Confident Bees in fine form ahead of the derby - Interview
Friday, 21st Apr 2017 11:12 by Clive Whittingham
Billy Grant, who writes and vlogs for Beesotted.co.uk, gives us the low down on Brentford and their recent fine form ahead of tomorrow’s trip to Griffin Park.
Assess Brentford’s season for us?
BG:The best way to describe this season is one of transition. We had to rebuild in summer 2015 after a number of our key players left after our playoff season - our first season in the Championship. Last season (2015/16) it took most of the team the best part of the season to get to grips with the league as many of them hadn’t played in this country never mind at this level. In the end we finished a credible ninth.
We needed to stabilise this season so we didn’t go mad in the summer to upset the whole balance of the team but bought some great players. Three of them - centre back John Egan, midfielder Romaine Sawyers and left back Rico Henry were all in the PFA League One team of the year for last season. We also got Daniel Bentley - the highly rated Southend goalkeeper. We knew we needed pace in the side and tried to buy terrace favourite Sergi Canos in the summer. His agent favoured a move to Norwich so we picked up highly rated Sully Kaikai on loan from Crystal Palace who had a storming season with Shrewsbury on loan the previous year.
The first few months were up and down. After defeat at Huddersfield and Exeter in the cup, we went into a run of inconsistency. Beating teams like Ipswich, Forest, Brighton and smashing Reading but losing to teams like Barnsley (#TeamsLikeBarnsley) and Rotherham.
The highlight of our first few months was beating QPR at Loftus Road. Many saw that as a turning point in our season with many players looking like they were starting to gel. Romaine Sawyers - who showed signs of real skill but was still getting to terms with the step up a division - was coming under a load of stick from a section of the Bees crowd because of his languid style. At Loftus Road he scored a magnificent goal and it was hoped that he would kick on from there. Unfortunately, that win seemed to nosedive our season as we endured a miserable point-less November, and seven points out of 18 in December including a 5-0 drubbing at Norwich who couldn’t buy a point at the time. Sawyers was one player who took the brunt of the stick during that period.
We blame Fulham who came to Griffin Park the week after the QPR game and really turned the screw - playing some great football (it pains me to say it) as they beat us 2-0. It was at that point we reluctantly tipped them for playoffs.
Ironically the turn-around came in January when we made the decision to sell Scott Hogan - who had scored 21 goals in 33 appearances for us - for £12m (we bought him for £750k). He was top scorer by a mile when he stopped playing for us in January - scoring 14 goals. With the Scott Hogan cash we bought the ever enthusiastic winger Canos in from Norwich as - despite them paying £2.5m for him - he wasn’t even warming the bench. We also bought back winger Jota from his loan spell in Spain - having sent him out there for 18 months to sort out some family issues. And we picked up winger Florian Jozefzoon from PSV Eindhoven. On top of that, full back Rico Henry - who we bought with a broken shoulder and had been out of action for over a year - had come back from injury and was ready for action.
Suddenly we had gone from no wingers and make-shift wing-backs to a team brimming with wingers and wing backs and from the last day in January (transfer deadline day ironically), we haven’t really looked back since. We played Villa off the park (3-0). Were 30 seconds away from talking six points of Brighton (3-3) before their 96th minute equaliser. We beat Wednesday on the own patch (2-1). Took completely took the piss out of Forest (3-1) at their place - so much so Canos and Jota were applauded off the pitch by Forest fans when they were substituted.
We came back from 3-1 down at Burton to win 5-3. We made Leeds (2-0), Bristol City (2-0) and Derby (4-0) chase shadows. OK we also lost to teams like Preston (4-2) and a decent Wolves side (2-1) but all in all its been a fantastic three months - with Brentford playing some stunning football.
More to the point - Vibe is on fire. He’s scored 15 goals this season now - 13 of those being in matches once Scott Hogan stopped playing for The Bees (there were a few weeks where Hogan was at Brentford in body but not really in spirit - so he didn’t get a match). Jota has scored ten goals since February but the key thing is both players have also chipped in with untold assists.
Brentford are on fire. Without trying to big ourselves up too much, we’ve played teams like Reading, Brighton, Leeds, Derby off the park. But our inconsistency has let us down as we are a very young side (the average age of the team is well under 24 years).
If we can keep this team together and add two or three players, we could really do damage next season.
Dean Smith came in at a pretty difficult time midway through last season, how’s he done overall?
BG: Dean Smith has done really well. When he came into the side we were all over the place for a number of reasons. We had players from the ‘olde skool’ who wanted out of the side (Diagouraga, Tarkowski). We had a number of players inexperienced in playing English football that he had to deal with. He had a horrendous injury list. He had to deal with things like players going on strike (Tarkowski) and all sorts of politics.
The team was very much work in progress when he came here and he has worked wonders getting players like Nico Yennaris from being a nobody (with all due respect to Nico) to being a key players. The ginger Messi, Ryan Woods, has also improved tremendously over the last 12 months. And you have to give Smith credit for throwing player like Tom Fields - a promising young left back from our academy - in at the deep end.
Yes, he has had his games where things haven’t gone to plan. And he has got loads of stick at times for his tactics and the way he has set up the team from a section of the crowd. But what people have to realise is he’s learning also. And as long as he learns from his mistakes - same as the players - we’ll be a better team.
You have to give Brentford credit for sticking with Smith. They really believe in him and have put systems and staff in place to work together with Smith which will improve him overall as a manager. To work WITH an employee and help him (or her) to get better is much a better strategy than sacking one every ten minutes just because things don’t go your way at first.
BG: Not at all. You’re as good as the football you’re playing on the pitch. Because of our slightly left-field way of discovering players who seem to perform fairly well in this division, we’re not operating with the wage bill of your Derby County or your Sheffield Wednesday (or your QPR mind you) to get results. If we had bought Jota back in the summer instead of in January, we could be sitting nicely in a playoff position right now. That’s how close it is.
If we continue to play the way we are playing and add some consistency, I am convinced we will be competing in the top six teams in the very near future. The stadium will help yes. But even if we got promoted before the stadium was built and were relegated the following season without spending cash foolishly, financially we would then be able to compete in The Championship much better as our turnover is currently the lowest in the division.
It’s a messed up system and I don’t agree with it. But parachute payments are here for the foreseeable and it gives the clubs who have failed in the Premier League a ridiculous advantage in this league. The problems is most teams miss-spend the cash. Look at Villa, Blackburn and to a certain extent Reading - they all having been living off parachute money. I would like to think if we were ever in that position, we would use the money wisely.
How is that new stadium plan progressing?
BG: We’ve started building. Apparently, some people have told me, my photo is even the hoardings around site. We are due to be in the new ground in 2019. We got our dispensation for building seats on the terracing at Griffin Park last month so away fans can enjoy a few more seasons of terrace action before that memory gets consigned to the history books.
The good thing is the new stadium is a 15 minute walk away from the Griffin Park - just by Kew Bridge. So we’re not too far from ‘home’ as it is. We may even be able to drink in the same pubs pre-match.
BG: I reckon it has to be centre back Harlee Dean. Over the whole season. He’s really upped his game this season after being captain and had had some absolute blinding matches. He’s cut out a lot of the mistakes and just got on with the job.
If the season was just the last four months, Jota would be close in the running. He’s been magnificent since he has come back. He’s an absolute legend who can pretty much do no wrong after he scored a 90th minute goal against Fulham the season before last at Griffin Park AND Craven Cottage to send the Bees fans into absolute frenzy.
I guess Vibe would be gutted not getting a mention despite working like a hound dog every game and scoring 13 goals in the last three months.
BG: We never bought a striker after Hogan left so naturally, if you want to look at a position that we need to strengthen (if we are looking at getting strength in depth), then that is what we need. Possibly a defensive midfielder as we haven’t had one in the role that Diagouraga played in since he left us. But all this strengthening means that we will have an even stronger bench. It’s not too bad for us at the moment to be honest as many of the players are really starting to up their game. But we could be in a pickle if injuries take their toll.
Much in these rumours of a Chinese takeover?
BG: There were rumours flying around that Chinese were looking to buy into (as oppose takeover). There is no smoke without fire (someone obviously leaked the news to the national newspaper) but the rumours have died down since. Saying that, we’re not doing too badly at the moment without investment. But I’m not the owner who has to put my hand into my pocked at spend £15m of my own cash every year so who knows eh?
BG: We’ve got nothing to play for. But the players know how important his match is (as opposed to the game at Loftus Road last season where QPR beat us 3-0). If we play like we did against Derby and Bristol City, we’ll do OK. I say we’ll win 2-0
The Twitter @BillyTheBee99, @Beesotted, @Loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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