Is something rotten in the state of Brentford?

9 Dec

We’ve not really touched these pages in the last week or two. Matters outside of Griffin Park (namely, a social life rearing it’s head once more like some long forgotten relic of pre-parental life) have meant the column takes a back seat. To be honest, it’s probably no bad thing given the recent run in form that for Brentford finally looked like it may be coming to a halt with that 1-1 draw at West Bromwich Albion on Monday night. We all know what happened there, with the Bees doing to ‘deserving’ opponents what our own head coaches have felt hard done by so many times over the last few seasons. An injury time equaliser from Lewis Macleod rescuing a point after the hosts had conspired to miss all manner of seemingly unmissable chances earlier on. Good news, we thought. We have stopped the bleeding (not my words but those of Thomas Frank). Then Swansea City happened and a 3-2 defeat that was about as shambolic as it has been in recent months.

The Bees were a goal down with less than 30 seconds on the clock. The Griffin Park scoreboard hadn’t even sprung into life by the time Wayne Routledge had tapped home the opener after the defence had failed spectacularly to clear the most innocuous of pass backs and straight crosses. It was 2-0 Swansea soon after as Chris Mepham turned into his own net to gift the visitors a second. That the clock was registering 27 by the time Swansea made it three was only due to the injury suffered by Martin Olsson. One can only hope that the lengthy treatment before play resumed (there were 8 minutes added on at the end of the first half) was precautionary but it didn’t look good from where we sat on the far side.

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No minutes on the clock and already a goal down. 

That third goal was everything that was wrong with the team at present. A listless ball across midfield that was picked up by nobody. A needless free kick awarded on the right hand side. A ball delivered in that wasn’t cleared far enough before spaces were left for the return that would have embarrassed my son’s U-6 team. Kudos to Ollie McBurnie for attempting the overhead kick that lead to their goal but that he was even afforded that much room was a crime in itself. Leroy Fer made no mistake as the Brentford defence were unable to mop up the resulting detritus. I’ve seen better markers in a packet of Sharpies. 3-0 down and 27 minutes gone, 8 of which had seen the clock stopped for Olsson’s injury.

Frustratingly for Brentford, that unfortunate break in play should have allowed the team time to regroup. To have a chat about what next to avoid the inevitable third and actually find a way back into the game. But there had been nothing and the inevitable happened.

That’s it. If you want to read about inspired comebacks. About almost snatching a point. About hitting the bar two or three times then be my guest. Here’s the BBC website. Here’s Brentford official. Here’s Sky Sports where the report is about as lightweight as our midfield was for that opening period but they do have the goal highlights. I’d suggest you watch them just to see how not to play football.

Don’t let a fight back fool you or mask over another dreadful start. I’d hope Thomas has been up all night figuring out how to repair the gaping holes in the team, in their confidence and in supporter morale. The boos on the third goal and half time suggest that the crowd as finally been lost.

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View from the Braemar. The perimeter boards really rubbing it in during the first half.

It was yet another game where quite wonderful individuals have been that. Individual. Where the team spirit has seemingly gone out the window. Where the inability to kick a ball forward instead of faff has cost us. Where the result of being unable to put in a challenge has been a glut of goals conceded in a short space of time. See also Preston. QPR. Middlesbrough. Sheffield United. I honestly thought the game with the Blades had seen us as off the pace as we could possibly be but this one really trumped it.

That first half was on a par with, if not worse than, Oxford United in the league cup a few years back. At least in that one (and we’re clutching at straws) Marinus could blame his relative short time in the job, the sandpit of a pitch and his own tactical naivety in picking eleven players with barely a handful of first team appearances between them. But Thomas has been part of the set up for two years. He knows the players. They know him. This was a good line up – on paper – but instead it did what it has done time and again in recent weeks. Defensive hesitancy. Midfield absence. Full backs brutally exposed. Passing the ball sideways and backwards instead of forward. Inability to make a challenge, close down or simply mark an opponent. Just not kicking it away when it was near the goal. The ‘discussion’ amongst the team after the third went in was there for all to see.

To be fair, it changed after. As the heavens opened, the Bees came alive. Albeit Brentford very much had Daniel Bentley to thank for even keeping us alive at 3-1 down. This after Ollie Watkins had pulled one back in the first half and before Said Benhrahma gave us hope with a wonderful freekick midway through the second. But it was all too late. You can’t keep on giving away 2 or 3 quick fire goals – bang, bang, bang – and expect to take anything from a game.

From the point where we were named as joint favourites for the league title with Leeds United, Brentford have not so much hit the skids as gone through the crash barrier and plummeted down the mountain side. We’ve got games coming up at Hull City and then home to Bolton Wanderers. Both sides in the rapidly diminishing clutch of teams currently below the Bees. Failure to pick up at least 4 points out of 6 in those will see us getting sucked into that relegation vortex.

It’ll be a big ask given Thomas has only picked up 4 points from his opening 9 games. Even Marinus had managed 8 from the same period. What we’d give for that sort of form at the moment although please note the Dijkuizen experiment is not one I’m calling for a return of. Ever.

Marinus Oxford touchline

Marinus and the Oxford United fiasco (not a prog rock band). Never forget

What’s really troubling me is why this isn’t working at the moment. We’ve had many poor teams and poor runs over the years at whatever level we’ve played. But the squad is currently packed full of internationals. It is the same squad Dean Smith had. We have the Championship’s second top scorer (Neal Maupay currently one behind Lewis Grabban). Top flight clubs covet the likes of Ollie Watkins, Chris Mepham, Daniel Bentley and Ezri Konsa. Josh McEachran (up there for player of the season so far) has pretentions of playing for England.

We’re not talking about times where the set up has been so thin that we’ve had to beg a favour off Neil Shipperly. These are good players. Great players. Players who hit the ground running and propelled Brentford to the very top end of the table back in August and September. Now, they’ve got all the confidence of a studio audience going in to a recording of Mrs. Brown’s Boys.

Neil Shipperly

Neil Shipperley. Never forget

Is it simply bad luck? Injuries limiting selection? Or is there something going on behind the scenes. Something as simple as an arm around the shoulders that is missing? Or something more in tune with a change in tactical set up? This should have been a seamless transition but for whatever reason it’s just not working out at the moment.

Let’s not pretend that the end of Dean Smith’s time here didn’t see us in a mini-blip relative to what he’d done prior with just 1 win out of 6. Yet what was intrinsically different then was that he had the winning form that made nobody in any doubt it would be back again soon. Even when we weren’t taking all three points, there was none of this constant shipping of goals over a short space of time.

Nobody has a divine right to be any good. We can’t just rock up and expect to win. Equally though, you still need to rock up in the first place. You can’t keep on giving the opposition two or three goal leads and expect to come away with anything.

Thomas has got a huge, huge challenge ahead of him. Both tactically and psychologically. I hope he has thick skin and a plan B. Or C. The way the crowd reacted yesterday after a frankly awful opening period suggest that if he can’t turn things around fast, things could get very ugly. For everyone.

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Raining (goals) at Griffin Park v Swansea

Nick Bruzon

17 Responses to “Is something rotten in the state of Brentford?”

  1. David Carney. December 9, 2018 at 10:18 am #

    You are correct, there is a problem – or a number of problems and they were starting to appear during Smith’s time. Other than the obvious visible sign of no effective onfield leadership I doubt we will ever know the full story. This of course does not matter because it will be fixed sooner or later – hopefully sooner.
    The appointment of Frank probably suggests Benham & Co were well aware of the issues that already existed when Smith departed and ‘steady as she goes’ is the way forward.
    What is reassuring is, as you note, the players are outstanding — and were playing as such a few weeks short ago.
    Leadership and character is needed in abundance at the moment – plus supporter patience.
    It is not all bad. The Bees are the 6th highest in goals for and goals against.

    • may bee December 9, 2018 at 12:42 pm #

      if we keep trying the same things we are going to get the same results.every body felt that frank was the right man when smith left .unfortunately we need to change and frank does not appear to be the man to do it .we do have good players but in a relagation dog fight good players are sometimes not enough. its not too late for bees yet and with a string of victories we may all be talking or dreaming of play offs again .anybody know if lee carsley is busy.

  2. Gordonbankole December 9, 2018 at 10:18 am #

    Dear All

    I have avoided commenting publicly on The Bees for a long while, for which many will be thankful. However, after the last two home performances, the following needs to be said:

    1. We are now in deep trouble.

    2. Organisationally we are a shambles, which we weren’t earlier in the season.

    3. It’s not just the defence and goalkeeper at fault, but the midfield too. If you pack your midfield with neat ball players who can’t defend, you will be up against it in so many games.

    4. The manager seems at a loss as to how to tighten things up. And as for his comment that “statistically you don’t concede goals in clusters”, I’d suggest that the statistics under his stewardship suggest something very different.

    5. We continúe to score goals, but to win matches we are having to score three or four as a result of what’s going on at the other end. That won’t happen too often.

    6. A director of the club suggested that the performances over the last couple of months have been good. Really?? I’ll accept that to some extent as a summary of the start of last season, but not currently.

    7. I don’t see many leaders in the team. I also don’t know why it takes a terrible 25 minutes and three goals against to bring out any spirit.

    8. Take the team individually, and I refuse to accept we have poor players . The vast majority are easily good enough to perform well in the Championship. So why the current gutless shambles?

    9. The next two games are absolutely vital on many levels.

    10. Some big decisions lie ahead from those that matter in the next couple of months, whether it be on personnel currently at the club or bringing people in from outside.

    Regards

    Gordon

  3. Brighton Bee December 9, 2018 at 10:26 am #

    Spot on Nick. Yesterday was about as bad as it can get. Clearly there is something wrong as how can a potentially great team go downward so quickly. I am sure everyone will have their theories as to what is going on. I don’t actually blame Thomas Frank for all of it as he can only work with the cards that he has been dealt by the Owner and D of F. Personally, I still think that we are missing the key elements of experience and physicality in what is a very young team, perhaps too young. Until this is addressed I don’t see this slump ending anytime soon

  4. Rob December 9, 2018 at 10:44 am #

    Totally agree with everyrhing said here. That, and we’ve become predictable. The opposition knows that we are going to kick the ball to our full backs or centre halves and they stand off them untill that ball is kicked, then immediately that ball is distributed they are on us closing it down. Where as Woodsie would always make himself available for a short pass then move into space, thats no longer happening.
    The passing hasn’t quite been accurate enough either. That ‘Liquid Football’ we had been playing was due to 5 yard passes going to feet and only requiring a touch. Now for some reason they are half a yard behind and need a touch to control.
    I always thought Frank would get the job, and was content with that. However i thought we’d recruit from within for his assistant (King Kev) to reinforce what it means to play for our club. That hasn’t happened. Has Thomas got the man management skills to fire the passion that as pointed out inly seems to kick in when we are 2 or 3 goals down?

  5. Ben Parkhouse December 9, 2018 at 11:04 am #

    What worries me is TFs post match comments, blaming us conceding goals on a very young defence. That’s just not correct. Bentley is 25 and has played 250 games, Mepham is now an international with 18 months under his belt. Konsa has played 90 first team games, Dalsgaard has just been to the world up…. these are talented players who just aren’t being coached on positioning and composure at the moment.

    • nickbruzon December 9, 2018 at 11:09 am #

      If you are good enough you are old enough. Individual age shouldn’t come into the equation

  6. Bernard Quackenbush (@BernardQuack) December 9, 2018 at 11:18 am #

    What may surprise some was that i didnt go apoplectic like i did at the Boro game. This was partly because i was still recovering from the previous night’s xmas party and the sheer resignation of yet another crap performance after 30 seconds. But thats the thing, we now expect a bad performance. With the same group of players and injuries under Smith we expected to win, now we expect to lose. Thats down to the coaches, both with limited experience and even less experience of the English game.

    I am sure we all send our best to Martin Olsson having had a horrid injury, but that 8 minute medical period with us 2-0 down should have been the moment we regrouped. Instead we had players wandering around aimlessly and Frank dithering on the touchline. We were 2-0 down in no time at all and no one seemed to care. Frank should have called everyone over and given it what for. But nothing. Then there was yet another calamitous goal conceded and finally a reaction. Mostly from Bentley & Dalsgaard. I have never seen Dan so angry. In the end even he was so fed up of passing it so deep to Konsa & Mepham he was belting it up the pitch. And it was his MOM performance that kept us in the game.

    We have no real onfield leader.Oh for an Alan McCormack. Sawyers is no captain, in fact i think he has already resigned the captaincy as he spent the whole game with no armband on. That said everything to me. He doesnt want to be captain. If he does he would have worn the armband and if he couldnt find it bloody made one himself, but yet again no inspiration from him.

    McEachran as ineffective as ever. Constantly brushed aside and sideways passes. Its clear that he is not right for the Woods role. It was a change of formation second half with more of a 4-2-3-1 which saw some positive change. Judge, who should have started, being a pest to the Swans back line, being more direct, having lots of energy, plus experience, made a difference. As for Nico, thanks for being a good servant, but your time is up.

    I could go on all day, but we cant go on like this. We look more like a relegation team, than at any time before during our Championship stay. More so than the Marinus era. For me, Frank has to go. Promote King Kev & maybe bring in Millen alongside & try and steady the ship. It wont happen but id like to see next game a side of. Bently; Moses, Barbet, Mepham, Rico; Sawyers, Kamo; Watkins, Judge (c), Said; Maupay. A change of personnel and a change of tactics

    • Jack P December 9, 2018 at 2:27 pm #

      Hear, hear Mr Quackenbush! Thomas Frank was clearly as bamboozled as the rest of us at what was happening in that first half hour yesterday, but his “dithering” attitude during the 8 minute hold up in proceedings while the unfortunate Martin Olsson was tended to, only served to add credence to the groundswell of opinion that he is out of his depth and not the person to guide our club out of this mess and onto the promised land. The glaring absence of a leader on the pitch, which was also all too obvious yesterday, and eloquently addressed by Moriarty in his response to Nick B’s article below, is not helping his cause or that of the club and needs addressing as a matter of urgency.

  7. Moriarty December 9, 2018 at 12:36 pm #

    I commented here at the time, that the triple departure to good players to Birmingham, was surely a sign of an earlier loss of belief amongst some key players, who felt that their playing careers would not prosper at BFC; they had their reasons and there must have been discontent in the ranks, even back then; similarly, the badly felt loss of such an excellent midfielder, in Woods this season, has to be for similar reasons; players have lost their faith and morale. I have already commented on the selfish departure of Smith, as an instigator to the plunge in the player morale; they felt let down and deserted, in the midst of a season going well.
    I think the players, prior to the current implosion, really believed the hype fed to them by the management team, that they were going up on the promotion journey THIS season and that is why they came out of the traps, in such sensational form at the start of this season, but all that has happened, plus what the unknown factor of disputes and wranglings behind the scenes, has shattered the team spirit.
    Everyone who leaves here, seems to be under a gagging order from the powers, so one will not learn the real causes of this ongoing debacle, any time soon. The share a captains armband fiasco, was such a ridiculous experiment, it surely smacked of a failure by Smith, to engender a leadership culture prior to that, plus an absence of a player, with the passion, strength of character and tactical intelligence to lead the team.
    A post on GPG, yesterday, suggested that players are turning up late for training, etc, so , if true, this would tie in , for example, with Mephams recent unhappy onfield attitutude towards Frank and the general way he is ignored on-pitch by the players; there is no reaction given by them , towards his buddy buddy shoulder pats, at the end of games. Frank didnt have that great a resume, from his Denmark days, but the powers here, are returning from a patch of employing domestic lower league hopefuls, on the cheap, rather than quality candidates and have now switched back to their Continental obsessing for managerial and coaching appointments. Bentley, has had consistently excellent form during the past seasons, but, when even he has apparently lost his skillset, even regarding his superb hand distribution, then one knows that the team has extremely serious inner conflict going down!
    I think the players, as a whole, dont like or respect Frank; it will be very surprising if he and his fellow, I never played proper football in my life, assistant, will be able to sort this mess out, as it greatly originates from their presence in the posts they currently occupy.

  8. Rod Davidson December 9, 2018 at 12:43 pm #

    The comments of Ollie Watkins were interesting.
    He was asked, what was said during the third goal ‘huddle’, and he said, everyone was just shouting at each other.
    Do the players themselves feel, that there is a lack of on pitch clarity?
    Is there no one within the squad who can justify his place, and yet, command the respect of the other ten members of the team? It would appear not.
    Perhaps Dean Smiths open captaincy regime was a clue.
    Was this his attempt to pour oil on brewing and troubled waters? Was this his attempt to settle an issue that was becoming apparant much earlier in the season?
    However nobody can legislate for what was a monumental foul up after just 40 seconds of the match.
    Now is the time to get tough. Now is the time to stop pussy footing around, now is the time for real leadership to emerge.
    Answers on a postcard please while I concentrate on Brexit.

  9. simonsapper December 9, 2018 at 1:02 pm #

    Agree with most of the comments here, and thanks Nick for your usual incisive analysis. Teams have worked out how we play, worked out how to neutralise us, and we have no plan B. We keep making the same mistakes again and again. What was stark yesterday was how desperately we need leadership on the field. Maupay’s confidence seemed shot but given the poor service he’s being getting it shouldn’t be a surprise. TF is clearly a decent guy – but he looks like he’s aged 10 years in two months and I reckon he has one more match before the Board need to act. We do have the quality of players but let’s not beat around the bush – 4 points out of 36 is relegation form.

    • simonsapper December 9, 2018 at 7:11 pm #

      And yes – I know it’s 4 points from 27, but my point still stands!

  10. Andrew Anderson December 9, 2018 at 4:16 pm #

    Unusually scathing Nick. From an outsiders pount of view, the decline since Dean Smith left is alarming, and one can only hope Thomas has not ‘lost’ the dressing room.
    Way too good a squad to be in serious danger at end of season, but need a result or two this side of turn of year before real decline sets in

    • David Carney. December 10, 2018 at 2:18 am #

      I think the issue is, was the dressing room ‘lost’ by Dean Smith and the poisoned chalice handed to Thomas Frank?
      Then, is Thomas Frank a technician or a leader.
      The DOF’s would (or should know) – and probably do know so the leadership issue comes back fairly and squarely to them, as it should.
      Strong leadership is everything that is needed now. The players are lost, they desperately need a leader, then they need an on field leader that can reinforce that leadership and manage the team through all the potential mini crises that happen during a match.
      Score a goal, reset and go again; concede a goal, stiffen up, refocus, reset and go again.
      Its not rocket science, but leadership does require accepting the onus of responsibility, making decisions, stand tall and be a beacon of light end inspiration that the the team will follow no matter how difficult the challenge. Very easy to say, but very few people possess that quality. Benham does and I think he relies upon Ankersen to provide that leadership on the playing side.
      You can’t blame a technically gifted player who is not a natural leader struggling in a team bereft of leadership. The only individual(s) at fault is whoever is responsible for leadership not providing that leadership.
      The same players as the first 10 games as those in the second 10 games, they just need leadership.

  11. Spanish Bee December 11, 2018 at 2:00 pm #

    Very fair and balanced blog. I am not convinced that screaming for the manager’s head is a solution to our problems so well done for that. I think we have a long-term problem which requires a long-term fix. I think our recruitment lacks variety and we need controllers, or at least enforcers in mid-field. I don’t think that it is a coincidence that our problems have started as Woods left, and this problem is down to the DF’s not the manager in our system.

  12. Jay December 13, 2018 at 1:35 pm #

    ‘From the point where we were named joint favourites for the league title with Leeds United’…………….Oh yeah, I nearly forgot ‘Promotion is there for the taking’

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