It seems almost no time ago at all that I was writing after Brentford’s final game of the 15-16 season about our 5-1 win at Huddersfield. The warm August sunshine seemed little different to that in May. But, there had been big changes in the Huddersfield team which had seen a dozen new players join the squad as well as the optimism of 15,000 season ticket holders attracted by the giveaway price of £179. After the upheaval that Brentford had in the previous close season it was something of a relief that this summer has been so quiet but also a disappointment that there was no big new signing to run the rule over.
The photo above shows much of my view for the first half. I usually like to join in the singing and chanting at football, but I also like to be able to see the game and not have to stand up just to do so. So I must admit to being irritated by my neighbour’s insistence on baiting his fellow Bees and exhorting them to sing to the exclusion of all else.
While we haven’t had any big new signings, the team was very different from that which had destroyed Huddersfield only 3 months previously. Canos and Swift had not been tempted to return – Canos eventually going for too much money for a 19 year old to Norwich and Swift, probably sensibly, deciding that Brentford fans didn’t like him much, going to Reading (and scoring the winning goal in his league debut for them). In defence we had Elder, on loan from Leicester for the season at Left Back, replacing Bidwell who’d been sold to QPR. Egan, from Gillingham, started as Centre Back alongside Dean who was wearing the captain’s armband (which for some reason was controversial among some Bees fans online) and Clarke deputising for the injured Colin at Right Back.
In midfield was a first proper chance to see McLeod, who has suffered 18 months of injury since joining from Glasgow Rangers, alongside Woods, McEachran (who like McLeod has barely played through injury most of last season), Kerschbaumer and Sawyers who had followed Dean Smith from his old club, Walsall. Hogan was the sole striker.
That which I saw of the first half had Brentford playing neatly but Huddersfield showing more intent in pressing and attacking. Encouragingly McLeod looked more robust than I’d expected and McEachran looked willing to make tackles and interceptions. Kerschbaumer was much more mobile than he’d appeared last season and seemed to have developed his all round game and positioning but was not able to find one of the through balls to Hogan which were plentiful at the tail end of last season. Indeed there was one attack where Hogan looked to return the favour by trying to square to Kerschbaumer where he might have been better advised to attempt an angled shot himself, but I think it was encouraging that they seem to like playing together. However, overall, the first half was largely as would be expected from two newly assembled teams trying to get used to playing at full pace at the beginning of the season with neither causing the other huge difficulties and both being a little less sharp than they might hope to become. Clarke looked lively and willing to attack, albeit less secure defensively – more like Odubajo than Colin, but understandably rawer than either. He was my man of the match.
The second half continued in similar vein apart from Huddersfield attacking with greater urgency. As with the game in May, manager Wagner seems to be keen on geeing up the players to focus on attacking early in the second half and just as in that game, it led to a Huddersfield goal. I think Elder and McLeod possibly could have done more to stop the cross going in and perhaps Clarke could have blocked the header on the goal line but after a reasonably solid defensive performance to that point I think it was more a case of decent attacking play than any particularly abject defending.
At that point, Smith made an immediate change in replacing Kerschbaumer and McEachran with Saunders and Yennaris. Others will disagree, as both substituted players have had their share of critics, but I don’t think they’d done badly, the change being more one to move from a careful quick passing game to one which involved more pressing and drive. This paid off only a few minutes later as the urgency of both players resulted in a good cross from McLeod which was met with a strong shot from Yennaris for the equaliser. On balance though, Huddersfield had had far more of the play and chances so this wasn’t time to try and hold out for a point with quarter of an hour to play. But it also wasn’t time to step off Huddersfield’s attackers as we did only 90 seconds later in giving Van La Parra far too much freedom to advance into the penalty area. Bentley, who had done decently well in goal so that we didn’t miss Button (who’d had a good debut for Fulham *spit* the day before in keeping a clean sheet against everyone’s favourite for the title, Newcastle), saved at close range but the rebound fell nicely to be tapped in to make it 2-1. On that showing, Bentley is on a par with Button as a shot stopper and much better at kicking out, but much less confident with the short passes or throws out to the defence which have for the last 3 years been the start of most of our play from Button.
Apart from a couple of set pieces which ultimately came to nothing, Brentford didn’t seriously threaten for a second equaliser and had they got one, it would have been a little harsh on Huddersfield who were the sharper team on the day. The quality of their recruitment could be seen by the fact that Scannell, who has been their best player against us each time I’ve seen them, although he played well when he came on as a late substitute, didn’t stand out as being noticeably better than his team-mates. It was interesting however to see McLeod taking free kicks but there being deliberate plays to create doubt whether it would be him or Saunders – this means that we are potentially less predictable from those situations. There was also a slightly odd clearly worked routine involving crowding the Huddersfield goalkeeper ahead of free kicks before running onside for the kick which didn’t work beyond provoking derision from the home fans.
Sawyers looked to have some skill but also a languid style which I suspect could get the fans on his back if not accompanied by goals and assists and wins for the Bees in the near future. As it was, being charitable I’ll say he showed some promise but hadn’t yet acclimatised to the pace and intensity of the game in the Championship compared to League 1. There’s no dishonour in that – two years ago players like Pritchard looked very raw and lightweight in losing against Bournemouth at the beginning of the season. It is important not to read too much into early season games. They are a good time to get some “free” points for clubs which have completed their summer business and pre-seasons bang on schedule but plenty of clubs will take August to click into shape.
The bigger worry was that so far we look a little pedestrian and similar to last season (the last 9 games aside). Lacking the pace and energy of either the injured Judge or a livewire like Canos means that we won’t look so exciting or be able to conjure goals up with pure inspiration (like Canos’s 21 second opener in May) and there were at least some signs that we’re more defensively organised to allow for more patience. However, even if bringing Saunders (who surely can’t still be considered a big part of the team for the whole season) and Yennaris might count as an effective Plan B, there’s clearly no more direct Plan C. Smith brought Hofmann on late but more in hope than expectation. Even though Hofmann seemed fitter and more mobile than last season, there still weren’t any players to run on past him as he needs or any other sign of how he might fit the shape of the team. If there are any more players to join the club before the end of the transfer window, I hope that they are pacy attacking midfielders/wingers. It doesn’t matter if they are raw and need to be introduced sparingly like Canos, but they need to have the pace to contrast with the rest of the team. Otherwise it might be another long hard season in what looks already to be the toughest Championship of the 3 seasons we have seen first hand.
– This is a picture of the food festival outside Huddersfield station. It looked pretty good and quite a few Bees and Huddersfield fans could be seen enjoying it before and after the match but I bet the organisers breathed a big sigh of relief when the fixtures came out that Huddersfield’s first game wasn’t Leeds at home!