Speechless! – 3/5/15

Since I first started writing about Brentford last June I have composed well over two hundred articles and more than a quarter of a million words and have been accused many times, I suspect with some justification, of having verbal diarrhoea, but after what happened at Griffin Park yesterday afternoon, for the first time in almost living memory I was struck dumb and found myself utterly and completely speechless and struggling to encapsulate what happened in mere words.

Brentford supporters are traditionally fatalistic as we have been taken almost to the heights and then let down all too often in the past for us to be anything other than negative in outlook and the scene was set yesterday for yet another massive letdown and I am afraid to confess that I feared the worst. With the last two Playoff places still up for grabs it wasn’t simply enough for us to beat relegated Wigan, not such an easy task in itself given our shaky recent home record, but, in addition, we also had to rely on one of our closest rivals, Ipswich and Derby slipping up, as well as keeping a beady eye on Wolves lurking in our slipstream. Ipswich had a tough looking match at a revitalised Blackburn Rovers and faced the awesome dual goal threat of Gestede and Rhodes but surely a draw, their minimum requirement, was well within their capabilities? As for Derby, all that they required was a point against a shambolic Reading team without a win for nine Championship matches and who had barely gone through the motions just a week ago against the Bees. Wolves too were at home with an eminently winnable game against relegated Millwall.

We shouldn’t have worried as for once the Gods smiled down upon us and it ended up being a miraculous and joyous day when everything went our way, but in my book you earn your own luck and we fully deserved the reward we received. Everything good that could have happened did so, we pulled the rabbit out of the hat by winning comfortably, every other crucial result went in our favour and we ended up sailing serenely into the Playoffs and indeed, given the totally unexpected defeats of both of our main rivals who choked at the death, we even ended up in fifth place in the final Championship table.

Nerves were certainly jangling at Griffin Park and early on we struggled to cope with a re-energised Wigan team who denied us space, pressed us high up the pitch and packed the midfield. The visitors had all the early play with the impressive Kim pulling their strings and the wonderfully named Bong overlapping menacingly. Button saved well from Fortune who also put the ball into the net but we were saved as the ball had drifted out of play before Bong had managed to get his cross in.

The news elsewhere was mixed. Ipswich, through the inevitable Murphy, roared into the lead at Blackburn but to counter that, Reading snatched an early goal at Derby. Wolves also got their noses in front before the Bees worked out how best to counter Wigan’s threat. Slowly we grew into the game, Douglas and Diagouraga began to win possession and Pritchard flitted into space and began to probe menacingly. The breakthrough came from a set piece after Gray had turned the lumbering Maguire and was tripped for his pains. The free kick was thirty yards out and firmly in Pritchard territory and, not for the first time, he grasped the opportunity when his firmly hit drive caromed off the straining head of Chow in the wall and unerringly found the top corner of the net far out of the reach of Nicholls who dived in vain but could not get anywhere near the flight of the ball.

In an instant you could almost see and feel the tension drain out of Brentford fans and players alike. The game had turned on a moment of genius, aided and abetted by a piece of good fortune and from them on we never looked back. Pritchard and Gray missed excellent chances to stretch our lead as halftime approached but the news elsewhere was good and just kept on getting better. Two quick Blackburn goals turned their game on its head as Ipswich now needed to score as Derby were certain, surely, to recover and get the point they needed against Reading? So you would think on any normal matchday, but not today, as with the staccato tones emanating from radios being clearly heard above the crowd noise and with smartphones flashing in the sunshine and working overtime the news from the iPro Stadium was clear. Derby were huffing and puffing but not succeeding in blowing the house down and Darren Bent’s gloriously missed penalty just on the interval made us believe for the first time that the unthinkable might just be about to happen.

The second half could not have gone better for us. Barely had we kicked off when an intricate move involving Moses, Judge and Jota saw a six-pass interchange and the fullback slip Jota through the defence and his instant shot was perfectly placed and provided us with the breathing space of the second goal we so desperately needed. Naturally it wouldn’t be Brentford if we did not make it hard for ourselves. Wigan replied instantly and cut us open, the ball pinged around the home penalty area and Bidwell’s deflection looked certain to reduce the deficit as Button plunged on the ball near the goal line. With heart in mouth as one we all looked at the assistant referee but thankfully he remained unmoved and we escaped. Wigan never threatened us again and it was now a case of simply how many we would score whilst still keeping an anxious eye on the scores elsewhere.

Wolves were home and hosed against Millwall but barring a late goal fest we were safe from their challenge and even so they would need Derby or Ipswich to recover and incredibly there was no sign of that happening. The news in fact just got better as Blackburn scored a third and even when Murphy reduced the arrears we were not too worried given that Reading, dear wonderful Reading, a team now close to my heart, scored a second and then third goal against a Derby team now reduced to a rabble. Wigan too had given up the ghost as we began to carve them apart. Judge saw an effort come back off the keeper, Tarkowski, so effective in defence alongside the impeccable Harlee Dean, hammered a close range shot against the crossbar before Jermaine Pennant sent a quick free kick unerringly straight to the darting feet of Jota on the halfway line. He made for goal and using Dallas as a decoy, gave the entire Wigan defence the eyes before caressing the ball through the eye of a needle to Gray who timed his run perfectly, stayed onside, and scored emphatically for a quite wonderfully worked goal.

We now knew that we were Playoff bound and it was party-time at Griffin Park with late substitute Alan McCormack patrolling the midfield with menace. Unfortunately Tarkowski entered into the spirit a bit too much when he took responsibility for a last minute penalty after Judge was tripped. With Pritchard off the pitch there was a paucity of volunteers. Tarky stepped forward and mindful of his spot kick fiasco against Leeds, we all feared the worst. At least this time his effort was on target but it was powderpuff and Nicholls received some deserved reward for his labours by saving easily. Never mind, it is hard to quibble about anything on such a wonderful day although it still rankled that every penalty we win is an adventure in the extreme rather than the near certainty that it should be.

The final whistle sounded and we had stepped up to the mark and done everything that was required of us and our comfortable victory, allied to the defeats for both Ipswich and Derby ensured not only a Playoff berth but also fifth place and a semifinal against a Middlesbrough team that will surely fancy their chances against us given their two victories against the Bees earlier in the season. There is time aplenty to contemplate the mouthwatering prospect of both ties during the week to come. Now, however is a time to celebrate, pay tribute, recognise the contribution and give thanks to a wonderful set of players as well as Mark Warburton, his team of coaches and support staff and of course, Matthew Benham who have all combined so brilliantly to get the reward that they so thoroughly deserve. I am so proud to support this club. The dream continues unabated!

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Judgement Day – 1/5/15

The days, hours and minutes are dragging interminably as I am just waiting for 12.15pm on Saturday to come around. Judgement Day is looming on the horizon as we wait with bated breath to discover whether Brentford can obtain the playoff place that at one time looked so likely, but has been slowly and inexorably been slipping away from us over the past few weeks. Nothing else really matters at the moment and I am distracted and moody in the extreme and my family have learned to their cost over the past few horrid and torrid days to steer well clear of me and just let me get on with my suffering. Every possible permutation has been flashing before my eyes as I lie in bed tossing and turning each night. The dream scenario when Derby and/or Ipswich fail to get the result they need and we roar past them triumphantly from almost on the finishing line to win the glittering prize. That is the best of all possible options in what would in that instance certainly become the best of all possible worlds, however the nagging fear still remains that an opportunity will open up for us but we let ourselves down and fail to do the business against Wigan and allow the prize slip through our fingers.

I am not sure if my equilibrium could easily recover from such a blow which would guarantee that I would be in for a long and miserable Summer of recriminations and what-ifs, however this is “New Brentford” where we are not weighed down by the myriad shortcomings, expectations and failures of the past hanging like a millstone around our neck. Personally I am pretty certain that we will win but whether that will be enough is the imponderable question.

Who would possibly have predicted that the Bees would be playing for the chance of promotion against an already relegated Wigan on the final day of the season? What an amazing volte face as back in August, Wigan under Uwe Rosler were seen as overwhelming early season promotion favourites, a position strengthened  even more when they swooped to relieve the Bees of their midfield inspiration Adam Forshaw, a move that to say the least was not well received by the Griffin Park faithful. We went to Wigan in October as underdogs and also-rans and quite frankly fearing the worst but this was the day that the penny dropped about how good we were as we eventually came away disappointed at only drawing a game that we totally dominated from start to finish without finding our touch in front of goal. Since that day the fortunes of both teams have diverged in quite spectacular fashion and it is quite staggering how comprehensively Brentford have overtaken a team that won the FA Cup so recently and one short year ago was separated from them by a chasm of two divisions.

Wigan have long been a bogey team for the Bees and our overall record against them is dire with only six wins in the thirty-two matches played between the two teams since our paths first crossed in 1982. The last time we defeated them at Griffin Park was way back in 1991 when Blissett and Holdsworth ran riot against a porous defence and we can can only boast one victory against Wigan since the Millennium. I also still have vivid memories of our abject performance and surrender when an inspired young Wigan team including several future stars ran rings round us at Wembley in the final of the Freight Rover Trophy in 1985, helped, though they were by referee Tom Bune who missed Mike Newell’s obvious handball that led directly to their opener.

Before October the last time we played Wigan was twelve years ago when Wigan were on the verge of their fantastic push towards the Premier League, but we have finally caught up with, and indeed, overtaken them. Revenge would be sweet and is long overdue given their successful record against us, but tomorrow is about far more than that as we seek the win that could keep the dream alive. There will be time enough to reflect on the amazing and totally unforeseen happenings of the past nine months once the season ultimately ends but we still live in hope and whilst we all might feel that our playoff place, if not indeed automatic promotion, could well have already been signed and sealed by this juncture had things turned out differently there is no point in rewriting history and we simply need to offer unconditional support and will the ball into the opposition net tomorrow.

As far as the makeup of the actual teams are concerned, one is an open book and the other a total mystery. Brentford pretty much field the same squad week after week and I have previously mentioned that all eleven players who started the season opener against Charlton featured in last Saturday’s squad at Reading and I do not expect anything to change tomorrow. Should that indeed turn out to be the case I might well put my anorak on and see if I can find any recent precedents for such a feat but I somehow doubt if I will be successful, and perhaps Mark Croxford can assist me as he is the undisputed expert on all things Brentford over the past forty-five years or so. Chris Long is still unfit with that injury incurred when he weirdly returned to Everton the other week for an Under-21 match and it is hoped that he will finally be available for selection should the season be extended beyond tomorrow’s game. Stuart Dallas will likely provide another forward option from the bench and he looked highly promising in that unaccustomed role in the last few minutes at Reading when he led the line well. Given the all or nothing nature of tomorrow’s encounter we might as well go for broke and also include young Jermaine Udumaga in the squad as I suspect that we will more likely be seeking more goals tomorrow rather than looking to close the game out and Jermaine, although raw and untried, has looked lively and inventive with a keen eye for goal in Development squad fixtures. Our team takes care of itself and we know exactly how it will be setup and the way we will play – after all, we have no Plan B! Wigan are a totally unknown quantity. Given that they are irrevocably doomed to relegation how will they approach the game and which players will they send out against us, the recalcitrant old lags who got them into the mess they now face or a set 0f eager youngsters looking to impress their new manager and cement a place in a new and revitalised squad looking to make an instant return to the Championship next season? There is talent in abundance in the Wigan camp, just a lack of morale and application, and I am certain that with the pressure off them we will face a team utterly determined to wreck our plans and deny us the celebration we so pray for and crave.

I was hoping that writing this article would be a cathartic experience for me and help take my mind off the torture that awaits us tomorrow but I am afraid that far from calming me down, I am now feeling even more anxious and nervous and I find myself preparing for a massive letdown tomorrow. I am pretty sure that most Brentford supporters feel exactly the same as me today even if deep down in the rational recesses of our mind we all know that we are more than good enough to win tomorrow but we are football fans, wired to fear and expect the worst, as we wait with trepidation for Judgement Day to arrive.

No Longer A Soft Touch! – 26/8/14

Adam-ForshawSo Adam Forshaw is about to leave us, which means that we can finally put all this distraction behind us and move onto other matters.

Wherever you stand on this issue what cannot be denied is that the Forshaw saga has dragged on interminably for the best part of a month and has undoubtedly proved to be a distraction to everybody and, despite the club’s best efforts, may well even have had a detrimental effect on our preparation and unity.

The fee will doubtless be “undisclosed” at the request of one or both of the clubs concerned.

It will be interesting to see how long it takes before the actual figure leaks out and I can only assume that we have smashed our previous transfer record when we received two and a half million pounds from Wimbledon for Hermann Hreidarsson in October 1999.

Wigan fans on social media are already suggesting that we have received an initial fee of three million pounds with another million pounds contingent on performance, plus a large sell on percentage.

Inside knowledge or guesswork?

Mark Warburton stated yesterday that Wigan had finally met our valuation of the player and if these figures are anywhere near correct then I believe that we have received a realistic figure for someone who was a class above his peers and was deservedly voted Player of the Year in Division One last season.

We also handled a difficult situation perfectly in my opinion and proved that we are no longer going to be a pushover and simply lie down when so called “bigger” teams come calling coveting our stars.

Warburton treated Forshaw sympathetically and with respect but basically set a boundary by putting him on gardening leave and also making it clear that he was going nowhere unless our terms were met and that only players who were fully committed to the club would be selected in the First Team.

In the past our straightened financial circumstances, combined with our naivety in negotiating, allied to an apparently obscene eagerness to sell our players at the earliest opportunity, frequently resulted in our being short changed and receiving very little or well under market value for our prize assets.

Our attitude towards player sales in the 1970s can best be summarised by these telling if resigned comments from former Brentford manager, Frank Blunstone.

Brentford would sell anyone.

Ken Furphy was manager at Blackburn  Rovers at the time and straight after we’d beaten them four nil at Griffin Park he came up to me and asked if I’d sell them John O’Mara.

I laughed and said knowing the Chairman, I expect so.

He rang back on the Monday morning and offered £30,000 for John and off he went.

One day Bill Dodgin rang me up and asked if I’d sell Roger Cross, so I had to say those words again, “I expect so, Brentford will sell anybody!”

There is also the apocryphal story that Sheffield Wednesday manager, Jack Charlton, who coveted our star striker Andy McCulloch, made an initial bid of £60,000 for him, purely as an opening gambit, fully expecting that it would be laughed off but he was amazed when it was accepted with alacrity by the bumbling Brentford board of directors.

The list of players sold at apparent knock down fees is endless with Paul Smith and DJ Campbell being just two of the more recent examples.

forshaw2Times have changed, we are no longer a soft touch and we are now fortunate to have the financial clout not to be in a position to have to sell anyone.

We will not allow ourselves to be pushed around, and if and when we sell anyone it will be on our terms and our terms only.

Adam Forshaw is simply a case in point.

We spotted him in Everton Reserves and took a chance on him when nobody else was prepared to do so.

Through the quality of our coaching and training regime and the faith we have placed in him we have helped develop him into the jewel that he has undoubtedly become.

Adam will be a star and a likely Premier League starter and the only pity is that he was not prepared to stay another year with us in order to develop his game further.

On the face of it his joining Wigan appears to make sense.

Wigan is a club who were recently in the Premier League and are based near to his family and friends in the North West.

They can afford to pay him an eye watering salary, bolstered as they are by their Premier League Parachute Payments.

He will also be reunited with Uwe Rosler who was his first manager at Brentford.

In my view, however, he is taking a risk on the Rosler regime bearing fruit and restoring Wigan to the promised land of the Premier League.

Given their resources his gamble should pay off, but there is the nagging doubt that it could all go pear-shaped and Wigan might not prove to be the stepping stone that he undoubtedly wants it to be.

He will also be subject to Uwe’s strict rotation policy and for a player who wants and expects to play every week, he might find this frustrating.

Maybe if he had been prepared to give us another year he might well have progressed sufficiently to join a Premier League club directly without the need to take this interim step.

I am disappointed about his leaving and at the decision that he has made but you can’t take away the fact that Brentford have played a key role in his development and I will watch his career with pride.

In financial terms we have done really well out of Adam Forshaw.

He came on a free transfer and whatever the percentage of the fee Everton ultimately receive, and in similar situations it is commonplace for the potential selling club to attempt to renegotiate the previously agreed sell on percentage in order to help grease the wheels for a deal to be completed, we will have made a handsome profit on him.

What is more we have done what all sensible and forward thinking clubs do in similar situations and replaced him before we actually sold him.

My guess is that Jon Toral will be the eventual Forshaw replacement and we will probably start to see him being eased into the team in the very near future.

We also have the enticing prospect of Jota who has already impressed in his two short cameo appearances.

Forshaw is undoubtedly a massive loss to us but we have obviously planned for his departure and have not been left exposed and scrambling around for a replacement, more evidence of how far we have progressed in as a club.

We remain formidably strong in the midfield department and still have both the numbers and quality to cope with Adam’s imminent departure.

So, farewell Adam and we hope that you retain as many pleasant and positive memories of Brentford as we will of you.

Oh, and there is just the small matter of a Capital One Cup match tonight against the old enemy in Fulham to whet our appetite, and help us move on and put a line under the Forshaw situation.

Life goes on – and how!