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.


Good News! – 17/2/16

Good news has been scarce, sparse and rather thin on the ground lately given Brentford’s patchy start to the New Year, so let’s shout it from the rooftops – Harlee Dean and Nico Yennaris have both joined Sam Saunders in extending their contract with the club, Harlee for two years and Nico until 2019.

Given the recent departure for a variety of reasons of Jota, Toumani Diagouraga and James Tarkowski  and the accompanying uncertainty surrounding other squad members, it is encouraging to say the least to learn that two established players have decided to buy into the club’s stated determination to rebuild and strengthen the squad at the end of the season and thus remain part of the Brentford project.

We certainly needed to hear something positive this week following the avalanche of unanswered goals rippling our net recently and for differing reasons we should be absolutely delighted that both Harlee and Nico have staked their immediate future with the club.

Up until very recently I suspect that you could have obtained long odds on Dean making the decision to stay, as he and the football club appeared to have fallen out of love with each other and a parting of the ways seemed inevitable.

Harlee perhaps felt that he didn’t receive the respect that he deserved as well as maybe coveting the salaries received by several other Brentford alumni elsewhere. He had also oft bemoaned the fact that felt that he was the scapegoat and the one generally to be blamed and dropped when things went awry.

On the other side of the fence Harlee’s tendency to shoot from the hip and give vent to his feelings about all sorts of matters pertaining to the club, sometimes before apparently engaging his brain, did not apparently go down too well in some rarified circles and there appeared to be a Mexican standoff with the club not seeming to be making serious efforts to resign him and the player stating that he would be leaving at the end of the current season when his contract expired although he was hoping that something could still be worked out.

What was never in any doubt was the fact that Harlee would continue to give his all on the pitch and he has certainly done his utmost to put his finger in the dyke and try and stem the flood of goals that we have conceded.

Harlee wears his heart on his sleeve on the pitch (and off it too) and he has jumped, headed, tackled and covered to the best of his ability and has visibly improved as a footballer over the last couple of years and at twenty-four still has the potential to progress even further.

He seems to have learned from his impetuous reaction which saw him punished with a daft and totally avoidable and unacceptable red card against Nottingham Forest and has become a calming influence and a leader to those around him. He also reads the game far better which enables him to use and exemplify the old adage that the first yard is in the head and cover up his lack of pace.

He is now a proven and accomplished Championship central defender who anticipates and snuffs out much of the danger that threatens us and he has also gained confidence in the attacking system he has been asked to play in and has become an accurate long and short passer of the ball.

Thankfully he is yet to attempt Tarkowskiesque dummies and feints as he brings the ball out of defence and he is a footballer who is equally aware of his strengths and limitations.

So what happened to bring about this volte face?

On the one hand the club needed a quick triumph to reassure supporters given the setbacks of the past month or so and Harlee resigning has provided a statement of intent given that a senior, well established player who is also a firm fans’ favourite has not followed the general exodus out of Brentford FC but has seen and heard enough regarding our future plans and aspirations to decide to stay.

This decision also demonstrates that the opinions and wishes of Dean Smith are being listened to as the manager had made it clear that he wanted to have Harlee on board for next season and beyond.

The sale of Tarkowski also meant that Harlee was the only senior right sided centre half at the club and therefore a more valuable property than had been the case previously.

Despite his all round improvement Harlee might not have been seen as a player good enough to help take us to the heights of the Premier League and perhaps his continued stay at the club reflects that our ambitions have to some degree been put on hold or made more realistic until the move to Lionel Road comes to fruition.

I now wonder if we will attempt to bring in another defender to compete with him, such as Giklingham’s John Egan, whose name has been bandied about or whether Harlee will be seen as the undisputed first choice next season?

Hopefully Andreas Bjelland will be fit enough to play alongside him and Harlee will benefit from having an experienced partner, as he did when Tony Craig was there to support, encourage and prompt him.

Harlee excites and frustrates me in equal proportions, but I respect him for his passion and commitment and I am pleased that one of the few remaining members of the old guard will still be with us next season.

He really gets what Brentford is all about, he knows how much beating Fulham and QPR means to us all and he is a fighter and a warrior. We need more like him in the squad.

Lets just hope that he finally becomes more of a danger to the opposition at our set pieces.

That Wembley header seems a long time ago now but his Fulham thunderbolt will live long in the memory.

The announcement that Nico Yennaris will remain for a further three years was not greeted as effusively by many Brentford supporters but I really can’t see what they have to complain about.

Nico arrived a couple of years ago from Arsenal and given his Premier League pedigree, expectations were high but he was a damp squib, unable to displace Alan McCormack after Shay Logan’s departure and he fell into the shadows where he remained until Max Colin suffered a long term injury earlier this season.

He had also enjoyed a successful loan spell last season at Wycombe Wanderers alongside Sam Saunders and played in their losing Playoff Final against Southend United. Some were even surprised that he wasn’t unloaded permanently but he returned to Brentford patiently waiting his turn.

When it came he more than seized his opportunity and Colin was hardly missed as Nico put in a series of eye opening and dominating displays where he showed pace, strength and tenacity and he was more than unfortunate to lose his place when the Frenchman returned.

He remains in and around the team and filled in last Saturday in central midfield and came close to opening his goal account.

He has certainly demonstrated that he is quite good enough a player to cope with the demands of the ChampionshiSome fans expressed a view that signing Nico to a new contract shows a sign of lack of ambition.

To that I would respond that every successful team requires sonebody who can slot in well in a variety of positions without fuss whenever necessary and Nico fits that bill.

He is still very young at twenty-two and is visibly improving as he gains in confidence and might yet develop into a first team regular.

At present I see him as a versatile water carrier and do not expect to see him as a first choice but rather as a squad player deluxe who will do a fine job whenever and wherever he is called upon and having him breathing down their neck will help ensure that everybody else maintains their standard.

So, some good news at last for all Brentford supporters which will hopefully go some way towards allaying our slight concerns at our current situation.

All we need now is three points on Saturday as well as the likes of David Button and Jake Bidwell to follow in the footsteps of Harlee and Nico – surely not too much to ask for?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

End Of Term Report – Part Three – 28/5/15

25. Raphael Calvet

Never really challenged for a place and has been overtaken by others coming through the ranks. After two seasons without making any impact it is surely time for him to leave.

26. James Tarkowski

A stop-start campaign for James as he had to undergo a massive learning curve, experiencing Championship football for the first time. He ended up playing thirty-four games partnering a combination of Harlee Dean, Tony Craig and Liam Moore. Dean and Tarks ended up in firm possession of the shirts and gelled together well in the latter part of the season but James had to cope with the extra handicap of having to play on an unfamiliar left side of the defence, and this caused him problems as he was sometimes caught in possession whilst trying to take an extra touch and get the ball onto his favoured right foot.

He was as comfortable on the ball as ever, striding forward, dropping his shoulder and advancing menacingly into the opposition half. He distributed it beautifully as well, and he played an important part in helping us break through the initial press and start our own attacks. Sometimes, though, he lost concentration and overplayed, costing us a number of goals, but he is still learning and improving and has more than enough ability to play at Championship level or even higher.

He also had a one hundred percent record at taking penalty kicks!

27. David Button

David Button had a wonderful season and was a Championship ever present in goal. He was very much our first point of attack as well as our last line of defence and his quick and accurate distribution played a massive part in our overall style of play and freedom of expression. He generally tried to play it short but would occasionally hit the ball long for Gray or Dallas and he was the instigator of Andre’s brilliantly taken and confidence restoring goal against Watford – Route One football at its most effective.

He sometimes failed to deal effectively with crosses and he could also use his physique better as he is an enormous man, but he was utterly reliable and often quite brilliant and he won us numerous points with some incredible saves against Birmingham, Rotherham and Norwich in particular. You can count his blatant mistakes on the fingers of one hand and Button has developed into one of the best goalkeepers in the Championship with admirers from the level above. He is another who we will do well to hang onto this summer.

28. Nico Yennaris

His season at Brentford never got started and he only played once in the Championship, unfortunately in our worst performance of the season at Charlton, where he looked uncomfortable and exposed at left back. Nico had a successful loan spell at Wycombe Wanderers where he played at both right back and in midfield and ended his season at Wembley in the playoff final. Will he be back next season for another crack at establishing himself at Griffin Park or will he perhaps be searching for regular first team football elsewhere? Nico has real ability but he still needs to make his mark.

29. Liam Moore

Liam’s return to Griffin Park for a second loan spell was generally welcomed given his pace and left sided bias but the England Under 21 international totally failed to seize his opportunity. He had mixed fortune in his three matches, struggling against Clayton Donaldson at Birmingham, coming out all square in a physical battle against James Vaughan of Huddersfield and looking weak and totally out of his depth against Ipswich’s aerial bombardment. He was withdrawn from the fray at Portman Road and soon returned to Leicester allowing Dean and Tarkowski to develop an effective defensive partnership.

30. Josh Clarke

Formally a flying winger, Josh reinvented himself as an attacking fullback in the style of Moses Odubajo, and he impressed in his new position in the Development Squad. This was enough to earn him a contract extension and now it is up to him to prove that he has what it takes to forge a successful career.

31. Chris Long

Twenty year-old Chris Long arrived in the January transfer window to back up and support Andre Gray and he more than did his job whenever he was fit. He scored four times in ten appearances including three in his two starts. He was what we had previously lacked all season, a goal sniffer and six-yard box predator. He would doubtless have played more games had he remained fit and he also made a couple of perplexing returns to turn out for Everton when we were desperate for him to play for us. I hope we make every effort to ensure his return to Brentford next season on either a loan or permanent basis.

32. Jack O’Connell

The tall, cultured, yet powerful left sided defender did not feature for the Bees beyond sitting on the bench after his January transfer from Blackburn Rovers but he is seen as a potential star of the future. He performed well whilst on loan to Rochdale and did enough to suggest that he will be challenging for a first team place at Griffin Park next season when his presence, if selected, would enable Tarkowski to revert to his more natural right side.

33. Montell Moore

Montell made an instant impact on his debut as an eighteen year old at Dagenham with a goal and three assists. He was named as a substitute on several occasions but never played again and unfortunately received a criminal conviction. It was considered politic and best for his development to send him on loan to FC Midtjylland in Denmark where he has since gained valuable experience. Let’s see how he responds next season.

34. Daniel O’Shaughnessy

A regular in the Development Squad who did not look out of place in the preseason friendlies but was never close to earning a first team place. His future at the club might well depend upon whether Alfie Mawson decides to stay with Brentford or take his chance elsewhere. I suspect he will be given another season to prove himself and perhaps be sent out on loan.

35. Jermaine Udumaga

Nineteen year-old Jermaine Udumaga impressed as an attacking midfielder or striker whose goal tally reached double figures in the Development Squad. He was named as a substitute for the first team on four occasions but has yet to make his debut. He has signed a new one-year deal and will probably be competing for opportunities next season with Montell Moore.

39. Nick Proschwitz

A last minute purchase that reeked of uncharacteristic panic and poor judgement. He contributed little off the bench and never looked up to the standard required. He was offloaded to Coventry City where he had an equally unimpressive loan spell.

Alfie Mawson

The tall central defender enjoyed a wonderful season at Wycombe Wanderers where he was named Player of the Year and he now has a tough decision to make. Does he accept Brentford’s offer of a new contract or instead move to a new club where he can start as first choice? The central defensive position is in a state of flux at Griffin Park with at least two of the six current incumbents likely to move on as well as perhaps one new arrival.

Mawson is unlikely to force his way into the first team squad next season but he could yet decide to sign a new deal with the Bees and go out on loan again, but my guess is that he will move on.

Will Grigg

Will enjoyed a sensational season on loan at MK Dons where he scored twenty-two times, helped them to promotion, won their Goal of the Season Award and was named in the Northern Ireland international squad alongside Stuart Dallas.

He still has one year remaining on his Brentford contract and a decision now needs to be made on him. Should we give him a clean slate and see if he can force his way back into the reckoning at Griffin Park or sell him when his stock is at its highest? The key questions are whether we see him as a Championship striker and if we feel he can thrive in the system we are likely to employ next season. I suspect that in the event that MK Dons, or another club meets our valuation of him that Will is likely to leave on a permanent basis.

The manager, Mark Warburton, his assistant, David Weir, coaches, Simon Royce, Kevin O’Connor and the rest of the back room staff also made a massive contribution to the team’s success as they filled the players with confidence, encouraged them to remain true to their principles and ensured that they continued to play positive, attacking football throughout the entire season.

Playoff Agony! – 12/5/15

I was watching a playoff semifinal second leg on television last night where a team in red was playing at home to a team wearing yellow. The reds went into their home game leading by two goals to one having scored an injury time winner against the run of play in the first leg away to the yellows, who had worn their normal colours of red and white stripes in their home game. The away team came into the second leg feeling cautiously optimistic given the narrowness of their defeat last week, however their hopes were totally and utterly shattered when the home team roared into a seemingly unassailable three goal lead within the first seventeen minutes.

Surely the tie was done and dusted, but the yellows doggedly fought back, scoring twice before the break, but they could never quite catch up and near the end were trailing by five goals to three on the night and by three goals overall, before two late goals by the brave and persistent visitors tied the score at five goals each. The yellows now only needed one more goal to force extra time and fate finally seemed on their side when the officials signalled an unlikely seven minutes of added time.

The force was with them as the yellows huffed and puffed and came close to a winner on the night with the home team paralysed by nerves and their supporters howling and shrieking for the final whistle, but, despite a few close shaves, their entreaties were finally heard and time eventually ran out for the brave visitors. The reds had triumphed by seven goals to six on aggregate after what was probably the most exciting playoff match I have ever seen, punctuated as it was by a series of great goals, goalmouth scrambles, near misses and some of the most abysmal defending that you could ever hope to see. In other words a coach’s total nightmare and a neutral’s delight.

In case anyone is a bit confused, I was of course referring to last night’s pulsating and unforgettable match between Swindon Town and Sheffield United and can anyone else see the connection and similarities to what happened in the first leg of our playoff semifinal last Friday at Griffin Park and the fact that Middlesbrough will be wearing their normal red shirts and the Bees will be in yellow when we meet again on Friday? Hopefully the only thing that we will have in common with the Yorkshiremen when we play Middlesbrough will be in our scoring five goals away from home although that would certainly be beyond our wildest dreams and an extremely tall order given how few goals Middlesbrough have conceded at home over the course of the Championship season just finished.

Certainly we will have to defend a darn sight better than United did and we certainly cannot expect or count on Boro to be as profligate in defence as Swindon were last night given how gritty, determined and organised they proved to be last week, not to say how dirty they were, fouling with impunity whenever they felt threatened by us. That is for the future as our fate will be decided on Friday and in the meantime we can but dream, count off the minutes, hours and days – and worry!

Given our involvement I have watched all the other playoff matches compulsively and with great interest and I can honestly say that I have yet to see any other team play football of a quality, panache, style and elegance anywhere near that displayed by Brentford. In the other Championship tie, Ipswich proved to be as obdurate and tough as we expected and Norwich too were well organised but possessed slightly more attacking flair. That tie too is poised on a knife edge and could go either way when the two bitter rivals meet again on Saturday.

Preston had a fairly comfortable passage against a Chesterfield team who flattered only to deceive and failed to take any of the chances that they created over the two matches. They could not match the threat of Beckford and Garner who scored all four of Preston’s goals between them. As Graham Westley said on Sunday, it is goals and attacking flair that win playoff games and Beckford proved the truth of that statement with an outrageous long-range effort that more than rivalled Paul Evans’s famous effort for the Bees at Burnley. In Division Two Stevenage and Southend have it all to play for after drawing a rough and tumble first leg which saw referee Keith Stroud’s trigger finger twitching on several occasions when matters threatened to get out of hand, but somehow he resisted the temptation, despite every encouragement given him by two enthusiastic sets of players, who at times lacked control and self-discipline, and restricted himself to awarding a series of yellow cards.

Wycombe Wanderers are, of course, close to our heart given that they are currently fielding no less than seven former or current Bees in their lineup. Sam Saunders, Nico Yennaris and their Player of the Season, Alfie Mawson, are all currently contracted to us however I suspect that only Mawson is seen as having a long term future with Brentford given that he has been offered a new two-year contract. He might decide, as did Luke Norris last year, that it is time for him to move on, but given that he is only twenty-one and is still seen as a potential first team prospect, perhaps he would be best served by extending his contract and having another loan spell away from Griffin Park next season and see how he progresses. It was so pleasing to see Sam Saunders totally dominate the first leg and pull all the strings in midfield, including a beautifully disguised free kick which set up the third Wycombe goal. He so deserves to play a full season in somebody’s first team next season even if it is unlikely to be at Brentford. Nico Yennaris also showed that there is clearly something about him and he has really impressed with his versatility and attacking forays. Maybe the chance could still come next season for a player whose career at Griffin Park has yet to get off the ground? Aaron Pierre, Sam Wood, Paul Hayes and Marcus Bean comprise the contingent of ex-Bees at the club and hopefully they will be able to cling onto, or even extend their narrow one goal lead against Plymouth and earn a richly deserved, if totally unexpected promotion.

What the last few days have demonstrated to me is just how compelling and fascinating the playoffs are to disinterested viewers totally unconnected to any of the competing teams. For supporters whose teams are participating, they are a total nightmare however much you pretend it doesn’t really matter whether your team wins or loses and have done well just to reach the playoffs. Whenever I have sat in front of the television set with my eyes glued to the action, I have tried to switch off and forget that my own team is involved, but I really cannot prevent myself from kicking every ball and putting myself in the place of the supporters of all the other teams I am watching. Well on Thursday night I will be watching the Division Two doubleheader but my mind will be firmly on the Riverside Stadium and our impending date with destiny.

Agent Lee As Fifth Columnist leaves for Fulham? – 28/3/15

lewisWell the loan window slammed shut on Thursday afternoon with barely a whimper from Griffin Park. As expected, no fresh blood arrived as Mark Warburton has made it patently clear on many occasions recently that he feels that his current squad is quite strong enough and fully capable of winning promotion from the Championship to the Premier League and deserves to be allowed to finish the job that has been started so effectively. There could still be an addition to our numbers given that finally after a three month injury hiatus, the so-called Invisible Man, Lewis Macleod, is expected to make his long-awaited debut for the club today in the Development Squad fixture against Nottingham Forest and if he can prove his fitness in that game as well as in a behind closed doors friendly arranged for early next week, he might yet come into contention for first team selection. Fresh legs, ideas and enthusiasm could prove vital at this crucial stage of the season when minds and bodies are feeling increasingly tired and jaded and he might just produce the spark that we require to climb back into, and then cement our position in the top six.

Alan Judge looked far more like his old self when he came on in the second half against Millwall last Saturday and he produced an outrageous piece of skill that brought about the penalty award for the first goal, and he revitalised us when it appeared as if we were bashing our heads against a brick wall and perhaps running out of ideas. Our form since Christmas has been patchy at best and there are many reasons for that, however the absence of Alan Judge who missed seven weeks of action through injury has perhaps been the biggest hurdle that we have had to overcome as he is the man who keeps Brentford playing, the inspiration for so much that is good about our play.

He is a total dynamo who combines energy and nonstop running with the vision and skill to both see and execute a long range pass and change the direction of the attack in an instant. I can still picture that rapier like thrust to the heart of the Brighton defence when he cut it open and sent Moses Odubajo darting inside their left back to score a sorely needed and confidence boosting opening goal. All the oles have understandably gone to Jota for that magnificent last minute, game winning finish against Fulham, but who was it who had the energy to win one final midfield battle and fight off the tired challenge from his opponent, bounce the ball seal-like on his head and then ping the ball unerringly fifty yards to Jota lurking unseen on the right wing – Alan Judge, of course? He was rushed back before he was fully recovered from his injury and we have had to nurse him carefully, and hopefully the international break will have enabled him to rest up as well as strengthen his knee, as a fit Alan Judge could be the difference between our gaining a Playoff spot or narrowly missing out. We also had a nasty shock when it was reported that Everton were considering recalling Chris Long, given injuries to two of their other strikers, but, thankfully, this has so far proved to be a false alarm and the Bees will rely on Long and Andre Gray to share the load upfront and hopefully score the goals that we need over the course of the next seven, or Please God, ten matches.

Our remaining conundrum is to decide the makeup of our preferred central defensive pairing, given that we have conceded six totally avoidable goals in our last three games and we cannot continue to donate goals as if we were a charitable foundation if we are to have any chance of gaining promotion.  Harlee Dean and James Tarkowski are the men in possession but Tony Craig is breathing down their neck and perhaps his experience and leadership might be just what we need to get us over this period of defensive instability? Liam Moore is off with the England Under 21 squad, played for them last night, and is not around at the moment to challenge for his place. He has pace in abundance, an asset that his rivals do not possess and I just wonder if his time will come again, as it seems really strange that a player considered good enough to start for his country cannot establish himself in the Brentford team. I fully accept that his performance at Ipswich was ghastly in the extreme and the manager was entirely correct to take him out of the firing line, but given how porous we have remained, perhaps we now need to reconsider? I’m glad that this is Mark Warburton’s decision and not mine as I am totally bemused and perplexed at this problem and really am not sure what the optimum solution is.

Whilst nobody arrived at the club, two more went out of the exit door to join the evergrowing phalanx of Brentford players plying their trade away from the club on loan. Manny Oyeleke has joined Lionel Stone at Woking where they will both benefit from facing the pressure of a Playoff assault. Oyeleke has impressed every time I have watched him play but I can honestly see no real future for him at Brentford and I just hope he can get himself fixed up for next season and beyond. The other move came out of the blue and surprised everyone. Richard Lee, who recently leeannounced his retirement at the end of the season has moved on loan to our neighbours and rivals, Fulham. His move was greeted by supporters with some degree of annoyance and disappointment on social media and he came in for some unnecessary criticism and personal abuse, but my view is totally different. You are a long time retired and if Richard sees this as a final chance to stay involved and maybe even play a last couple of first team matches before the curtain comes down on his long and distinguished career, then good luck to him. He cannot play against us and given that he was seemingly confined to Bees Player duties at Griffin Park, then how can anybody deny him this opportunity?  OK, I will also let you all into a closely guarded secret, Richard will be writing a chapter for my forthcoming book on the season at Brentford and he has made the move to Craven Cottage purely so that he can provide a Fulham-orientated and related viewpoint on next Friday’s match and add fresh colour and perspective to his writing! Seriously though, I wish Richard all good fortune, and hope that he will be seen on the pitch again this season.

Sam Saunders and Nico Yennaris have also extended their loan spells at Wycombe Wanderers until the end of the season. They can be recalled to Griffin Park should the need arise, although I samthink is highly unlikely that the services of either player will be required. I watched eight current and ex-Bees play in the televised clash between Luton and Wycombe on Tuesday night and it was a slightly surreal experience – the ghost of Christmas past. Saunders ran the whole game and always seemed to find time and space in what was otherwise a frenetic promotion clash. Yennaris was good on the ball but was often caught upfield and easily bypassed in defence. Another Brentford player, Alfie Mawson, has been at Wycombe all season and he scored a wonderfully inventive winning goal on Tuesday and also looked so comfortable on the ball. Whether he can defend to the standard required in the Championship is another question and a decision will shortly need to be made on his future given that his contract expires at the end of the season. Like Aaron Pierre who defended stoutly on the night, and Luke Norris, he might well hayesdecide that he needs to move on but I hope that we manage to persuade him to extend his contract so that we can send him out on loan again next season and see how good a player he can become. Former Bees Paul Hayes, Marcus Bean, Sam Wood and Fraser Franks were also involved in the match and Hayes and Bean in particular showed their experience and ability and were highly instrumental in Wycombe’s victory. Hayes even managed to score with a perfectly placed penalty kick!

Jack O’Connell has been quietly impressive since he rejoined Rochdale on loan in January and it is clear that we have a major asset in the tall, blond defender who has also proved to be a massive danger in the opposition area at set pieces, an attribute that our current incumbents would do well to copy. He too could be recalled if Mark Warburton feels that a fresh face is required but he is probably one for next season, when I fully expect him to make his mark. Nick Proschwitz remains at Coventry City but seems to have disappeared into a black hole as he has not been seen in recent games for the Sky Blues following an apparently gruesome open goal miss that cost his new team a crucial victory against Bradford City. Well the die is cast, there is no more room to manoeuvre and Mark Warburton now has to play with the cards that he currently holds. Will they be strong enough or will we fall just short? I can hardly wait to find out!