The Grass Isn’t Always Greener – 30/1/15

fThere might well be an old friend playing against us on Saturday but most likely Adam Forshaw will start the game on the substitutes’ bench and it will be interesting to hear what sort of welcome and reception that he receives from the aficionados on New Road.

His move from Wigan to Middlesbrough was described to me this morning by another Bees fan as “just another rat leaving the sinking ship.” Harsh but maybe accurate as he played a mere seventeen matches for Wigan and remained there for only five months before moving on.

It all looked so good for him when he left Brentford, but his dream move turned sour very quickly and he has explained his recent whirlwind state of affairs in an interview published on the Middlesbrough website today:

I had two great years at Brentford.We went very close in my first year there by getting to the play-off final. Unfortunately we missed out, but the following season we went one better and went up as runners-up. I know Brentford have a lot of good players but I am honestly surprised to see them doing so well this season.

People keep saying they will fall off but they are not showing any signs of it, so all respect to them, including the staff and players and everyone there. They will be tough opposition on Saturday. Their home ground is a bit of a fortress to them, so we’ll have to be really ready. They get about 12,000 fans and they are really close to the pitch. They are a good set of fans and they are a really good football team, but I am more than confident that we can go there and get a result.

 It’s been a strange last five days or so, it hasn’t been great on the pitch with Wigan and off it there have a few problems with the reshaping of the squad. When I found out an offer was being made, and that a bid had been accepted, then I was really looking forward to the challenge of coming to Middlesbrough. 

I loved my two years at Brentford. We got promoted and when I found out that Wigan wanted me, I was over the moon. I believed it was going to be a great move, something that would be good for my career. Unfortunately, it proved not to be. It was a tough five or six months and, like I said, when this chance arose I grabbed it with both hands. We were having a bad time on the pitch. They were some great players there and a lot of people say they can’t understand why they are in that position. It’s hard to put your finger on it. Putting that to one side, I’m now a Middlesbrough player and I’m relishing the challenge here. First and foremost, I know how big a club this is. Watching from afar, the style of play is really encouraging. That excites you. I’m a midfielder that likes to play football so to be coming into a team like this is really exciting.

Forshaw is just the latest player to join the brain drain or, less charitably, fire sale from Wigan and follows Callum McManaman, Roger Espinoza, Ben Watson and Shaun Maloney out of the exit door from the DW Stadium. Either they are clearing the decks and ridding themselves of all their prime sellable assets and top earners in preparation for a rocky road ahead and likely relegation to the First Division, or this is Malky Mackay’s last gasp effort to build a team in his own image that will keep them in the Championship.

As for Forshaw I hoped that he would realise that he would benefit from another year of seasoning at Brentford but his comments above make it clear that he did not expect us to perform as well as we have done and his head was turned and he felt that he was bettering himself by virtue of his move to Wigan.

Once Forshaw had made it clear that he wanted to leave and that his mind was made up, I really admired the way we handled a difficult situation that could easily have turned nasty, as we effectively put him on gardening leave, isolated him from the rest of the squad and concentrated solely on extracting the maximum value for him from Wigan. The deal was fiddly and protracted, and if we are to believe the rumourmongers, involved Wigan negotiating away the 50% sell-on clause we had with Everton, and all ended happily. We received top dollar for a young player who had cost us nothing and Wigan won the services of an exceptional talent.

What’s happened since hasn’t gone totally according to the script. We have gathered strength and momentum and barely missed him given our undoubted strength in depth in midfield and Forshaw surprisingly struggled to make any impact in an underperforming Wigan team and was in and out off he team. He was stationed in front of his back four when we played at Wigan and looked a mere shadow of the dominating presence that we had been accustomed to see at Griffin Park.

I can understand his desire to leave us even if I don’t entirely agree with it and despite the temporary upset it caused us I suspect and indeed hope that the move to Middlesbrough revitalises him as Forshaw is far too good a player to be struggling to make his mark in the Championship.

As it is he is still simply one more example of the Curse of Griffin Park and muddled thinking. Adam Forshaw is one more in an ever-growing list of players who thought the grass would be greener away from Griffin Park.

Simon Moore’s career has stood still over the past couple of seasons and he has played far fewer games than his talent has warranted. He is more than young and good enough to come again but he needs to play regularly at Championship level, something that would have happened had he remained at Bremtford.

Harry Forrester is the saddest case of all as Brentford and Doncaster have passed each other like ships in the night and, despite his gifts, he is now no more than an injury prone winger playing for an average First Division club who bursts into life and illuminates matches with his sheer ability far too infrequently. He made an cataclysmically poor decision to leave Brentford and it is one that I suspect haunts him to this day when he looks ruefully at how far we have progressed and how his career has gone backwards and become stymied.

A couple of months ago I would have added Clayton Donaldson to the Hall of Shame as both he and his new club, Birmingham City had both started the season slowly, but the Blues have recovered under Gary Rowett’s inspired leadership and Clayton has scored an impressive ten league goals and now resembles the dynamic, powerful leader of the line that we so enjoyed throughout his three years at Griffin Park.

The message to me is clear. Footballers have a short and unpredictable career and it is quite understandable that they seek to better themselves and maximise their earnings. But sometimes the seemingly obvious move is not in their long term best interest and it is best to simply do nothing.

I hope that our current crop of stars have learned from the examples above that given our rapid rise up the totem pole, our increasing profile, the quality of the coaching they receive  and the way in which we play the game, Brentford is a fitting and appropriate place for them to hone, develop and show off their burgeoning abilities and that the grass is not necessarily greener elsewhere.

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Perception v Reality – 11/1/15

seI have just spent a fascinating  four minutes and forty-five seconds listening to the post match thoughts of Rotherham manager Steve Evans after Brentford’s hard fought and narrow one-nil victory yesterday. And very interesting they were too.

Perhaps it would be best if I simply note down what he said in an interview that took place very soon after the final whistle, admittedly at a time when emotions were still running high and there had not been a cooling off period or any time for any serious reflection or reasoned analysis of the game beyond the immediate evidence of his own eyes. We can then attempt to look at his comments more objectively and I will try and dispense with my innate Brentford supporting bias when I reflect on the truth or otherwise of his assertions.

1. Everyone in the ground knows that we should have been three-nil up at halftime.

Rotherham had the strong wind in the favour in the first half and we tried to play a high line and our offside trap let us down on several occasions.

Matt Derbyshire was mobile and lively for the visitors and timed his runs well to get in behind our defence, but he had one major drawback for a striker – a total inability to hit a barn door with his shots on goal. He looked nothing more than what he is, a striker totally bereft of confidence who has scored the grand total of one measly goal in the League Cup all season.

He dithered and let Button smother at his feet, allowed Tarkowski to dispossess him far too easily when in on goal, shot wastefully over and then passed to nobody when he had the opportunity of a close range shot from a tight angle.

Smallwood also broke the offside trap after a well-timed run, and had a wonderful chance but failed to put his foot through the ball when totally unmarked and directly in front of goal, and the ball dribbled through embarrassingly to a relieved Button. That was a lucky let off!

Several other long range efforts threatened the crowd behind the Ealing Road goal more than the Brentford keeper.

Brentford were second best for the first half an hour of the game, slow to react and lacking in energy, tempo and confidence. Their normal slick passing was conspicuous by its absence and they sorely missed the spark and vision of the injured Alan Judge.

That being so, from time to time our passing combinations and skill on the ball created holes in the Rotherham defence. Moses Odubajo, who mesmerised the visitors for the entire game, breezed past two defenders and his cross was met by Stuart Dallas whose header might have been goal bound but hit Jonathan Douglas and inched past the near post.

Alex Pritchard’s trickery and skill on the ball took him past a defender and gave him the space for a measured lob which went narrowly over the crossbar, and his late free kick whistled past the post with Adam Collin a mere spectator. Andre Gray did have the ball in the net from Jota’s pass but was just offside.

So on the balance of play Rotherham did create the better chances in the first half and Smallwood should have gobbled up his opportunity. A one-nil scoreline in their favour would not have flattered them but it was obvious as the half progressed that the Bees were growing into the match.

Veracity Verdict (out of five)3 as he loses two marks for exaggeration.

2. They got a fortuitous goal coming from the goalkeeper shanking a ball.

Firstly let’s give Steve Evans some credit as he admitted that it was a great strike by Stuart Dallas, and he is also correct in that David Button hit a hasty clearance under pressure which went low and hard straight to the feet of Jake Bidwell just over the halfway line. So, yes, the pass was fortuitous but let’s face it, Brentford had quite a lot to do to score from there and they did it extremely well.

Bidwell, Pritchard and Dallas exchanged slick passes down the touchline and the full back’s centre was met by Jota whose low volley was blocked by a defender straight to Dallas who had anticipated cleverly and made ground to the edge of the area, and his instant falling right footed volley from twenty yards was beautifully struck and far too good for Collin who managed to get a despairing hand to the shot which was perfectly placed into the corner of the net.

So I will give Evans a Veracity Verdict of 2 as Button’s clearance could have gone anywhere, but went straight to where Bidwell invariably positions himself as a potential target for his goalkeeper’s clearances. Rotherham then had several opportunities to defend against the goal but were outsmarted by our skill, movement, passing ability and the eventual lethal strike from Dallas who has now scored six goals this season in all competitions and deserves far more credit than he gets.

3. It was the save of the season for me. If he makes one like that then he would not be playing for Brentford would he?

Making allowances for his tangled and tortured English, the message is clear. Evans feels that his team was robbed of their just desserts by David Button’s fantastic late save from a close range Paul Green header that seemed bound for the roof of the net before the giant keeper arched backwards to tip the ball over.

It certainly was a wonderful reflex save and the ball seemed as though it had gone past him before he managed to stretch out a long right arm and turn the ball over the crossbar in less time than it takes to write this sentence.

But save of the season? Not for me as I think it was easily bettered by his miraculous tip over from Lee Novak of Birmingham, who had a free header at goal from almost under the cross bar.

Button has improved dramatically over the course of the season and we have almost got to the stage where we expect him to pull off seemingly impossible saves as a matter of course, so I will give a Veracity Verdict of 3.

4. They’ve had a bit of a football battering today. We’ve out-passed them and outplayed them and dominated the game for long spells.

Well, I would agree that we were tentative and immobile early on and Rotherham were sharper in the challenge and created the better chances in the first half, but it was a different tale after the break. After we scored, confidence flooded back and Brentford spurned many chances for a match clinching second goal. Andre Gray was put clean through and fired wastefully against the keeper’s knee before Jota, forced onto his right foot, amazingly spooned the rebound over the bar with the goal gaping. Douglas was denied a tap in by a brilliant Wooton clearance close to the goal line, Pritchard hit the post with a bobbling long range effort with the goalkeeper nowhere, and Douglas had a late effort cleared off the line.

Rotherham huffed and puffed but created very few clear chances and Brentford should have been well out of sight before Button’s late match winning heroics from Green’s header.

Perhaps we should simply let the match statistics speak for themselves:

Brentford had a massive 66% of the overall possession, although previous defeats have demonstrated that it is what you do with the ball rather than possession for its own sake that wins matches. Over the course of the ninety-five minutes duration of the match, Brentford played a total of 612 passes with an impressive 78% passing success rate compared with Rotherham’s 319 and 58% respectively. Brentford managed fifteen shots with five on target and Rotherham had seventeen with only four troubling Button.

Those figures illustrate quite clearly that Brentford more than edged proceedings – they dominated them, and after the tentative opening minutes of the game when Rotherham failed to make their chances count, the home team were well on top.

Veracity Verdict – 0

5. Look at the three players we have pulled from the wilderness, Adam Hammill, Danny Ward and Jack Barmby. They’d play in the Brentford team, everyone of them.

Would they indeed? Adam Hammill is an established Championship player who has had a spell in the Premier League at Wolves but has failed to settle anywhere, has a conviction for assault and at twenty-six is unlikely to get much better. No thanks.

Danny Ward is more intriguing as he is a highly talented left winger who has so far failed to show his true potential. He looked a world beater when on loan at Swindon five years ago and at twenty-four he could still possibly justify the near one million pound fee that he commanded from Huddersfield, but again, I would pass.

Jack Barmby is far more of an unknown quantity. The son of Nick, he obviously comes from wonderful football genes and earned a place at Manchester United before moving to Leicester City after a decent loan spell last season at Hartlepool. He looked clever on the ball and troubled us early on with his movement. Of the three, he would be the one I would possibly take given his youth and development potential, but I do not think he would be anywhere near our first team at present.

Veracity Verdict – 0

6. His movement caused carnage in the Brentford defence.

Amazingly enough Evans is referring  to Matt Derbyshire who I have commented on earlier in this article. It must be said that he did lead the line effectively and took up good positions, made good runs and get behind our back four on several occasions. But carnage? Come on Mr Evans! I would refer you to a dictionary which defines the word as “the slaughter of a great number of people.” Did I miss something yesterday or is Steve Evans simply engaging his mouth again before exercising his brain?

Veracity Verdict – 0

7. Brentford are a quality side and have spent £10million on transfers and we have outperformed and outplayed them for long spells.

I would refer you to the answer to question four above concerning the second part of that assertion, and as for the first. Words simply fail me. Transfer fees are notoriously hard to estimate as they are largely undisclosed nowadays, but I have had a quick stab on the pack of a fag pack and I have gone through the entire squad, not just this season’s signings, and also included Will Grigg. My figures are entirely based on guesswork and rumours in the press and on social media, and I have no idea how accurate they may be. I have come up with a figure of around £5.5 million for the entire squad, but that includes fees paid in previous years for the likes of Tony Craig, Will Grigg, James Tarkowski, Toumani Diagouraga, Jake Bidwell and David Button. Obviously there are loan fees, agents’, signing on and relocation fees to add on top but it is clear that the figure plucked out of the air by Evans yesterday is wildly exaggerated. Brentford have also brought in substantial sums from the sales of Adam Forshaw, Simon Moore and Harry Forrester which have greatly reduced our net outlay.

Perhaps if Steve Evans had concentrated more on quality rather than quantity and not embarked on a wild trolley-dash that has seen him bring in well over twenty players this season he would not be sounding so bitter and envious about Brentford’s recruitment policy.

Veracity Verdict – 0

Thank heaven for Mark Warburton, who invariably tells it as it is and does not attempt to embellish, obfuscate or exaggerate. Supporters are far brighter than many people give them credit for, and football managers cannot pull the wool over their eyes if they expect to retain their credibility. Honesty is always the best policy.

Stepping Stone – 11/7/14

One of my real pleasures in life during the football season is to lie in bed on a Sunday morning reading the sports section of the Sunday Telegraph counting how many former Brentford players I can spot in the line ups of the other teams in the Premiership and Football League.

Does anybody else do the same as me or am I just a total sad sack who needs to get a life?

On second thoughts please ignore that question as I think I know the answer without being told.

I generally set myself a goal of discovering a set number of ex-Bees, generally around fifty, split between permanent signings and loanees.

With the rapid turnover of players over the past three years there is an increasing number of our former favourites now plying their trade elsewhere, even though sometimes I have to cheat to reach my target and include Shay Logan and Farid El Alagui from the Scottish Premier League.

The Premier League team sheets last season produced pretty slim pickings with Michael Turner and very occasionally Simon Moore the only candidates, bolstered by former loanees in Steve Sidwell, Saido Berahino and the wonderful Wojciech Szczesny. Oh, and Lewis Price too.

Their numbers will be boosted by Liam Moore and Jeffrey Schlupp next season and hopefully the names of Adam Forshaw, James Tarkowski and Jake Bidwell will not be added to that list until our dreams and fantasies are answered by the Bees reaching the promised land of the Premier League under their own steam.

Some of the names in the Championship bring back happy and even wistful memories, and will hopefully be revisiting Griffin Park in the near future.

Rhodes

The fawn-like promise that Jordan Rhodes demonstrated at the tender age of eighteen, culminating in his perfect hat trick at Shrewsbury and the thought that our current regime certainly would not have allowed him to leave Ipswich for Huddersfield without putting up a fight for his signature.

We might not have been able to hold onto him for long but we would have made a fortune when he left us.

What about the enigma that is Lewis Grabban?

He had outstayed his welcome at Millwall and he had two in and out loan spells at Griffin Park where he shone fitfully and at times demonstrated his true potential.

He was generally played down the right wing but in his last game for the club he partnered the speedy Schlupp up front in a pacy combination that terrified a static and cumbersome Huddersfield defence and shared four goals between them – a feat of generosity matched by our own porous back four!

Not too many complained when he was shown the door by the time that Uwe Rosler arrived at the club but his subsequent conversion to a devastating central striker who recently changed clubs for a three million pound fee has proved that perhaps our judgement could have been better – easy though it is to be wise after the event.

Grabban

Tom Adeyemi made a massive impact in his one season on loan at the club with his hard tackling and powerful lung-bursting box to box runs.

Our loss has proved to be Birmingham’s gain although hopes persist that we might not have seen the last of him in a Brentford shirt.

Ben Hamer couldn’t seem to stay away from Griffin Park and had three loan spells with us, becoming a firm fan favourite.

He finally established himself in the Charlton goal and now has the opportunity to play in the Premier League with Leicester City.

Harry Forrester’s name barely appeared on the Doncaster team sheet last season as his injury jinx struck with a vengeance and only time will tell whether his move was ill-judged.

He has talent to burn but he needs nursing and I can only hope that he recovers the sizzling form that he showed us spasmodically.

Maybe it’s also time for us to let go and stop sticking pins in his effigy?

Two massive favourites played on and off for Ipswich in Jay Tabb and Steve Hunt and I am full of admiration for their determination to make the most of their talent and have long and fruitful careers.

tabb

The Alex McCarthy who starred in goal almost every week for Reading can only be the twin brother of the hapless keeper who fumbled and stumbled through a desperately unimpressive and tentative loan spell at Brentford four seasons ago.

He conceded a gift goal early in his debut against Walsall and never really recovered – but look at him now – a prime example of the old adage that the game is as much about confidence as ability.

As the bar is raised at Griffin Park so many of our former players have extended their career in the lower divisions and tomorrow we will have a look at some of them too.

We will also examine the etiquette of how one should welcome back past heroes!