris were particularly impressive and the injured Colin was barely missed.

Only Marco Djuricin was slightly off the pace but he still managed six efforts on goal and there is surely far better to come from him as he slowly regains fitness and sharpness.

Neutral observers were also greatly impressed by Brentford’s performance.

BBC reporter Jacqui Oatley commented:

Brentford lovely to watch. Passing and moving with pace, always an option. Teamwork, cohesion. Hope Alan Judge gets his chance with Ireland.

Nectar to our ears and totally merited and deserved praise given the overall quality of our display.

Dean Smith also deserves great credit for his bravery in the way he set us up as well as his positive team selection.

The team responded perfectly and will now be full of confidence before two tough matches against Rotherham and Charlton teams both fighting for their life at the bottom of the table.

Brentford are unlikely to be given as much space and time as they were last night but have the strength of character and sufficient skill on the ball to prevail.

Isn’t life beautiful when your team wins and plays well?

Pitbulls Or Chihuahas? The Midfield Dilemma – 23/2/16

I could barely take my eyes off Bradley Johnson on Saturday as he rampaged unchallenged across the Griffin Park turf, and woe betide anyone, friend or foe, who got in his way. A massively built man, he totally dominated the entire midfield area with an unstoppable combination of brain and brawn.

If he could not beat you with his subtlety and skill, and undoubtedly, he is a massively talented footballer with a howitzer of a shot who can really play the game, he would simply run through you and leave you dazed, beaten, bruised and helpless.

He is a veritable behemoth of a man who reminds me of the description of the Norman leader Bohemond:

The sight of him inspired admiration, the mention of his name terror.

His stature was such that he towered almost a full cubit over the tallest men.

There was a hard, savage quality in his whole aspect, even his laugh sounded like a threat to others.

That’s what you get for a mere six million pounds – a colossus who bestrides the entire midfield and stops the opposition from playing as well as scoring and making goals for his own team.

He it was who almost singlehandedly rallied his Derby team mates when their heads went down after we scored and by sheer force of personality raised them off the floor and inspired them to their late victory.

Watching him, I was green with envy as he exemplified exactly what it is we are missing from our squad – a leader who by force of personal example will make things happen and grab his team mates literally and figuratively by the scruff of their neck and inspire, cajole, or even terrify them and make them play to the very best of their ability – and even beyond.

Our team of lightweights and midgets tried their hardest and did their best but simply bounced off him and the likes of Josh McEachran and Konstantin Kerschbaumer wisely gave him a wide berth and kept their distance as they were all totally outmatched, outclassed and outmuscled – it looked more like men against boys than a competitive and even midfield battle.

With Alan McCormack currently sidelined with a lingering and frustrating calf injury we have nobody capable of fighting fire with fire and for all his vim, growl, tough tackling, energy and ability to manage the referee, Alan is not in the same class as Johnson, and nor should he be expected to be, but he is easily the best that we have and his example is sadly missed as we currently find ourselves on a run of demoralising defeats and badly lack the type of leadership and inspiration on the pitch that Alan can provide.

Jonathan Douglas performed a similar role exceptionally well for four years.

He is unfairly described on Wikipedia as a tenacious midfielder, whose strengths are focused on energy and aggression rather than technical skill, as in my opinion he greatly improved as a footballer last season developing a subtle and imaginative touch with his passing as well as the ability to ghost late and unseen into the penalty area, and he scored a career high of eight goals in a season.

Douglas it was who fought and won the majority of the midfield battles and his menacing presence enabled the likes of Pritchard, Jota and Judge to weave their magic safe in the knowledge that there was somebody around to protect them and exact retribution should an opponent take it upon himself to attempt to stop them playing by fair means or foul.

Even more importantly, Douglas, along with Toumani Diagouraga, acted as a shield and protector to the back four and helped keep opponents at a safe distance from our goal.

In order to describe how much we currently miss his influence I will simply provide the following shocking statistic – no Championship side has faced more shots on target this season than Brentford (one hundred and sixty-eight).

Proof indeed that as a team, we are not doing nearly a good enough job of defending from the front, pressing properly, winning the ball back and, of course, preventing the opposition from getting within shooting range.

Jonathan Douglas was an exceptional on-pitch leader who led by example and only slowed up and became tired and less influential when he was overplayed by Mark Warburton and only once rested last season when he was fit or available for selection. Not the most sensible policy for a player in his early thirties who would have benefited from the odd day off.

For reasons probably linked to his influence within the dressing room, Douglas outstayed his welcome at Brentford, his face didn’t fit and he became toxic and persona non grata and was released in the preseason, and it has come as little surprise that he has since flourished at Ipswich Town where he has played an important part in their efforts to reach the playoffs again at the end of the season.

It would seem that our current manager and Co-Directors of Football have not recognised the urgent, and to us fans, patently obvious, need to replace him with a similar type of player and we have certainly seen the results of that totally misguided policy in terms of the sheer number of goals and shots conceded at one end allied to the lack of creativity at the other.

To be fair to them, it might well be that they recognise that such a player able to compete at Championship level and combine skill with strength would cost far more than we are able to afford and there is no point in buying a second rate bruiser who will only give the ball away once he has won it.

George Evans might have done the job had we managed to get his transfer over the line but we seem to hold the naive belief that pure football will always win the day and appear to disregard the indisputable fact that sometimes you have first to battle in order to win the right to play.

Ryan Woods is certainly an excellent box to box footballer but is not a ball winner and he is currently paired with Josh McEachran who, for all his skill on the ball, vision and passing ability, is a non-tackler and does not pay anywhere near sufficient attention to the defensive side of his game.

A total recipe for disaster.

This season we have lacked a focal point, an on-field leader and inspiration, and someone with the ability to drive us forward and pick us up when things are going badly.

The time was, not so long ago, when we scored late goals as if by rote and never knew when we were beaten. Now the boot is on the other foot and it is rare that we recover from going a goal down and we have now conceded late goals in each of our last four matches.

Tony Cascarino hit the nail on the head the other day when he discussed the Championship and what you need to come out on top in that division and remarked:

It’s dog-eat-dog in that league and you need a few pitbulls. 

Players like Grant Leadbitter and Adam Clayton at Middlesbrough who ride roughshod over us whenever we come up against them, Darren Pratley, Hope Akpan, Dale Stephens, Joey Barton, Jacob Butterfield, George Thorne, Henri Lansbury and Kevin McDonald all combine the qualities that we so sadly lack and so desperately need.

Unfortunately all we have at the moment, apart of course from Macca, are chihuahuas.

The Clock Is Ticking – 31/1/16

Tick, tick, tick.

Time marches inexorably on, but yet ever so slowly and interminably as all Brentford supporters count off the days, hours, minutes and even seconds until eleven o’clock on Monday evening when the Transfer Window slams shut and then, and only then, we can all breathe a sigh of relief.

The wait is both agonising and tortuous as the longer time passes by with no bad news the more the sense of fear and foreboding that something disastrous and horrible is bound to come to bite us up the backside perhaps even at the last possible moment.

Hopefully that is just my natural sense of pessimism talking rather than a real and justifiable concern of the worst happening.

What makes the situation even less tolerable is that we have no real sense or idea of what may be happening behind the scenes and whether behind closed doors the Brentford high command is currently engaged in actively fending off predators determined to prise away our most valuable assets, negotiating the arrival of some fresh blood or even doing very little except simply hoping that the phone doesn’t ring, the fax doesn’t chatter into life and that the broadband goes down.

So now it is time for me to consult my crystal ball and predict what I think is likely to happen between now and Monday evening, and I fully understand that I am sticking my neck out and laying myself open to ridicule should, as is extremely likely, I get things totally and completely wrong.

Let’s first review where we are at the time of writing: we have lost three players and gained two, with Toumani Diagouraga, Jota and Daniel O’Shaughnessy leaving and young defenders Nathan Fox and Emmanuel Onariase both arriving at Griffin Park from Cray Wanderers and West Ham United respectively. Sergi Canos and John Swift have also extended their loans until the end of the season.

Toumani’s departure after six years of solid and committed service came as little surprise, and given that a fee of around half a million pounds was mooted, we have certainly sold at the top of the market and at a time when his transfer value was more than likely to decline over the coming months and years.

The magic and sparkle had left his game and his most recent appearances showed quite clearly that he had lost his touch and even his enthusiasm and that he no longer really merited a place in the team.

He needed a change of scene and a fresh stimulus and challenge and fully deserved the lucrative and extended contract that he was offered by his new club.

Whether or not he will flourish at Leeds and respond to the unique management style of the inimitable Steve Evans is an intriguing question but Brentford should be congratulated at sucking the last ounce of value out of a player whose best days have perhaps gone and then extracting top dollar for him.

Toumani marked his first full appearance for his new club by quite amazingly scoring his first goal for nearly three years in the FA Cup tie at Bolton Wanderers yesterday so perhaps he will yet have the last laugh.

And no, nobody invaded the pitch to help celebrate his goal.

I watched Jota come on as a second half substitute for Eibar last Sunday with a sense of resignation coupled with sadness that circumstances have forced us to allow him to return to his homeland, at least for the time being.

Who knows if we will ever see the Spanish wizard in a Brentford shirt again, perhaps his family situation will eventually allow him to return to us, but, if not, he leaves us with a plethora of wonderful memories as one of the most gifted players in our recent history and given that he has extended his contract we should eventually at least receive a reasonable fee for him, if not as much as might have been expected if he had moved onto a Premier League team, as had at one time seemed likely.

Daniel O’Shaughnessy simply needs the chance  to play first team football in order that we can find out whether he is good enough to play in the Football League, and I am sure that he will receive his opportunity during his loan spell at our sister club FC Midtjylland whom he has joined for the remainder of the season.

He has recently made his full international debut for Finland so he must possess ability even if he has never yet threatened to break into the Brentford first team since his arrival on a two year contract in 2014.

His move does beg the question about the relative standard of the Championship compared to the Danish Superliga and how someone not considered good enough to play for us can hope to feature for the current Danish champions.

Hopefully we will all get the chance to see how he gets on should he be selected to play against Manchester United in the Europa League next month.

It is possible that there will not be any additional departures from the club before the end of the Transfer Window but I will not feel certain about that until eleven pm tomorrow given that there are still two players who might well be in play.

James Tarkowski in my opinion totally burned his boats by his behaviour when he refused to play against Burnley the other week and despite attempts to rectify the situation and put a sticking plaster over a gaping wound his continued presence at the club still casts a pall over affairs at Griffin Park and polarises opinions amongst supporters.

His recent statement, however carefully crafted, reeked of tergiversation and in my opinion begged more questions than it provided answers and I firmly believe that it would be better for all parties should he leave the club as soon as possible.

Whether that happens now totally depends if anyone comes in with an acceptable offer, which rumours suggest would need to be in excess of three million pounds plus add ons.

Any interested parties are sure to smell weakness and try and take advantage of the situation over the next couple of days however in Matthew Benham they will find an opponent who will simply refuse to blink first or accept anything under the price that he has set.

Michael Keane has not left Burnley so it remains to be seen if they remain in the frame or whether a new club will come to the negotiating table. My money would be on Burnley coming back for another attempt to sign him.

If a move does not come about then we will simply have to get on with things as we cannot allow such a valuable asset to wither away and Tarkowski, having made an apology and provided an explanation of sorts, will doubtless be available for selection should the need arises.

Dean Smith has already made it clear that he will be welcomed back into the fold and the manager was totally correct in doing so, however Tarky has now fallen behind Harlee Dean and Yoann Barbet in the pecking order, has lost match fitness and will simply have to wait for his opportunity to arrive should injury or loss of form strike the current first choices.

Alan Judge, with twelve goals and seven assists has quite simply been the best and most exciting and effective player in the Championship this season and he is a man on a mission and is determined to force his way into the Eire squad for the European Championships in the Summer.

There has quite naturally been serious interest in him, and all Brentford fans, fearing the worst, would have been reassured by press comments yesterday, attributed to the player, confirming that he will remain at the club for the rest of the season.

Judge is a talismanic figure to us all and is our leader, conductor and inspiration on the pitch as most of our positive play and goal threat emanates from him. It is hard to see how we can replace him, particularly in the short term given the additional loss of Jota, and hopefully we will not have to deal with that situation until the end of the season.

And yet… and yet, it would not surprise me in the slightest if one of the myriad clubs seeking promotion to the promised land of the Premier League, or even indeed a club at the lower end of the Premier League does not come in at the last minute and attempt to prise him out our grasp. It seems a real no-brainer as Judge would improve any team whose presence he graces and the fee would be chump change for most of them.

Will we stand fast and resist any potential suitors? Who knows? It all depends upon the sum that we are offered and any figure in excess of five million pounds would merit serious consideration.

As for Judge, despite his acknowledged happiness at the club both on and off the pitch, more money would obviously be welcome as well as the chance to play in a team likely to challenge for honours, but he also has to consider that at Brentford he is guaranteed to start every match and within reason is afforded a free role which entirely suits his game and keeps him in the spotlight, and he might not be so prominent elsewhere.

There is a lot for him to ponder upon and we will simply have to wait and see what happens over the next day or so.

Sam Saunders will also have a decision to make and perhaps the prospect of Tampa Bay is slightly less alluring now that he seems to be back in favour and in and around the starting eleven. Alan McCormack might also have been considering his position but for the niggling injuries that have hindered him recently.

There might also be moves, temporary or permanent or maybe even contracts being cancelled, for the likes of Montell Moore, Josh Clarke, Ryan Williams and Josh Laurent who all appear to be surplus to requirements at Griffin Park.

There are no rumours of interest in any other of our players although I am sure that the likes of David Button and Jake Bidwell have their suitors and admirers.

What is more important is that we succeed in persuading them to sign contract extensions as they are the backbone of the team and I am sure that every effort will be made to do so and that ideally neither player will be allowed to enter the last year of their contract next season.

Given the uncertainty surrounding Tarkowski and the fact that Dean Smith appears to be a fan, perhaps there will also be a change of heart regarding Harlee Dean and a way might be found to keep him at the club for next season and beyond?

That is a move which would again polarise the supporters but Harlee appears to have matured both on and off the pitch (the Nottingham Forest nonsense excepted) and could well develop into the right sided centre half that we need.

What is far more intriguing and exciting for all supporters is the prospect of new players arriving, and here I think I need to dampen expectations as I do not anticipate any permanent incomings or transfer fees to be paid unless we lose additional players from the squad.

In those circumstances I would suspect that there are contingency plans in place should either Tarkowski or Judge leave the club before tomorrow evening.

Apart from what I stated above, why do I not expect any other permanent signings given that we have already lost the likes of Toumani and Jota?

Quite simply because the players we want are either not available or will cost prohibitive sums in January, a time when fees are generally inflated and might well be available on Bosman free transfers at the end of the season.

I would hazard a guess that there is also a view in and around the club that whilst the playoffs remain a possibility it would perhaps make better sense to keep our powder dry for the time being and make whatever changes are necessary in the close season.

There is also the omnipresent spectre of Financial Fair Play looming over us. We are now allowed to lose a maximum of thirteen million pounds per season and we remain hamstrung given our lack of income and resources.

Our expenditure needs to be carefully managed and controlled and perhaps it is felt that now is not the best time to go into the transfer market given the likelihood that we will finish in a comfortable position in the league and further consolidate within the Championship with our existing squad.

There could well be some major changes in the Summer as we look carefully at who has adjusted to the demands of the Championship and who has not settled down or has been found wanting.

In addition, given that we will lose Sergi Canos and John Swift, leaving alone what happens to Alan Judge, it is pretty obvious that we will need to bring in some creative midfielders for next season and maybe we will be looking seriously at the likes of Romaine Sawyers as has already been suggested on social media.

There are rumours that high quality targets are already being lined up for the Summer which is encouraging news and that would also give us time and breathing space to replace Alan Judge should he decide to leave the club either now, or as anticipated, in the Summer.

Jamie Paterson, currently at loan at Huddersfield from Nottingham Forest, and a player well known to Dean Smith from his Walsall days has been mooted as a potential arrival and perhaps that might happen either in the close season or even as a loanee next month.

I would expect that a winger will be brought in on loan next month given our lack of options in that area and maybe a defensive midfielder as well, although Josh McEachran will be given every opportunity to settle into the team and we also have the enticing prospect of the long overdue appearance of Lewis Macleod.

Will Scott Hogan also regain sufficient fitness to be given an opportunity to boost our flagging strike force before the end of the season? That would certainly be an exciting prospect although we should not hold out too much hope of it coming to pass or harbour any sense of expectation.

The arrival of the two young central defenders initially for the Development Squad is also very interesting and is evidence that we are looking to strengthen our resources in that area of the pitch and that perhaps we will be looking to sign more youngsters who have not quite made it at a higher level elsewhere in order to boost our talent pool given that we are still waiting for some payback from the expenditure lavished on the Academy, where I am led to believe that the majority of our crown jewels are still a few years away from consideration for the first team squad.

I have not tried to paint a gloomy picture, but have simply attempted to take an objective look at the situation that the club is facing as we go into the last crucial days, hours, minutes and seconds of the Transfer Window and provide my own viewpoint of what might possibly transpire.

I am fully prepared to eat humble pie on Monday evening should I be proved wildly inaccurate in my predictions.

What does everybody else think will happen?

Please let me know!

Tarky’s Tale – 26/1/15

James Tarkowski finally broke radio silence yesterday when he issued a personal statement intended to explain his actions last week when he refused to play against Burnley.

Here is what he had to say:

I wanted to share a message with the fans following last week’s events. My plans were to do this sooner but I agreed with the club that it was better to do so once I’d returned to training.

I have always enjoyed giving 100 per cent playing for Brentford and am always proud to wear the shirt.

As a team, and with your support, we’ve had two years of great progress. From the promotion to the Championship through to last season where we reached the Play-Offs, I have so many special memories of this club and of the backing we’ve had from you, the fans.

I have always had a strong bond with my team mates and the fans. I also have a very close relationship with my family who, like you and my team mates, have been thereand supported me throughout my career.

Unfortunately my mum has a serious, incurable illness and her condition has been getting steadily worse. I live a good four hours away from her and during the autumn, it became clear to me that I needed to get closer to home to support both her and my dad.

I was open and up front about this with the Club, who were sympathetic and said they’d work with me and my agent to try to reach a solution which worked well for the Club whilst giving me the possibility to move to closer to my mum.

We decided to keep this matter confidential in the best interests of everyone. I decided not to put in a transfer request as we agreed it would be better to work together on this.

In the run up to the match against Burnley, I felt completely frazzled and unable to concentrate properly. I felt that to play in the match in this frame of mind may actually do more harm than good. I thought that my distraction may result in an error that would let my team mates and the fans down. After much thought and consultation with the gaffer, my family and my team mates, I felt unable to guarantee my usual standard of performance and said as much to the gaffer.

I would like to apologise to my team mates, the gaffer and the fans. I hope that you can understand the pressure I was under and that no offence or insult was intended to anyone associated with the Club. I have taken the sanction given to me by the Club with good grace.

I would also like to thank everyone who has offered me support over the last ten days, and thank the Club for continuing to understand my situation at home.

I am still under contract at Brentford and am committed to giving my best for the Club, the team and the fans, as I always do when wearing the shirt.

James Tarkowski

When I last looked earlier this morning there were already pages and pages of comments on social media endlessly and forensically examining the runes and entrails and taking every single word apart in an attempt to analyse the exact meaning and nuances of what Tarkowski had said and in many cases comparing his situation with that of Jota who was pretty much given compassionate leave recently given his own personal problems.

Please feel free to wade through them all if you have the time, energy, interest and desire to do so and the general tenet of the comments ranges from a continued and unchanged feeling of anger at his original behaviour to a sense of understanding that the seriousness of the situation relating to his Mother’s illness had led him to behave irrationally and unacceptably.

I have no intention of giving an opinion on the matter as quite frankly I don’t really think that it matters one iota or jot what I think. What is more important is where this now leaves us.

Frankly the club is betting each way and covering the bases as nothing has really changed. Tarkowski still wishes to leave the club and Brentford will still only sell him if they are offered an acceptable sum for his transfer. Everything else is pure gloss and window dressing.

It would be to everybody’s advantage if a club does come in for the player before the end of the Transfer Window and offers a sum in excess of three million pounds. Should that be the case then I would fully expect that Tarkowski will be on his way. The key question is whether clubs will now be looking to take advantage of the unedifying situation and offer us well below market rate?

Given what he had to say yesterday it will be particularly interesting to see how he copes with the dilemma should a club south of the Watford Gap attempt to sign him given his stated intention to return to the North of England.

What the statement did, given that it included an apology to all parties, is open the door to the possibility of Tarkowski playing for us again should his move not come to fruition, and that is where the problems arise.

There is absolutely no point in leaving the player in purdah for the remainder of the season, thus further eroding his transfer value and turning him into damaged and shop-soiled goods.

Tarkowski is finished at Brentford, that is quite obvious to me. A parting of the ways is inevitable and it is just a question of whether he leaves in the next week or at the end of the season.

As for his playing for us again should he still be at the club after the Transfer Window shuts, I would hope fervently that the form of Dean, Barbet and O’Connell makes his presence on the pitch unnecessary and superfluous, not because I feel any personal vitriol towards him, but simply because his presence would be turned into a sideshow which would take attention away and distract everybody from the only thing that matters – winning football matches.

The Tarkowski situation and how we should handle it has totally divided and polarised the supporter base and is just one more unsettling episode in what has been a season that in so many ways has resembled a soap opera in terms of some of the off field happenings.

I have no way of knowing what will happen between now and the end of the month however I believe it would be in the best interests of everybody if James Tarkowski, talented player that he undoubtedly is, finds a new home as soon as possible.