Here is the second part of my end of season report on every Brentford player:
12. Alan McCormack. The departure of Moses Odubajo saw McCormack given an immediate opportunity to replace him, and he started the season at right back where lack of any defensive cover from Andre Gray saw him given the runaround at Bristol City. The arrival of Max Colin saw him moving back into midfield where he remained an integral part of the team until he suffered niggling groin and calf injuries. Alan provided a much-needed calming influence and he cajoled and encouraged his less experienced teammates and ensured that they showed the necessary organisation and commitment. His passing also improved and became more subtle and we missed him badly during his injury absences. A goal proved elusive although he came desperately close against both Charlton and Bristol City. We keep writing him off and he stubbornly keeps proving us wrong and Alan’s performances totally warranted his contract extension until the end of next season. Despite his ten bookings, he always knew exactly just how far he could go and he has still to see red whilst playing for the Bees. In an inordinately quiet, small and well-behaved team, McCormack was one of the few to speak up on behalf of his teammates and attempt to manage referees.
13. Ryan Woods. Woods first caught my eye as a skilful and tenacious right back playing for Shrewsbury at Griffin Park in 2013 and quickly developed into one of the best midfielders in the lower divisions. I was delighted when The Ginger Pirlo signed for us for one million pounds at the end of the August Transfer Window, a fee that looks an absolute bargain now. He took a few games to settle down and force his way into the starting eleven and was caught in possession on his debut, a costly error that denied us a victory against Leeds, but he is now an automatic choice. He is still developing as a player and possesses all the qualities required to become a complete midfield player. He can spray the ball around and I can still picture that long pass over the defender dropping perfectly into the stride of Sergi Canos before he scored the Goal of the Season at Reading. Ryan also scored a wonderful long-range goal in the same game and matched it at MK Dons. He can tackle, press and dribble and never stops running. What a player he is already, and there is so much more to come from him as he gains further experience in the Championship.
16. Jack Bonham. Another year of treading water for the reserve goalkeeper who sat on the bench undisturbed for every match apart from the Capital One Cup disaster against a rampant Oxford United. Marooned behind an experimental defence, a drastically weakened team subsided to an embarrassing four-goal defeat that could and should have been more. Bonham hardly shone on the night and looked a nervous presence in goal and was beaten by Roofe’s exquisite forty yard lob. He has obviously learned a lot from training with David Button and Simon Royce and at twenty-two is still very young for a goalkeeper. As things currently stand, he is there simply to sit on the bench and replace Button in an emergency with, in all honesty, little chance of being named to start a Championship match if Button was unavailable. That might suit Brentford, who, of course, pay his wages, but the situation is of no benefit at all to Bonham if he is to develop as a footballer. Nobody knows if he has what it takes to have a successful career and nobody will really know until he sees regular action at a lower level of the game. He has two more seasons on his contract but desperately needs to go out and play some football next season and demonstrate his worth.
17. Konstantin Kerschbaumer. Nobody I knew had ever heard of the Austrian midfielder when he signed for us from Admira Wacker Mödling for a reported quarter of a million pound fee, but then again we had known absolutely nothing about Jota either! He was reputed to be a speedy and tenacious box-to-box player and he made a massive first impression when he dominated the midfield in the preseason friendly match against Stoke City. The departure of Jonathan Douglas opened the door for him but the Championship was another matter and he struggled from the off to cope with its pace and physicality and was a peripheral influence, easily knocked off the ball, regularly caught in possession and tentative with his passing. He never hid and joined in where he could but he was totally out of his depth and sometimes I got the unworthy impression that his teammates were loath to pass the ball to him in tight situations. Lee Carsley mercifully took him put of the firing line as soon as he took charge, commenting: He needs a lot of coaching. He runs as fast as he can everywhere without being effective which was a tough but accurate assessment of his initial contribution. He gradually improved in short spells coming off the bench and soon there were small shoots of recovery, an excellent shot against the top of the post against Hull, an effort cleared off the line by a desperate MK Dons defence and a decent hustling performance at Craven Cottage. He featured in every match day squad from the end of January as he slowly came to terms with what was required of him, and by the end of the season he had shown such improvement that he fully deserved his starting role. With growing confidence and time on the ball he started to reveal his true ability, in particular his energy and effortless close control and he combined brilliantly with Scott Hogan as his defence-splitting through balls led to three goals for the striker and the award of a penalty kick. Konstantin is proof of the strength and weakness of our stats and analysis based system. We certainly used our data to identify a promising young player who was not on the radar of our competition, and signed him for a relatively low sum, but he was thrown in far too soon owing to the prevailing circumstances and not given the time he needed to adapt to his new surroundings. He suffered unfairly and cruelly at the hands of the boo-boys who are only now beginning to recognise his undoubted ability, and I fully expect that his second season at the club will be far more productive for him.
18. Alan Judge. It is impossible to write about Alan Judge without feeling a combined sense of anger, frustration, disappointment and sadness at how the season ended for him, and how cruelly he was denied the opportunity to showcase his formidable talent on a global stage at Euro 2016 thanks to the unforgivable actions of an Ipswich Town player whose name I will not deign to mention here. At twenty-seven, Alan was approaching his peak and was in the form of his life all season, scoring fourteen times and assisting on eleven more goals and he was our main source of inspiration. His achievements were marked by his being shortlisted in the top three for Championship Player of the Year and also being named in the Football League Team of the Year and the Championship Team of the Year. He was also the Championship Player of the Month for October, a month in which his form touched previously unseen heights. With the loss of the likes of Gray, Pritchard and Jota, Alan almost singlehandedly took over the mantle of providing our creativity and goal threat and he was more than up to the task. He generally played in a free role as a Number Ten behind the main striker, but he also drifted wide and on one bizarre afternoon at Loftus Road, of all places, played as our lone striker. After only scoring three times in 2014/15, the goals flowed this season – and what brilliant goals they were. A curling effort from a seemingly impossible angle against Sheffield Wednesday, a looping twenty-yard volley and rare header to beat Rotherham, a stupendous shot arrogantly bent into the far top corner in front of the worshipping Brentford supporters at Charlton, instantaneously and effortlessly controlling a long pass from Barbet before slotting the ball home at Preston, a goal which even drew applause from the home fans, and an amazing solo goal when he ran half the length of the field against Derby before scoring from way out on the right flank. He was quite simply touched by genius, and even managed to convert all three of his penalty kicks after his adventures of the previous season when he missed three out of his four attempts! It was no surprise that he was coveted by other clubs, but unlike a certain former teammate of his, he simply got his head down and did not allow the constant speculation to affect his performances. He was deservedly rewarded with his first international cap for Eire and was well in the frame for inclusion in their final squad for Euro 2016 when tragedy befell him with his double leg break. What happens now is anybody’s guess. It was expected that with only one year remaining on his contract and it being highly unlikely that Alan would sign an extension, that he would be sold this Summer, and no Brentford fan would have begrudged him leaving for bigger and better things, such has been his brilliance, commitment and dedication to the Brentford cause. The club too might well have been banking on the anticipated fee in order to subsidise our own transfer budget. Now, all bets are off until we find out how long Judge will take to return to action. I would not expect that we will see him much before Christmas and it will then take him time to regain both form and sharpness. Perhaps he will be sold in the January Transfer Window, maybe he will stay for the entire season, hopefully play well for us, and then leave on a Bosman free? Could he even sign a new contract? Who knows, and all will be revealed over the coming months. In the meantime the memories are still totally clear in my mind of his brilliance, tirelessness and consistency and the sheer joy and bubbly effervescence he demonstrated in playing the game of football – the effortless dribbles past opponents, his non-stop energy and commitment, the quality of his passing, both long and short and his shoot-on-sight policy. He was the complete player for Brentford last season and we were privileged and fortunate to be able to enjoy performances of such quality, and he was by some distance the best player that I have ever seen perform in a Brentford shirt. Praise indeed, but fully merited in my opinion.
19. John Swift. You are just twenty years of age, on loan from a Premier League team with minimal experience of the Championship. You muck in, play twenty-seven games in all, score seven goals from midfield and also get picked for the England Under 21 team. Not bad, and surely the fans will be purring with delight at your contribution, chanting your name and begging you to join the club on a permanent basis next season? You would have thought that would have been the case, but unfortunately John Swift totally polarised opinions amongst Brentford supporters and was the recipient of much unwarranted, unpleasant and totally unnecessary and unjustified abuse from some quarters. He was too languid and lazy, they said, he went missing from time to time, he did not do his fair share of defensive donkey work, and tackling and pressing were an anathema to him. Maybe some of these criticisms had credence but better that they had made some allowances for his youth, immaturity and inexperience and instead given credit to him for, and taken pleasure from, his many very real attributes. He had the natural ability to glide past opponents at will and was a wonderful exponent of the lost art of dribbling. He moved the ball quickly and accurately and specialised in making late runs into the box which led to his most of his goals, and he also scored with a perfectly executed long-range curler at Bolton which was much admired by the Sky Sports commentary team. Swift also had to cope with the difficulty and upheaval of learning a new role as he was often played on the left side of midfield rather than in his more accustomed central position. There was so much to admire in his ability and in many of his performances, and yet he failed to connect with many of the supporters who treated him appallingly and cut him no slack, and I would be surprised if John will wish to return to Griffin Park next season even should the opportunity arise, which is a terrible shame as he would add immeasurably to our midfield resources.
What a strange, but in the end, extremely positive season for which the term rollercoaster could have been invented. There were so many ups and perhaps an equal number of downs too and here are my personal lowlights, many of which it must be said were cancelled out by equally positive events. Please feel free to add your own to the list if you can bear to recall them.
- Losing so many key players so late in the preseason after the new Head Coach had almost finalised his preparations
- Realising the realities of our financial situation and where we sit in the food chain
- Player power and accepting that is not worth keeping unsettled players
- The unsettling situation of not knowing anything about our new foreign signings
- Having to throw so many of them into the Championship before they were ready or acclimatised
- Allowing Jonathan Douglas to leave with no obvious replacement
- The frustration of losing our record signing Andreas Bjelland to serious injury before he could make his league debut
- The total embarrassment of Pitchgate
- Injuries, more injuries and yet more injuries – a constant theme throughout the season
- Being unable to develop a settled team on account of so many serious injuries
- Josh McEachran’s training ground injury
- Losing Jota in the season opener to a poor tackle from ex-Bee, Douglas
- Marinus Dijkhuizen struggling to make his mark
- Totally underestimating Oxford United and deservedly paying the price
- Jack Bonham’s struggles against Oxford United and the lack of sympathy from the supporters
- Throwing Clarke, Senior, Udumaga and Laurent to the wolves against Oxford United
- Getting hit by the ball again at halftime against Oxford – thanks Alan McCormack
- Realising that we were not as good as we either hoped or expected
- Newly promoted Bristol City taking us apart until Freeman’s red card
- The unrealistically raised expectations after the far too positive messages emanating from the club
- The horrific elbow on Tarkowski at Bristol City
- Andre Gray finally leaving the club and joining Burnley
- The lack of strength and experience of our substitutes’ bench at Burnley
- Lasse Vibe proving that he should not play marooned out on the right wing
- The continued absence of Lewis Macleod
- Being totally outplayed by Reading at Griffin Park despite constant changes of formation
- Throwing away a victory at Elland Road through a careless Ryan Woods error in the dying minutes
- Having to put goalkeeper Mark Smith on the substitutes’ bench at Middlesbrough and only being able to name six subs
- Throwing away the chance to allay our Middlesbrough bogey through profligate finishing
- Our terrible start at home to Preston
- Lasse Vibe missing a great chance to win the home match against Sheffield Wednesday
- Losing in the last minute to Sheffield Wednesday after a rebound off Jack O’Connell’s backside
- The Fans’ Forum Fiasco
- Having to sack our new Head Coach Marinus Dijkhuizen after only nine matches
- Losing a goal to a free header at a corner against Birmingham City after we had over five minutes to prepare for it given Alan McCormack’s injury
- The appalling performance against Birmingham City which lacked any energy or ambition
- Alan Judge’s brilliant late effort against Birmingham clanging off the crossbar to safety
- Lee Carsley’s unsettling post match revelations after losing his first game to Birmingham City
- Being overpowered and outclassed by Derby County
- Lasse Vibe still lying on the pitch screaming for a foul when the ball entered our net for Derby’s second goal
- The abusive and aggressive behaviour of some Brentford fans at Derby
- Dropping my car keys out of my pocket and fearing I would be stuck in Derby
- Alan McCormack’s rasping twenty-five yard effort coming back off the bar at Charlton Athletic
- Getting stuck in appalling traffic on the North Circular Road on my way to the QPR local derby and worrying that I would not arrive in time
- Marco Djuricin’s injury at Blackburn – he was never the same player afterwards
- The death of Martin Lange
- The Pep Clotet will he, won’t he saga
- Lee Carsley and Paul Williams leaving the club
- John Swift’s booking for an alleged dive at Bolton
- Alan Judge’s one-on-one miss against MK Dons
- James Tarkowski’s needless own goal at Fulham which revived the home team when we were totally dominating
- Jota’s contentiously disallowed goal at Fulham
- Allowing a last minute sloppy winner at Cardiff after recovering from a two-goal deficit
- The second half non-display against Huddersfield
- Allowing yet another sloppy last minute winner at Birmingham City after fighting back to equalise
- Jota’s personal problems forcing his return to Spain
- The frustration that is Philipp Hofmann – so much ability but so little end product to date
- The week from hell when we lost three home games and our season began to fall apart
- Not taking the FA Cup seriously
- Button Fingers against Middlesbrough – losing a game we should have won
- James Tarkowski’s behaviour before the Burnley game and the effect it had on us
- Our first half non-performance against Burnley
- Allowing a late and daft equaliser against Leeds when we needed another victory to help boost flagging confidence
- Losing George Evans to Reading – he would have suited us
- Losing Tarkowski, Diagouraga and Jota in January without bringing in any replacements
- The Sky Sports team putting the boot in during their live coverage of the defeat at Brighton
- Lewis Macleod falling foul of the injury hoodoo yet again after finally making his debut for the club
- The capitulation at Sheffield Wednesday after Yoann Barbet’s early red card
- Missing Alan McCormack through injury just when his influence was most needed
- Our appalling run of results from January until the beginning of April when we won two, drew one and lost ten of our thirteen games
- Waiting for our luck to change
- The schism between different groups of supporters and the incessant bickering and arguing that further drained morale
- The constant and unfair criticism of Konstantin Kerschbaumer
- Capitulating late on against Derby County when an unlikely win seemed on the cards
- Losing to two relegation threatened teams in Rotherham and Charlton Athletic
- David Button’s hesitation gifting Charlton the winning goal at Griffin Park
- The strange formation against QPR with no striker in the starting eleven
- Everything that happened both on and off the pitch at Loftus Road
- The unconscionable abuse directed at young loanee, John Swift
- Finally bringing in a loanee in Everton’s Leandro Rodríguez and losing him to a hamstring injury in only his second game
- Not taking advantage of Blackburn Rovers going down to ten men and losing to a late sucker punch
- Josh McEachran’s second fractured foot of the season
- Worrying all the way through the March international break about the possibility of dropping into the relegation zone
- Willing Rotherham to start losing after their amazing run of victories under Neil Warnock
- Alan Judge’s broken leg at Ipswich
- Luke Hyam’s appalling challenge on Judge and the unsympathetic and unfeeling post match reaction of Mick McCarthy
- Alan Judge missing the chance to play at Euro 2016 after so deserving to be selected for the Eire squad
- Scott Hogan missing his late penalty kick against Bristol City and fearing that we would have to wait until next season for him to score his first goal for the club
- Losing at Hull City with a weakened and exhausted team
- Jake Bidwell missing his first game of the season against Fulham through injury
- The closing of the Academy
- Martin Samuel’s ignorant and uncalled for criticism of the club in The Daily Mail
I took my Fulham supporting friend, Phil, to the local derby at Griffin Park yesterday afternoon and warned him not to make an exhibition of himself when seated in the Braemar Road stand, wear black and white or do anything else that might out him and reveal his true allegiance. If truth be told, the only time he became animated during what turned out to be a long and trying afternoon for him was when he heard his fellow Fulham fans jeering their team with an heartfelt and scornful chorus of you’re not fit to wear the shirt and it was only with difficulty that he managed to restrain himself from joining in, and I honestly could not have blamed him if he had.
I am reliably informed that back in the day, the Fulham programme used to include a prominently placed advertisement for The Samaritans and given their abject surrender and total lack of fight I suspect that it will not be too long before it reappears, and I can certainly think of one angry and sadly disillusioned supporter who might well avail himself of their services.
Fulham were a total disgrace on the day, lacking drive, positivity and commitment and really were not at all up for the fight. The fact that it was supposed to be a keenly contested local derby with West London bragging rights up for grabs barely seemed to have registered with them and they ran up the white flag and surrendered from the moment when Brentford hit them hard and early and scored two goals within the first seven minutes of the game.
Their highly paid team of mercenaries capitulated without a struggle or a whimper and for all their possession and neat football they barely threatened and apart from Ross McCormack who drifted in and out of the game but struck the woodwork twice and forced David Button into his only action of what was perhaps one of his easiest afternoons of the season, Brentford were the only team who looked as if they had any interest in either competing or scoring goals.
The Bees, by contrast were fully aware of how much this match meant for their supporters and how poorly they had played at QPR recently abd put in a massive shift in order to ensure that we all went home happy.
The quality of their performance was all the more praiseworthy and meritorious given how ludicrously stretched were our resources and our eighteen-man squad included two Academy products in Reece Cole, who spent the match on the bench and young left back Tom Field who made a remarkably composed and assured debut when surprisingly given the nod to replace the injured Jake Bidwell, who missed his first match of the season.
Lasse Vibe, Marco Djuricin and Alan McCormack were also late injury absentees and our selection problems for this match simply mirrored what has invariably been the case pretty much every week since last August as there has been a nonstop and seemingly ever-growing procession of players who have missed large chunks of the season, and yesterday was no different with the likes of Macleod, Bjelland, McEachran and Judge joining Bidwell, Vibe, Djuricin and McCormack on the injured list.
Hopefully we have now used up all our bad luck and next season will see us have a near full strength squad from which to choose. Scott Hogan, as last man standing, made his first ever Championship start for the Bees and Sam Saunders joined Woods, Yennaris, Canos and Kerschbaumer in a small but mobile midfield quintet.
Any nerves were settled within the opening seven minutes which saw the Bees take the game to their opponents who could not cope with their energy, drive, pressing, direct running and movement off the ball.
The appalling Ashley Richards, a total liability at right back where he proved to be a one-man fifth column before his merciful substitution at the interval, was forced back towards his own goal by Field and was robbed of the ball on halfway by Canos, perhaps illegally, but Mr.Haywood who let the game flow admirably all afternoon, saw no evil and Sam Saunders made a lung-bursting break from his own half and was criminally allowed to run opposed towards the edge of the Fulham penalty area. Canos picked him out perfectly and Sam’s finish was audacious, instantaneous and immaculate as he flicked the ball perfectly over the advancing Bettinelli with his first touch.
Fulham resorted to bickering amongst themselves and Parker and Ince gave their hapless teammate a real mouthful and the game was won and lost in that instant. Even better was to come when Yennaris and Woods combined to win the ball back in midfield, and Kerschbaumer played a perfect first time through ball in between the two slow and lumbering central defenders Ream and Stearman who were dozing in the sunshine blithely unaware of the danger, like a pair of wildebeest in the Serengeti totally oblivious to the presence of a lioness lurking in the long grass. Scott Hogan was too quick in both thought and action for both of them, he was switched on and alert and ran on unopposed and finished perfectly and without fuss into the corner.
Fulham were stunned and out for the count and spent the remainder of the half passing the ball sideways and backwards, going absolutely nowhere. Brentford pressed, harried and defended in numbers and never gave an inch and it came as little surprise when they stretched their lead from their first corner when Field’s perfect inswinger was thrashed into the roof of the net by the predatory Hogan – who else?
McCormack might have made a game of it right on halftime but squandered an excellent opportunity, hitting Button’s post when given a clear sight of goal and Fulham heads went down even further and team left the field to a deafening crescendo of boos and jeers.
Hogan had taken some knocks and sensibly was not risked after the break and he has now scored an impressive and unlikely five goals from eight attempts at goal in little more than ninety minutes of action and yet despite his absence there was no respite for Fulham who were as yellow as their shirts, as Canos went up top and ran his opponents ragged.
Fulham had most of the possession as the home team invited them onto them, but it was the Bees who created the best chances when they repeatedly used their pace and cohesion to create havoc in a demoralised defence. Kerschbaumer and Canos both might have scored twice but for Bettinelli who also saved brilliantly from O’Connell’s rising effort.
All three substitutes, Jack O’Connell, Andy Gogia and Josh Clarke played a full part in the victory and Gogia joined Kerschbaumer in coming so close to his first ever Brentford goal when he curled an exquisite late effort inches wide.
All fourteen Bees were heroes with Field making an exceptional debut before suffering a calf injury and he was given support and encouragement by all his teammates who talked him through the game. Both Dean and Barbet were peerless and largely snuffed out the threat of McCormack and second half substitute Dembele and Max Colin was also back to his imperious best. Woods, Saunders and Yennaris dominated the midfield and Alan McCormack’s physicality was barely missed.
Unfortunately this might well be the last that we see of Sergi Canos at Griffin Park and if so, he will have left on a high as he has been wonderful for us and we have been equally good for him. He can hardly have expected to have played thirty-seven times in the Championship as a nineteen year old and with six goals, including that incredible effort at Reading, his contribution has been immense and he has lifted everyone with his coltish enthusiasm and all he lacks is a tail to wag.
Fulham were rightly described as an embarrassment and shameful by their manager, Slaviša Jokanović and I suspect that there will be a clear-out at Craven Cottage given how narrow has been their escape from relegation to League One. In contrast, Brentford played as a team and this was their sixth win in a magical month that has seen them gain the incredible tally of nineteen points and score the same number of goals and rise from the edge of the relegation zone to the dizzy heights of tenth place in the Championship.
This is an incredible achievement which I will dissect in much more depth after our final game next weekend but so much credit is due to everyone at the club as well as the fans for the way in which we have all pulled together and this unity has been rewarded with a resurgence in results, performances and confidence despite the nagging and ever-present problems caused by injuries and exhaustion.
The squad has been tested to its fullest extent and every player has responded brilliantly and risen to the challenge, and nobody has been found wanting, and despite the recent loss of one of the best players in the Championship in Alan Judge we have clearly demonstrated a grim determination to succeed and have fully deserved to rise up eight places in the league table.
We cannot match the likes of Fulham for the time being in terms of our income, squad numbers and, indeed, overall quality but where we leave them trailing far behind us in our wake is in terms of our spirit, shape, effort, planning, organisation, energy, ethos and determination never to give in, plus of course our exceptional team behind the team..
Brentford are a club to be proud of and Fulham, for all their riches, heritage and tradition could not live with us.
This was the game that nobody really wanted to play. Brentford’s visit to Hull City had been put off for a seemingly interminable period of time owing to the apparent difficulties in scheduling the home team’s FA Cup replay with Arsenal what seems a lifetime ago.
Having played only three times in March this was to be Brentford’s seventh game of a ridiculously packed April schedule, a situation that should never have been allowed to occur and one that was to prove a match too far for a thin, exhausted and beleaguered squad.
Hull City had already safely secured their position in the playoffs and all they had to play for last night was to help ensure that they finish up in fourth place and therefore get to play their forthcoming playoff semifinal second-leg tie at home.
As for the Bees, it was simply a case of trying to continue their recent unbeaten run and ideally get through the match unscathed before Saturday’s massive and much anticipated local derby against Fulham.
Hull City are the moneybags of the Championship, a situation that I have previously written about with great envy when I outlined the eye-watering sums they received throughout their stay in the Premier League, figures that are now being boosted even more by an ongoing series of Parachute Payments following their recent relegation to the Championship.
Given their riches, resources and overall opulence which totally dwarf the likes of Brentford and are beyond our wildest dream, it would not be unreasonable to say that Hull have an unfair advantage over the rest of the division and in essence have totally underperformed this season as they really should have run away with the league title.
As it is, owing to their inconsistency and lack of goal threat their hopes of automatic promotion have long since disappeared and they will be forced to rely upon the lottery of the playoffs if they are to fulfill expectations by returning to the Premier League.
Steve Bruce was afforded the luxury, unheard of for Dean Smith, of making seven team changes last night whilst still being able to put out a starting eleven bristling with ability and experience, and as for his substitutes’ bench – words fail me and I am green with envy!
Just take a moment to examine the wealth of talent that Bruce could call on should the need arise:
- Allan McGregor
- Curtis Davies
- Shaun Maloney
- Ryan Taylor
- Robert Snodgrass
- Tom Huddlestone
- Chuba Akpom
Seven players, four of them full internationals, worth millions of pounds and probably earning between them a sum close to Brentford’s entire playing budget.
That’s just the way it is in a league composed of the haves and have-nots and where there is a vast chasm between the top six teams and the remaining also-rans who are pretty much of a muchness in terms of the overall depth and quality of their squad.
Brentford had already learned to their cost about the strength and depth of the Hull squad in the previous meeting between the two clubs last year at Griffin Park when after the Bees had totally dominated the first half without reward and were still well in the game after the break, the visitors simply went to their bench and brought on two massively talented replacement players in Huddlestone and Diamé. They turned the game on its head and a brave and commited Brentford team which had finally run out of steam and imagination was unable to cope with their fresh legs and minds as Hull effortlessly went up a gear, and we were left trailing in their wake and subsided to an unfortunate defeat.
David versus Goliath with us facing their atomic weapons with peashooters.
Last night the Bees were again short of options and named in their squad pretty much every player who was anywhere near match fitness although given that this was their seventh game in less than four weeks they were running on empty with many of the players patched up, half fit and in desperate need of respite.
Colin, Kerschbaumer and Vibe were rested from Saturday’s team with Clarke, Swift, recovered from injury, and Djuricin starting in their place.
That is quite simply the way of the world when a small and overworked squad has been ravaged by a nonstop series of injuries throughout the entire season. Fixtures have to be fulfilled even though we are nowhere near being on an even playing field.
Despite these drawbacks Brentford had put together an amazing run of five wins in their last six games and had risen from the depths of the league to a highly commendable tenth place and shown grit, skill, organisation and determination in abundance but last night was simply a match too far and the Bees had nothing left in the tank and gently subsided to a two goal defeat.
Brentford played their normal neat brand of short passing football but shorn of Vibe’s pace and hard running and with Djuricin easily snuffed out by Maguire there was very little goal threat and Hull eventually seized control and were rewarded with two close-range goals after the Bees failed to prevent crosses coming in from either flank.
Harlee Dean, otherwise so impressive on the night, was aware of the threat behind him and stretched in vain to clear, but could only find the roof of his own net and Diamé bundled in the second right on halftime which totally ended the game as a contest.
In between Diomande missed a penalty which was most generously awarded by a referee in Darren Bond who barely gave the visitors a decision all night, not that Hull really needed his assistance.
The excellent David Button got down quickly and well to make the save but that was a rare high point for an outmatched and exhausted Brentford team who struggled to cope with Hull’s pace and power on the break.
The second half was played at exhibition pace and we were saved any more embarrassment and could even have scored when the impressive Josh Clarke was brought down a fraction outside the box according the referee – I wonder if he would have been as hawk-eyed if the incident had occurred down the other end, and Sam Saunders also curled a late free kick inches past the post.
Otherwise the sole entertainment was in watching home substitute Chuba Akpom doing his best to keep a wide berth and stay as far away as possible from the belligerent Alan McCormack who would have just loved to have been given the opportunity to teach the young upstart a much-needed lesson in manners after his behaviour during his unimpressive loan spell at Griffin Park back in 2014.
Worryingly, indestructible skipper Jake Bidwell limped off with a hamstring strain late on, thus ending his bid to play every minute of the season and hopefully both he and Vibe will be passed fit to face the challenge of local rivals Fulham on Saturday.
I am sure that given the magnitude of the occasion, tired bodies and minds will have recovered in time for the weekend and Scott Hogan will also be ready to be unleashed upon our unsuspecting neighbours.
Last night was an irrelevance and we move on.
The Brentford bandwagon gathered further momentum yesterday afternoon when we won yet again this time away at MK Dons, relegating them in the process and the highlights of our amazing recent run can briefly be summarised as follows:
- We have gained a massive sixteen points through winning five and drawing one of our last six games
- Brentford are equal top alongside promotion challengers Brighton, in the form chart over that period
- Dean Smith has gone from zero to hero in the mind of some of our more demanding supporters and he could well be in line for the April Manager of the Month Award
- We have comfortably beaten hard, tough and physical teams in Bolton, Ipswich and Cardiff who have overpowered us in previous meetings
- We have scored sixteen goals in those six games, second only to Brighton
- We have conceded only five goals, a record bettered by only three teams
- This is our most successful run since we returned to the Championship
- Lasse Vibe has scored six goals in his last six games and finally looks the International striker he is
- Scott Hogan has returned to the squad with a bang, scoring three goals in just over an hour’s worth of football and his return from long term injury gives us much to look forward to next season
- We have won our last three away games, having previously only won once away since the beginning of the year
- We have scored thirty-four times in twenty-one away games to date, the best record in the Championship
- We have achieved this success despite suffering even more injuries to crucial members of the squad and being barely being able to name seven substitutes at times
- Unlikely heroes have emerged with the likes of Nico Yennaris and Yoann Barbet excelling in recent games
- Brentford now sit in tenth place in the Championship and are ahead of our West London rivals Queens Park Rangers and Fulham
That is all that springs to mind at the moment, but I hope you all agree that it is a really impressive list of achievements and one that would have appeared scarcely credible given how disappointed, worried and concerned we all felt as we shuffled nervously out of Griffin Park after our abject defeat to a poor Blackburn Rovers team a mere five weeks ago, our fourth loss in a row and one that left us looking apprehensively over our shoulder at the bottom three.
Now a top ten finish looks a real possibility as well as our being crowned Kings of West London should we maintain our form until the end of the season and ideally put Fulham to the sword next Saturday.
Following Brentford this season has been a real rollercoaster ride and never have Mark Warburton’s oft repeated words about games being decided by narrow margins appeared more wise and apposite.
We went into the first International break in October in deep despond in twentieth place with eight points and six defeats in our first ten games. The situation appeared dire but Lee Carsley and Paul Williams then inspired us to a run of four consecutive victories and by the time Dean Smith took over at the beginning of December we had risen to eleventh place with only one defeat in eight games.
Our last game of the year saw us win memorably at Reading after wonder goals by Ryan Woods and Sergi Canos and Dean Smith had led us to eighth place after three wins and only one loss in his first six matches.
The playoffs looked a possibility at the turn of the year but that is when everything went pear shaped as our next thirteen matches saw a massive decline in results with a mind-blowing ten defeats barely offset by a measly two wins and a draw.
That saw perhaps the nadir of our season as we went into the last International break in mid-March in eighteenth place with nervous thoughts crossing our mind about the possibility of dropping like a stone into the bottom three.
Our current run has seen all such negativity fade away and now we are looking upwards again and we find ourselves safely ensconced back in the top half of the table.
How do you explain a season in which our changes of fortune and constant ups and downs have resembled a game of Snakes And Ladders? Of course there is much that can be said about our massive and ongoing injury list which has seen so many key players missing large chunks of the season, the need to bed in a raft of new players, many of whom had no experience of the Championship or English conditions, as well as the squad having to cope with the differing approaches of three Head Coaches.
That is all very well and true, but I also feel that luck and good fortune – and the lack of them, have had a massive influence on our results. Dean Smith made an interesting comment recently when he stated that we are not playing much differently or better now than when we lost to the likes of Charlton and Blackburn in March. In other words games have been decided by a moment of genius, a piece of good or bad luck or the whim of a referee’s decision.
Being as objective as possible, four of the ten defeats in our last poor run could just as easily have ended in Brentford victories as Birmingham, Middlesbrough, Charlton and Blackburn Rovers were distinctly fortunate to to beat us and we should also have beaten Leeds United when they escaped with a late draw at Griffin Park.
Now it is quite simply our turn to have fortune favour us and that has resulted in a massive rise in confidence and I also believe that the better players feel about themselves and their team mates the more luck they will enjoy, in other words you can help make your own luck.
If you look back at our victory at Nottingham Forest which saw the beginning of our recent run of success, the first half was sterile with very little action as two teams on a bad run cancelled each other out and the opening goal was always going to be crucial.
The game turned on a massive and horrific defensive error which saw Lasse Vibe gifted with an open goal. Suddenly the game appeared easier for our players, confidence flooded back into their veins and they began to take chances rather than play the easy and safe pass. Vibe in particular, a player who had not scored since mid-December has suddenly been transformed into a goal machine and has gone on a prolific scoring run.
I shudder to think about what might have happened had Nottingham Forest scored first – not that they ever looked like doing so. Nobody can say for certain, but I doubt if we would now be feeling so serene and confident – narrow margins indeed.
As for yesterday, we had far too much in our locker for a poor MK Dons team who needed a victory to keep alive their slim chance of avoiding relegation. They were boosted by a early goal by Maynard who converted easily at the far post when the tricky Murphy skipped past Colin and set the goal up on a plate for the striker.
We had started the game slowly and looked slovenly and lacking in sharpness, concentration and commitment but the goal roused us out of our torpor and Canos equalised soon afterwards with a brilliant effort from outside the box which curled in a perfect parabola over the straining Cropper into the top corner of the net.
Button saved us soon afterwards after Murphy skinned Colin yet again and Maynard’s close range effort was brilliantly blocked by the keeper.
After that escape we slowly took control and Vibe almost turned in a shot from Kerschbaumer which was dropped by an inept goalkeeper who also did his best to gift Vibe a goal when he delayed his clearance interminably and allowed it to be blocked by the alert striker.
One all at halftime was probably just about right but we bossed the second half with Woods moving into the centre of midfield and dominating proceedings and he dovetailed well with the excellent McCormack and Yennaris.
Cropper had injured his shoulder and was replaced in goal by the young Burns who was afforded little cover and appeared well out of his depth at this level of football. Soon after the restart Vibe was sent away by a Barbet clearance and took his shot early before the keeper was able to set himself and his effort was perfectly placed into the corner for a well taken goal redolent of a player full of confidence.
Even then we did our best to allow a poor team back into the game and dozed off in the sunshine but Barbet picked Maynard’s pocket as he raced clear on goal and Revell missed horribly from point blank range. Murphy’s danger was minimised when Clarke replaced Colin whose attacking flamboyance did not compensate for his defensive shortcomings on the day.
Djuricin came on for Vibe and hit the top of the bar with a flicked header and he helped set up Woods for a rasping drive for the nerve-settling and match-clinching third goal which also followed a flowing move.
Now it was just a question of how many and Bidwell obliged with a fourth when his free kick from way out on the right touchline drifted past all the straining bodies in the penalty area and ended up in the far corner of the net. Gogia who had a brief runout as a substitute then came close to a fifth and the match ended with Brentford in total command.
A comfortable win indeed but one that could quite easily have gone the other way had MK Dons not been so wasteful with the opportunities that we so generously gifted them throughout the match.
Narrow margins yet again!
There was much to celebrate after Brentford’s victory over Cardiff City at Griffin Park on Tuesday night.
We can can take great satisfaction at cocking a snook at our old friend Russell Slade and yet again tweaking his tail and and his forlorn and dejected manner at the end of the game was a source of great joy to us all and highlighted that he fully realised that defeat to the Bees had pretty much scuppered Cardiff’s rapidly diminishing chances of making the playoffs.
Frankly, Cardiff were a very mediocre outfit, big and strong certainly but totally unimaginative in their approach and sadly lacking in incision and creativity. They mainly threatened from set pieces and long balls and for a team so limited to finish in the playoff zone would be a travesty and I suspect that there will be some bloodletting and many changes afoot in South Wales at the end of the season.
As for Brentford, the season just keeps getting better and it’s a real shame that there are only four games remaining given how exceptional our form has been over the past five matches.
The thirteen points that we have gleaned over that period has made a top half finish a real possibility, something that few of us would have thought possible a mere few weeks ago and that would be a fitting reward for a team that continues to over perform and show total commitment despite being down to the bare bones and running on empty.
Team selection was a formality last night as we played pretty much everyone who was still fit. Colin could not be risked after his long term injury problems and might well require an operation but there was a silver lining to this cloud as this meant a rare start for Josh Clarke and the youngster more than fulfilled his manager’s expectations with a solid performance in which he defended impeccably and maintained his concentration but also provided a exciting attacking outlet.
He is developing into a real player and his use of the ball was excellent. He is playing for his future and I suspect that last night went a long way towards ensuring that he is offered a new contract.
Alan McCormack has also reached his appearance target for a new contract and will now remain with us next season, an achievement that will be generally welcomed. He has been a massive influence on his teammates both on and off the field and the likes of him and Sam Saunders are worth their weight in gold as they act as teachers, mentors and exemplars to what is predominantly a young and inexperienced dressing room.
He knows how to manage the game as well as the referee and poor, hapless Stuart Attwell appeared at times to be looking at Macca for approval before blowing his whistle.
We are not the biggest or strongest of teams and victories over the likes of Bolton, Ipswich and Cardiff auger well for the future as these are the types of team that have so often bullied and knocked us out of our stride but no longer is that the case as with the likes of McCormack and Harlee Dean in our team we are no longer a soft touch.
On paper you could look at perhaps half of the Brentford starting eleven last night and wonder if they were all good enough to play in a team that aspires towards the upper reaches of the Championship but the sum of the whole is far greater than that of the individual parts and we have become a team in every meaning of the word.
The first half was accurately described as dismal by Dean Smith as the visitors dominated possession but did very little with it apart from Pilkington heading wide from close range from a corner. Brentford ran, pressed and covered but there was little quality on view and apart from a Clarke cross which fizzed narrowly past a static Vibe in front of goal and a Woods effort high, wide and not very handsome we were chasing shadows and were more than happy with a blank scoreline at halftime.
Dean Smith’s words at the break ensured that the intensity levels were raised and with McCormack, Woods and Yennaris becoming more influential the chances began to arrive. Marshall saved well from Macca, Kerschbaumer shot over and Vibe missed horribly when he could see the whites of Marshall’s eyes after he and Woods were set free on a two-on-one breakaway after a Cardiff corner was cleared.
The game closely resembled the home match against Nottingham Forest last year when a listless first half was followed by a far more dynamic performance after the break and the common denominator was Sergi Canos, a real live wire who injected some much needed pace and directness into our play. His wonderful back flick played in Bidwell who shot wide and we improved even more with the arrival of Scott Hogan which led to Vibe dropping back into a more withdrawn role.
Cardiff seemed to have shot their bolt and Button was untroubled except for a smart stop from Pilkington and our pressure finally told with seven minutes to go when Bidwell’s left wing corner was flicked towards goal by Yennaris on the near post and Barbet seized upon a ricochet off a defender to smash a close range shot onto the bar and Hogan, Johnny On The Spot, again reacted quickest to slot home the rebound.
As if one goal wasn’t enough, along came another straight away when Yennaris won a midfield challenge and set Vibe away down the middle and he timed his pass perfectly to Hogan who swept the ball past Marshall from a tight angle. Another perfect finish from a striker rapidly recovering both confidence and sharpness.
It wouldn’t be Brentford if we didn’t make a drama out of a crisis and we did our level best to self destruct when Cardiff mounted a late long ball barrage aimed at the massive substitutes Zohore and Ameobi. The former scored when Dean got caught underneath a hoof down the middle and there were two more narrow escapes before Stuart Attwell brought proceedings to a halt.
Four games remain and all that is left for us is to attempt to go through April and May undefeated, finish the season in the top ten, give Fulham a good hiding and win the West London Championship mini league.
Not much to look forward to is there?