End Of Term Report – Part 3 – 17/5/16

Here are my thoughts on the remaining members of the Brentford squad as well as the players who left us during the season :

21. Lasse Vibe. Danish international striker Lasse Vibe signed for the Bees for around one million pounds from IFK Göteborg shortly before the beginning of the season and went straight from playing in the Swedish Allsvenskan to the Championship without the benefit of any preseason break. He found a place in the team playing firstly on the right flank  where he was a peripheral influence but he scored his first goal with a stunning long-range curling effort against Reading when moved into a more central role. He played alongside Marco Djuricin but won a regular place in the team as the sole striker after Djuricin’s injury against Blackburn. From then on Vibe pretty much trod a lone furrow up front until Scott Hogan’s recovery from injury late on in the season and eventually the pressure told on him and his effectiveness greatly diminished as he was slowed down by the effects of fatigue and overwork. After scoring with a fulminating volley against Huddersfield in mid-December he went over three months without scoring and clearly demonstrated that he was not best suited to the physical demands of playing as a target man. Smash the ball at or over his head and he would always come off second best against giant central defenders who totally outmuscled him and invariably won the physical battle, and with his confidence shot to pieces, he went on a ghastly run of poor performances marked by a series of missed chances and scuffed shots. He had hit the wall and the Championship was proving a tough learning curve for him. No striker scored for the Bees from the second of January until the second of April, a run of twelve matches that saw only eleven goals scored by Brentford and the abyss was beckoning until everything changed in the March international break. Vibe went away with the Danish squad and returned a new man, apparently revitalised by his international recall. Suddenly there was a spring in his step and his luck finally turned. Firstly when loanee Leandro Rodríguez suffered a hamstring injury which necessitated his withdrawal from the fray at Nottingham Forest and his replacement by Vibe and then when home defender Kevin Wilson’s gaffe gifted him a goal. Finally the floodgates opened as with confidence restored he went on a wonderful run of seven goals in seven games, and what goals they were. Close range tap-ins, flying headers, sumptuous outside of the foot finishes and long-range rockets. Everything he touched flew in and he ended up as equal top scorer with the highly creditable total of fourteen goals. More importantly, we learned to play to his strengths as his pace and vision enabled him to time his runs and get in behind defenders and he looked twice the player he had been just weeks earlier. The fans took to him from the beginning because he never let his head go down even when things were not going well for him and he was always a chaser of lost causes. He played with a smile on his face and the crowd responded to him. How far has he come in so short a time? A few weeks ago and I would not have been too upset if he had decided to leave at the end of the season, now I can’t wait to see if he can improve even more next season.

22. Jack O’Connell. Jack had a frustrating season as he was never able to establish himself in the team but at times he certainly looked the part in our central defence. He twice enjoyed runs of four and then three consecutive matches after Dean and Barbet’s red cards but he was unable to keep his place given the strong competition he faced. He scored a goal from a corner against Fulham and, unlike our other central defenders, he always looked dangerous at set pieces, and but for a brilliant save he would have repeated the dose in the home match against our old rivals at Griffin Park. At twenty-two he is still a youngster and he could yet develop into an excellent defender and a real asset. He lacks pace but reads the game well, is strong in the air and is no mug with the ball at his feet. I hope that he is patient and that we find a role for him next season.

23. Jota. Who could ever have imagined Brentford doing so well despite Jota starting only one game all season? Jonathan Douglas’s rugged challenge cost Jota damaged ankle ligaments which required surgery to repair and he had barely returned to the substitutes’ bench in December when personal issues forced his return to Spain, initially on loan to Eibar. Brentford treated him with sensitivity and compassion given the circumstances and we will simply have to wait and see whether he will be in a position to return within the next year or if we have seen the last of the Spanish maestro. I personally doubt that he will play for us again and, if so, we will need to maximise our return for him which will not be easy given that he will, I am sure, only wish to sign for a Spanish team. As for replacing him, you can’t, as how do you find another genius?

24. Akaki (Andy) Gogia. Andy Gogia was another foreign prospect signed on a free transfer from the lower leagues in Germany. A quick and tricky winger, he impressed with his pace, skill and energy in the preseason friendly against Stoke and scored with a deflected long-range effort. He started the season in the first team but it soon became clear that he needed time to get used to the pace and physicality of the Championship and also become more accustomed and attuned to living and working in a foreign country. His cause was also hindered by some niggly injuries and he never started a match after the beginning of October. He impressed in the Development Squad and looked more direct and effective when coming off the bench late on in the season. Hopefully he will be one for next season and he will surely receive another opportunity given that we will be looking for a new winger.

27. David Button. At twenty-seven years of age, and coming off his second consecutive season as an everpresent in the Brentford team, David Button is probably not yet at his peak and might improve even more, but he has firmly established himself as one of the most consistent and talented goalkeepers in the Championship. What a bargain he has proved to be since we rescued him from the depths of the Charlton Athletic reserve team for a mere one hundred and fifty thousand pounds. He certainly received sufficient practice last season as he faced more shots on goal than any other keeper in the league and he invariably met and overcame the challenge. He was directly responsible for only two goals, at home to both Middlesbrough and Charlton but otherwise he was reliable, dependable, consistent and also inspired and brilliant on occasion. His save from Garner at Preston was stupendous and one of the moments of the season and at times he seemed to be playing Derby County on his own at Griffin Park. He can still sometimes be tentative and vulnerable when dealing with crosses but he is otherwise technically extremely sound and invariably gets the basics right. His use of the ball when in possession was as calm and accurate as ever and he started so many of our attacks as well as providing a wonderful assist for Alan Judge’s goal against Sheffield Wednesday. Button now has a tough decision to make given that his contract expires at the end of next season. Should he seek pastures new or extend his contract at the club? He is guaranteed first team football in a young and improving team at Griffin Park, but could he do better professionally and financially elsewhere? The latest indications are that he might well decide to stay and every Brentford fan will fervently hope that this is the case as we are very fortunate to have him.

28. Nico Yennaris. Last season was a coming of age for Nico whose career at Brentford had appeared to be drifting into oblivion and many were surprised when his loan move to Wycombe Wanderers was not made permanent. Maxime Colin’s injury changed everything and Lee Carsley gave him the opportunity to deputise for him. Nico played like a man inspired, tough, tenacious in the challenge and eager to overlap, he ensured that Colin was barely missed and Nico was unfortunate to lose his place when the Frenchman recovered. His consistency was rewarded with a new three year contract, a move that initially attracted much criticism from some Brentford supporters but Dean Smith knew exactly what he was doing and the decision is now looking an extremely good one. He believed in Nico who was converted into a highly effective defensive midfielder who played a massive part in our late season success. He was all-action and all-energy, relentless in his tackling and pressing but he also showed his great ability on the ball and he passed it quickly and accurately. Nico was ideally suited for Brentford’s pass and move approach and he also scored two well-taken goals. From a player who at one time seemed to be going nowhere except out of the exit door, Nico proved to be a revelation and ended the season as the most improved player in the team and enjoying life playing for the first time for a Head Coach who believed in him. Of all the stories of the season, Nico’s was perhaps the most positive, surprising and satisfying.

29. Yoann Barbet. The best that I can say about French central defender Yoann Barbet’s progress is that the departed James Tarkowski has barely been missed. Signed from Chamois Niortais for a fee of around half a million pounds he was another unknown player from abroad who was definitely seen as one for the future. He impressed in his initial first team appearances as he vied with Jack O’Connell to be the deputy for the first choice partnership of Dean and Tarkowski, but his big opportunity came with the departure of Tarkowski and he certainly seized it. He received a temporary setback after an unfortunate red card at Sheffield Wednesday but he learned from the experience and soon scored his first goal for the club against Charlton. He proved to be a rugged defender who loves a slide tackle and he showed a good turn of pace. He also demonstrated great skill on the ball and sprayed long and accurate passes out to the right wing, memorably assisting on a wonderful goal for Alan Judge at Preston. He has adapted quickly and well to his new surroundings and is another star in the making for the Bees.

36. Josh Clarke. Josh certainly made the most of the opportunity given him to develop his skills as a fast, overlapping fullback and fought his way into the first team. Everybody loves a local boy made good, and his pace, enthusiasm and attacking brio shone through. He obtained some valuable experience on loan at Barnet, started four matches for Brentford and also impressed when coming off the bench, helping to make Scott Hogan’s late equaliser against Bristol City. He has been offered a new contract for next season and I hope that he decides to remain at the club, as at only twenty-one years of age there is still time for Josh to emerge and develop into a regular first team player.

37. Courtney Senior. Still only eighteen, Courtney Senior impressed in the preseason friendly at Boreham Wood showing pace and skill on the right wing. He made his first team debut against Oxford United and twice was an unused substitute before returning to the Development Squad for the remainder of the season. His time has yet to come, but he is a real talent.

39. Tom Field. Tom made an assured and highly competent debut as a nineteen year-old deputy for the injured Jake Bidwell in the local derby against Fulham. He showed great composure and an excellent temperament. He was never overawed by the occasion, defended well and also swung in a perfect right wing corner which was thrashed into the net by Scott Hogan. Another one for the future, and better still, he comes from a Brentford supporting family.

47. Sergi Canos. A total breath of fresh air, Sergi arrived on loan as an unknown eighteen year-old from Liverpool via Barcelona’s academy. He left the club with his head held high as a firm fan favourite having scored seven times in thirty-eight games and he totally surpassed expectations and proved to be a massive success. He so obviously loved every minute of his stay and played with enthusiasm, a smile on his face and with a real joie de vivre. Given his age and lack of experience he was inconsistent but he possessed the ability to turn a game on its head as both Preston North End and Nottingham Forest discovered to their cost and he was always full of tricks. He worked hard and learned how to track back but he had the pace, dribbling ability and sheer ability to create havoc at the other end of the pitch, netting after a mere twenty-one seconds at Huddersfield and scoring unforgettable goals at Reading and MK Dons. He made a massive impression on everybody at the club and we all took great pride and joy in his achievement when he made his Premier League debut for Liverpool on the last day of the season. Have we seen the last of him? Maybe but perhaps not, as if he is not considered good enough for Liverpool’s squad next season or does not agree a new contract, then perhaps he might yet return to Griffin Park and thrill and inspire us once more?

Andre Gray, Toumani Diagouraga, James Tarkowski, Ryan Williams, Josh Laurent, Leandro Rodríguez and Jermaine Udumaga all made appearances for the Bees this season before leaving the club. It was a forgone conclusion that Gray would go elsewhere and move up the food chain as he was a star in the making andcoveted by clubs who could pay him far more than us and we also had to sell him in order not to fall foul of Financial Fair Play restrictions. He played twice for us, firstly as a late substitute against Ipswich where he helped turn the game in our favour and scored a well-taken goal bursting down the middle at pace to put us back into a game that seemed lost. He and Philipp Hofmann also played together at Bristol City and terrified the opposition with Gray scoring with a perfect half volley at the near post as well as contributing to two other Brentford goals. He clearly demonstrated that he was a man in form and one who would take the division by storm – but unfortunately it was for Burnley and not us. Toumani Diagouraga was a wonderful servant of the club but we did well to extract a half million pound fee from Leeds for a player whose performances had declined from their impossibly high level of the previous season. He was no longer such a dominating influence on proceedings and his game suffered from the absence of Douglas alongside him, which forced Toumani to attempt tackles far more often, something that was not one of his strengths. He left with our gratitude and best wishes. The same cannot be said for James Tarkowski who acted in a totally unprofessional manner by virtue of his decision to down tools before the Burnley home game. As with Gray, we extracted a high fee for him and the progress made by Barbet means that he has hardly been missed. Tarkowski was his normal frustrating self, combining moments of brilliance both in defending and on the ball with times when he lost concentration, over-reached himself and cost us dear. Leandro Rodríguez was a loan signing from Everton who was brought in to support the flagging Lasse Vibe. He pulled a hamstring in his second match before he really had the chance to show us anything and returned to his parent club. Laurent, Williams and Udumaga all made brief appearances without convincing the club that they had what it takes to merit further opportunities.

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The Lowlights Of The Season – 13/5/16

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

What A Game To Miss! – 8/5/16


I was fully prepared to get up at the crack of dawn yesterday and schlepp up the M1 to Huddersfield. Twelve-thirty is an ungodly hour to start a football match, particularly if it first necessitates a three hour crawl up a packed motorway riddled with a frustrating series of speed restrictions.

Dead rubber it might well have been, but it would also be the last opportunity for me to get my football fix for a couple of months or so as well as to pay my own personal homage to a team that had put so many seemingly insurmountable problems behind them and whose dedication, perseverance, commitment and no little skill, now looked likely to be rewarded with a top ten finish.

Everything changed on Thursday with my wife’s out-of-the-blue suggestion that we take advantage of the favourable weather forecast and go away for the weekend.

Football and Brentford’s irresistible siren song invariably take precedence over all other matters throughout the long and interminable Winter months and home games are sacrosanct, but given the circumstances, would it hurt so much, would it be such a bad thing to, just this once, put the wishes and considerations of my family first and make the supreme and ultimate sacrifice?

My answer to that interesting philosophical question can be ascertained by the fact that Saturday lunchtime found Miriam and I ensconced on the beach at Poole Harbour and my knowledge of events at Huddersfield was confined to listening to the silver tongue of Mark Burridge on Bees Player.

So what happens? We only go and score five times away from home for the first time since, I believe, Plymouth in 1994, earn our largest ever away victory in the second tier of English football, and the Bees put on a massively composed and vibrant performance that simply emphasised the confidence coursing through their veins, and the final five-one score line by no means flattered them. Indeed one of my spies at the match commented to me that we should have scored eight.

That’s just how it is and my missing this mauling is surely punishment enough for my obvious lack of dedication to the cause, although it must be said that our weekend has been as pleasant and relaxing as we expected, and one has simply to weigh up the benefits and advantages of both options!

So the season finally ended in triumph and many of us perhaps wish that it could go on for a few weeks yet given the incredible happenings of the past month, but legs and minds alike are weary and badly need a rest if they are to come back recharged and re-energised for the start of next season.

Let’s just take a moment to reflect on the immensity of our achievements:

  • Brentford have finished in ninth position in the Championship, our second best finish ever at this level after last year, and one previously matched only in 1950 and 1951
  • 2015/16 is therefore our equal third most successful season since the end of the Second World War
  • By ending the season as the form team in the league with an unparalleled run of seven wins and a draw in our last nine games we have risen nine places in the table and scored twenty-four times in that period
  • We ended up a mere ten points away from the playoffs, so keep thinking about Fulham away and Middlesbrough, Charlton and Blackburn at home and what might have been
  • With a highly creditable seventy-two goals we were equal top scorers in the Championship
  • We were top scorers away from home with thirty-nine goals, including fifteen in our last five matches
  • Brentford were the Kings of West London, finishing comfortably ahead of rivals Fulham and Queens Park Rangers for the first time since 1948/49
  • Scott Hogan is perhaps the most prolific Brentford marksman in living memory as he played a total of one hundred and seventy-one minutes of football all season and scored seven times, an average of less than twenty-five minutes per goal

As for yesterday’s game, the Bees always had far too much in their locker for a poor and dispirited home team who gifted Brentford a goal after twenty-one seconds when Cranie underhit his backpass and Sergi Canos was onto the error in a flash and finished perfectly past Steer, who then saved brilliantly from Barbet’s header before being forced off by injury as the Bees threatened to run riot.

For the second time in three away matches we were faced by a callow, young replacement keeper, this time in Lloyd Allinson, who was to make a torrid debut.

He started well by foiling Hogan who actually missed a presentable opportunity before shooting narrowly wide of the near post as Brentford went into the interval only one goal up having hardly been bothered at the back.

That was all to change when Huddersfield equalised straight after the break when a quickly taken short free kick caught our back line dozing and Jamie Paterson, reputedly a Brentford transfer target, danced through a static defence, left Harlee Dean, otherwise imperious on his two-hundredth appearance for the club, on his backside and scored calmly and efficiently.

Rather than demoralising the Bees, this unexpected and totally undeserved goal roused them to new heights and Brentford simply stepped up the pace and blew Huddersfield away, scoring five times for the first time this season.

Hogan scored twice, each time finishing simply and without any flourishes or fuss after Kerschbaumer put him clean through with astute through balls.

Hogan lasted sixty-four minutes before being replaced by Vibe and the watching Roy Keane left soon afterwards. Surely Scott’s fairytale month couldn’t end with an international call up, or could it? Stranger things have happened and in-form strikers are always in great demand.

Good management again by Dean Smith who has ensured that Hogan is being nursed back into action and also kept hungry for next season.

Vibe emphasised our amazing recent transformation in terms of our newfound confidence and capability upfront by scoring within three minutes of his arrival with a venemous shot perfectly drilled inside the hapless Allinson’s near post after an incisive pass from Canos, who departed soon after to a hero’s reception.

Lasse’s seventh goal in as many games ensured that he joined Alan Judge on fourteen goals and he finished an excellent first season in English football as our joint top scorer once we had finally learned how best to utilise his ability to run in behind opposition defences.

Vibe then became the provider when he set up late substitute John Swift for a comfortable close range finish which was his seventh goal of an eventful season. A more than creditable tally from a highly promising young player.

Swift barely celebrated his goal, which was scored right in front of the Brentford hordes and I wonder if his mind is already on his next move rather than contemplating a potential return to Griffin Park?

Five goals almost became six as Vibe went close right at the death, and the season ended on a massive high for everyone concerned with the club.

There has been a definite change of style lately as Dean Smith has made us far less gung-ho and we now sit back more often and attempt to pick teams off on the break.

I well remember the new Head Coach’s first two away games late last year at Fulham and Cardiff when we scored four times and yet only came away with one point owing to our own kamikaze approach and defensive shortcomings. It finally looks like we have learned our lesson.

Now we are far more solid and organised defensively with Colin, Dean, Barbet and Bidwell forming an impressive and cohesive back four which is well protected by the speedy, mobile and combative Woods and Yennaris.

Suddenly there is pace coursing throughout the team with the likes of Colin, Yennaris, Canos and Hogan, and we are a real force to be reckoned with.

Konstantin Kerschbaumer too has finally proved his worth with assists for three of Hogan’s last four goals and he showed an unsuspected strength and determination to shake off an opponent before setting up Scott’s opener yesterday.

What a rollercoaster and topsy-turvy season this has been for the Bees and their supporters and we can now all relax and take a break before the serious business starts again.

There will be much hard work taking place behind the scenes throughout the close season but the foundations are firmly in place for a successful campaign next season.

As for the squad, I am led to believe that their ninth place finish ensures that they qualify for a bonus payment and few would begrudge them their reward.

Kings Of West London! – 3/5/16

i would like to start today’s article by expressing my heartfelt congratulations to Burnley who sealed their fully deserved promotion to the giddy heights of the Premier League by narrowly defeating Queens Park Rangers in a tense encounter at Turf Moor yesterday afternoon.

Burnley possess the perfect blueprint for what is required to achieve success in the Championship, a mean defence which has conceded only thirty-five goals, experience throughout the squad exemplified by the enigmatic Joey Barton, who has proved to be an absolute inspiration, a hard working midfield which never allows opponents any time to settle on the ball, the inventiveness and trickery of George Boyd and of course the unselfishness of the battering ram Sam Vokes and the predatory instincts of Ande Gray upfront. All in all a winning combination which has now received its just reward.

Brentford have made a massive contribution to their success through providing them with Andre Gray scorer of twenty-two goals for his new club in forty matches, and James Tarkowski who only appeared four times but provided additional strength in depth.

At first sight it would appear that Burnley obviously got the better end of both deals given their promotion and the undisputed fact that they now possess two appreciating assets who could both flourish next season in the Premier League.

Close examination of the facts from a Brentford perspective, however, tells a different story.

Neither player wanted to remain at Griffin Park once their head had been turned by the siren song emanating from the lips of their potential new employers and Tarkowski, in particular made it totally impossible for the Bees to keep him after his toxic and inexcusable behaviour resulting in his downing tools and refusing to play against Burnley in a televised Championship encounter in January, something that I have never seen before and hope very much never to experience again as it left an extremely sour taste in the mouth.

Our hands were tied and we had no option but to sell particularly given the need to remain Financial Fair Play compliant and it was therefore simply a matter of extracting as much money as possible for the pair of them and in my opinion we certainly did so.

At the time of his leaving Burnley fans were stunned and bemused and openly carped at the size of the fee that their team was reported to have paid for Gray which will now increase to around nine million pounds given their ultimate success. I suspect that they are feeling somewhat different now.

Given that Tarkowski was definitely damaged goods, only wished to return to his native North West which narrowed his options, and that there did not appear to be a queue of teams competing for his signature, to receive an initial fee of around three million pounds from Burnley represented exceptional business on the part of the Bees.

As if that was not enough we will now be receiving another three and a half million pounds in additional bonus payments given Burnley’s promotion. And it does not end there as there will be even more money owing should Burnley avoid immediate relegation back to the Championship as well as generous sell-on fees if either player is sold at a profit as Gray assuredly will be at some point in the future should he maintain his massive progress.

Both Gray and Tarkowski perfectly exemplify the Brentford strategy and approach – in other words, identify young talent ahead of our rivals, buy low, give them an opportunity as well as the platform, support, coaching and encouragement to improve and then, when the time comes, sell them on at the top of the market given that for the time being at least we are unable to hold onto them given our lack of financial clout.

The missing part of the equation is how well we replace our departing stars as for our business model to succeed and for us to maintain our place at the top end of the Championship we need to keep replenishing our talent pool, and again, I believe that we have not missed either Gray or Tarkowski nearly as much as I am sure most supporters would have either feared or expected.

A few weeks ago I would have conceded that we did not possess any player with the potential to replace Gray but now with the emergence of Scott Hogan who has made a totally stunning and barely believable return from his two career threatening injuries with five goals in barely a full game’s worth of action but has also demonstrated a clinical ability to take chances in the six yard box the situation has certainly changed.

Hogan is a year younger than Gray, possesses similar strength, energy and running ability and is perhaps a more composed finisher in front of goal. Assuming that he completes his recovery as anticipated, and much praise is due to the Brentford medical team for their dedication, we will see a talented and hungry young player who will be determined to make his mark next season.

Brentford are to be congratulated for extending his contract by a further year before he made his comeback and their loyalty appears certain to receive its reward. Now might not be a bad time to try and persuade Scott to sign on for yet another year before his value rockets sky-high.

As previously mentioned, Gray has scored twenty-two times for Burnley but our strikers have more than matched his total with Lasse Vibe finally proving his international ability by scoring six goals in April and surely being a serious candidate for Player of the Month. Throughout the season Lasse has notched thirteen goals, a more than reasonable total for somebody new to the English game, and Philipp Hofmann and Marco Djuricin, four each. Scott Hogan’s five, all in April too, makes a total of twenty-six goals scored by our current strikers, not including the two that Andre managed at the start of the season for us before he left.

James Tarkowski was the epitome of Longfellow’s Little Girl With The Curl: She was very, very good, But when she was bad she was horrid. At times his play was sublime as he showed the genius of a thoroughbred, winning the ball in the air or on the ground and then he would effortlessly stride away from his opponents and set the Bees on the attack.

Unfortunately there were times when he overreached himself and took unnecessary risks and the cost would be immense with the ball invariably ending up in our net. But this was how he was encouraged to play and you cannot praise him when things work out and excoriate him when they don’t, you have to take the rough with the smooth.

It will be fascinating to see how he adapts to the Premier League, if he indeed manages to win a place in the starting eleven and I suspect that his seemingly casual style of play will probably prove to be a success at the highest level.

His lack of respect towards his head coach, teammates and supporters makes it impossible for me to mourn his departure and the emergence of Yoann Barbet has also meant that we have replaced him with a young player who possesses the potential to become even better than his predecessor.

Since receiving his opportunity Barbet has rapidly gained in confidence, has pace and aggression, reads the game well, loves a slide tackle and possesses a wand of a left foot which can ping the ball fifty yards directly to the feet of a waiting teammate.

He cost around half a million pounds from the lower divisions in France and has already proved to be a marvellous signing. He, Jota and Maxime Colin are three players who perfectly personify our use of proprietary stats and analytics as we plucked all three of them from abroad without a whisper of interest from any other English club. Brentford at its best!

So thank you and well done to Burnley and also many, many congratulations to Brentford who last night sealed their position as the Kings of West London given that QPR are now five points behind us with one game to go and Fulham are trailing eleven places beneath us and have obtained fourteen points less than us.

Another amazing achievement by the Bees who are dwarfed by both of their rivals in terms of income and turnover but we totally outclass them both on and off the pitch and our success is a confirmation of just how far you can go on hard work, creativity, original thinking, teamwork and planning plus a course the ability shown by a talented and committed group of young players.

I did some research this morning and this is only the sixth season ever when all three West London teams have been competing against each other in the same division, and it is the first time since 1948/49. This is now the third time in those six seasons that the Bees have come out on top, a feat that they also achieved in 1930 and 1931 and the Bees went on to win promotion to the top division a mere four years later. Hopefully a precedent for us to follow.

What a great time it is to be a Brentford supporter!

A Lot To Play For – 21/4/16

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?

What Might Have Been – 19/4/15

Just imagine how Brentford supporters would have felt way back in August last year if they had been able to look into a crystal ball and read the three names nominated last week on the shortlist for the 2016 Championship Player of the Year award.

Judge, Gray and McCormack were the three names announced and whilst few of us would have been surprised to see the first two on the list, McCormack’s would have been an entirely different matter and surely nobody would have anticipated Alan having a career year that enabled him to scale such heights of achievement!

Doubtless, we would also have felt that retaining the services of Andre Gray and his mounting goal threat, watching live wire and spark plug Alan Judge taking the league by storm and seeing Alan McCormack play his role to perfection as the minder and protector of the more skilful and less physical members of the team, meant that Brentford would have succeeded in building upon the success of last season when they reached the playoffs and perhaps come even closer to achieving their seemingly impossible dream of reaching the Premier League.

Taking that thought just a step further, I wonder just how far last season’s team could have progressed in the highly unlikely circumstances that we had been able to ignore the dictates of Financial Fair Play, the hungry predators waiting to pounce and the economic realities of our situation and managed to keep them all together for another year?

Who knows what the answer would be but that side contained so much burgeoning talent and it is a fair bet that with a couple of additions the team would have threatened to take the division by storm.

Let us now take a brief look at how the players who have left us have fared and examine whether they have furthered their career by leaving Griffin Park for pastures anew, and also how we have coped with their loss.

Moses Odubajo’s departure left a slightly bad taste in the mouth as we had no option but to comply with his release clause which totally undervalued him given the massive progress he had made since moving to fullback after Alan McCormack’s injury at Bolton. It is easy to complain though with the benefit of hindsight!

Moses impressed when playing for England Under 20s last Summer and there is every chance that he will have an International future ahead of him.

He has established himself in a Hull City team that looks as if it is playoff bound and has had a consistent season if not quite matching the heights of last year.

You always miss players of his calibre but Max Colin has proved to be an exceptional replacement who can defend and attack with equal dexterity and Nico Yennaris has also taken his opportunity well at fullback. We are more than covered for his loss.

James Tarkowski left under a cloud in January and is currently waiting patiently for his chance in a Burnley team that is on the verge of returning to the Premier League.

Any judgement on him is still clouded by the unpleasant and unprofessional way that he helped engineer his transfer through his controversial refusal to play against Burnley and the problems that it caused us in its wake.

He remains a genius in embryo, a frustrating combination of superlatives and pratfalls where he is just as likely to glide past three opponents as he is to overreach himself through overconfidence and lack of concentration and set up a soft goal for the opposition.

Yoann Barbet has settled down well as his replacement and is rapidly learning on the job. He has the ability to hit accurate long passes as Preston and Bristol City found out to their cost but shares his predecessor’s penchant for overplaying at times. Tarky is currently a far better bet given his extra experience but Barbet is fast improving, is a potential star, and we have certainly looked more balanced playing a left footer on his natural side.

There is not much more to write about Jonathan Douglas than has already been remarked about at great length here and elsewhere. He had a massively impressive first half of last season but his performances gradually tailed off as he was grossly overplayed by Mark Warburton. Even so he was highly influential and provided a shield for the back four as well as making effective late runs in to the area and scoring a career high eight goals.

He has done enough at Ipswich this season to earn a contract extension but his overall influence is waning and I believe that we are missing a similar type of player rather than the man himself and I have no regrets at his having left. Konstantin Kerschbaumer and Josh McEachran have both attempted to take over the mantle of being the all action box-to-box midfielder we crave but neither has really fitted the bill and there is a yawning chasm still waiting to be filled, perhaps by Yennaris. The biggest influence Douglas has had on our season was in injuring the majestic Jota, an action which cost us his services for the first four months of the season.

Toumani Diagouraga is another whose departure has hurt us more in the short term given his obvious ability and more unexpectedly his newfound goal scoring prowess that has emerged since he joined Leeds! Nico Yennaris has emerged as an unexpected hidden talent now that he has been given his belated opportunity to cement his place in midfield but I expect at least one new face to arrive in the Summer who will challenge for a place as a covering midfielder. As for Toumani, it was the right decision to allow an unhappy player to leave the club for a more than realistic transfer fee.

Stuart Dallas might possibly have jumped ship a bit early as he would surely have been a near automatic choice for us this season had he remained. He might well retort that he is now earning more money playing for a bigger club than Brentford, but with a mere four goals and five assists he has not really pulled up any trees at Elland Road and I am not convinced that their style of play really suits him. We have lacked a goalscoring winger all season and his directness and readiness to shoot on sight have been sorely missed. He has been a real loss.

Alex Pritchard’s brilliance in the second half of last season made it a total certainty that he would not be returning to Brentford and indeed, he was expected to be challenging for a place in the Spurs team of all stars however a serious ankle injury sustained when playing for the England Under 21 team has ensured that a season that promised so much has instead become a total write off as he has barely featured for either Spurs or West Brom.

Alan Judge took over his mantle as playmaker at Brentford and succeeded beyond our wildest dreams with a massive return of fourteen goals and eleven assists but we have come nowhere near replacing the skill, effervescence and goal threat of last season’s midfield. How could we?

John Swift has enjoyed a tough baptism of fire but has shown signs of developing into a real talent and his tally of six goals is highly impressive for one so inexperienced. He, Judge, McCormack, Saunders, McEachran, Kerschbaumer, Yennaris and the highly promising Ryan Woods and Sergi Canos have all ensured that our midfield remains the strongest part of the current squad but in Jota, Pritchard, Judge, Douglas, Diagouraga, backed up by Dallas and Toral we possessed perhaps the finest midfield at the club in living memory.

At first sight, Andre Gray has been perhaps our biggest loss given the twenty-two goals he has added to the two he scored for the Bees right at the start of the season. He has developed into the most dangerous striker in the division and there are no limits to the heights that he can achieve given his improvement this season since he joined Burnley.

Of course we have missed his eager running and predatory instincts in front of goal but between them Vibe, Hofmann, Djuricin and Hogan have almost matched him as they have scored twenty-one times between the four of them – a really impressive total, and proof that we have managed pretty well without Gray even if none of our current strikers can compare with him in terms of individual quality.

That is a trend that in my view has been repeated throughout the squad. We have without doubt lost the services of a large number of exceptionally talented players who blended together so well to form last season’s wonderful team, but when you look more closely you can quite clearly see that whilst some have been missed more than others, most of their replacements have stepped up to the mark and have been hits  rather than misses and they are all still improving as they gradually acclimatise to a new situation.

The overall success of last season has not, of course, been equalled and perhaps never could be given our current resources but the reality of our performances this season on both a team and individual basis is far more impressive than the myth.

Finally my apologies for my really poor and obvious Alan McCormack joke at the beginning of this article and many congratulations to Andre Gray, the Championship Player of the Year as well as to the runners up, Alan Judge and of course ROSS McCormack of Fulham!

Brentford’s Injury Hoodoo – 14/4/16

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