End Of Term Report – Part 2 – 16/5/16

Here is the second part of my end of season report on every Brentford player:

12. Alan McCormack. The departure of Moses Odubajo saw McCormack given an immediate opportunity to replace him, and he started the season at right back where lack of any defensive cover from Andre Gray saw him given the runaround at Bristol City. The arrival of Max Colin saw him moving back into midfield where he remained an integral part of the team until he suffered niggling groin and calf injuries. Alan provided a much-needed calming influence and he cajoled and encouraged his less experienced teammates and ensured that they showed the necessary organisation and commitment. His passing also improved and became more subtle and we missed him badly during his injury absences. A goal proved elusive although he came desperately close against both Charlton and Bristol City. We keep writing him off and he stubbornly keeps proving us wrong and Alan’s performances totally warranted his contract extension until the end of next season. Despite his ten bookings, he always knew exactly just how far he could go and he has still to see red whilst playing for the Bees. In an inordinately quiet, small and well-behaved team, McCormack was one of the few to speak up on behalf of his teammates and attempt to manage referees.

13. Ryan Woods. Woods first caught my eye as a skilful and tenacious right back playing for Shrewsbury at Griffin Park in 2013 and quickly developed into one of the best midfielders in the lower divisions. I was delighted when The Ginger Pirlo signed for us for one million pounds at the end of the August Transfer Window, a fee that looks an absolute bargain now. He took a few games to settle down and force his way into the starting eleven and was caught in possession on his debut, a costly error that denied us a victory against Leeds, but he is now an automatic choice. He is still developing as a player and possesses all the qualities required to become a complete midfield player. He can spray the ball around and I can still picture that long pass over the defender dropping perfectly into the stride of Sergi Canos before he scored the Goal of the Season at Reading. Ryan also scored a wonderful long-range goal in the same game and matched it at MK Dons. He can tackle, press and dribble and never stops running. What a player he is already, and there is so much more to come from him as he gains further experience in the Championship.

16. Jack Bonham. Another year of treading water for the reserve goalkeeper who sat on the bench undisturbed for every match apart from the Capital One Cup disaster against a rampant Oxford United. Marooned behind an experimental defence, a drastically weakened team subsided to an embarrassing four-goal defeat that could and should have been more. Bonham hardly shone on the night and looked a nervous presence in goal and was beaten by Roofe’s exquisite forty yard lob. He has obviously learned a lot from training with David Button and Simon Royce and at twenty-two is still very young for a goalkeeper. As things currently stand, he is there simply to sit on the bench and replace Button in an emergency with, in all honesty, little chance of being named to start a Championship match if Button was unavailable. That might suit Brentford, who, of course, pay his wages, but the situation is of no benefit at all to Bonham if he is to develop as a footballer. Nobody knows if he has what it takes to have a successful career and nobody will really know until he sees regular action at a lower level of the game. He has two more seasons on his contract but desperately needs to go out and play some football next season and demonstrate his worth.

17. Konstantin Kerschbaumer. Nobody I knew had ever heard of the Austrian midfielder when he signed for us from Admira Wacker Mödling for a reported quarter of a million pound fee, but then again we had known absolutely nothing about Jota either! He was reputed to be a speedy and tenacious box-to-box player and he made a massive first impression when he dominated the midfield in the preseason friendly match against Stoke City. The departure of Jonathan Douglas opened the door for him but the Championship was another matter and he struggled from the off to cope with its pace and physicality and was a peripheral influence, easily knocked off the ball, regularly caught in possession and tentative with his passing. He never hid and joined in where he could but he was totally out of his depth and sometimes I got the unworthy impression that his teammates were loath to pass the ball to him in tight situations. Lee Carsley mercifully took him put of the firing line as soon as he took charge, commenting: He needs a lot of coaching. He runs as fast as he can everywhere without being effective which was a tough but accurate assessment of his initial contribution. He gradually improved in short spells coming off the bench and soon there were small shoots of recovery, an excellent shot against the top of the post against Hull, an effort cleared off the line by a desperate MK Dons defence and a decent hustling performance at Craven Cottage. He featured in every match day squad from the end of January as he slowly came to terms with what was required of him, and by the end of the season he had shown such improvement that he fully deserved his starting role. With growing confidence and time on the ball he started to reveal his true ability, in particular his energy and effortless close control and he combined brilliantly with Scott Hogan as his defence-splitting through balls led to three goals for the striker and the award of a penalty kick. Konstantin is proof of the strength and weakness of our stats and analysis based system. We certainly used our data to identify a promising young player who was not on the radar of our competition, and signed him for a relatively low sum, but he was thrown in far too soon owing to the prevailing circumstances and not given the time he needed to adapt to his new surroundings. He suffered unfairly and cruelly at the hands of the boo-boys who are only now beginning to recognise his undoubted ability, and I fully expect that his second season at the club will be far more productive for him.

18. Alan Judge. It is impossible to write about Alan Judge without feeling a combined sense of anger, frustration, disappointment and sadness at how the season ended for him, and how cruelly he was denied the opportunity to showcase his formidable talent on a global stage at Euro 2016 thanks to the unforgivable actions of an Ipswich Town player whose name I will not deign to mention here. At twenty-seven, Alan was approaching his peak and was in the form of his life all season, scoring fourteen times and assisting on eleven more goals and he was our main source of inspiration. His achievements were marked by his being shortlisted in the top three for Championship Player of the Year and also being named in the Football League Team of the Year and the Championship Team of the Year. He was also the Championship Player of the Month for October, a month in which his form touched previously unseen heights. With the loss of the likes of Gray, Pritchard and Jota, Alan almost singlehandedly took over the mantle of providing our creativity and goal threat and he was more than up to the task. He generally played in a free role as a Number Ten behind the main striker, but he also drifted wide and on one bizarre afternoon at Loftus Road, of all places, played as our lone striker. After only scoring three times in 2014/15, the goals flowed this season – and what brilliant goals they were. A curling effort from a seemingly impossible angle against Sheffield Wednesday, a looping twenty-yard volley and rare header to beat Rotherham, a stupendous shot arrogantly bent into the far top corner in front of the worshipping Brentford supporters at Charlton, instantaneously and effortlessly controlling a long pass from Barbet before slotting the ball home at Preston, a goal which even drew applause from the home fans, and an amazing solo goal when he ran half the length of the field against Derby before scoring from way out on the right flank. He was quite simply touched by genius, and even managed to convert all three of his penalty kicks after his adventures of the previous season when he missed three out of his four attempts! It was no surprise that he was coveted by other clubs, but unlike a certain former teammate of his, he simply got his head down and did not allow the constant speculation to affect his performances. He was deservedly rewarded with his first international cap for Eire and was well in the frame for inclusion in their final squad for Euro 2016 when tragedy befell him with his double leg break. What happens now is anybody’s guess. It was expected that with only one year remaining on his contract and it being highly unlikely that Alan would sign an extension, that he would be sold this Summer, and no Brentford fan would have begrudged him leaving for bigger and better things, such has been his brilliance, commitment and dedication to the Brentford cause. The club too might well have been banking on the anticipated fee in order to subsidise our own transfer budget. Now, all bets are off until we find out how long Judge will take to return to action. I would not expect that we will see him much before Christmas and it will then take him time to regain both form and sharpness. Perhaps he will be sold in the January Transfer Window, maybe he will stay for the entire season, hopefully play well for us, and then leave on a Bosman free? Could he even sign a new contract? Who knows, and all will be revealed over the coming months. In the meantime the memories are still totally clear in my mind of his brilliance, tirelessness and consistency and the sheer joy and bubbly effervescence he demonstrated in playing the game of football – the effortless dribbles past opponents, his non-stop energy and commitment, the quality of his passing, both long and short and his shoot-on-sight policy. He was the complete player for Brentford last season and we were privileged and fortunate to be able to enjoy performances of such quality, and he was by some distance the best player that I have ever seen perform in a Brentford shirt. Praise indeed, but fully merited in my opinion.

19. John Swift. You are just twenty years of age, on loan from a Premier League team with minimal experience of the Championship. You muck in, play twenty-seven games in all, score seven goals from midfield and also get picked for the England Under 21 team. Not bad, and surely the fans will be purring with delight at your contribution, chanting your name and begging you to join the club on a permanent basis next season? You would have thought that would have been the case, but unfortunately John Swift totally polarised opinions amongst Brentford supporters and was the recipient of much unwarranted, unpleasant and totally unnecessary and unjustified abuse from some quarters. He was too languid and lazy, they said, he went missing from time to time, he did not do his fair share of defensive donkey work, and tackling and pressing were an anathema to him. Maybe some of these criticisms had credence but better that they had made some allowances for his youth, immaturity and inexperience and instead given credit to him for, and taken pleasure from, his many very real attributes. He had the natural ability to glide past opponents at will and was a wonderful exponent of the lost art of dribbling. He moved the ball quickly and accurately and specialised in making late runs into the box which led to his most of his goals, and he also scored with a perfectly executed long-range curler at Bolton which was much admired by the Sky Sports commentary team. Swift also had to cope with the difficulty and upheaval of learning a new role as he was often played on the left side of midfield rather than in his more accustomed central position. There was so much to admire in his ability and in many of his performances, and yet he failed to connect with many of the supporters who treated him appallingly and cut him no slack, and I would be surprised if John will wish to return to Griffin Park next season even should the opportunity arise, which is a terrible shame as he would add immeasurably to our midfield resources.

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End Of Term Report – Part 1 – 14/5/16

Now that the season is finally over the time has come for me to give my brief verdict on every player and how they each performed last season. Here is the first part with, of course, more to follow:

2. Maxime Colin. We were all concerned about how well we would be able to replace the talented Moses Odubajo and the biggest compliment that I can give Max Colin is to state that Moses’s name has barely been mentioned for many months now, so well has the newcomer done. Signed in mid-August from Anderlecht for nine hundred thousand pounds, he impressed on his debut as a substitute at Burnley and just got better with every game. Strong in the tackle and good in the air, his defensive positioning improved with experience and he was only given the runaround by Brighton’s Jamie Murphy and Josh Murphy at MK Dons. He had the pace and ability to rampage forward and dribble past opponents at will and his cross led to a classic headed goal by Lasse Vibe at Ipswich. Knee ligament and groin injuries cost him nearly half the season and led to the threat of an operation. Hopefully he will return for the new season fit and ready to go as he is an exceptional player who has already proved to be a bargain signing.

3. Jake Bidwell. At only twenty-three years of age Jake has already made over two hundred appearances for the club and proved to be a popular team captain. He is so unobtrusive it is easy to take him for granted and fail to recognise just how good he is. Unfortunately he suffered a hamstring strain at Hull and lost his ever-present status, missing the local derby win over Fulham. He also finally broke his scoring duck in his one hundred and eighty-sixth game for the Bees and obviously enjoyed the feeling so much that he scored twice more before the end of the season. He was cool, calm and collected and very tough to beat and when he did make a mistake against Leeds which cost a late equaliser it stood out all the more because of its rarity. He was always eager to overlap and his accurate crosses led to four assists and his left footed curling corners and free kicks also improved throughout the season. The only problem with Jake is persuading him to sign a new contract as his current agreement expires at the end of next season.

4. Lewis Macleod. Another injury-wrecked season for Lewis and we still remain totally in the dark about his capabilities. His deep-rooted hamstring injury finally cleared up in late 2015 and allowed him to show his ability in the Development Squad and score eye-catching goals against QPR and Bristol City which clearly demonstrated his quality and whetted our appetite for more. He finally made his long awaited and much-delayed debut for the Bees with an eight minute runout at Brighton before succumbing to the injury hoodoo yet again, suffering a medial ligament injury in training. Next season perhaps? Surely he deserves some luck and the chance to show us what he can do?

5. Andreas Bjelland. There was palpable excitement and perhaps some disbelief amongst the Brentford supporters when the club smashed their transfer record by paying two million three hundred thousand pounds to sign Danish international central defender Andreas Bjelland from FC Twente. His preseason was hampered by a groin injury and he was given a runout on a terrible Griffin Park pitch in the Capital One Cup tie against Oxford United and must have wished he hadn’t as he suffered a serious knee ligament injury and missed the entire season. A terrible blow for the club and player alike. He is now back in training and hopefully will be fit for selection at the beginning of next season. But where will he play given the recent success of the Dean/Barbet partnership? What a wonderful problem for Dean Smith to have.

6. Harlee Dean. What a turnaround for the defender who ends the season with two hundred appearances for Brentford under his belt and a new two-year contract safely signed. How things have changed for the central defender who at one time looked certain to walk away on a Bosman free transfer at the end of the season. He came of age throughout the season and allowed his feet to do the talking rather than behave like a loose cannon, ever-ready to shoot off at the mouth if something upset him. He visibly matured, got a lot fitter, benefited from the long-term injury to Andreas Bjelland and the transfer of James Tarkowski, to become an automatic selection, a team leader and a tower of strength. He would not have been Harlee if there had not been one faux pas, in his case, the ridiculous red card he brought upon himself against Nottingham Forest. He read the game well and the blend of a tough traditional defender like Dean alongside a ballplayer like Tarkowski and subsequently Barbet, worked a treat. He won most of his challenges both in the air and on the ground, rarely dived in, showed far more mobility and also demonstrated an unexpected ability to play the ball accurately out of defence. His main weakness was in the opposition penalty area where he showed an infallible tendency to misfire or head the ball wide of the goal. At twenty-four his best is yet to come and he is finally playing for a Head Coach who believes in him and that has made a real difference to him.

7. Sam Saunders. After two injury-wrecked seasons it seemed that Sam might well be on his way out of the club and indeed it appeared likely at one time that he would move to America and play for Tampa Bay. Fortunately Sam chose to remain at Brentford and he more than justified his contract extension with a series of exceptional performances which ensured that he is about to enter his eighth season at Griffin Park. Dean Smith rightly valued his experience and leadership plus his ability to help his less experienced teammates and Sam rose to the challenge as well as scoring three beautifully taken goals against Leeds, Ipswich and, most memorably, his lob against Fulham, which highlighted his talent and growing confidence. He reads the game so well and finds time and space in the crowded midfield area and his bubbly enthusiasm, knowledge of the game and ability to keep possession is of massive value to the team.

8. Marco Djuricin. But for an ill-timed injury at Blackburn a mere eight days after his goal won the long-awaited West London derby against QPR and gave us our first win over the old enemy for fifty years, Marco Djuricin might have ended up as one of the stars of the team, but fate was against him and his season, and almost certainly his Brentford career fizzled out in frustration and disappointment. The Austrian international striker signed on loan from Red Bull Salzburg in late August although his arrival had been rumoured in January 2015. He made an excellent initial impression, scoring a cooly taken goal within twenty-nine minutes of his debut against Leeds United and made it two goals in three games when he scored the winner against Preston a week later. Another goal arrived soon afterwards at Wolves and when he scored the winner against QPR, running adroitly to the near post to convert a Judge cross, it appeared that we had a new hero in our midst. He played on the shoulder of the last defender, was sharp in front of goal and was eager to shoot rather than pass and was beginning to adapt to an unfamiliar role as a lone striker. A serious ankle ligament injury was the beginning the end for him as he was forced to miss two months of action and never regained his fitness or sharpness on his return and drifted out of contention. A real shame, as Marco possesses a striker’s instinct, something instinctive that cannot be taught, and will certainly come again, but surely not at Griffin Park, although his status as a Brentford legend is assured.

9. Scott Hogan. Sometimes people do get what they deserve and receive due reward for all their effort, dedication and determination not to give in when everything appears to be against them. Finally the Gods are smiling down upon Scott Hogan after he suffered and then overcame two career-threatening cruciate injuries and missed the best part of two season’s worth of football. Much was expected of Hogan when he was brought in to play ahead of Andre Gray at the beginning of the 2014/15 season and now he finally has the opportunity to show us why we signed him. He has certainly been a man on a mission since he was introduced as a late substitute on the nineteenth of March against Blackburn Rovers. Further short run-outs followed against Bolton and Ipswich before he finally made his mark by winning and then missing a penalty kick against Bristol City, before netting his first goal for the Bees with a last-gasp predator’s header which earned us a point. Two more clinical finishes against Cardiff made us realise that this was a really special player who was single-mindedly determined to make up for lost time. He was being carefully managed by the medical team and his time on the pitch was strictly rationed, but Lasse Vibe’s injury meant that Scott was named in the starting eleven against both Fulham and Huddersfield and he rewarded Dean Smith’s faith in him with four more goals. He ended up playing less than two full matches, one hundred and seventy-two minutes in all, and yet he scored an incredible total of seven goals and clearly demonstrated that he is a cool, calm and deadly finisher who has the rare ability to ghost in behind defenders and find time and space within crowded penalty areas. He has been compared in style and approach to Jamie Vardy and has already attracted the attention of the Eire selectors. Brentford have certainly been rewarded for their faith in Scott and for extending his contract for another year before he made his comeback and next season cannot come soon enough for him. What a prospect he is and if he can stay fit we will have a magnificent striker on our hands.

10. Josh McEachran. There was much excitement when we signed Josh McEachran from Chelsea for seven hundred and fifty thousand pounds. He seems to have been around for ever but is still only twenty-three years old. But scratch beneath the surface and his CV was slightly concerning as he had had five loan spells at clubs like Middlesbrough and Watford without establishing himself and he desperately needed a home and a role as his career appeared to be drifting. Unfortunately nothing has gone right for him since he joined Brentford. The first half of his season was ruined by a training ground collision with Toumani Diagouraga which resulted in a fractured foot, and, incredibly, he suffered a similar injury in March which ended his season. In between he managed fifteen appearances without really making too much of an impact. He describes himself as a holder and a passer, dictating play and his approach should have suited our play given the manner in which we always try to play through the midfield, but despite showing glimmers of his ability with a dummy here and a perceptive pass there, it never really happened for him and his passing generally lacked incision or penetration and was too often sideways or backwards and he generally hung out a foot rather than tackle properly. Perhaps it is simply a case that he was simply lacking in match fitness and confidence? We can only hope that he recovers in time for the start of next season and that he can then show us what he is capable of.

11. Philipp Hofmann. The enigma that is Hofmann. So much ability but so little end result to date. Expectations were high when we signed the massive German Under 21 international striker and it was hoped that he could provide us with a different type of option upfront given his size and strength. His progress was hindered by a series of niggling injuries and he seemed to find the Championship a massive learning curve and did not appear ideally suited to the lone striker system employed by the club. He did not have the pace or mobility to run the channels and, despite his height, he was not strong in the air. What he did have, though, was an unsuspected ability, strength and trickery on the ball and a real subtlety of pass. He only started six games all season but still managed to score four goals, including a wonderful finish at Bristol City, a calm dribble around a stranded goalkeeper at Wolves and the triple-ricochet winner at home to Nottingham Forest. He also missed a simple headed chance to win the home game against Brighton. I hope that next season he proves that he has a real future with us and that he relishes the challenge of adapting to the Championship. The jury is out.

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.

A Match Too Far – 27/4/16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last night was an irrelevance and we move on.

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!

Judgement Day – 12/4/16

Ipswich Town used to be justifiably acclaimed and renowned throughout the football world for the dignified and principled way that they went about their business. Unfortunately things seem to have changed and men of real integrity and class like Bobby Robson and former chairman John Cobbold would doubtless be turning in their grave if they had still been alive to witness the straits that their once great club was reduced to last Saturday.

Not content with crippling Brentford’s star player Alan Judge with a tackle from out of the dark ages Ipswich piled insult onto injury by their blinkered reaction to Luke Hyam’s uncontrolled and dangerous lunge.

There was not a hint of remorse, an apology or even any awareness or an acknowledgement of the seriousness of the situation and the unacceptability of his player’s behaviour from beleaguered manager Mick McCarthy who truly beggared belief when he instead turned matters on their head and attempted to deflect attention away from the incident by bemoaning his club’s apparent misfortune on the day.

Anything that could go wrong, did go wrong, whined McCarthy and he reacted with incredulity to Brentford manager Dean Smith’s remarkably restrained reaction to Hyam’s early challenge (if you can dignify it with that word) which he described as being merely a bit naughty and deserving of a straight red card.

McCarthy replied: I’m disappointed if he’s said that. I think he’s won the ball. I’ve actually complained to the referee as to why it’s a booking if he’s won the ball. I don’t think it’s naughty at all.

I really do not think that his words require further comment from me or any reasonable or objective observer and a cursory look at the match footage renders his claims laughable.

I appreciate that managers are expected to protect their players in public but you cannot defend the indefensible and retain your credibility and McCarthy would have been far better advised to have refrained from saying anything at all if he found it impossible to make the unreserved apology that was without doubt called for.

I have now lost all respect for a man who I had previously considered a decent and intelligent individual – it is amazing what pressure and the disappointment at dropping away from contention for the playoffs does to somebody’s judgement.

His players simply followed their manager’s appalling example. Luke Varney, himself the perpetrator of a two-footed tackle from behind on Ryan Woods after the interval that rivalled Hyam’s earlier attempt for its maliciousness, premeditation and spite gave his team mate the benefit of some quite considerable doubt:

There was no malice in it at all, we all know Luke, he gets stuck in and we’d never stop him doing that. If I thought there was any malice in it I’d know. I’ve had a couple of those tackles off him in training in the last week, he’s that sort of player.

Yes, we do all know Luke and he certainly is that kind of player as his disciplinary record attests.

Hyam himself eventually made a mealy-mouthed, carefully drafted and weaselly attempt at an apology which was as badly timed and directed as his tackle which broke Alan Judge’s leg, in which he asserted that there was nothing malicious in the tackle and I hope Alan recovers quickly.

In other words whilst he regrets the result of his challenge he saw nothing wrong in what he actually did. Incredible!

Players have a duty of care towards their fellow professionals and Hyam totally abrogated his responsibility on Saturday.

We Brentford supporters are still too angry and distraught to give an impartial view so I will let the final words on this subject go to a totally objective observer in former Eire International fullback Paddy Mulligan who certainly did not sit on the fence when asked to comment on what he had seen:

It’s not football as far as I’m concerned. It was a horrible, horrible tackle. It was an over-the-top tackle. It was two-footed and there was absolutely no excuse. The referee didn’t even send the player off. It’s quite incredible really. It was a really nasty tackle.

There really is nothing more to say after that and I only wish that the referee, the hapless Phil Gibbs, had seen the incident in the same light as Mulligan and taken the appropriate action.

The real losers in this situation are Alan Judge, Eire, Brentford FC and our supporters.

Judge has suffered a serious injury as well as the cruel and totally unfair blow of being denied his perhaps once in a lifetime opportunity of playing on a world stage at the forthcoming Euro 2016 tournament, a prize that he had more than deserved after his series of incredible, consistent performances all season where he had been the shining light in the Brentford team and scored fourteen goals and assisted on eleven more. At twenty-seven years of age he is approaching his peak and had just made his full International debut with the promise of more caps to come.

It is hoped that this is a clean break without complications and that he will return to action speedily and without any permanent damage or handicap. At this stage there can be no guarantee that this will be the case and given that Judge is a player who relies upon his acceleration, change of pace and ability to turn quickly, to wreak havoc upon the opposition, who knows if he will return as the player he was and who he was still developing into?

Hard though it is to speculate, it is even possible that this injury will be a terminal blow to his career and we will all have to live with the uncertainty for several months to come. Even if he makes a full recovery he will lose perhaps the best part of a year from what is inevitably a short career as a footballer.

Judge will also lose the opportunity of making a lucrative move in the Summer as it seemed inevitable that he would leave the club perhaps for a team in the Premier League.

Given his quality, commitment and the length of his service to us, no Brentford fan would have begrudged him that move, one that now appears likely to be denied him, at least in the short term.

He would likely have been playing at a higher level than the Bees next season and he fully deserved that opportunity as well as the massively increased salary that he would have earned. Footballers live under the permanent shadow of a career ending injury at any time and cannot be blamed for chasing the money when it is on offer.

There is also a knock-on effect as Brentford too would have been banking on receiving a fee of around three to four million pounds which might well have comprised the greater part of our transfer kitty for the close season. That money will now not be coming into the club and that loss means that we now all have even more reason to figuratively pull on a Burnley shirt and will them onto promotion given the three and a half million pounds that we will receive in bonus payments should they go up to the Premier League.

As for Judge, who knows what happens next? The nightmare scenario is for him to require all or the majority of next season to make a full recovery, play not at all or at best very little for us and then, having been paid by us all season, leave the club next July on a free transfer when his contract expires. Surely that cannot be allowed to happen but the situation might well be out of our control?

Perhaps we will now offer him a new contract which could be considered more carefully by Judge and his agent given the changing circumstances?

Maybe he will be fully fit and playing again before Christmas which will enable us to sell him in the January Transfer Window? That would be the best option in my opinion should Judge still be determined to seek a new challenge elsewhere.

So many questions and imponderables and no immediate answers. As always appears to be the case with Brentford, bad luck seems to strike when all is otherwise going so well.

Whatever happens over the coming months we shall just have to get on with things and make the best out of a difficult situation.

No player, however talented, is irreplaceable and if Alan does leave, or is out of action for a long period then I am sure that moves are already afoot to replace him although we might now be scrambling around to find the necessary funds. Kemar Roofe is the nearest that I have seen to a like-for-like replacement but he might now be well out of our price range.

I will end on a positive and simply thank Alan Judge for all the pleasure, enjoyment and success he has given us and I can clearly picture some of the amazing goals he has scored for us this season like the curler at Charlton, the screamer against Rotherham followed by a rare header and the solo effort against Derby. I can also afford to ignore some of his more interesting efforts from the penalty spot!

He is a crowd pleaser and a player full of effervescence and tricks who has been a privilege and delight to watch. Without him we would probably now be reconciled to visiting the like of Accrington Stanley next season, so we should simply give thanks for what we have already received from him , perhaps even hope for more and wait for the future to sort itself out as it will inevitably do.

Job Done? – Not Quite – 6/4/16

The league table is looking a lot more cheerful than was the case a mere four days ago as two wins, six goals and six points have taken the Bees up to the giddy heights of fourteenth place in the Championship, twelve points ahead of MK Dons who fill the final relegation position and I really cannot see them making up that gap, plus our massively superior goal difference, in the six games that remain to them.

Whilst we are now looking comfortable with forty-nine points safely stored in our locker and our supporters breathing far more easily there is still much to play for.

Dean Smith, understandably a much more cheerful figure of late rightly insists that a top ten finish remains the target and that would be a massive achievement given the topsy-turvy nature of the season as a whole.

We are currently seven points behind Preston who are in tenth place and we also have a game in hand so the target is tough but viable.

We now also trail Queens Park Rangers by three points and lead Fulham by five in the West London mini-league that is so important to our fans in terms of local bragging rights.

If you think that I am clutching at straws then perhaps you are correct as I am not used to Brentford reaching the business end of the season without having much to play for. The last four years have seen us challenging for promotion each time and it is strange to be in a situation in which we need to set our own goals in order to keep us interested and motivated, so hopefully the season will not be allowed to fizzle out and we will at least ensure that our safety margin is maintained if not even increased.

The recent International Break seems to have done the trick as the team appears to be re-energised and ever increasing in confidence.

The victory at Nottingham Forest, added to the three goals scored and clean sheet achieved had left the players with a extra spring in their step and Bolton Wanderers were on the receiving end in the first half last night.

Granted, the opposition, as good as doomed to relegation  were not up to much but that is not to take anything away from a resurgent Brentford team which purred into top gear with a magnificent first half display.

The football played was crisp, neat and incisive, players wanted the ball and made positive runs and three goals was scant reward for our domination and invention.

McCormack and Yennaris hoovered up every loose ball, rendering the combative Darren Pratley totally ineffective and Nico is fast developing into a Coquelin-like thoroughbred.

He scored for the first time at home, poking home from close range after an excellent four man move and more was to follow soon afterwards.

Woods played Vibe through and Lasse fought off the challenge of his marker and crossed low and hard towards Judge and when the ball rebounded back to him off a defender he took his time, waited patiently for the keeper to commit himself and rolled the ball home for a goal redolent of confidence if not arrogance.

Soon it was three when a flowing move saw Yennaris play the ball to Judge, who had earlier hit the bar with a cross, and this time his first time centre was perfectly placed for Vibe to glance the ball home with his head.

What a transformation there has been in Vibe with his three goals in the last game and a half taking him to a creditable ten goal tally for the season with hopefully even more to come.

It wouldn’t be Brentford if we didn’t do our best to self-destruct and we gifted Bolton three massive first half opportunities through our own carelessness and lack of concentration that a better team would surely have taken full advantage off.

As it was the closest they came to scoring was when Vela hit the outside of the post and shortly afterwards the impressive Clough could not benefit from Button over elaborating on the ball – not for the first time this season.

Thst being said the back four looked mean and confident and also used the ball well. Colin is nursing a injury and appears to be playing well within himself but Barbet is improving with every game.

Bolton went for damage limitation after the break and tightened up with the introduction of the experienced Wheater and Danns.

Poor Alex Finney a tall, young defender making his full debut was removed to save him further embarrassment after a ghastly first half display haunted by nerves and as Bolton improved, the Bees went down a couple of gears and apart from a hooked volley from the impressive Sam Saunders which went narrowly over the bar and a McCormack thunderbolt from nearly forty yards out which required an exceptional save from Amos, the Ealing Road faithful had little to cheer about.

We played the ball around but lacked our earlier pace and urgency and it came as no surprise when McCormack’s clumsy and unnecessary tackle was correctly punished with the award of a penalty kick which Clough easily converted.

The game drifted to its inevitable conclusion with Canos, Hogan and Clarke given brief run outs.

Given how far we have come in the last few days it is tough to carp and criticise but the second half inertia clearly demonstrated that there is still much work that is needed to be done and that we are still nowhere near the finished article.

The match clearly resembled the one back in December when we put Huddersfield to the sword with a rampant first half display which could not be matched after the break when the visitors roused themselves and fought their way back into the game.

That being said there was much to be optimistic about, not least the commitment shown by the entire team and their determination to ensure that they would pick up the points on offer as well as give their supporters something to cheer about.

We will shortly be facing tougher opposition in the shape of Ipswich Town and we will need to be at our best and most determined to cope with the massive physical challenge that they will provide.

Bentford have been feast or famine since the New Year began and we can only hope that they maintain the impetus from the past two matches and go into the Ipswich game full of confidence, as indeed they should.

I look forward with relish to the clash between Alan McCormack and Jonathan Douglas which might well go a long way towards settling the outcome.