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.

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Lull Before The Storm As Bees Prepare To Return To Action – 19/11/15

Preparations are well underway for Saturday’s attractive home fixture against Nottingham Forest and the Brentford squad will be full of confidence and raring to return to action after their enforced fortnight’s break.

That is not to say that they have had their feet up as they were subjected to a gruelling series of training and fitness sessions before they were given a well deserved few days off which allowed the foreign contingent to return home for a brief visit.

There was no rest for some, with Alan Judge, John Swift and Daniel O’Shaughnessy all involved with their respective international squads over the last week or so with Judge now playing for a place in the Eire squad which has qualified for next year’s European Championship Finals and Swift receiving his first heady taste of England Under 21 football which has hopefully whetted his appetite for more of the same.

Judge sounded particularly bright and chirpy in his Bees Player interview yesterday and he fully recognises and acknowledges that he needs to maintain the form he has shown recently if he is to spend next Summer in France as he so desperately wishes to do, and that can only be good news for us in the meantime.

In that regard I cannot remember the last time that a current Brentford player appeared in the finals of a major tournament such as the World Cup or European Championship and I well suspect that if Judge is named in the final squad, assuming of course that he is still at the club and perish the thought that he is not, that he will be the first Brentford player ever to do so.

Former Bees Brian Turner and Bill Slater played for New Zealand and England in the finals of the World Cup in 1982 and 1958 respectively and Hermann Hreidarsson came very close to qualifying with Iceland whilst still a Bee. Two more ex-Bees in Stuart Dallas and Will Grigg are also in line to play for Northern Ireland this Summer.

The squad has been strengthened with the return to full fitness of the evergreen Sam Saunders and Josh McEachran played half a game in last week’s friendly match against AFC Bournemouth and cannot be too far away now, with Jota and Max Colin hopefully shortly behind him.

I recently read a report that attempted to put a monetary value to the cost of player injuries in terms of wages, treatment, insurance premiums and the financial implications of fielding a weakened team. It was hardly surprising that Arsenal came out near the top of the list with their massive and ongoing injury list costing them a whopping twenty million pounds last season. The formula also highlighted that the less injuries you have, generally the better you perform with Premier League Champions Chelsea suffering the least number of injuries.

I therefore think that we have not paid Brentford nearly enough credit for the way that they have performed this season despite what can only be termed a crippling and seemingly never ending list of injuries that at one time affected nearly half the squad, including several star names.

We finally seem to be over the worst now, although I do not want to tempt fate but even now for every player we get back to full fitness, another one seems to be struck down. Our current healthy league position simply emphasises the quality and depth of the squad and maybe at some point fairly early in the New Year we will really have a selection problem when the majority of players return to fitness.

Talking about injuries, the news about Lewis Macleod and Marco Djuricin is not good and I would be surprised if we see either of them back in action before the New Year at the earliest.

That leaves the Head Coach – and don’t you worry I will come back to that complex situation very shortly – with a selection dilemma for Saturday’s match.

Lasse Vibe played well as a lone striker as a late substitute at Charlton and after Djuricin’s injury at Blackburn, scoring on each occasion and Philipp Hofmann did exactly the same at Wolves. Reassuring news, indeed, but I am more concerned about how they will fare as a lone striker at home when the opposition sits deep and packs its defence unlike the situation in the away games when the opposition was chasing the game and left huge gaps in their defence for us to exploit.

I would suspect that we will keep to our successful 4-2-3-1 formation which allows us to dominate the midfield rather than allow the two strikers to play together and it will therefore be up to whoever is picked from the start, and I think it will be Vibe, to demonstrate some upper body strength, vim and vigour, make intelligent runs and hold the ball up until the midfield can get forward to support him.

They have both had several months to settle down, find full fitness and become accustomed to the demands of the Championship and it is now up to them both to seize this opportunity as the squad and supporters alike are now relying on them to produce on a regular basis.

Alan Judge has demonstrated his sharpshooting ability in front of goal, scoring six times to date, which means that he has already doubled his tally for the whole of last season but we need Swift and Ryan Woods to step up to the plate too bearing in mind that Pritchard and Jota notched double figures last season and Douglas and Dallas were not too far behind them. We really need those extra goals from midfield and ideally Jota will supply some of them once he returns to action.

As you can see, I have made no mention of the back four as I have pretty much given them up as a bad loss in terms of their goal scoring potential and prowess.

Tarkowski was deadly from six inches in the last seconds against Ipswich and Bidwell is getting a fair bit closer with some of his efforts as he still attempts to break his goalscoring duck but despite the services of our Free Kick Coach our defenders either make the wrong run or the delivery is not up to scratch. I look back at the likes of Terry Evans and Micky Droy who caused havoc in the opposition penalty areas (as well as their own from time to time) and scored far more than their fair share of goals. Where are their like when we need them so desperately now?

Pep Clotet remains the elephant in the room.

Is he our preferred choice to become our new Head Coach? If that is the case, is he likely to agree to join us and if so, when? How long is Lee Carsley prepared to remain in his current role given his oft-stated antipathy to it? Can he even now be persuaded to stay until the end of the season? If he is replaced will there still be a role for him at the club? Could the powers that be have handled things any differently and gone public about what is currently going on?

These points and many more have been debated at great length both in my articles and on social media and who knows what will transpire, and when.

I have made my views perfectly clear.

  • Lee Carsley would be the ideal choice to remain as Head Coach given how well he has performed and the players’ response to him, but he has made it quite clear that he wants out as soon as possible
  • We are conducting a recruitment process as far under the radar as possible and the media leaks have not emanated from the Brentford end
  • No statement will be made until there is any firm news
  • Hopefully there will be firm news as soon as possible which will bring the current uncertainty to an end
  • Pep Clotet is an exciting option who comes highly recommended by the likes of Steve Coppell and he would fit in well with the management philosophy currently employed at the club
  • His appointment – as would anyone else’s, would be a gamble in terms of how he deals with the players and the myriad of coaching and support staff

Who knows how long it will take before there is anything more to say rather than mere speculation, but as supporters it is our right and privilege to have an opinion and air our views – and we have certainly done so!

Maybe now is the lull before the storm. Saturday’s match against an underperforming but improving Nottingham Forest team packed with big name players looms ever nearer and nothing must distract the squad and get in the way from their immediate priority which is quite simply to win the game.

Nothing else really matters.

Walking Wounded – 13/11/15

There was mixed news for supporters in Brentford FC Head of Medical Neil Greig’s Thursday update on the current injury situation. Let’s take it from the top.

Alan Judge has thankfully fully recovered from his hamstring strain which caused him to miss our last two matches – neither of which were won – which underlines just how valuable he is to the team. He has now joined the Republic of Ireland squad as they prepare for their crucial European Championship playoff clashes. Let’s just hope that they wrap him in cottonwool and that he returns to the club fit and well and refreshed and raring to go before next week’s match against Nottingham Forest. I doubt that he will be required to play in either of Eire’s next two matches but his time will come and he is desperately close to making his full international debut, an accolade that will be fully merited given his consistently brilliant performances for us.

Josh McEachran is back in training after recovering from his fractured foot and is currently working hard to regain full fitness having missed much of the preseason training regime. He is expected to play some part in today’s behind closed doors friendly match against AFC Bournemouth and all being well, should he suffer no adverse reaction, then we might well see him in the not too distant future. Josh is a real talent who should fit right in with the pass and move approach that we are currently employing and I cannot wait to see him successfully integrated back into the squad and finally make his long-awaited debut for us

Success in the Championship requires all of the old fashioned virtues of strength, organisation, tackling, pressing and fitness but the best teams also possess some game changers – players who can take a match by the scruff of its neck and singlehandedly influence its outcome with a piece of individual brilliance that brings about victory. Last season we had a plethora of such talent in Alex Pritchard, Alan Judge, Moses Odubajo, Andre Gray, Jota and Nick Proschwitz. OK, forget the last named – I was just checking that you were all still awake!

Things have been really different this time around as for various reasons we have lost three of our former inspirations, Jota has been hors de combat and Alan Judge has been left pretty much on his own to make things happen, although John Swift has recently demonstrated that he too is a real talent with an eye for an opening.

Jota contributed eleven goals and so much more to the team last season with his pace, vision and dribbling ability and in April his talent was recognised when he was named as one of FourFourTwo Magazine’s top forty Football League players of the season. He has not featured since the opening game of the season when he came out second best after a challenge by his erstwhile team mate Jonathan Douglas and his influence has been sorely missed.

The last three months have been equally frustrating for both him and us as he has been forced to undergo ankle surgery and then kick his heels on the sidelines but he is now due to return to team training next week and all being well it is hoped that he will take part in a friendly match within a couple of weeks.

Wouldn’t it be marvellous if he was fit enough to make his comeback against Fulham in the middle of next month given his two last minute goals against them last season? Perhaps that is too much of a fairy tale to come true – but who knows?

Maxime Colin is also close to recovery from his knee ligament injury and is also expected back fully fit by the middle of December. He too looked like he was going to develop into a real asset and will be welcomed back although Nico Yennaris has performed exceptionally well in his absence and will not give up his place without a fight.

Scott Hogan completed a successful reconditioning camp in Philadelphia last month and is also making encouraging progress and we can all live in hope that fortune will finally and not before time, shine down on him and that he will be able to resume his career, maybe even this season rather than next.

Record signing Andreas Bjelland is now undergoing rehabilitation after his knee surgery and is working towards his objective of returning to straight line running. he is not expected back until next season.

The major setback is to Lewis Macleod who had been progressing so well over the past two months and had impressed in a series of Development Squad matches and we were beginning to relish the thought of finally seeing our starlet in first team action. Unfortunately he sustained a small strain to the same hamstring last Friday, albeit to a different area, which prevented him from completing the game as planned.

Whilst the injury is felt to be minor no risks will be taken with him and he will be conservatively managed. Assuming that all goes to plan (and who knows if that will be the case given his continued ill fortune) I would doubt that he will be playing again this side of Christmas. We will all just have to be even more patient but I suspect that he will be well worth waiting for.

The news about Marco Djuricin, crocked at Blackburn last week is also not great as he has also injured his ankle ligaments. This seems to be a common injury nowadays but thankfully it appears that he does not require surgery. Even so it is doubtful whether he will be fit for at least a couple of months, and maybe even longer.

The key question is whether we can get by without him and rely upon Lasse Vibe and Philipp Hofmann to provide the goals that we need to continue our progress up the league. It might well be that we will be looking to bring in a loanee to help fill the gap as neither appears best suited to play the lone striker role.

Touch wood, everybody else is fit and well at present but I wouldn’t shout too loud about that for fear of tempting fate.

Candidly, I have never known a season like this for injuries and my memory goes back quite a long way. The nadir was surely reached back in 1970 when reserve goalkeeper Gordon Phillips was forced to sit on the bench as a non-playing substitute at Crewe owing to a series of injuries which stretched our minute squad to its limits however things reached such a state at Middlesbrough earlier this season that we were forced to have two goalkeepers in Jack Bonham and Mark Smith on the bench too.

To be safely ensconced in mid table given our seemingly never ending injury list and the need to bed in so many new players is a quite magnificent achievement and I can’t wait to see us finally field a first choice injury-free eleven. Maybe that will happen early next year and will be something well worth waiting for.

Normal Service Resumed – 8/11/15

It is always interesting and illuminating to read what the opposition fans have to say about us and the Blackburn supporters were in full voice both before and after yesterday’s draw at Ewood Park.

There had been several patronising comments beforehand from various ignoramuses who belittled us and felt that a long-overdue home victory was assured given that they were playing what they felt was a smaller and less established team like Brentford who they still thought should be confined to the lower divisions – shades of last season when many clubs felt that they were demeaning themselves and sullying their hands by playing us and that they had a divine right to the three points on offer. We are going to totally hammer them summed up the general smug tone of the prematch assessments and score predictions.

Their tone had changed when they came to review a game in which the Bees played most of the football and dominated for long stretches and were extremely unlucky not to have come away with a victory. Finally there was a grudging respect for the quality of Brentford’s display coupled with tons of vitriol aimed at the home team and their manager Gary Bowyer, in particular. Here are a cross-section of the comments that were made by some seriously fed up and disillusioned home supporters:

For me Brentford were by far the best team to visit Ewood Park this season. They reminded me of Bournemouth over the last couple of seasons.

We were second best today.

A fair point won against a decent and very much in-form Brentford side.

Brentford played us off the park.

It was probably a fair result. If anything Brentford were slightly the better team. Lee Carsley has done a good job as Brentford were well organised and very energetic.

Brentford played simple touch and move football and carved through our midfield at will.

Brentford harried us all over the pitch. In all reality, Brentford had the better chances and should have won.

As for Brentford, by far the best team I’ve seen at Ewood Park this season (far better than Burnley). They pass and move the ball really well and in the end I was pretty happy with the result.

I felt pleased and proud when I read these words as they reinforced what we already know, that we have witnessed a massive renaissance and change in the Bees over the past four weeks or so and that opposing supporters can also clearly recognise our quality.

We are no longer a soft touch or bear any resemblance to that fairly disorganised rabble which earlier this season customarily ran out of steam long before the end of every match and were an easy prey for the predators who inhabit the Championship.

Lee Carsley and Paul Williams have stripped us bare, taken us back to basics and then put us back together again and we are slowly but surely regaining our touch and are going some way towards repeating our role as the surprise packet that we were for so much of last season.

We are trying to replicate what worked so well for us last season and are now pressing far higher up the pitch and playing simple and accurate pass and move football with the ball being moved quickly and slickly between a five man midfield who rotate their positions at will.

We are retaining possession but also looking to do something with the ball and create chances in the final third as possession for possession’s sake is a total waste of time. In that respect we are also getting the ball forward quicker than we have been accustomed to and there is also some pace in the team which helps us turn defence into attack.

We haven’t got everything right yet as our lone striker is still far too isolated as we sometimes struggle to get sufficient midfielders into the box quickly enough to support him but chances are now being created far more regularly even though too many of them are being spurned.

Yesterday was a case in point as we let a poor Rovers team off the hook. Djuricin was lost to injury early on and as of yet there is no news about his prognosis. Vibe was moved upfield and he bothered the giant but clumsy and immobile home central defenders with his sharpness, pace and movement.

Swift’s incisive and perceptive through ball gave him the chance to bundle the ball past Steele to open the score and we then took total command of the game and were never in any trouble until Lawrence’s low, angled cross from way out on the left wing squirmed through a packed penalty area and somehow ended up in the corner of the net for an undeserved equaliser that came totally out of the blue.

Button was forced to turn a Marshall drive onto the post but Woods shot wide and McCormack almost restored our lead when Steele saved well from his effort.

Brentford dominated the second half with Diagouraga running the show in midfield but were unable to turn their possession into goals with Vibe and Kerschbaumer both missing excellent opportunities to regain the lead. Sam Saunders also made an effective cameo performance as a late substitute and his energy and excellent use of the ball auger well for the future.

Blackburn finally roused themselves out of their lethargy when Ben Marshall moved forward to support the attack and Button made a phenomenal late save to push his late rasping long range effort past the post and preserve our point.

So a point it was when three were really well within our grasp and we can also bemoan the absence of Alan Judge, still recovering from his tight hamstring, as his energy, vision and effervescence might well have made all the difference and helped us to the victory that we fully deserved.

The international break comes at a good time as we now have a fortnight in which a lot of tired bodies will have the chance to recover from their recent exertions. Carsley has relied upon the same bunch of players with changes kept to a minimum and he has been rewarded with a series of excellent and fully committed performances.

It is noticeable that our improvement in results and performance has coincided with Lee Carsley restoring the rump of our homegrown players with all but one of the foreign newcomers relegated to the substitutes’ bench. This has allowed them some breathing space in which they can gradually acclimatise themselves to the demands of the Championship, and it was illuminating to listen to Lasse Vibe’s post match interview in which he admitted that he was still coming to terms with what was required of him in what he now realised was a higher and far tougher standard of football than he had been accustomed to before he joined the club.

The spirit might well be willing, but the flesh is weak and the bruised and battered squad will benefit from a rest. Hopefully Judge and Djuricin will be fully fit in time for the Nottingham Forest match and ideally there will also be some good news about poor Lewis Macleod who suffered yet another injury setback in the Development Squad’s win at Reading on Friday.

Sam Saunders can also work on his fitness and perhaps the likes of Jota, Colin and McEachran will also be inching their way closer to a return to full fitness.

It has been a roller coaster ride for every Brentford fan but the tide seems to have turned in our favour recently as we have gone back to the future in our approach and, as is demonstrated by the comments of the Blackburn supporters, it is evident that normal service is gradually being resumed.

The Bees are currently the Kings of Championship football in West London as we are ahead of our deadly rivals QPR and Fulham who have both responded to the indignity and shame of the situation by sacking their manager.

Brentford are back!

A Different League – 4/11/15

Sometimes you win a match but deep down you know that you were lucky and that the result was a travesty and a distortion of reality. I can still quite clearly remember a Huddersfield team brilliantly marshalled by the gifted Chris Marsden playing us off the park at Griffin Park back in October 1990. Luckily that was at a time well before the obsession for collecting match statistics came into vogue and the possession figures remain a mystery. Fortunate indeed for the Bees who were pushed back for the entire ninety minutes and relied on Graham Benstead and stand-in central defender Simon Ratcliffe to keep the visitors at bay. Having absorbed everything our dominant visitors could throw at us, Ratcliffe’s long ball forward with six minutes to go found Eddie May who finished clinically and we had stolen all three points.

Conversely you can lose a game and still come away satisfied at a job well done and at a more than decent performance that bodes well for the future.

Last night was a case in point as Hull City finally emerged as victors by two goals to nil but only after being decidedly second best for the entire first half to a Bees team who played excellent, slick, passing football and really should have been leading at the interval.

The second half told a different tale as our highflying visitors finally creaked into gear and took total control and eventually fully deserved their victory.

There is an old expression – never give a sucker an even break, and quite frankly, we let Hull off the hook. We played really well in the first half, kept possession well and created several clear opportunities which were all spurned by Djuricin, Vibe and Woods. McGregor made three excellent saves but he should have been left helpless on at least one occasion. Vibe too had a more than decent shout for a penalty when his shirt was tugged as he ran through but his appeal fell on deaf ears.

Djuricin also created space for himself right after the break but scuffed his shot wide and then Hull took over. They began to take control of the midfield and both full backs overlapped with menace. We were forced back and smothered with all our out balls covered and we found it hard to get out of our own half of the field. The goal finally came when the excellent Clucas combined well with Robertson and when McCormack fatally stopped his covering run, the fullback strode on unchallenged to thrash the ball past Button who was beaten at his near post.

Vibe had been replaced by Kerschbaumer to help address our problems in midfield and the substitute came so close to equalising when after Tarkowski made a rousing forward run, his beautifully taken instant volley from outside the area seemed a goal all the way but frustratingly bounced clear off the post and the rebound was skied over by Woods.

We wasted a free kick for a back pass well inside the area which caused much merriment as Hull raged at the referee for his decision, but otherwise that was that and we were left to appreciate Hull’s dominance with substitutes Huddlestone and Diame a class above anything we could offer. They saw the game out comfortably and deserved their second goal scored late on by Clucas after a short corner.

A short while ago there was uproar amongst some Brentford fans at the prospect of Moses Odubajo leaving us for Hull City who they considered to be a smaller club than us. Last night I am sure finally dispelled that ridiculous assertion.

Hull City took in over sixty-six million pounds last season from television rights payments and will be the recipients of sixty-four million pounds in parachute payments over the next four years following their relegation from the Premier League.

Their starting eleven cost about thirty-five million pounds in transfer fees and their three substitutes another eleven million. Every time they brought in a replacement (with the exception, of course of the clumsy Harry Maguire) they improved and went up a gear.

They simply had far too much in their armoury for us and we did so well to match them, and indeed, outplay them for half of the match.

By way of comparison, our team cost well under three and a half million pounds and I am sure that their wage bill exceeds ours by a quite laughable amount. No wonder Moses decided to forgo the social delights of London and join them. He will quite probably be celebrating promotion next May, his bank balance will have been swollen and he will be playing alongside a massively strong squad packed full of internationals. What’s there not to like?

That being said there was much to be happy about last night. We more than matched one of the best teams in our division for half the match and imposed our own style of football upon them. We have regained much of the confidence that was lost after our stuttering start to the season and there are several subtle changes to our approach that have become evident now that Lee Carsley has had time for his influence to take effect. We press far higher up the pitch and generally show far more energy and bite in our efforts to regain possession. Our fitness levels have gone up a notch or two and we are no longer running out of steam. We still pass the ball around in our own defensive area but we are taking less risks and are getting the ball forward quicker with Button kicking the ball more often. We are packing the midfield which enables us to keep possession for longer periods but McCormack, Woods and Swift are quick to get upfield in support of the lone striker, Djuricin.

We achieved all this last night without our most influential player, Alan Judge, and for half the match we barely missed him. Good news indeed as it confirms just how well the entire team is playing. Of course we could have done with his industry and imagination as it might well have made the difference between us going in goalless at the interval and enjoying a confidence boosting halftime lead.

There is talk that he might be back on Saturday when I am sure that he will be keen to show everybody at Blackburn Rovers that they were wrong to let him go. He will then be off with the Republic of Ireland squad for their two crucial playoff clashes. That elusive first cap is not too far away!

Like every other Bees fan, I don’t like losing games, but there is a way to lose, and last night was one of those occasions when despite the final result there were so many positives to take out of the entire proceedings – a bit like after the Norwich clash at Griffin Park last season.

We lose, we learn, we move on. Such is the way of life in the Championship. Unlike last season when we kept doing the same things match after match, many of them, of course, really good, others less so, there is a real sense that we are far more flexible now and ready to learn and adapt whenever necessary.

The future is looking bright at Griffin Park.

The Long Good Friday! – 31/10/15

Please excuse the late appearance of this article but Friday was a long, long day.

I left what I thought was plenty of time to get to the ground as I wanted to savour the incredible atmosphere that would be generated by a packed Griffin Park – but it wasn’t to be.

The North Circular was a carpark owing to an accident at Hanger Lane and we inched forward seemingly centimetre by centimetre and were getting nowhere. Nerves were fraught and things were so bad that I even contemplated abandoning the journey and making do with the televised coverage – an appalling prospect given what this game meant to all true Brentford supporters.

Fortunately my friend Ian, a died in the wool Manchester United fan, calmed me down and he knew the back doubles and we roared through an industrial estate, eventually hit the Edgware Road and after the journey from hell left the car at Willesden Green, took the tube and finally arrived late, tired, hot and very bothered soon before kickoff.

Matters could only improve, and they certainly did so as the Bees put on a performance which incorporated an intoxicating and unstoppable combination of grit, determination, passion and organisation tempered with no little skill and ability and they fully deserved their reward of their first victory over the old rivals, Queens Park Rangers for fifty years.

Marco Djuricin became an instant Brentford legend when he outmuscled Clint Hill and got in front of the veteran QPR defender to score emphatically at the near post from Alan Judge’s perfect near post centre. Toumani Diagouraga, so imperious throughout, also deserves massive praise for his instant turn and trickery on the ball which created the space for his trademark disguised outside of the foot pass that set Judge away down the left flank.

A beautifully created and executed goal that fully deserved to win any game.

Of course Rangers had quality in their squad, but they could not match our sense of togetherness, will to win and total commitment and determination to work hard and cover for each other. Brentford have become a team again in every sense of the word and there was also much skill on display from us as we probed for openings.

The first half was a cagy affair with neither team prepared to take chances and risk defeat. Brentford had the lion’s share of possession but were unable to beat the press and get through a congested midfield. Judge, McCormack and Swift went close but it was the visitors who eventually showed some ambition and got the skilful Phillips and Luongo on the ball. The latter hit the junction of post and crossbar with a firm header and then the inside of the far post with a curler and had either gone in then I might well be writing a totally different account today, however fortune smiled on us and we certainly deserved the rub of the green given how hard we worked throughout the match.

The second half was a totally different story as the Bees started on the front foot and Rangers were reduced to long ball mediocrity and the imperious Dean and Tarkowski won every aerial challenge and the midfielders were always on hand to mop up the second balls. Bidwell was exceptional, anticipating and snuffing out any danger and he finally came out on top of his tussle with the speedy Phillips and Yennaris was never noticed, evidence indeed that he has settled into his role without fuss and he performed exceptionally well on the night. He has quite clearly demonstrated how well a player can perform when he is finally given an opportunity and feels that his manager has faith in him.

Good defending requires everyone to muck in and share the load and the Bees worked in packs to press and win the ball back. It is quite noticeable that the intensity levels have risen recently and we have gone up a gear and play far more on the front foot. We still pass the ball around the back four, probing for gaps but we have become far more risk adverse, get the ball forward quicker when it is necessary to do so and we are taking less chances of turning over the ball in potentially dangerous areas of the pitch.

The other key to our success has been reverting to a five man midfield. This means that Djuricin is forced to fend for himself and chase scraps but he never stopped putting himself about and he worked tirelessly and made a total nuisance of himself. He also had the energy and increased fitness levels to retain his composure in front of goal when the opportunities came. He took his goal beautifully, anticipating the centre quicker than his opponent and having the strength to ward off the physical challenge of his marker. He also came close immediately after halftime when he was left in space from McCormack’s clever flick and his instant volley was brilliantly saved by Green.

Diagouraga and McCormack covered each other and worked hard to win the ball back and then use it effectively and Judge, Swift and Woods dovetailed well, switching positions and ensuring that we won the midfield battle and showed some composure on the ball. Ryan Woods is quietly establishing himself as a player of real quality. He plays with his head up, rarely gives the ball away and wins far more than his fair share of challenges.

The three substitutes Kerschbaumer, Vibe and Hofmann also provided evidence that they are all finally coming to grips with the demands of the Championship and provided fresh impetus when they came off the bench. Most encouragingly the penny seems to have dropped with Hofmann and he used his size and strength to good effect and held the ball up well.

Alan Judge was substituted late on with a tight hamstring which might require an enforced rest but what a month the effervescent bundle of energy has enjoyed with three goals and four assists in his last four games. Championship Player of the Month perhaps? And what about the reluctant hero, Lee Carsley? He still insists that he sees his future in coaching and that he is simply keeping the seat warm for a more experienced manager. That might well be the case but the truth is that the players trust and respect him and have bought in totally to the methods and pattern of play that he and his coaching staff have introduced.

Remember that incredible November last year when Andre Gray won the Player of the Month Award and Mark Warburton was named as Manager of the Month? Perhaps history will repeat itself shortly with Judge and Carsley. Exciting times indeed and proof that two weeks is an extremely long time in football, as a mere fortnight ago we were in the depths of despair and were anticipating a horrid looking clash with relegation rivals Rotherham with apprehension and pessimism and with the abyss of the bottom three looming before us. Now four consecutive wins and twelve glorious points later we have been catapulted into the top ten in the Championship table and are now beginning to look at the playoff places rather than the bottom three. Proof indeed of the narrow margins in football and the massively competitive nature of the Championship.

I was a young impressionable schoolboy back in August 1965 and still remember the sense of wonder and excitement of being taken by my Father to Griffin Park for the opening day of the season clash with our neighbours QPR. I left the stadium skipping and jumping for joy after we had demolished our rivals and put six goals past the helpless Frank Smith. It has been a long, long wait for that feeling to be repeated.

The journey home last night was equally arduous and interminable but it really did not matter as I was walking on air and our long wait was finally over. Brentford had defeated Queens Park Rangers. I have waited over fifty years to write those words. The victory meant so much to me and I know it did the same to so many other Brentford supporters.

What a wonderful evening!

The Good Times Are Back – 25/10/15

We shuffled into Griffin Park last Saturday with the reluctance of French aristocrats exiting the tumbrels on their way to the guillotine with the jeers of the tricoteuses ringing in their ears.

The season was balanced on a knife-edge and we simply did not know what to expect or how matters would turn out.

Had the international break provided new Head Coach Lee Carsley with sufficient time and opportunity to revitalise a demoralised looking squad that had disintegrated into a near-rabble and desperately lacked fitness, confidence, structure and organisation?

Eight days, three wins and nine points later we have had our answer and today the world is a far cheerier place for everyone associated with Brentford FC.

What a week it has been for us as we have in turn seen off the challenge of Rotherham, Wolves and now Charlton Athletic, scored seven times, conceded only once, kept two consecutive clean sheets and now find ourselves safely ensconced in twelfth place, in mid table and we can now start looking up rather than down.

I arrived at Griffin Park last Saturday with minimal and limited expectations and would have been happy with a return of four points from the nine on offer over the coming week.

If truth be told I had a recurring nightmare that we would end up with only one or two, so to end up with nine is an incredible achievement that is quite above and beyond my wildest dreams.

The amazing happenings of the past three games take me back to the same weekend last year when we were in practically the same place in the league.

A listless performance and a fully deserved defeat to a poor Bolton team led to some soul searching on the long, bleak journey home, and with Alan McCormack also lost to a serious ankle injury we next faced three seemingly insuperable hurdles within a week in the shape of Derby County, Nottingham Forest and Millwall.

We feared the worst but emerged with flying colours and came of age as a Championship team after three brilliant and unforeseen victories which saw Andre Gray establish himself as a forward of pace and deadly menace, and the impetus from our success paved the way to our eventual playoff challenge.

It is a really big ask to expect a similar outcome this season but we have certainly made a massive and praiseworthy recovery after an horrendous and appalling September when it looked as if the Bees were in free fall and looked likely to plummet into the relegation zone from where it would be extremely tough to emerge.

There were many reasons for our poor start to the season which have been well documented in great length previously, so I will instead discuss what has brought about this recovery and, more importantly, whether it can it be sustained?

Quite simply we are looking like a totally different team from the one that struggled so desperately under Marinus Duikhuizen last month. Lee Carsley has overseen a total sea change and the team now looks compact, organised, fit and bursting with confidence. Players know their roles and are encouraging and congratulating each other and also reminding everyone of their specific responsibilities.

If a gap emerges then there is somebody there immediately to fill it and cover their team mate. Everyone is pressing and tackling back, opponents are given no time to settle on the ball and, most crucially, we are moving and passing the ball quickly and sharply and finding gaps in our opponents’ defence.

These are definitely the signs of a successful team that is enjoying itself again and the style and quality of the football being played reflects this too.

Sergi Canos started the match against Rotherham but otherwise the team has remained unchanged with a strict 4-2-3-1 formation employed. The midfield has been our real strength with Diagouraga and McCormack anchoring and supporting the back four whilst still having the freedom and flexibility to move forward when the opportunity arises.

Alan McCormack made a triumphant return to The Valley – one of his less successful stopping off points in his long and illustrious career and he ignored the jeers of his erstwhile supporters to drive the Bees forward and he almost scored an unforgettable goal which would have guaranteed him his bragging rights, when his rasping twenty-five yarder rebounded clear off the underside of the crossbar.

Ryan Woods has found an ideal spot on the right side of midfield where he dovetailed perfectly with the ever-improving Nico Yennaris, and he is another who has helped to revitalise the team with his energy and all action style coupled with his intelligent use of the ball. There is so much more to come from him too.

John Swift has quickly become an automatic choice on the left side of midfield. He is tall, rangy and full of running, plays with his head up, glides effortlessly past opponents and is always looking for a defence splitting pass. He also relishes a good strong tackle and is no shrinking violet.

Swift is already becoming a massive influence on the team and marked an excellent performance with a well-taken headed goal from Alan Judge’s perfect curling cross.

That leads us to Alan Judge who is quite simply playing the best football of his career and is totally irreplaceable as the talisman of the team.

In the last three games he has scored three times and assisted on three other goals too. He is on the verge of international recognition and his recent performances demonstrate his sheer determination to earn that elusive first cap. He is playing on a different level to his team mates and is an utter inspiration.

Yesterday he and McCormack combined perfectly before he cut inside and curled a wonderful shot just inside the far post for a goal of awesome quality and confidence.

For the third goal he seized on a loose ball just outside our own penalty area, headed the ball past an opponent, showed instant control whilst under challenge before pinging a perfect fifty yard pass directly to the feet of Lasse Vibe who cut inside and buried the ball inside Henderson’s near post.

Those two goals highlighted our pace, energy and enthusiasm and demonstrated just how quickly we are now able to turn defence into attack and how we seem to have regained our speed of thought and action.

The five-man midfield has worked perfectly in the last two away games as we have dominated in terms of numbers and possession as well as in our ability to snuff out danger and launch dangerous counter attacks.

It remains to be seen whether we will retain this formation in home games when we are expected to set the tone and take the attack to the opposition rather than counter their moves as we do when we play away. Canos would be the obvious replacement for Toumani, however I would leave well alone as the current system is working so well.

Djuricin is also improving his match fitness and he worked tirelessly at Charlton. He is looking better in every game and I think that the best is yet to come from him. Hofmann and Vibe have both come on as late substitutes recently and scored well taken and important goals and they and Kerschbaumer are benefiting from having more experienced players around them and being allowed to develop and grow into the English game at their own pace rather than being allowed to sink or swim before they are ready.

Yesterday could have ended totally differently had Charlton taken the four gilt edged opportunities that they squandered in the opening fifteen minutes. As it was Brentford escaped unscathed from those early scares and slowly grew into the game before taking over and totally dominating proceedings. As Mark Warburton used to say, the margins between success and failure in this unforgiving division can be so narrow.

Finally it appears that the luck has changed and that things are beginning to go our way. That coupled with tons of hard work and organisation allied to the enthusiasm of youth has enabled us to arrest what appeared to be an irrevocable slump and our season has turned around.

There is so much to look forward to with the prospect of Jota, McEachran, Colin, Saunders and Macleod returning to fitness and further replenishing our once depleted squad over the next month or so.

To make the last week even better, the Development Squad also won twice with Sam Saunders scoring three times including two trademark free kicks and Lewis Macleod is also knocking at the door after two recent goals including a searing thirty-yard winner on Friday against Bristol City.

The good times are on their way back to Griffin Park and what a week lies ahead of us with Queens Park Rangers to come next Friday.

I can’t wait!