Huddersfield 2 v Brentford 1 – 6 August 2016

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!

You’re not from New York City you’re from Rotherham

21 years after Brentford’s sole season in the second tier of English football since the 1950s, our first month in the Championship has ended. Adjusting to the change has been a big job for everyone – I still instinctively look to the League 1 results on my phone’s football results app before remembering that we’re not there any more. The days of wandering up to the turnstiles two minutes before kick off other than for glamorous cup ties or make or break end of season games seem to be receding into the past as club membership is needed to get tickets even for relatively humdrum fixtures like our first away game this season at Bournemouth. And of course, the players and management have had to adjust to the demands of a higher division.

My personal impression, having seen us fall a couple of times to League 2 and bounce back relatively quickly is that the difference between Leagues 1 and 2 is not huge. This can be seen in the regularity with which clubs manage to secure promotion in successive seasons from League 2 through to the Championship without dramatically altering their playing style or personnel. Rotherham, our most recent opponents and fellow promoted club last season are a case in point. Both clubs have also made big squad changes since promotion.

Bournemouth, who are starting their second season in the Championship, showed us a couple of weeks ago the quality and consistency needed to do well. I was fortunate to get a ticket due to the Brentford ticket office still having the care for fans that it did in the quieter old days of lower division football – my wife bought me membership for my birthday and the club sold her a ticket for the match even though the tickets were still not on sale to those without substantial numbers of loyalty points. We looked reasonably good at the Goldsands Stadium without looking particularly likely to score. Pritchard, on loan from Spurs, looked very skillful but needed to learn not to play like 7 year old OMB and his friends, attempting a stepover or a Cruyff turn every time he got the ball, but to save the skills for impact – the more measured and experienced head of Smith, doing simple, direct things consistently well was a good change. Nevertheless, a narrow 1-0 defeat didn’t feel like a loss for some reason.

After that, we picked up our first win of the season away at Blackpool (which I missed because we were in Edinburgh for Mrs B’s 40th) and fought back from an early goal down and man down to rescue a draw at home against Birmingham City. That was followed by a narrow 1-0 defeat against another old enemy, Fulham in the Capital One Cup. Altogether, a reasonable start but no more or less.

So, on to the fairly local (for me) game away at Rotherham. Rotherham had beaten us well both home and away last season so I didn’t have particularly high hopes, even if OMB did predict 2-0 before the match.

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– OMB in pensive mood on the way into the ground

Oh me of little faith. OMB’s prediction came true and we won 2-0! The neat, patient passing game which Brentford has built up over the past 3 seasons looked a bit toothless against Bournemouth but came good at Rotherham, who themselves were better than most Brentford fans commenting online have given credit for. They hit the bar twice and were threatening on the attack during the first half as well as drawing some excellent saves from Button in the second half in moves which I was sure they were going to score from. However, whereas Bournemouth played in a similar style to us, but with the nous of a season’s experience to iron out inconsistencies, Rotherham were ultimately unable to deal with Brentford’s midfield and their more direct style played to Harlee Dean’s strength in the air in central defence. Douglas mopped up in front of the defence and linked well with the more attacking midfielders. Dallas has started to deliver on the promise he showed when he was brought to the club. New star signing from Spain, Jota, stood out by being clean shaven and Ginola-tressed. And by being very mobile so that Gray was less isolated up front. From that assured performance I think Jota has the chance of being a very special player for us as he gets more used to the pace and physicality of the English game.

Just as half time was approaching I was discussing with OMB how bad it would be to concede a goal then when a flowing counter-attacking move was finished off with a spectacular strike by Gray leaving the Rotherham keeper with no chance. I normally like the “It’s all your fault” song against opposition keepers but felt it unfair in this case!

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– great views, plenty of legroom, good acoustics, the New York Stadium is a good example of how a modern stadium for a smaller club should be

The second half, with Brentford attacking the goal in front of its supporters, there were a few chances to extend the lead in between dangerous Rotherham attacks which somehow were repelled by heroics from Button. Pritchard was the culprit in one move where he had two or three Bees in the box unmarked and waiting for a square ball when he opted to shoot from an angle and blasted it over. When we play with one up front and can find our midfield pinned back to stop it from supporting Gray it is perhaps unsurprising that Pritchard wasn’t expecting such an abundance of support! Rotherham then conceded that we’d taken their main attackers out of the game and made a couple of substitutions. We brought on Scott Hogan, a new striker from Rochdale who had just recovered from injury in a positive move to play with two strikers but, before he’d had a couple of touches of the ball he fell when unchallenged and immediately signalled to go off, clearly in some pain and anguish. He had a lengthy spell of treatment on the pitch and was stretchered off and I expect it will be quite some time before he returns.

Unfortunately, his injury was greeted by jeers from the home crowd about time-wasting and of being a soft southerner (charitably I assume they didn’t realise he was born in Salford and had played his entire career up to this season at clubs north of Rotherham!). More unfortunate still, this was taken by a significant proportion of the Bees fans as the cue they’d been waiting for to unleash a chant of “Town full of paedos” and “Jimmy Savile is coming for you”. After the horror of the report earlier in the week about the huge child abuse scandal in Rotherham I’d hoped that Bees fans would be dignified enough not to take the easy option and resort to this.

Finally the game restarted and Brentford brought on Proschwitz and Toral to rejig things. Proschwitz, a free transfer from Hull who had cost them £2.5m, looked a bit lumbering and cobwebby when I saw him against Bournemoth but seemed to have improved his fitness in the subsequent fortnight. I’m still not sure whether he is “the answer” to our needs in attack but he held up play reasonably well and was positionally sound. Toral, the third of our Spanish contingent (Tebar stayed on the bench) is on loan from Arsenal and looked lively. Fittingly, the two of them combined for our second goal in the 8 minutes of time added on for Hogan’s injury. I’d need to watch the replay but unlike the fan reports I’ve read online I don’t think Pritchard can be credited with the pass that found Toral at the edge of the box to turn and lay on the easiest of tap ins for Proschwitz. My recollection is that Pritchard was neatly, professionally and annoyingly running down the clock in the corner in front of me while being shepherded by two Rotherham defenders, one of whom managed to get the ball and then passed it behind him in the expectation of there being another defender to clear the ball upfield. Unfortunately for him, Toral was better placed and took full advantage of the gift. But, either way, I’m more than happy that we got the goal!

A sign of how good the game was, as well as his increasing maturity, is that it was the first game where OMB managed to concentrate through the whole thing. I had brought the iPad for him to play on if he had had enough of the football but we were told that he couldn’t use it inside the ground. I can’t think of any good reason for this other than that Manchester United have just banned the use of tablet computers. While the stewarding was perfectly friendly, I also thought it a bit over-officious that after having been searched on the way in, a steward steamed over to tell me I couldn’t drink a can of diet Coke in the ground and escorted me to a kiosk to get a plastic cup. In the sad context of Rotherham’s week it seemed a peculiarly modern irony that minor infractions of mildly arbitrary rules are enforced so zealously.

There is now a two week break for international games before the next league fixture (another novelty!) and this will give a chance for some of the little knocks picked up in a busy August to be healed. We actually have a similar record to the same stage last season in League 1 (although to be fair we did start last season somewhat disappointingly after missing out on promotion). It would be good to get a home win soon but I suspect that our style of play suits counter-attacking away from home better than going out to dominate at home, at least until the team has properly settled into its stride at this level. The first month of the campaign has been encouraging because there is still clearly more to come from the team, particularly from Jota as he acclimatises to English football and from Gray as he continues to make the big leap from playing the Conference last season. Excellent player though Adam Forshaw is, if his irritating transfer to Wigan goes through today it won’t have weakened the side which has done so well so far. If it doesn’t, it is not clear who he would displace in fighting back into the first team. If at the end of last season you’d said to any Bees fan that Forshaw would have a struggle to get in our team this season they’d have looked at you as if you were insane. And that is a measure of how far we have come and hopefully, of where we can go.

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– we did, we did!

3,2,1,0 – Northern Disappointments

Once again we are reaching the final stages of a season and once again, Brentford entered them in positive form. Two seasons ago we were just outside the play-offs but with some winnable games ahead, which, alas, we failed to win. Last season, well, probably best not to go there again after the drama of the final seconds of the final match of the season and the seemingly inevitable play-off final defeat. Just over a week ago we were lying in second place within striking distance of Wolves and with a 3 point cushion above Orient with the rest of the pack seemingly too far back for the race to automatic promotion to be anything other than a contest between us and those two other teams. Then came a string of three northern away games in 8 days, first at Rotherham, followed by Oldham and Sheffield United.

Now, after those 3 games, we have had 2 draws, one defeat and have scored no goals. The defeat at Rotherham continued the Millers’ great run which has brought them to within a point of Orient while at the same time, Preston have also caught up so that Brentford finished the sequence looking over its shoulders not just at a fading Orient but also at a pair of teams charging up the table and with the confidence to challenge for automatic promotion. Wolves have put 6 points of clear space between first and second and although the gap between Brentford and the chasing pack has grown to 5 points, somehow a chasing group of three seems more threatening than when we only had to worry about Orient.

Rotherham 3 Brentford 0

The less said about this game the better. Fortunately, due to traffic caused by the Manchester derby which meant that Mrs B couldn’t get back from working in Manchester in time to let me go to Rotherham, I missed the game. I was a little disappointed as I’d have liked to have gone to the New York Stadium, if only to tick it off the list and to have the novel experience of seeing us play them away at a nice ground (their fans might have feelings of nostalgia for Millmoor, but as an away fan it was a grim experience walking into it through a scrapyard and a narrow cobbled alleyway where a Swansea fan had been trampled to death by a police horse a few seasons before and the less said about the experience of games at the Don Valley Arena the better). Just a bad day at the office for the Bees and a good game not to have made.

Oldham 0 Brentford 0

Boundary Park is normally a chilly and dreary place to visit. Uncharacteristically, this game was played in mild and watery but still warming sunshine. I had to watch half of it in sunglasses! I was surprised to find that one stand had been demolished and was in the early stages of being rebuilt. I was also pleased to find that Oldham had ditched its policy from the last time I visited of categorising the away stand as being the best in the ground and charging a then extortionate £25 a ticket (even if it did mean I got to saw a rare Paul Brooker goal). Perhaps it is too cynical to say the reason for this was that due to the rebuilding works involving relocating home fans in half of the stand the club realised it couldn’t get away with charging that much.

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The game itself was fairly nondescript. Tarkowski played well in front of his former club. Dallas, who’s gradually developing into a decent player, but still not quite at the level needed for regular starts, was denied a clear chance on goal late on by an excellent reflex save from Rachubka. Otherwise, the team played neatly and comfortably in its now familiar methodical passing and probing style without looking particularly threatening, especially during the first hour before Grigg was replaced by Trotta. It isn’t that Grigg does anything particularly wrong, he just doesn’t really look like he’s going to score. As the team is set up to try and pass the ball into the goal, it needs a centre-forward with skill and guile to be at the end of each move or to be pulling defenders out of position to allow the midfielders and wide players to deliver the coup de grace. Trotta just fits that bill much better. We’d need to be set up very differently to play to Grigg’s strengths. McCormack was restored to central midfield but seemed a little out of sorts and he and Douglas, rather than commanding the centre of the pitch, seemed to get in each others ways a little. Diagouraga came on later in the game and McCormack looked more comfortable going back to right back in place of Yennaris (who had looked good and up to the pace of the game despite his youth and inexperience). Diagouraga showed his customary energy and drive, but also looked a level below the skill of the rest of the team in terms of his ability to make telling short touches of the ball, although his longer passes seem to have benefited from his time on loan at Portsmouth.

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OMB enjoyed the game although as you can see from the photo, by the end he had taken to drawing monsters to entertain himself rather than holding out hope that his pre-match prediction of a 4-2 win would come to fruition. Probably the real highlight of the game was the constant and generally amusing banter between the home fans to our right and a vocal Bees contingent. A ten minute vocal battle between competing chants of Lee Johnson/Warburton’s Barmy Army, accompanied by the Oldham fans’ drummer which turned into a krautrock style drone with the voices seeming to feedback on each other was the standout here. The result was fair, particularly considering that Oldham had managed to draw away at Orient while we were being beaten by Rotherham, but at this stage in the season, after so many disappointments most Bees just want wins.

Sheffield United 0 Brentford 0

 

The games away against Sheffield United over the last three seasons have been for me, something of an indicator of our general level and the extent to which we have progressed. I admit that in part that is because it is one of my local games and the only fixture that I have been able to compare three seasons in a row! Two seasons ago, in the very early days of Uwe Rosler’s time at the club, we were comfortably beaten and while there were signs for optimism it was clear we weren’t quite good enough to challenge seriously for promotion. Last season, we witnessed the tremendous Battle of Bramall Lane, where the heroic draw we managed ended up feeling like a Pyrrhic victory as it deprived us of Donaldson for a game and drained the team of energy just when it was most needed. Could we go one better this time round? In a word, no.

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It was always going to be a tough game. After their abysmal start to the season where they managed to have an even worse play-off hangover than we did, Sheffield United have had a great second half including a forthcoming FA Cup semi-final. Perhaps we’d have had a better chance had the game been played when first scheduled, earlier in that cup run and with the team in relegation danger. In the end the game was between two very evenly matched teams, both playing incisive passing football and defending strongly, with Sheffield United being content to rely on counter-attacking much of the time. In those circumstances it was unsurprising that the teams cancelled each other out. The two outstanding moments were excellent pieces of play by defenders. One, a perfect interception by Tarkowski off the toes of a United striker on the edge of the six yard box with an open goal in front of him. The other, far more contentiously, a tackle by Freeman to dispossess Trotta when clear through the middle and bearing down on goal.

After the incredible refereeing antics of last season’s fixture, this latter tackle provided an opportunity for more referee madness. As Trotta went over, the referee immediately pointed to the penalty spot and brandished a red card. Not unexpectedly, being right in front of the home end, this was received with howls of anguish from the Blades fans. However, while I was just praying that Forshaw would claim the penalty, the game seemed to have stopped for far too long. After what seemed like an eternity, the referee was persuaded by his assistant that Freeman had in fact got the ball, so he reversed his decision and awarded a drop ball instead. It looked a clear penalty from the away end and the referee was looking at the incident from a similar angle, but the radio commentators and also Brentford Manager, Mark Warburton agreed that from a better angle it was clearly a great tackle. Ultimately the right decision was made, but after the unfairnesses of the previous game at Bramall Lane I can’t have been the only Bee to have thought we could have done with luck levelling itself out for us just this once!

There were a number of chances for the Bees to have won the game in the second half, but somehow each shot seemed tamer than the last. It was good to see Craig back in central defence and to see Tarkowski continuing to excel. Dallas was a good replacement for Judge, even if he ought to have done better with a chance he dragged across the goal. Diagouraga again provided energy while looking not quite good enough for the team we now have. That’s despite him clearly working hard and having improved as a player. It’s just that the team has progressed from being one where he was one of the better players to one where he no longer is likely to be.

Again, 0-0 was a fair result. After a meagre 2 points from three games the gap for the chasing pack to make up is bigger than it was and it would not take stellar results in our remaining 7 games to prevent them from being able to make up the five or six points they need. But, 20 years of watching Brentford contrive to fail to get promoted from League 1 means it is hard not to be pessimistic. I fear that anything short of six points from the two upcoming home games against Notts County and Crawley will have the fans fearful, even if that is unfair on what is probably our best team in 20 years.