End Of Term Report – Part 3 – 17/5/16

Here are my thoughts on the remaining members of the Brentford squad as well as the players who left us during the season :

21. Lasse Vibe. Danish international striker Lasse Vibe signed for the Bees for around one million pounds from IFK Göteborg shortly before the beginning of the season and went straight from playing in the Swedish Allsvenskan to the Championship without the benefit of any preseason break. He found a place in the team playing firstly on the right flank  where he was a peripheral influence but he scored his first goal with a stunning long-range curling effort against Reading when moved into a more central role. He played alongside Marco Djuricin but won a regular place in the team as the sole striker after Djuricin’s injury against Blackburn. From then on Vibe pretty much trod a lone furrow up front until Scott Hogan’s recovery from injury late on in the season and eventually the pressure told on him and his effectiveness greatly diminished as he was slowed down by the effects of fatigue and overwork. After scoring with a fulminating volley against Huddersfield in mid-December he went over three months without scoring and clearly demonstrated that he was not best suited to the physical demands of playing as a target man. Smash the ball at or over his head and he would always come off second best against giant central defenders who totally outmuscled him and invariably won the physical battle, and with his confidence shot to pieces, he went on a ghastly run of poor performances marked by a series of missed chances and scuffed shots. He had hit the wall and the Championship was proving a tough learning curve for him. No striker scored for the Bees from the second of January until the second of April, a run of twelve matches that saw only eleven goals scored by Brentford and the abyss was beckoning until everything changed in the March international break. Vibe went away with the Danish squad and returned a new man, apparently revitalised by his international recall. Suddenly there was a spring in his step and his luck finally turned. Firstly when loanee Leandro Rodríguez suffered a hamstring injury which necessitated his withdrawal from the fray at Nottingham Forest and his replacement by Vibe and then when home defender Kevin Wilson’s gaffe gifted him a goal. Finally the floodgates opened as with confidence restored he went on a wonderful run of seven goals in seven games, and what goals they were. Close range tap-ins, flying headers, sumptuous outside of the foot finishes and long-range rockets. Everything he touched flew in and he ended up as equal top scorer with the highly creditable total of fourteen goals. More importantly, we learned to play to his strengths as his pace and vision enabled him to time his runs and get in behind defenders and he looked twice the player he had been just weeks earlier. The fans took to him from the beginning because he never let his head go down even when things were not going well for him and he was always a chaser of lost causes. He played with a smile on his face and the crowd responded to him. How far has he come in so short a time? A few weeks ago and I would not have been too upset if he had decided to leave at the end of the season, now I can’t wait to see if he can improve even more next season.

22. Jack O’Connell. Jack had a frustrating season as he was never able to establish himself in the team but at times he certainly looked the part in our central defence. He twice enjoyed runs of four and then three consecutive matches after Dean and Barbet’s red cards but he was unable to keep his place given the strong competition he faced. He scored a goal from a corner against Fulham and, unlike our other central defenders, he always looked dangerous at set pieces, and but for a brilliant save he would have repeated the dose in the home match against our old rivals at Griffin Park. At twenty-two he is still a youngster and he could yet develop into an excellent defender and a real asset. He lacks pace but reads the game well, is strong in the air and is no mug with the ball at his feet. I hope that he is patient and that we find a role for him next season.

23. Jota. Who could ever have imagined Brentford doing so well despite Jota starting only one game all season? Jonathan Douglas’s rugged challenge cost Jota damaged ankle ligaments which required surgery to repair and he had barely returned to the substitutes’ bench in December when personal issues forced his return to Spain, initially on loan to Eibar. Brentford treated him with sensitivity and compassion given the circumstances and we will simply have to wait and see whether he will be in a position to return within the next year or if we have seen the last of the Spanish maestro. I personally doubt that he will play for us again and, if so, we will need to maximise our return for him which will not be easy given that he will, I am sure, only wish to sign for a Spanish team. As for replacing him, you can’t, as how do you find another genius?

24. Akaki (Andy) Gogia. Andy Gogia was another foreign prospect signed on a free transfer from the lower leagues in Germany. A quick and tricky winger, he impressed with his pace, skill and energy in the preseason friendly against Stoke and scored with a deflected long-range effort. He started the season in the first team but it soon became clear that he needed time to get used to the pace and physicality of the Championship and also become more accustomed and attuned to living and working in a foreign country. His cause was also hindered by some niggly injuries and he never started a match after the beginning of October. He impressed in the Development Squad and looked more direct and effective when coming off the bench late on in the season. Hopefully he will be one for next season and he will surely receive another opportunity given that we will be looking for a new winger.

27. David Button. At twenty-seven years of age, and coming off his second consecutive season as an everpresent in the Brentford team, David Button is probably not yet at his peak and might improve even more, but he has firmly established himself as one of the most consistent and talented goalkeepers in the Championship. What a bargain he has proved to be since we rescued him from the depths of the Charlton Athletic reserve team for a mere one hundred and fifty thousand pounds. He certainly received sufficient practice last season as he faced more shots on goal than any other keeper in the league and he invariably met and overcame the challenge. He was directly responsible for only two goals, at home to both Middlesbrough and Charlton but otherwise he was reliable, dependable, consistent and also inspired and brilliant on occasion. His save from Garner at Preston was stupendous and one of the moments of the season and at times he seemed to be playing Derby County on his own at Griffin Park. He can still sometimes be tentative and vulnerable when dealing with crosses but he is otherwise technically extremely sound and invariably gets the basics right. His use of the ball when in possession was as calm and accurate as ever and he started so many of our attacks as well as providing a wonderful assist for Alan Judge’s goal against Sheffield Wednesday. Button now has a tough decision to make given that his contract expires at the end of next season. Should he seek pastures new or extend his contract at the club? He is guaranteed first team football in a young and improving team at Griffin Park, but could he do better professionally and financially elsewhere? The latest indications are that he might well decide to stay and every Brentford fan will fervently hope that this is the case as we are very fortunate to have him.

28. Nico Yennaris. Last season was a coming of age for Nico whose career at Brentford had appeared to be drifting into oblivion and many were surprised when his loan move to Wycombe Wanderers was not made permanent. Maxime Colin’s injury changed everything and Lee Carsley gave him the opportunity to deputise for him. Nico played like a man inspired, tough, tenacious in the challenge and eager to overlap, he ensured that Colin was barely missed and Nico was unfortunate to lose his place when the Frenchman recovered. His consistency was rewarded with a new three year contract, a move that initially attracted much criticism from some Brentford supporters but Dean Smith knew exactly what he was doing and the decision is now looking an extremely good one. He believed in Nico who was converted into a highly effective defensive midfielder who played a massive part in our late season success. He was all-action and all-energy, relentless in his tackling and pressing but he also showed his great ability on the ball and he passed it quickly and accurately. Nico was ideally suited for Brentford’s pass and move approach and he also scored two well-taken goals. From a player who at one time seemed to be going nowhere except out of the exit door, Nico proved to be a revelation and ended the season as the most improved player in the team and enjoying life playing for the first time for a Head Coach who believed in him. Of all the stories of the season, Nico’s was perhaps the most positive, surprising and satisfying.

29. Yoann Barbet. The best that I can say about French central defender Yoann Barbet’s progress is that the departed James Tarkowski has barely been missed. Signed from Chamois Niortais for a fee of around half a million pounds he was another unknown player from abroad who was definitely seen as one for the future. He impressed in his initial first team appearances as he vied with Jack O’Connell to be the deputy for the first choice partnership of Dean and Tarkowski, but his big opportunity came with the departure of Tarkowski and he certainly seized it. He received a temporary setback after an unfortunate red card at Sheffield Wednesday but he learned from the experience and soon scored his first goal for the club against Charlton. He proved to be a rugged defender who loves a slide tackle and he showed a good turn of pace. He also demonstrated great skill on the ball and sprayed long and accurate passes out to the right wing, memorably assisting on a wonderful goal for Alan Judge at Preston. He has adapted quickly and well to his new surroundings and is another star in the making for the Bees.

36. Josh Clarke. Josh certainly made the most of the opportunity given him to develop his skills as a fast, overlapping fullback and fought his way into the first team. Everybody loves a local boy made good, and his pace, enthusiasm and attacking brio shone through. He obtained some valuable experience on loan at Barnet, started four matches for Brentford and also impressed when coming off the bench, helping to make Scott Hogan’s late equaliser against Bristol City. He has been offered a new contract for next season and I hope that he decides to remain at the club, as at only twenty-one years of age there is still time for Josh to emerge and develop into a regular first team player.

37. Courtney Senior. Still only eighteen, Courtney Senior impressed in the preseason friendly at Boreham Wood showing pace and skill on the right wing. He made his first team debut against Oxford United and twice was an unused substitute before returning to the Development Squad for the remainder of the season. His time has yet to come, but he is a real talent.

39. Tom Field. Tom made an assured and highly competent debut as a nineteen year-old deputy for the injured Jake Bidwell in the local derby against Fulham. He showed great composure and an excellent temperament. He was never overawed by the occasion, defended well and also swung in a perfect right wing corner which was thrashed into the net by Scott Hogan. Another one for the future, and better still, he comes from a Brentford supporting family.

47. Sergi Canos. A total breath of fresh air, Sergi arrived on loan as an unknown eighteen year-old from Liverpool via Barcelona’s academy. He left the club with his head held high as a firm fan favourite having scored seven times in thirty-eight games and he totally surpassed expectations and proved to be a massive success. He so obviously loved every minute of his stay and played with enthusiasm, a smile on his face and with a real joie de vivre. Given his age and lack of experience he was inconsistent but he possessed the ability to turn a game on its head as both Preston North End and Nottingham Forest discovered to their cost and he was always full of tricks. He worked hard and learned how to track back but he had the pace, dribbling ability and sheer ability to create havoc at the other end of the pitch, netting after a mere twenty-one seconds at Huddersfield and scoring unforgettable goals at Reading and MK Dons. He made a massive impression on everybody at the club and we all took great pride and joy in his achievement when he made his Premier League debut for Liverpool on the last day of the season. Have we seen the last of him? Maybe but perhaps not, as if he is not considered good enough for Liverpool’s squad next season or does not agree a new contract, then perhaps he might yet return to Griffin Park and thrill and inspire us once more?

Andre Gray, Toumani Diagouraga, James Tarkowski, Ryan Williams, Josh Laurent, Leandro Rodríguez and Jermaine Udumaga all made appearances for the Bees this season before leaving the club. It was a forgone conclusion that Gray would go elsewhere and move up the food chain as he was a star in the making andcoveted by clubs who could pay him far more than us and we also had to sell him in order not to fall foul of Financial Fair Play restrictions. He played twice for us, firstly as a late substitute against Ipswich where he helped turn the game in our favour and scored a well-taken goal bursting down the middle at pace to put us back into a game that seemed lost. He and Philipp Hofmann also played together at Bristol City and terrified the opposition with Gray scoring with a perfect half volley at the near post as well as contributing to two other Brentford goals. He clearly demonstrated that he was a man in form and one who would take the division by storm – but unfortunately it was for Burnley and not us. Toumani Diagouraga was a wonderful servant of the club but we did well to extract a half million pound fee from Leeds for a player whose performances had declined from their impossibly high level of the previous season. He was no longer such a dominating influence on proceedings and his game suffered from the absence of Douglas alongside him, which forced Toumani to attempt tackles far more often, something that was not one of his strengths. He left with our gratitude and best wishes. The same cannot be said for James Tarkowski who acted in a totally unprofessional manner by virtue of his decision to down tools before the Burnley home game. As with Gray, we extracted a high fee for him and the progress made by Barbet means that he has hardly been missed. Tarkowski was his normal frustrating self, combining moments of brilliance both in defending and on the ball with times when he lost concentration, over-reached himself and cost us dear. Leandro Rodríguez was a loan signing from Everton who was brought in to support the flagging Lasse Vibe. He pulled a hamstring in his second match before he really had the chance to show us anything and returned to his parent club. Laurent, Williams and Udumaga all made brief appearances without convincing the club that they had what it takes to merit further opportunities.

End Of Term Report – Part 2 – 16/5/16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judgement Day – 12/4/16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Job Done? – Not Quite – 6/4/16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Golden Day – 3/4/16

I have been a massive John Mellencamp fan for many years now and there is a lyric from one of his songs that seems totally apposite to describe the events of yesterday:

Sometimes you’re golden, man that’s all I got to say

Yesterday turned out to be a golden day for almost everybody connected with Brentford FC, directors, players, management and supporters alike as we ended a depressing run of four consecutive defeats and celebrated only our third victory of  the year.

Unfortunately for some, like rabid Bees supporter, Paul Briers, the day didn’t start out too golden when he made the unremarkable discovery that pouring diesel into a fuel tank designed to receive unleaded petrol is not conducive to an effortless and trouble free journey. Similarly, Chairman Cliff Crown, and I am sure many others, were caught up in a massive M1 tailback around Luton and didn’t get there to share in the celebrations.

Minor quibbles as otherwise yesterday was a total triumph and provided some much needed respite for a team that had been in free fall and appeared to be dropping like a stone towards the bottom three. Now everyone’s face is wreathed in smiles again, there is an overall feeling of relief and some much needed confidence has been restored as we go into Tuesday’s home match against bottom of the table Bolton Wanderers a much healthier nine points, and a far superior goal difference clear of the hated MK Dons, marooned in the final relegation place.

Nottingham Forest, to be quite frank, were a shambolic disgrace on the day and ambled around in the Spring sunshine without any sense of purpose or menace and their defensive aberrations contributed greatly to all three of our goals, but all you can do is beat what is put out against you on the day and Brentford, for once, took full advantage of the opportunities that were put on a plate for them.

The experienced Kevin Wilson whose dithering led to Lasse Vibe scoring the crucial opening goal was subjected to incessant and totally unnecessary booing and vituperative abuse after his error and the apathetic and demoralised home crowd streamed away in droves as soon as the second goal went in. The European Cup winning glory days seem a lifetime away now for a once great club that appears to be rudderless and to be going nowhere fast and their supporters certainly did not appreciate their team losing twice in a season to the minnows of Brentford.

Dean Smith had sensibly concentrated on working on defensive organisation during the International Break, perhaps because most of his midfielders and strikers were either injured or away on International duty. His efforts were rewarded with a passionate and energetic display in which the back four played like a well drilled unit, covered for each other and, most importantly, eradicated the daft errors and lack of concentration that had cost us so dear recently. Forest, frankly did not get a sniff of goal and barely created a chance worthy of the name all afternoon and David Button enjoyed one of his easiest games of the season.

Dean and Barbet are finally developing an understanding and are turning into a cohesive partnership and once the Frenchman stops passing the ball to the opposition in dangerous positions he will be a formidable player. Max Colin made a triumphant return to the team, almost scored and defended with his life before, worryingly, limping off late on and Jake Bidwell was back to his unobtrusive best.

Our first clean sheet away from home for over five months was testimony to the efforts of the entire team as we certainly defended from the front. McCormack, Woods and Yennaris ran, covered, pressed and harried and never gave the lethargic home team time to settle on the ball and when one of our elaborate free kick routines backfired and set Forest away on a five-on-one breakaway reminiscent of Tony Craig against Oldham in 2013, it was Alan Judge who showed energy and total commitment to the cause by chasing back eighty yards and putting in a crucial last ditch tackle to save the day when all seemed lost.

Nico Yennaris covered every blade of grass, used the ball well and gave his best ever display in a Brentford shirt and was deservedly rewarded with his first goal for the club. A few repeat performances and he runs the risk of moving beyond grudging acceptance and becoming a firm fan favourite.

The first half was almost devoid of action and goal chances were at a premium and given the recent poor record of both teams the first goal was always going to be crucial. The injury bug bit yet again when Leandro Rodríguez damaged his hamstring and as he disappeared down the tunnel we wondered if we will ever see the Everton loanee again in a Brentford shirt. He now joins the likes of McEachran, Macleod, Swift, Hofmann and Hogan on the injured list where he might well be joined by Colin, Button, Judge and Yennaris who all suffered knocks yesterday and the selection process for Tuesday’s match might well be a formality as we are rapidly running out of fit players.

Someone’s injury however is another’s opportunity and Lasse Vibe, so lacking in strength, bite and verve recently took full advantage. He ran around like a scalded cat, his confidence restored by his recent appearance for Denmark and the time he spent with his high quality international team mates. He scored for the first time since mid-December when he got in behind Wilson and poked home Alan Judge’s perfectly placed lofted through ball which held up and needed to be dealt with by either defender or goalkeeper and when they left it for each other Vibe nipped in and scored.

Brentford visibly grew in confidence as Forest wilted in the sunshine and it soon became obvious that the only team that could deny Brentford the coveted three points was themselves and as long as we avoided a similar giveaway then a much needed victory was well in our sights.

The second goal came from an unexpected source when Bidwell’s right wing corner was somehow missed by Dean, in total isolation on the near post, and as he still remonstrated with himself, the ball caromed off a defender and dropped perfectly for Yennaris who just beat the straining Vibe to hammer the ball into the corner of the net. Cue wild celebrations with the travelling hordes tucked away in the corner of the pitch.

Inspired by his goal, Vibe ran the channels selflessly and when he got in behind Lichaj the hapless defender dragged him back and saw red. Victory was assured when Forest surrendered the ball in midfield and Vibe sent his pass into the now yawning gap on Forest’s right flank and Sergi Canos took the chance perfectly and angled his instant shot into the far corner. Game over!

Three goals, three points and a clean sheet. What more can you ask for? A few less injuries perhaps, but this was a day when everybody came together again and the entire club united. The fans fed off the team and the players responded to the massive support that they received.

This victory has hopefully arrested our slump but this is not a time for complacency as our last win, also by three clear goals over Wolves, was followed by a demoralising run of four consecutive defeats and we need to keep our foot on the gas and not feel that the job has been done. We still need at least one more victory to assure ourselves of Championship football again next season and the long-suffering supporters are also long overdue some victories at Griffin Park. There is still much to play for and the season must not be allowed to peter out with a whimper.

Hopefully yesterday, golden though it was, was a turning point rather than a one-off.

Time For Some Answers! – 6/3/16

Normally the blog seems to write itself. I just sit down at the computer and the words generally flow without too much effort but today was totally different as I vacillated endlessly over the most suitable subject matter and how best to express my feelings.

My first reaction after Brentford’s inept, shambolic, disjointed and passionless performance as they stumbled to an appalling defeat against an equally poor Charlton team was to assert that since the entire Brentford team seemed to have gone on their holidays a couple of months too early then perhaps the blog should do the same and that I would make as much effort as the team had done yesterday and simply refrain from making any comment at all.

I then thought about giving vent to my feelings and forensically dissecting each player’s myriad shortcomings but that was far too depressing a prospect and quite frankly I would simply be repeating so much of what I have already written after previous unacceptable performances. After much thought I have therefore decided to give a brief summary of Saturday’s non-event and then look at highlighting some of the broader issues that now face us and attempting to find some solutions.

Facing a relegation haunted team sorely lacking in confidence we all hoped for a precious early goal that would ideally settle our nerves both on and off the pitch and that is exactly what happened and our prayers were answered as the ball hit the net less than twenty seconds after the opening whistle – unfortunately at the wrong end, as a Brentford team which still looked as though it was in its prematch huddle got into a mess at the back as a left wing cross was allowed to reach the unmarked Harriott who found space in a packed penalty area and easily slotted home.

Dean Smith said that our game plan had gone out of the window after such an appalling start, but surely we still had well over ninety minutes to put things right and address matters?

The Bees eventually clawed their way back into the match and played some reasonable football for the majority of the first half without showing much spark or invention. Swift and Canos shone spasmodically and the Chelsea youngster headed a glaring chance well wide of a gaping goal from a similar opportunity to the one he scored from at The Valley before refusing to fall down when clearly clipped and a penalty kick seemed inevitable.

Frankly it is unfair and unrealistic to put so much pressure on two such talented but inexperienced teenagers and expect them to pull a rabbit out of the hat more than occasionally.

As has happened far too often, Judge was left to forage alone and cut in from the wing to force a brilliant plunging save from Pope. Canos then slipped Djuricin clean through a square defence as the applause rang out in the twenty-fourth minute for the sadly departed Dean Langford but he showed his total lack of confidence and sharpness by allowing the keeper to block his shot when a goal seemed inevitable before Barbet marked a memorable God-given minute by heading home Judge’s corner kick when left totally unmarked and he scored his first ever goal for the club.

Surely the Bees would now take control, but we never found that extra gear nor succeeded in putting a wilting defence under any real pressure. Early in the second half Canos was sent away by McEachran’s exquisite pass but from an identical position from where he rippled the net against Wolves, he could only shoot wide of the post and quite frankly, that was that as we barely created another chance for the remainder of the match, and that miss was to come and haunt us when Charlton realised just how poor we were and finally awoke from their torpor, broke away down their left flank, and the totally unemployed Button could only paw a cross straight to Harriott who made a difficult chance look easy. A ghastly error from a goalkeeper playing against his former team.

The game drifted away from us as we gently subsided to defeat without making much apparent effort to recover as we lacked any shape, invention or frankly, passion. As has happened far too often lately our three substitutions seemed only to weaken us even more. Saunders replaced Canos who seemed to be our main threat although perhaps the fact that he had been booked and subsequently warned for a dive helped make Dean Smith’s mind up for him. Sam barely touched the ball and never played a dangerous pass or cross into the penalty area.

Djuricin gave perhaps the worst and most pathetic performance I have seen from a Brentford striker since the days when the likes of Joe Omigie and Neil Shipperley provided a non-existent goal threat and his replacement, Vibe, who at least gave the impression of breaking sweat, was easily smothered by the Charlton defence. Hofmann came on near the end for McEachran and lumbered around without noticeable effect and it was quite impossible to detect our formation as we degenerated into a hapless and shapeless rabble and we were fortunate not to concede a third as we were cut open repeatedly on the break.

Not for the first time this season the patience of the Brentford supporters was sorely tested and they made their displeasure known at the final whistle.

Charlton came expecting to be defeated but they were let off the hook as they out battled and outfought a Brentford team that was in reality anything but and fully deserved their ultimate victory.

Quite frankly we played with one hand tied behind our back given the lack of incision from our midfield where Woods and McEachran duplicated each other and never gelled as a partnership and Judge provided our only consistent threat but cannot always be expected to do everything on his own.

As has been the case for several months now we do not possess a forward worthy of the name and the Charlton penalty area resembled a cordon sanitaire so seldom did we get players into it.

This sad and sorry state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue, nor can the remainder of the season be allowed to drift away. Not only is this situation patently unfair and unacceptable to supporters who pay good money and quite reasonably expect some level of entertainment and effort in return, and are now justifiably feeling shortchanged, we are also beginning look at the clubs below us with apprehensive looks.

When we lost last month to the likes of Brighton, Sheffield Wednesday and Derby, the exhortation was for patience until we played Wolves, Rotherham and Charlton and then the points and performances would follow. Well those games have now come and gone and bar one bright spark when we hammered a Wolves team which played as if it was tranquillised, we have now lost comfortably and deservedly to two of the relegation favourites without putting up much of a fight. This is not how we expect a Brentford team to perform.

What happens now and where do we go from here? We all deserve some answers. Not because we are spoiled and have massive expectations but quite simply because the squad is patently far too weak and thin and with injuries again biting is now struggling to hold its head above water.

We all know and mostly accept the reasons why the squad has been diminished and denuded without any replacements, but we expected the remaining players at least to be competitive and to provide a reasonable and realistic level of competence, entertainment, effort and results for the remainder of the season before the necessary squad strengthening can take place, not too much to ask for, surely, but the wheels have now come off and Dean Smith is, perhaps unfairly, coming under growing pressure from supporters who are now losing patience and looking for a scapegoat.

That being said he appeared to be be a man in despair in his post match interview and one who was struggling to find the answers to the multitude of problems that currently face him.

Rather than play the blame game I would rather be constructive and look for answers, explanations and firm promises for the immediate and mid-term future as I am extremely concerned at the moment.

I have therefore contacted the Brentford Co-Director of Football, Phil Giles, who responded quickly and courteously and has agreed to meet me next week when I hope to get the answers to some of the questions that we would all like to ask him.

In that regard I have already sent him a comprehensive and voluminous list of question, not that I expect the answers to all of them given the limitations of time and the dictates of commercial confidentiality, but I shall report back on what I am told at our meeting and Phil has also agreed to provide some written answers which will be published as an article as soon as I receive it.

Here are the questions that I have posed and please let me know if there is anything else that you would like me to put to him when we meet:

  • How did a Maths & Stats graduate and a PhD from the University of Newcastle end up as Co-Director of Football at Brentford FC?
  • How much of your time is spent working with the club as opposed to Smartodds?
  • What is the division of roles between yourself & Rasmus Ankersen?
  • Roughly what proportion of his time is spent working for Brentford FC?
  • The role of the new breed of executive versus the traditional “football man” – discuss
  • Dealing with agents and rapacious clubs – are Brentford considered a soft touch or worthy adversaries?
  • How much contact do you have with your peers at other clubs?
  • How is the club now regarded by the rest of the football world?
  • “We look to be stronger after every Transfer Window” – please discuss with reference to the January 2016 Transfer Window?
  • How do you manage expectations amongst supporters who were told that any finish below fifth would be a comedown from last season?
  • What would be realistic expectations for the club until we move to Lionel Road
  • In retrospect was 2015 an annus mirabilis or a massive missed opportunity?
  • How can we possibly hold onto our prime assets when they are offered more money elsewhere or persuade the likes of Button and Bidwell to buy into us and resign?
  • Try before you buy a la Bidwell & Forshaw. Why have we stopped using this successful policy re loanees?
  • What is our relationship like with the top Premier League clubs?
  • What is your strategy for recruitment for the summer (within reason!)?
  • How much say will Dean Smith and Richard O’Kelly have in player recruitment both in terms of identifying targets and wanting to sign them?
  • Who has the final say?
  • FFP and its effect on us
  • How can a team with our financial constraints find and afford flair players who can make and/or score goals?
  • Please discuss our three strikers and how they fit into the current style of play?
  • Jota – discuss
  • How much of a gamble is it signing players from lower divisions at home and abroad e.g. Woods & Gogia
  • How attractive a proposition is Brentford FC for
  1. Young players from lower divisions
  2. Experienced Championship players
  3. Players from the EEC & beyond
  • What are the minimum expectations and KPIs for you and the club for the remainder of the season?
  1. Win as many matches as you lose
  2. Remain competitive
  3. Stay out of the relegation dog fight
  4. Continue to play the Brentford Way
  5. Bed in the new signings from abroad
  6. Persuade Button and Bidwell to resign
  7. Complete a recruitment list for next season
  • How would you respond to supporters who are feeling let down, confused & disappointed at the moment & will soon be asked to buy season tickets for next season?
  • Getting transfers over the line – discuss
  • Undisclosed fees. I understand why you favour them but they are the bane of our lives – discuss
  • What will it take to bring about a change in policy and for you to bring in loanees this month?
  • Where can you find loan players now who can add value to the team?
  • I appreciate that there is a review being conducted, but why has the Academy so far failed to produce a home-grown first team squad player?
  • Has the loss of some well-regarded Academy coaches had a detrimental effect?
  • Why do non-playing first team squad players rarely play in Development Squad fixtures?
  • Can you talk us through the process from acknowledging a need to signing a player i.e. how did we go from knowing we would lose Odubajo to signing Colin?
  • How advanced and complex is the proprietorial analytical data we use to identify and recruit players compared to the likes of Wyscout & Opta etc?
  • In reality how much does our approach really differ from most other clubs nowadays?
  • Can you explain the process by which we combine analytical and physical scouting?
  • Matthew Benham has stated that a player should be watched 100 times. How often do we watch potential players as opposed to watching DVDs and film clips?
  • What sort of physical scouting network do we possess or plug into?
  • How many analysts support yourself and Rasmus?
  • How do you evaluate players in terms of their character and likelihood to settle in the UK?
  • Do we have a constantly updated list of potential and VIABLE prospects from around the world?
  • How far down the pyramid do we analyse players and teams?
  • How happy are you with the 2015 batch of signings in terms of their current performance levels and were some thrown in prematurely?
  • Is it getting more difficult every year to recruit well?
  • What signing and sale have given you the most satisfaction?
  • What lessons were learned from the Marinus recruitment process when it came to appoint Dean Smith?
  • What qualities does Dean Smith possess that makes him the ideal manager for Brentford FC?
  • What are the benefits to Brentford of the association with FC Midtjylland?
  • We have sent them Moore and O’Shaugnessy, when will we receive one of their players on loan or a permanent basis?
  • Why so many injuries this season – coincidence or happenstance?
  • Scott Hogan – what can or should we expect or hope for?
  • When will we take the Cup competitions more seriously?
  • Is a box-to-box player with footballing and tackling ability on the agenda for next season?

 

A View From The Swimming Pool – 14/2/16

Well it all started so well, as I managed to grab a sun lounger right by the side of the pool and listened with relish to QPR’s humiliation at the hands of their near neighbours, Fulham.

If truth be told I was slightly conflicted about that one but felt on reflection that Fulham’s victory was probably the best possible result overall given that the rules didn’t allow both teams to lose.

Now it was Brentford’s turn and everything was going like clockwork as Mark Burridge’s dulcet tones came over loud and clear and I looked forward to listening to a description of an improved display after the capitulation at Brighton.

I couldn’t really question the team selection. Hofmann deserved his opportunity after neither Vibe nor Djuricin had fully convinced lately and Yennaris and Canos would ideally provide us with legs and enthusiasm and some support for a striker who is not the most mobile.

It all started well with early chances for Yennaris, one that he should surely have taken, and Judge, before disaster struck after a mere five minutes with a long ball over the top being chased by Hooper with Barbet trailing in his wake.

The ball ran through harmlessly to Button but the coming together of Hooper and Barbet on the edge of be area was instantly adjudged a red card offence by a referee still in the Brentford half with no apparent clear view of the incident and who made an instantaneous and game changing decision without feeling the need to consult his assistant who was up with play and had not signalled for a foul.

A red card it was and as Barbet reluctantly dragged himself off the pitch, Dean Smith’s carefully worked game plan was in tatters almost before the game had started.

The Bees switched to a 4-4-1 formation which in reality meant 4-4-0 as Hofmann, isolated and outnumbered, disappeared from sight and left us without any real attacking outlet.

More crucially, Brentford no longer had an out ball or anyone capable of holding the ball up and giving a beleaguered defence some respite or any much needed time to reorganise or take a breather.

In retrospect I wonder if it would have been better had we withdrawn Hofmann rather than the unfortunate Kerschbaumer and concentrated on packing the midfield?

Sheffield Wednesday smelled blood and attacked relentlessly and it was now simply a question of whether a revamped Brentford back four with substitute Jack O’Connell now partnering Harlee Dean, could defend properly and keep them at bay.

Well the spirit was willing but the flesh was weak as it quickly became obvious that it was a merely a matter of how soon and how many.

Brentford shipped three soft goals before halftime and they all owed as much to muddled and inept defending as they did to attacking brilliance.

The second half was a damp squib as we concentrated upon damage limitation and the Bees avoided further embarrassment until the last minute when David Button conceded a fourth goal from an eminently saveable effort.

Our Man of the Match was Mark Burridge who played an absolute blinder. He succeeded in describing the shambles on the pitch without either gilding the lily or indulging in destructive criticism. He simply told it as it was and did an expert and professional job.

What is quite apparent is that this is now a team increasingly bereft of confidence, shorn of some of its best players, that is simply trying to limp through the remainder of the season unscathed until major squad surgery can be scheduled in the Summer.

I have already written at length about the rationale for such a reactive and seemingly unambitious strategy and I am not about to change my tune and criticise it as I well understand and accept why we are now in this position.

What I find of more concern is whether the players that currently remain available to us are fully capable of achieving what I feel are the two minimum requirements for the remainder of the season of keeping us competitive and maintaining interest and excitement amongst an increasingly concerned, demanding and critical fan base.

I am firmly of the view that sometimes it is necessary to take a backwards step in order to progress and now is certainly a case in point.

Our future progress is predicated totally on a combination of how well we clean the stables and how effectively we recruit fresh blood in the close season.

The last third of the current campaign is far too long to stand still and simply tread water and ideally we should be using the time to test out new formations, discover more about the players that remain and whether we should maintain faith in them, and ideally concentrate on improving them and eradicating some of the careless errors that punctuate our play from week to week.

All that in conjunction with winning some matches and keeping the fans interested, entertained and involved rather than counting off the days until the end of the season and looking over our shoulder at the teams below us.

It is unfair to read too much into a match where we went a key man down so early on and it is not so long ago that we comprehensively outplayed Preston on their own patch, so it is premature to panic but it cannot be denied that there are some worrying signs and that the warning bells are beginning to jangle.

What is particularly concerning is that the same worrying traits reoccur with monotonous regularity week after week and we don’t seem to learn from our mistakes or show many signs of improvement.

We have now conceded nine goals in the last four games and it would be hard to credit our opponents for any of them as they were all caused to a greater or lesser extent by avoidable individual errors.

We are a soft touch and have not kept a clean sheet since Boxing Day and have never really looked like doing so. We lack pace in central defence and are horribly vulnerable to long balls over the top as was clearly demonstrated by the horror show of a second goal yesterday which came from a long, straight goal kick which was criminally allowed to bounce before Hooper showed great skill and anticipation to score with an instant volley.

I would have thought that defensive solidity would have been a coaching priority in training and I’m sure that it is, but our efforts do not seem to be having much effect where it matters, out on the pitch.

There seems to be a lack of cohesion and we do not have mini partnerships developing on the pitch similar to the one for example between Odubajo and Jota last season and it would be so helpful if Colin and Bidwell could develop a similar relationship with a wide midfielder as it all looks so disjointed at the moment.

Dean Smith is beginning to take on a haunted look and I feel sorry for him as he can only work with what he has got.

Hopefully he can entice some pace, tempo and brio from a midfield quintet that looks slow, weak, small and overmatched.

Personally I believe that much of the problem stems from a lack of confidence which will only be restored by a win or two.

I am not so sure though if we can either rehabilitate or get much more out of our three ailing strikers, none of whom has contributed a jot since the turn of the year.

Leaving aside the screamingly obvious fact that our favoured 4-2-3-1 formation suits none of them, Vibe is shattered after a year of nonstop activity, Djuricin has shown nothing since his return from injury and Hofmann has much to do to prove himself after a performance of appalling sloth and ineptitude yesterday.

Unless Dean Smith or Richard O’Kelly are miracle workers I honestly have no idea how we can squeeze some performances, let alone goals, out of any of them.

Maybe the answer is to attempt to shake things up by bringing in a couple of short term loanees who can ideally plug a few gaps and provide a fresh impetus or something different?

Perhaps Alan McCormack will return from injury and add some steel and competitive edge?

Forgive me for even mentioning this but I also feel that we are too naive and nice. Every team we play seems to make a habit of committing strategic fouls which frustratingly nip our threat in the bud. Alan Judge has been a particular victim of this practice recently, and perhaps we need to follow suit where necessary.

As you all can see, all I have are questions and concerns and no real answers, and maybe we simply have to accept the situation for what it is and just do our best to be patient and fight our way out of it.

I have been supporting Brentford long enough to be more than grateful for our place in the Championship and am happy for us to consolidate slowly and gradually.

What does worry me is if we are not competitive.

We now have two eminently winnable home games coming up against a Derby County team in free fall and Wolves.

Let’s see where we are after these two matches before we get too concerned.

Two good performances and a minimum of four points gained would go a long way towards restoring our faith as well as a sense of calm, trust and patience.