Easy Pickings! – 1/5/16

I took my Fulham supporting friend, Phil, to the local derby at Griffin Park yesterday afternoon and warned him not to make an exhibition of himself when seated in the Braemar Road stand, wear black and white or do anything else that might out him and reveal his true allegiance. If truth be told, the only time he became animated during what turned out to be a long and trying afternoon for him was when he heard his fellow Fulham fans jeering their team with an heartfelt and scornful chorus of you’re not fit to wear the shirt and it was only with difficulty that he managed to restrain himself from joining in, and I honestly could not have blamed him if he had.

I am reliably informed that back in the day, the Fulham programme used to include a prominently placed advertisement for The Samaritans and given their abject surrender and total lack of fight I suspect that it will not be too long before it reappears, and I can certainly think of one angry and sadly disillusioned supporter who might well avail himself of their services.

Fulham were a total disgrace on the day, lacking drive, positivity and commitment and really were not at all up for the fight. The fact that it was supposed to be a keenly contested local derby with West London bragging rights up for grabs barely seemed to have registered with them and they ran up the white flag and surrendered from the moment when Brentford hit them hard and early and scored two goals within the first seven minutes of the game.

Their highly paid team of mercenaries capitulated without a struggle or a whimper and for all their possession and neat football they barely threatened and apart from Ross McCormack who drifted in and out of the game but struck the woodwork twice and forced David Button into his only action of what was perhaps one of his easiest afternoons of the season, Brentford were the only team who looked as if they had any interest in either competing or scoring goals.

The Bees, by contrast were fully aware of how much this match meant for their supporters and how poorly they had played at QPR recently abd put in a massive shift in order to ensure that we all went home happy.

The quality of their performance was all the more praiseworthy and meritorious given how ludicrously stretched were our resources and our eighteen-man squad included two Academy products in Reece Cole, who spent the match on the bench and young left back Tom Field who made a remarkably composed and assured debut when surprisingly given the nod to replace the injured Jake Bidwell, who missed his first match of the season.

Lasse Vibe, Marco Djuricin and Alan McCormack were also late injury absentees and our selection problems for this match simply mirrored what has invariably been the case pretty much every week since last August as there has been a nonstop and seemingly ever-growing procession of players who have missed large chunks of the season, and yesterday was no different with the likes of Macleod, Bjelland, McEachran and Judge joining Bidwell, Vibe, Djuricin and McCormack on the injured list.

Hopefully we have now used up all our bad luck and next season will see us have a near full strength squad from which to choose. Scott Hogan, as last man standing, made his first ever Championship start for the Bees and Sam Saunders joined Woods, Yennaris, Canos and Kerschbaumer in a small but mobile midfield quintet.

Any nerves were settled within the opening seven minutes which saw the Bees take the game to their opponents who could not cope with their energy, drive, pressing, direct running and movement off the ball.

The appalling Ashley Richards, a total liability at right back where he proved to be a one-man fifth column before his merciful substitution at the interval, was forced back towards his own goal by Field and was robbed of the ball on halfway by Canos, perhaps illegally, but Mr.Haywood who let the game flow admirably all afternoon, saw no evil and Sam Saunders made a lung-bursting break from his own half and was criminally allowed to run opposed towards the edge of the Fulham penalty area. Canos picked him out perfectly and Sam’s finish was audacious, instantaneous and immaculate as he flicked the ball perfectly over the advancing Bettinelli with his first touch.

Fulham resorted to bickering amongst themselves and Parker and Ince gave their hapless teammate a real mouthful and the game was won and lost in that instant. Even better was to come when Yennaris and Woods combined to win the ball back in midfield, and Kerschbaumer played a perfect first time through ball in between the two slow and lumbering central defenders Ream and Stearman who were dozing in the sunshine blithely unaware of the danger, like a pair of wildebeest in the Serengeti totally oblivious to the presence of a lioness lurking in the long grass. Scott Hogan was too quick in both thought and action for both of them, he was switched on and alert and ran on unopposed and finished perfectly and without fuss into the corner.

Fulham were stunned and out for the count and spent the remainder of the half passing the ball sideways and backwards, going absolutely nowhere. Brentford pressed, harried and defended in numbers and never gave an inch and it came as little surprise when they stretched their lead from their first corner when Field’s perfect inswinger was thrashed into the roof of the net by the predatory Hogan – who else?

McCormack might have made a game of it right on halftime but squandered an excellent opportunity, hitting Button’s post when given a clear sight of goal and Fulham heads went down even further and team left the field to a deafening crescendo of boos and jeers.

Hogan had taken some knocks and sensibly was not risked after the break and he has now scored an impressive and unlikely five goals from eight attempts at goal in little more than ninety minutes of action and yet despite his absence there was no respite for Fulham who were as yellow as their shirts, as Canos went up top and ran his opponents ragged.

Fulham had most of the possession as the home team invited them onto them, but it was the Bees who created the best chances when they repeatedly used their pace and cohesion to create havoc in a demoralised defence. Kerschbaumer and Canos both might have scored twice but for Bettinelli who also saved brilliantly from O’Connell’s rising effort.

All three substitutes, Jack O’Connell, Andy Gogia and Josh Clarke played a full part in the victory and Gogia joined Kerschbaumer in coming so close to his first ever Brentford goal when he curled an exquisite late effort inches wide.

All fourteen Bees were heroes with Field making an exceptional debut before suffering a calf injury and he was given support and encouragement by all his teammates who talked him through the game. Both Dean and Barbet were peerless and largely snuffed out the threat of McCormack and second half substitute Dembele and Max Colin was also back to his imperious best. Woods, Saunders and Yennaris dominated the midfield and Alan McCormack’s physicality was barely missed.

Unfortunately this might well be the last that we see of Sergi Canos at Griffin Park and if so, he will have left on a high as he has been wonderful for us and we have been equally good for him. He can hardly have expected to have played thirty-seven times in the Championship as a nineteen year old and with six goals, including that incredible effort at Reading, his contribution has been immense and he has lifted everyone with his coltish enthusiasm and all he lacks is a tail to wag.

Fulham were rightly described as an embarrassment and shameful by their manager, Slaviša Jokanović and I suspect that there will be a clear-out at Craven Cottage given how narrow has been their escape from relegation to League One. In contrast, Brentford played as a team and this was their sixth win in a magical month that has seen them gain the incredible tally of nineteen points and score the same number of goals and rise from the edge of the relegation zone to the dizzy heights of tenth place in the Championship.

This is an incredible achievement which I will dissect in much more depth after our final game next weekend but so much credit is due to everyone at the club as well as the fans for the way in which we have all pulled together and this unity has been rewarded with a resurgence in results, performances and confidence despite the nagging and ever-present  problems caused by injuries and exhaustion.

The squad has been tested to its fullest extent and every player has responded brilliantly and risen to the challenge, and nobody has been found wanting, and despite the recent loss of one of the best players in the Championship in Alan Judge we have clearly demonstrated a grim determination to succeed and have fully deserved to rise up eight places in the league table.

We cannot match the likes of Fulham for the time being in terms of our income, squad numbers and, indeed, overall quality but where we leave them trailing far behind us in our wake is in terms of our spirit, shape, effort, planning, organisation, energy, ethos and determination never to give in, plus of course our exceptional team behind the team..

Brentford are a club to be proud of and Fulham, for all their riches, heritage and tradition could not live with us.

Advertisements

A Missed Opportunity – 27/1/16

Let’s just get things into context for a moment.  I am sure that most Brentford supporters left Griffin Park last night frustrated and not a little fed up after Jake Bidwell’s calamitous and most untypical error gifted Leeds United a late and totally unmerited equaliser that cost Brentford two crucial points as we attempt to stay on the coat tails of the playoff chasing pack.

This morning I have had some time to think more carefully and rationally about the events of last night and now my overriding view is quite simply how far we have come as both a team and a football club when we are moaning and gnashing our teeth at our failure to defeat one of the country’s biggest and most established teams – tarnished and faded glory that they undoubtedly are.

I well remember our inferiority complex when we played Leeds in 2009 after a gap of several decades and our sheer incredulity that the minnows of Brentford were allowed to share a pitch with the giants of Elland Road.

Oh, and by the way, times have changed. Leeds have not beaten us on any of the six occasions that we have played them since then and there was only one team trying to play football out there last night.

It was also Groundhog Day as there was a similar sense of frustration earlier in the season when we totally dominated proceedings at Elland Road, squandered chance after chance to score what would undoubtedly have been a match clinching second goal and then succumbed to a late equaliser after an unforced error when Ryan Woods was caught in possession.

Last night saw us play some quality football particularly in the first half when we totally dominated but failed to make our possession count – a failing that came back to haunt us after the break when we put the handbrake on and created very little.

Had we held on, as we should have done, and emerged with a confidence boosting and much needed and long overdue home win, as well as the first clean sheet of the year, then we would today be congratulating the team for a solid, competent and professional performance.

The fact that we were unable to see the game through was certainly galling and provided further proof, if any was needed, that we are still a work in progress and nowhere near the finished article, but there was also much to take pride and pleasure in.

Sam Saunders was a bundle of energy and effervescence and he frolicked around with the enthusiasm of a new born lamb.

He scored a beautifully taken goal when he ran at the heart of the Leeds defence from the halfway line and distracted as they were by the excellent decoy runs of Judge and Vibe, they criminally backed off him and Sam picked his spot perfectly into the corner of the net from the edge of the area before deservedly milking the applause from the Ealing Road faithful.

Sam is rumoured to be on his way shortly to Tampa Bay but given the sheer professionalism and excellence of his performance last night there is surely still a place for him in and around the first team squad at Griffin Park.

Given the current uncertainty over James Tarkowski, Yoann Barbet needed to step up to the plate last night and he more than met expectations, winning all of his aerial challenges, showing strength and pace as well as demonstrating his skill on the ball and ability to pick out a pass.

He is a real find and there is now a refreshing French feel and Gallic flamboyance in our defence with Barbet and Max Colin both looking as if they will be in the team to stay and I prophesy that it will not be too long before they attract serious attention from other interested parties.

There has been some recent criticism, both veiled and overt, regarding the quality of our recruitment since the end of last season so it is also important and only fair to give praise and recognise the achievements of our Directors of Football whenever it is justified, and in Colin, Barbet, as well of course in Ryan Woods, we have struck gold and made potentially exceptional signings.

We might well be talking about another one very shortly if Josh McEachran continues in the same vein as last night.

Toumani Diagouraga, watching for most of the match from the Leeds dugout where he must have recoiled from the nonstop verbal onslaught from his uncouth new managerial team, must surely have appreciated the sheer quality of his likely successor’s performance as Josh combined some welcome and unexpected grit, pressing and tackling with the eerie ability to find time and space in a congested midfield as well as the vision to invariably find a team mate with his pass.

McEachran clearly demonstrated that given full fitness he will become a massive asset for the club and his burgeoning partnership with the bustling Ryan Woods, lightweights that they both are, augers well for the future and will ideally prove that brain overcomes brawn.

John Swift and Alan Judge too often dribbled into blind alleys and their final ball was often lacking, but we never stopped probing for openings and perhaps the key moment came soon after we had scored when Swift found Judge who turned inside his marker, switched the ball onto his left foot and curled his shot inches over the bar with Silvestri helpless.

A second goal then would surely have put the game well beyond Leeds but we rarely threatened after the break and Leeds finally took advantage when the normally reliable Jake Bidwell shanked his clearance when under no real pressure and Carayol took full advantage with a well placed curling shot just out of the reach of the straining David Button.

So a curate’s egg of a performance which reconfirmed many of our strengths and weaknesses.

We do not make the most of our possession and let teams off the hook and I would hate to count up the number of giveaway goals we have gifted the opposition this season.

The formation we play requires our midfield to flood forward far quicker in support of our lone striker and I am afraid to say that in my opinion we need far better up front than the three strikers we currently possess, as none of them have really convinced that they are the solution to the problem.

We are not using Lasse Vibe to the best of his ability and his minimal threat was easily snuffed out last night which meant that the ball rarely stuck in the final third and the pace and bubbly enthusiasm of the injured Sergi Canos was also badly missed.

However the good easily outweighed the bad and we now move on.

Who knows what might happen in the next few days before the end of the Transfer Window?

Will we escape unscathed or suffer further losses and depredations, and if so who might come in to augment our depleted squad?

That though is a reflection for another day.

 

Walking Wounded – 13/11/15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Normal Service Resumed – 8/11/15

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

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

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

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

We were second best today.

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

Brentford played us off the park.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brentford are back!

The Good Times Are Back – 25/10/15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can’t wait!

Time For Changes – 27/9/15

Now that really hurt!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Better…. Much Better! – 13/9/15

It was a typical long and frustrating stop-start drive back from Leeds last night along an M1 motorway littered with a seemingly interminable and neverending series of frustrating and unnecessary fifty mile per hour speed restrictions and the longeur gave me time aplenty to contemplate the afternoon’s entertainment at Elland Road.

To be honest I had had a lot of misgivings about our prospects given our shaky start to the season, the catalogue of players out with injury and the need to integrate so many new players into the team. Elland Road is also far from being the most welcoming of venues or the easiest introduction to the realities of Championship football with Leeds’ one-eyed supporters spitting bile and hatred and harking back to past glories as well as subjecting the referee to a nonstop barrage of verbal abuse and demands for nonexistent decisions.

Leeds are by no means one of the best teams in the league but they are certainly strong, determined, tough and rugged and that, combined with the immutable law of the ex with the Uwe Rosler, Stuart Dallas and Tom Adeyemi factors also to take into account made me fear for our prospects.

I was really disappointed and frustrated on the way home but not for the reasons that I had anticipated. Instead, I could not understand quite how a Brentford team that had risen to the challenge and a tough test of their poise and resolve had come away with only one point instead of the three that they so clearly deserved after a skilful and resilient display that should have been rewarded with a victory instead of the one – one draw that resulted.

There was much to be pleased about and the positives far outweighed the negatives.

Marinus employed a 4-3-3 formation which worked well and we looked compact and well organised. For the first time this season rather than having a bunch of strangers who looked as if they had been introduced to each other in the changing room before the match, we finally looked like a team in which everyone knew their job and what they were supposed to do and for the most part they completed their tasks to a very high standard.

David Button hardly had a save to make such was the quality of the defending in front of him which restricted the home team to very few chances. Harlee Dean easily won his battle against the giant, lumbering Chris Wood who took the expression a minimum of effort to new heights – or should that be depths?

Harlee has been a new man this season. He looks fitter, sleeker and far more composed and is finally content to let his football do the talking do him.  In other words, he has grown up and matured and has developed into an excellent Championship calibre central defender who totally merits his place in the team, leads by example and is a captain in everything but name.

James Tarkowski had also had a difficult and inconsistent start to the season but yesterday saw him at his brilliant and composed best where he combined anticipation and perceptive use of the ball with some excellent defensive work. Of course we miss the presence of the long term injured Andreas Bjelland but the Dean/Tarkowski partnership is flourishing and they totally dominated their opponents. Max Colin too settled down after a difficult start which saw him booked for a late challenge before he was substituted late on after a dogged performance against the tricky and direct Stuart Dallas. Jake Bidwell was calm and competent and came the closest yet to his elusive first goal when he just failed to angle his header into an empty net after Judge’s cross went over the goalkeeper as he went walkabout.

If I have spent a lot of time discussing the Brentford defence then I make no apologies, as for the first time this season they looked calm, confident and competent and really deserved the reward of a still awaited first clean sheet.

Diagouraga and McCormack dovetailed well and protected their back four with a combination of tenacity and bite. Toumani looked back to near his best, which is welcome news to all Brentford fans and McCormack was tough and combative. He tested the patience of the excellent referee, Nigel Miller, but knew exactly just how far he could go and managed to avoid a booking. It is worth noting that we finally conceded a goal just after he had been moved to right back to replace Colin and we missed his influence in the middle of the field.

Konstantin Kerschbaumer is finding it hard to settle down and nothing much that he is attempting so far is coming off. Yesterday was no exception as he underhit his shot from right in front of goal in the first minute and all too often he was knocked off the ball or failed to find a man with his passes, unerringly choosing the wrong option. And yet…and yet, there is definitely something about him and I just feel that he is still coming to terms with the physicality and pace of the Championship.

Alan Judge was the source of pretty much everything good that we did. He buzzed around on the left wing and led the Leeds defence a merry dance, twisting and weaving his way through them and Sol Bamba will be having nightmares about the ease with which Judge beat him on several occasions. It was good to see him attempting so many shots even if his radar was off and it was his dribble and perfectly timed pass that gave Marco Djuricin the chance to take his time, turn inside Cooper and demonstrate his clinical finishing ability by unerringly finding the bottom corner. This was the first time that Brentford have scored first all season and it certainly felt good and you could see the confidence course back into the veins of players and fans alike.

Marco impressed on his debut, showing skill on the ball and good vision. He is not going to work tirelessly and run the channels and harass defenders, but he is undoubtedly a goal scorer, playing on the shoulder of the last defender and he will score regularly if he is given the service that he needs. He should have been celebrating a second time on his debut but after Silvestri’s slack kick out he was set up perfectly by Vibe but his first time effort pinged back off the post and bounced away. On such small margins are games settled as Leeds would surely never have recovered from a two goal deficit.

Lasse Vibe is also finding his feet. He is quick and sharp but his control and first touch let him down when Tarkowski slid him in on goal. He is at his most dangerous who played more centrally and I do not think he is best suited to his current role wide on the right.

Ryan Woods unfortunately had a debut to forget as it was his slip in midfield which led to the equaliser. He was introduced as a late substitute but had not yet accustomed himself to the pace of the game when he was put under pressure when Button cleared the ball to him, dispossessed, and Leeds took full advantage when Dallas and Wood worked the ball to Antenucci who bent the ball past Button for an undeserved, if clinically taken, equaliser.

The pass was on from Button and we generally retain possession so well in our half of the field that it is harsh to carp when occasionally things go wrong, as they did here. Woods recovered from his error and looked confident on the ball and showed enough to demonstrate that he will prove to be a massive asset for us.

Philipp Hofmann came on for the tiring Djuricin soon after the hour but he had to be replaced himself near the end by Canos, our third newcomer, after incurring an injury. The kindest thing to say about Hofmann is that he is still finding his feet in his new environment. He is massive but as of yet shows no inclination to use his bulk and strength and has been easily bustled off the ball. It must be a massive learning curve for him but he needs to impose himself rather than stand on the periphery of the action and contribute very little. He combines physical presence with massive ability on the ball, and once the penny finally drops he could take this division by storm – it is up to him to learn and adapt. Canos too looked good on the ball and showed he had a trick or two in him. He will certainly contribute throughout his stay, take the Championship in his stride, and will not be overwhelmed by the challenge he faces.

So one point only when we should have taken all three was a tough return given everything that we put into the game, however I am sure that spirits within the camp will have been raised by the performance and there were more than a few encouraging signs that the time on the training ground over the international break had been well spent.

There is still much that needs thinking about and possibly tinkering with, particularly up front. Vibe has already demonstrated that he is a high quality player but we are not using him to his best advantage marooned out on the right wing where he also finds it hard to put in a defensive shift. We lack the pace and incision that Andre Gray brought us and we could certainly do with his selfless channel running and chasing of lost causes. Neither Hofmann nor Djuricin are that type of player and we will have to adapt our play accordingly. Djuricin though, brings us something that we have lacked for a long time – a clinical and calm finisher who will probably convert so many of those close range opportunities that always seem to be ignored or go begging for us.

The team has remained up north to prepare for the Middlesbrough match on Tuesday night. Nobody needs reminding that it was Groundhog Day when they beat us four times running last season and given the positives that we saw yesterday we will travel there filled with hope that we will put on a performance and take something from the game.