More of this please, Brentford 

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. 

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Now then, Now then, Brentford 

 One of the “advantages” of living so far away from  Brentford is that the same away games each season form the majority of the games I see. This does allow at least for me to make comparisons between them from season to season and therefore to see how we have progressed (eg against Sheffield United from here to here). Or not. There was a big difference between the 1-1 draw against Leeds at Elland Road we managed in League 1 under Andy Scott and the 1-0 victory last season in the Championship. In the former, we were still a small club, just back up from League 2 and pleased to be able to come away with a point from such a big name club on its way back to promotion to nearer its more natural home and a promised land which had evaded us for all but one season in over 50. In the latter, just before the revelations of the imminent parting between the club and its most successful post-war manager, we had, for once, genuine cause to believe that we could not only match such illustrious clubs but be on a trajectory to pass them.

Since then, there has been a great deal of upheaval with not just Mark Warburton and the management team departing but also many players. Only four of the Brentford players who appeared in that game a mere 7 months ago are still at the club. And, while Leeds continue to live in the past, particularly with their risible “Champions of Europe” chant, and indeed in Brentford’s past with the appointment of Uwe Rosler and the acquisition of Stuart Dallas, they have progressed too. So, this afternoon was an interesting first look for me not only at the new Brentford in its early stages but also a chance to reflect on the old.

  – Lasse Vibe making a charge but who’s there to pass to?

In terms of the past, Rosler set Leeds out in his typically cautious fashion. This was reasssuring as one of the many things it seems Brentford has needed to do this season is to tighten up defensively – too many goals were conceded weakly last season in the entertainingly cavalier set up under Warburton which relied on continually pressing forward but this season, with the absence of the unseen work of Douglas, from reports it has sounded like we’ve been too weak in midfield to provide the cover to the back four that solving that problem demands. So it was unsurprising to see a very defensive midfield trio of McCormack, Diagouraga and Kerschbaumer and it was also pleasing in the first half to see this negate the prospects of any real threat from Leeds. 

Another worry has been the loss of the scorers of about 70% of last season’s league goals. While that is pretty much the proportion of the goalscorers from our League 1 promotion season who moved on before the beginning of last season so that we at least have a precedent for our ability to absorb such a turnover, until the newcomers have showed they can score with similar regularity, it will remain a concern. Our front three in the new 433 formation which replaced the 451 possibly adopted due to the necessity of living with only a single effective striker last season, lined up as Judge, Djuricin and Vibe. Djuricin was making his debut on season long loan from Red Bull Salzburg and was particularly interesting to see because it seems that his was one of the transfers which the club wanted to make last January but which were rejected by Warburton. If he turns out to be a donkey, the plethora of voices on facebook castigating owner, Matthew Benham, for not abandoning his own strategy for the club and giving Warburton his head, will have a big glass of “told you so”.

Thankfully, Djuricin looked to me like precisely the sort of traditional, strong, striker with an instinct for goal that we possibly haven’t had since the days of Bobby Taylor. It was he who scored Brentford’s goal and could have had at least another couple. His final act before being substituted in the second half was to hit the post with a neatly directed shot. If he carries on as he did today, I think he could be an excellent signing. Vibe, the Danish international, also impressed with tireless running down the wings and it was clear from the post-match interview with Uwe Rosler and the many Leeds fans’ messages into BBC Radio Leeds that Leeds could not cope with either him or Judge.

Unfortunately, I was much less impressed by Hofmann who came on for Djuricin. Indeed, I have to say that to me he had rather too much of Nick Proschwitz about his performance today at least until he did what strikers should do, and so rarely seem to for us, and ghosted ahead of the pack at a corner and hit a chance tantalisingly wide. But the rest of the time, he was the missing striker in the photo above, undoing the work of Vibe and Judge in unflattering contrast to Djuricin. I was unsurprised when he was himself substituted, although it was evidently for an injury as he appeared to have his arm in a sling. That did, however, give the opportunity to see the 18 year old Liverpool loanee Sergi Canos who looked very lively and an exciting prospect. But, unfortunately, as a winger, he was probably not what we needed in the final moments having conceded an equaliser.

The equaliser had come, almost inevitably, from Dallas capitalising on a slip in midfield as we sought to play the ball out from the back and the ball then being played to Antenucci who had come on in the second half in an uncharacteristically attacking move for Rosler (much of the post match radio comment from Leeds fans focused on the disappointment of them playing 451 with the lumbering Wood up front on his own against our decent centre backs).

More disappointingly, the error which led to this was of another of our new signings, Ryan Woods, described by fans of his former club, Shewsbury, as the ginger Pirlo. He had come on a few minutes earlier for his debut replacing McCormack in defensive midfield, with McCormack moving to right back as Odubajo’s replacement, Maxime Colin, went off. I thought Colin had a good game and looks more of a natural defender than Moses. The back four do now seem to have the makings of a solid and settled unit.

Woods’ first touch was a Pritchard-esque backheel flick over his shoulder and there were plenty of signs of his wanting to be at the centre of things and pinging passes round the ground. Unfortunately, he still on this showing has a little way to go to adjust to the pace and intensity of Championship football and to develop the understandings with his team mates to allow him to do what he seems capable of. I hope that my fellow fans will give him the opportunity to do so rather than turn into boo boys for the loss of two further points we deserved to have won.

Next stop, Middlesbrough, and with it, the biggest test of how and whether we have progressed since last season. If we can compete at all at the Riverside on Tuesday, it might just start to help those who hanker for the world which disappeared just after we last played Leeds to see why the changes have happened. It’ll take longer and a lot more points for them to like it, but it’ll be a(nother) start.

A final word about Uwe Rosler. I was not one of the fans who got particularly upset when he left us midway through our last season in League 1 for the bright lights of Wigan. Yes we have some big new ambitions and most of us (and most importantly, our owner) believe in them and will be doing what they can to achieve them, but going to a club that had only just come down from the Premier League and was the reigning holder of the FA Cup was a good move. I can’t blame him for it and was even prepared to put the underhand way in which Forshaw was lured there down more to the unpleasant owners of the club than Rosler himself.

However, after his fist pumps and celebrations directed at the Brentford fans when Leeds equalised, frankly I’m out of reasonableness. He’d have been within his rights to celebrate with the 25,000 Leeds fans who had, to their credit, not got on his or his team’s back despite them trailing to us. But goading us? That puts him only a couple of rungs up from Martin Rowlands’ badge kissing. Sorry.

Bunch of Cnuts

After the euphoria of doing the double over Leeds United at the weekend this morning’s report in the Times that Brentford’s manager, Mark Warburton will be “sacked” at the end of the season regardless of whether he has led the club to an unbelievable promotion to the Premier League seemed very much like a return to the bad old days of “It’s Brentford innit?”. The initial report was troubling enough, particularly for fans who had already seen rumours from Spanish twitter accounts in the past week or so about contacts with Rayo Vallecano’s manager which meant that the report wasn’t entirely out of the blue. However, the club’s subsequent classic “non denial denial” statement has, inevitably escalated things further. The initial report, and statement are linked to in this report by the Guardian.

When it comes to the big decisions, football fans’ ability to change things are not far short of those of King Cnut who reportedly demonstrated the limit of his powers by showing that he couldn’t order the tide not to rise. At matches we can “be the twelfth man” in raising the spirits of the team by our support, but even that might at times also have the effect of spurring on opponents to raise their game. We can protest at the rapaciousness of owners like David Webb and Ron Noades, but they tend to leave pretty much on their own terms. Very occasionally, like in the famous protests against Brentford being taken over by QPR in 1967, they work (or I suppose where there is a broader campaign beyond the fans of one club, such as with Ched Evans). But, the reality is that we can’t any more will that Warburton be kept on than we could suck Marcello Trotta’s penalty into the Ealing Road goal if the club’s considered position is to make a change or if his considered position is that there are other opportunities he’d like to take up. As he’s on a 12 month rolling contract it was always a risk that he might leave or be replaced.

I hope that the report is a storm in a teacup and that the club’s statement is merely a reflection of reality – that conversations always go on between clubs and managers without there being anything malign about that, that as a small world or “village” there will always be gossip and speculation and that there is no intention that Warburton will do anything other than continue to lead the team towards promotion. For fans like me who are amazed by where he has taken us and where he may take us, the idea of him no longer being part of that journey is worrying. But in large part that is because of uncertainty and because it would feel unfair if he weren’t rewarded for his efforts by being guaranteed in post. However, our success and development over the past few years is not down just to Warburton but has been part of a broader and clearly well thought out strategy and plan from Brentford’s owner, Matthew Benham. There are few if any major decisions made in that time which weren’t done with great thought and care for the club’s interests so I don’t think it is very productive to try and second guess things on this matter or to get too worked up over something which we can’t particularly influence.

The years of bitter experience of disappointment as a Bees fan mean that this might lead to Benham dissipating the good will and good work so far by making a bad decision on Warburton, but he has earned the right to be given the benefit of the doubt by fans as to his intentions and plans. Furthermore, while we get the standard “three claps and a thumbs up” from MW at matches, he and Benham have been colleagues and friends for a lot longer. We certainly can’t get into determining the course of that relationship. Perhaps a positive precedent we can look to is the way in which the club handled the departure of Adam Forshaw. Forshaw, as we sometimes forget now due to the stellar performances of the club this season, was the outstanding talent in the team last season and League 1 player of the season. As soon as it became apparent that he was seriously considering Wigan’s bid, even while the level of the initial bids was well below that which the club thought right, he was sequestered from the first team squad so as not to be in a position to destabilise the preparation for the season. The mere possibility of Warburton leaving the club would be even more of a shock and if there were any real plan to this end, it would be odd if he were to be treated any differently.

While my argument for not fighting too much over the report might seem a bit of a counsel of despair – if not now, when should we criticise, if we took this view we’d just have rolled over and let Noades take the club to Woking etc – it isn’t. The crucial difference is that we have no reason at the moment to doubt the bona fides of the club’s ownership and management. If that were to change, it would be a much bigger issue than that just of retaining Warburton as manager.

All we can really do is look forward to tonight’s home game against Watford. Another “six pointer” and a chance to make up for the narrow defeat at Vicarage Road. I expect there will be a lot of chanting in support of the team and manager tonight and that is the very best thing we can do to keep ourselves on the path towards the unimaginably bright future. Losing sight of that to peer too deeply into the all too imaginable abyss of undoing everything that has been achieved by the club would mean we’d defeated ourselves as fans.