Easy Pickings! – 1/5/16

I took my Fulham supporting friend, Phil, to the local derby at Griffin Park yesterday afternoon and warned him not to make an exhibition of himself when seated in the Braemar Road stand, wear black and white or do anything else that might out him and reveal his true allegiance. If truth be told, the only time he became animated during what turned out to be a long and trying afternoon for him was when he heard his fellow Fulham fans jeering their team with an heartfelt and scornful chorus of you’re not fit to wear the shirt and it was only with difficulty that he managed to restrain himself from joining in, and I honestly could not have blamed him if he had.

I am reliably informed that back in the day, the Fulham programme used to include a prominently placed advertisement for The Samaritans and given their abject surrender and total lack of fight I suspect that it will not be too long before it reappears, and I can certainly think of one angry and sadly disillusioned supporter who might well avail himself of their services.

Fulham were a total disgrace on the day, lacking drive, positivity and commitment and really were not at all up for the fight. The fact that it was supposed to be a keenly contested local derby with West London bragging rights up for grabs barely seemed to have registered with them and they ran up the white flag and surrendered from the moment when Brentford hit them hard and early and scored two goals within the first seven minutes of the game.

Their highly paid team of mercenaries capitulated without a struggle or a whimper and for all their possession and neat football they barely threatened and apart from Ross McCormack who drifted in and out of the game but struck the woodwork twice and forced David Button into his only action of what was perhaps one of his easiest afternoons of the season, Brentford were the only team who looked as if they had any interest in either competing or scoring goals.

The Bees, by contrast were fully aware of how much this match meant for their supporters and how poorly they had played at QPR recently abd put in a massive shift in order to ensure that we all went home happy.

The quality of their performance was all the more praiseworthy and meritorious given how ludicrously stretched were our resources and our eighteen-man squad included two Academy products in Reece Cole, who spent the match on the bench and young left back Tom Field who made a remarkably composed and assured debut when surprisingly given the nod to replace the injured Jake Bidwell, who missed his first match of the season.

Lasse Vibe, Marco Djuricin and Alan McCormack were also late injury absentees and our selection problems for this match simply mirrored what has invariably been the case pretty much every week since last August as there has been a nonstop and seemingly ever-growing procession of players who have missed large chunks of the season, and yesterday was no different with the likes of Macleod, Bjelland, McEachran and Judge joining Bidwell, Vibe, Djuricin and McCormack on the injured list.

Hopefully we have now used up all our bad luck and next season will see us have a near full strength squad from which to choose. Scott Hogan, as last man standing, made his first ever Championship start for the Bees and Sam Saunders joined Woods, Yennaris, Canos and Kerschbaumer in a small but mobile midfield quintet.

Any nerves were settled within the opening seven minutes which saw the Bees take the game to their opponents who could not cope with their energy, drive, pressing, direct running and movement off the ball.

The appalling Ashley Richards, a total liability at right back where he proved to be a one-man fifth column before his merciful substitution at the interval, was forced back towards his own goal by Field and was robbed of the ball on halfway by Canos, perhaps illegally, but Mr.Haywood who let the game flow admirably all afternoon, saw no evil and Sam Saunders made a lung-bursting break from his own half and was criminally allowed to run opposed towards the edge of the Fulham penalty area. Canos picked him out perfectly and Sam’s finish was audacious, instantaneous and immaculate as he flicked the ball perfectly over the advancing Bettinelli with his first touch.

Fulham resorted to bickering amongst themselves and Parker and Ince gave their hapless teammate a real mouthful and the game was won and lost in that instant. Even better was to come when Yennaris and Woods combined to win the ball back in midfield, and Kerschbaumer played a perfect first time through ball in between the two slow and lumbering central defenders Ream and Stearman who were dozing in the sunshine blithely unaware of the danger, like a pair of wildebeest in the Serengeti totally oblivious to the presence of a lioness lurking in the long grass. Scott Hogan was too quick in both thought and action for both of them, he was switched on and alert and ran on unopposed and finished perfectly and without fuss into the corner.

Fulham were stunned and out for the count and spent the remainder of the half passing the ball sideways and backwards, going absolutely nowhere. Brentford pressed, harried and defended in numbers and never gave an inch and it came as little surprise when they stretched their lead from their first corner when Field’s perfect inswinger was thrashed into the roof of the net by the predatory Hogan – who else?

McCormack might have made a game of it right on halftime but squandered an excellent opportunity, hitting Button’s post when given a clear sight of goal and Fulham heads went down even further and team left the field to a deafening crescendo of boos and jeers.

Hogan had taken some knocks and sensibly was not risked after the break and he has now scored an impressive and unlikely five goals from eight attempts at goal in little more than ninety minutes of action and yet despite his absence there was no respite for Fulham who were as yellow as their shirts, as Canos went up top and ran his opponents ragged.

Fulham had most of the possession as the home team invited them onto them, but it was the Bees who created the best chances when they repeatedly used their pace and cohesion to create havoc in a demoralised defence. Kerschbaumer and Canos both might have scored twice but for Bettinelli who also saved brilliantly from O’Connell’s rising effort.

All three substitutes, Jack O’Connell, Andy Gogia and Josh Clarke played a full part in the victory and Gogia joined Kerschbaumer in coming so close to his first ever Brentford goal when he curled an exquisite late effort inches wide.

All fourteen Bees were heroes with Field making an exceptional debut before suffering a calf injury and he was given support and encouragement by all his teammates who talked him through the game. Both Dean and Barbet were peerless and largely snuffed out the threat of McCormack and second half substitute Dembele and Max Colin was also back to his imperious best. Woods, Saunders and Yennaris dominated the midfield and Alan McCormack’s physicality was barely missed.

Unfortunately this might well be the last that we see of Sergi Canos at Griffin Park and if so, he will have left on a high as he has been wonderful for us and we have been equally good for him. He can hardly have expected to have played thirty-seven times in the Championship as a nineteen year old and with six goals, including that incredible effort at Reading, his contribution has been immense and he has lifted everyone with his coltish enthusiasm and all he lacks is a tail to wag.

Fulham were rightly described as an embarrassment and shameful by their manager, Slaviša Jokanović and I suspect that there will be a clear-out at Craven Cottage given how narrow has been their escape from relegation to League One. In contrast, Brentford played as a team and this was their sixth win in a magical month that has seen them gain the incredible tally of nineteen points and score the same number of goals and rise from the edge of the relegation zone to the dizzy heights of tenth place in the Championship.

This is an incredible achievement which I will dissect in much more depth after our final game next weekend but so much credit is due to everyone at the club as well as the fans for the way in which we have all pulled together and this unity has been rewarded with a resurgence in results, performances and confidence despite the nagging and ever-present  problems caused by injuries and exhaustion.

The squad has been tested to its fullest extent and every player has responded brilliantly and risen to the challenge, and nobody has been found wanting, and despite the recent loss of one of the best players in the Championship in Alan Judge we have clearly demonstrated a grim determination to succeed and have fully deserved to rise up eight places in the league table.

We cannot match the likes of Fulham for the time being in terms of our income, squad numbers and, indeed, overall quality but where we leave them trailing far behind us in our wake is in terms of our spirit, shape, effort, planning, organisation, energy, ethos and determination never to give in, plus of course our exceptional team behind the team..

Brentford are a club to be proud of and Fulham, for all their riches, heritage and tradition could not live with us.

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A Missed Opportunity – 27/1/16

Let’s just get things into context for a moment.  I am sure that most Brentford supporters left Griffin Park last night frustrated and not a little fed up after Jake Bidwell’s calamitous and most untypical error gifted Leeds United a late and totally unmerited equaliser that cost Brentford two crucial points as we attempt to stay on the coat tails of the playoff chasing pack.

This morning I have had some time to think more carefully and rationally about the events of last night and now my overriding view is quite simply how far we have come as both a team and a football club when we are moaning and gnashing our teeth at our failure to defeat one of the country’s biggest and most established teams – tarnished and faded glory that they undoubtedly are.

I well remember our inferiority complex when we played Leeds in 2009 after a gap of several decades and our sheer incredulity that the minnows of Brentford were allowed to share a pitch with the giants of Elland Road.

Oh, and by the way, times have changed. Leeds have not beaten us on any of the six occasions that we have played them since then and there was only one team trying to play football out there last night.

It was also Groundhog Day as there was a similar sense of frustration earlier in the season when we totally dominated proceedings at Elland Road, squandered chance after chance to score what would undoubtedly have been a match clinching second goal and then succumbed to a late equaliser after an unforced error when Ryan Woods was caught in possession.

Last night saw us play some quality football particularly in the first half when we totally dominated but failed to make our possession count – a failing that came back to haunt us after the break when we put the handbrake on and created very little.

Had we held on, as we should have done, and emerged with a confidence boosting and much needed and long overdue home win, as well as the first clean sheet of the year, then we would today be congratulating the team for a solid, competent and professional performance.

The fact that we were unable to see the game through was certainly galling and provided further proof, if any was needed, that we are still a work in progress and nowhere near the finished article, but there was also much to take pride and pleasure in.

Sam Saunders was a bundle of energy and effervescence and he frolicked around with the enthusiasm of a new born lamb.

He scored a beautifully taken goal when he ran at the heart of the Leeds defence from the halfway line and distracted as they were by the excellent decoy runs of Judge and Vibe, they criminally backed off him and Sam picked his spot perfectly into the corner of the net from the edge of the area before deservedly milking the applause from the Ealing Road faithful.

Sam is rumoured to be on his way shortly to Tampa Bay but given the sheer professionalism and excellence of his performance last night there is surely still a place for him in and around the first team squad at Griffin Park.

Given the current uncertainty over James Tarkowski, Yoann Barbet needed to step up to the plate last night and he more than met expectations, winning all of his aerial challenges, showing strength and pace as well as demonstrating his skill on the ball and ability to pick out a pass.

He is a real find and there is now a refreshing French feel and Gallic flamboyance in our defence with Barbet and Max Colin both looking as if they will be in the team to stay and I prophesy that it will not be too long before they attract serious attention from other interested parties.

There has been some recent criticism, both veiled and overt, regarding the quality of our recruitment since the end of last season so it is also important and only fair to give praise and recognise the achievements of our Directors of Football whenever it is justified, and in Colin, Barbet, as well of course in Ryan Woods, we have struck gold and made potentially exceptional signings.

We might well be talking about another one very shortly if Josh McEachran continues in the same vein as last night.

Toumani Diagouraga, watching for most of the match from the Leeds dugout where he must have recoiled from the nonstop verbal onslaught from his uncouth new managerial team, must surely have appreciated the sheer quality of his likely successor’s performance as Josh combined some welcome and unexpected grit, pressing and tackling with the eerie ability to find time and space in a congested midfield as well as the vision to invariably find a team mate with his pass.

McEachran clearly demonstrated that given full fitness he will become a massive asset for the club and his burgeoning partnership with the bustling Ryan Woods, lightweights that they both are, augers well for the future and will ideally prove that brain overcomes brawn.

John Swift and Alan Judge too often dribbled into blind alleys and their final ball was often lacking, but we never stopped probing for openings and perhaps the key moment came soon after we had scored when Swift found Judge who turned inside his marker, switched the ball onto his left foot and curled his shot inches over the bar with Silvestri helpless.

A second goal then would surely have put the game well beyond Leeds but we rarely threatened after the break and Leeds finally took advantage when the normally reliable Jake Bidwell shanked his clearance when under no real pressure and Carayol took full advantage with a well placed curling shot just out of the reach of the straining David Button.

So a curate’s egg of a performance which reconfirmed many of our strengths and weaknesses.

We do not make the most of our possession and let teams off the hook and I would hate to count up the number of giveaway goals we have gifted the opposition this season.

The formation we play requires our midfield to flood forward far quicker in support of our lone striker and I am afraid to say that in my opinion we need far better up front than the three strikers we currently possess, as none of them have really convinced that they are the solution to the problem.

We are not using Lasse Vibe to the best of his ability and his minimal threat was easily snuffed out last night which meant that the ball rarely stuck in the final third and the pace and bubbly enthusiasm of the injured Sergi Canos was also badly missed.

However the good easily outweighed the bad and we now move on.

Who knows what might happen in the next few days before the end of the Transfer Window?

Will we escape unscathed or suffer further losses and depredations, and if so who might come in to augment our depleted squad?

That though is a reflection for another day.

 

Relief! – 18/10/15

The overriding emotion after yesterday’s narrow and hard fought two-one victory over Rotherham was simply one of relief.

Relief that we had arrested the rot of three successive defeats, relief that we had beaten a team likely to be in the relegation zone, perhaps alongside us, and relief that Lee Carsley had finally broken his duck as a Head Coach and led us to our first victory under his charge.

This was a game where, in all honesty, very little mattered beyond the result. A defeat would have seem morale and confidence amongst players and supporters alike plummet to new depths and the Bees would have dropped into the relegation zone for the first time this season.

Going into the game it hadn’t helped to watch a confident and revitalised Bristol City team totally outplay and pulverise a poor and dispirited Nottingham Forest on Friday night and to see them play the ball around with such precision and accuracy and a certain joie de vivre just emphasised how much the Bees needed to improve in order to get their season back on track and escape from the pack stuck around the bottom of the Championship table.

The three points that we eventually won, not without a desperate struggle, were the absolute priority and I believe that given the fillip of yesterday’s much needed victory, we will now improve slowly and gradually as we regain some confidence and cohesion.

It will also help if we can get some high quality reinforcements into the squad either from outside, during the January transfer window, or hopefully well in advance of then when the likes of Jota, Macleod, McEachran and Colin report back for duty as soon as they have recovered from long term injury.

I therefore do not intend to dwell too much upon the myriad shortcomings that were exposed yet again yesterday afternoon.

We know that the players currently available to us have not proved to be of sufficient quality or experience to get us to where we want to be in the Championship and to carp and criticise them might be good for the soul but is hardly likely to be productive in the great scheme of things.

To emphasise where we are at the moment, we were outpassed and out-possessed yesterday by Rotherham. Nothing really more needs to be said as there is really very little point in doing so.

We all know that our visitors are a set of decent, honest journeymen, toiling hard at a level that is probably just a little bit beyond them and we recognise and appreciate that they do their utmost to make up for their deficiencies in terms of class and ability through the virtues of organisation, effort and sheer hard work.

Please do not think that I am trying to patronise or denigrate them or minimise their achievements as I greatly admire Rotherham as a club for more than making the most of what they have, and it is fair to say that they played as much football as we did, if not more, and probably just had the edge in terms of creating opportunities.

Brentford had forty-seven percent possession of the ball and attempted three hundred and eighty-four passes of which sixty-seven per cent found their target.

Rotherham had fifty-three per cent possession and attempted fifty-two more passes than us with a slightly higher rate of accuracy.

In the corresponding match last season Brentford enjoyed sixty-six per cent possession and whilst comparisons are both pointless and invidious you can see how far things have changed in the interim period.

There is really no possible benefit in wailing, gnashing our teeth and bemoaning the fact that we have fallen so far from grace since the high points of last season and have also massively declined in terms of the quality of our squad and footballing ability – that is simply a fact that we have to accept and get beyond at the moment if we are to retain our sanity and sense of proportion.

The time for recriminations will come later on if the season ends in disaster. Now is simply a time for all hands at the pumps and for us to work together to help ensure our survival at Championship level as it would be a disaster of massive proportions if we allow our hard won Championship status to be surrendered come next May.

Apart from the victory there were many other positives to come out of yesterday’s match:

  • A five-figure crowd that, whilst quiet and muted at times, got behind their team and appreciated their efforts.
  • A positive up-and-at-’em start culminating in a quite brilliantly taken early goal from Alan Judge
  • Scoring the opening goal for the first time this season at home
  • A solid defensive display with Dean and Tarkowski particularly impressing
  • Nico Yennaris making the opening goal and playing his best ever game for the club
  • Ryan Woods playing in a holding role alongside Alan McCormack and looking calm and composed on the ball, winning his challenges and rarely conceding possession
  • Young guns Sergi Canos and John Swift justifying the faith shown in them and demonstrating their ability and youthful enthusiasm on their first start for the club
  • The imperious Alan Judge, scorer of two quite beautifully taken goals, including a rare header, and running the game from start to finish
  • Brentford scoring two excellently worked, constructed and taken goals
  • A recognisable and effective team shape being employed in the 4-2-3-1 formation that worked so well last season
  • A determination and will to win, evidenced by the Brentford players putting their body on the line and defending desperately during the six interminable minutes of injury time when Rotherham threw the kitchen sink at us
  • A team selection which ignored the claims of all our fit if underperforming preseason foreign signings in Barbet, Kerschbaumer, Vibe, Hofmann and Gogia and contained seven of last season’s tried and tested squad, plus Woods and recent loanees, Canos, Swift and Djuricin

I fully recognise the lack of quality on display at times yesterday, our inability to keep possession, the lack of incision, the paucity of attempts on target, the fact that Djuricin must surely have been suffering from a communicable disease, so isolated was he upfront, the languid start to the second half that cost us so dear and our appalling marking at opposition set pieces where we relied far too much upon David Button’s brilliance to save the day.

I would also hope that somebody introduced Philipp Hofmann after the game to returning legend Robert Taylor as I think that they could have had a most productive conversation on centre forward play that would have greatly benefitted our new German striker who still has so much to learn about the demands of English football.

Yesterday was still an improvement on what we have seen recently and you can only beat the opposition that is facing you on the day.

We now have two tough away games in the next week at Wolves and Charlton and I will withhold any judgement until after we have played both of these matches. I would hope and expect that we improve gradually from game to game but I have no real expectations of a massive change in our fortunes until the injured players return.

But hey – WE WON!

Time For Changes – 27/9/15

Now that really hurt!

Any defeat is upsetting but some are far more so than others and yesterday’s loss to Sheffield Wednesday certainly came into that category.

I left Griffin Park with an awful sick feeling in the pit of my stomach and the walk back to my car was a long and depressing one.

I have long since learned to put defeats behind me very quickly if I am to retain my sanity and maintain any semblance of a normal family life, but last night it was difficult for me to do so given the circumstances of the loss.

The first half was pretty much a mirror image of every home game this season. A slow start, marked by a total lack of incision and penetration with few chances created and the midfield never getting forward to join and support the isolated Djuricin with Vibe wasted and ignored on the right wing. Judge was our only creative outlet with Toumani and McCormack both sitting deep and Kerschbaumer invisible.

The visitors finally realised that we were really not up to much, and slowly took control with Bannon elegant in midfield and the Giant Haystacks figure of Nuhiu their fulcrum in attack. Dean marshalled him well but when the delivery is right he is almost impossible to stop and he hit the bar with a fearsome header from a corner.

Button saved well twice as we came under the cosh whilst Westwood was totally untested at the other end. The only rays of hope for the Bees were the two fullbacks. Josh Clarke overcame a nervous start but once he settled down he gave us a real attacking outlet on the right. Jake Bidwell too did the same on the other flank and he came the nearest for the Bees when Judge picked him out with a lovely curling cross which he met with a volley which kissed the crossbar as it flew over.

When the goal came for the visitors it was really no surprise given their extra cutting edge but again, it was a soft one which highlighted our general lack of awareness. A long punt from the keeper was played back by Nuhiu to Bannan wide on the left. He then made a wonderful positive run into the area losing Dean as he did so. Tarkowski dozed and saw the danger too late as Bannan’s perfect through ball set the striker in on goal. Tarky challenged from the wrong side and it was an obvious penalty.

Bidwell was covering behind him and might even have averted the danger had Tarkowski not committed himself. Surely a yellow card at worst, but the referee Geoff Eltringham dithered, vacillated and allowed the Wednesday players and their vociferous bench to get in his ear and after a long and interminable delay and conversation with his assistant the red card was produced and finally Nuhiu scored from the spot. A triple whammy for the Bees on the day – penalty, goal, red card and Tarkowski will now also face a one game ban unless we are able to make a successful appeal against the decision.

We managed to get into the halftime break only one goal in arrears but in truth the game resembled nothing more than an average Championship team playing a mediocre Division One outfit. We had effort and hard tackling in abundance but we demonstrated no craft or cutting edge in what was an extremely poor and vapid first half performance.

O’Connell came on to boost the defence and it was no surprise to see Kerschbaumer sacrificed. He has started every league game so far this season so I wonder exactly what it is that the coaches and analysts are seeing in him that is being missed by pretty much every Bees supporte? He has obvious ability on the ball, can see a pass and makes decent late runs into the area but he is being patently outmuscled and overmatched at present and his influence on games is, quite frankly, utterly nonexistent. The matches simply seem to pass him by and without meaning to be cruel the closest he came to an opposition player yesterday was during the pre-match handshake when he and his fellow Austrian, Nuhiu, enveloped each other in a bear hug, otherwise he was nowhere to be seen.

I appreciate that the more he plays, the faster he will hopefully become acclimatised to the Championship but at the moment he is a total passenger and given our current plight we cannot afford to carry anyone who is not fully pulling his weight. Our midfield is unbalanced, outnumbered, outmatched and outplayed with monotonous regularity and much of that is due to the fact that McCormack and Diagouraga are occupied in their defensive duties and neither of them are likely to open up opposition defences.

Ryan Woods came on for the final push and impressed from his first touch. He is well used to the hustle and bustle of the Football League, if not the demands of the Championship, but he looks a far, far better bet than Konstantin. He plays with his head up, pushes forward to support the attack and rarely wastes a pass. It is quite baffling why he has not been given his opportunity to date. He must start on Tuesday instead of Kerschbaumer but that is a decision for Duikhuizen.

We have another home game on Tuesday and it will be instructive to see the team that Duikhuizen selects. He has proven to be an effective coach who is not afraid to change things when they are not working – and our current formation really isn’t doing so! I would hope that he takes heed of yet another appalling first half performance at home and that we do not start with the customary ineffective 4-3-3 setup which means that Vibe is never in the game and unable to play close enough to Djuricin who is currently living off scraps.

At the interval yesterday I reflected on the Birmingham match early last season when we lost Tony Craig in similar circumstances and were trailing deservedly at the break. I took comfort from the fact that Birmingham sat back in the second half and allowed us to seize the initiative and we were able to rescue a point. Maybe Sheffield Wednesday would become similarly complacent and feel that they had already completed the job?

My hopes and prayers were answered and with Judge moved into a more central role where he dictated play, and Vibe finally playing closer to Djuricin we took control. Wednesday were forced backwards and were rarely an attacking threat in the second half. O’Connell was a revelation, giving us balance on the left side of defence alongside the imperious Harlee Dean. He also showed an unsuspected ability to hit accurate long passes and even hit a thirty-yarder not too far wide.

We now have a welcome problem in central defence with four excellent players competing for two spots. Dean is an automatic choice and a reformed and far more mature character and we must get his new contract sorted and recognise and reward him for the progress he has undoubtedly made in recent months. Tarky was imperious at Leeds and is the best creative option we possess but he loses concentration, as was shown yesterday, and both Barbet and O’Connell are now breathing down his neck.

Who will play on Tuesday if the red card is not rescinded? Your guess is as good as mine and I would be happy with either Barbet, so impressive against Preston, or O’Connell. If I had to choose I would go with Barbet as he has far more ability on the ball than O’Connell and we need somebody at the back who can ensure that we maintain possession.

Despite our second half dominance, chances were few and far between. Djuricin met a beautiful Bidwell cross flush on his forehead and his header crashed against the bar but he had moved too soon and the flag was up. Judge’s free kick from wide out on the left evaded everybody straining for the ball in a crowded six yard box and pinged against the post, but again, more surprisingly this time, the flag was up from an assistant referee who seemed hell-bent on doing his best to frustrate our efforts.

Bidwell is surely going to break his goalscoring duck shortly and he saw the whites of Westwood’s eyes before his shot was blocked by the keeper. We were knocking at the door but had to rely on Button making a fabulous low save from a long range effort from lithe substitute Joao which kicked up off the turf before being pushed away by the straining keeper.

Button’s next contribution was equally effective as he was first to a loose ball near the halfway line and picked out Judge with a perfect fifty yard lobbed pass and Alan brought the ball under instant control and sent a sublime curling effort just inside the far post for a well-deserved equaliser.

Media staff member and Programme Editor Mark Chapman also deserves mention for his manic celebration, beautifully caught by the television cameras, which showed just how much he cares!

Now the force was with the Bees and the game seemed to turn on its head when substitute left back Helan received two crass and stupid yellow cards for fouls on the marauding Clarke and Canos. The Bees turned the screws and an unlikely winner seemed on the cards. Canos tore their left flank apart and was unstoppable. He ran and jinked but never overplayed and then the moment came. He twisted his way to the byline and pulled the ball back perfectly to the unmarked Vibe who surely had to score. He had time to think and maybe even control the ball but his instant volley raged over the bar.

On such moments are games won and lost as deep into injury time another frenetic attack broke down, a swift counter attack saw the ball played towards Joao, he miscontrolled, and the ball bounced off the helpless O’Connell’s back right into the path of the marauding forward who was not to be caught. He finished impeccably and the game was lost in an instant.

A point would have felt like three given the way we had started the game and our one man disadvantage for so long a period and perhaps we chased the game too hard once we had equalised and left ourselves open and too exposed at the back. That is a mere quibble but the fact remains that we lost against a very average team and we gave ourselves an uphill task and far too much to do.

We have conceded first in all four home games, gone two down twice, and let in eight goals, or two goals per match. We have barely started any of the games until the second half when we already had a mountain to climb and reacted accordingly by changing our formation and approach. Vibe has been wasted out wide and Kerschbaumer has contributed little or nothing. These are in my view indisputable facts and for all the problems we face in terms of our current injury crisis they have to be addressed – and quickly too, if we are not to fall into the relegation zone.

We will probably more than hold our own once we get back the likes of Jota, but other injured players such as Macleod, Hofmann, Colin, Gogia and McEachran are still relatively or totally untried and unknown to us and, with the exception of Josh, are new to the English game and will need further time to settle down, reach full match fitness and find their feet. We therefore need to stay in touch and pick up points as and when we can until we manage to strengthen. This will need a change of personnel, style and formation when we play at home as we cannot keep having to come back from behind. We have trailed in every game this season bar one and it is proving to be too much of a handicap.

There is still talk around the club of maintaining the progress of last season. This is arrant nonsense and claptrap and we need to face facts. Until further notice we are in a relegation scrap, early days though it might still be. This is no time to be complacent or say that things will simply get better.

There is much that is out of our control but we still have to do far better with all the situations that we can influence. For all the good things that we did after the break, and the last second kick in the teeth, yesterday was a massively missed opportunity to pick up at least one point. Every point is crucial, even at this early stage of the season and there are immediate changes that need to be made – now.

A Star Is Born – 20/9/15

A lot of good things came out of yesterday’s match against Preston North End. Most crucially, the Bees won for the first time this season at Griffin Park after coming back from a one goal deficit having conceded a demoralising goal within the first minute of play.

We also discovered a potential star in young Liverpool loanee Sergi Canos who almost singlehandedly turned the game in Brentford’s favour when he came on as a substitute on the hour with Brentford on top but still struggling to find inspiration and an equaliser.

Canos of the twinkling toes and fast, nimble feet was simply too good for the visitors. He played with his head up and saw openings quicker than anyone else in the field. He was as brave and determined as he was skilful on the ball, he was a pest as well as a talent and he made an immediate impact by seizing on an excellent Diagouraga through pass, cutting in from the right wing and his low cut back was comfortably converted at the near post by the predatory Lasse Vibe who scored his third goal of what promises to be a successful season for the striker.

Confidence flooded back into the team and the game turned on its head soon afterwards when Bidwell’s header found Djuricin who turned his marker and under stiff challenge still managed to stride into the area and plant the ball unerringly between Jordan Pickford and his near post.

Suddenly from almost out of nowhere we have a flourishing and dangerous strike partnership with five goals between them in only four games.

From then on there was only one winner and Brentford comfortably survived a long ball barrage from a now dispirited and it has to be said, limited Preston team that had run out of ideas, without too many heart in mouth moments.

This was a must-win match if the Bees were to avert the recent slump and avoid being sucked into the relegation zone, and with the training injury suffered by Max Colin resources were stretched even further with Josh Clarke given his first league start at right back.

He recovered well from an appalling start with Preston attacking down his flank and he was left trailing by Doyle whose centre was met by May. Button saved heroically but Daniel Johnson easily converted the rebound and the Bees were coming from behind get again – the story of this entire season so far.

The first quarter hour was shambolic as Preston found time and space as Brentford were like rabbits in headlights and they wasted several gilt-edged chances to score that crucial second goal that would surely have killed the game almost at its outset.

Alan Judge was everywhere and his influence, energy, effervescence and example allowed a shell shocked Bees team to finally claw themselves off the floor and start to compete.  From then on their superior technique came to the fore and the first half chances came and went. Kerschbaumer missed twice after finding time and space in the penalty area, Vibe had his shot blocked from close in and Pickford saved well from Bidwell and sensationally from a free header from Barbet which looked bound for the net.

Button too arched backwards to tip over a close range header from Joe Garner and prevented the striker from scoring his first goal of the season.

After halftime Brentford took control as Preston sat back to defend their lead but it was not until Canos came on and we moved Vibe from out on the right wing where his talents had been wasted, to play just behind Djuricin did the tide fully turn and the Bees finally took advantage of their superiority.

There will be far tougher tests than Preston, starting next Saturday when Sheffield Wednesday come to town, but you can do no more than beat the opponents you are facing on the day.

The defence settled down after an uncomfortable start and Barbet gave us balance and composure on the left hand side and formed a strong and effective partnership with man mountain Harlee Dean. Tarkowski should get his place back when his calf heals but the young Frenchman has impressed since he was thrown in two games ago.

Ckarke too looked good going forward but less so defensively, and we were far more solid when Alan McCormack moved back from midfield to replace him and if, as looks likely, Colin is yet another long term absentee then it will be interesting to see who gets the nod next weekend.

Canos too looked like the ultimate impact substitute but it will surely be tempting for Marinus Duikhuizen to start him against Sheffield Wednesday in the hope that he can weave his magic from the off.

We are still short of experience and inspiration  which is hardly surprising when you consider our injury list which shows few signs of diminishing – if anything it is getting even worse.

The midfield trio of Diagouraga, McCormack and Kerschbaumer competed well but lack pace and attacking brio and Ryan Woods must surely be close to his first start.

Jermaine Udumaga came on near the end but was completely outmatched and overwhelmed despite having a shot blocked after more Canos magic, and we are desperately short of cover up front.

The fixture list is relentless and unforgiving and reinforcements are still desperately needed if we are to maintain our impetus or even keep our head above water in the short term. A third striker who can spell Djuricin and Vibe and a creative spark to assist Alan Judge would be more than welcome additions next week.

This win has given us some welcome breathing space and much needed confidence but we are still fragile and punching above our weight given how stretched we are in terms of player availability.

The good news has to be that the newcomers are all learning on the job – even if it is the hard way, and they will all benefit in the long run from having to be thrown in at the deep end.

The crowd dipped below ten thousand for the first time this season, which is not totally unexpected given our shaky start to the season and the problems we have faced but the fans were patient and understanding for the most part and there is a general feeling of sympathy, support and understanding towards Dijkhuizen given his torrid introduction to the hot seat.

A good day then for the Bees after the worst of all possible starts and we all left the ground relieved and wreathed in smiles – but it could all have been so different had Preston taken their early chances and if a star had not been born. On such narrow margins are games decided. We move on re-energised and with increased hope and enthusiasm.

What’s Going On? – 20/8/15

So what’s going on at Griffin Park as bemused Brentford supporters anxiously await the puff of white smoke that will finally confirm the departure of Andre Gray and the inevitable conclusion to what has developed into a never ending saga that has dragged on for several weeks now?

On the face of it the evidence is damning as Gray will be just one more addition to what now seems to be a massive and increasing exodus of players from Griffin Park since the end of last season.

Alex Pritchard, Jon Toral, Richard Lee, Tommy Smith, Alfie Mawson, Nick Proschwitz, Will Grigg, Stuart Dallas, Tony Craig, Jonathan Douglas, Moses Odubajo are the others who are no longer with us, and there have now been massive changes and upheavals to the settled squad that ended the season just a few short months ago in May.

However it is only when you look at all the departures in greater detail and analyse the reason for each one that you can obtain a full understanding of what has been going on.

Richard Lee retired as also did Kevin O’Connor and Smith and Proschwitz were both deemed surplus to our requirements. Grigg too was not thought to be the answer to our needs up front despite his rehabilitation at MK Dons last season and to obtain a cool million pounds from Wigan for a player who has never found his feet at our club was surely good business on our part – if not an inspired purchase in the first place.

Alex Pritchard’s future was simply out of our hands as the loanee returned in triumph to his parent club, Spurs. Would that we were able to find a way to spirit him back to Griffin Park as his influence is sadly missed which is hardly surprising given how talented he is and how effective he was at playing the killer pass that opened up the opposition defence.

Jon Toral also returned to Arsenal after his loan spell, although there were certainly rumours that we had tried to retain his services either on loan or a permanent basis and I confess that it came as a real surprise to me when he joined Birmingham. It is open to question whether he would have played sufficiently often for us as a loan player to have kept Arsenal happy but I was half-expecting that he would become a permanent Brentford player as he would have been an excellent addition to the squad.

Alfie Mawson simply and understandably felt that he would not get a look-in at Griffin Park and joined Barnsley for whom he scored his first goal at Millwall on Tuesday night.

Stuart Dallas was another who felt that he would receive more opportunities elsewhere given that he was seen more as a valuable substitute rather than as an automatic first choice at Brentford. The fee of around one and a quarter million pounds represented a massive return on the sum paid by the club to Crusaders but I suspect that his value might well increase in coming years as he gains more experience, and hopefully our interests are protected with a sell-on clause.

The Jonathan Douglas situation has been discussed to death on message boards recently and I would agree that his influence was waning on the pitch and that he was unlikely to reconcile himself to becoming a bit part player. His departure was therefore the best solution for all parties although I still feel that he has yet to be replaced adequately particularly given Josh McEachran’s injury. Tony Craig was another who needed to leave with our gratitude for services rendered over the past three years.

Our hands were then completely tied regarding the loss of star fullback Moses Odubajo to Hull City as a three and a half million pound release clause had been inserted into his contract in order to ensure that he joined us in the first place from Leyton Orient a year ago, at a time when bigger fish were also sniffing around him.

Hull offered us the money and we could not get anywhere close to competing with them in terms of the wages they were able to offer him given the income they have received from their spell in the Premier League plus the massive parachute payments they are currently in receipt of.

It pains me to admit it but we are still small fry and remain well down the football totem pole. We are totally stymied and our growth is restricted by the limited capacity and lack of resources of Griffin Park and I understand that our income is in the bottom three of all twenty-four Championship teams.

No wonder we are losing our stars to clubs who can pay them better. We might say that we are bigger than say Hull City or even Bristol City, but we are deluding ourselves to even think that that is really the case. Maybe in years to come once we have moved into our new stadium at Lionel Road and reached the Premier League, or even stabilised in the top half of the Championship, we can then match what is being offered by others to our top players but for the time being we simply have to accept facts as they are.

We are on more than a stepping stone and a proving ground where players receive a platform and the necessary support and encouragement to thrive, shine and improve. The best of them will then be picked off by bigger clubs than us who will certainly offer higher wages and perhaps even a better professional opportunity.

Footballers have a short career and an even shorter window of opportunity. Today’s budding star is tomorrow’s broken leg or free transfer and I would never blame any footballer for chasing the main chance and following the money trail.

Let’s assume that Andre Gray is earning around four thousand pounds per week at Brentford. This is a guess and I might well be miles out in my figure. Bristol City then come in and offer to pay him perhaps sixteen thousand pounds per week. What can he be expected to do in the circumstances? What would you do if you were offered the same choice?

I will tell you what will happen with Gray if you haven’t already worked it out for yourself – he will quickly get his agent to see if a higher profile club is prepared to pay Brentford the required fee and either match or better the salary on offer.

If nothing else is forthcoming then he will surely sign for Bristol City as he cannot afford to allow such an incredible financial opportunity to perhaps quadruple his salary to slip through his hands. Nor should he be expected to. Loyalty for, and love of the club is for us supporters, not professional footballers. They have to look after Number One.

Let’s now look at the situation for Brentford. Bristol City have apparently had an offer of nine million pounds accepted, perhaps seven million pounds down and an additional two million pounds dependent upon performance. Let me just repeat those figures and allow them to sink in. Seven million pounds down and an additional two million pounds dependent upon performance. This for a player we bought for around six hundred thousand pounds a year or so ago. Ideally there is also a sell-on clause included too. This is double the previous record fee received for a player!

If we turn down an offer of this magnitude we risk having a disgruntled player on our hands whose value could quickly spiral downwards.

Similarly, promising young players are happy to join us as they are secure in the knowledge that they will be in the shop window at Griffin Park and it becomes a win/win situation for all parties. We sign players who might otherwise have spurned us and we also benefit from the transfer fees that we eventually receive when they move on.

Should the Gray deal go through then we will have taken in over twelve and a half million pounds in transfer fees this summer with the potential of further payments to come.

The Brentford model is very simple and straightforward. We utilise our proprietary statistics and mathematical modelling techniques to identify hot young prospects who have either been ignored or undervalued by our rivals. We buy low then sell high once another club has reached our valuation of the player. Every player without exception is for sale assuming we receive adequate compensation.

The key though is what we do with all the money we receive. We are not asset stripping or hoarding the cash as some critics have asserted, and the money taken in is not siphoned off to pay off debt. Yes, some will go to endure that we remain within the stringent requirements of Financial Fair Play but the the majority is reinvested in the squad. The more money we bring in from player sales the more we can spend on investing in new talent.

Last year we sold Adam Forshaw and spent over a million pounds each on Moses Odubajo and Jota and around half that sum on Gray and Scott Hogan. Now we have upgraded exponentially as the money we have received from our outgoing players has enabled us to invest around six million pounds on the likes of Andreas Bjelland, Lasse Vibe, Philipp Hofmann, Josh McEachran, Yoann Barbet, Maxine Colin and Konstantin Kerschbaumer. There is also talk of us trying to bring in another four players before the transfer window shuts at the end of the month. That is a very tight deadline and we will do well to get suitable players in by that time and other clubs will also try and take advantage of our situation and charge us a premium.

The more we bring in, the more we can spend – it is a very simple formula. This year we spent over two million pounds, easily a club record fee, on Bjelland, and maybe very soon, given the extra transfer sums that have been received, we will be in a position to spend even more money on a player.

The problem is that the pressure is always on us to keep unearthing more and more uncut gems so that the conveyor belt can keep moving. It is far too early to say how successful any of our new signings will turn out to be and it is perhaps one of the cheaper newcomers, Andy Gogia, who might well turn out to be the most valuable, if he meets our expectations and turns out to be as good as is anticipated. With serious expenditure comes serious risk. Not all our signings will come off and some will fail to perform as well as expected.

Will Grigg turned out to be a total bust for us, but in the end we succeeded in more than doubling our total investment in him when we sold him to MK Dons. It was a close run thing though, as at one time it seemed that we might well lose a significant sum on him, but thankfully he performed well on loan at MK Dons last season which enabled us to set and obtain a fee for him that a year or so ago seemed highly improbable.

We have now spent heavily on seven players in recent weeks, and the more we spend the more we can lose as well as gain. Thankfully the analysts seem to have got it right far more often than not up to now but there will be increasing pressure on them to keep doing so as the stakes get even higher.

There is also concern that there are too many moves and changes taking place in too short a time, particularly when you also take into account the number of injuries we have recently been incurring – and not just any old minor injury, but serious long-term ones that have incapacitated the likes of Bjelland, McEachran and Jota. To some degree there has been little that we can do as most of the injuries occurred late on in the close season or in the first couple of matches of the new season at a time when most of the player sales, with the exception of Moses and perhaps now Gray, should he finally leave us, had already been completed. I see that as bad luck rather than poor planning however I feel for the new Head Coach as in many ways he has been handed a poisoned chalice as well as a massive opportunity.

Marinus Dijkhuizen has certainly got massive support off the field in terms of his coaching and specialist staff and he has indubitably been provided with all the potential tools with which to do the job, in terms of the number and quality of new players who have arrived. However his planning must have been hindered firstly by the unprecedented number of injuries, secondly by the Griffin Park and Jersey Road pitch fiascos and now by players being sold around him, admittedly for all the good reasons previously provided, at a time well after he had presumably completed his preseason preparations with his original squad and had already made decisions upon his best team.

Assuming Gray leaves and given the current injury crisis, it is anticipated that there will be yet a further influx of new players, plus of course Maxime Colin, into the squad over the next couple of weeks. All well and good certainly, as we are really short of numbers at present and this will also provide evidence indeed of the club’s determination to keep strengthening but it falls on the Head Coach to integrate yet more players into his squad – no easy task once the season has already started and the games come thick and fast.

The supporters are slowly warming to Dijkhuizen and appreciate his tactical flexibility, phlegmatic approach in accepting how things are and his bravery in terms of switching players and formation when things are not initially working out on the field. He will need patience and an understanding of the task and obstacles that he is currently facing but the omens are good for him and I feel that he has made an excellent start in what is a challenging new job.

We have to trust in the strategy employed by the club as it is the only sensible one given our financial constraints and it is surely the one that will continue to allow us to punch well above our weight and outperform clubs who are far richer but perhaps not as smart, brave or well informed as we are.

Given less radical changes since the end of last season and a bit more stability I would have been confident that we could have kicked on from even last season’s incredible fifth place achievement. Now I think we will need to retrench, regroup and allow our new group of players and coaches to bed in and settle down. We hoped for promotion, and still do, but now I think, despite what must obviously be a far higher playing budget than last season, that we will probably have to settle for consolidation.

It is still far too early to say whether we will be successful this season, or if we have perhaps bitten off more than we can chew. We have certainly been singleminded and relentless in pursuit of our goal but I would question whether we have attempted to do too much to soon and if evolution rather than revolution might have paid greater dividends. Matthew Benham is certainly a risk taker but he is only a taker of considered and educated gambles and we must believe in him and his team, accept a few growing pains and the vicissitudes of ill fortune and hope that the season turns out well.

Good communication is also essential. It really helps to reassure us when we are kept in the loop by the club. We were recently given helpful updates regarding the pitch repair and also the current injury situation which helped inform us and set minds at rest. I understand that a Fans’ Forum is planned for the near future. I appreciate that Matthew Benham is never one to seek the limelight and make public utterances but in this case, given the circumstances, his presence would be massively reassuring as it would be extremely helpful to hear things straight from the horse’s mouth.

One Week In – 18/8/15

Mark Croxford is a long-term and well-respected Brentford supporter and author who is an astute observer of the Brentford scene and he has produced a fascinating overview and his own personal viewpoint regarding our start to the season which was published yesterday on the Griffin Park Grapevine fans’ message board and Mark has kindly agreed to allow me to reproduce his article here as it deserves the widest readership possible:

One week in …
… and it’s far too early to make assessments, but here goes!

Our new Head Coach has shown naivety and bravery in equal measures over the course of the three games. I can’t say that’s entirely unexpected but Marinus’s success or failure will no doubt be somewhat based on how well he balances these two traits.

I wrote some weeks back that I felt that the Sporting Directors had not lived up to their summer promises and I still subscribe to that view, as so much emphasis was based on having a big squad allowing Dijkhuizen to be able to rotate … “we want so much more choice than last season, etc, etc.”

I know that injuries have hampered their efforts but – even allowing for the long-term losses of Bjelland, Jota and McEachran, we are still left with a squad of just nineteen (and that’s assuming Andre Gray stays). We have to assume that this season’s planning took place with the names of Hogan and Macleod on a separate piece of paper.

Ron Noades said little that I concurred with but I do recall one of his comments being that one should always assume that between ten to fifteen percent of the playing squad will be unavailable through injury at any one time. So that’s about par for the course then – the huge drawback being that this batch are predominantly long-term absentees. By the way, that figure of nineteen also includes the likes of Tebar, Yennaris and Saunders who we may not have expected to see play for us too often.

So how great an impact will all the injuries have on us? I reckon Bjelland is a massive loss. His brief forty minute display against Oxford was uninspiring to say the least, but he was clearly brought in to be the mainstay of a back four which was hoped and intended to be far less porous than last season. Can O’Connell and Barbet fill his boots? Who knows, but over the course of a whole season the prospect of one of these two talented but inexperienced youngsters playing such a key role is a big, big gamble. I don’t for one moment believe that anyone really expected Dean and Tarkowski to form our central defensive partnership for the start of the season and I’d be amazed, and frankly disappointed, if they are there for the duration.

Jota’s loss for up to four months is also a major blow. Aside from the entertainment value he provides, the goals he contributes are priceless. Personally, I don’t think his assists are anywhere near good enough – he has so much possession in dangerous areas but delivers such a small percentage of assists – but just look at last season’s goal-scoring credits. We scored seventy-eight goals in the Championship. Take away the thirty-seven goals netted by Jota, Pritchard, Douglas, Dallas and almost half have disappeared. If Gray’s sixteen were to go too, I reckon that’s practically three quarters of last season’s goals that need to be found from elsewhere!! I’m not saying it’s impossible to achieve, but what a monumental ask!

McEachran’s absence is a frustrating one. Maybe he was meant to be the holding midfielder and yet from the very, very limited view that we’ve had of him in preseason, he doesn’t look to be someone to provide the defensive shield that the back-four is crying out for. We’ve seen already that Toumani probably doesn’t play that role either and the failure to have acquired a player like Mokotjo might prove to be the biggest mistake of all.

What of the other newcomers who have so far remained fit and healthy? Gogia is a more exciting wing-man than Dallas but far less effective in providing a left-sided attacking/defensive partnership with Bidwell. That might change as he gets used to English football but will he be able to contribute the goals and assists that Dallas did? Hopefully so.

Kerschbaumer has got potential without doubt. So far he’s shown himself to be a willing worker and hard-runner but, and as is only to be expected in his early days, he alternates between impressive and invisible and does not influence the game in the way that Douglas was able to do. Maybe the loss of Douglas was inevitable and welcome off the field, but on the pitch his replacement is not obvious at the moment.

Yoann Barbet looks promising but it has to be remembered that this time last year, he’d never kicked a ball in anger in a first-team professional game so patience will be a necessary virtue in his development. 

Jack O’Connell looks the real deal – and it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that he’ll turn out to be the unexpected star of the season. He certainly played well on Saturday when he replaced Tarkowski – another addition to the injury list!

And so to the front men. The Andre Gray scenario changes so rapidly that by the time I’ve finished typing this, he might have gone elsewhere! If he does, I genuinely fear for the season ahead. It has taken him a year to develop into the player he is and ready-made replacements within budget may not exist.

Philipp Hofmann will score goals I believe, but maybe not as many as the tally that Gray notched last season. Lasse Vibe may score goals too, but he looks to be someone who firstly needs a bit more time to become accustomed to the pace and strength of Championship football and then needs to find a suitable role for himself within the team framework.

Going back to where I started and the activities of the Sporting Directors and the recruitment team, I can’t see much likelihood of a late influx of players to boost the ailing numbers, so perhaps this really will be a genuine season of transition and stability with the January window proving to be the busiest we’ve seen since the Andy Scott days.

I reckon the shopping list so far reads: a replacement for Bjelland (on and off the field), a strong and effective defensive midfielder (six steps up from Alan McCormack) and a true “number ten”  or playmaker as have we got anyone within the squad who can currently play that role effectively?

A couple of loans wouldn’t go amiss either – a wide player to cover for Jota’s absence and a left-sided player to compete with the only two currently at the club (Bidwell and Gogia).

And as for Andre Gray? Who knows what will happen and if so, when? But don’t forget all those goals that need to be made up! I’m not thinking about that any more – it’s too frightening.

Thanks, Mark for taking the time to provide so cogent and well thought through an article. He makes many good points in particular about the missing goals that we will have to replace from midfield as well as the potential implications of losing Andre Gray and as always he has carefully researched his facts before he makes his opinions known.

Personally I think that the jury is still out and that it is far too early to make any judgements about how this season will progress.

The Head Coach appears to favour a 4-3-3 formation and ideally to play Gray and Hofmann together. Will the extra goals that such an exciting attacking partnership provides, rather than last season’s lone striker policy, make up for the lack of defensive cover from midfield that was exposed as such a major weakness at Bristol City last Saturday? I have my doubts on the limited evidence to date.

The relentless procession of injuries has come as an unwelcome and unexpected blow, they have already hit us hard and their impact could well be long-term and far reaching. I remain hopeful that swift action will be taken in the transfer market to help redress the problems that Mark has so clearly outlined, but it remains to be seen, and perhaps this season will be far tougher than a lot of supporters have envisaged and in that case consolidation in the Championship should be regarded as acceptable progress in its own right and a triumphant progress to the giddy heights of the Premier League might have to wait for another year or so?

What does everybody else think? Please make your opinions known.