Patience Is A Virtue – 27/12/15

One should always strive for continuous improvement whatever your endeavour, hobby or line of work and I greatly admire people who set themselves challenges and push themselves as much as they possibly can.

Sometimes however a dose of realism is called for and I think that now is the time to look back calmly, objectively and rationally on Brentford’s nil-nil draw with Brighton yesterday.

Our visitors came into the match boasting a quite amazing record of only suffering one defeat in their opening twenty-two matches and whilst last season was an aberration for them as they were down amongst the dead men clustered around the bottom of the Championship table, there were good reasons for their temporary fall from grace and the current campaign sees them in their customary position of challenging for promotion, either automatically or through the playoffs.

Led by the astute and understated Chris Hughton, Brighton fielded a team jam packed with a Championship experience with the likes of Stockdale, Bruno, Greer, Dunk, Stephens and Calderon as well as the massive emerging talent of Manchester United’s Jamie Wilson.

Owned by another betting magnate in Tony Bloom, there are definitely similarities between the two clubs but, buttressed by their magnificent new stadium and near capacity attendances, as well as this being their fifth season in the Championship, it should be recognised and accepted that Brighton are well ahead of us at this point in time on their potential journey to the top.

Brentford, on the other hand are still learning and inexperienced at this level. Last season our wonderful brand of passing football, movement and high pressing took everybody by surprise and we came so close to making the seemingly impossible dream come true.

I might be alone in my opinion, but quite frankly I consider our current achievement this season of reaching the halfway stage of the season established in the top ten and within touching distance of the top six to be far more meritorious.

Consider the circumstances: for a variety of reasons we lost some of the backbone of our squad when the likes of Odubajo, Douglas, Dallas, Pritchard and Gray left the club and our recruitment in terms of both management and players left a lot to be desired with far too many foreign players untested in the Championship, and understandably struggling initially to come to terms with its relentlessness and its physical and mental challenges.

The appointment of Marinus Dijkhuizen as Head Coach also proved to be a failure

We suffered a quite ridiculous number of injuries and not just the normal run of the mill knocks and bruises but serious problems that affected players such as Bjelland, Colin, McEachran, Macleod, Jota and Djuricin who were expected to become mainstays of the team. Only now are we getting close to putting the majority of these players back to full fitness.

There have been massive changes behind the scenes with two new Co-Directors of Football settling into a new job and the players have had to listen to a variety of different voices and approaches in terms of their training and coaching give that we are now onto our third management team of the season.

There was also the fiasco of the Griffin Park pitch which caused more early season problems, hiatus and embarrassment.

No wonder we got off to a slow start as we were basically competing with one hand tied behind our back. Thanks to Lee Carsley and Paul Williams who reverted to basics and what had worked so well last season, benched many of the newcomers and established a settled team and pattern of play, we arrested what was looking like it might become an irreversible slide and fall from grace and turned the season around.

Carsley turned down the opportunity of taking the Head Coach position on a permanent basis which caused more uncertainty and upheaval, but his success bought us the time to make a measured appointment and the new duo of Dean Smith and Richard O’Kelly has settled down quickly and made an immediate impact.

I am sure that we have made an exceptional appointment in Smith and I was even more reassured when I read these comments from one of his former players at Walsall, Romaine Sawyers:

He created a great environment to work in. Everybody seemed to learn. Everybody has the right to an opinion. He’d speak to every single player, before and after training.

I’d say his greatest feature was his honesty. He’d never tell you something you wanted to hear or say something just to provoke a response. He was straight down the line and I’m sure that the Brentford players will love him.

I hope that makes you all feel as good as it did me when I read it.

We are continuing to improve and progress and have established a fully deserved reputation for being one of the best and most attractive footballing teams in the division.

Given the level of backing we receive from Matthew Benham and our justified reputation for off field innovation and excellence, it is a good bet, if not a sure fire certainty that within a short period of time, maybe even before we move into Lionel Road in 2018, that we will be knocking at the door of the Premier League.

Our last two home performances against MK Dons and Huddersfield were both excellent and we blew both teams away, scored six times and could quite easily have doubled that total.

The mood was therefore optimistic with real hope and maybe even a sense of expectation that we could also defeat Brighton.

In the end we didn’t but we should have done so, as but for three exceptional saves from Stockdale from Judge twice and then a phenomenal full length dive to push away a header from Tarkowski that looked a certain goal , a poor late miss from Hofmann and a lack of penetration in the final third where the final pass too often went astray, we would have scored the goal that would have settled the game which ended up as an exciting nil-nil draw.

As I left the ground and when I read the comments on social media from other Bees supporters I felt that far too many fans were feeling not just slightly disappointed at what they saw as the Bees dropping two points but also even a bit let down.

Remember, this is Brighton we are talking about, not Championship lightweights like MK Dons or Huddersfield. We have no divine right to beat teams of that calibre and in my opinion given all the problems that we have had to overcome this season we are still punching way above our weight.

That is not to say that I do not feel that we can make a challenge for the final playoff position should we maintain our form, not lose key players in January and maybe even strengthen the squad particularly up front where we are not yet firing on all cylinders.

We cannot yet compete on an even playing field with the big boys in this league although given time, a new stadium and more experience at this level there is no reason why this situation cannot change but at present we should simply take pride and pleasure from the quality of our displays and the effervescent football that we play realising that we still cannot match many other teams in terms of resources and size and experience of squad.

That being said we possess so many real footballers who are so comfortable on the ball and provide us with so much pleasure and excitement.

We dominated proceedings yesterday, with fifty-nine per cent possession, twenty shots at goal and ten corners and out-passed our visitors, who pride themselves on maintaining possession for long spells by a vast margin – five hundred and fifty seven to three hundred and ninety.

Perhaps the most telling comment about our quality and the journey that we have come on came from Brighton manager Chris Hughton – a former Bee, after his team had clung on for a barely deserved point:

There are lots of exciting games at Brentford at the moment. They play a brand of football which revolves around a lot of sharp players good on the ball, and they will test any opposition.

As a team we had to dig deep because Brentford are a good team. 

There is so much to take pride and pleasure in at Griffin Park, and as I keep saying, we are so nearly a really excellent team – and there is still plenty of room for a massive improvement far beyond the levels that we have reached now, which are way above what I ever really believed I would be watching from a Brentford team.

I am just tickled pink and more than content with the fact that we will end 2015 as the best placed West London team in the Championship in our private battle with Fulham and Queens Park Rangers! I know that there is far more to come but that will do me nicely for now.

I would simply urge a little bit more patience and and understanding about the situation we currently find ourselves in. We are well on the road to success, it might just take slightly longer than some supporters expect.

Advertisements

Brentford FC & Boxing Day – 24/12/15

The prospect of playing promotion challengers Brighton & Hove Albion on Boxing Day is an exciting and enticing one as the Bees will have the opportunity to test their mettle and their own playoff credentials against one of the Championship’s best teams, and one that has only just lost its undefeated record at the twenty-second time of asking. A quite remarkable achievement and we will need to be at our absolute best in order to come out of the match with any reward.

As we await Saturday’s match with a mixture of relish and impatience I thought I would attempt to take our mind off the match by looking back at some of the more memorable Boxing Day tussles we have enjoyed – or not as the case might be – over the past few decades.

Our first Boxing Day clash of the 70s was away at Scunthorpe, hardly a local derby or crowd pleaser over the festive season! A more than healthy crowd of just under five thousand saw a late Roger Cross goal give us an undeserved equaliser.

The following season a bumper crowd of over eighteen thousand crammed into Griffin Park in the anticipation of seeing top of the table Brentford pulverise perennial strugglers Crewe Alexandra but the plucky visitors hadn’t read the script and the Bees squeaked home with a trademark header from John O’Mara.

Our 1972 Boxing Day defeat at Bournemouth was remarkable for us scoring twice away from home for the the first time in that horrible relegation season – our hosts, of course, scored three times, but also for Jackie Graham actually scoring with our well-rehearsed pantomime season free kick where two players pretended to argue with each other before a third took a shot at goal.

The 1973 match against Newport County was the one thousandth consecutive match covered by the Middlesex Chronicle’s George Sands and also the last game played for us by Stewart Houston before he departed gratefully to Manchester United.

I wonder just how many loyal and bleary eyed Brentford supporters caught the coach at eight o’clock on Boxing Day 1975 and were eventually forced to endure a goalless draw away at Exeter City? At least they must have been able to catch up with their sleep, before, after and probably during the game!

Boxing Day 1977 was appropriately named as it will always be remembered for the fisticuffs between Andy McCulloch and Aldershot’s behemoth of a defender Joe Jopling which resulted in the Brentford striker seeing red in more ways than one. Not a happy day all round as our promotion push was dented by a narrow defeat after an error by Len Bond and I sulked all the way home.

The following year saw Barry Silkman give a sumptuous display for Plymouth Argyle but two late Dean Smith goals saw the Bees come out on top.

1983 saw Brentford host Wimbledon on Christmas Eve, the last time a Football League match has been staged on that day, and the visitors won a seven goal thriller. 1984 saw a real Boxing Day dampener when a totally lethargic Brentford team never turned up and were hammered by three clear goals by a Bristol Rovers team who strolled to an easy victory.

Arsenal loanee Graham Rix lit up our easy three-nil win over a hapless Aldershot in 1987 and gave a performance that simply oozed class.

A goalkeeping error by Tony Parks led to a narrow defeat at Reading in 1989 and made me question the sanity of my decision to drive from Devon that morning to attend the game.

Our brief stay in Division One saw a memorable Boxing Day win over big spenders Derby County. Goals from Joe Allon and a perfectly placed own goal from Richard Goolouze ensured a much needed victory for the Bees.

Next season we won a ridiculous and farcical  match at Dean Court which saw Bournemouth keeper Vince Bartram slice a simple back pass comically into his own net and then scream abuse at his blameless defender – pure slapstick – and Steve Cotterill then missed two penalty kicks for the home team as we strolled to a three goal victory.

Orient were equally appalling the following season and after conceding three first half goals to a rampant Brentford, their entire team was sent back onto the pitch well before the end of the halftime break with a flea in their ear by their furious manager, John Sitton.

Brighton last came to Griffin Park on Boxing Day in 1995 for a match that surely should never have started given the frozen pitch and icy conditions. They certainly didn’t suit Dean Martin who was cruelly lambasted for his tentative performance by the Brentford faithful and appropriatelay enough the game was settled by a mishit cross by Dean Wilkins which floated into the far corner over the head of Kevin Dearden.

In 1996 we were forced to make the ridiculous journey to Plymouth but came back with a four-one win marked by a rare goal from Joe Omigie.

Brighton again came out on top the following season, this time at the Priestfield Stadium, and we beat Bristol City in 1999 in a match which saw Peter Beadle knock the ball out of Andy Woodman’s hands but the goal was allowed to stand.

Leon Constantine, who never scored a single goal for us, made a triumphant return in 2004 with a well taken second half hat trick which gave his new team, Torquay United a surprise win at Griffin Park.

The following year Brentford leapfrogged Swansea City and went to the top of the table after beating our rivals in a thrilling contest in which the unlikely duo of Eddie Hutchinson and Junior Lewis dominated the midfield and reduced Lee Trundle to a mere spectator.

Adam Griffiths gave Millwall a Boxing Day gift after twenty-three seconds in 2006 when he misjudged a backpass to Clark Masters and the game went further downhill from there as we were hammered by our near neighbours.

Not too many of our recent Boxing Day encounters have been very memorable, bar an excellent victory at Colchester in 2012 and the exciting three-two win over Swindon in 2013 marked by Sam Saunders falling flat on his face when about to take a free kick and after dusting himself off, he recovered and put his next attempt into the roof of the net totally silencing the jeering Swindon fans in front of whom he celebrated with a theatrical dive.

The least said about last season’s catastrophic Boxing Day collapse to Ipswich Town the better and I am sure that it is still fresh in the memory of most Brentford supporters.

Thankfully we seem to have a pretty decent record in matches played on Boxing Day and it is also good to note that more and more of these games are played against reasonably local opposition and we are no longer forced to endure endless trecks to the other end of the country.

As for the likely result of this year’s clash with Brighton, who knows, and hopefully it will be as exciting a match as last season’s five goal thriller. We come into the match in excellent form and Dean Smith will have some difficult decisions to make before finalising his squad.

I can’t wait!