Not Many Additions Needed – 11/7/16

Now that the Brentford squad is safely ensconced at its training camp in Germany it seems like a reasonable time to look at its current make-up and strength, comment on the new arrivals and outline where strengthening might still be necessary.

There are currently three new faces in Romaine Sawyers, John Egan and Dan Bentley and all three conform to the Brentford blueprint and stereotype in terms of being young, talented, untested in the Championship and with massive development potential.

All three were out of contract with their former teams, Walsall, Gillingham and Southend respectively and had starred in Division One. Sawyers will come on a Bosman free and fees have yet to be agreed for the other two with a Transfer Tribunal likely to be required.

Sawyers has been coveted by many teams for a couple of seasons and he is a real footballer, tall, strong and talented on the ball, seemingly languid but quicker than he looks and he possesses the ability to play the defence splitting pass. Ignoring the easily forgotten loanee Leandro Rodríguez, Sawyers is Dean Smith’s first signing for the club, always an important milestone, and the two worked extremely well together at Walsall with many expressions of mutual respect and I am really excited at what he is likely to bring us.

He could play on the right hand side of midfield or as a Number Ten, directly behind Scott Hogan.

John Egan is quite simply a player who loves to defend. Strong in the air, powerful in the tackle he is a formidable barrier for strikers to overcome. He also uses the ball well and will fit into our system of passing the ball out from the back. He scored six times for Gillingham last season and demonstrated at Boreham Wood that he will provide a massive threat at set pieces, something than none of our defenders have really managed since the days of Leon Legge. He and Harlee Dean will have a real battle to secure the first team spot and I have no idea who will come out on top.

Dan Bentley is a big, brash, loud and dominating goalkeeper who has starred for Southend and now looks more than ready for the challenge of the Championship.

He, like the other two new arrivals, fully realises just how good Brentford can be in terms of improving him and helping to develop him into the finished article.

Brentford is clearly recognised and acknowledged by promising players and their agents as a stepping stone club where they can hone their talents and hopefully eventually move onto bigger and better placed clubs when the time is right.

Galling though this is for all Brentford supporters given our current financial constraints and stadium size there is very little that we can do to change this situation until we move to Lionel Road.

At least it means that we are still able to sign a conveyor belt’s worth of exceptional young talent and I can only look forward to and hope for the time when we can hang onto them all for much longer a period and that they will be able to achieve all their ambitions without leaving the club.

So, three potentially good and exciting new signings are already in the bag. What else do we need in order to ensure that we have a squad that contains options in every position and has the quality and strength in depth in order to compete at the top end of the table and perhaps even challenge for the playoffs?

Bentley and Egan together are certain to cost us well in excess of a million pounds and given the lack of the expected transfer funds for Alan Judge after his serious injury it is likely that money will be tight and perhaps we will only spend what we bring in.

In that regard Jake Bidwell’s initial fee of £1.3 million will be split with Everton and when our share is added to the undisclosed six-figure fee received for Jack O’Connell it is clear that there will not be too much extra cash floating around for investment in players at this stage unless some of the additional £3.5 million in fees received from Burnley is added to the kitty rather than put into the bottom line.

That is probably the explanation why we were not really in a position to compete for the signing of enticing prospects such as Kemar Roofe and Sergi Canos and that Rico Henry might well also be well out of our price bracket, assuming that Walsall are prepared to sell him during this Transfer Window.

Thankfully the squad appears to be much more settled than this time last year when for a variety of reasons we lost the likes of Douglas, Dallas, Gray and Odubajo shortly before the season began, a situation that caused chaos and was largely responsible for our appalling start.

You can never say never but I would be very surprised if we lose any of our emerging stars such as Colin, Barbet, Woods or Hogan for the time being and the squad is already looking strong and almost complete.

The only additional transfer out that I am expecting is one that will cause me some sadness given how well he has performed, but David Button decided not to sign a new contract when he clearly had the option to do so and as soon as it became clear that he was unlikely to do so the club acted quickly to bring in a replacement in the shape of Bentley.

Given the change in the loan regulations next season and in particular those pertaining to goalkeepers, in that emergency loans will only be allowed if there is no available goalkeeper who has played five competitive game for the club, there is likely to be a move by the better heeled clubs to ensure that they have two experienced goalkeepers on hand. This would explain the recent move of Rob Green to Leeds where he will act as an emergency backup.

I suspect that Button has been offered a couple of similar roles for himself but given his age and quality he is correctly waiting for a first team spot to open up for him as I expect that it will do over the next few weeks.

What is certain is that he has made his bed and must lie in it. Even if he were having second thoughts about leaving the club we cannot afford to carry two first team calibre goalkeepers, Bentley will only have joined us on the clear understanding that he will be the starting keeper at the beginning of the season and, most importantly, we cannot afford to lose the transfer fee of perhaps £1.5 million that Button would likely command. That sum would help enhance our transfer war chest and subsidise any additional incomings.

Given that Jack Bonham has played five times for us, and with the greatest respect to him I doubt if there is anyone who would like to see him start a Championship match for us, I would expect that he will be loaned out, a situation that will benefit his development and also allow us to bring in a loanee should Bentley miss a match and assuming Button has left the club.

The key vacancy is at left back where Jake Bidwell has filled the position impeccably for the past few years. Of course I would have preferred that he’d gone almost anywhere other than QPR but that’s life!

Rico Henry is acknowledged as one of the best young players in the division but I would be amazed if we are able to afford him or prise him away from the clutches of Walsall who have lost enough talent to us recently.

I would not be surprised if we bring in a young Premier League loanee to fill the gap. This might also be the case on the wing where currently we can only boast the talent of Andy Gogia. Sullay Kaikai has sparkled on loan at Shrewsbury showing trickery, pace and a keen eye in front of goal and the Crystal Palace winger would be an excellent addition as a loanee.

Philipp Hofmann has slimmed down and looks sleek and fit and we need him to perform. If not we will need another striking option.

I really feel that the squad is in pretty good shape and barring unforeseen departures or injuries we really only need to fill a few spots.

I am hopefully being pragmatic rather than complacent but let’s see how the situation has changed in a week or so and perhaps I can then think again.

Shopping List – 23/5/16

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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

Please Do Your Homework Mr. Samuel! – 11/5/16


I had not planned to write anything today as I had work to do and a book to finish but that all changed when I opened a copy of The Daily Mail at my breakfast table and my blood immediately started boiling to the extent that I wished the cover of the newspaper had contained a health warning.

Martin Samuel is an extremely well-regarded and deservedly much-lauded journalist who writes a column every Monday and Wednesday giving his take on the latest major happenings within the world of sport. I have to make a confession and say that I generally look forward to and enjoy his work as he certainly has a way with words, can turn an elegant and pithy phrase and enjoys exposing cant and hypocrisy wherever he finds it, as well as puncturing inflated egos and unjustified feelings of self-regard.

Given his exalted and rarified position and consequent concentration on the bigger fish, Brentford rarely come within his purview as we are far too insignificant and down the food chain to catch his regular attention. Today though was different as he let fly with a broadside that was as ill-conceived as it was ignorant and as lacking in logic as it was inaccurate. He really let us have it with both barrels and here is what he had to say:

As everything at Brentford is put through the analytics wringer, one presumes statistics do not just govern recruitment, but player sales. So it must have been some set of numbers that persuaded them to sell Andre Gray to Burnley – even for a club record six million pounds. Gray has scored twenty-three goals in forty-one league games as Burnley returned to the Premier League.

Brentford, meanwhile, have fallen from fifth to ninth, collecting thirteen points fewer than last season. With promotion worth in excess of one hundred million pounds, Brentford’s computer might need a reset.

Brentford first caught the eye of the national media late in 2014 as a team of plucky underdogs who were over performing to challenge at the top of the Championship, and had came from nowhere to compete with fellow blue-eyed boys, AFC Bournemouth, for a most unlikely promotion to the Premier League.

Timesgate and the botched announcement of the parting of the ways with Mark Warburton last February put us on the back foot and changed matters totally as the media unsurprisingly turned on us and then tried to devour us whole given our stated strategy of relying on statistical analysis and mathematical modelling.

Nobody bothered to take the time to discover what that really meant and we were convicted out of hand and perhaps out of our own mouth as faceless robots and automatons who would make every major recruitment decision on the basis of Computer Says, and were no longer relying in any way, shape or form upon the human element.

As we all know there is nothing that makes people feel more uneasy than new thinking and ideas and doing things differently to the norm, and the natural and default reaction is to mock, jeer, find fun and criticise rather than examine and analyse what is being mooted in a deep, thorough and analytical manner. That would be boring and require some effort, something nobody has the time to do, and journalists would far prefer the cheap headline and easy dig. And boy did we suffer, and continue to do so, as everyone from Martin Samuel, Daniel Taylor, Adrian Durham, Tony Cottee and pretty much the entire team of Sky Sports analysts has lined up to take cheap potshots at us and our approach.

What is so galling is that we are really doing nothing very different to the overwhelming majority of Premier League and Championship teams who rely to a great extent upon the use of statistics and data.

Where we differ is that in the normal Brentford manner, we are putting our own unique spin on things rather than just subscribing to the plethora of scouting databases that are readily available. We have also developed our own proprietary systems for how we both analyse and use the raw data, developed by Matthew Benham’s Smartodds company.

Analytics are used to identify and shortlist potential transfer targets but this is combined with physical scouting which also plays a crucial role in the recruitment process as former manager Andy Scott oversees a number of scouts who watch prospects in the flesh before any decision is made, and the recruitment process for a new Head Scout is also currently underway.

Given the tone and tenet of Mr. Samuel’s article it is both interesting and relevant to consider the words of Stats Guru Ted Knutson, until recently employed by Brentford, who wrote about his experience on his acclaimed StatsBomb website, and I hope he doesn’t mind my reproducing his words:

With a small recruitment team of two stats and six part-time scouts, we evaluated over one thousand players in a year for the first teams of Brentford and Midtjylland.

Yes, but were you successful? This is the most important factor, and obviously it depends on how you look at it.

After a disastrous start in the first nine games due to a poor manager choice, Brentford earned points at nearly a playoff pace, despite awful injuries in the first half of the season. The team also lead the league in goals scored and avoided an FFP-related transfer embargo.

And most importantly, they did it with one of the lowest wage budgets in the league and my estimate of a ten to eleven million pound transfer fee surplus in the year we were involved in recruitment.

I’m going to notch that up as success, while admitting that at the start of the season, I was hoping for promotion just like the owner and every other Brentford fan out there.

I wonder what Martin Samuel would make of that response as I feel strongly that he has been totally simplistic and superficial in his mocking words about the club?

Without wanting to repeat my normal mantra I would state that it was not Brentford’s desire or wish to sell Andre Gray to Burnley or indeed anybody else. We had no option but to sell him as well as other leading players such as Moses Odubajo, Stuart Dallas and James Tarkowski because they all wanted to leave the club.

Their heads had been turned by bigger and richer clubs generally swollen and inflated with massive Parachute Payments who were able to offer our best players mind-blowing salaries in a totally different stratosphere to what we could possibly afford. Odubajo also had a contractual release clause which was met by Hull City.

There is absolutely no point in keeping an unhappy, unsettled and dissatisfied player and Brentford have simply had to accept that for the foreseeable future that they are a stepping stone club which has to sell its best players whenever the predators come bashing at the door.

The club’s turnover and attendances are in the bottom three of the Championship and they are therefore competing with one hand tied behind their back. The dictates of Financial Fair Play has also necessitated the sale of players such as Gray who has now earned us the best part of nine millions pounds rather than the six erroneously mentioned by Mr. Samuel in his column.

To finish fifth and then ninth in such a competitive division which is otherwise awash with money is surely an incredible achievement given the restrictions and handicaps that we currently face?

Brantford were well aware of Andre Gray’s potential but had to sell him and could only ensure that they received their full valuation for him, which they did. Burnley have also just had to stump up a further promotion bonus payment with additional monies due should they survive next season in the Premier League, as well as a handsome sell-on percentage.

That has to be the Brentford way of doing business given a stadium that barely holds twelve thousand spectators. We buy low and sell high whilst punching way above our weight and playing attractive pass and move attacking football. There are already several other players in the squad from both at home and abroad identified through our combination of stats and physical scouting with as much potential or more than Gray.

As expected, Gray scored freely for his new club and his goals led them to promotion, but we replaced him with Lasse Vibe for a mere fraction of the cost and he scored fourteen times as we finished with seventy-two goals, equal top scorers in the division, ironically enough alongside Burnley.

All in all our four strikers scored twenty-nine times between them (more than Gray managed) with the amazing Scott Hogan returning from two serious cruciate injuries to score seven goals in less than two full matches.

Of course a player of Gray’s calibre was missed but we did a pretty good job of replacing him whilst still living within our means and finishing in a highly creditable position in the table with which every Brentford fan is delighted considering from whence we came.

Please Mr.Samuel do your homework next time and give some credit where it is due rather than take cheap shots which are totally unmerited. You are far better than that.

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.

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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Mixed Blessings – 10/4/16

On the surface this has probably been the best week of the season for Brentford with three consecutive wins over former Premier League teams, nine points gained that have seen us shoot up the table into thirteenth position, our Championship place as good as guaranteed for next season, and nine goals scored, five of them by Lasse Vibe who has suddenly and not before time emerged as the prolific and deadly marksman we thought we were buying and who has now scored a more than creditable twelve goals this season.

Ipswich Town became our latest victims and lambs to the slaughter as a determined and well organised Brentford team which broke forward with purpose and menace comfortably took the points and thus gained their first ever victory at Portman Road.

Every silver lining has a cloud and the gloss was taken off the victory and totally overshadowed by the awful injury sustained by Alan Judge who has suffered a broken leg after an horrendous challenge by Luke Hyam. There is much that I want to say about the circumstances relating to this injury as well as its ramifications for the player and his current club.

My blood is also boiling at the crass, one-eyed and indefensible comments expressed immediately after the match by the Ipswich manager Mick McCarthy, a man whom I had up until now held in high esteem, but no longer do so. Given how spitting mad, upset and concerned I am feeling, along I am sure with every Brentford supporter I am delighted that Stephen Burke had already kindly offered to provide me with a match report from yesterday’s game, just as he did for the same match last season.

He did a fine job then and I hope you share my opinion that he has surpassed himself today. By publishing his excellent work now it also allows me a day or so in which to cool off and gather my thoughts about the Alan Judge situation on which I will write very shortly, hopefully in a calmer, more objective and less emotional frame of mind, as if I put pen to paper today I believe that the libel lawyers might well be combing through my words and that they would find much to interest them.

Here is what Stephen had to say and many thanks to him yet again for his perceptive contribution:

It was quite a remarkable afternoon at Ipswich for Brentford FC.

It was our third victory in a row in just a week, with nine goals scored and Lasse Vibe responsible for five of them, after fans despaired about our lack of a striker. Our future in the Championship was also secured for another season.

It was our first ever victory at Portman Road against Ipswich – and our first win against “The Tractor Boys” since 1955.

And the three-one victory looked a very distant dream just couple of minutes into the game when Alan Judge lay on the ground in extreme pain after an awful tackle. With our best player taken out and replaced by Konstantin Kerschbaumer, who has consistently disappointed, it seemed like Brentford would be in for a long and difficult afternoon.

But the nine minute break as Judgey was treated and then carried from the pitch in obvious distress seemed to motivate and unify Brentford and shock Ipswich.

The home team had started on the front foot, pushing high up the pitch and causing jitters around several hurried clearances by David Button. Then came the terrible tackle on Judge which surely merited a red not yellow card for Luke Hyam.

But the Bees regrouped and started pressing themselves, forcing mistakes from a vulnerable Ipswich defence. Brentford looked much more like scoring, which was not surprising given that Ipswich had not scored in their last three matches. Their hopes of a play-off place this season were hanging by a thread. But they failed to compete with a buzzing Brentford.

The home crowd were clearly nervous too. Apart from the Bees fans, Portman Road was near silent. “Is this a library?” sang the Bees fans, who booed Hyam every time he touched the ball.

Vibe had already forced errors in the home defence and Kerschbaumer also missed a chance, before he redeemed himself by winning possession from Skuse, who claimed a foul, driving towards the byline and pulling the ball back to Sam Saunders. His neat and instant curling finish put the Bees a goal up just before the half hour.

The Bees kept pushing forward and could have had a second goal. Instead just before the end of the first half, Hyam tangled with Ryan Woods and was given a second yellow card for retaliation and dismissed – belated justice had been served but far too late.

This seemed to spur Ipswich on. They forced a couple of corners and Button saved well as added time amounted to nine minutes for the Judge injury.

Ipswich made two changes at half-time. On came Jonathan Douglas, the former Bees skipper, and veteran striker, David McGoldrick, as Ipswich tried to regain the initiative.

Douglas’s appearance was one of a number of sub-plots in the afternoon. It was odd that he hadn’t started the match but perhaps he had paid the price for missing a clear chance in the previous Ipswich home game. Douglas was on the front cover of the programme which featured an interview with the Irishman. Still, he was jeered by Brentford fans whenever he got the ball and looked a shadow of the player we saw at Griffin Park last season. Douglas has now earned a contract extension for next season given the appearances he has made in the current campaign but he looks like a player way past his best. There was also no sign of two other former Bees – Jay Tabb and Tommy Smith.

Ipswich started the second half on the front foot but after twenty minutes Brentford took control against the ten men. The second goal on sixty-four minutes was exceptionally well-worked. Ryan Woods who had a good afternoon in the heart of midfield played an excellent ball through to Colin, wide on the right. His perfect cross was headed deftly in by Vibe who perfectly concertinaed his body shape to meet a ball that appeared to be behind him. Just four minutes later Vibe dispossessed Berra from a home throw-in and raced towards goal before placing the ball perfectly past the Ipswich keeper with a perfect outside of the right foot finish.

When was the last time a Brentford player scored a brace in two consecutive games and five in a week? Vibe seems like a player transformed since the international break. His confidence is high and he ran all over the pitch, making life very difficult for Ipswich’s defence. he has now scored twelve goals this season, a more than decent tally.

At three-nil it was job done for the Bees. It could have been more, not least when Sergi Canos capped a good game with a stunning, dipping, deflected shot that hit the bar.

Inevitably it was a mistake – by Alan McCormack – that allowed Ipswich in for a late consolation goal. Until then, every time an Ipswich player had sight of goal in the second half, they shot over or wide, clearly lacking in confidence. Dean and Barbet had been immense in defence, snuffing out any opportunities.

Make no mistake, Ipswich were very poor. They didn’t look like a team on the edge of the playoffs. They relied too often on the long ball and were weak defensively, particularly down the Brentford right. Their fans started leaving after the  third goal went in and a flypast by a flock of seagulls was probably their most entertaining part of the match.  

What a difference a year makes. Just over twelve months ago, Ipswich and Brentford played out a hard-fought draw as they competed for what seemed then like the last playoff place.

A year on, the future looks far brighter for Brentford. A top ten place is again a real possibility for the Bees, with Kerschbaumer, Gogia and Hogan getting a chance to show what they can do. Ipswich are simply a neanderthal team led by a dinosaur of a manager, full of experienced players well past their best playing a horrible, outmoded and dated brand of football.

All of which is remarkable given the injuries that Brentford have endured this season. Let’s hope Alan Judge recovers as quickly as possible. A fully fit and functioning squad would make 2016/17 very exciting indeed. Bring on Aston Villa – and Ipswich!  

Job Done? – Not Quite – 6/4/16

The league table is looking a lot more cheerful than was the case a mere four days ago as two wins, six goals and six points have taken the Bees up to the giddy heights of fourteenth place in the Championship, twelve points ahead of MK Dons who fill the final relegation position and I really cannot see them making up that gap, plus our massively superior goal difference, in the six games that remain to them.

Whilst we are now looking comfortable with forty-nine points safely stored in our locker and our supporters breathing far more easily there is still much to play for.

Dean Smith, understandably a much more cheerful figure of late rightly insists that a top ten finish remains the target and that would be a massive achievement given the topsy-turvy nature of the season as a whole.

We are currently seven points behind Preston who are in tenth place and we also have a game in hand so the target is tough but viable.

We now also trail Queens Park Rangers by three points and lead Fulham by five in the West London mini-league that is so important to our fans in terms of local bragging rights.

If you think that I am clutching at straws then perhaps you are correct as I am not used to Brentford reaching the business end of the season without having much to play for. The last four years have seen us challenging for promotion each time and it is strange to be in a situation in which we need to set our own goals in order to keep us interested and motivated, so hopefully the season will not be allowed to fizzle out and we will at least ensure that our safety margin is maintained if not even increased.

The recent International Break seems to have done the trick as the team appears to be re-energised and ever increasing in confidence.

The victory at Nottingham Forest, added to the three goals scored and clean sheet achieved had left the players with a extra spring in their step and Bolton Wanderers were on the receiving end in the first half last night.

Granted, the opposition, as good as doomed to relegation  were not up to much but that is not to take anything away from a resurgent Brentford team which purred into top gear with a magnificent first half display.

The football played was crisp, neat and incisive, players wanted the ball and made positive runs and three goals was scant reward for our domination and invention.

McCormack and Yennaris hoovered up every loose ball, rendering the combative Darren Pratley totally ineffective and Nico is fast developing into a Coquelin-like thoroughbred.

He scored for the first time at home, poking home from close range after an excellent four man move and more was to follow soon afterwards.

Woods played Vibe through and Lasse fought off the challenge of his marker and crossed low and hard towards Judge and when the ball rebounded back to him off a defender he took his time, waited patiently for the keeper to commit himself and rolled the ball home for a goal redolent of confidence if not arrogance.

Soon it was three when a flowing move saw Yennaris play the ball to Judge, who had earlier hit the bar with a cross, and this time his first time centre was perfectly placed for Vibe to glance the ball home with his head.

What a transformation there has been in Vibe with his three goals in the last game and a half taking him to a creditable ten goal tally for the season with hopefully even more to come.

It wouldn’t be Brentford if we didn’t do our best to self-destruct and we gifted Bolton three massive first half opportunities through our own carelessness and lack of concentration that a better team would surely have taken full advantage off.

As it was the closest they came to scoring was when Vela hit the outside of the post and shortly afterwards the impressive Clough could not benefit from Button over elaborating on the ball – not for the first time this season.

Thst being said the back four looked mean and confident and also used the ball well. Colin is nursing a injury and appears to be playing well within himself but Barbet is improving with every game.

Bolton went for damage limitation after the break and tightened up with the introduction of the experienced Wheater and Danns.

Poor Alex Finney a tall, young defender making his full debut was removed to save him further embarrassment after a ghastly first half display haunted by nerves and as Bolton improved, the Bees went down a couple of gears and apart from a hooked volley from the impressive Sam Saunders which went narrowly over the bar and a McCormack thunderbolt from nearly forty yards out which required an exceptional save from Amos, the Ealing Road faithful had little to cheer about.

We played the ball around but lacked our earlier pace and urgency and it came as no surprise when McCormack’s clumsy and unnecessary tackle was correctly punished with the award of a penalty kick which Clough easily converted.

The game drifted to its inevitable conclusion with Canos, Hogan and Clarke given brief run outs.

Given how far we have come in the last few days it is tough to carp and criticise but the second half inertia clearly demonstrated that there is still much work that is needed to be done and that we are still nowhere near the finished article.

The match clearly resembled the one back in December when we put Huddersfield to the sword with a rampant first half display which could not be matched after the break when the visitors roused themselves and fought their way back into the game.

That being said there was much to be optimistic about, not least the commitment shown by the entire team and their determination to ensure that they would pick up the points on offer as well as give their supporters something to cheer about.

We will shortly be facing tougher opposition in the shape of Ipswich Town and we will need to be at our best and most determined to cope with the massive physical challenge that they will provide.

Bentford have been feast or famine since the New Year began and we can only hope that they maintain the impetus from the past two matches and go into the Ipswich game full of confidence, as indeed they should.

I look forward with relish to the clash between Alan McCormack and Jonathan Douglas which might well go a long way towards settling the outcome.

Mind Games – 29/3/16

It’s been a really strange and frustrating Easter weekend as, like I am sure so many others, I have been feeling lost and bereft without my customary football fix. I am sure that I will soon be corrected but I cannot for the life of me remember any other Easter in recent years which has coincided with yet another International Break and resulted in my having to find other ways to amuse myself.

I can still vividly remember Good Friday and Easter Monday last year which saw the nonstop excitement and adrenalin rush of those two unforgettable clashes against Fulham and Nottingham Forest. Hammering Fulham on their own turf will naturally go down as one of my best ever Brentford matches and I can still easily summon up all four of our goals on my personal memory bank and mental tape loop of great Brentford moments, but our late recovery from a seemingly insurmountable two goal deficit against Forest was perhaps just as massive an achievement as it simply exemplified everything good about us at that time and highlighted our relentlessness, never-say-die attitude and total refusal to give any game up for lost as Andre Gray’s clever turn and instant shot put us right back in the game and then deep into injury time Tommy Smith stood his cross up just above the straining hands of Karl Darlow where it was met by the bouffant hairstyle of Jota for a wildly celebrated equaliser.

Where has that spirit gone now, as we appear to have had the stuffing knocked out of us by a seemingly never ending series of body blows, some coming from out of the blue, others quite frankly self-inflicted, that have punctuated a season which promised so much but has ended up being such a cruel reality check to all of us, management, players and supporters alike. This season has been death by a thousand cuts and is still delicately poised and can go one of two ways as we now face a crucial nine match mini-season which will have so many repercussions for the club depending upon where we finish up after our final game at Huddersfield in less than six weeks’ time.

In that respect perhaps we all desperately needed and will greatly benefit from a two week break which ideally will enable us all to catch our breath, gird our loins and get ourselves ready for the struggle and potential torments or even triumphs that lie ahead as the Bees prepare to fight for their very Championship life.

We should all take some degree of comfort by recalling that we went into the last International Break in early October in total disarray on the back of three consecutive defeats, the loss of a Head Coach, the shocking and demoralising foot-in-mouth announcement by Lee Carsley that he had no desire to become the permanent replacement as well as sinking like a stone into a sorry twentieth place in the league table.

We only looked like going in one direction but Carsley apparently put his squad through a mini preseason bootcamp which addressed our lack of fitness and sharpness and we came out of the traps recharged and re-energised, a totally different team in every way, shape and form which won its next four games and went on to take twenty-eight points from fourteen games and ended the year in eighth place just outside the playoff positions. Promotion form indeed and an amazing turnaround which unfortunately has not been maintained since the new year began.

So we know that we can do it and let’s face it, depending on the results of the other strugglers, our minimum requirement for safety is probably a mere seven points from nine matches. Surely not too much to ask for? Given the run that we have been on since early January even that paltry target might seem a tough ask but hopefully Dean Smith will have used the time afforded him by the International Break productively and his ministrations and perhaps tweaking of his resources will hopefully produce the same effect as Carsley had in October.

There must be much for him to ponder on. Does he keep things as they were and hope that our luck will turn and we recover some form or will he freshen things up by changing the way that we play? He will also have to cope with an injury list that now has the names of Josh McEachran and John Swift added to it and we are all waiting anxiously for news about their potential availability for the run in. Given a likely shortage of midfielders will he decide to gamble by naming two forwards, not a formation that he has utilised previously either at Brentford or Walsall? Hopefully we’ll be able to glean some information as the week develops but we might have to wait until just before kickoff next Saturday before his intentions are finally revealed.

Our squad has looked mentally and physically exhausted and slowed down by a total loss of confidence which is hardly surprising as defeats beget more defeats and with every loss the pressure increases and self-belief withers on the vine. Players stop acting instinctively and instead start thinking about what once came naturally and they become afraid of taking chances and running the risk of making mistakes and having the crowd get on their back. As was clearly seen against Blackburn this results in a pallid and listless performance with the safe option taken at every opportunity and the ball being passed endlessly sideways and backwards with nobody prepared to put his head over the parapet and use his undoubted ability to try and make something happen for fear of failure.

There is one positive to consider in that Alan Judge and Lasse Vibe will both hopefully return to the club on a high and full of beans from their full international appearances for Eire and Denmark respectively over the past few days and that they might help raise the spirits of their team mates.

Reading the above which I believe succinctly sums up our current situation, perhaps the most important person at the club throughout this International Break is not Dean Smith but instead, Tom Bates. Who is he I hear some of you ask, did we manage to make a last minute loan signing before the loan window shut last week that has somehow remained unremarked upon? Unfortunately that is not the case, but that is another story given the injuries suffered in the last few days by Josh McEachran and John Swift which might yet rob us of their valuable services and reduce our selection options even further.

No, Tom Bates is a Performance Psychologist at the club who over the past ten years has worked with youth and senior domestic international athletes, coaches, managers and teams helping them to perform under pressure and be at their best when it matters the most. In his own words, Tom specialises in enhancing athletes’ mental and emotional performance states through creating, sustaining and improving supreme optimistic spirit and self belief.

That might all sound like gobbledygook, jargon and management speak but he has an excellent track record and if he can help revive the spirits of a dispirited squad that doesn’t seem to know where its next win is coming from then we will all owe him a massive debt.

Most Premier League footballers use sports psychology as a matter of course as it can help players to maintain or rebuild confidence, deal with anxiety or anger and keep their focus. Players are encouraged to try positive self-talk and convert their negative thoughts and fears into more positive ones. There is a sound scientific basis behind this as ideally thinking positively releases dopamine into the bloodstream which is linked to feelings of certainty and confidence and helps reduce cortisol levels, a hormone linked to stress and physiological reactions related to potentially harmful feelings and sensations of fight and flight.

Visualisation is another technique commonly used whereby players are encouraged to imagine and picture themselves succeeding in their specific tasks such as scoring from free kicks or saving penalty kicks and focusing on positive memories and recollections of doing the same on previous occasions.

Players might also be encouraged to repeat key words or phrases to themselves in an attempt to help regain focus when things go wrong or if the red mist comes down during a game.

I am barely scratching the surface as this is now a sophisticated science that has progressed way past early attempts in this field which included the notorious Romark, or Ronald Markham, to give him his real name, a hypnotist who was used by Malcolm Allison to assist Third Division Crystal Palace on their unlikely run to the 1975/76 FA Cup semifinal. Unfortunately it all ended in tears when he claimed that he had not been paid for his services and promptly put a curse on the club which apparently remains in force to this day.

Hopefully Tom Bates will be more successful in his efforts on our behalf. In the meantime I just have one question for him, can he please suggest something that will help keep all us fans calm, measured, united, supportive, positive, patient and stress free?