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.

Living In The Past v The Future’s So Bright Gotta Wear Shades

IMG_2802At last, a nice “home” game for me to attend so the eyewatering £34 advance ticket price Leeds charged was counterbalanced by it just being a £4 day bus ticket to get to. I left OMB at home as he didn’t enjoy going to Elland Road earlier in the season. All part of the decidedly retro feel to the surroundings. Fans wearing 1970s style scarves (although depressingly modernly the vendor of the abominations that are half and half scarves had sold out of Leeds/Brentford ones). A stadium that is a symphony in rusting corrugated iron. And a long pre-match video of the golden era of Leeds United which could have been shown before every home game for the last 10 or more years, so lacking in any recent action was it.

Last time Brentford visited Elland Road was in League 1 and we nicked a draw through a goal from Ben Strevens (currently plying his trade at non league Eastleigh). That was a plucky result and the Brentford of those days was happy to have acquitted itself creditably against an obviously bigger club that was temporarily reduced to its level. The feeling this time was very different.

We started in fifth spot and Leeds were just a few points above the relegation zone, albeit having put together a 4 game unbeaten run including a win at Elland Road against top of the table Bournemouth. Back in August when I saw our first away game in the Championship at the Dean Court (OK, Goldsands if you must) I thought we were reasonably closely matched but for them just having that little bit extra quality and experience that having already had a good season in the Championship gave them. since then, both us and them have surprised by being at the top end of the table with us just those few points and places below. So, having seen how clinical Bournemouth have been in front of goal and how we somehow failed to convert so many good chances into goals against Middlesbrough I think everyone expected this to be a tough game. Leeds legend Eddie Gray had fairly summarised in the Yorkshire Evening Post that while he thought we were a good team he expected Leeds to have a good chance of winning the game (he’d also earlier in the season been very complimentary about how we beat them at Griffin Park and more generally about how our style was something Leeds ought to aim to emulate).

The first half was therefore somewhat as expected. Leeds set themselves up to press high up the pitch to prevent Button playing the sweeper keeper and starting moves off by short passes out to defenders. Pretty much every clearance had to be long and this disrupted our usual pattern of patient build up play from the back. However, the flip side of this was that we had unprecedented amounts of space through the middle. Early on Gray ran past the lumbering centre back Bamba and ought to have scored when one on one with the keeper. Jota too had a similar chance go begging after he slipped his man (or men – he was relatively ineffective in the match because Leeds doubled up on him, although this of course did open space elsewhere). Pritchard then had Gray waiting for a through ball but took at step too many and was clattered for a free kick – I suspect that had Gray buried his earlier chance Pritchard wouldn’t have hesitated and made the pass before the defender had a chance to get close enough to foul him.

Second half, Leeds’ manager Neil Redfearn must have decided that he couldn’t keep letting us run through the middle with impunity like that and so changed things so that they weren’t pressing high any more but instead were plugging those gaps. Suddenly we were back to our more favoured way of playing – patiently building out from defence. After about 10-15 minutes of the second half where we had reverted to having midfielder Bees “swarming” around the final third with a lot of short passing and movement I had the feeling that a goal was almost inevitable and also that it would knock the stuffing out of Leeds. Indeed they looked like they had almost given up even before Pritchard had an easy goal from a nice ball played across the area by the typically tireless Diagouraga. I don’t know what they’ve been feeding him but Toumani Diagouraga has blossomed into a great player who, if he could score goals would be a very strong Premier League player on his performances this season. Not quite Yaya Touré but not so very far off as it might have seemed possible even a year ago when he was packing his boots for a loan spell at League 2 Portsmouth.

Somehow though, the goal and the continued pressure didn’t turn into the glut of goals I thought would come. But, apart from repeated theatrical diving from Leeds’ Rodolph Austin which ought to have earned a booking (and perhaps a penalty on one occasion but I haven’t seen the replay) and an almighty goalmouth scramble in the final seconds (much like ours at home the previous weekend against ‘Boro) where Bidwell bravely put his face in the way of a goal bound effort there was neither a real threat from Leeds nor another goal for us. Although Toral did hit a thundering drive against the post which would have been a goal of the month contender. The general all-round excellence of the team can probably be summed up by an outrageous piece of skill by Bidwell who, facing towards goal flicked the ball over his head, spun and took the ball forward. It was so good and showboaty a moment that at the time I was convinced it must have been Pritchard. And when your left back is capable of the skill and flair of perhaps your most creative attacking midfielder you know you have a special team. [edited – I originally misattributed the “faceblock” to Dean, which just goes to show the range of Bidwell’s performance, both amazing Pritchardian skill and Harleean physical courage!]

Now we stand in 4th place on 52 points pretty much guaranteeing safety from relegation, five points off top spot and five points clear of 7th place. Can we really keep this up? Players and management clearly believe we can. So let’s all put on those shades so we don’t get blinded by the dazzling brilliance!

Football Fakers

I find it risible when politicians bang on about football in an attempt to appear down to earth and normal. If anything, for most it just highlights how rareified their lives actually are and how far from normal.

Nobody believes David Cameron is much of an Aston Villa fan. His vague support for them is likely to be not much more than that of someone who wasn’t very interested in football remembering the big team from when they were about 10. A year or two older and he could have said Nottingham Forest with equal conviction. Tony Blair’s support for Newcastle United was similarly lampooned even if the apocryphal story of him recalling being sat in the Gallowgate end at St James’ Park watching Jackie Milburn playing was something he never said. Ed Miliband also claims to be a Leeds United fan.

However, while neither Blair nor Cameron have done much more than give a dutiful nod in the direction of football, Miliband has built it into his back story. That might be understandable given his need to overcome some public perception of him as a bit weird and dorky. Only last week he mentioned Leeds United in a speech and he also included it in his speech on Britishness earlier in the year. However, it is perhaps telling that it is difficult to find any reference to his support for the club earlier than during his successful bid to lead the Labour Party in 2010.

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