Something strange has happened. Not just that Brentford is topping the League 1 table – they’ve done that numerous times in the 20 years I’ve followed the club only to contrive to miss out on promotion with dreary predictability. What is strange is that they look secure even though the transfer window is about to open. The current unbeaten run of 11 league games, 10 of which were wins, doesn’t have the precarious feel that previous good runs have had. Unlike last season or the time we reached the play-off final before in 2002, we have a great squad, not just a good first XI – instead of forlornly relying on the likes of Mark McCammon to come off the bench we have a player of the goalscoring pedigree of Farid El-Alagui to play havoc with tiring defences in the last 20 minutes of games.
Losing Uwe Rosler to Wigan – the first time a Brentford manager has been poached mid-season by a higher division team – didn’t lead to deflation but instead, if anything, more positive performances driving us to the top of the table. Although Mark Warburton, the new manager, is in his first manager’s job, his previous role as Sporting Director at the club meant that he has been able to continue the work put in over the last two seasons to transform the club and its playing ethos. The transformation between the two away games at Sheffield United showed this (here and here) but, as ever, we fell short at the end in the last two seasons.
After losing to Stevenage this season (graveyard of our ambitions two seasons ago) it looked like perhaps the forward momentum gradually built up was illusory. I had only seen our meek 4-0 defeat at Bradford by then, but even though the early and fully justified dismissal of keeper Button made things tough, an ambitious and confident side would not have collapsed so spectacularly. Yet, 11 games later, there we are, top of the league. In that run I’ve seen the home games against Peterborough and Swindon. Both very strong teams capable of punishing anyone on their day. In another season, going from 1-0 up to 2-1 down in the space of a couple of minutes in the middle of the second half, as we did against Peterborough, would have marked the end of the contest. Instead, we scored twice in the last 10 minutes to win. Against Swindon, twice we fell behind and again, won 3-2. Both games ultimately seemed more comfortable wins than the scorelines suggested.
In terms of points per game in 2013, all bar one of the clubs who got more than Brentford through the calendar year were ones at the top of the Premier League. The other was Orient, who have themselves had an amazing year. That level of consistency is what, I think is the strangest thing to witness as a Brentford fan. I and many other lower division fans often half-jest that we get more from seeing a gritty 0-0 than many of the top club fans get from seeing their club win. I’m beginning to realise that that is because we’re not used to winning as a regular and expected outcome.
It is usual for clubs at all levels to go through a bad patch of results. The real test in 2014 for Brentford will be in how it deals with such a bad patch if it comes. Around the turn of the year in 01-02 we had five straight defeats which ultimately denied us automatic promotion. Even though we came back from them so as to still be in contention at the end of the season, they were hard to take. Peterborough are going through a similarly dark period of form. Hopefully they won’t recover from that during tomorrow’s game to end our run. Perhaps we have, like Yeovil last season who had 5 defeats in a row early on and ultimately vanquished us in the play-off final, already had our bad spell. But, at the moment, the performances on the pitch, the feeling that there is still more that could be eked out from the players and the general optimism around club and fans suggests that there is no good reason why we can’t have a second half to the season which matches the first.
We can save agonising over the play-offs to next season and an assault on the Premier League! Wouldn’t it be nice to see Griffin Park off with a season in the top division before we move to the new ground at Lionel Road?