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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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?

Pitbulls Or Chihuahas? The Midfield Dilemma – 23/2/16

I could barely take my eyes off Bradley Johnson on Saturday as he rampaged unchallenged across the Griffin Park turf, and woe betide anyone, friend or foe, who got in his way. A massively built man, he totally dominated the entire midfield area with an unstoppable combination of brain and brawn.

If he could not beat you with his subtlety and skill, and undoubtedly, he is a massively talented footballer with a howitzer of a shot who can really play the game, he would simply run through you and leave you dazed, beaten, bruised and helpless.

He is a veritable behemoth of a man who reminds me of the description of the Norman leader Bohemond:

The sight of him inspired admiration, the mention of his name terror.

His stature was such that he towered almost a full cubit over the tallest men.

There was a hard, savage quality in his whole aspect, even his laugh sounded like a threat to others.

That’s what you get for a mere six million pounds – a colossus who bestrides the entire midfield and stops the opposition from playing as well as scoring and making goals for his own team.

He it was who almost singlehandedly rallied his Derby team mates when their heads went down after we scored and by sheer force of personality raised them off the floor and inspired them to their late victory.

Watching him, I was green with envy as he exemplified exactly what it is we are missing from our squad – a leader who by force of personal example will make things happen and grab his team mates literally and figuratively by the scruff of their neck and inspire, cajole, or even terrify them and make them play to the very best of their ability – and even beyond.

Our team of lightweights and midgets tried their hardest and did their best but simply bounced off him and the likes of Josh McEachran and Konstantin Kerschbaumer wisely gave him a wide berth and kept their distance as they were all totally outmatched, outclassed and outmuscled – it looked more like men against boys than a competitive and even midfield battle.

With Alan McCormack currently sidelined with a lingering and frustrating calf injury we have nobody capable of fighting fire with fire and for all his vim, growl, tough tackling, energy and ability to manage the referee, Alan is not in the same class as Johnson, and nor should he be expected to be, but he is easily the best that we have and his example is sadly missed as we currently find ourselves on a run of demoralising defeats and badly lack the type of leadership and inspiration on the pitch that Alan can provide.

Jonathan Douglas performed a similar role exceptionally well for four years.

He is unfairly described on Wikipedia as a tenacious midfielder, whose strengths are focused on energy and aggression rather than technical skill, as in my opinion he greatly improved as a footballer last season developing a subtle and imaginative touch with his passing as well as the ability to ghost late and unseen into the penalty area, and he scored a career high of eight goals in a season.

Douglas it was who fought and won the majority of the midfield battles and his menacing presence enabled the likes of Pritchard, Jota and Judge to weave their magic safe in the knowledge that there was somebody around to protect them and exact retribution should an opponent take it upon himself to attempt to stop them playing by fair means or foul.

Even more importantly, Douglas, along with Toumani Diagouraga, acted as a shield and protector to the back four and helped keep opponents at a safe distance from our goal.

In order to describe how much we currently miss his influence I will simply provide the following shocking statistic – no Championship side has faced more shots on target this season than Brentford (one hundred and sixty-eight).

Proof indeed that as a team, we are not doing nearly a good enough job of defending from the front, pressing properly, winning the ball back and, of course, preventing the opposition from getting within shooting range.

Jonathan Douglas was an exceptional on-pitch leader who led by example and only slowed up and became tired and less influential when he was overplayed by Mark Warburton and only once rested last season when he was fit or available for selection. Not the most sensible policy for a player in his early thirties who would have benefited from the odd day off.

For reasons probably linked to his influence within the dressing room, Douglas outstayed his welcome at Brentford, his face didn’t fit and he became toxic and persona non grata and was released in the preseason, and it has come as little surprise that he has since flourished at Ipswich Town where he has played an important part in their efforts to reach the playoffs again at the end of the season.

It would seem that our current manager and Co-Directors of Football have not recognised the urgent, and to us fans, patently obvious, need to replace him with a similar type of player and we have certainly seen the results of that totally misguided policy in terms of the sheer number of goals and shots conceded at one end allied to the lack of creativity at the other.

To be fair to them, it might well be that they recognise that such a player able to compete at Championship level and combine skill with strength would cost far more than we are able to afford and there is no point in buying a second rate bruiser who will only give the ball away once he has won it.

George Evans might have done the job had we managed to get his transfer over the line but we seem to hold the naive belief that pure football will always win the day and appear to disregard the indisputable fact that sometimes you have first to battle in order to win the right to play.

Ryan Woods is certainly an excellent box to box footballer but is not a ball winner and he is currently paired with Josh McEachran who, for all his skill on the ball, vision and passing ability, is a non-tackler and does not pay anywhere near sufficient attention to the defensive side of his game.

A total recipe for disaster.

This season we have lacked a focal point, an on-field leader and inspiration, and someone with the ability to drive us forward and pick us up when things are going badly.

The time was, not so long ago, when we scored late goals as if by rote and never knew when we were beaten. Now the boot is on the other foot and it is rare that we recover from going a goal down and we have now conceded late goals in each of our last four matches.

Tony Cascarino hit the nail on the head the other day when he discussed the Championship and what you need to come out on top in that division and remarked:

It’s dog-eat-dog in that league and you need a few pitbulls. 

Players like Grant Leadbitter and Adam Clayton at Middlesbrough who ride roughshod over us whenever we come up against them, Darren Pratley, Hope Akpan, Dale Stephens, Joey Barton, Jacob Butterfield, George Thorne, Henri Lansbury and Kevin McDonald all combine the qualities that we so sadly lack and so desperately need.

Unfortunately all we have at the moment, apart of course from Macca, are chihuahuas.

Walking Wounded – 13/11/15

There was mixed news for supporters in Brentford FC Head of Medical Neil Greig’s Thursday update on the current injury situation. Let’s take it from the top.

Alan Judge has thankfully fully recovered from his hamstring strain which caused him to miss our last two matches – neither of which were won – which underlines just how valuable he is to the team. He has now joined the Republic of Ireland squad as they prepare for their crucial European Championship playoff clashes. Let’s just hope that they wrap him in cottonwool and that he returns to the club fit and well and refreshed and raring to go before next week’s match against Nottingham Forest. I doubt that he will be required to play in either of Eire’s next two matches but his time will come and he is desperately close to making his full international debut, an accolade that will be fully merited given his consistently brilliant performances for us.

Josh McEachran is back in training after recovering from his fractured foot and is currently working hard to regain full fitness having missed much of the preseason training regime. He is expected to play some part in today’s behind closed doors friendly match against AFC Bournemouth and all being well, should he suffer no adverse reaction, then we might well see him in the not too distant future. Josh is a real talent who should fit right in with the pass and move approach that we are currently employing and I cannot wait to see him successfully integrated back into the squad and finally make his long-awaited debut for us

Success in the Championship requires all of the old fashioned virtues of strength, organisation, tackling, pressing and fitness but the best teams also possess some game changers – players who can take a match by the scruff of its neck and singlehandedly influence its outcome with a piece of individual brilliance that brings about victory. Last season we had a plethora of such talent in Alex Pritchard, Alan Judge, Moses Odubajo, Andre Gray, Jota and Nick Proschwitz. OK, forget the last named – I was just checking that you were all still awake!

Things have been really different this time around as for various reasons we have lost three of our former inspirations, Jota has been hors de combat and Alan Judge has been left pretty much on his own to make things happen, although John Swift has recently demonstrated that he too is a real talent with an eye for an opening.

Jota contributed eleven goals and so much more to the team last season with his pace, vision and dribbling ability and in April his talent was recognised when he was named as one of FourFourTwo Magazine’s top forty Football League players of the season. He has not featured since the opening game of the season when he came out second best after a challenge by his erstwhile team mate Jonathan Douglas and his influence has been sorely missed.

The last three months have been equally frustrating for both him and us as he has been forced to undergo ankle surgery and then kick his heels on the sidelines but he is now due to return to team training next week and all being well it is hoped that he will take part in a friendly match within a couple of weeks.

Wouldn’t it be marvellous if he was fit enough to make his comeback against Fulham in the middle of next month given his two last minute goals against them last season? Perhaps that is too much of a fairy tale to come true – but who knows?

Maxime Colin is also close to recovery from his knee ligament injury and is also expected back fully fit by the middle of December. He too looked like he was going to develop into a real asset and will be welcomed back although Nico Yennaris has performed exceptionally well in his absence and will not give up his place without a fight.

Scott Hogan completed a successful reconditioning camp in Philadelphia last month and is also making encouraging progress and we can all live in hope that fortune will finally and not before time, shine down on him and that he will be able to resume his career, maybe even this season rather than next.

Record signing Andreas Bjelland is now undergoing rehabilitation after his knee surgery and is working towards his objective of returning to straight line running. he is not expected back until next season.

The major setback is to Lewis Macleod who had been progressing so well over the past two months and had impressed in a series of Development Squad matches and we were beginning to relish the thought of finally seeing our starlet in first team action. Unfortunately he sustained a small strain to the same hamstring last Friday, albeit to a different area, which prevented him from completing the game as planned.

Whilst the injury is felt to be minor no risks will be taken with him and he will be conservatively managed. Assuming that all goes to plan (and who knows if that will be the case given his continued ill fortune) I would doubt that he will be playing again this side of Christmas. We will all just have to be even more patient but I suspect that he will be well worth waiting for.

The news about Marco Djuricin, crocked at Blackburn last week is also not great as he has also injured his ankle ligaments. This seems to be a common injury nowadays but thankfully it appears that he does not require surgery. Even so it is doubtful whether he will be fit for at least a couple of months, and maybe even longer.

The key question is whether we can get by without him and rely upon Lasse Vibe and Philipp Hofmann to provide the goals that we need to continue our progress up the league. It might well be that we will be looking to bring in a loanee to help fill the gap as neither appears best suited to play the lone striker role.

Touch wood, everybody else is fit and well at present but I wouldn’t shout too loud about that for fear of tempting fate.

Candidly, I have never known a season like this for injuries and my memory goes back quite a long way. The nadir was surely reached back in 1970 when reserve goalkeeper Gordon Phillips was forced to sit on the bench as a non-playing substitute at Crewe owing to a series of injuries which stretched our minute squad to its limits however things reached such a state at Middlesbrough earlier this season that we were forced to have two goalkeepers in Jack Bonham and Mark Smith on the bench too.

To be safely ensconced in mid table given our seemingly never ending injury list and the need to bed in so many new players is a quite magnificent achievement and I can’t wait to see us finally field a first choice injury-free eleven. Maybe that will happen early next year and will be something well worth waiting for.

Hull City – A Tough Nut To Crack – 2/11/15

Hull City come to Griffin Park on Tuesday night bang in form as they are unbeaten in eight games and they sit proudly in second place in the Championship table and look certain to mount a strong promotion push in an effort to regain their recently lost Premier League place.

They are certain to provide tough opposition but the Bees are none too shabby themselves at the moment given their four consecutive wins and three clean sheets on the spin. They will also be bursting with confidence after that momentous first win in fifty years over close rivals Queens Park Rangers as our supporters almost blew the roof off at Griffin Park with their celebrations on Friday night.

There is further spice to the proceedings given the early return of Moses Odubajo following his controversial three and a half million pound move to the visitors just before the start of the season and Hull also made repeated efforts to divest us of Andre Gray before being pipped at the post by Burnley.

Some Bees supporters queried why Moses and Andre would even contemplate joining a team like Hull but the reasons were pretty clear to me. Despite their relegation last season they have retained a squad packed with Premier League experience and, buttressed by their parachute payments, they are able to make financial offers to prospective new signings that dwarf anything that we are able to put on the table.

Anyone who thinks that we are a bigger club than Hull City is totally deluding himself and that situation cannot conceivably change until we have moved into our new stadium at Lionel Road and ideally won promotion to the Premier League.

Our prospects against them depend to a large degree on the strength of the team that we are able to field. Friday’s match will have taken a lot out of us and there are sure to have been a lot of bumps and bruises that will need shaking off.

The inspirational Alan Judge, the fulcrum for so much of our recent success, was forced off late on with a tight hamstring and we will miss him desperately if he is not risked on the night. Better though perhaps that he misses only one match rather than several if he does further damage to himself.  He will also be looking forward to a potential return to his old stamping ground at Blackburn on Saturday as well as the two crucial Republic of Ireland playoff matches too. Personally I very much doubt that he will play against Hull City.

The squad is getting stronger by the week and if Alan doesn’t play then it will be interesting to see who replaces him with Sergi Canos and the improving Konstantin Kerschbaumer both in the frame. Canos is largely untested and unpredictable but he possesses that spark of creativity and individual genius that could make something happen for us and he would be the brave selection choice. Lasse Vibe might also have a case too depending on how Lee Carsley decides to set us up on the night.

Hull have generally had the better of things against us but there have been several memorable clashes in fairly recent times that still stir the emotions.

Surely none of the near eleven and a half thousand fans present will ever forget Brentford’s rampant performance in a Football League Cup Second Round tie in September 1968? Fourth Divison Bees blew their Second Division opponents away and flying winger Allan Mansley was unstoppable as he celebrated his recent twenty-first birthday with two goals in a wonderful and unexpected three – nil victory which saw the Bees defeat Hull for the first time in eighteen meetings. It was an incredible night of high drama and excitement with the supporters barely believing what they were witnessing.

Our next cup meeting in 1971 ended far less happily and in highly controversial circumstances when two late goals gave Hull an extremely fortunate FA Cup Fifth Round win over a brave and resilient Brentford team that deserved far, far better. Bobby Ross put us ahead with a classic diving header from John Docherty’s cross and Brian Turner’s shot which would almost certainly have sealed another giant killing cruelly came back off the post before a Hull equaliser that came against the run of play after a poor defensive clearance. Ken Houghton’s winning goal was dubious in the extreme after an aerial challenge on Gordon Phillips that was surely a foul and goalkeeper Ian McKechnie taking far more than the permitted four steps before whacking his clearance downfield. The rotund keeper then piled insult onto injury by celebrating the winner with a somersault.

The local paper report lyrically summed up our feelings far better than I possibly can:

Such a sense of outrage and grievance among the stricken, silent supporters of Brentford as they gazed despairingly at a Boothferry Park arena which had been so unbelievably vindictive.

Six thousand seven hundred and ninety-three fans filed into a chilly Griffin Park in December 1979 totally unaware of the drama that was to follow. The Bees had lost their two previous games and changes were afoot, one of which saw the reintroduction of striker Bob Booker who had signed for the club a year earlier in return for a set of tracksuits and had done little or nothing since then to suggest that we had not overpaid for his signature. Freshly returned from a confidence boosting loan spell at Barnet, he seized his opportunity and scored three times in an amazing seven – two victory over a shellshocked Hull City team. The rest as they say is history as Bob went on to become a Brentford legend.

Our title winning team of 1991/92 was also potent in front of goal and we took Hull City apart at Griffin Park early in the season with a four goal salvo before halftime. The best attempt didn’t count after Marcus Gayle almost broke the net with an indirect free kick and needed to have the rules gently explained to him as he cavorted in glee and wondered why nobody else was joining him in his wild celebration.

Squad rotation is traditionally something that is reserved for the upper echelons of the game but Brentford rested nine of their normal team for the last league game of the season in May 2005. The opportunity presented itself as Hull had already confirmed their promotion and the Bees had earned their playoff place with a last-gasp winner at Wrexham in the preceding match. Chris Hargreaves and Jay Tabb were joined by such luminaries as Jerrome Sobers, Charlie Ide, George Moleski and Ryan Watts and the Brentford team included no less than six debutants. Despite trailing to an early goal the young Bees ran, chased and harried and their efforts were rewarded with a headed goal from a corner by Sobers whose only Football League game this was to be. Not a bad way to both start and finish a career. Remarkably Jay Tabb won the game for the Bees with a beautifully taken late solo goal and over nine thousand fans went home happy although Sheffield Wednesday and our customary playoff oblivion were just around the corner!

As for Tuesday, hopefully there will be a five figure crowd as the Bees deserve a near full house given their recent efforts and success. Hull have the resources and strength in depth to rest players and utilise their entire squad. We have had an extra day’s rest and need to take full advantage of the additional recovery time and hope that Hull are also fatigued after their second long journey in a few days after comfortably disposing of MK Dons on Saturday.

This will be a tough challenge for Brentford and I can only anticipate thrills and spills given the history of our previous encounters with The Tigers.

Shared Thoughts – 27/10/15

It is amazing how quickly things have turned around and how our spirits have been revived. That is what three wins in a week can do for you particularly as they came at a time when it was hard to see any light at the end of a particularly dark tunnel.

My delight and excitement was shared by all my regular correspondents:

Michael Ohl was bubbling over with happiness:

I have to say the turnaround is nothing short of miraculous, how a team essentially with the same players can be so different. Clearly the talent is there, yes, the opposition as we can see is struggling as much as we were, but even so . . . and whilst things might have been different if Charlton had taken their chances, who is to say the final outcome would have been different?

We just don’t know and I don’t think we can take away all the credit that is due to the team. Also, Lee Carsley must take a lot of the credit. I read in last week’s League Paper how in his playing days he was a lynch pin and he seems to have taken this with him to his role as Head Coach aka Team Manager.

I really am looking forward to this Friday’s game.

Alan Dally was a bit perplexed and struggling to understand why things had changed so quickly:

What a strange game football is.

From a very nervy and in honesty a somewhat fortunate win against Rotherham, we seem to have grown massively in confidence. As many said at the time the result was far more important than the performance. It also had an instant positive impact on the belief of the players, as we put in a very professional performance against Wolves and ran out deserved winners. Then after a slow start at the Valley we eventually controlled the game and were comfortable winners.

I take my hat off to Lee Carsley who has obviously addressed the problem areas and we are starting to look like a decent team again. I personally don’t see us being as impressive as last season, but compared to a few weeks ago, just like the players, I am also growing in confidence.

Long may it continue, specially this coming Friday, as I so dearly want to beat the rabble from Shepherd’s Bush.

beesyellow22 as is his custom tried to analyse the reasons for our success:

Same comments as above, really. A truly miraculous turn around in a remarkably short space of time. I can do nothing other than take my hat off to Lee Carsley and the players. Brilliant stuff.

The stand out things for me are as follows:

1. The 4-2-3-1 formation, with no recognised wide players – yet Diagouraga, McCormack, Woods, Swift and Judge have all been absolutely outstanding in the last two games, providing energy, width, pace, power and outstanding attacking intent

2. The form of Alan Judge. Never has he more rightly deserved the moniker of the “Irish Messi”

3. The transformation of Nico Yennaris. Still early days and presumably Colin will be knocking at the door once fit, but again, well done to Lee Carsley for seeing something in a player many of us had written off long ago

4. The sudden resilience of the back four. Two clean sheets in a row – fantastic

5. The increased strength of the squad once Jota, Macleod, Colin, Saunders, McEachran et al return. Dare we now dream of the playoffs or better

Like everyone else, I can’t wait for Friday! The confidence is back, the energy levels are up and we all feel that we can beat anyone!

We don’t know who our manager will be this time next year, but let’s relish what’s happening right now and rise to the challenge of QPR as one!

Rebel Bee had his own explanation for the improvement in our results:

An excellent summary and I agree with all the great comments too, beesyellow22 has nailed it with his five key points. We love football so much because it can do this to you like no other sport -desperation to elation in a week!

We’ve all had differing opinions over what has gone on at Griffin Park over the past months, it’s been emotional and we’ve fallen out with our own at times. Barring a few on both sides of the debates I felt a sense of healing and togetherness in the stand on Saturday – ironic that it should come at the very place where the cracks opened so nastily a few short months ago.

That’s the first time I’ve seen us win at The Valley and it was so worth the wait. We were superb after that dodgy first ten minutes. Such a good away day there, and to play well in an iconic old London stadium left me feeling drained and emotional.

Whilst Judgey will deservedly get the headlines, huge credit goes to the other boys in midfield, and in particular to Alan Mac, who had possibly his finest game in a Bees shirt.

I now feel it was a brave and correct call to make the managerial change, it wasn’t nice how it went down but it has potentially saved the season. Some won’t like this fact, but Lee Carsley has gone back to basics, playing a largely British team who look fitter and happier than a month back – confidence and passion abundant and the foreign boys are correctly being drip fed into the Championship, some may turn out OK – others won’t.

We have turned a corner but mustn’t get carried away, we’ve taken three scalps at just the right time, but far bigger tests await in in the next two games at Griffin Park.

Greville could I possibly ask that you work your magic on a fitting piece ahead of the QPR game?

I was trying to explain to some of our younger fans why to many Bees they are our bitter rivals – not Fulham or others. It needs the historical context and facts to be explained properly as so many just don’t know what went down back in the 60s. You have the knowledge and the writing ability to do this justice.

No pressure then and I am girding my loins preparatory to writing something about our rivalry with QPR. and why it is so deep-felt and intense.

Let me end with an enthusiastic comment from Richard Poole who also has some salutary words of warning for us all:

I am writing this from far away but I am so happy for my Bees and, if you remember, I commented quite a while ago about how difficult it is for foreign players to accustom themselves to our way of football and to living in a foreign land – remember Betinho last season! I am also glad to see some youthful passion and enthusiasm in the side.

I so wish I was able to see Friday’s match against THEM but there is no no chance marooned out here in France. But all the same I will look out and hope for good news, but remember that football is a funny game so let’s not get too carried away at the moment!

In The Dark – 22/10/15

We have got the builders in at home at the moment and the last few weeks have been a living hell with constant and seemingly never ending banging and crashing as they remorselessly get on with their work.

Whilst I am not looking for any sympathy, life has been pretty stressful and difficult as we have been reduced to burrowing ourselves away upstairs with access only to two rooms downstairs, and cooking is a real challenge and adventure at the moment with no kitchen and a rickety microwave doing the honours in the front room.

Disposable plates are the order of the day and we have coped as well as possible and my wife’s ingenuity has been stretched to its limits given the restrictions we have faced.

Given the situation we decided to get away for part of half term week and now find ourselves ensconced in the sanctuary of Luton Hoo.

It is an absolutely beautiful old country house hotel tucked away in acres of rolling woodland and is an oasis of calm and tranquility and traditional old-English splendour despite being a mere ten minutes away from the cosmopolitan hustle and bustle of Luton town centre.

I was under strict orders and a three line whip last night – total relaxation and absolute concentration on the matters in hand rather than thinking and commenting about affairs taking place simultaneously at Molineux.

Normally in such circumstances I speak with forked tongue and am guilty of flagrant cheating and, worst of all, I was once caught red handed and shamefaced listening to a Bees match commentary on BBC Radio London during a wedding ceremony in a synagogue.

Not one of my proudest moments and one that took me years to live down and the embarrassment still lingers when I recall it!

Last night was totally different as the surroundings were calm and quiet and the light muted and soothing.

We passed a lovely evening relishing the sort of pleasant and wide ranging shorthand conversation of a long married couple who can generally read each other like a book but happily still take massive comfort, pride, enjoyment and support from each other’s company.

It was also so good to be able to luxuriate and make the most of good food, wine and a great companion.

As far as the football was concerned I had willed myself in a near trancelike state of calm and tranquility and was reconciled to the outcome, whatever it might turn out to be.

I have expressed my view many times that I believe that our improvement will be slow and gradual and I have limited expectations in the short term until we get the likes of Jota, McEachran, Colin and Macleod back in harness.

We had already achieved my minimum expectation of three points from our next two games by virtue of the win against Rotherham and anything gained against Wolves was therefore a bonus.

They had looked vulnerable defensively against Derby last Sunday but the partnership of Afobe and Le Fondre spelled danger for our back four.

I was fully reconciled to a defeat last night and had no expectations beyond our putting on a decent performance and remaining competitive and in the game for as long as possible.

I had recurring nightmares of our porous defence cracking and crumbling under pressure and that we might subside without much of a fight and so the prospect of an evening without going to the match, listening to the Bees Player commentary or even receiving any score flashes or updates, whilst alien and even unique in my recent experience, did not, in the circumstances, seem to be too much of an imposition.

And so it transpired. We enjoyed a lovely meal, my phone buzzed a couple of times but the texts remained unread and unanswered.

It was not until we had finished our post meal cup of tea that I finally cracked and checked my phone and did a doubletake as the unexpected good news of our comfortable victory was revealed to me.

I have now watched the highlights and spoken to some trusted and reliable sources who were present at the game and it is plainly evident that confidence is finally returning to the squad and the long awaited first clean sheet of the season will only help in this process.

We seemed far more comfortable and confident on the ball with Judge, Swift and Woods dovetailing perfectly to create the opportunities for Djuricin and, later, Hofmann.

Toumani and McCormack protected the back four who were largely untroubled throughout the entire evening.

Djuricin and Hofmann both scored excellent and well taken opportunist goals which will do their confidence no harm either.

Kerschbaumer also put in a good shift as a late substitute, which is even more encouraging given his recent series of poor performances.

Of course we are still a long way short of where we need to be and we would be totally deluding ourselves if we felt that we are completely out of the woods yet, but let’s give credit where it is due, and the situation is far, far rosier than it was five days and six points ago.

We have now gained some momentum which will hopefully be maintained over the coming weeks.

As for me, I proved that Brentford FC is not necessarily the only or most important thing in my life, although sometimes I am sure that I give the erroneous impression that that is indeed the case.

Nothing can beat family, love and a good relationship and we are looking forward to another couple of days of rest and recuperation and some more peace and quiet before we return to the madhouse that is our home at the moment.

Will I be at Charlton on Saturday though?

I certainly hope so as a week without my Brentford fix is quite long enough!