Tag Archives: Middlesbrough

Time to make some history.

15 May

Welcome back / Crud, him again. Delete as applicable. We’ve needed a few weeks of ‘downtime’ on these pages for a multitude of reasons but that’s all finished. Been there, done it, bought the t-shirt. There’s been no room to talk about Brentford making a winning run to the end of the season. On Ivan Toney scooping the golden boot and breaking Glenn Murray’s Championship record with his 31st of the season at Ashton Gate. Indeed, no room to talk about the near coronary induced by the decision to keep him on the pitch when he picked up the yellow card in that final ‘regular’ game of the campaign prior to scoring. No place to talk about how the final four have played out for the play-offs. As we all know, Monday evening sees Bournemouth host Brentford followed by Swansea City visiting Barnsley. Perhaps most importantly, no real time to talk about the buzz of being allowed back into games from next week. The lucky supporters over the 3000 TAP point limit know they will be at Lionel Road next Saturday. Those entered into the ballot no doubt sweating on the results of that as much as the first leg.

Yet for everything that has gone on, the only real subject on anybody’s lips has to be the play-offs.  Positive though I have been about our promotion chances this season (spoiler alert: it’ll continue), there was perhaps a resigned inevitability about our chances of reeling in a Watford team recording win after win after win in the final few furlongs. Their own victory at Norwich City the point where deep down even the maths was too outlandish a leap of faith to make. Their 1-0 defeat of Millwall confirming a return to the Premier league. Now, Brentford are looking to join them with a tenth bite at the play-off cherry. A monkey on the back the size of King Kong. We all know the stats. We all know our record. Nine attempts. Four finals. Nine defeats. The whole process starting with Tranmere Rovers back in the early 90s and coming all the way up to Fulham last time out. An extra time defeat as much a triumph for brutality as it was football. In between we’ve had Huddersfield Town, Sheffield Wednesday, Swansea City and Middlesbrough in the semis along with final game slip ups against Crewe, Yeovil Town and Stoke City in Cardiff. That one followed up by the worst train journey ever. Apologies again to all impacted. Only Preston North End had experienced more attempts than us without success, albeit even they have finally done it. Ten play-offs ; one win. Can we do the same?

The play-offs. We all know what happened the previous nine times…..

The short answers is a categoric YES. For me, Clive, I’m convinced this is finally our turn. Dark horse for second place in ‘player of the season’ Sergi Canos popping up to get the winner at Wembley. Hey, one can dream. The simple fact of the matter is that despite the plethora of injuries we’ve readjusted our formation and hit our groove once more. Brentford are keeping clean sheets at one end and scoring goals at the other. Of course, we’d love Rico, Josh and Henrik back (and who knows what unlikely cameos may be made at some point? ) but the team have rediscovered themselves. Sergi at wing back, Tariqe in flames and Christian Norgaard alongside the centre backs a formation rejig that has seen the Bees back to winning ways. The other three teams doing their level best to trip over themselves in a bid to discover the most anti-form in the final lengths. 

Of course, football isn’t that simple. No matter how well one team is playing versus the other three, everyone has had a chance to reset and pick themselves up once more. All four teams go into this fresh and it comes down to one thing only – who holds their nerve? Swansea, Barnsley , Bournemouth or Brentford? Obviously we’re going to talk up the Bees where, perhaps, we can draw some historical parallels. Blow the dust off the previous column (during the war, Grandad) and it spoke about how we fell into the play-offs after being presented with a golden chance after Huddersfield beat West Brom in game 45. Oh, the pain of tripping up against Stoke and then home to Barnsley was indescribable. Of watching our ‘automatic’ chances slide away. An inexorable torture session viewed from behind the sofa with fingers over eyes. Played out in empty stadia as our hopes of hitting the Premier League were replaced with a ninth attempt at the play-offs. We all know what happened.

Yet, longer term, might this have done us a favour? Perhaps. Like ‘that penalty’ against Doncaster  (a pain only matched by the play-off penalty defeat to Huddersfield the season we came second when there was only one automatic slot), we bounced back in a style that had to be seen to be believed. Marcello Trotta and the team taking that pain, scrunching it up into a little ball and booting it into the net. The victory at Leyton Orient perhaps the most ballsy thing I have witnessed a football team ever do. Too right we celebrated like we’d won the FA Cup. Partridgesque levels of bouncing back following the most indescribable anguish.

This time around, rather than watching our team play in the Premier league with out us present, we’ve had to hit pause. We’ve reached the semi-finals of the League Cup. We’ve had that huge unbeaten run mid-season. We’ve discovered the most coveted goal-scorer in English football in Ivan Toney. If ever there was a shoe in for ‘player of the season’ it is him. The only real battle there as to who comes second? The fairytale ending is all lined up. A first season in the Premier League, to be played out in front of supporters, the prize at stake. Not to mention a few quid. If nothing else, a chance to avoid the most undesirable play-off record.

Who do you want in the play-offs?”. That, the most common question that has come in this direction in recent weeks. Honesty, I don’t care. Four tough teams. Four teams after the same thing. Only one can make it through. This comes down to nothing more than bottle. The fans will, of course, bring an additional aspect that wasn’t there last time out. And a good thing too. We all know how awful football in empty stadia has been. The echoy thud of the ball and the shouts from the touchline the only sounds to punctuate the players calling out to each other. Urghh, it has been grim. All being well, it is now over. Being part of the crowd against Blackburn  earlier in the season, the clamour of 2,000 fans was the most incredible noise. The sweetest of sounds. We’ll have double the amount in this time around. All four stands populated. If not heaving, certainly more present to lift the players further. Peter Gilham finally having a crowd to play up to. The players being roared on. 

Oh, I can’t wait for the play-offs. Not a typo. As much as anything else the chance to see a game of football. To enter this game of Russian roulette feeling positive is the most alien of feelings. Yet, perhaps, the depressing familiarity of what we do at this stage will finally work in our favour. There is no pressure. At least, not in our house. I’ve had the somewhat dubious pleasure of experiencing all nine of our previous attempts and have been finally numbed against the feeling of what comes next. We’ve nothing to lose because we only lose. The team can play with freedom. Without the albatross around the neck. The script is written. All we need to do is turn up and deliver.

All we need to do…… If only football were that simple.

Bring it on. Seen you next Saturday. In person.

Nick Bruzon   

Were you guessing? Gavin does what Gavin does in a frustrating end to the week.

7 Mar

Well yesterday was about as frustrating and infuriating as it gets. But enough about having to watch And and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway with Mrs B. A soul destroying and futile exercise without an audience present. If that’s even your thing in the first place (it isn’t). Noooooo… they’re ‘dancing’ with a cartoon cat and mouse whilst Tom Jones is wandering around with a giant butterfly net. Make it stop. Please make it stop. Yet if that was a painful exercise then the same could be said for Brentford fans who had earlier tuned in to the day’s live Championship matches on Sky earlier. Watford and Swansea City got the expected wins over Nottingham Forest and Middlesbrough, no complaints there, but the manner of their respective victories left a sharp reminder that football has more twists and turns than a game of snakes and ladders. Left Neil Warnock set to explode and surely facing sanction for saying what we were all thinking.

As painful as anything that had played out before

Watford now three points clear of Brentford in third. An extra game played. A 1-0 win coming courtesy of a strike from Adam Masina that seemed to go straight through the legs of Forest goalkeeper Brice Samba. The goalkeeper then receiving lengthy treatment after appearing to take some sort of knock to the head in the build up but eventually able to continue. It was never in doubt. The Hornets did what they needed to. The visitors spending the afternoon being stretched at the back and unable to make inroads up front. Well played Watford. We’d have been ecstatic to pull a result like that out of the bag.

However, that was nothing but the appetiser for the main event. Swansea City v Middlesbrough which, to my surprise, had full match coverage on Sky. Excellent. Sit back on the couch with a Guinness and a hot cross bun to hope for the best but fear the worst. What we got was as awful as Mrs Brown, her boys, Tom, Jerry, Dec, Ant and the England supporters band teaming up for a musical medley. We got Gavin Ward….

Remember Swansea’s game at Stoke City midweek? The scores locked at 1-1 until they were offered a 96th minute penalty after the softest of non-challenges? Of course Andre Ayew converted. That’s what he does. Well, yesterday saw more of the same, It saw Neil Warnock livid at full time after Middlesbrough were denied one point, possibly three. It saw Marc Bola have a wonder strike chalked off for Boro’ after Yannick Bolasie had, apparently, fouled Jay Fulton after playing the ball through. It saw the scores locked at 1-1 until Swansea were awarded a 96th minute penalty after the softest of non-challenges? Of course Andre Ayew converted. That’s what he does.

Even more frustrating this time around (the ex Brentford connection aside) was how it happened. George Saville taking the ball off Jake Bidwells’ toes and clearing for a corner before the defender went over. Ward pointing to the flag until changing his mind and under protest deciding it had been a foul. 2-1. Six points in the last two games where both had been heading for 1-1 draws. That’s football. You can’t blame Swansea for taking their chance. Do you think we’d have turned down the opportunity to take both penalties? Of course not. Doesn’t make it any less shonky though. Dodgy refereeing playing havoc with what is about as tight a promotion race as they come. This, from @VickiLee_1 on Twitter, summing it up in a nutshell

Neil Warnock summed up Gavin Ward and the two game changing incidents incidents in quite direct style, saying first about the Bola that Ward ”thought it was a free-kick to them. He hadn’t see (Yannick) Bolasie won the ball. It’s either a penalty or a goal. He’s blown the whistle before Bola’s shot hit the goal and gave a defensive free-kick.”

As for the penalty… :“I’m a little bit bewildered about the penalty. He pointed for a corner kick but he assures me that when he thought about it he thought George didn’t get any of the ball and he thought it was a penalty. I asked ‘Why did you point to the corner flag? Were you guessing?

Were you guessing?’ If ever Mr Ward writes his autobiography then there’s the title. No doubt the Middlesbrough manager will be fined for his comments. His full interview a masterclass in straight talking. That’s what the EFL do though. They’ll protect their refs to the last and hit the managers for speaking up. I was incensed after the penalty award at Stoke. So was Warnock, by the sound of it. This was equally poor. Swansea riding their luck and taking the opportunity offered. They’ll argue they kept going until the last second which, of course, they did. Yet once more offered the big helping hand of refereeing incompetence makes your task all the easier to achieve. Now, they sit two points ahead of Brentford with Tuesday’s trip to Blackburn Rovers next on the agenda. There’s still one hell of a long way to run in the promotion race. For once, we’ll be hoping Adam Armstrong closes in on Ivan Toney at the top of the Championship goal scorers charts.

Sour grapes? Yes. By the bucketload. As much about the circumstances that have played out. About referees unable to distinguish between fair means and foul. “By that reckoning they should get promotion, shouldn’t they? If they keep getting the right referees.” Not my words, Carol. The words of Neil Warnock.

Equally, with 12 games to go, and the Swans travelling to Vicarage Road for the final game of a tough run in, let’s not get too downbeat. Blackburn have a key role to play this week, we then visit them on Friday, but it will only be one step in the journey. Neither result will be definitive. Whichever way they go.

Albeit, if we could avoid any dodgy decisions that would be just great.

Nick Bruzon

Bees keeper puts in killer performance as strikers blitz Boro’.

7 Feb

Where to even begin ? How about in my bed? Don’t turn away – it’s not like that. Genuinely, I woke in the middle of the night from a terrible dream. Fate had conspired to see us in the play-off final once more. We were playing Fulham once more. For reasons unknown our opponents had rocked up wearing Sumo suits so we couldn’t get near them. Keith Stroud choosing to ignore this flagrant breach of the rules. Despite the score being 2-2 with half an hour left, they then started scoring goals. 3-2. 4-2. Ten minutes to go, somebody changed channels and I woke with a jolt. I never found out if we won or otherwise. Whether the team was broken up after a second successive defeat at the W place. Yet what I will take from it was that it was horribly vivid. Felt devastatingly real. A combination of last season and that game at the Millennium rolled in to one. Thankfully, it was nothing more than nonsense. The yin to a quite incredible yang of our 4-1 win at Middlesbrough. Three points which see us leapfrog Swansea City and offered the opportunity of topping the table. Victory against Reading on Wednesday night, our game in hand, will see us overtake Norwich City at the summit. Cripes, this is getting exciting. 

It certainly was

Yet if anything, that dream has reminded me that settling for the play-offs is not an option this time around. I can’t go through that again and, the way this team are playing, I don’t think we’ll need to. That’s now 20 games unbeaten and one of the biggest potato skins on the calendar, Middlesbrough away, has been negotiated. Not only negotiated but sliced into the air and volleyed into the recycling bin. Brentford were immense. Magnificent. About as devastating as we get. Quite honestly, it could have been brackets. 4-1 doesn’t begin to even tell half the story of a game that was about as poles apart form that awful 0-0 at Lionel Road as it is possible to be.

If nothing else, how often do you see a 2 goal striker (Ivan Toney with another brace) in a scoreline of this magnitude miss out on Man Of The Match to the winning team’s goalkeeper. A goalkeeper who, move along nothing to see here, made a rare slip to gift our hosts a third minute own goal? It could have been curtains for Brentford yet just like the game with Bristol City during the week, it only served to inspire us. What came next was about as brilliant as it has been all campaign. 

Brentford pushed up. As did Middlesbrough, to be fair. Both teams going for broke and David Raya, having got whatever it was out of his system, playing just about the best game we’ve seen him have for The Bees. Brilliance and bravery in equal measure. Bolasie amongst those thwarted before Ivan Toney eventually levelled things up on 38. The goal had been coming and Tariqe Fosu was in no way offside – it was marginal, ok – as he took the ball from Ivan, cut down the flank and returned it into the box for the simplest of tap ins. Simple , of course, if you are on this sort of form. 

1-1 and Brentford on top. Another goal was imminent although it was Middlesbrough who should have had it. A point blank double save by Raya from Britt Assombalonga and then George Saville underlining the sort of game our number 1 was having. The net should have been rippling. Neil Warnock should have been hugging his assistant in delight. Thankfully for all of us, not least the assistant, we were spared that sight by the sheer, unadulterated brilliance from the Bees’ ‘keeper. He had no right to get even half-way close yet pulled it off. The goal intact, unlike his own more delicate parts. A very painful looking boot to the groin area the price to pay for keeping us alive. Ouch!!!

“PS: that hurt” – not my words but those of David Raya when he published this photo

Half-time couldn’t come quick enough. A chance to regroup. To dry off from the biblical downpour. To massage the more tender spots. To decide which way we would approach the second half. At full pelt was the answer. Just as we’d done against Wycombe and Bristol City, it was back out and fly at the opposition. With Raya pulling off his one man heroics whenever they had a sniff it gave us that belief to keep going for it. And what a way to do so.

Vitaly Janelt made it 2-1 on 58. A shot from the edge of the box so telegraphed that we were already shouting ‘Gooooallll’ before it even reached him. Ivan Toney teeing it up so beautifully that it looked like something out of a video game. The finish was equal to it. Hard and true to the bottom corner. My word. What a strike. What goal. What a team. He buried it with all the finesse of an undertaker. Bettinelli in nets left for dead. 

2-1 became 3-1 minutes later. This time it was Matthias Jensen who capitalised on a slip and raced clear from half-way. Brentford were 3 on 1 yet, if anything, he had too much time. What to do? Pass or continue? Shoot or round the keeper? He went with the later and despite defenders rushing back, there was no mistake made. It was cool as you like and one of the hardest of chances to take. I really thought he was going to Clayton it. Much as we absolutely loved Donaldson in our house, and still do, he would sometimes overthink the moment when clean through the middle and bearing down on the goalkeeper. Yet here was no faltering. No hesitation. No doubt. If there had been any nerves then they weren’t showing. Surely things were now safe?

Perhaps, but it didn’t stop Brentford from carrying on. Rico Henry saw a shot on goal tipped onto the woodwork by Bettinelli but the ball only found its way as far as Ivan Toney. On this form, there’s only one place its going to end up and that’s in the back of the net. Boom 4-1. Game over, man. Game over. Except even then, he could have had the hat-trick as he steered another just wide. Jensen could have grabbed a second as a shot from distance hit the post and went the wrong side. It was that strong an attacking performance although one matched by our hosts. They never stopped either and on another day, with a different keeper in the way, could well have got three or four themselves.

Smiling assassin Chuba Akpom coming close as did George Saville on a number of occasions. The later in particular crudely exposing himself as somebody who hasn’t been able to progress since his time at Griffin Park and, perhaps, going for the snatched attempt rather than the more patient approach when opportunity presented itself. The again, on this form I think that David Raya would have stopped a juggernaut. 

I’m not sure what else to say about this one, really. The excitement from the players on social media said it all. The genuine pleasure from Thomas Frank, who’d got so wet in the conditions he had to change jackets at half time, a joy to behold in his post match interview.

Twenty games unbeaten in the league a quite incredible run of form and one which only sees our team looking stronger and stronger. Nine points and 14 (seven times 2) goals from our last three games are quite amazing statistics for any team at any level. Norwich City surely looking over their shoulders now. Swansea City the third team in this two way tussle. Yet unlike last season, when our run was just a tad too late in the end, this time around we are moving early. We are destroying all in our path. We’re loving out football. Oh, I can’t wait for Reading on Wednesday. It won’t be easy and we shouldn’t be over confident. Very much a case of ‘each game as it comes’.

Equally though, let’s not deny ourselves the opportunity to enjoy watching this team at their best. To celebrate Brentford at their finest. Saturday at Middlesbrough was all about that. The play-off nightmare long since dissipated into the ether. Carry on like this and we won’t be having it again.

Whose coat was Thomas wearing…….?

Nick Bruzon

Did Swansea help Brentford? Who would you pick?

6 Feb

Brentford fans are waking up to a table that sees us back in third place prior to this afternoon’s game at Middlesbrough but with the door to ‘automatic’ opened that little bit wider following a 2-0  win for Swansea City over Norwich City last night. The current state of the table sees us sitting two points behind the Swans and four behind the Canaries, albeit with one and two games in hand respectively. The right results in those outstanding fixtures speak for themselves but before we get carried away and look to Wednesday’s visit to fourth placed Reading, focus has to be on the current state of play.

Cripes, last night was interesting. There was no real preference as to the result. Win, lose or draw  – any combination could have been construed to have a positive benefit for Brentford. Instead, it was simply a case of sitting back to see how Swansea would fare against another set of promotion seeking opponents. We all saw their WWE approach the other week as they salvaged a point against the Bees – last night was much more positive. Dominating possession and attempting to play football. A first goal that would have been embarrassing had it been conceded by a team of under 7(seven)s, let alone the Championship leaders. Norwich with half a dozen men between Andre Ayew and the goal line yet none able to get in the way of his effort following a butter fingers moment from Tim Krul. How nice to see Ayew doing what we all know he can rather than writhing around on the floor like a fish out of water. 

We got the ‘good’ Ayew last night

Conor Hourihane’s doubling of the lead a splendid second half effort that left Krul no chance and Norwich dead on their feet. If anybody in TW8 thinks Steve Cooper’s team are punching above their weight, or just punching, then think again. They were brutal. In the best sense. The win thoroughly deserved and one which never really felt in doubt. Certainly, to the casual onlooker.  

Whilst it is a victory that means Swansea have overtaken us, the psychological advantage of now having Norwich in genuine catching distance cannot be under estimated. Both in positives for us, should we win today (no small feat, of course) and negatives for them should we be able to heap even further pressure on a team who have looked so, so comfortable and in control of the table for so, so long this season. Just look at how, historically, Leeds United have fallen apart. Again and again. Three points for Brentford at the Riverside could be the catalyst for a similar level of stress to be applied.

Three points. It sounds so simple. In theory. This one is going to be about as tough as they come though. For Middlesbrough, their own chance to enter the play-off race is an opportunity sitting up and waiting to be taken. Bournemouth have hit the skids big time and a recent record of LLLL sees them now just two points ahead of Neil Warnock’s team. If we think we have incentive to get the win then let’s not be blind to that which is offered up to our hosts. Yet, for Brentford there is that own unbeaten run. The positivity coursing through the team immense. The bounce back against Bristol City midweek nothing short of magnificent. This, without Josh Dasilva whom one would imagine is match fit again for the afternoon game.

Tariqe Fosu was immense. Sergi Canos brilliant. Let’s not forget, either, only 13 players have scored more Championship goals this season than the Spaniard. Ivan Toney was, well, just Ivan Toney. A goal machine on legs. Finishing and confidence to match the very best we’ve ever had. A player who has not only filled the shoes of Ollie Watkins but, if anything, outgrown them already.

We’ve been blessed in recent years but you have to put this down to the directors of football and the vision of Matthew Benham. Honestly, if you could pick one out of Toney, Watkins or Maupay who would it be? There are no wrong answers here and I think we’d happily settle on any of them. Different personalities, different approaches but all able to find the back of the net with aplomb. If he carries on at this rate, Ivan has the potential to be the very best of the bunch.

Oh ambassador. With these strikers you are really spoiling us

For me, Clive, the return of Josh Dasilva will be huge. He really is one of those ‘first name on the team sheet’ type players. I still find it amazing we got him for nothing. How Arsenal must be regretting their decision to let him go as he has developed his own game and ability at a quite phenomenal pace. What price now on him? Then again you could say the same about Rico Henry. About Ethan Pinnock. About David Raya. About Vitaly Janelt who already feels like part of the furniture despite this only being his first season. No time needed to settle in – he’s hit the ground running. Henrik Dalsgaard, the World Cup’s Henrik Dalsgaard, getting on about his business. A phenomenal engine up the right and a rock solid presence at the back. Cripes, this team is ridiculously strong on their day. That’s before you even factor in the next generation coming off the bench.

I am confident. Not in expecting victory – nothing is guaranteed in this game – but in knowing just how immense this team is when everything fires. When our top, top players do their thing. A game with Middlesbrough used to be a thing for Brentford fans to fear. A guaranteed defeat as our start to Championship life saw them beat us again and again and again. Not even the threat of a draw.

Middlesbrough used to be untouchable back in the day

Yet with that monkey now well and truly despatched, we can look at this fixture as just another game. Albeit against a team with their own huge carrot being dangled. I’ve just got a feeling that Brentford, and Ivan’s, will be bigger. 

Kick off is at 3pm. Its on ifollow, as ever. See you there. In spirit if not body. The couch, and there lucky socks, await…..   

Nick Bruzon

What a performance. None moreso than from this man!

4 Feb

Second in the Championship. Unbeaten in 19 league games. Perhaps, most important, an opportunity taken when it was presented. Brentford beat Bristol City 3-2 last night to move within four points of Norwich City at the top of the table. Still with a game in hand. It was a game that, aside from a few minutes at the start and the end, always looked in complete control. The early and late goals for the visitors causing a few anxious moments but ultimately the strikes from Sergi Canos, Ivan Toney and Samman Ghoddos proved sufficient. Now we can look forward to Friday night and seeing which favour is done when Swansea City host Norwich. All that, prior to our our game at Middlesbrough on Saturday. 

No words needed

Let’s not underestimate the scale and importance of this victory. With everything going our way in the build up (Norwich held, Watford and Bournemouth losing, our own domination of the physical Swans) there was always that nagging doubt that it might go a bit Pete Wrong. Perhaps scarred by the memories of Stoke and Barnsley at the denouement of the previous campaign where West Brom’s falling apart was only matched by our own LL after looking untouchable for the entirety of the post lockdown run-in. It was a feeling only perpetuated after the Robins took an early lead, Zak Vyner guiding home a free kick at the back post. A free kick that probably shouldn’t even have been awarded but, alas, it was. It was punished with clinical precision and Bristol City were away. 

Except, they weren’t. Boom, Brentford came flying out the traps from the restart and turned up the pressure. Sergi and Tariqe pulling the strings down the flanks. Ivan Toney getting involved everywhere. Josh Dasilva missing but replaced by unsung hero Vitaly Janelt. Ethan close. Sergi closer. Noooo. Almost. “It feels like its going to be one of those,” I said to Mrs. B. with almost half an hour gone. Oh me of little faith. Superb work down the right from Ivan saw the ball played into the box. Fosu took first bite at the cherry before who else but Sergi was there to add another goal to his haul. Daniel Bentley’s parry out falling perfectly for the Spaniard who made no mistake. One each, Brentford dominant and pushing on.

Half time came with the scores level but if it felt like welcome relief for the visitors, the moment was short lived. As with Wycombe on Saturday, Brentford came back out at 100mph. Bristol City nowhere close to being prepared for what came next. Tariqe Fosu’s cross from the right was about as perfect as they come. A tracer bullet of a delivery that tore through the heart of the Robins to be met withI the brilliance of Ivan Toney. The timing and execution as he steered it home about as beautiful as one could hope to see. His twentieth goal of the season as wonderful as any that have come before and one which owed a huge debt of gratitude to Tarique. Lovely stuff.

The Bees pushed on, dominating possession. City shell shocked and although trying to get back in to it, offering as much resistance as a chocolate lime left in the blazing sunshine. There was no way through and instead it was Brentford who controlled the pace. It felt like the next one was inevitable and sure enough, as the Spice Girls almost once sang, tonight is the night that two become three. This time it was Samman who got on the scoresheet. Again, Fosu was the architect with his run and ball being picked up by Ghoddos. His first effort saw Bentley beaten all ends up but came back off the bar. Alfie Mawson’s clearance wasn’t but Ghoddos still had to stretch before connecting with the other foot to blast it straight back past the ‘keeper and into the back of the net for 3-1 with not much more than an hour played. Game over, surely? 

Well, yes. The game was contained and the final quarter-hour saw a flurry of substitutions. Understandable given this was the first of 8 league games over just 24 days in February. The trip to Middlesbrough at the weekend no doubt playing on Thomas Frank’s mind. Freshness will be key and a two goal lead was enough to preserve. Errrr. Well, yes it was at the end although let’s not pretend there wasn’t a bit of squeaky bum time with the plethora of defensive changes leaving us feeling a tad lopsided. Certainly, to the usual observer. Ultimately though the record books and table don’t lie. They show Brentford second and with a 3-2 win. They don’t show how the late consolation from Nahki Wells was offside. At least, by the rudimentary calculations offered up by the GPG. Who needs computer graphics when things appear this blatant?

We won. We’re happy. Very happy. It was a game that, as Thomas was quick to remind viewers, was played without four players who would likely be considered part of his starting XI : Pontus, Josh, Christian and Bryan. He was also quick to praise the roles played by those who have stepped in and stepped up. The way Tariqe has grown from being in Benrahma’s shadow. The way Sergi has flourished – wonderful to hear although anybody following the games could see that. Yet let’s not forget, either, that at least two of those four have missed most of this season. The ‘stand ins’ have already well stood up and taken their chance. Vitaly Janelt has been immense. Bryan Mbeumo must be wondering how and when he gets back in. I’d love the options provided by a fit Pontus but even he was there roaring the team on from the sidelines. Besides, you can’t have everything and to be where we are  at this juncture, with this squad, is quite fantastic.

Whilst an all round team performance, Fosu deserves special singling out. Sergi and Ivan were immense and could rightly consider themselves hard done by in not scooping the MOTM award. Yet to have given it to anyone beyond Tariqe would have been criminal. He’s been growing into the team and offering up more and more of his brilliance. Cripes, last night (and also Saturday v Wycombe) see him as undroppable. He was incredible. Thomas Frank mutt be smiling to himself at the perfect timing of this talent explosion.

Tarique swept the board when the votes were counted

February is going to be huge. It is going to be exhausting. Yet get through it with any sort of form and the finish will be in sight. There’ll be just 12 games left to play and the position at the top will, one hopes, be clearer. That’s not to get too far ahead of ourselves though. That’s not to enjoy the moment of another fine win. Like all of us I’d have loved to be there. Alas, it wasn’t to be but at least we had the pleasure of seeing another win. Of seeing Ivan go three clear at the top of the Championship goal scorers charts. Of seeing Tarique play a quite wonderful game of football. My word he was immense. 

There’s plenty of fun, stress, excitement and expectation to come. For now, let’s catch our breath and say ‘Well done’ after another stonking win. Bristol City may have been generous in their own pre-match donations to a local food bank (well played, well played) but once things kicked off there was no gifts being offered. The Bees had to scrap for everything but what a way to do it. Class on a plate. Here’s to the hope of more being served up at Middlesbrough on Saturday.

Nick Bruzon   

Hopes, dreams and shocks – FA Cup still delivers. Plus fourth round ball details.

11 Jan

7pm, Monday night. The draw for the FA Cup fourth round takes place. And the fifth. Brentford are in it following Saturday evening’s impressive showing from our youngsters. So are Chorley after their own fine win over (not Wayne Rooney’s) Derby County on Saturday lunchtime. It was a result which set the tone for the weekend. Leeds United fell apart. Again. Blackpool despatched an abject West Bromwich Albion. In an even bigger shock, Sheffield United won a match. There would be no further slip ups from the big boys with Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea and Spurs amongst those into the bag of balls. Cripes, even Arsenal got through.

A velvet bag awaits…

So, when is it? 7(seven)pm is the designated hour. You can follow the action on the FA Player or on BBC2. Thankfully, for once, we’re not obligated to watch The One Show as the draw has its own specialist programme presented by Mark Chapman (not that one) rather than segued between features on hedgehog hibernation and ten things Gyles Brandreth does to alleviate Lockdown boredom.

BT sport also have an extensive programme that features the final chance of an upset when Stockport County host West Ham. Who doesn’t love a cup shock and I think the Hammers have enough about them to pull one off.  Worth watching if for no other reason than than Brentford loanee Said Benrahma likely to be give a rare start.

As for the balls themselves, Brentford are number 24 (out of 32). Liverpool are 23 and Manchester City 25. We’re very much the meat in a top flight sandwich that nobody will be wanting to take a bite out of. Both teams we’ve faced in this competition before, as are Chelsea – ball 27. Our league cup conquerors, Spurs, are number 4.

The quintessential Brentford FA Cup image

The Marine – Tottenham was huge enjoyable for the neutral (of which there can’t have been many outside of Seven Sisters) , at least until the second goal went in. That said, the non-leaguers still lasted longer against Jose Mourinho’s outfit before going a goal down whilst almost had the temerity to take the least themsevels. With the eyes of the world (and several supporters sitting aside garden sheds watching) Joe Hart’s blushes were only saved by the woodwork with the scores still level. And that…well it would have been dreamland for Marine. 

But we’ve been there and done that. For me (Clive) the chance to see how the current generation fair at Anfield would be the ideal scenario. Even if we are stuck watching it on TV. Instead, it’ll probably end up being away to Nottingham Forest.

We played at Livepool back in 88/89. There was no quarter-final upset

The fourth round draw is immediately followed by that for the fifth. Ball numbers will be generated at that point. Go figure. However, the numbers for the next round are as follows:

1) Plymouth Argyle

2) Southampton / Shrewsbury Town

3) Chorley

4) Spurs

5) Wolverhampton Wanderers

6) Stockport County / West Ham

7 (seven) AFC Bournemouth

8) Manchester United

9) Swansea City

10) Everton 

11) Nottingham Forest

12) Arsenal

13) Barnsley 

14) Sheffield United

15) Millwall

16) Doncaster Rovers

17) Leicester City

18) Wycombe Wanderers

19) Crawley Town

20) Burnley

21) Bristol City

22) FulhamL

23) Liverpool

24) Brentford

25) Manchester City

26) Luton Town

27) Chelsea

28) Sheffield Wednesday

29) Norwich City 

30) Blackpool

31) Brighton & Hove Albion

32) Cheltenham Town

The third round was one of the best yet. For once, the presence of television and the spreading out of the fixtures something to be thankful for. Traditionalists (myself included) have argued for years that the dilution of the games – spreading over four of five days – has been killing the magic. Yet with supporters of all clubs confined to barracks at present, this is exactly what we needed to make a bad situation slightly more bearable. Game after game after game. Upset following upset. 

Let’s see if West Ham can pull off another one this evening. After the draw, of course. Here’s hoping for a big name. And also the prospect of a Crawley – Chorley…..

Could it be Chelsea again?

Nick Bruzon

Robert’s legacy lives on as the dream continues.

10 Jan

Back of the net ! Brentford went through to the fourth round of the FA Cup, despite the absence of Thomas Frank and a whole raft of first team regulars. Goals from Halil Dervişoğlu and Saman Ghoddos were enough to steer us past Middlesbrough in a comfortable 2-1 win. It was a game as notable for the debutants as it was for both of our scorers’ first Brentford goal – in particular, the strike from Ghoddos one we’d been, ermm, anticipating /  expecting / hoping for. No, sorry, the correct word to use escapes me but I’m sure somebody will come up with a better one. Crowbarred headlines aside, we’re through. Monday evening sees the draws for rounds four AND five, before we can then concentrate on the league for a few weeks. Bristol City, Reading and Luton Town are next on that circuit.

Aswell as the two goalscorers making the headlines, lets not ignore the debuts for Alex Gilbert and Lewis Gordon or a first start for Fin Stevens. Not to mention Max Haygarth coming off the bench late on. Truly, the B team flame is alive and well. Burning as strongly as ever with Stevens, in particular, impressing. Robert Rowan’s legacy lives on and shows no sign of abating. How much of what we enjoy and take for granted is down to this man? In addition, there was a welcome return for Mads Roerslev – amazing to already consider him an ‘elder statesmen’ in this set up ! Most importantly though, this has shown a new strength and set of options available to Thomas, temporary custodian Neil MacFarlane, Sam Saunders and the rest of our group as we head into the second part of the season. The comfort level showed by the newcomers no surprise but very welcome nonetheless.

We don’t do full fat match reports on these pages. Never have done. We all saw the game anyway or, at least, had the opportunity to do so via the surprisingly reliable FA player. Yet what was notable was what an open attacking match it was. Both sides going for it in a complete antithesis of November’s infamous 0-0 snoozefest.

Once the teams had found their feet it was Middlesbrough, if any, who felt in the ascendency. Luke Daniels in nets looking as solid as ever to thwart smiling assassin Chuba Akpom and Marcus Browne. Brentford building into it until , with half time approaching,  Dervişoğlu struck. He’d been offered a good chance earlier but steered wide when cutting in. There was no mistake this time. Boom. 1-0 and the tinfoil trophy hoisted high into the living room air. Ghoddos with the delivery from the corner and Halil executing it low past the ‘keeper. 1-0. Game on. First period done.

With the world outside the front door feeling , at times, like it’s going to hell in a handcart, you can’t put a price on seeing a smile like this. Thank you Halil. Thank you Robert. Thank you everyone. It certainly helps make my life and the struggle of being a parent that much easier. Keeps a 7(seven) year old ecstatic at a time when popping out to the park is about as good as it gets for him compared to normal. Instead, he then spent the entire second half waving the tinfoil and commentating over the top of FA player in equal measure.

Celebrations back at home for the first goal

As ever, this is Brentford. This is football. It’s never 100% plain sailing and with Neil Warnock’s team back out on the front foot, the scores were level soon after the restart. Sam Folarin being given all the time and space needed to pick his spot. Daniels, for once, given no chance of stoping it. Yet rather than collapse into a pit of despair it was the Bees who picked themselves up and kicked on. 

Saman Ghoddos timing his own run through the middle to perfection, picking up the ball and waltzing through the gaps in the Boro’ defence. The Iranian timing his moment before unleashing a devastating counterstrike  from 12 yards out. Hard and low into the bottom corner. Jordan Archer in goal unable to do anything beyond looking good in his shirt. Wow, that was a stunner. As was Saman’s shot. You can see all of it, and more, on the BBC highlights which are available here.

The BBC replay shows all the magnificence.

And from there, the game was closed out. Nothing more to worry about. No stress. All calm. All good. A potato skin negotiated. No need for energy sapping extra time but instead an immediate return to winning ways after Spurs had put the brakes on that mammoth unbeaten run. Brentford through to the next round and the excitement of the draw. Bristol City here in a few days time when league action recommences. The team sure to return to a more familiar starting XI but, at the same time, one that now knows there are even more options than before to plug the gaps. To increase competition for places. To earn the shirt in their own right.

The future is bright. The future is red, white and youth. Brentford continue to lead the way in squad development and B-team progression. The work started by the much missed Robert Rowan continuing apace. Who knows how vital this will prove between here and May? And beyond...

The architect of so much we enjoy and take for granted. Thank you.

Nick Bruzon  

Tin foil? Check. Sofa? Check. Corona Virus? Check.

9 Jan

The FA Cup third round is here. It began last night at Aston Villa (we’ll get to Dean Smith in a bit) and now Brentford host Middlesbrough this evening. Another run at the stadium in North London near Ikea awaits. Memories of the epic afternoons against Manchester City and Sunderland flooding to the fore every time this competition is mentioned. Even last season’s game with Leicester City at Griffin Park is up there – if only for the fact it was one of the last occasions we were all together. Now, we begin another journey although one I get the feeling is going to see a lot of less familiar faces helping us along the way. A side much more akin to the one that started the early rounds of the League Cup likely to be the direction chosen by Thomas Frank. Albeit, he won’t be there to put an arm around the shoulder or impart some top, top words of advice. Yesterday’s news certainly put paid to that. Award winner in the morning followed by the confirmation he has tested positive for Covid 19. Ten days self-isolation now follow and, of course, everybody wishes him nothing but the best. Talk about the ‘curse’ of manager of the month ! For once, it really is a case of ‘Frank out’. In all seriousness though, one can only hope our inspirational head coach is back amongst us as soon as possible and not suffering any ill effects.

The quintessential Brentford FA Cup image

Yet whomever is picked for Brentford – and even Charlie Goode has noted in his programme interview that “I am sure the squads will be very different today” (from ‘that’ 0-0 with Middlesbrough – the game that dare not speak its name) it is still the FA Cup. It is the third round. It is the single most exciting weekend in the football calendar. The chance for the mighty to fall. For heroes to be made. For the armchair fan to sit back and gorge on all that the cup has to offer. Every game will be available to sofa dwellers and, with nothing else to do, why not. A cup tie is the one occasion where you can dip into a random game and pick a side. The desire to see an ‘upset’ is almost instinctive.

 For example, next weekend sees Sheffield United host Newcastle United in the Premier league. Honestly, is anyone outside of their own fans going to think that looks like an attractive means to spend two hours? Cripes, talk about boredom on a plate and I wouldn’t go near it with a barge pole. Personally speaking. I’ve suffered enough already this season when Middlesbrough came to visit in the league  – and that was my own team dragging themselves through 90 minutes – so have no desire to inflict similar on myself. Yet offer up the prospect of this afternoon’s encounter between Bristol Rovers and Sheffield United, then all of a sudden the chance to watch the Blades limp through a game takes on a whole new level of intrigue. And with our own kicking off at 6pm, it means both can be watched. If you want.

We won’t be there in person. Nobody will. One has to feel for the fans of Marine in particular. Hosting cup kings Spurs yet forced to watch it from the safety of home. There’s an entirely different question out there as to whether football should even go on hold for a while, as it did last season, with more and more clubs returning positive tests. Or, in the case of Bristol City, sore throats. Yet until, or if, that happens, we’ve got this. Watching on from home and hoping to progress. Hoping to get through without injury or suspension that has already robbed us of Josh Dasilva.

I’d still love to be there and would have gone like a shot had we been able. The chance to see Brentford, against anyone, always a pleasure. The opportunity to wield that tin foil trophy – something our Harry has done every season – one that is always grabbed with relish. The creation of the trophy a  Saturday morning ritual of gluing and cutting that we’ve always enjoyed but, alas, not this year. Or maybe we will anyway. Just because.  

Win or lose, we’ve had our moments. Hosting Marcus Gayle and Staines Town. The aforementioned game with Leicester City. Even being dumped out by Walsall. As much because of their own reaction to recently departed boss and ‘Ginger Judas’ Dean Smith who had joined us at Griffin Park. A quite remarkable reaction, a cracking afternoon of cup football and one it would be fair to say that the Saddlers ‘deserved to win’. 

Dean certainly upset the Walsall fans

The league cup run has certainly lifted spirits, that’s for sure. Coming so close to a Wembley final with Manchester City one that, whilst everyone is rightly still looking at with pride, would have been a quite incredible experience had we managed to pull it off. Now, we must go again.

I’m not an idiot. The absolute 110% priority is the league. We’ll never have a better chance to reach the hallowed ground of the top flight and I have no doubt Thomas will juggle resources accordingly. Yet, at the same time, that’s not to say I won’t be investing any less in the FA Cup. Our squad have shown what they can do already and I‘m sure they’ll be out to do the same again this afternoon. Bring it on !!

Now, where are the scissors…?

Another FA Cup journey on the road to Wembley begins.

Nick Bruzon 

Monthly winners announced. Crack out the Picard graphic (and the praise).

8 Jan

Well, well, well. Brentford fans have woken up to discover that Thomas Frank has been named Championship manager of the month for December. Congratulations all round on a quite magnificent run. A nine game unbeaten streak in the month that saw us knock Newcastle United out of the league cup and climb to the automatic promotion slots. Whilst that cup dream may have ended at Spurs on Tuesday the league is very much alive. Our game at Bristol City now been rearranged for next week (Wednesday) whilst we’ve also got a visit from Middlesbrough tomorrow in the FA Cup.

For Thomas, a huge vindication of what he and the squad have accomplished to date. A slow, steady climb up the league despite a whole host of dissenting voices from the more bizarre element of our fan base. The frustration at not winning every game by a country mile or his refusal to pick the same 11 players twice a week accompanied by ‘that hashtag’. Hmm. Its all gone quiet over there, as the song goes.

Instead, the tactics justified and achievements (to date) recognised outside TW8. As Thomas noted, this is a very much about the ‘we’. “This award is one for the team. No Manager or Head Coach will win an award like this without a great team of staff and players going in the same direction”. He went on to recognise the intense efforts of those players, without careful management of whom and clever selection we couldn’t have got this far, “Across the whole of Europe, no team has played more games than Brentford this season. It takes a big effort from everyone to continue to perform to such a high level and everyone should be really proud.

You can read that piece in full, here, on the EFL website.

There was to be no double, sadly. Sergi Canos was nominated as player of the month but lost out to Middlesbrough striker Duncan Watmore. However, even to be in the shortlist is a quite remarkable achievement for player who, its bonkers to think, is still only 23. He seems to have been around forever and is only getting better and better with age. The hate mob gunning for him at the start of the season presumably now back under the rock they emerged from. As we’ve been saying all campaign ; criticism is absolutely fine. Its a natural and vital part of football but the sheer vitriol and hate directed at certain individuals, from people purporting to be supporters of the team, nothing short of embarrassing.

Fortunately, teams aren’t picked by social media. Likewise, the majority recognised the re-emergence of this most exciting player after that awful injury and refused to join the lemming like pile on. Thankfully Thomas Frank had faith in his man and has been duly rewarded. The goal against Blackburn was just magnificent. The hat-trick at Cardiff City something very, very special. That’s before you even factor in the determination, the approach play, the passion. We’ve always loved Sergi in our house and long may that continue.

Congratulations Thomas. Congratulations Sergi. Long may it continue! 

Sergi got 3 out of 3 at Cardiff

This does throw Saturday’s game with Middlesbrough in to question. Nothing to do with Corona Virus but more as to whether the curse of ‘Manager of the month’ transfers to the FA Cup? My gut says this is a league thing but with the two clubs that won the December awards coming head to head tomorrow, could this all implode? We all know the adage about that jinx –  whomever wins the monthly award loses the next game. Seeing this one play out could put a ground breaking twist on everything we know about football folklore.

Otherwise, our next game is the league clash with Bristol City which has been rearranged from Saturday just gone to this Wednesday. In a shock turn of events none of the City players who had gone down with 11th hour Corona symptoms, that they were unable to be tested for, have since been reported as having had a positive test. Who’d have thought it? I guess one should be relieved for the Robins. Imagine having to add Corona Virus to what was already a lengthy injury list at the time they pulled the game. Hmmmmmm.

I’ve heard more convincing explanations at school

The EFL are due to conduct an investigation into the circumstances but that’s not going to change what didn’t happen. Instead we had a weekend off, a sour taste in the mouth and the chance for our first team to be recharged for the Spurs match. Hurrah for VAR. Said nobody ever.

There’s only one thing to do now and that’s get heads down and focus. Nobody can change what has played out in January. Feeling we’ve been treated unjustly by the late postponement or the video treatment of Ivan Toney’s fingers at Spurs is only good, if it inspires us. Wallowing in self-pity of no benefit but I can’t imagine Thomas allowing any of that. We’ve had a quite incredible December that has seen us rewarded on and off the pitch. That’s now done and it is time, as ever, to look forward. Following Bristol City, we’ve the tames with Reading and Luton. Another crowded run of fixtures against teams with the same aspirations as the Bees for promotion.

A very fishy, dodgy story

Before that though, Middlesbrough. I can’t wait to see the team in action. Whichever element of the squad Thomas picks it from.

Nick Bruzon

And for our next trick, watch as the dog makes this homework disappear.

2 Jan

New Year, same Covid. Brentford saw this afternoon’s game with Bristol City canned last night after the visitors declared that due to a number of their squad apparently exhibiting Corona virus symptoms, and the testing laboratory being closed for the bank holiday so they couldn’t know for sure, they would be unable to safely fulfil the fixture. The timing of the sudden outbreak of symptoms to an injury hit squad (at least 8 at the last count) combined with the inability to perform any testing is one which had supporters up in arms. Fishy is not the word. Jose Mourinho would describe the late cancellation of Spurs game against FulhamL as being like Under-13s football. One can only imagine what the Tottenham boss would make of this one.

Everyone at Brentford FC sends their best wishes to Bristol City for a safe and speedy recovery to all those who are affected.” (as opposed to infected ) said the diplomatic blurb from Official on Twitter that went with the announcement. I do wonder what they made of the situation behind closed doors but the narrative on the BBC home page regarding the three games impacted by Corona Virus said it exactly as it was. Read into this what you will.

The BBC website last night

Genuinely, one hopes nobody is ill. The frustration here being the late cancellation of a game in what reads as somewhat murky circumstances. The story is one that, at face value, is about as fishy as Michael Fish dodging a salad to eat fish and chips in Dodge City whilst listening to the greatest hits of pop music’s Dodgy. A Bristol City team who had been pushing for the play-offs but fallen out of contention after losing four of their last five games. A team decimated by injury. A team due to travel to the Championship’s form club. A team who the day before the game suddenly declare an out break of ‘symptoms’, not confirmed cases, but are unable to prove this due to an inability to get tested in this brief window. Hmmmm. Read into this what you will.

An artist’s impressionif it’s good enough for them

The club won’t say anything. They don’t need to. Thomas Frank will, of course, avoid getting himself or us into trouble. Perhaps there will be good wishes to our opponents and then that will be it. Brentford now facing a sudden gap in the fixture list and needing to crowbar this in somewhere else. A Bank Holiday Saturday now cut short and the chance to spend some more time  in our own company now upon us instead. Urghh. We’ll have to do something.

The flip side to all of this, if I can grasp for any positive, is the chance to restore some fitness. Next Saturday is the FA Cup game with Middlesbrough and one in which, no doubt, the team will be made up of fringe players and those normally used to starting on the bench. With our next league game the trip to Reading on January 16th, it does mean we’ll have had a break of over two weeks without Championship action or international call ups. Might it tempt Thomas to start at full strength against Spurs on Tuesday night? If for no other reason than to keep things ticking over. The selection for the League cup semi-final was always going to be a divisive one, whichever way he went. Show faith with those that have got us this far or strengthen the team even more? After all, the ‘W’ place in North London is only 90 minutes away.

My own feeling is that he would have stuck with the Newcastle side. Now, he’ll go for the one that beat Bournemouth. Perhaps with the exception of Luke Daniels. Our reserve ‘keeper more than earning his own chance on merit this season and, were it not for the outstanding ability of David Raya, would surely have had more starts.

That Tottenham game is all to come. For now, we have an afternoon off. A chance to watch the other results roll in as Brentford sit tight. Time spent kicking our heels instead of looking to extend that unbeaten run further. Perhaps evening finishing off our Christmas holiday’s homework, assuming the dog hasn’t eaten it.

The closest we’ll get to anything at Lionel Road today

Nick Bruzon