Tarky’s Tale – 26/1/15

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

Here is what he had to say:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James Tarkowski

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sitting With The Enemy – 13/12/15

Phil Mison used to do the commentaries on the Brentford match videos way back when in the days of Gary Blissett, Terry Evans and Keith Millen. He did a fine job but for all his on-air enthusiasm for the Bees he managed to conceal a deadly secret – he is and always has been a rabid Fulham fan – a revelation that might have seen him drummed out of Griffin Park had it become more widely known.

We have always stayed in touch over the years and he invited me to accompany him to yesterday’s match which I watched from the Hammersmith End, a solitary Bee in amongst a horde of Fulham supporters.

It was both interesting and illuminating to watch the game through their eyes and also observe the Brentford supporters – all five thousand of them – packed behind the opposite goal.

There is a feeling of muted anger, disappointment but also acceptance amongst the Fulham fans. They know that their team has massively underperformed over the last couple of years, that they have been landed with a series of managers who have been unable to turn things around and with the money expended upon the squad and the massive amount of talent within it they should at the very least be up and around the top of the Championship table and not languishing down amongst the also-rans.

But nobody seemed to get too worked up about it, they gently seethed in the wind and rain and politely put up with the multitude of inadequacies that they were forced to observe throughout the afternoon without overly criticising or subjecting any of their players to much vitriol or abuse.

Their supporters finally came alive when they scored and near the end of the match when the dangerous McCormack and Dembele were combining dangerously and looked as if they might earn their team an unlikely and totally undeserved victory.

There was no real feeling of emotion or anticipation or that we were at a West London derby match being played against a deadly rival where bragging rights were at stake and that the result really mattered and a defeat would cause the remainder of the weekend to be spent in a fog of despair.

The Brentford team and fans were barely abused, noticed or even referred to, we were simply another in a long series of teams outplaying their heroes on their own home turf and the only time the Fulham fans became really animated was to jeer when the Bees supporters celebrated in vain when Jota’ s late effort was controversially disallowed.

This was in massive contrast to the Brentford supporters who could be heard quite clearly from the other end of the pitch as they provided their team with nonstop encouragement and vocal support for the entire game.

That is the difference between the two clubs. We are on the way up and are revelling in the excitement of our journey and rejoice in the anticipation of even more triumphs and glories to come.

Fulham are merely faded glory and look likely to drift rudderless and fall even further until somebody eventually gets tight control over them and an inspirational and competent manager succeeds in clearing out the plethora of deadwood and getting the rest of their overpaid and underperforming former stars to put in a shift every week and, more importantly, learn how to defend.

Brentford looked a compact, well organised and talented team and in truth should have come away with all three points but they shot themselves in the foot by conceding a daft equalising goal close to halftime and by missing three golden opportunities to retake the lead early in the second half when they were totally dominating the game.

Fulham scored a well taken second goal totally against the run of play but, miracle of miracles, the Bees equalised almost immediately from a beautifully worked corner before seeing their celebrations stifled when Jota’s close range header seemed to have regained the lead but was adjudged to have been narrowly offside.

Diagouraga and Woods worked tirelessly to win possession back from a talented but immobile Fulham midfield which out passed but never outworked Brentford. Judge buzzed around as normal providing energy and inspiration in equal doses, Canos burst into life spasmodically before being booked for an unnecessary and overzealous tackle and praise is due to Kerschbaumer who finally looked comfortable and not out of place in the first team and produced a hard working display in which he used the ball effectively and could also have broken his goalscoring duck had his first half effort not been blocked and the keeper not got down well to save his close range poke after the break.

McCormack and Dembele are without doubt the two best strikers in this division and they were a real handful, particularly when they were joined by Woodrow and Smith late on and Fulham fielded a four pronged attack which stretched our defence to its limits. We coped well with Bidwell immense and inspirational, twice blocking goal bound efforts right in front of goal when Fulham threatened late on.

O’Connell and Tarkowski stood up well to the tough challenge they faced but Tarky lost concentration twice and his errors were extremely costly as he headed a McCormack cross almost out of Button’s hands into his own net and he also allowed Dembele to run off him onto McCormack’s subtle flick and he was outpaced and was unable to get in a tackle before the ball was despatched past Button for a goal of brilliant simplicity. Yennaris was as efficient and competent as normal and Button made one stupendous save from a rasping McCormack free kick.

Brentford took time to grow into the game but took the lead when Bidwell’s run into the area after a sweeping move was ended by a poorly timed tackle by Richards. The Fulham fans belatedly emerged from their torpor and bemoaned the decision. Never a foul and outside the area was their one-eyed verdict but the television evidence was damning and Judge took responsibility for converting our long-overdue first spot kick of the season and scored calmly and confidently.

Fulham had a lot of the ball but did little with it as we pressed them relentlessly and Parker and O’Hara never looked a convincing or effective pairing for our hosts and but for Tarkowski’s aberration we would have been in front at the interval.

Bidwell almost won a second penalty straight after the break but this time Fredericks timed his tackle perfectly. Woods frustratingly scuffed his shot when well placed and Lonergan saved well from Kerschbaumer and quite brilliantly from Vibe before Fulham scored with their first effort on target in the second half.

We responded quickly when Bidwell’s perfectly placed corner was flicked on by Tarkowski at the near post and converted jubilantly by Jack O’Connell for his first goal for the club. Swift and Jota made a real impact as substitutes and it was Swift’s centre that Jota flicked home with his head for what we all felt was the likely winner, but the assistant referee thought differently and all available evidence would suggest that he got the decision hopelessly wrong.

The last quarter of the match was frenetic with non-stop action and the game ended with Fulham pressing hard, but the Bees held out and the honours were even. Brentford are now a competent and above average Championship team with aspirations to progress far higher than that.

The foundations have been laid, there are yet more talented players to come back from injury and suspension and challenge for a place on the bench – let alone the starting eleven, and we look likely to get even stronger as the New Year approaches.

I enjoyed my afternoon sitting with the enemy and appreciated that I was allowed to walk directly towards Hammersmith after the match rather than being sent on the same circuitous detour endured by every other Brentford fan, but I know which one of the two clubs is going somewhere fast – and it certainly isn’t Fulham.

A Good Day – And Almost A Perfect One – 1/12/15

A day jam packed with action and activity has left every Brentford supporter exhausted and exhilarated and extremely excited about the future prospects for the club.

As expected Walsall manager Dean Smith was named as Head Coach after a compensation deal was agreed with his former club, whom he served with distinction for almost five years.

He will be joined by his assistant, Richard O’Kelly, which as far as I am concerned is almost as good news as the appointment of Smith as they work hand in glove and O’Kelly has gained an exceptional reputation as a gifted and innovative coach.

Lee Carsley will remain until the end of the year to help in the transition process however it is expected that he will then leave the club with our thanks and gratitude ringing in his ears for a difficult job wonderfully well done.

Just to recap, when he took over as interim Head Coach the Bees were languishing in nineteenth place and were on the road to nowhere. Impeccably assisted by the popular Paul Williams, they worked in tandem to turn the situation around and his back to basics approach worked a treat and restored belief to what was a faltering squad and his achievements were deservedly recognised with the award of the Manager of the Month Trophy for October.

He was in charge for ten games which produced a total of five wins and seventeen points and he relinquishes control with Brentford a mere three points shy of the playoffs and looking firmly upwards rather than down.

Dean Smith and Richard O’Kelly were amongst the crowd at Bolton last night but they will take charge today and they both must be delighted with the quality of the material they have been left to work with and further develop.

Paul Williams is away on England duty at the present time and ideally his future will also be decided shortly and we all hope that there will be a role for him at the club within the new management structure given his popularity with the players and the beneficial affect he has had on them.

Brentford came away from the Macron Stadium with one point when three really beckoned had good chances not been squandered by Lasse Vibe on two occasions and John Swift. Jake Bidwell too came within inches of scoring that long awaited and elusive first goal when his header drifted just wide after he was found quite brilliantly by Alan Judge, as usual the best and most inventive player on the pitch.

In truth this was a frustrating game for the Bees who interspersed some breathtaking one touch football which had the commentators on Sky Sports purring with appreciation, with a lot of careless passing and squandering of possession which allowed a limited but forceful and committed Bolton team back into a match which the Bees should have put firmly beyond them. We really let them off the hook and have only ourselves to blame.

As is customary, some of the defending was casual in the extreme with Tarkowski doing his best to gift Bolton another goal from a short back pass with barely a minute on the clock. He and O’Connell defended manfully but this was a match for the suspended Harlee Dean, and the home team outmuscled us at set pieces and always looked dangerous when the ball was in the air and won far too many second balls with Woods, in particular being regularly muscled off the ball. The equaliser was soft with a cross half cleared by Woods and returned with interest by Danns with a bouncing volley through a crowd of players from just outside the penalty area which squeezed in off the post.

John Swift scored with a Premier League quality curling effort from long range after he and Judge had combined beautifully and he was booked for diving on the stroke of halftime when a penalty kick could just as easily have been given – another major turning point.

Pretty much every fifty:fifty decision went the way of Bolton but they also had more possession than us, a measure of how careless we were with the ball, with possession conceded with monotonous regularity.

And yet from time to time we got it right and tore holes in a porous home defence as we broke with pace and menace. Vibe worked hard but missed his two chances. He had too much time when sent clear before the break by Bidwell and Amos stretched out a long leg to save, and then, near the end, after some scintillating one touch play had torn the defence wide open, Vibe could not beat the keeper who saved well at full stretch.

Button too made a crucial point blank save from the lurking Ameobi when a loose ball fell his way and a game that we could have won comfortably had we scored that elusive second goal ended all square.

We are so close to being an exceptionally good team as our vision and skill on the ball is often of Premier League class. Judge and Swift were always on the same wavelength and worked well together and Diagouraga won every loose ball and also survived a horror challenge from Mark Davies that surely merited a red card from a benign referee who totally shirked his duty.

Yes of course we have weaknesses and shortcomings. We are susceptible to high balls and set pieces and teams that try and overpower us, but try and play football with us and we are likely to come out on top.

We are also profligate in front of goal and miss far too many chances and let teams off the hook. We are lacking in quality up front until Djuricin returns and rely far too much on our midfield to score goals.

That being said McEachran, Colin and Jota are close to returning to fitness and might be followed soon after by Djuricin and even Lewis Macleod so we are going to get even stronger as the months progress.

A mere two months ago we were looking down the barrel of a gun with the bottom three beckoning and the locals muttering and beginning to fear the worst. Changes were needed and they were made and the team now is fitter, far more solid and confident, moves the ball from back to front far quicker and is much better equipped for the demands of the Championship.

Maybe another playoff campaign is going to be a step too far this season, but who knows? Dean Smith will be sure to want to make his mark and put his own stamp on things, but I suspect that he will not make too many fundamental changes as the way that we set up and play totally suits the players that we currently possess, as is evidenced by the quality of our football, the results that we are achieving and the fact that this is patently a happy camp at the present time.

Three points tonight would have made this a perfect day but despite the two dropped points, things are going remarkably well at the moment and I fully believe that they will be getting even better quite soon once Messrs Smith and O’Kelly get to work.

Nothing Ventured! – 29/9/15

After all the off the field drama of the last twenty-four hours I was hoping to write an article that concentrated solely on the football and our first match under the new Head Coach, Lee Carsley, but in truth there is very little to say about Tuesday night’s drab and dismal two-nil home defeat to a distinctly average Birmingham City team, and even less if I do not want to be particularly gloomy or negative in my comments.

This was a tepid, desperately disappointing and below-par performance where we created little and there was no pace, energy, passion or spark of ingenuity and even less creativity about our game. We played pretty passing football in our own half where the ball was sent back and forth interminably between the defenders and we got nowhere. There was no cutting edge and the entire team lacked the confidence to try and play through two banks of four Birmingham players who funnelled back and simply waited patiently for the ball to be given to them by our players which they did with monotonous regularity.

Our possession figures approached seventy percent but this was a meaningless statistic as the overwhelming majority of our ball retention took places in areas where we were never going to hurt the opposition. The team lined up in a 4-3-1-2 formation but as has been the case all season, the midfield was desperately disappointing with Diagouraga attempting to hold things together without much success and Kerschbaumer flitted in and out of the game. Ryan Woods finally earned his first start and the best that can be said about him was that he was neat and tidy and rarely gave the ball away but he never hurt the opposition or created an opportunity. We desperately missed a creative dynamo playing behind the front two who could stretch the opposition and run at them and ideally make things happen.

Djuricin and Vibe played as the strike duo and the Austrian found space on a couple of occasions in the first half without getting any real power into his shots and the closest they came was when Vibe streaked clear down the left channel after the break but shot straight at the keeper with the unmarked Djuricin screaming for the ball to be squared to him in front of a gaping goal.

In truth we lacked any pace or cutting edge and looked lightweight and both strikers were easily smothered out of the game.They never managed to hold the ball up although the service they received was spasmodic at best and the ball generally sailed three feet over their head rather than at their feet.

Button made one excellent save from a close-range header but the game seemed to be drifting ever so slowly to a nil-nil draw which in the scheme of things might not have been the worst result in the world as it would have meant that we would have earned our first clean sheet of the season, but it wasn’t meant to be. As it was, all that we could celebrate on the night was for the first time all season going into the break drawing at home and not losing. Big deal!

The defence finally dozed off at a right wing corner with twenty minutes to go and Morrison easily outjumped O’Connell to score with a thumping header. Perhaps the players were distracted by an injury to McCormack just before the corner came in and we seemed to lack concentration and were punished yet again at a set piece. Alan’s game went to pieces after that, hampered as he was by his injury and it was surprising that he was not replaced by Josh Clarke, unused on the bench. As it is Donaldson’s theatrical collapse earned McCormack his fifth yellow card of the season and an enforced rest next Saturday.

Surely there would now be a spark and a reaction as we sought an equaliser, but instead of going hell for leather and chasing the game we went even further into our shell. Our talisman, Sergi Canos was tightly marked and was totally unable to work his magic. As the game drifted towards its welcome close Alan Judge suddenly came alive, won a ball that was never his on the right flank, jinked inside his man and his brilliant rising left footed effort from the edge of the penalty area looked bound for the top corner, but, as is invariably the case this season, the luck was not with us and the ball hit the top of the crossbar and flew over.

To add insult to injury, Gleeson threaded the ball between our absent defenders deep into injury time and Clayton Donaldson bundled the ball home for the second goal, celebrated with silence as the hushed crowd quickly left the stadium, fed up, bemused and depressed by what they had witnessed.

The team has lost its Mojo and looked utterly drained of any confidence. I would have suspected that they would have upped their game given the appointment of the new Head Coach but if anything the performance went down a gear rather than up and Lee Carsley has much to do if the slide is to be arrested.

His post match revelation that he probably expects to leave the club at the end of the season and does not want the job on a long-term basis will also do nothing to raise spirits and expectations on what had already turned out to be a dismally disappointing evening and this massively negative announcement was the final kick in the teeth for Brentford supporters who are perhaps at their lowest ebb for quite some time.

There is, as we know, a toxic mixture of far too many new overseas players of unproven quality lacking leadership and trying to bed into a new team playing in an unfamiliar league with the established stars either sold or on the injury list.

Tonight the passion, invention and joy seemed to have been squeezed out of the entire Brentford team and for the first time in perhaps three years I was bored and distracted and found my attention wandering and my eyes glancing at my watch so sparse was the entertainment value being provided by a team seemingly afraid of its own shadow and unprepared to risk making a mistake by attempting anything ambitious or unexpected. This is how badly a team can be affected when it totally loses confidence.

Perhaps the evening was best summed up by Gogia, returning from his injury break and instantly hammering the ball miles behind the goal when shooting from a ridiculously impossible angle in the final moments of the match with his team mates queuing up in the penalty area and waiting for a simple cross which never arrived.

I have deliberately avoided using the R word until this point but for the first time this season I have to say that relegation would be an inevitability if performances of this ilk are repeated on a regular basis.

There were no redeeming features and there is absolutely nothing positive that can be said about tonight so I will end here and just hope for a massive improvement on Saturday when we need to demonstrate a completely different attitude if we are to have much chance of success at Derby County. You have to take calculated risks to win and tonight we simply played it safe and received our just reward.

Time For Changes – 27/9/15

Now that really hurt!

Any defeat is upsetting but some are far more so than others and yesterday’s loss to Sheffield Wednesday certainly came into that category.

I left Griffin Park with an awful sick feeling in the pit of my stomach and the walk back to my car was a long and depressing one.

I have long since learned to put defeats behind me very quickly if I am to retain my sanity and maintain any semblance of a normal family life, but last night it was difficult for me to do so given the circumstances of the loss.

The first half was pretty much a mirror image of every home game this season. A slow start, marked by a total lack of incision and penetration with few chances created and the midfield never getting forward to join and support the isolated Djuricin with Vibe wasted and ignored on the right wing. Judge was our only creative outlet with Toumani and McCormack both sitting deep and Kerschbaumer invisible.

The visitors finally realised that we were really not up to much, and slowly took control with Bannon elegant in midfield and the Giant Haystacks figure of Nuhiu their fulcrum in attack. Dean marshalled him well but when the delivery is right he is almost impossible to stop and he hit the bar with a fearsome header from a corner.

Button saved well twice as we came under the cosh whilst Westwood was totally untested at the other end. The only rays of hope for the Bees were the two fullbacks. Josh Clarke overcame a nervous start but once he settled down he gave us a real attacking outlet on the right. Jake Bidwell too did the same on the other flank and he came the nearest for the Bees when Judge picked him out with a lovely curling cross which he met with a volley which kissed the crossbar as it flew over.

When the goal came for the visitors it was really no surprise given their extra cutting edge but again, it was a soft one which highlighted our general lack of awareness. A long punt from the keeper was played back by Nuhiu to Bannan wide on the left. He then made a wonderful positive run into the area losing Dean as he did so. Tarkowski dozed and saw the danger too late as Bannan’s perfect through ball set the striker in on goal. Tarky challenged from the wrong side and it was an obvious penalty.

Bidwell was covering behind him and might even have averted the danger had Tarkowski not committed himself. Surely a yellow card at worst, but the referee Geoff Eltringham dithered, vacillated and allowed the Wednesday players and their vociferous bench to get in his ear and after a long and interminable delay and conversation with his assistant the red card was produced and finally Nuhiu scored from the spot. A triple whammy for the Bees on the day – penalty, goal, red card and Tarkowski will now also face a one game ban unless we are able to make a successful appeal against the decision.

We managed to get into the halftime break only one goal in arrears but in truth the game resembled nothing more than an average Championship team playing a mediocre Division One outfit. We had effort and hard tackling in abundance but we demonstrated no craft or cutting edge in what was an extremely poor and vapid first half performance.

O’Connell came on to boost the defence and it was no surprise to see Kerschbaumer sacrificed. He has started every league game so far this season so I wonder exactly what it is that the coaches and analysts are seeing in him that is being missed by pretty much every Bees supporte? He has obvious ability on the ball, can see a pass and makes decent late runs into the area but he is being patently outmuscled and overmatched at present and his influence on games is, quite frankly, utterly nonexistent. The matches simply seem to pass him by and without meaning to be cruel the closest he came to an opposition player yesterday was during the pre-match handshake when he and his fellow Austrian, Nuhiu, enveloped each other in a bear hug, otherwise he was nowhere to be seen.

I appreciate that the more he plays, the faster he will hopefully become acclimatised to the Championship but at the moment he is a total passenger and given our current plight we cannot afford to carry anyone who is not fully pulling his weight. Our midfield is unbalanced, outnumbered, outmatched and outplayed with monotonous regularity and much of that is due to the fact that McCormack and Diagouraga are occupied in their defensive duties and neither of them are likely to open up opposition defences.

Ryan Woods came on for the final push and impressed from his first touch. He is well used to the hustle and bustle of the Football League, if not the demands of the Championship, but he looks a far, far better bet than Konstantin. He plays with his head up, pushes forward to support the attack and rarely wastes a pass. It is quite baffling why he has not been given his opportunity to date. He must start on Tuesday instead of Kerschbaumer but that is a decision for Duikhuizen.

We have another home game on Tuesday and it will be instructive to see the team that Duikhuizen selects. He has proven to be an effective coach who is not afraid to change things when they are not working – and our current formation really isn’t doing so! I would hope that he takes heed of yet another appalling first half performance at home and that we do not start with the customary ineffective 4-3-3 setup which means that Vibe is never in the game and unable to play close enough to Djuricin who is currently living off scraps.

At the interval yesterday I reflected on the Birmingham match early last season when we lost Tony Craig in similar circumstances and were trailing deservedly at the break. I took comfort from the fact that Birmingham sat back in the second half and allowed us to seize the initiative and we were able to rescue a point. Maybe Sheffield Wednesday would become similarly complacent and feel that they had already completed the job?

My hopes and prayers were answered and with Judge moved into a more central role where he dictated play, and Vibe finally playing closer to Djuricin we took control. Wednesday were forced backwards and were rarely an attacking threat in the second half. O’Connell was a revelation, giving us balance on the left side of defence alongside the imperious Harlee Dean. He also showed an unsuspected ability to hit accurate long passes and even hit a thirty-yarder not too far wide.

We now have a welcome problem in central defence with four excellent players competing for two spots. Dean is an automatic choice and a reformed and far more mature character and we must get his new contract sorted and recognise and reward him for the progress he has undoubtedly made in recent months. Tarky was imperious at Leeds and is the best creative option we possess but he loses concentration, as was shown yesterday, and both Barbet and O’Connell are now breathing down his neck.

Who will play on Tuesday if the red card is not rescinded? Your guess is as good as mine and I would be happy with either Barbet, so impressive against Preston, or O’Connell. If I had to choose I would go with Barbet as he has far more ability on the ball than O’Connell and we need somebody at the back who can ensure that we maintain possession.

Despite our second half dominance, chances were few and far between. Djuricin met a beautiful Bidwell cross flush on his forehead and his header crashed against the bar but he had moved too soon and the flag was up. Judge’s free kick from wide out on the left evaded everybody straining for the ball in a crowded six yard box and pinged against the post, but again, more surprisingly this time, the flag was up from an assistant referee who seemed hell-bent on doing his best to frustrate our efforts.

Bidwell is surely going to break his goalscoring duck shortly and he saw the whites of Westwood’s eyes before his shot was blocked by the keeper. We were knocking at the door but had to rely on Button making a fabulous low save from a long range effort from lithe substitute Joao which kicked up off the turf before being pushed away by the straining keeper.

Button’s next contribution was equally effective as he was first to a loose ball near the halfway line and picked out Judge with a perfect fifty yard lobbed pass and Alan brought the ball under instant control and sent a sublime curling effort just inside the far post for a well-deserved equaliser.

Media staff member and Programme Editor Mark Chapman also deserves mention for his manic celebration, beautifully caught by the television cameras, which showed just how much he cares!

Now the force was with the Bees and the game seemed to turn on its head when substitute left back Helan received two crass and stupid yellow cards for fouls on the marauding Clarke and Canos. The Bees turned the screws and an unlikely winner seemed on the cards. Canos tore their left flank apart and was unstoppable. He ran and jinked but never overplayed and then the moment came. He twisted his way to the byline and pulled the ball back perfectly to the unmarked Vibe who surely had to score. He had time to think and maybe even control the ball but his instant volley raged over the bar.

On such moments are games won and lost as deep into injury time another frenetic attack broke down, a swift counter attack saw the ball played towards Joao, he miscontrolled, and the ball bounced off the helpless O’Connell’s back right into the path of the marauding forward who was not to be caught. He finished impeccably and the game was lost in an instant.

A point would have felt like three given the way we had started the game and our one man disadvantage for so long a period and perhaps we chased the game too hard once we had equalised and left ourselves open and too exposed at the back. That is a mere quibble but the fact remains that we lost against a very average team and we gave ourselves an uphill task and far too much to do.

We have conceded first in all four home games, gone two down twice, and let in eight goals, or two goals per match. We have barely started any of the games until the second half when we already had a mountain to climb and reacted accordingly by changing our formation and approach. Vibe has been wasted out wide and Kerschbaumer has contributed little or nothing. These are in my view indisputable facts and for all the problems we face in terms of our current injury crisis they have to be addressed – and quickly too, if we are not to fall into the relegation zone.

We will probably more than hold our own once we get back the likes of Jota, but other injured players such as Macleod, Hofmann, Colin, Gogia and McEachran are still relatively or totally untried and unknown to us and, with the exception of Josh, are new to the English game and will need further time to settle down, reach full match fitness and find their feet. We therefore need to stay in touch and pick up points as and when we can until we manage to strengthen. This will need a change of personnel, style and formation when we play at home as we cannot keep having to come back from behind. We have trailed in every game this season bar one and it is proving to be too much of a handicap.

There is still talk around the club of maintaining the progress of last season. This is arrant nonsense and claptrap and we need to face facts. Until further notice we are in a relegation scrap, early days though it might still be. This is no time to be complacent or say that things will simply get better.

There is much that is out of our control but we still have to do far better with all the situations that we can influence. For all the good things that we did after the break, and the last second kick in the teeth, yesterday was a massively missed opportunity to pick up at least one point. Every point is crucial, even at this early stage of the season and there are immediate changes that need to be made – now.

One Week In – 18/8/15

Mark Croxford is a long-term and well-respected Brentford supporter and author who is an astute observer of the Brentford scene and he has produced a fascinating overview and his own personal viewpoint regarding our start to the season which was published yesterday on the Griffin Park Grapevine fans’ message board and Mark has kindly agreed to allow me to reproduce his article here as it deserves the widest readership possible:

One week in …
… and it’s far too early to make assessments, but here goes!

Our new Head Coach has shown naivety and bravery in equal measures over the course of the three games. I can’t say that’s entirely unexpected but Marinus’s success or failure will no doubt be somewhat based on how well he balances these two traits.

I wrote some weeks back that I felt that the Sporting Directors had not lived up to their summer promises and I still subscribe to that view, as so much emphasis was based on having a big squad allowing Dijkhuizen to be able to rotate … “we want so much more choice than last season, etc, etc.”

I know that injuries have hampered their efforts but – even allowing for the long-term losses of Bjelland, Jota and McEachran, we are still left with a squad of just nineteen (and that’s assuming Andre Gray stays). We have to assume that this season’s planning took place with the names of Hogan and Macleod on a separate piece of paper.

Ron Noades said little that I concurred with but I do recall one of his comments being that one should always assume that between ten to fifteen percent of the playing squad will be unavailable through injury at any one time. So that’s about par for the course then – the huge drawback being that this batch are predominantly long-term absentees. By the way, that figure of nineteen also includes the likes of Tebar, Yennaris and Saunders who we may not have expected to see play for us too often.

So how great an impact will all the injuries have on us? I reckon Bjelland is a massive loss. His brief forty minute display against Oxford was uninspiring to say the least, but he was clearly brought in to be the mainstay of a back four which was hoped and intended to be far less porous than last season. Can O’Connell and Barbet fill his boots? Who knows, but over the course of a whole season the prospect of one of these two talented but inexperienced youngsters playing such a key role is a big, big gamble. I don’t for one moment believe that anyone really expected Dean and Tarkowski to form our central defensive partnership for the start of the season and I’d be amazed, and frankly disappointed, if they are there for the duration.

Jota’s loss for up to four months is also a major blow. Aside from the entertainment value he provides, the goals he contributes are priceless. Personally, I don’t think his assists are anywhere near good enough – he has so much possession in dangerous areas but delivers such a small percentage of assists – but just look at last season’s goal-scoring credits. We scored seventy-eight goals in the Championship. Take away the thirty-seven goals netted by Jota, Pritchard, Douglas, Dallas and almost half have disappeared. If Gray’s sixteen were to go too, I reckon that’s practically three quarters of last season’s goals that need to be found from elsewhere!! I’m not saying it’s impossible to achieve, but what a monumental ask!

McEachran’s absence is a frustrating one. Maybe he was meant to be the holding midfielder and yet from the very, very limited view that we’ve had of him in preseason, he doesn’t look to be someone to provide the defensive shield that the back-four is crying out for. We’ve seen already that Toumani probably doesn’t play that role either and the failure to have acquired a player like Mokotjo might prove to be the biggest mistake of all.

What of the other newcomers who have so far remained fit and healthy? Gogia is a more exciting wing-man than Dallas but far less effective in providing a left-sided attacking/defensive partnership with Bidwell. That might change as he gets used to English football but will he be able to contribute the goals and assists that Dallas did? Hopefully so.

Kerschbaumer has got potential without doubt. So far he’s shown himself to be a willing worker and hard-runner but, and as is only to be expected in his early days, he alternates between impressive and invisible and does not influence the game in the way that Douglas was able to do. Maybe the loss of Douglas was inevitable and welcome off the field, but on the pitch his replacement is not obvious at the moment.

Yoann Barbet looks promising but it has to be remembered that this time last year, he’d never kicked a ball in anger in a first-team professional game so patience will be a necessary virtue in his development. 

Jack O’Connell looks the real deal – and it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that he’ll turn out to be the unexpected star of the season. He certainly played well on Saturday when he replaced Tarkowski – another addition to the injury list!

And so to the front men. The Andre Gray scenario changes so rapidly that by the time I’ve finished typing this, he might have gone elsewhere! If he does, I genuinely fear for the season ahead. It has taken him a year to develop into the player he is and ready-made replacements within budget may not exist.

Philipp Hofmann will score goals I believe, but maybe not as many as the tally that Gray notched last season. Lasse Vibe may score goals too, but he looks to be someone who firstly needs a bit more time to become accustomed to the pace and strength of Championship football and then needs to find a suitable role for himself within the team framework.

Going back to where I started and the activities of the Sporting Directors and the recruitment team, I can’t see much likelihood of a late influx of players to boost the ailing numbers, so perhaps this really will be a genuine season of transition and stability with the January window proving to be the busiest we’ve seen since the Andy Scott days.

I reckon the shopping list so far reads: a replacement for Bjelland (on and off the field), a strong and effective defensive midfielder (six steps up from Alan McCormack) and a true “number ten”  or playmaker as have we got anyone within the squad who can currently play that role effectively?

A couple of loans wouldn’t go amiss either – a wide player to cover for Jota’s absence and a left-sided player to compete with the only two currently at the club (Bidwell and Gogia).

And as for Andre Gray? Who knows what will happen and if so, when? But don’t forget all those goals that need to be made up! I’m not thinking about that any more – it’s too frightening.

Thanks, Mark for taking the time to provide so cogent and well thought through an article. He makes many good points in particular about the missing goals that we will have to replace from midfield as well as the potential implications of losing Andre Gray and as always he has carefully researched his facts before he makes his opinions known.

Personally I think that the jury is still out and that it is far too early to make any judgements about how this season will progress.

The Head Coach appears to favour a 4-3-3 formation and ideally to play Gray and Hofmann together. Will the extra goals that such an exciting attacking partnership provides, rather than last season’s lone striker policy, make up for the lack of defensive cover from midfield that was exposed as such a major weakness at Bristol City last Saturday? I have my doubts on the limited evidence to date.

The relentless procession of injuries has come as an unwelcome and unexpected blow, they have already hit us hard and their impact could well be long-term and far reaching. I remain hopeful that swift action will be taken in the transfer market to help redress the problems that Mark has so clearly outlined, but it remains to be seen, and perhaps this season will be far tougher than a lot of supporters have envisaged and in that case consolidation in the Championship should be regarded as acceptable progress in its own right and a triumphant progress to the giddy heights of the Premier League might have to wait for another year or so?

What does everybody else think? Please make your opinions known.

A Topsy-Turvy Day! – 16/8/15

Visiting a team that has just won promotion for their first home game in their new division is a journey always fraught with peril and the vagaries of the fixture list decreed that that was Brentford’s fate yesterday as the Bees attempted to beard Bristol City in their den.

Not unexpectedly after Tuesday night’s disaster against Oxford United, Marinus Dijkhuizen made eleven changes for the second match running, reverting to the same team that began against Ipswich Town the previous Saturday with the exception of Andre Gray replacing the injured Jota who is yet another addition to Brentford’s long-term injury list. I had previously remarked in my match preview how crucial it would be for the Bees to start well and silence the crowd and they obviously heeded my wise words and for a whole one hundred and fourteen seconds we totally dominated the proceedings and never gave the home team a look-in let alone a sniff at goal.

Job done, surely, but things then took a sudden turn for the worse when Button was pressurised and, shades of Sheffield Wednesday last season, Brentford gave up possession near halfway from his fly kick, Ayling ran with the ball, our entire midfield and defence evaporated and new signing Jonathan Kodjia was left with the time and space to slot the ball into the net for a well-worked goal from their point of view, but one of total disorganisation and incompetence from ours.

Our well laid plans had gone up in smoke and a long, tough afternoon seemed to be in prospect as the invigorated home team with their tails up and a rabid crowd screaming encouragement took total control. We had set up in a 4-3-3 formation with Gray and Gogia on the flanks and whilst they were supporting Hofmann, Gray, in particular was doing nothing to assist the beleaguered Alan McCormack who was constantly faced with his ultimate nightmare – two speedy players in Freeman and the overlapping Bryan running at him in tandem from deep. Our right side was lopsided and overwhelmed and all the danger came from the City left wing.

We were in deep trouble but somehow we regrouped and an incisive attack saw Diagouraga stride forward and slip Gray through on the left but his instant lobbed volley from the edge of the area was weak and poorly executed and even looked as if it was dropping wide before Ben Hamer, making his home debut for his new club made a total hash of his save and pat-a- caked the ball straight into the path of Alan Judge who was left with an open goal and he accepted the gift.

This unexpected equaliser did nothing to change the way the game was going as a rampant Bristol City simply battered us, creating chances at will as they waltzed through a non-existent midfield and defence and only a combination of Button’s saves and appalling finishing kept us level until a left wing corner was headed in comfortably at the near post by Aaron Wilbraham as our zonal marking system broke down and he got in between two straining defenders. Another shocking goal to concede and I would hope that our set-piece coach will also spend some time working on how best to defend corners as well as score from them.

Not content with two, Bristol City went close on several occasions to putting the scoreline well out of our reach as we continued to flounder and chase shadows in the heat. Ashton Gate was a cauldron and the Bees were simply trying to keep in the game when out of the carnage came salvation when, soon after the half-hour Luke Freeman launched himself into a ludicrous and totally unnecessary Kung Fu aerial challenge with Harlee Dean. The ball was at head height, but so was Freeman’s foot which poleaxed the Brentford defender and Keith Stroud for once took his time and consulted his assistant before eventually producing his red card.

The crowd seethed with anger and disbelief and the tide turned. McCormack was no longer pressurised and Bristol City fell back in disarray. Brentford took full advantage and equalised just before the interval when Bidwell and Judge kept possession well near the left corner flag and Judge curled the ball in perfectly and with Gray and Williams stretching for the ball it was deflected through the hapless Hamer’s legs into the net. Whose goal was it? Gray was awarded it initially but it was then debited to the defender however Alan Judge has also claimed it – another mystery to be solved.

The biggest mystery, though, was why Wilbraham did not suffer an identical fate to his team mate Freeman as his assault on Tarkowski left the Brentford defender with a smashed and broken nose, however this time the referee saw no evil.

The equaliser dashed the spirits of the home team and took the wind out of their sails and the second half saw a procession of Brentford possession and chances as the Bees turned the match on its head and totally dominated the proceedings. Button was forced into a decent save from Pack and there were a few flurries and breakaways but most of the action was at the other end.

Bidwell forced a decent save from Hamer with a long-ranger, Gray turned well and found space but skied his effort and McCormack also went close as Brentford used their extra man well and made Bristol City work hard and they soon ran themselves out in the energy sapping conditions. The goal had to come and it eventually arrived on the hour when Gogia and McCormack worked space on the right and the fullback’s low centre was hammered home by Gray – a man on a mission and looking twice the player he was last season.

He and Hofmann are beginning to forge an effective partnership and they combined well ten minutes later when the ball was played into Hofmann’s feet and he was far too strong for Williams as he turned the defender and swept the ball imperiously into the bottom corner for a goal of true international class.

The remainder of the game was played out quietly and efficiently by a Brentford team which had regained its mojo and played the ball around with growing confidence.

It is impossible to assess yesterday with any degree of accuracy or certainty. We won and scored four goals way from home. Gray and Hofmann impressed and were a constant danger. Judge too was a massive influence and is growing into his role as an advanced midfield playmaker and inspiration. Jack O’Connell also opened some eyes with a defensive performance of calmness, strength and composure when he replaced Tarkowski and McCormack recovered well and was a massive influence in the second half.

To counterbalance the positives, we could easily have been dead and buried if City had taken their early chances and if Freeman had not had his rush of blood. The midfield provided flimsy cover at best to a defence that was overrun early on and we lacked balance and organisation. Diagouraga grew into the game but Kerschbaumer is still finding his feet and the wingers need to understand and adhere to their defensive responsibilities as well as just bomb forward.

Given the appalling few days that the club had suffered both on and off the pitch and an ever-growing injury list that now sees the addition of Tarkowski and the loss of Jota for three to four months, the team showed tremendous grit and determination and no small amount of skill to recover from what looked like a desperate position.

The win is more than welcome as it will further build confidence and a sense of togetherness amongst a squad that is still settling down and is very much a work in progress. The Andre Gray situation also hangs over us like a sword of Damocles and in that regard the end of the transfer window cannot come soon enough. At the moment we simply cannot afford to lose him unless our hand is forced.

The new Head Coach heard his name being serenaded by the fans for the first time yesterday and he responded with a wave of acknowledement. That is good news too as a bond is beginning to be forged between him and the supporters. There is much hard work that is required over the coming weeks and I, for one, am delighted that Tuesday’s match has been postponed particularly given the lack of our current resources.

Three Development Squad players in Senior, Udumaga and Clarke found themselves on the bench yesterday – it was either them or pick somebody at random from the crowd. Maxime Colin will join the squad next week and hopefully Sam Saunders will also be fit for selection but fresh faces are needed to replenish our squad given the quite ridiculous number of injuries that we are currently suffering.

With four points from two games we now find ourselves wth an excellent platform to build from and with hard work, good management and some new blood we can soon settle down into a cohesive and effective unit.