A Bad Start To A Tough Week – 10/1/16

Yesterday’s disappointing and frustrating defeat to Walsall in the Third Round of the FA Cup left a slightly sour taste in the mouth so insipid and uninspiring was Brentford’s overall performance and given that fact that this was the first leg of what is certain to be a tough and arduous week that also sees us play two of the promotion favourites in the shape of our nemesis, Middlesbrough and Burnley I intend to be sensible and conserve some of my energy and ration my words in order to ensure that there is something left in the tank for me to cover the next two matches!

To be honest there really isn’t too much to be said as Dean Smith rolled the dice, understandably rotated the team given the need to rest some tired legs and ensure that the squad can cope with the demands of three matches in a hectic six day period and unfortunately his gamble didn’t pay off.

Colin, Tarkowski, Diagouraga, Judge and Vibe were all rested with recalls for Yennaris, O’Connell, McCormack, McEachran and Hofmann.

Conspiracy theorists will point to the absence from the starting lineup of possible transfer targets Tarky, Diagouraga and Judge but I would prefer to believe that they were all being saved for the hectic week that lies ahead.

I have no problems at all in those changes being made as the squad should be strong and deep enough to cope with them but where I do have concerns is in how we sleepwalked through the first half and showed no real interest in competing.

Brentford have built their recent success on high energy, pressing, movement and maintaining a high tempo, all of which were sadly lacking in our play throughout a first half which ranks with the worst seen in recent memory at Griffin Park.

Why should this be the case as the manager was well aware of the threat that his former team presented and their decent and highly committed performance cannot have come as a surprise to him?

So lacking in pace, imagination, tempo and dare I say effort and energy was Brentford’s first half performance that Judge had to be brought on after the break and his skill, pace and enthusiasm revitalised Brentford who dominated the second half and would have drawn or maybe even won an unlikely victory but for a combination of exceptional goalkeeping and profligate finishing.

Dean Smith’s former team played their role as party poopers to perfection. They were neat and tidy on the ball, aided and abetted as they were by a lethargic Brentford team which sat off them, stayed deep, never pressed and allowed Walsall to maintain possession for long periods without benefit of any challenge.

Hofmann was totally isolated up front and a strange team selection which featured three holding midfielders ensured that he lacked any support from midfield runners and we created very little in that appalling first half.

It came as no surprise when Mantom was allowed to run unchallenged from deep whilst we ignored the danger and simply watched, backed off and admired him and his perfectly placed curling long range effort gave Walsall a totally deserved lead.

McEachran looked yards off the pace and the game totally passed him by. McCormack ran down blind alleys and only Woods made any impact through the centre but was too easily snuffed out. The formation for once did not work, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the personnel selected did not gel and merely replicated each other’s style of play.

Swift and Canos flitted in and out of the game and Hofmann showed some clever touches but one soft McCormack shot on target in the entire first half tells its own sad story and left the Bees with much to do.

It gives me no pleasure to say that FC Midtjylland appeared to expend more energy in their languid halftime stroll around the pitch than the Bees did throughout the first half.

After the break Brentford seized the initiative, mainly thanks to the tireless efforts of Judge, who demonstrated just how hard it would be to replace him should he leave in the Transfer Window.

We huffed and puffed and efforts from Judge, Hofmann, Swift and Canos were well saved by Etheridge and Dean missed horribly from a free header.

There was more good news with the return from injury of Djuricin who had a late run out off the bench. He found good positions but understandably lacked sharpness and missed two late opportunities to save the day.

Walsall massed in defence and presented an impassable barrier and always broke quickly with Sawyers prominent and but for a brilliant save from Button and a late header from a well worked corner kick routine which hit the post, the margin of their victory would have been greater, and we could not really have argued.

My memory of the FA Cup goes back over fifty years when I was taken by my Liverpool supporting Dad to the 1965 Cup Final where his heroes defeated Leeds United, much to his delight.

The following year I also saw Everton’s narrow victory over Sheffield Wednesday in a five goal thriller that left me breathless with excitement and my Dad a bit less impressed.

I am well aware of the magic of the cup and the mystic hold it has over supporters of a certain vintage and am saddened that this no longer seems to be the case.

I can also remember some of our wonderful days out against the likes of Cardiff, Chelsea, Southampton and Sunderland as well as the embarrassment of suffering giant killings at the hands of Guildford City and Telford amongst others.

Yesterday was therefore important to me and I resented the fact that it didn’t appear to matter too much that we were knocked out of this famous and august competition at the first opportunity.

I well appreciate the juggling act that we faced given the two tough matches that lie ahead next week and have no problem with our utilising other squad members, as that is what they are there for, although the side selected could have been better balanced.

What rankled and upset me more is that certainly before the break the match and occasion really did not seem to matter to the players so uncommitted, languid and unacceptable was their display which reminded me of the way we strolled through a recent FA Cup tie against Wrexham which also ended in another defeat by lower league opposition.

The proof of the pudding will be in the eating and should we gain four points or more from our next two matches – a really tough ask, then yesterday’s debacle will be forgotten, at least until Fourth Round day when we will be left kicking our heels and without a match.

I hope we come out fighting against Middlesbrough as we will certainly need to do so. Losing can also kill confidence and I now have  a horrible, nagging and negative thought running through my mind about the horrendous prospect of three home defeats in a week should we play as badly against Middlesbrough and Burnley as we did against Walsall. Surely that will not be the case!

I am just left feeling rather sad and empty that our most famous cup competition has been so devalued and is now seen as a necessary evil rather than something to look forward to with relish and anticipation.

Is this simply the price of progress and if so, is it an acceptable one? What does everyone else think?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pep Clotet remains the elephant in the room.

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

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

I have made my views perfectly clear.

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

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

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

Nothing else really matters.

Walking Wounded – 13/11/15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Long Good Friday! – 31/10/15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a wonderful evening!

The Good Times Are Back – 25/10/15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can’t wait!

Relief! – 18/10/15

The overriding emotion after yesterday’s narrow and hard fought two-one victory over Rotherham was simply one of relief.

Relief that we had arrested the rot of three successive defeats, relief that we had beaten a team likely to be in the relegation zone, perhaps alongside us, and relief that Lee Carsley had finally broken his duck as a Head Coach and led us to our first victory under his charge.

This was a game where, in all honesty, very little mattered beyond the result. A defeat would have seem morale and confidence amongst players and supporters alike plummet to new depths and the Bees would have dropped into the relegation zone for the first time this season.

Going into the game it hadn’t helped to watch a confident and revitalised Bristol City team totally outplay and pulverise a poor and dispirited Nottingham Forest on Friday night and to see them play the ball around with such precision and accuracy and a certain joie de vivre just emphasised how much the Bees needed to improve in order to get their season back on track and escape from the pack stuck around the bottom of the Championship table.

The three points that we eventually won, not without a desperate struggle, were the absolute priority and I believe that given the fillip of yesterday’s much needed victory, we will now improve slowly and gradually as we regain some confidence and cohesion.

It will also help if we can get some high quality reinforcements into the squad either from outside, during the January transfer window, or hopefully well in advance of then when the likes of Jota, Macleod, McEachran and Colin report back for duty as soon as they have recovered from long term injury.

I therefore do not intend to dwell too much upon the myriad shortcomings that were exposed yet again yesterday afternoon.

We know that the players currently available to us have not proved to be of sufficient quality or experience to get us to where we want to be in the Championship and to carp and criticise them might be good for the soul but is hardly likely to be productive in the great scheme of things.

To emphasise where we are at the moment, we were outpassed and out-possessed yesterday by Rotherham. Nothing really more needs to be said as there is really very little point in doing so.

We all know that our visitors are a set of decent, honest journeymen, toiling hard at a level that is probably just a little bit beyond them and we recognise and appreciate that they do their utmost to make up for their deficiencies in terms of class and ability through the virtues of organisation, effort and sheer hard work.

Please do not think that I am trying to patronise or denigrate them or minimise their achievements as I greatly admire Rotherham as a club for more than making the most of what they have, and it is fair to say that they played as much football as we did, if not more, and probably just had the edge in terms of creating opportunities.

Brentford had forty-seven percent possession of the ball and attempted three hundred and eighty-four passes of which sixty-seven per cent found their target.

Rotherham had fifty-three per cent possession and attempted fifty-two more passes than us with a slightly higher rate of accuracy.

In the corresponding match last season Brentford enjoyed sixty-six per cent possession and whilst comparisons are both pointless and invidious you can see how far things have changed in the interim period.

There is really no possible benefit in wailing, gnashing our teeth and bemoaning the fact that we have fallen so far from grace since the high points of last season and have also massively declined in terms of the quality of our squad and footballing ability – that is simply a fact that we have to accept and get beyond at the moment if we are to retain our sanity and sense of proportion.

The time for recriminations will come later on if the season ends in disaster. Now is simply a time for all hands at the pumps and for us to work together to help ensure our survival at Championship level as it would be a disaster of massive proportions if we allow our hard won Championship status to be surrendered come next May.

Apart from the victory there were many other positives to come out of yesterday’s match:

  • A five-figure crowd that, whilst quiet and muted at times, got behind their team and appreciated their efforts.
  • A positive up-and-at-’em start culminating in a quite brilliantly taken early goal from Alan Judge
  • Scoring the opening goal for the first time this season at home
  • A solid defensive display with Dean and Tarkowski particularly impressing
  • Nico Yennaris making the opening goal and playing his best ever game for the club
  • Ryan Woods playing in a holding role alongside Alan McCormack and looking calm and composed on the ball, winning his challenges and rarely conceding possession
  • Young guns Sergi Canos and John Swift justifying the faith shown in them and demonstrating their ability and youthful enthusiasm on their first start for the club
  • The imperious Alan Judge, scorer of two quite beautifully taken goals, including a rare header, and running the game from start to finish
  • Brentford scoring two excellently worked, constructed and taken goals
  • A recognisable and effective team shape being employed in the 4-2-3-1 formation that worked so well last season
  • A determination and will to win, evidenced by the Brentford players putting their body on the line and defending desperately during the six interminable minutes of injury time when Rotherham threw the kitchen sink at us
  • A team selection which ignored the claims of all our fit if underperforming preseason foreign signings in Barbet, Kerschbaumer, Vibe, Hofmann and Gogia and contained seven of last season’s tried and tested squad, plus Woods and recent loanees, Canos, Swift and Djuricin

I fully recognise the lack of quality on display at times yesterday, our inability to keep possession, the lack of incision, the paucity of attempts on target, the fact that Djuricin must surely have been suffering from a communicable disease, so isolated was he upfront, the languid start to the second half that cost us so dear and our appalling marking at opposition set pieces where we relied far too much upon David Button’s brilliance to save the day.

I would also hope that somebody introduced Philipp Hofmann after the game to returning legend Robert Taylor as I think that they could have had a most productive conversation on centre forward play that would have greatly benefitted our new German striker who still has so much to learn about the demands of English football.

Yesterday was still an improvement on what we have seen recently and you can only beat the opposition that is facing you on the day.

We now have two tough away games in the next week at Wolves and Charlton and I will withhold any judgement until after we have played both of these matches. I would hope and expect that we improve gradually from game to game but I have no real expectations of a massive change in our fortunes until the injured players return.

But hey – WE WON!

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.