A Missed Opportunity – 27/1/16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That though is a reflection for another day.

 

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Stats And Stuff – 30/12/15

It is quite staggering just how much statistical information about football teams and individual players is now freely available within the public domain. Statistical analysis is now an accepted and growing part of the game and given the quality and depth of the data that I was able to unearth free of charge on the internet I can only wonder at the level of information that is gathered and provided privately to the clubs themselves.

I generally go to a wonderful website, WhoScored.com which provides a treasure trove of easily accessible data that can be understood even by a mathematical dunce like me.

What I find so fascinating about using the data before I write anything about Brentford FC is that it makes me question my judgement about pretty much anything that I have seen unfurl on the pitch in front of me when I watch the team play.

Watching Brentford play can be a veritable roller coaster ride with so many highs and lows as your spirits and emotions are taken to the heights and then plummet to the depths all within the course of a ninety minute match. Judgements can be clouded by what you think that you have seen rather than what actually took place out on the pitch.

We also all have prejudices and preconceived views about every player. For example if you spoke to a Brentford supporter today and asked for an opinion on John Swift, our talented midfield player currently on loan from Chelsea, there would probably be some purring comments of appreciation about his quality on the ball, eye for a pass, ability to glide sinuously and effortlessly past opponents and also make late runs into the penalty area but these would probably be interspersed with some grudging mention of his supposed defensive weaknesses, as to the naked eye he does not always appear to track back, press and support his defenders as much as you would like or is needed.

Is John Swift a defensive liability and a luxury player? Fact or fiction? Does his offensive contribution more than make up for his supposed defensive shortcomings? In order to come to some sort of conclusion I consulted the oracle and Stats God at WhoScored.com and here are the stark, objective facts, untainted by any bias or rose tinted spectacles.

I looked first at his defensive statistics and they were telling. Swift makes 0.9 tackles per game, comfortably the least of any first team regular, apart from Lasse Vibe. Yennaris and Colin make the most (2.5) and all of his midfield colleagues attempt more tackles than Swift. He also makes less interceptions than any of his team mates and he has yet to block a shot. These stats would therefore appear to bear out the suggestion that defending is not yet a strong part of Swift’s game. Tellingly in a description and profile of his overall game WhoScored.com rates his defensive contribution as weak.

Where things begin to look much better for him however is when you look at his offensive statistics. John has scored three goals and made four assists in his fourteen appearances to date. He also takes 1.3 shots on goal every game and makes 1.4 key passes per game, more than anybody else in the team apart from Alan Judge. He also attempts more dribbles than all his team mates apart from Max Colin.

I could break his game down even more, but hopefully the message is coming through loud and clear that John Swift is making an exceptionally effective offensive contribution to the team that more than justifies his starting position, even if he needs to pay more attention to the defensive side of his game, as it is what you do without the ball that can often be just as important as being a Fancy Dan when in possession.

I thought it might be interesting to delve a bit deeper into the Brentford team analysis on WhoScored.com and see if there were any trends emerging after the first half of the season. According to the figures our style of play is typified by the following:

  • Possession football
  • Attacking down the right
  • Play with width
  • Short passes
  • Playing in their own half
  • Opponents play aggressively against them
  • Aggressive
  • Consistent first eleven

Our strengths are:

  • Counter attacks
  • Finishing scoring chances
  • Shooting from direct free kicks
  • Creating chances using through balls
  • Creating chances through individual skill
  • Coming back from losing positions

Whereas we are deemed to be weak at the following:

  • Defending against attacks down the wings
  • Aerial duels
  • Defending counter attacks
  • Defending set pieces
  • Stopping opponents from creating chances
  • Avoiding fouling in dangerous areas

These all look pretty much spot on to me and it is reassuring that the figures in this instance back up and totally substantiate the subjective opinion I had already come to after watching the overwhelming majority of our twenty-four Championship games to date.

Our top six performing players given an analysis of all aspects of their game have been Alan Judge, James Tarkowski, John Swift, Harlee Dean, Jake Bidwell and Nico Yennaris, again, no surprises there, and interestingly enough, of the regular players, Toumani Diagouraga and Konstantin Kerschbaumer rate the lowest. Judge and Tarkowski are also rated as the top and fourth best player in the entire Championship to date – a wonderful achievement by the pair of them.

According to WhoScored.com the best eleven players in the Championship over the entire first half of the season were as follows:

Martinez (Wolves)

Onuoha (QPR)

Duffy (Blackburn)

Tarkowski (Brentford)

Friend (Middlesbrough)

Gallagher (Preston)

Norwood (Reading)

Stephens (Brighton)

Judge (Brentford)

Forestieri (Sheffield Wednesday)

McCormack (Fulham)

Not too many surprises there, in my opinion.

Of our thirty-six goals to date, one of the highest totals in the league, an eye-opening nine have come from set pieces, including two penalty kicks and two have come from counterattacks. That is a massive improvement on last season.

We attempt just under five hundred passes per game with a seventy-seven per cent accuracy rate. Eighty per cent of our passes are short, but we also hit nineteen crosses every match.

In that respect I only wish we could find out the average number of attacking players we had in the opposition penalty area every time we hit a cross as I am pretty sure that is an area where improvement is still needed.

I suspect that our analysis department might have a few words to say if they saw this article and would draw my attention to all sorts of facts and figures that have escaped my attention or that I have misinterpreted, and I am sure that I have barely scratched the surface of what is a fascinating subject that will become more and more important as the years progress.

Statistics have certainly changed the way that I look at matches and I have found them an invaluable tool in terms of helping me write more sensibly, rationally and objectively about players and matches and avoid going off on an unsubstantiated and ignorant rant.

Most importantly, what they show quite clearly is just how well we are performing as a team and also on an individual basis too.

Something Special Times Two – 29/12/15

For most fans, watching your football team play can sometimes seem like a prison sentence without hope of parole, a hard and endless slog or even running through treacle in gumboots. Lots of hard work and running, effort, energy, but so little entertainment, reward or quality.

Perspiration but so little inspiration. It is a habit that is easy to get into but so hard to get out of once the routine has been established.

These words would sum up much of my experience watching Brentford over the past fifty years or so. Of course there are seasons and matches that stand out and are irrevocably engrained in my memory banks but in real terms they are few and far between and interspersed with so much that, looking back, can only and best be described as drab, boring, inept and instantly forgettable

Over that period there have been many memorable goals, an instant example would be Gary Blissett’s strike against Peterborough, that are totally unforgettable but more for what they meant to the team, club and us supporters rather for the actual quality of the goal.

Off the top of my head probably the best goal that I have ever seen Brentford score was Paul Brooker’s effort at Swindon in 2006 when he slalomed his way three quarters of the length of the pitch leaving seemingly half the Swindon team trailing helplessly in his wake. In that moment he was totally unstoppable and Messi and Maradona revisited and it stood out even more given the customary functional and plebeian style of football employed by Martin Allen’s team at that time.

All that changed yesterday afternoon when the Bees came away with a desperately hard-won and narrow victory at Reading. The performance was decent and organised if not inspired and for once Dame Fortune smiled down on us as we won a match that could quite easily have gone the other way had Reading made more of their possession.

A lot of credit for that must go down to the Bees who refused to be beaten and absorbed the pressure exerted on us by a home team that looked quick and innovative in midfield if insipid and wasteful up front.

We defended well and restricted Reading to very few clear chances and only conceded once when substitutes Vydra and McCleary combined beautifully with a series of one-twos to tear us open and create the space for the latter to score easily. In truth Button was forced into only one decent save and much of the credit is due to the back four of Colin, Dean, Tarkowski and Bidwell who simply rolled their sleeves up and presented an almost impassable barrier.

The midfield did not jell with Diagouraga and McEachran never really dominating or getting to grips with their task and sometimes chasing shadows with Toumani’s influence blunted by an early booking by Keith Stroud, a ticking time bomb of a referee who was, as ever, far too quick with his cards.

I wish he would adopt the following statement as his mantra: a foul is not necessarily a yellow card but Stroud seems programmed to blow his whistle and show a yellow card almost simultaneously without ever giving himself time to think and his looming presence cast a shadow over the entire proceedings with Button, Dean and Tarkowski also falling foul of the eccentric official. Judge too was strangely muted and Swift drifted in and out of the match stranded as he was out on the left flank.

For once we created very little with Vibe’s threat snuffed out but now I am coming to the real point of this article as we scored what were quite comfortably the best two goals that I have ever seen Brentford score in one match over all the years that I can remember.

For the first, which came at a time when Reading were well on top and looking likely to score at almost any time, Tarky strode imperiously out of defence, sold a perfect dummy and slid the ball to Swift in midfield. He laid the ball off to Woods just inside the home half of the field and he strode towards the Reading goal. On and on he dribbled as the defenders backed off complacent and secure in the knowledge that they were dealing with a man who is hardly prolific in front of goal as his record of only scoring one career goal in over one hundred and twenty games surely attests. Now he has doubled his tally!

With Vibe making a decoy run to the right and Swift trying to make a late run into the penalty area, there were few passing options available so Ryan let fly from twenty-five yards and the ball screamed towards the goal and was still rising as it hit the roof of the net with Bond a helpless bystander.

I am old enough to remember Bobby Charlton’s long range Exocet against Mexico in the 1966 World Cup and I can only say that Ryan’s goal yesterday was in the same class. It was a phenomenal effort that knocked the stuffing out of the home team and we were able to retain our lead until the interval largely untroubled.

Reading regrouped and dominated the early part of the second half, missed an open goal straight away and fully deserved their excellently worked and taken equaliser and looked by far the more likely team to earn the victory.

All that changed after seventy minutes when Judge found Woods who had now switched to a more central position where he was far more effective. His perfectly placed forty yard pass out to the right wing cleared the straining Quinn and found the ever willing substitute Sergi Canos who now produced seven seconds of pure magic as his first touch took the ball over his marker, Quinn, his second left Hector helpless as he moved into the penalty area and his third was a rasping and unstoppable left foot volley into the far corner of the net.

The youngster celebrated wildly in front of nearly three thousand adoring Brentford fans, as well he might, as this was a goal of true international class, executed instinctively and without fuss by a young player who has the football world at his feet.

What a way to celebrate his loan extension and his post match Bees Player interview clearly demonstrates just how committed he is to the Brentford cause. We are fortunate and blessed to have a young player with his ability, but just as crucially, his wonderfully positive and bubbly attitude, playing for us. He is a total breath of fresh air and a joy to watch and yesterday’s effort will never be forgotten by anybody who was privileged enough to witness it.

Reading huffed and puffed for the remainder of the match but their spirit had been broken by Sergi’s wonder goal and if anything Brentford looked the more likely to score a third than they were to equalise. The clumsy Hector saw red for a second yellow card after a pathetic and embarrassing dive and his side’s fortune plummeted with his unsolicited fall and we saw the game out with some degree of comfort.

2015 has seen Brentford play football of a standard unsurpassed in living memory and what a fitting way to see the old year out with two of the best goals that you could ever wish or hope to see. This has been a quite wonderful year for the Bees and who knows what riches 2016 will bring?

What is quite certain is that the goals scored yesterday by Woods and Canos have whetted our appetite for what is to come.

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!

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!

A Real Dilemma! – 26/9/15

I really wasn’t too sure who I wanted to win last night’s West London derby between our two hated rivals Fulham and Queens Park Rangers. Unfortunately Football League regulations do not yet allow for a verdict of nul points to be awarded so I was feeling utterly conflicted about the eventual outcome.

Perhaps I would settle for a nil-nil draw with lots of injuries – nothing too painful but certainly lingering and long-term to be suffered by the likes of star players Ross McCormack and Charlie Austin and the game to be refereed by Keith Stroud at his enigmatic best and be littered with a series of red and yellow cards which would leave the two teams seriously weakened for the challenges that lie ahead throughout the remainder of the season.

The outcome was a surprise as Fulham pulverised QPR by four goals to nil and the score could easily have been doubled had they taken more of the clear chances that they created on the night. French teenager Moussa Dembele was a towering target man who combined pace and power in abundance and proved a handful for the Rangers defence. Hopefully he will not remain for too much longer at Craven Cottage before a Premiership team snatches him away.

The aforementioned McCormack was far too clever for the visitors with his movement and scored twice and O’Hara and Pringle dovetailed beautifully in midfield. Fulham it has to be said looked like a team bursting with purpose, poise and confidence and their previously porous defence was barely tested on what turned out to be a night of shame and humiliation for the visitors.

Rangers barely mounted a challenge, ran up the white flag from the early moments when they conceded a ludicrously soft opening goal and after they eventually managed to carve open the Fulham defence with an admittedly lovely move which ended with Luongo spurning a golden chance to equalise by firing carelessly wide, their heads went down and they allowed Fulham to take total control.

Success in the Championship is obtained by a winning combination of perspiration and inspiration and you have to demonstrate both qualities if you are to prevail. On the night Fulham, to their credit, certainly did so and the entire team, apart from the totally unworked Andy Lonergan in goal sweated buckets as well as playing some beautiful one touch football but their task was made far easier by the fact that Rangers were not prepared to press or challenge or do any of the unseen and nasty work off the ball that is necessary if you are to ensure that possession is won back after it is conceded. Rangers never really appeared to want to break sweat on the night and their lack of commitment is highlighted by their only committing ten fouls throughout the game and barely putting in a tackle worthy of the name.

The question has to be asked if Fulham were simply unstoppable on a night when everything came off for them and they performed to their full capability, or if they were in truth made to look far better than they really are by a totally inept and craven display by QPR? The jury is out on that matter, but last night’s match certainly reinforced the fact that the overall quality of Championship players is exceptionally high and the majority of teams possess game changers – players who have the ability to take a game by the scruff of its neck and turn it in favour of their team by virtue of one moment of brilliance.

By the end of the evening QPR had degenerated into an ill-disciplined shambles exemplified by the totally inept Chery stalking straight off to the dressing room in an apparent hissy fit after being dragged off and substituted before the interval and top scorer Charlie Austin limped off on the hour with what appeared to be a hamstring injury which hopefully will be a serious one and take quite a while – ideally over a month – to heal!

Their supporters were reduced to silence by their team’s pathetic display and it is also interesting to note that there was much made of the fact that they brought 4,000 fans to Craven Cottage – over two thousand less than we took to our match there last season!

I have a rather annoying acquaintance who is as fanatical about his beloved Queens Park Rangers as I am about the Bees and he persists in sending me a series of taunting texts and tweets whenever his team wins or we loses. Interestingly enough he seems to have gone very quiet over the past few hours and I wonder if I will hear from him today? I somehow think not!

The humiliation of QPR has certainly brought about a more than decent start to the weekend, ignoring of course the necessary but unpalatable fact that as a result Fulham took the three points on offer. What would top things off perfectly would be for Brentford to do the business this afternoon against a tough and resourceful Sheffield Wednesday team that will be bursting with confidence after beating Fulham and then Newcastle United in their last two matches.

They had the better of us last season with a fairly even goalless draw at Griffin Park followed by a totally self-inflicted one-nil defeat in the return match when we conspired to miss a plethora of gilt-edged chances and then set up the winning goal for our opponents on a plate after yet again overplaying at the back and losing possession in a dangerous area of the pitch.

Our confidence will have been boosted by last weekend’s much needed victory over Preston North End and the defence will also be strengthened by the return of James Tarkowski who has recovered from his calf injury. There are some selection dilemmas for Marinus Dijkhuizen today in terms of whether he retains Josh Clarke at right back and who he selects to play in midfield. Will Ryan Woods get his long awaited first start for the club? Marinus will also have to decide whether Sergi Canos merits a start or if his flair is best used as a substitute when he can come on and ideally wreak havoc against a tiring defence.

Wednesday carry a real threat up front where they combine strength and flair in abundance and today would be an ideal time for that long awaited first clean sheet of the season to arrive.

These are interesting and challenging times for a Brentford squad that remains seriously depleted in both numbers and quality. Our fighting spirit however is not in any doubt and if we can somehow find a way to overcome adversity and obtain at least four and ideally six points from today and next Tuesday’s home game against a revitalised Birmingham team then the season might be on the verge of taking off.

Payback Time? – 15/9/15

Brentford take on the might of Middlesbrough tonight and whilst on the face of it they might appear to be on a Mission Impossible there is much to be optimist about and in the immortal words of Robert Louis Stevenson, to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labour. 

And believe me, we will have to work hard to get anything out of tonight’s match.

Last season saw Middlesbrough firmly established as our bogey team. We could barely buy a goal against them, let alone a victory and four matches, including the two playoff semifinals ties saw us suffer four defeats and score only once whilst conceding ten times in all. You can’t really argue with the facts, but two of the games were closely fought and there is no way that the Bees should have lost either tussle at Griffin Park.

We totally dominated proceedings in the January league match, missed chance after chance in a totally one-sided first half and yet somehow went in at the break trailing to a soft penalty kick conceded by David Button after Harlee Dean unaccountably ducked under a harmless through ball and let in the predatory Patrick Bamford. I suspect that the explanation for this apparent aberration is that Harlee received a call to leave it from somebody in the adjacent area and I don’t believe that the person concerned was wearing a red and white striped shirt!

We created even more opportunities in the second half and Stuart Dallas could have scored four had the luck been with him but Boro were strong, professional, organised and resilient and managed to hold us at bay.

There was a similar tale to tell in the first leg of the playoff tie when after a poor first half we battered them and finally managed a goal when the predatory Andre Gray took full advantage of the keeper’s error in dealing with a harmless through ball. From then on we grew in confidence, created and missed further opportunities, saw Jonathan Douglas’s header force a miraculous save and then fell victim to a sucker bunch with an injury time winner from a deflected shot after a corner kick. Life is hard and unfair sometimes.

As for the away games, there is really not much to tell. We were tentative, disorganised, defended poorly, created little and allowed ourselves to be totally outmuscled and outplayed. In other words we totally deserved the two thrashings we received.

That though is all in the past. Now we have to look forward and go into tonight’s game with a clean slate and simply learn from the errors and mistakes we made last season and have a game plan that gives us a realistic opportunity of getting something from the match. Last season we invariably played the same way. We had a Plan A where we set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation every time and we always tried to take the game to the opposition whatever the circumstances.

It also worked far more often than not as is evidenced by our final fifth place. The one exception was against Middlesbrough, who, like everybody else, knew exactly what was coming from us, but unlike most of the other Championship teams, knew how to counter us.

They sat back, took whatever we could throw at them, dominated the midfield, kicked us up in the air whenever necessary – and sometimes when it wasn’t , took advantage of poor and weak refereeing and then picked us off on the break.

Unlike us, their finishing was clinical and they wasted very few goalscoring opportunities. They also exerted a stranglehold on the centre of the midfield, so often our strength, where Toumani Diagouraga and Jonathan Douglas were totally outgunned, outfought and outplayed by Leadbitter and Clayton who dominated proceedings. They were tigerish in their challenges, gave us no peace or time on the ball and then invariably used the ball effectively and set up a series of attacks that threatened our goal. Albert Adomah was also a constant danger on their right wing and led Jake Bidwell a merry dance with his pace and trickery.

So what can we do to turn the tide tonight? Firstly we must forget about the so called Middlesbrough Hoodoo – it no longer exists. We start again with a clean slate and have the chance to set our own agenda against a team that has been strengthened by the arrival of experienced international players in Stewart Downing and David Nugent. Adomah though has fallen out of contention after a dispute with the management.

Our team is different and several of the players that capitulated in the playoffs last season will not be involved. Odubajo, Douglas, Jota, Pritchard and Gray won’t be playing for us for a variety of reasons and we have new blood aplenty who are untainted and will not go into the game burdened with negative thoughts from last season’s series of poor results against Middlesbrough.

I do not expect us to be as expansive as we were last season and we are better suited to the new 4-3-3 formation preferred by Marinus Duikhuizen. The key will be in midfield where we ceded control far too easily in all four games last season.

Alan McCormack will be crucial to our game plan tonight and ensure that we are not bullied and knocked (or should that be kicked) off the ball. He will protect our back four and support Toumani whose passing ability will be needed to ensure that we break their press and are able to move forward whenever possible.

In my opinion this is not a game for Konstantin Kerschbaumer who is still finding his feet in English football. Instead I would start with Ryan Woods who would provide a more solid and forceful approach. He is a little ferret who wins the ball effectively and then plays with his head up and rarely wastes possession.

Middlesbrough will surely dominate the ball tonight but we must not turn it over to them cheaply, particularly in our last third of the field. We need to be patient, absorb the pressure that they will doubtless put on us but not be as open and exposed as we were last season. Our chances will come and we need then to get Alan Judge on the ball when he can ideally feed the bullets for Lasse Vibe and the predatory Marco Djuricin.

If we defend properly, as we did on Saturday, avoid doing anything stupid or kamikaze, then we have every chance of getting something on the night and maintaining our improvement. We have the players, we have the ability, we simply need to allow our new team to bed in and find their feet.

Elland Road was a massive challenge that we overcame, tonight is yet another one and I feel that if we stick to our game plan we can triumph and enjoy the long trip home.

Oh, and it would also be nice to wipe the smile off Adam Forshaw’s face too!