The Lowlights Of The Season – 13/5/16

What a strange, but in the end, extremely positive season for which the term rollercoaster could have been invented. There were so many ups and perhaps an equal number of downs too and here are my personal lowlights, many of which it must be said were cancelled out by equally positive events. Please feel free to add your own to the list if you can bear to recall them.

  • Losing so many key players so late in the preseason after the new Head Coach had almost finalised his preparations
  • Realising the realities of our financial situation and where we sit in the food chain
  • Player power and accepting that is not worth keeping unsettled players
  • The unsettling situation of not knowing anything about our new foreign signings
  • Having to throw so many of them into the Championship before they were ready or acclimatised
  • Allowing Jonathan Douglas to leave with no obvious replacement
  • The frustration of losing our record signing Andreas Bjelland to serious injury before he could make his league debut
  • The total embarrassment of Pitchgate
  • Injuries, more injuries and yet more injuries – a constant theme throughout the season
  • Being unable to develop a settled team on account of so many serious injuries
  • Josh McEachran’s training ground injury
  • Losing Jota in the season opener to a poor tackle from ex-Bee, Douglas
  • Marinus Dijkhuizen struggling to make his mark
  • Totally underestimating Oxford United and deservedly paying the price
  • Jack Bonham’s struggles against Oxford United and the lack of sympathy from the supporters
  • Throwing Clarke, Senior, Udumaga and Laurent to the wolves against Oxford United
  • Getting hit by the ball again at halftime against Oxford – thanks Alan McCormack
  • Realising that we were not as good as we either hoped or expected
  • Newly promoted Bristol City taking us apart until Freeman’s red card
  • The unrealistically raised expectations after the far too positive messages emanating from the club
  • The horrific elbow on Tarkowski at Bristol City
  • Andre Gray finally leaving the club and joining Burnley
  • The lack of strength and experience of our substitutes’ bench at Burnley
  • Lasse Vibe proving that he should not play marooned out on the right wing
  • The continued absence of Lewis Macleod
  • Being totally outplayed by Reading at Griffin Park despite constant changes of formation
  • Throwing away a victory at Elland Road through a careless Ryan Woods error in the dying minutes
  • Having to put goalkeeper Mark Smith on the substitutes’ bench at Middlesbrough and only being able to name six subs
  • Throwing away the chance to allay our Middlesbrough bogey through profligate finishing
  • Our terrible start at home to Preston
  • Lasse Vibe missing a great chance to win the home match against Sheffield Wednesday
  • Losing in the last minute to Sheffield Wednesday after a rebound off Jack O’Connell’s backside
  • The Fans’ Forum Fiasco
  • Having to sack our new Head Coach Marinus Dijkhuizen after only nine matches
  • Losing a goal to a free header at a corner against Birmingham City after we had over five minutes to prepare for it given Alan McCormack’s injury
  • The appalling performance against Birmingham City which lacked any energy or ambition
  • Alan Judge’s brilliant late effort against Birmingham clanging off the crossbar to safety
  • Lee Carsley’s unsettling post match revelations after losing his first game to Birmingham City
  • Being overpowered and outclassed by Derby County
  • Lasse Vibe still lying on the pitch screaming for a foul when the ball entered our net for Derby’s second goal
  • The abusive and aggressive behaviour of some Brentford fans at Derby
  • Dropping my car keys out of my pocket and fearing I would be stuck in Derby
  • Alan McCormack’s rasping twenty-five yard effort coming back off the bar at Charlton Athletic
  • Getting stuck in appalling traffic on the North Circular Road on my way to the QPR local derby and worrying that I would not arrive in time
  • Marco Djuricin’s injury at Blackburn – he was never the same player afterwards
  • The death of Martin Lange
  • The Pep Clotet will he, won’t he saga
  • Lee Carsley and Paul Williams leaving the club
  • John Swift’s booking for an alleged dive at Bolton
  • Alan Judge’s one-on-one miss against MK Dons
  • James Tarkowski’s needless own goal at Fulham which revived the home team when we were totally dominating
  • Jota’s contentiously disallowed goal at Fulham
  • Allowing a last minute sloppy winner at Cardiff after recovering from a two-goal deficit
  • The second half non-display against Huddersfield
  • Allowing yet another sloppy last minute winner at Birmingham City after fighting back to equalise
  • Jota’s personal problems forcing his return to Spain
  • The frustration that is Philipp Hofmann – so much ability but so little end product  to date
  • The week from hell when we lost three home games and our season began to fall apart
  • Not taking the FA Cup seriously
  • Button Fingers against Middlesbrough – losing a game we should have won
  • James Tarkowski’s behaviour before the Burnley game and the effect it had on us
  • Our first half non-performance against Burnley
  • Allowing a late and daft equaliser against Leeds when we needed another victory to help boost flagging confidence
  • Losing George Evans to Reading – he would have suited us
  • Losing Tarkowski, Diagouraga and Jota in January without bringing in any replacements
  • The Sky Sports team putting the boot in during their live coverage of the defeat at Brighton
  • Lewis Macleod falling foul of the injury hoodoo yet again after finally making his debut for the club
  • The capitulation at Sheffield Wednesday after Yoann Barbet’s early red card
  • Missing Alan McCormack through injury just when his influence was most needed
  • Our appalling run of results from January until the beginning of April when we won two, drew one and lost ten of our thirteen games
  • Waiting for our luck to change
  • The schism between different groups of supporters and the incessant bickering and arguing that further drained morale
  • The constant and unfair criticism of Konstantin Kerschbaumer
  • Capitulating late on against Derby County when an unlikely win seemed on the cards
  • Losing to two relegation threatened teams in Rotherham and Charlton Athletic
  • David Button’s hesitation gifting Charlton the winning goal at Griffin Park
  • The strange formation against QPR with no striker in the starting eleven
  • Everything that happened both on and off the pitch at Loftus Road
  • The unconscionable abuse directed at young loanee, John Swift
  • Finally bringing in a loanee in Everton’s Leandro Rodríguez and losing him to a hamstring injury in only his second game
  • Not taking advantage of Blackburn Rovers going down to ten men and losing to a late sucker punch
  • Josh McEachran’s second fractured foot of the season
  • Worrying all the way through the March international break about the possibility of dropping into the relegation zone
  • Willing Rotherham to start losing after their amazing run of victories under Neil Warnock
  • Alan Judge’s broken leg at Ipswich
  • Luke Hyam’s appalling challenge on Judge and the unsympathetic and unfeeling post match reaction of Mick McCarthy
  • Alan Judge missing the chance to play at Euro 2016 after so deserving to be selected for the Eire squad
  • Scott Hogan missing his late penalty kick against Bristol City and fearing that we would have to wait until next season for him to score his first goal for the club
  • Losing at Hull City with a weakened and exhausted team
  • Jake Bidwell missing his first game of the season against Fulham through injury
  • The closing of the Academy
  • Martin Samuel’s ignorant and uncalled for criticism of the club in The Daily Mail
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Narrow Margins – 24/4/16

The Brentford bandwagon gathered further momentum yesterday afternoon when we won yet again this time away at MK Dons, relegating them in the process and the highlights of our amazing recent run can briefly be summarised as follows:

  • We have gained a massive sixteen points through winning five and drawing one of our last six games
  • Brentford are equal top alongside promotion challengers Brighton, in the form chart over that period
  • Dean Smith has gone from zero to hero in the mind of some of our more demanding supporters and he could well be in line for the April Manager of the Month Award
  • We have comfortably beaten hard, tough and physical teams in Bolton, Ipswich and Cardiff who have overpowered us in previous meetings
  • We have scored sixteen goals in those six games, second only to Brighton
  • We have conceded only five goals, a record bettered by only three teams
  • This is our most successful run since we returned to the Championship
  • Lasse Vibe has scored six goals in his last six games and finally looks the International striker he is
  • Scott Hogan has returned to the squad with a bang, scoring three goals in just over an hour’s worth of football and his return from long term injury gives us much to look forward to next season
  • We have won our last three away games, having previously only won once away since the beginning of the year
  • We have scored thirty-four times in twenty-one away games to date, the best record in the Championship
  • We have achieved this success despite suffering even more injuries to crucial members of the squad and being barely being able to name seven substitutes at times
  • Unlikely heroes have emerged with the likes of Nico Yennaris and Yoann Barbet excelling in recent games
  • Brentford now sit in tenth place in the Championship and are ahead of our West London rivals Queens Park Rangers and Fulham

That is all that springs to mind at the moment, but I hope you all agree that it is a really impressive list of achievements and one that would have appeared scarcely credible given how disappointed, worried and concerned we all felt as we shuffled nervously out of Griffin Park after our abject defeat to a poor Blackburn Rovers team a mere five weeks ago, our fourth loss in a row and one that left us looking apprehensively over our shoulder at the bottom three.

Now a top ten finish looks a real possibility as well as our being crowned Kings of West London should we maintain our form until the end of the season and ideally put Fulham to the sword next Saturday.

Following Brentford this season has been a real rollercoaster ride and never have Mark Warburton’s oft repeated words about games being decided by narrow margins appeared more wise and apposite.

We went into the first International break in October in deep despond in twentieth place with eight points and six defeats in our first ten games. The situation appeared dire but Lee Carsley and Paul Williams then inspired us to a run of four consecutive victories and by the time Dean Smith took over at the beginning of December we had risen to eleventh place with only one defeat in eight games.

Our last game of the year saw us win memorably at Reading after wonder goals by Ryan Woods and Sergi Canos and Dean Smith had led us to eighth place after three wins and only one loss in his first six matches.

The playoffs looked a possibility at the turn of the year but that is when everything went pear shaped as our next thirteen matches saw a massive decline in results with a mind-blowing ten defeats barely offset by a measly two wins and a draw.

That saw perhaps the nadir of our season as we went into the last International break in mid-March in eighteenth place with nervous thoughts crossing our mind about the possibility of dropping like a stone into the bottom three.

Our current run has seen all such negativity fade away and now we are looking upwards again and we find ourselves safely ensconced back in the top half of the table.

How do you explain a season in which our changes of fortune and constant ups and downs have resembled a game of Snakes And Ladders? Of course there is much that can be said about our massive and ongoing injury list which has seen so many key players missing large chunks of the season, the need to bed in a raft of new players, many of whom had no experience of the Championship or English conditions, as well as the squad having to cope with the differing approaches of three Head Coaches.

That is all very well and true, but I also feel that luck and good fortune – and the lack of them, have had a massive influence on our results. Dean Smith made an interesting comment recently when he stated that we are not playing much differently or better now than when we lost to the likes of Charlton and Blackburn in March. In other words games have been decided by a moment of genius, a piece of good or bad luck or the whim of a referee’s decision.

Being as objective as possible, four of the ten defeats in our last poor run could just as easily have ended in Brentford victories as Birmingham, Middlesbrough, Charlton and Blackburn Rovers were distinctly fortunate to to beat us and we should also have beaten Leeds United when they escaped with a late draw at Griffin Park.

Now it is quite simply our turn to have fortune favour us and that has resulted in a massive rise in confidence and I also believe that the better players feel about themselves and their team mates the more luck they will enjoy, in other words you can help make your own luck.

If you look back at our victory at Nottingham Forest which saw the beginning of our recent run of success, the first half was sterile with very little action as two teams on a bad run cancelled each other out and the opening goal was always going to be crucial.

The game turned on a massive and horrific defensive error which saw Lasse Vibe gifted with an open goal. Suddenly the game appeared easier for our players, confidence flooded back into their veins and they began to take chances rather than play the easy and safe pass. Vibe in particular, a player who had not scored since mid-December has suddenly been transformed into a goal machine and has gone on a prolific scoring run.

I shudder to think about what might have happened had Nottingham Forest scored first – not that they ever looked like doing so. Nobody can say for certain, but I doubt if we would now be feeling so serene and confident – narrow margins indeed.

As for yesterday, we had far too much in our locker for a poor MK Dons team who needed a victory to keep alive their slim chance of avoiding relegation. They were boosted by a early goal by Maynard who converted easily at the far post when the tricky Murphy skipped past Colin and set the goal up on a plate for the striker.

We had started the game slowly and looked slovenly and lacking in sharpness, concentration and commitment but the goal roused us out of our torpor and Canos equalised soon afterwards with a brilliant effort from outside the box which curled in a perfect parabola over the straining Cropper into the top corner of the net.

Button saved us soon afterwards after Murphy skinned Colin yet again and Maynard’s close range effort was brilliantly blocked by the keeper.

After that escape we slowly took control and Vibe almost turned in a shot from Kerschbaumer which was dropped by an inept goalkeeper who also did his best to gift Vibe a goal when he delayed his clearance interminably and allowed it to be blocked by the alert striker.

One all at halftime was probably just about right but we bossed the second half with Woods moving into the centre of midfield and dominating proceedings and he dovetailed well with the excellent McCormack and Yennaris.

Cropper had injured his shoulder and was replaced in goal by the young Burns who was afforded little cover and appeared well out of his depth at this level of football. Soon after the restart Vibe was sent away by a Barbet clearance and took his shot early before the keeper was able to set himself and his effort was perfectly placed into the corner for a well taken goal redolent of a player full of confidence.

Even then we did our best to allow a poor team back into the game and dozed off in the sunshine but Barbet picked Maynard’s pocket as he raced clear on goal and Revell missed horribly from point blank range. Murphy’s danger was minimised when Clarke replaced Colin whose attacking flamboyance did not compensate for his defensive shortcomings on the day.

Djuricin came on for Vibe and hit the top of the bar with a flicked header and he helped set up Woods for a rasping drive for the nerve-settling and match-clinching third goal which also followed a flowing move.

Now it was just a question of how many and Bidwell obliged with a fourth when his free kick from way out on the right touchline drifted past all the straining bodies in the penalty area and ended up in the far corner of the net. Gogia who had a brief runout as a substitute then came close to a fifth and the match ended with Brentford in total command.

A comfortable win indeed but one that could quite easily have gone the other way had MK Dons not been so wasteful with the opportunities that we so generously gifted them throughout the match.

Narrow margins yet again!

What Might Have Been – 19/4/15

Just imagine how Brentford supporters would have felt way back in August last year if they had been able to look into a crystal ball and read the three names nominated last week on the shortlist for the 2016 Championship Player of the Year award.

Judge, Gray and McCormack were the three names announced and whilst few of us would have been surprised to see the first two on the list, McCormack’s would have been an entirely different matter and surely nobody would have anticipated Alan having a career year that enabled him to scale such heights of achievement!

Doubtless, we would also have felt that retaining the services of Andre Gray and his mounting goal threat, watching live wire and spark plug Alan Judge taking the league by storm and seeing Alan McCormack play his role to perfection as the minder and protector of the more skilful and less physical members of the team, meant that Brentford would have succeeded in building upon the success of last season when they reached the playoffs and perhaps come even closer to achieving their seemingly impossible dream of reaching the Premier League.

Taking that thought just a step further, I wonder just how far last season’s team could have progressed in the highly unlikely circumstances that we had been able to ignore the dictates of Financial Fair Play, the hungry predators waiting to pounce and the economic realities of our situation and managed to keep them all together for another year?

Who knows what the answer would be but that side contained so much burgeoning talent and it is a fair bet that with a couple of additions the team would have threatened to take the division by storm.

Let us now take a brief look at how the players who have left us have fared and examine whether they have furthered their career by leaving Griffin Park for pastures anew, and also how we have coped with their loss.

Moses Odubajo’s departure left a slightly bad taste in the mouth as we had no option but to comply with his release clause which totally undervalued him given the massive progress he had made since moving to fullback after Alan McCormack’s injury at Bolton. It is easy to complain though with the benefit of hindsight!

Moses impressed when playing for England Under 20s last Summer and there is every chance that he will have an International future ahead of him.

He has established himself in a Hull City team that looks as if it is playoff bound and has had a consistent season if not quite matching the heights of last year.

You always miss players of his calibre but Max Colin has proved to be an exceptional replacement who can defend and attack with equal dexterity and Nico Yennaris has also taken his opportunity well at fullback. We are more than covered for his loss.

James Tarkowski left under a cloud in January and is currently waiting patiently for his chance in a Burnley team that is on the verge of returning to the Premier League.

Any judgement on him is still clouded by the unpleasant and unprofessional way that he helped engineer his transfer through his controversial refusal to play against Burnley and the problems that it caused us in its wake.

He remains a genius in embryo, a frustrating combination of superlatives and pratfalls where he is just as likely to glide past three opponents as he is to overreach himself through overconfidence and lack of concentration and set up a soft goal for the opposition.

Yoann Barbet has settled down well as his replacement and is rapidly learning on the job. He has the ability to hit accurate long passes as Preston and Bristol City found out to their cost but shares his predecessor’s penchant for overplaying at times. Tarky is currently a far better bet given his extra experience but Barbet is fast improving, is a potential star, and we have certainly looked more balanced playing a left footer on his natural side.

There is not much more to write about Jonathan Douglas than has already been remarked about at great length here and elsewhere. He had a massively impressive first half of last season but his performances gradually tailed off as he was grossly overplayed by Mark Warburton. Even so he was highly influential and provided a shield for the back four as well as making effective late runs in to the area and scoring a career high eight goals.

He has done enough at Ipswich this season to earn a contract extension but his overall influence is waning and I believe that we are missing a similar type of player rather than the man himself and I have no regrets at his having left. Konstantin Kerschbaumer and Josh McEachran have both attempted to take over the mantle of being the all action box-to-box midfielder we crave but neither has really fitted the bill and there is a yawning chasm still waiting to be filled, perhaps by Yennaris. The biggest influence Douglas has had on our season was in injuring the majestic Jota, an action which cost us his services for the first four months of the season.

Toumani Diagouraga is another whose departure has hurt us more in the short term given his obvious ability and more unexpectedly his newfound goal scoring prowess that has emerged since he joined Leeds! Nico Yennaris has emerged as an unexpected hidden talent now that he has been given his belated opportunity to cement his place in midfield but I expect at least one new face to arrive in the Summer who will challenge for a place as a covering midfielder. As for Toumani, it was the right decision to allow an unhappy player to leave the club for a more than realistic transfer fee.

Stuart Dallas might possibly have jumped ship a bit early as he would surely have been a near automatic choice for us this season had he remained. He might well retort that he is now earning more money playing for a bigger club than Brentford, but with a mere four goals and five assists he has not really pulled up any trees at Elland Road and I am not convinced that their style of play really suits him. We have lacked a goalscoring winger all season and his directness and readiness to shoot on sight have been sorely missed. He has been a real loss.

Alex Pritchard’s brilliance in the second half of last season made it a total certainty that he would not be returning to Brentford and indeed, he was expected to be challenging for a place in the Spurs team of all stars however a serious ankle injury sustained when playing for the England Under 21 team has ensured that a season that promised so much has instead become a total write off as he has barely featured for either Spurs or West Brom.

Alan Judge took over his mantle as playmaker at Brentford and succeeded beyond our wildest dreams with a massive return of fourteen goals and eleven assists but we have come nowhere near replacing the skill, effervescence and goal threat of last season’s midfield. How could we?

John Swift has enjoyed a tough baptism of fire but has shown signs of developing into a real talent and his tally of six goals is highly impressive for one so inexperienced. He, Judge, McCormack, Saunders, McEachran, Kerschbaumer, Yennaris and the highly promising Ryan Woods and Sergi Canos have all ensured that our midfield remains the strongest part of the current squad but in Jota, Pritchard, Judge, Douglas, Diagouraga, backed up by Dallas and Toral we possessed perhaps the finest midfield at the club in living memory.

At first sight, Andre Gray has been perhaps our biggest loss given the twenty-two goals he has added to the two he scored for the Bees right at the start of the season. He has developed into the most dangerous striker in the division and there are no limits to the heights that he can achieve given his improvement this season since he joined Burnley.

Of course we have missed his eager running and predatory instincts in front of goal but between them Vibe, Hofmann, Djuricin and Hogan have almost matched him as they have scored twenty-one times between the four of them – a really impressive total, and proof that we have managed pretty well without Gray even if none of our current strikers can compare with him in terms of individual quality.

That is a trend that in my view has been repeated throughout the squad. We have without doubt lost the services of a large number of exceptionally talented players who blended together so well to form last season’s wonderful team, but when you look more closely you can quite clearly see that whilst some have been missed more than others, most of their replacements have stepped up to the mark and have been hits  rather than misses and they are all still improving as they gradually acclimatise to a new situation.

The overall success of last season has not, of course, been equalled and perhaps never could be given our current resources but the reality of our performances this season on both a team and individual basis is far more impressive than the myth.

Finally my apologies for my really poor and obvious Alan McCormack joke at the beginning of this article and many congratulations to Andre Gray, the Championship Player of the Year as well as to the runners up, Alan Judge and of course ROSS McCormack of Fulham!

Brentford’s Injury Hoodoo – 14/4/16

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Mind Games – 29/3/16

It’s been a really strange and frustrating Easter weekend as, like I am sure so many others, I have been feeling lost and bereft without my customary football fix. I am sure that I will soon be corrected but I cannot for the life of me remember any other Easter in recent years which has coincided with yet another International Break and resulted in my having to find other ways to amuse myself.

I can still vividly remember Good Friday and Easter Monday last year which saw the nonstop excitement and adrenalin rush of those two unforgettable clashes against Fulham and Nottingham Forest. Hammering Fulham on their own turf will naturally go down as one of my best ever Brentford matches and I can still easily summon up all four of our goals on my personal memory bank and mental tape loop of great Brentford moments, but our late recovery from a seemingly insurmountable two goal deficit against Forest was perhaps just as massive an achievement as it simply exemplified everything good about us at that time and highlighted our relentlessness, never-say-die attitude and total refusal to give any game up for lost as Andre Gray’s clever turn and instant shot put us right back in the game and then deep into injury time Tommy Smith stood his cross up just above the straining hands of Karl Darlow where it was met by the bouffant hairstyle of Jota for a wildly celebrated equaliser.

Where has that spirit gone now, as we appear to have had the stuffing knocked out of us by a seemingly never ending series of body blows, some coming from out of the blue, others quite frankly self-inflicted, that have punctuated a season which promised so much but has ended up being such a cruel reality check to all of us, management, players and supporters alike. This season has been death by a thousand cuts and is still delicately poised and can go one of two ways as we now face a crucial nine match mini-season which will have so many repercussions for the club depending upon where we finish up after our final game at Huddersfield in less than six weeks’ time.

In that respect perhaps we all desperately needed and will greatly benefit from a two week break which ideally will enable us all to catch our breath, gird our loins and get ourselves ready for the struggle and potential torments or even triumphs that lie ahead as the Bees prepare to fight for their very Championship life.

We should all take some degree of comfort by recalling that we went into the last International Break in early October in total disarray on the back of three consecutive defeats, the loss of a Head Coach, the shocking and demoralising foot-in-mouth announcement by Lee Carsley that he had no desire to become the permanent replacement as well as sinking like a stone into a sorry twentieth place in the league table.

We only looked like going in one direction but Carsley apparently put his squad through a mini preseason bootcamp which addressed our lack of fitness and sharpness and we came out of the traps recharged and re-energised, a totally different team in every way, shape and form which won its next four games and went on to take twenty-eight points from fourteen games and ended the year in eighth place just outside the playoff positions. Promotion form indeed and an amazing turnaround which unfortunately has not been maintained since the new year began.

So we know that we can do it and let’s face it, depending on the results of the other strugglers, our minimum requirement for safety is probably a mere seven points from nine matches. Surely not too much to ask for? Given the run that we have been on since early January even that paltry target might seem a tough ask but hopefully Dean Smith will have used the time afforded him by the International Break productively and his ministrations and perhaps tweaking of his resources will hopefully produce the same effect as Carsley had in October.

There must be much for him to ponder on. Does he keep things as they were and hope that our luck will turn and we recover some form or will he freshen things up by changing the way that we play? He will also have to cope with an injury list that now has the names of Josh McEachran and John Swift added to it and we are all waiting anxiously for news about their potential availability for the run in. Given a likely shortage of midfielders will he decide to gamble by naming two forwards, not a formation that he has utilised previously either at Brentford or Walsall? Hopefully we’ll be able to glean some information as the week develops but we might have to wait until just before kickoff next Saturday before his intentions are finally revealed.

Our squad has looked mentally and physically exhausted and slowed down by a total loss of confidence which is hardly surprising as defeats beget more defeats and with every loss the pressure increases and self-belief withers on the vine. Players stop acting instinctively and instead start thinking about what once came naturally and they become afraid of taking chances and running the risk of making mistakes and having the crowd get on their back. As was clearly seen against Blackburn this results in a pallid and listless performance with the safe option taken at every opportunity and the ball being passed endlessly sideways and backwards with nobody prepared to put his head over the parapet and use his undoubted ability to try and make something happen for fear of failure.

There is one positive to consider in that Alan Judge and Lasse Vibe will both hopefully return to the club on a high and full of beans from their full international appearances for Eire and Denmark respectively over the past few days and that they might help raise the spirits of their team mates.

Reading the above which I believe succinctly sums up our current situation, perhaps the most important person at the club throughout this International Break is not Dean Smith but instead, Tom Bates. Who is he I hear some of you ask, did we manage to make a last minute loan signing before the loan window shut last week that has somehow remained unremarked upon? Unfortunately that is not the case, but that is another story given the injuries suffered in the last few days by Josh McEachran and John Swift which might yet rob us of their valuable services and reduce our selection options even further.

No, Tom Bates is a Performance Psychologist at the club who over the past ten years has worked with youth and senior domestic international athletes, coaches, managers and teams helping them to perform under pressure and be at their best when it matters the most. In his own words, Tom specialises in enhancing athletes’ mental and emotional performance states through creating, sustaining and improving supreme optimistic spirit and self belief.

That might all sound like gobbledygook, jargon and management speak but he has an excellent track record and if he can help revive the spirits of a dispirited squad that doesn’t seem to know where its next win is coming from then we will all owe him a massive debt.

Most Premier League footballers use sports psychology as a matter of course as it can help players to maintain or rebuild confidence, deal with anxiety or anger and keep their focus. Players are encouraged to try positive self-talk and convert their negative thoughts and fears into more positive ones. There is a sound scientific basis behind this as ideally thinking positively releases dopamine into the bloodstream which is linked to feelings of certainty and confidence and helps reduce cortisol levels, a hormone linked to stress and physiological reactions related to potentially harmful feelings and sensations of fight and flight.

Visualisation is another technique commonly used whereby players are encouraged to imagine and picture themselves succeeding in their specific tasks such as scoring from free kicks or saving penalty kicks and focusing on positive memories and recollections of doing the same on previous occasions.

Players might also be encouraged to repeat key words or phrases to themselves in an attempt to help regain focus when things go wrong or if the red mist comes down during a game.

I am barely scratching the surface as this is now a sophisticated science that has progressed way past early attempts in this field which included the notorious Romark, or Ronald Markham, to give him his real name, a hypnotist who was used by Malcolm Allison to assist Third Division Crystal Palace on their unlikely run to the 1975/76 FA Cup semifinal. Unfortunately it all ended in tears when he claimed that he had not been paid for his services and promptly put a curse on the club which apparently remains in force to this day.

Hopefully Tom Bates will be more successful in his efforts on our behalf. In the meantime I just have one question for him, can he please suggest something that will help keep all us fans calm, measured, united, supportive, positive, patient and stress free?

Meeting Phil Giles – 11/3/16

Good communication with your customers is paramount in any successful organisation and is something that should be a given in today’s world of social media and instant access to news and information and the near impossibility of keeping matters under wraps.

Unfortunately many football clubs have lagged far behind the times, seemingly taking the unquestioned loyalty of their fans for granted, smug and complacent in the knowledge that unlike consumers in practically any other sphere of business activity, real supporters are wedded to their team for life and would never contemplate changing their allegiance to a rival however much they are tempted to do so.

Brentford have always made a point of bucking the trend and in recent years there has been a succession of managers, chairmen, owners and chief executives willing to put their head over the parapet and engage with the supporters at a series of Fans’ Forums which have generally resulted in an exchange of views and in fans being kept in the loop.

Given the fact that the services of former Head Coach Marinus Dijkhuizen were disposed of immediately after the last such event when all had been made to appear in public to be sweetness and light between him and senior club management, there has been an urgent need to rebuild some bridges particularly given the rising concern over recent results as well as the sale of key players without the squad being replenished.

With the exception of an interview ten years ago and a quite brilliant and totally bizarre and left-field on line Q&A last season, both held on The Griffin Park Grapevine plus a few carefully crafted and placed articles within the national media, owner Matthew Benham has kept out of the spotlight and refrained from communicating with the Brentford fanbase given that to do so is not within his nature or something that he feels comfortable about doing.

That all changed the other day when he met with the crew at Beesotted and gave them a fascinating in-depth interview which I commend to you all and urge you to read if you have not already done so. He answered many key questions about the current situation and how he sees the future developing and his commitment and ambition thankfully cannot be doubted.

I therefore thought that it would, in tandem, be useful, interesting and illuminating to seek out the views of Co-Director of Football Phil Giles and he was kind enough to spare me the time to meet yesterday as well as answer many of the questions that Brentford supporters would hopefully like to ask him in order for him to clarify his role and how he operates.

Ideally his responses below should be read in conjunction with Matthew Benham’s Beesotted interview as hopefully the two complement each other and viewed together provide a thorough and contemporaneous insight into the thinking, approach and aspirations of the people who are running our club.

Here is what Phil had to say and I hope you find his answers as illuminating as I did:

Introduction

Greville, many thanks for inviting me to contribute to your blog. I’ve tried to address as many of your questions as possible – and it was quite a long list of questions!

Rather than answer each individually, I’ve broken down the questions into sections and written about each one in turn. Hopefully this gives a bit more insight into what we’re doing.

This Season And The Summer

I understand the current frustrations among our fans. Many of them made their feelings known at the end of the Charlton game. There have been lots of changes at the club in the last year, and we, collectively as a club, haven’t consistently reached the same levels of performance as last season. The league table will tell you as much.

However, there are still eleven games to go this season and here is what we want to achieve between now and the end of the season:

We want to finish the season as strongly as possible. We have a young team – three of our four defenders against Charlton are twenty-two years old. Harlee is only twenty-four. The midfield that started against Charlton are twenty-three, twenty, twenty-two, nineteen and twenty-seven (Judge). Djuricin is twenty-three. The experience the players gain over the coming weeks will serve us well next season. With experience will come consistency – we were very good against Wolves, but not so good four days later at Rotherham.

We will bring in a loan player if we feel we can improve the team and our long term prospects.

We are already planning our summer recruitment. We didn’t add anyone in January because the players we wanted were overpriced. As Matthew also said this week, we intend to add good players in the Summer.

We want to finish with some good performances by playing the Brentford way, and would like everyone associated with the club to be united in a positive outlook ahead of the summer.

Longer Term Ambitions For The Club

If we ranked all Championship clubs by revenue we’d be right at the bottom of the league. The new stadium is an important step to allowing us to compete on a more level playing field.

The long term ambition is to build a financially sustainable club that plays at the highest level possible. The quickest route to sustainability is to earn promotion. That is our ultimate target, but we’re not in a position to do what other clubs have done recently by investing huge sums in the team. We’ll have to find a different way of doing it and take a few risks along the way. Some of those risks will work, and some won’t, that is the nature of taking chances. It’s important that we learn from what works and what does not along the way – and we will do.

Football Staff – Roles And Responsibilities

I’ll try to set out the specific roles that Rasmus and I play at the Club here.

Let me begin by saying that whenever one of us gives and interview or makes a statement, we do so on behalf of both of us.

I have spent one hundred percent of my time on Brentford since I started in the job. Ras spends half of his time with Brentford and half with FC Midtjylland. We aren’t always visible but we are working hard to help build a long term sustainable and successful club.

Ras and I have different strengths so we dovetail quite well I think. He tends to focus on the big picture and thinks about things in the longer term. For example, he has been reviewing our Academy and considering how it can compete with every other club that wants to basically do exactly the same as us.

I am more focused on the details and making things work in practice on a day to day basis. We have put in place several management processes to improve the way we operate – it’s the sort of stuff that shouldn’t be noticed if it’s working properly. For example, I was keen to make sure that the football department gives every support needed to the Brentford Community Sports Trust, and we’ve reviewed the process to ensure that we are fulfilling our obligations in that respect.

I manage the recruitment process and negotiate the contracts, but I tend not to get too involved in watching or evaluating players. It’s important to realise your strengths and weaknesses, and I’m certainly not a qualified coach or scout. My strengths are more on the management and organisational side – making sure we build a club with strong foundations for the future.

There’s room for all types of backgrounds in football I think. Accountants and lawyers are prevalent in football and involved in all transfers, although their work tends to be in the background. Part of my job is making sure that the relevant skills are brought into play at the right stage of the recruitment and negotiation process.

The “football man” is essential in identifying a player and creating a development plan for that player, but the “executives” are needed to make sure that any deal makes legal and financial sense for the club, and that proper processes and protocols are followed.

We set out the qualities that Dean Smith brings to the role of Head Coach when he joined us – he is experienced, has good leadership skills, wants to play in the Brentford way and has an excellent track record of developing young players. He has had to deal with both the Jota and Tarky situations, and we weren’t able to add players in January which was the first opportunity he had to influence our transfer policy. We are working very closely together both on current projects and longer term planning, including our recruitment plans for the summer.

Relationships With Other Clubs.

I’d like to think that our relationships with other clubs are very good, in particular with some of the top Premier League clubs. That is a continuation of some of the efforts put in during previous seasons which allowed us to loan Pritchard and Toral last year, and Swift and Canos this season.

We tend to spread the load of building relationships with other clubs across several of the staff, rather than relying on one or two people to be solely responsible, since if those one or two people leave then the club can’t build and grow optimally in the long term. For example, Dean has pre-existing contacts which we’ve made use of, as does Ras, Rob Rowan and others including myself.

In terms of the rest of the football world, I’d like to think most people see Brentford as a well regarded Championship club that goes about things in the right way. I think we look after our players very well. We’ve had some good meetings with other clubs about how we do things and whether there are some mutually beneficial things that we can work on together.

If there is an opportunity to sign a loan player permanently then we will consider taking that opportunity – the policy hasn’t changed from that which brought Bidwell and Forshaw to the club.

Players And Recruitment

I will try to set out the general process by which we identify and sign players.

Ras and I have regular meetings with the coaching staff. At those meetings we will go through the squad and discuss our key requirements. That information will be passed to the scouting team, along with profiles of the type of players we’re looking for. The scouting team will use every available resource to identify players – they watch games, they speak to contacts and agents, and they use data where appropriate. We will do as much research into the character and personality of each player as possible. A selection of potential targets will be fed back to the coaches, who will review the options and prioritise targets.

From there we will decide on which players to target, approach the clubs and finally speak to the players. This is predominantly my responsibility, as described above. Dean and Richard have a huge input into the type of players we want to target, and who we eventually try to sign or sell. Their input is the most important part of the whole process.

In my experience there hasn’t been a single occasion where we’ve not been able to reach a collective agreement on a transfer. Sometimes we all need to compromise a bit to get things done, but that is a normal part of the management process as far as I’m concerned.

I suspect that this process isn’t too different from other clubs, although perhaps we place greater emphasis on certain elements than others. It is essential that we do this however, since we aren’t in a position to employ a large team of scouts who can be at every game. This goes back to the idea that we need to take some risks in order to compete with clubs that have greater income. If we scout in exactly the same way as other teams, then most likely our results will be defined by our budget in the long term.

The data that we have access to isn’t too different to many other clubs, but it’s what you do with it that’s the important thing. I think that the background of some of the management team allows us to do some interesting and sometimes complicated proprietorial stuff with that data. Statistics and data analysis is my background although I don’t do so much of it these days. In reality it’s only one of the tools we have, complementing the more traditional approaches where it makes sense.

Sometimes we fail to sign players that we target. I think it’s healthy to sometimes miss out on players – if we always signed every player that we targeted then it probably means that we’re either overpaying or that no other clubs want to sign our targets. We always have an up to date list of other potential and viable targets so there is always a next player on the list.

Disclosing transfer fees and alerting other clubs to how much we can afford to pay for players, or how much income we receive from sales, doesn’t offer us any competitive advantage over those teams, which is why the terms are normally undisclosed.

Were we in a stronger position on the pitch after January 2016? As I said in an interview for the club website in February, it is impossible for me to state that the squad was stronger having sold two players and Jota having left on loan. However, we took all those decisions with the long term interests of the club at heart.

I understand that this is frustrating for fans, especially in the light of recent results. However, I am absolutely determined that we’ll be in a stronger position in the long term for having taken the difficult decisions now regarding players who, ultimately, didn’t see themselves as a long term part of Brentford’s plans.

The strategy for the summer is simple – we’ll try to sign good players who improve the squad and who ultimately win us football matches and move us up the table. We’ve signed good players in the past, and we’ll do so in the future.

Miscellaneous

Here is one example of how we’ve found the link with FC Midtjylland useful. They played Manchester United twice recently. It was a perfect opportunity for people associated with both Brentford and FC Midtjylland to meet the key Manchester United staff and continue the process of developing relationships, which as I discussed earlier is an important part of what we do.

I think we’ve been very unlucky this season with injuries but we don’t think that is anything other than bad luck. Some of the injuries have been quite freakish. Hopefully we’ll get more luck next season.

With regards to the cup competitions, we underestimated the strength of Oxford in the League Cup. In the FA Cup, we had three games in six days and the Walsall game was the first of those. We fielded a team that we believed should be able to beat Walsall, but didn’t. It was a match worth winning in hindsight and otherwise. We don’t ever field a team not intending to win the match, and we’ll continue to look to win every cup game that we play.

I enjoyed the couple of hours that I spent with Phil and found him to be pleasant, bright, thoughtful, open minded and good company. He takes his time and thinks before he speaks and his words are clipped and carefully chosen. He was certainly polite and endlessly patient given the voluminous number of questions that I had posed him in advance but he shirked no issue, he neither prevaricated nor refrained from answering anything that I asked him although some matters were only discussed on an off the record basis which I have respected given his reasonable concerns about commercial confidentiality and the disclosure of proprietary information.

That being said his answers were controlled, carefully composed and organised and I am quite certain that he revealed nothing to me other than what he had originally intended to do – and why, indeed, should he to a total stranger who he knew was intending to go public with what he had heard?

Pleasingly, he is also a true soccer aficionado and finally came alive when discussing the fortunes of his beloved Newcastle United and he exhibited an encyclopaedic knowledge of their marvellously exciting squad of the mid to late 90s and could see the clear parallel with the Brentford of last season when I described them as everybody’s favourite second team.

Phil is well aware of his strengths and weaknesses, what he has yet to learn and the need to be part of a team ethos where between them all necessary skills and expertise are provided.

He is a highly impressive young man thankfully devoid of arrogance with a bright and enquiring mind who will push boundaries, innovate and explore new options.

We are in good hands.

More Questions And Concerns – 8/3/16

The airwaves have been buzzing with activity since I wrote an article the other day suggesting that it was now Time For Some Answers from senior staff at Brentford FC given the current run of poor results and performances and the resulting uncertainty and concern at how matters have been deteriorating on the pitch since the turn of the year and a Transfer Window which saw the club further weaken its squad without bringing in any reinforcements .

I fully understand and buy into the financial and practical reasons why the club has taken some of the decisions that it has but did not expect that they would result in quite such a massive and immediate deterioration both in results and, just as crucially, the quality of our performances. Losing at home to the bottom team in the Championship on Saturday certainly did not help improve matters and some supporters are also beginning to lose patience regarding what is going on and, as our slump continues, are now openly questioning our strategy as well as the impact that manager Dean Smith is having on the team.

I will continue to support the club in all its actions and for its current business model as I quite frankly can see no alternative way forward for us given our financial constraints and our need to compete on an even playing field with teams whose resources totally dwarf our own, and buttressed by income levels we can only dream about and massive parachute payments, can spend millions of pounds on strengthening their squad and seemingly with a mere snap of their fingers can also entice our best players to leave us, even though they have to pay us handsomely for the privilege.

Last season massively raised expectations and I still feel that a huge opportunity was lost when we did not strengthen a squad in January that looked as if it might continue on its triumphant and seemingly unstoppable path to the Premier League. Had things turned out differently in January, who knows, maybe even the divorce between Matthew Benham and Mark Warburton might have been avoided although I suspect that I am clutching at straws as it would appear that there might well have already been a breakdown in trust as well as fundamental differences between them that would inevitably lead to a parting of the ways.

It is pointless now to look backwards although last season plainly showed what is possible, even against all the odds, for the club in terms of results, performances, style of play, quality of recruitment and overall sense of togetherness and we can only aspire to what was achieved and do our utmost to replicate and even surpass it in the future.

This season has seen us facing an ongoing and relentless series of obstacles, barriers, setbacks and problems, some of them of our own making, others largely unforeseen and unfortunate and should we finish the season somewhere around halfway up the Championship then I for one would see this as a successful season given all the circumstances and such a final placing would be something that I could barely have dreamed about only a couple of years ago.

The problem is managing supporter expectations that quite frankly have been raised unrealistically by some ill-judged comments from within the club as well as a natural sense of optimism and anticipation, if not entitlement amongst supporters, created by the triumphs of last season.

I also revealed that I am meeting Phil Giles later this week when he has agreed to answer some of the supporters’ current concerns and I am hoping for reassurances regarding the way forward and how we expect to plan for next season and beyond.

A busy close season culminating in the club retrenching and recruiting cleverly, creatively and effectively from both home and abroad would certainly help to turn things around and bring about a renewed sense of optimism.

In the meantime I have been overwhelmed by the response to my article which included a list of the questions that I have sent to Mr. Giles, and I have heard from many Bees supporters who share my love and support for the club as well as varying degrees of concern about the current situation.

Former player Richard Poole is worried that our slide could continue until we go into freefall:

Great questions Greville, I just hope they provide the answers as the fans have a right to know. I was not there on Saturday but the players should at least try in respect of the shirt and the fans too as relegation could creep up on us more quickly than we think

Red Rose Bee also helped to put matters into context in terms of fan satisfaction:

I am a season ticket holder living in Lancashire. Every home match is a five hundred mile round journey and costs me around ninety pounds. I first went in September 1961 and have been through all the many bad times as well as the few good. I was at Birmingham, Rotherham and SheffieldWednesday recently. I made the decision not to go on Saturday because watching this team is so depressing at the moment. If the players cannot be bothered, why should I? I predicted that we would lose to Charlton. Like many others who watch us play I am not a football expert but every week we see the same players make the same mistakes as well as the lack of urgency and pride.

I don’t blame Dean Smith for this as he has been handed a very difficult situation, it is the Co-Directors of Football who must answer the questions. I cannot imagine that Matthew Benham is happy with what is happening now.Without him we have no future though.

I just hope that Saturday will focus minds and will represent the lowest point of a forgettable season, if not, and if we carry on like this, we are definitely in a relegation scrap.

Rob is concerned about the current makeup of the squad:

Another great incisive article, Greville – and I look forward to some of the questions you have asked getting answered honestly and fully. Yes, last season was a brilliant one for us, and I fully accept after fifty-two years of supporting the Bees that we cannot have it like that every year. However, there is still the expectation that life will not always be going from high peaks to low troughs. A few weeks ago I thought that we had enough points to stay safe for this year but after Saturday’s performance, I’m not quite so confident. 

It is not just the persistence in playing the lone striker that concerns me, there is the lack of an effective midfield. Whilst I was never the biggest fan of Douglas, and obviously he is approaching the twilight of his career, he has not been replaced.

Equally, Toumani’s departure has left a gap in the defensive midfield and it was interesting to hear comments in the stand about how much we miss him coming from people who were often vociferous critics of him in the past – you don’t know how good someone is until they go. I fully appreciate that players will come and players will go, but I feel that far too many have gone without adequate replacement – and that is one of my biggest concerns.

Rebel Bee gave his analysis of the current situation:

Something is very wrong at Brentford, and without taking any pleasure in it, some of us have felt this for a long while now. An air of complacency set in at the turn of the year, leaving the squad short in strength, character, quality in this unforgiving division – which is relentless right up to the last game. We could yet pay a very heavy price for this complacency – our predicament is that serious.

You’d have to write a book to pick over that performance on Saturday – it was that bad – Smith’s pre match “start on the front foot” quote in tatters after twenty seconds. Even our superb keeper has got the yips, gifting their winner with a soft punch – we are unable to dig in and take a few scruffy draws and that is what alarms me most in this bad run. A glaring problem for us is the lack of pace in the squad – it’s a big part of why we lost yesterday.

My questions to Phil Giles would be all about the balance of the squad and the rationale behind the signings made this season. Why sign three forwards who are unable to play in our lone striker role? Why have we lost and not replaced our powerful, pacy players? We have no width or an outlet, even hapless Charlton had this. I’d also ask how the summer recruitment process will be handled, assuming we stay up, is Dean Smith being given more input and say on this than Marinus was?

Saturday was the day that even some of the most positive people I know are starting to accept that we’ve made a real mess of things, and wonder where our next point will come from. It’s backs against the wall time – all we can do is to get to QPR and try to do our bit, all of the staff need to respond this week and man up a bit.

I fear something has seriously gone awry at Brentford, complete supposition on my part but all is not well and it goes far deeper than the on pitch issues. Clearly the frustrating delays to the Lionel Road project are part of this, maybe a bigger part than I imagined.

Within reason the senior figures at the club need to come out and communicate – tell the truth and try to pull everyone together – otherwise our golden moment getting to and competing in the championship will be a fleeting memory.

Iain is also looking forward to hearing some answers:

Thanks for another good blog Greville. Quite a list of questions! If these will be properly dealt with, then you’ll have a fairly lengthy meeting.

Clearly Saturday was as bad as it can get right now. You can do no worse in a league game than lose at home to the team occupying bottom place. However, whether we’re on a downward spiral will tell how much worse it can get.

Not a specific question but one troubling observation which you might be able to build into your discussion. Did you look at the players before kick off yesterday? My friend remarked that their body language was all wrong and that they didn’t look like they were up for the challenge.

You know, he was right, it was definitely visible. The contrast with the Charlton players was there to see. 

Surely the players should at least come out looking like they can’t wait for the game to start? You can have the worst group of players, with a bad owner but still come onto the field highly energised.

So the events of the first minute only seemed to verify all was absolutely not well in how the players were prepared. I am still very reluctant to become too critical of our Head Coach – but when this is coupled with the obviously ineffective substitutions and too many long balls, which we invariably lose, there are more serious concerns now.

None of us wants to see much more of this. We have no divine right to win but we expect the team to come out, champing at the bit to go and players to know how the team is expected to play and how they are meant to be a part of that.

Maybe what we need to get things going again is a local derby against a team which fires everyone up? Perhaps we have one of those soon.

John Hirdle would prefer a public forum:

Good luck in trying to get some answers from Giles. It is long overdue for him and Ankersen to break their wall of silence and front up with some explanations on the current state we find the club in and their proposed actions to improve things both short term and long term. I can’t help feeling though that instead of a private meeting with yourself they should be addressing these concerns to all of us publicly at a Fans’ Forum. I have little confidence in either of them to be honest.

dwp26 added a few extra questions:

Excellent post. I always come here to get a more balanced view, and I often find that it helps me realise things are not as bad as the post match trauma would suggest.

Some questions to pass on:

Is the overall target of Premier League football in five years still feasible?

Why should I and many others renew season tickets for next season, given that the football we play currently resembles nothing like last season’s quality?

Will we see that exciting brand of high intensity attacking football again at Brentford, or are we now condemned to sideways passing and long balls to players who have a poor first touch and can’t head it?

Chris White wants better and more frequent communication from the club:

Regular communication from the powers to be acknowledging the good and what needs to be improved and what the club intends to do about it would be a good start. I think this would be good for the standing of the club as there are many within the game who because of what happened last February, really want us to fail. We need to acknowledge this and re-emphasise that we have to do things differently if we want to be successful with our resources. But the silence has become deafening.

Lastly, we’re all in despair because we were actually given that most precious thing – hope. We hoped that we could be successful and last year we saw that it could be done, which has given us belief. There’s no way we can allow that to disappear now – it’s already rooted and mediocrity is only making matters worse. The fact that the mediocrity is now within a Championship setting show how far we have come but also what our current expectations now are.

Good luck with the meeting, Greville, and I cant wait for the feedback.

Let’s end with the thoughts of Jim Levack who, as normal, succinctly summed things up:

Greville… your article and questions are absolutely on the button. It has spawned some intelligent and reasoned responses too.

Just one thought though – Should it not be Matthew Benham answering those questions as he hired both Giles and Ankersen? It is not really fair on Giles to take the flak alone, just as it’s unfair for people to judge Dean Smith on a side that he has had no say in developing.

To those who say Carsley got more out of the same players, that is selective thinking. Carsley had a quality centre back in Tarkowski and an effective, gangly pain in the backside play-breaker in Diagouraga.

I’m not going to rant on but to my mind failing to sign any replacements in January has created a destructive mindset at the club. If you tell your office profits don’t matter until the next financial year, the team will cruise.

Interesting thoughts from all of them and many others too. It is good to offload as well as express your concerns. Let’s just wait for some of the answers and hope that I am not fobbed off with platitudes and that they allay concerns and reunite us all.