Well, it has been a strange season, but how great to end with seven wins from the last nine games culminating in this 5-1 drubbing of Huddersfield away! That’s the sort of form Leicester ended last season with so perhaps I can dream about where Brentford might go next season…
After the excitement last season of making the Championship play offs while under the cloud of rumours and debates about the departure of Mark Warburton, the manager who’d taken us from League 1 to our highest finish in over 60 years, this season has been often tortuous. From the appointment of Marinus Dijkhuisen, through the sales of such star players as Gray (now Championship player of the year with Burnley, promoted back to the Premier League), Odubajo, Dallas (Leeds’ player of the year), Diagouraga (who’s actually scored goals since leaving!), and Tarkowski, an injury list too long to recount but which led to the team naming 2 sub goalies away at Middlesbrough just to fill the bench, a dangerously relaid pitch which ruled our most expensive signing, Bjelland out for the season, Lee Carsley rescuing the team on the pitch but stating he wanted his tenure to be as temporary as possible, the appointment of Dean Smith followed by a weak FA Cup exit to his old club, Walsall, and injury to Judge. Phew, that’s a long list. As owner Matthew Benham put it, everything that could go wrong did go wrong.
Yet we are going into our third season at this level. We’ve finished a very respectable 9th- remember that but for all the stars aligning for us in Derby and Wolves failing on the last day of last season we could have finished that in 8th.
This bare summary of the match actually tells a lot of of the story of the game and why we should be optimistic for next season. The headline of course is Hogan’s two goals, taking him to an incredible 7 in 157 minutes on the pitch after 18 months out injured. But alongside this it is also heartening to see that both goals came from excellent through balls from Kerschbaumer (as did his first against Fulham last week) and that that same combination nearly got him a hattrick today. Heartening because Kerschbaumer has been perhaps the most heavily criticised of the new recruits- one fellow fan going so far as to describe him as one of the worst players he’d seen in 40 years of supporting the club.
Vibe’s return to scoring was a big part of the start of the revival in the last 9 games so it was good to see it continue after Hogan went off, his job done and to get an assist for Swift’s closing goal. Both that and Canos’ unbelievably quick opener on 21 seconds were fitting ends to their loans at the club. Getting them both back next season would be good, Canos in particular. Well I can dream.
Another noteworthy feature was the solidity of Yennaris and Woods in defensive midfield. Many saw Yennaris’ contract extension as a sign of our lack of ambition but he’s developed well and shown himself capable both in his preferred midfield and as cover at right back (only as cover- Colin is the one new player who I’ve thought consistently to be an improvement on the also excellent Odubajo). Woods has stepped up from League 2 well and the interesting thing shown by the picture above is his yellow card.
The thing we’ve lacked for much of the season has been bite in midfield. McCormack brings it and his return to the team after injury coincided with our good run, but his age means we can’t rely on him forever. While the challenge for which Woods was booked was terrible, for me it was also encouraging because it showed that despite looking slight enough to blow away in the wind he’s developing the aggression we’ve too often missed to remind the opposition that we’re not just there to play tippy tappy. Notably he didn’t shy away from challenging for the next 83 minutes and didn’t look even close to getting a second yellow. The message got through to the opposition.
Even better, Huddersfield were not especially bad so the result was not like the hammering of 42 shots against Blackpool at home. As against Fulham we actually had a clear minority of possession and passes whereas typically for the last few seasons, even in the depths of our winless losing run this winter, we’ve had more of the ball and made more passes. As with last season’s game at Huddersfield, Scannell looked their best player and caused problems down their right wing until he went off at half time, presumably injured- he’s someone I’d happily see play for us. When they equalised early in the second half I half worried that this would Peter out into a draw against a team that was less good than us, just as away against Bolton and Blackburn under Carsley. Although I didn’t have long to ponder this before that man Hogan popped up to score and the rest is history!
I suspect there will be a couple of new faces next season but nothing like the rebuilding of the squad this season. The last 9 games have shown that we have a decent squad and that Smith is beginning to make his mark in addressing the defensive Achilles heel we’ve had for a couple of years without sacrificing attacking fluency. The big test will be whether we can do enough to address our weakness against the very top sides (we took only a solitary point out of the 36 available against the top 6).
All told, a great day and a great end to a turbulent season. But an even better one for the fan with the yellow number 9 shirt who was spotted by the real number 9, that man Hogan and got his match shirt for his troubles.