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If Saturday was crazy, that was just unbelievable…

23 Oct

I can’t call this tonight. The heart says Brentford. The table says Swansea. The Championship says anything can happen. All I’ll say for sure is that it can’t be as awful as last season. It can’t be exciting as Millwall. Can it…..? 

Those, the last words written on these pages yesterday as Brentford prepared for their trip to the Liberty stadium. They were words written on the back of last season’s record against Swansea which had read:  P3 L3 Goals scored 3 Goals against 10.

Yet they were also words written in the aftermath of that scintillating comeback and eventual victory over Millwall on Saturday. A game that will live long in the memory for those fortunate enough to have been present. One that social media, amongst other sources, has helped draw those who missed out into the communal outpouring of excitement that continued long after the final whistle had blown.

And boy, what a way to kick on from there. What a way to pick up that ball and run with the momentum of confidence. A 3-0 win on the road for The Bees lifting us up into the top half of the table and a mere four points from the play-off zone. And we’ve not even had the chance to become #Novemberkings yet. Urghh, feel so dirty. Should have just said it’s still October. 

The scoreline was emphatic. The preference and quality of the goals equally so. The first coming from Saïd Benrahma, curling home from the edge of the box. It was a finish to match any of his ten from last season as he opened his account this time around. His return to fill fitness very much being rewarded with a continuation of where he left off last time out.

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The moment, captured on film

It was two before half time. Special agent Jake Bidwell firing home from the penalty spot, under pressure from Ollie Watkins.  The own goal from our former skipper something that even the YouTube highlights describe as almost being as though he meant it. I’m sure he didn’t. I’d have been amazed if he could. Who cares though. As we’ve said many, many times before – balls in the back of the net are the only thing that count. No matter how they get there.

Thanks, Jake. Thanks everyone.

The best was yet to come. Bryan Mbuemo with a quite ridiculous third. Running through the Swansea midfield before firing home with a sublime finish on the diagonal. If we’re going to quote yesterday’s column, and frankly why not, then I’l crave forgiveness for a little more self-indulgence with the observation that “Bryan Mbuemo is looking as though he could be our latest hidden gem, unearthed.   To put it mildly, the French U-21 would seem to have found his feet in the Championship. What perfect timing with the trip to Shepherds Bush next up.

If Millwall was an ‘I was there’ moment then, being honest, this was probably more the case of ‘I wasn’t there’. Not surprisingly, the number of visiting fans seemed thin on the ground judging by the shots afforded us in the highlights reel. The final report on ‘official’ counts it at 215. Hats off to each and every one of them.  Their reward, a fine victory and having the pleasure of seeing Mbuemo fire home that splendid final goal at the away end.

It could have been better. Sleight of foot and almost interplay between Benrahma and Watkins that seemed almost choreographed ended up with the Algerian curling one just wide of the far post. It was a moment of magic to rival a drunken Paul Daniels and Hans Moretti firing crossbow bolts at the lovely Debbie McGee. The finish was almost as deadly.  Metaphorically speaking. That one’s on the highlight reel too. Benrahma rather than Daniels. Paul rather than Luke. Do check it out.

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Debbie – lovely

There’s not much more to say. On a game where Swansea City dominated the possession and the shots on target, it was Brentford who came away with all three goals and all three points. I’m sure there’s a lesson in there somewhere but it’ll take greater intellect than this numpty on the terrace to work it out.

It was a stunning result. It’s been a magnificent few days. Here’s to Monday evening. Here’s hoping another former Bee or two can pick up where Jake left off. Better still that Bryan, Saïd, Ollie and the rest of the gang do the same. 

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More of the same would do nicely on Monday

Nick Bruzon

How do you top Saturday? Simple. Don’t repeat last season.

22 Oct

It’s an obvious question. The turnaround that saw Brentford go from 0-2 down with 84 minutes on the clock to end the game as 3-2 winners over Millwall was one of those ‘I was there moments’. See also: Burton away, Fulham away or the time somebody laughed at Mrs. Browns Boys. Oh well, as Meatloaf once sang… And the simple answer is that we go again. This time to Swansea City where an intense period of Championship action resumes this evening with the hope that we forget about 2018/19….

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What a finish on Saturday

It would be fair to say that whilst it probably can’t get any better than Saturday for The Bees, it certainly can’t get any worse than last season. Swansea were the Mrs. Brown to our sanity. An undefeatable nemesis whose performance against us in the FA Cup fifth round at The Liberty stadium was a humbling experience only made worse by their performance against in the League  at The Liberty Stadium. 

The 4-1 trashing administered in the cup, one which was earned from an Ollie Watkins inspired 0-1 HT lead. The turnaround in the second period was immense. Swansea scoring four times as they earned a quarter final at home to Manchester City, Daniel James earned a transfer to Manchester United and Neal Maupay earned the wrath of the BBC and (probably) Ian Moose. That after firing over late in the game .

The league game in April saw Brentford on the wrong end of a 3-0 scoreline in an encounter that had it been the proverbial boxing match, would have been stopped within the first minute after Nathan Dyer gave Swansea the lead with what even the BBC described at the time as “One of the fastest goals scored at the Liberty stadium”. Don’t forget, either, how we’d also lost the early season league game 3-2 after shipping three goals in an opening half hour that had already included a close to ten minute delay for an injury break. It would be fair to say that we were all well glad to see the back of Swansea City last season.

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Swansea in the FA Cup wasn’t good.

That was then. This is now. Swansea are riding high in the table. Currently sitting in third position and surely favourites for this one tonight. Surely? Well, having already buried last season’s away shirt ‘hoodoo’ (there wasn’t one, but if it makes the brown/orange haters, of which there were apparently a few, then all the better) with our form on the road this time out, Brentford had THAT morale boosting win at the weekend. Ollie Watkins is at the business end of the Championship leading goalscorer charts whilst Bryan Mbuemo is looking as though he could be our latest hidden gem, unearthed. Sergi may be injured but the likes of Pontus and Said lead the the charge of players with their hearts on the sleeve. Josh Dasilva has discovered his appetite for goalscoring and seems to enjoy the taste.

Hats off to those travelling. Long midweek journeys provide a very easy option these days via the medium of the Sky ‘red’ button. There’s also the lure of iFollow for those of you who like your coverage ‘old school’. The excitement of the team as Ollie did his thing on Saturday very much akin to the moment Mark Burridge exploded up at Blackburn after Jota went on that little sortie forward.

 I can’t call this tonight. The heart says Brentford. The table says Swansea. The Championship says anything can happen. All I’ll say for sure is that it can’t be as awful as last season. It can’t be exciting as Millwall. Can it…..?

Nick Bruzon

Could it have been any worse? Well, I’m smiling this morning.

3 Apr

What a night for Brentford fans. Simply magnificent. Twitter was awash with celebrations well into the small hours. Nothing to do with the performance at Swansea City, if one can even call it that, but more the fact that Fulham are down. Officially. They will now have to spend the last five games of the season being described as Fulham (R),  after their inevitable return to the Championship was confirmed at Watford. With Huddersfield Town already doomed, we now know two of the teams that we’ll be lining up against next time around. It’s just a shame that we’ve not been able to fulfil the opening part of the “Bees Up Fulham down” refrain, this time around. Woeful away form will do that to you though.

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Watford administer the fatal blow

The magnificent post-Christmas run that saw us within sniffing distance of the top six has well and truly come to a halt. We’ve not scored in four games whilst away from Griffin Park have been on the wrong end of some pretty turgid performances. Last night’s obliteration by Swansea City had been preceded by the stinkfest at Wigan (0-0), a 1-0 home defeat to West Brom and the post Middlesbrough 2-0 loss at Sheffield United. That’s one point earned in four games where we’ve failed to trouble the scorers. To this we can now add the latest, a 3-0 battering at Swansea City that saw us a goal down within a minute and that lead then doubled in a first half which also saw the hosts hit the crossbar twice.

The ‘highlights’ are here if you can do it to yourself. Oh, those first two goals are awful. One has to feel for the fans who travelled for this.  And the players, although at least Thomas Frank recognised that they knew the level of under. His post-match interview was pulling no punches as he noted,  We can lose. Ok, that’s football but I think the performance we put into the first half was under our normal standards. It was slightly better second half but first half is not good enough, no matter if you concede an early goal or not…we are definitely not satisfied with that and we need to sort it out as soon as possible”.

His interview, which you can see below went on to describe how we had played without intensity or belief. All well and good but why? Is it simply exhaustion as the squad, which has also seen Ryan Woods & Chris Mepham sold for many, many millions, is stretched to the very limits after a long season? Why have we had such a devastating contrast between home and away form? 

Thomas tells it like it is.

Let’s not forget how this season Griffin Park has borne witness to us scoring goals for fun and taking teams apart as easily as a kitten toying with a spider. Rotherham, Hull City and Blackburn Rovers (the latter two as recently as February) were all on the wrong end of five goal hauls. QPR were obliterated last month in a game where the most confusing factor was how we only managed three. The combination of Neal Maupay and Said Benrahma has fans purring like the aforementioned kitten, such has been the prolific nature of their form in recent months. 

So how does wonderful home form (mostly, let’s not linger on the visit from Swansea City where we were three down in about twenty minutes) translate to death on the road? I wish I knew. The second half at the Liberty Stadium in the FA Cup being about as horrific and shambolic as it has been.

That had seen us 1-0 up at HT and heading into the quarter-finals before the self-destruct button was hit and Luke Daniels was left scooping the ball out of his net four times. Five if you count the offside.

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Swansea in the FA Cup wasn’t good.

That’s not to get on the back of the players or the management. The former are amongst the most exciting we’ve had in years. A team packed full of young internationals and goals, goals, goals. Mostly. Thomas, a wonderful orator and that rare quality of being a head-coach who tells it like it is rather than how he would like it to be (#deservedtowin) . How the fans see it. A man who exudes confidence and faith in his squad. We’ve a new stadium being built at Lionel Road, for which surely next season will see a big push in order to open preceding in the top flight. That, in itself, a quite outrageous thing for those of us a bit longer in the tooth it even be considering !

Ultimately, we’ve not blown £100m on players. Oh dear. We’ve not been divisional whipping boys. We’ve not had an owner who has felt compelled to argue with supporters on social media as to whether he attends games or performs unspeakable with dogs. 

For all that Fulham slipped into the Premiership last time around, they’ve dropped out as quickly as they entered. Noses very much bloodied, foam fingers wilting and clappers crushed. The coffers emptied and a third manager now in charge. Scott Parker unable to arrest the dreadful form seen under Claudio Ranieri who himself had been unable to arrest the dreadful form seen under Slaviša Jokanović. 

Swansea City may have ensured that it won’t be Bees up but Watford definitely pressed the button to make it Fulham down. The season has had plenty of smiles and despite our own performance last night, I’ve woken up with another one across my face.

Here’s to a few more against Frank Lampard’s Derby County ™ on Saturday. 

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The season has still had plenty of smiles

Nick Bruzon

Uncanny parallels on a day of Gayle v gale as the run comes to an end.

17 Mar

And with that, the home streak was over. After 7 (seven) straight wins at Griffin Park, Brentford went down to West Bromwich Albion 1-0 in a game dominated by two goalkeepers and awful conditions. On a day windier than a naughty puppy at Christmas after snafflling an entire family size tub of Roses, it was West Brom who played both the conditions and the ref to win the game with their one moment of true quality – Kyle Edwards embarking on mazy run through the midfield and the Brentford defence to steer it past Luke Daniels six minutes into the second half. Elsewhere, there was more than a passing interest in how our own FA Cup conquerors, Swansea City, would fare in the next round at home to Manchester City. It would be fair to say there was no irony lost in how that one turned out. But we can only start with matters at Griffin Park.

The writing was on the wall before the game even kicked off in anger, if we’re being honest. And not just the appointment of Andy Madley as our ‘referee’. There was that lowest of low tricks at the toss – changing ends. I’m not a fan of having to kick ‘the wrong way’ in the first half. It doesn’t feel right and gets everybody’s back up. Especially given it meant we’d spend the second period kicking into the wind. And it was strong, very strong. The trees behind the away end were bending double whilst three balls were lost over the stadium roof after being hoofed high into the gusty stratosphere.

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View from the Braemar – West Brom had it when to counted. Sadly.

It was a bad start to the game but entirely understandable given the circumstances. Despite pressure and chances, the Bees were unable to find a way past Sam Johnstone in goal for the opposition in that opening period. It was another game where we went for it from the off.

Yet where previously we’ve had the ability to step it up in the second period, this time there was no way through. The elements providing a massive help to a team who defended with strength whilst cynically running down the clock at every opportunity. The ball was kicked away whenever possible, the ref allowed The Baggies to get in his ear and under his skin, throw ins were delayed and dives that would have had Tom Daley smiling were common place.

Much as against Sheffield United midweek, Brentford were locked out by well drilled opponents. When the chances came, the ball didn’t quite fall right or Johnstone was on hand to pull off top drawer saves. One in particular, from a Yoann Barbet free kick, had the fans out of their seats for 1-0 Brentford before the diving’ keeper’s outstretched palm managed to guide it to safety at the explosion of the ‘goal’ celebration. Canos and Maupay also came close but it wasn’t to be. 

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View from the Braemar – Yoann comes close. So close.

When West Brom had their own opportunity, Edwards took it with style. There can be no complaints about the way he started and finished the move. Even if there were plenty afterwards as the clock headed towards it’s inexorable denouement with all the pressure and tension of a losing Countdown contestant trying to make a last round word out of JKXDZBEIO.

More so, when referee Madley followed a strong first hour with a final thirty minutes which suggested his focus was anywhere but on ensuring the game could flow. His own performance very much going to the dogs as Brentford battled against Dwight Gayle, a roaring gale and a rogue ref.

So after the play-off dream had briefly raised its head in recent weeks, we’re now nine points off the top six with nine games to go. Given the way this team can play, I’m not going to say it’s over until it’s over. But being realistic, things are going to need a remarkable swing.

On the plus side, we’ve got international break to all catch our breath and recuperate before that final push begins at the end of the month with two away games – Wigan Athletic and then a midweek trip to Swansea City. At the very least, another top ten finish is more than attainable. Another finish over the likes of Birmingham City and QPR well within our grasp.

Yesterday was frustrating and notably so, given the conditions we had to watch the game in. Whilst I’d never trade being at Griffin Park for TV, there was a pang of jealousy about the comfort of those watching ‘on screen’ from sunnier climes.

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Not exactly TW8….

Still, if it was all about the comfort then you may aswell stay at home. Something a group of West Brom fans must have been wishing after putting on the worst pre-match display for TV’s Soccer AM since, well, that day we don’t talk about against Doncaster Rovers.

With football done, it was back home to catch up on the FA Cup action. In particular, the game between Swansea City and Manchester City. That one being of particular interest to Bees fans after we’d seen a 1-0 half time lead at the Liberty Stadium in the previous round turn into a 4-1 fifth round exit at full time. The catalyst for that one being turned around was, of course, the unfortunate equaliser where a free kick had beaten Luke Daniels, hit the post, struck the back of the still diving goalkeeper on its return and deflected straight back into the net for 1-1.

So there was no irony lost as Swansea saw a 2-1 second half lead at the Liberty Stadium turn into a 3-2 sixth round exit at full time. The catalyst for that one being turned around was, of course, the unfortunate equaliser where Sergio Aguero’s penalty had beaten Kristoffer Nordfeldt, hit the post, struck the back of the still diving goalkeeper on its return and deflected straight back into the net for 2-2.

That the penalty decision, like Aguero’s late winner, had probably been made the wrong way can only have added to the sense of frustration felt by the home fans. Tell me about it. Yet another two fingers up delivered from VAR or, more the case, the lack of VAR. The FA Cup only allowing the system to be used in games players at Premier league grounds. Nothing like keeping the competition consistent, eh? 

For Manchester City, an incredible opportunity to scoop a quadruple still awaits. For Brentford and Swansea City, we’re back to the drawing board. The Championship play-offs remain a mathematical possibility but are going to take an incredible combination of wins and favours from other teams.

 With Leeds United and Frank Lampard’s Derby county still to visit, who knows what might sill happen…..

Nick Bruzon

Club and fans help take the edge off cup disappointment.

20 Feb

Who wanted to play Manchester City, anyway? Swansea City were rewarded with an FA Cup quarter final at home to Pep Guardiola’s all conquering Premier League outfit after beating the Bees on Sunday. Brentford, denied a 30 year (wow!) anniversary rematch with the club supported since a child by goal scoring legend Gary Blissett.  

Bliss Manchester City

The iconic Bees cup image was so close to getting a modern day revamp

We’ve all seen it by now. We all know the performance was as devastating in the second half as it was exhilarating in the first. Swansea City were worthy winners. A combination of spurious defending, blistering pace and just plain old bad luck proving to be our undoing. The coach journey home was about as tough as it gets – the feelings far to raw to try and process just what had happened at The Liberty stadium. Yet having now given it a few days to reflect, are there any positives we can take from what happened? And, for the record, being able to concentrate on the league does not count !

On the field, I’m struggling. Ollie Watkins’ goal was a work of art. Magnificent build up play that showed rampant Brentford at their free-flowing best. Yet, if anything, in retrospect it only made what came next even harder take as the Bees not so much waved the white flag as rolled out the red carpet to our hosts. 

IMG_1783Special mention to Kitman Bob, though. The previously unseen red number worn by Luke Daniels being another tick in the box marked sartorial bliss. In the interests of avoiding a revolution, we’ll spare any further comment on the brown/orange being sported by the rest of the team. What’s the point of pouring petrol on a chip fire by eulogising further about something that others deem to be anything from vile to the sole reason for our struggling on the road this term.

For all that this season’s FA cup was looking like it might turn into one of the most open tournaments in its illustrious history, all off a sudden we are in a situation where 6 of the final 8 are all from the Premier League. The sole representation from outside the top flight coming from Millwall and, of course, Swansea City. No doubt the likes of Manchester City and Manchester United will fancy themselves to add another notch on the bed post of tournament success. The chance of an unfancied team winning it now disappearing faster than Sunday’s half-time lead. In the end, top flight form once more took hold and the potato skins can now stay in the recycling box.

We can’t talk about Sunday without recognising the effort made by Brentford to help our fans get to Swansea and get into the ground. The second the game was moved it became a logistical nightmare. We all know that Sunday engineering works were due to take place meaning any attempt to travel by rail (and replacement bus) . So for that fleet of coaches to be provided with little to no not, and laid on for free, was nothing short of amazing. Add an £11 price for 2 tickets( one adult and on child) into the mix to realise what an effort was made by our club to help the fans. Nobody can doubt what we do off the pitch.

Nowhere moreso was this proven by the team in the ticket office. Much as I love being part of any ‘singing’ section towards the back of the stand, travelling with a five year old presents it’s own challenge. Namely because the second anybody might chose to stand up (apparently, it does happen) his own view is obscured. Even when on foot himself ! So imagine the huge grin on his face when our request for tickets towards the front of the stand was met with front row, middle. Right behind the goal. Whilst we all know what a fantastic job the ticketing team do, that they continue to care so much is nothing short of incredible. What a way to represent our club.

Let’s look at the fans themselves. The coming together on the coaches rather than the usual train service meant previously unheard conversations began as groups of unconnected supporters were thrown into the powder keg of an 8 hour round trip with no means of escape. I saw one tweet from Oh Fuffuxake! / @TheChauffeur! on Twitter noting that, “Weird old day yesterday. Spoilt only by a 45 minute debacle that was out of my hands. However, can I thank the lads on the coach home. New pals, new drinking buddies and BIG laughs…

On a personal note, I finally got to meet regular correspondent Bernard Quackenbush  / @BernardQuack after a chance encounter in the stand. Like ‘Push up Brentford’ man, Jumper man and Brentford Bot, BQ is an essential part of the club’s rich tapestry of ‘fans to follow’. Whilst our paths have never crossed previously, outside of cyber space, like ‘The Chauffeur’ it felt like the sort of day to make new friends. Thank to the vagaries of pre-allocated ticket distribution, that’s another ‘face put to name’.

Indeed, the random meet ups continued even last night. Sitting in a Kentish Town pub awaiting the arrival of an Aston Villa supporting friend (unlike his club, he did eventually show up) prior to watching popular music’s The Lemonheads, my own attention was grabbed by one of the people I was sharing a table with. The ears couldn’t help but prick up on hearing him say, “I couldn’t believe it. We were 1-0 up and cruising at half-time. They did us 4-1 in the end”. That could only be Brentford and sure enough, it was. Even from the most abject of football finishes, our club found a way of uniting supporters.   

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The Lemonheads do their thing in Kentish Town

Yet for me, one of the abiding moments was on the way home. It was provided by Simon. Harry Potter. On another coach. His enthusiasm for all things Brentford unable to be crushed by something as trivial as a trashing in the cup. Reports across social media suggesting that his coach was very much the life and soul of an otherwise potentially sombre return journey to West London. I won’t deny the smile on my face at the thought of the fun being had on his bus (please note: your definition of fun may vary)  as ours was punctuated by nothing more than the faint tapping of iPod headphones and a chorus of snores drifting up and down the aisle (not me, for the record). 

Let’s nor pretend that Sunday ended well in a footballing sense. Let’s not pretend we weren’t secretly jealous when Manchester City came out of the hat. Imagining what might have been. Mostly a 0-7(seven) beating, I’d guess. But there was enough happening elsewhere to help maintain my faith in a club that really cares. In a group of supporters whom, whilst obviously hurting, still found a way to come together. Who still look out for each other.

Even just the nods of recognition and messages saying “Did you see….” in regards to mine and HB’s ‘crowd moment’ from the TV coverage showed us looking out for each other.  His own world being slowly shattered as the enormity of our situation took hold being one that was, unwittingly, shared with the wider Bees’ community. People’s kind words afterwards have been nothing but appreciated more than anyone can imagine.

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The bottom lip is beginning to quiver.

Sure, we got dumped out of the cup. I’d love to have gone through. Instead, it wasn’t even close. Yet by the same virtue, everything else that happened around Sunday afternoon already has me desperate to get back to Griffin Park on Saturday. 

See you there.

Nick Bruzon

There are games of two halves and then there was that. Bees baked in Wales.

18 Feb

A day that started with such promise. An afternoon that saw us forty-five minutes away from an FA Cup quarter final. An evening that ended with a press of the self-destruct button the likes of which Brentford haven’t seen since, well, the trip to Hull or more pertinently, the opening twenty minutes of the home game with (erm) Swansea City. And it was the Swans who once more provided the catalyst to our undoing as Ollie Watkin’s magnificent opener was rendered meaningless by three second half goals and a red card for Ezri Konsa in little over a quarter hour phase. It ended 4-1 to Swansea. It could have been five but for a very delayed call from the linesman. What can you say? Beyond me having to console five year old HB after his own pre-match prediction of 3-4 was thrown back into his face in as dramatic a style as one could ever see.

It’s a fair bet we’ve all caught the game by now. The free to air broadcast on BBC Wales meaning that anybody who wasn’t able to travel on the resultant free coaches would have had ample opportunity to watch it live. It was the consummate example of that old cliche about football being a game of two halves. With the opening salvo from Swansea snuffed out at little more cost than a yellow card for Yoann Barbet, the Bees got going. In style.

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Swansea had come forward early but made little progress

With the exception of Luke Daniels retaining his FA Cup place, Thomas Frank named the same team that tore Aston Villa apart for fun on Wednesday evening. It was a decision that was proven correct as we went for it. Swansea City barely had a look in as slick passing and wonderful interplay from the attacking quartet of Said, Sergi, Neal and Ollie suggested a goal was inevitable. When it came, on the half hour, it was beautiful. Benrahma breaking forward at pace, feeding the ball forward to Maupay on his right. The Frenchman then provided the same to the overlapping Watkins who burst into the box and fired it across the face of goal high into the far side of the net.

Yesssss !!! 1-0. We’re on our way. The fans erupted. Tinfoil trophies (of which there were plenty in evidence) thrust high into the sky. Strangers hugging strangers and the dream was on. Swansea looked dead on their feet. Impotent. A flaccid reminder of the team who had obliterated us in that opening twenty minute spell at Griffin Park back in December when they’d raced into a three goal lead without reply. Half time came with optimism high, the fans in wonderful voice and a chorus of boos rising around The Liberty stadium from the home contingent. Surely this was it? Surely….?

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Yesss!!! 1-0. Ollie Watkins you beauty.

What happened at half-time will, forever, remain as unfathomable a mystery as Stonhenge, the Pyramids and Ian Moose’s narcissism. Brentford gave the appearance of a team who had forgotten how to play football. Graham Potter in the home dressing room, presumably, delivering the mother of all team talks. Either way, it was a different Swansea City who emerged.

They were level within five minutes from a free-kick awarded in the most dangerous part of Saunders territory. Daniels unable to reach the ball as it fizzed past him, hit the post but rather than bounce clear hit the back of his head as he was still diving and pinged back into the goal for 1-1. It was a hammer blow. It should have been a warning that we were now very much in a game. Alas, it got worse.

An immediate goalmouth scramble aside, there was little further response from, or respite for, Brentford. Daniel James gave the home side a 2-1 lead shortly after with a quite remarkable effort. Picking up the ball just outside our box, he ran full length and full tilt up field. The acceleration was incredible, even running wide at one point with three players left trailing in his wake, before turning back inside and leaving Luke Daniels, caught in no mans land, for dead. Hats doffed to James for pulling this one off. It was brutal. With it, any remaining psychological stuffing that had been left after the unfortunate o.g. was truly knocked out of us.

Minutes later that man James broke clear once more. This time, he was stopped. But at the expense of a red card for Ezri Konsa as the defender took the last desperate measure available to him in order to try and preserve the narrow deficit. Referee Stuart Atwell has no choice but to show the red card. It was a challenge that, at least, succeeded in the aim of keeping our opponents at bay. For five minutes.  Sergi Canos, again filling in at wing back, was played twice by Bersant Celina who also danced past Julian Jeanvier before slotting home for 3-1. Urghh.

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Even the scoreboard was trolling us

With the attacking threat of Benrahma and Canos removed just moments later as the substitutes came on, the game was effectively dead. If it hadn’t been already. If Thomas had gone almost full strength with his starting XI, the bench offered little in big game experience or match saving nous. Whilst most of these young players will have their time, throwing them in to a game that was only being kept alive on life-support was never going to change anything. And , sadly, it didn’t. 3-1 became 4-1 became 3-1 as the linesman eventually intervened. It made little difference with Swansea grabbing the fourth goal that their second half domination suggested would come as the game limped towards full time.

Even then, Neal Maupay had a chance to restore some pride. His decision to chip the ‘keeper when put through, not quite coming off as the beaten Bees saw it loop over the bar. He made a call. He tried his luck. It didn’t happen. Boo-hoo. The subsequent highlighting of this by the BBC in a standalone video clip entitled , “How did he miss this? Watch Maupay’s terrible effort for Brentford” as cheap, unnecessary and out of context a feature as Ian Moose talking about that Cardiff game last season. No recognition of his quite incredible form this campaign or when it actually happened, with the players physically and emotionally drained after an absolute pummelling. 

Likewise, no mention of what he was clearly feeling as he ran to the Brentford fans at full time to hand over his FA Cup shirt to one lucky supporter. Poor show, BBC. Keep up the wonderful work, Neal.

It was an awful experience to be part of. The second half, I mean. I had tears to cope with at full time from a distraught HB who managed to compose himself and eventually clap his heroes off, despite the clear upset he felt. Looking around, he wasn’t alone. The club’s magnanimous gesture of laying on the coaches and cheap tickets felt very much secondary at that juncture.

I’m gutted this morning. Even now after trying to sleep on it. Swansea ran the second half show ; we handed them the tickets. The dream of the cup quarter-finals disappearing as quickly as it came. HB’s tin foil trophy stuffed into a dustbin on the way home.

Talking to supporters after the game, there seemed to be very much an expectation that this column was going to be used to ‘put the boot in’ today. But I just can’t do it. To coin that well worn of parental phrases, it not so much that I’m angry as disappointed in you. The chance was there and we couldn’t take it. Instead, to collapse in a combination of errors, bad luck, subsequent no-show and of course, the pace of Daniel James has left me feeling broken. A numb feeling in the pit of the stomach that will pass with time but at the moment feels far, far too raw.

I’m just hoping HB uses his half-term break to sleep in. About a week should do it….

Nick Bruzon 

Are we all set for a jolly boys (and girls) outing? The quarters are beckoning….

16 Feb

Oh my. The FA Cup fifth round is here. Opportunity is very much knocking. Watford are already through to the quarters after winning 1-0 at Loftus Road last night. Now we’re getting ready for our shot as Brentford fans begin to countdown for Sunday’s trip to Swansea City. There’s plenty to whet the appetite for that one today with Newport County hosting Manchester City and the visit of Millwall to AFC Wimbledon. That’s before you even get to the likes of Doncaster v Crystal Palace or Monday’s final game denouement that had TV producers reaching for the ‘coverage selection’ button the second Chelsea v Manchester United came out of the hat.

We can only start at the Liberty Stadium. On paper, there isn’t much to grab the neutral about the prospect of Swansea City v Brentford. Whilst both clubs and their fans will be viewing it as a wonderful chance to progress, it hardly has the upset potential of Manchester City at Newport County. The follow up story to Wimbledon’s wonderful humiliation of West Ham (winners of the trophy in 1980 and World Cup in 1966) from the previous round. Don’t let that fool you for a second. This one is huge and I can’t wait.

You could hear the collective groan echoing around TW8 and the GPG as the decision was made to move this to a Sunday afternoon, 4pm kick off for the benefit of BBC Wales. I’ve said my piece on that decision already and we just have to move on now.

With the prospect of a rail engineering works ruining it for everyone, the club sprang into action quicker than Neal Maupay running though on goal with the announcement of free coach travel to the game. Along with the reduced ticket prices , it was about as supporter-friendly a gesture as one could get. Consequently, myself and Harry are the ones now re-upholstering the tinfoil trophy that has seen us through the previous rounds. An £11 return trip for two of us, including entrance to the game, a bargain in anybody’s book and the reason The Bees will be there en-masse as the coaches filled up in nano-seconds.

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Who doesn’t love a coach trip ?

It’s not going be easy, that’s for sure. For either team. Only four points separate Brentford and Swansea City in the Championship table. Advantage traditionally favouring the home side as we’ll be running out in that glorious brown and orange. Here’s hoping for a repeat of the performance at Rotherham in that one, rather than a repeat of the performance just about anywhere else on the road whilst wearing this most stylish of shirts.

The good news for those deeming this to be some sort of jinx (honestly, I’ve never heard such nonsense, now where are my lucky pants?) being that we’ll have a new goalkeeper’s shirt making its debut. If what a source close to the club told us plays out, this one promises to have us kit nerds salivating.

The other factor to play more into the hands of Sunday’s eventual result is, of course, our recent form. We’ve only lost once in the last 12 whilst the midweek victory over Aston Villa was just about as comprehensive and stylish a performance as one could ever hope to see. Truly, Brentford were magnificent. Dean Smith left shell-shocked at full time and chuntering all sorts of nonsense about his team ‘deserving it’ (change the record) after Neal Maupay sent the hone fans wild in the 91st minute. Even now, Saturday morning as this is being written, I have a huge grin on my face thinking about that moment.

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This one from Brentford official said it all about Wednesday

Prior to that and, excusing the Forest game, it has been a case of scoring at least three goals a game in the previous five. A streak that coincided with Brentford playing stylish football with confidence and swagger. The ball being moved around the team for fun as we took the old mantra of “Push up, Brentford” to heart. It was a self-belief that was in evidence once more on Wednesday night. Here’s hoping Swansea City get to experience it themselves on Sunday afternoon. 

For sure they’ll be feeling as upbeat as we are. A home draw is the first thing any club hoping to progress would ask for in the later rounds of the FA Cup. Swansea have had that prayer answered  whilst on pitch have had a fairly strong start to 2019, winning five out of their nine games played so far in all competitions. They’ll no doubt fancy this in their own back yard whilst also have the benefit of ‘Mark’ Lawro Lawrenson using his BBC prediction column to back the Bees. Trevor Nelson and DJ Big Zuu (literally no idea – parents, ask a kid) going for the home side.

My main concern with this is Lawro’s assertion that, “I am backing Brentford to stay unbeaten, and get through on penalties.” We all know the nonsense he spouts these days and his presence as a pundit or co-commentator is generally greeted with the same fear felt by a pre-match press room buffet as Ian Moose approaches. But penalties? Seriously? You’ve got to think our name is on the cup if that’s going to happen. Here’s hoping he’s right. You can read that one in full, here.

Otherwise, its going to be a case of trying to make today feel as much like a normal Saturday as possible. I make no apologies for being excited or loving the FA Cup. Perhaps it’s an age thing but this tournament remains, for the supporters, about as exciting as it gets. The nostalgia, the romance, the potential, the shot at glory and even the cliches. 

I saw a quite wonderful tweet from @DeanCornish1966 yesterday about the Newport – Manchester City game, noting that:

ITV news preview on Newport v Man City just included:

2 x ‘The whole town is buzzing’

1 x ‘biggest match in history’

1 x ‘David v Goliath’

3 x ‘unbelievable’

1 x ‘dare to dream’

1 x ‘Gulf in class’

2 x ‘dreams are made of’

1 x ‘stacking shelves’

If ever there was close to a full house in cup upset bingo then here it was. But it’s what makes this trophy so special. Even now. It’s why I’m taking a five year old boy on a marathon coach trip to see if we can equal our furthest ever progression. Or perhaps even go beyond.

I’ve no doubt that when me and H are sitting down this evening to see if Newport can throw a potato skin under the feet of Manchester City (that’s one which ITV missed), the talk will be all about what awaits on Sunday afternoon. 

That, and maybe seeing if we need to add another layer of tinfoil to our replica trophy. 

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We’re all up for the cup

Nick Bruzon

Bring on the rail replacement bus after another night of goals, goals, goals.

6 Feb

We’re through. On a night where the FA Cup headlines were made by a huge scare for Wolves and a massive slip up for Middlesbrough, Brentford dodged the potato skin that was a replay at home to Barnet and eased to a 3-1 win. But for a brief flurry later in the second half it was every bit as comfortable as the scoreline suggests. Indeed, it probably should have been more as the (proper) Bees made it 10 games unbeaten ahead of Saturday’s visit to Nottingham Forest and now face the prospect of a fifth round trip to Swansea City.

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There was no way through for Barnet on Tuesday

A game played out in the shadow of Tony Kleanthous’ crazed rant about ticket allocation, something caused completely by his own club’s somewhat free and easy approach to sales, had the potential to see Brentford caught with their pants down. The Barnet supporters certainly started off in vocal form before Sergi Canos took the wind out of their sails with the opening goal after 7(seven) minutes. A short corner routine saw the ball guided in as the Spaniard slid home his third goal in as many games and from there it was game over. 

This is not a drill. That is not a typo. A short corner worked. Repeat. A short corner actually worked. You got the feeling from that moment that this was going to be our night. When that most unsuccessful of set pieces pays dividends you know something special is happening. 

Brentford continued to push. Barnet weren’t even at the races in the opening period. The epic 3-3 of the original game being put into context as a near full strength Brentford team took the non-leaguers apart. Luke Daniels, Josh McEachran and Mads Bech Sörensen coming in to a team full of all those other names we know and love. Thomas Frank was certainly taking no chances on this one, even if he was able to see the likes of Ollie Watkins , Yoann Barbet and Kamohelo Mokotjo kept fresh for Saturday’s trip to Nottingham Forest.

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Mads Bech Sörensen looked comfortable filling in for Yoann Barbet

Julian Jeanvier made it 2-0 with half an hour gone as he executed a beautiful volley. Said Benrahma with the assist, yet again. How many times has that line been used in recent games? Five in the last five, being the answer. Indeed, per the BBC he’s actually had a hand in eight goals over that period. Aswell as the assists he’s also found the back of the net three times. A wonderful return for a player who has yet again proven the wisdom in our once maligned transfer policy. Hats off to Mr. Benham and the recruitment team for their vision.

Half time came and went. Brentford continued to push. The visitors began to up their tempo. An early contretemps on the Braemar Road touchline threatening to spill over as emotions got the better of Barnet and referee Roger East lost total control of a situation that eventually resolved itself in two yellow cards for our guests. Luke Daniels saw his crossbar rattled as Neal Maupay and Romaine Sawyers came close. Sergi and Said continuing to pull the strings. And then it was over. 

The goal machine that is Neal Maupay did his thing once more. This time it was The World Cup’s Henrik Dalsgaard of Brentford (TM) who turned provider. His ball into the box swept home by the Frenchman to make it five successive games where we have scored three goals or more. One can only presume Nottingham Forest fans are hoping Martin O’Neill has some added steel to his backline. On this run of form, you’d back Brentford to score against anyone.

With the Brentford fans still cheering, there was a glimmer of hope. David Tutonda firing home a quite exquisite strike to send the visiting supporters into rapture and offer some hope of salvation. Sadly, for them, it wasn’t to be. There were to be no further efforts or goals. No further FA Cup fairytale for the non-leaguers. Instead, it’s a trip from Griffin Park to Swansea City and their Liberty Stadium on the 17th for that infamous 4pm, rail replacement bus hit, Sunday afternoon fifth round tie.

Yet as we exited with the players celebrating and Peter Gilham exhorting us to check the website for travel news, could there be some salvation coming the way of anybody wanting to make the journey for this one? Here’s hoping.

All that’s to come. For now we’ve a trip to the City ground and a home game with Aston Villa to focus on before the visit to Swansea. The woes of November and December are rapidly disappearing over the horizon and Brentford are playing some incredible football.

Thomas Frank walked all round the ground at full time, following in the wake of his players to applaud the fans. There’s a real buzz around Griffin Park at present and it’s so nice to see him being able to enjoy it. Fair to say there’s probably a lot of egg on faces at present from those giving him a hard time after Dean Smith departed, with the Bees already tottering on the brink of that dreadful run. Instead, the defence has sorted itself out and the goals are flooding in.

What a time to be a Bee! Now bring on Swansea City. And Forest.

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View from the Braemar: Thomas and Said take the plaudits at full time.

Nick Bruzon    

Tie of the round sees Sparkes fly as Bees sting Bees

29 Jan

We are all, presumably, bang up to date with events for last night. If you weren’t at the game, the TV option presented a warmer alternative whilst there was also Mark Burridge and co on the iFollow commentary. Yet it was one of those where a final score of Barnet 3 Brentford 3 doesn’t even begin to do justice to what was as pulsating an FA Cup tie as one could hope to see. Albeit with the winners now facing a tough trip to Swansea City in the fifth round, having to go the extra mile of a replay on Tuesday night was probably the last thing anybody wanted. Given the way this one ebbed and flowed (BBC Sport describing it at full time as ‘simply brilliant’) from some perspectives one could almost argue that for either team to still be in with a chance of winning should be cause for relief.

Barnet will be disappointed. Brentford frustrated. The hosts fought back from a 1-0 half time deficit (Ollie Watkins guiding it home from distance late on) to take the lead with a quick fire brace from Shaq Coulthirst. Game on and then some. It was pulsating stuff. Neal Maupay restored parity from the spot after Watkins was adjudged to have been tripped out wide. It was about as innocuous a connection as has been seen, with the player quoted as apologising afterwards for what looked like minimal contact. At best. Certainly we’d have been as incensed as the Barnet fans seemed to be on social media afterwards had it gone the other way. Yet how many times have we been victims of refereeing inconsistency? Far too many to count and whilst it looked shonky in hindsight, Maupay made no mistake as he added another million or so to his valuation. It was as cool and precise a penalty as you’ll see.

With that Brentford pushed on. A quite wonderful ball from Henrik Dalsgaard into the feet of Sergi Canos freed the Spaniard for 3-2 up. It was a wonderful pass and a calm finish under pressure. Surely that would be it? Or not. Just moments later Dan Sparkes stepped up to curl as magnificent a free kick as the Barnet fans could have dreamed of around the wall and past Luke Daniels. It was an incredible a strike and what a tie to get it. The crowd erupted. And rightly so. Full credit to the hosts who showed no signs of giving up despite Brentford’s domination.

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Brentford official capture the moment that Sergi restores our lead

So it ended 3-3. Brentford will point to also hitting the post three times – a header from Yoann Barbet and two from Moses Odubajo. The first of these, had it gone in, would have been a curling left footer to perhaps surpass even the brilliance of Sparkes’ free kick. Barnet will understandably point to the penalty spot and question, again, how referee Andy Madley was able to, ermmm, point to the penalty spot. Given the inconsistent use of VAR throughout the tournament – surely that in itself was a call for an all or nothing approach? See also: Everton at Millwall.    

Brentford should have won. Could have won. The defence seemed off the pace and out of sync. The midfield minus Kamo and Sawyers (although the later did appear from the bench in the second half) were out of touch with the game. On a slick looking surface there should have been more than enough to put this game to bed and lock out the non-leaguers. Instead, Barnet were fully deserving of their draw. They won’t make it any easier in a replay where Thomas Frank will be hoping that the old adage about lower ranked teams taking their chance when it presents itself proves true. On last night’s showing, I wouldn’t be so sure.

So what else happened? Well, kudos to Chris Wickham. I saw a great quote from Mark Burridge on Twitter prior to kick-off, noting how none other than John Motson himself described Chris’s run through of the Brentford line up saying: ‘Thank you, that’s the best explained team formation I’ve ever been given” . What wonderful words from one of THE most respected voices in football. 

It was a moment which also captured our good friend and favourite pantomime villain / ongoing critic Ian Moose in the background of the shot. In typical pose. And I don’t mean the one about taking selfies with footballers before wishing them happy birthday. Hey, at least he’s consistent. Although please chew – it doesn’t need to go in whole.

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Motty and Chris do their thing as Ian Moose does his

Then there was the fifth round draw. An away game at Championship rivals Swansea City has about as much romance, of the cup or otherwise, as a Valentines card and bunch of flowers from petrol station forecourt. I’ve no doubt they are thinking the same. Ironically, a game against the same opposition as we were due to play that weekend. The same opposition that we allowed to race into a 3-0 first half lead in early December before almost rescuing a game that ended 3-2. As I can’t imagine it’ll be one that is selected for TV, if we actually win the replay, at least it should be a traditional 3pm kick off. 

On the plus side, we were spared another trip to Chelsea. Assuming we make it through on Tuesday night. See you there.

Nick Bruzon    

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.

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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.

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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