Formidable at home, flakey away, Bees reflect on what might have been - Interview
Friday, 1st Mar 2019 10:13 by Clive Whittingham
Ahead of Saturday’s trip west to Griffin Park, we caught up with Brentford fan Ian Westbrook to discuss the Bees’ wildly inconsistent form and season of ups and downs.
Such an odd season of highs and lows for Brentford, how would you assess it overall?
Odd is a good way to describe it to be honest, but also frustrating. It promised to be a season where we had realistic hopes of reaching the play-offs for the first time in four years, because over the summer we only lost one major player - in Ryan Woods - but kept the likes of Neal Maupay, Ollie Watkins and Chris Mepham. And that was backed up by a superb start, in which we only lost one of our first seven games to go second in the table behind Leeds. However, things went wrong after that on the pitch and then Dean Smith left, the club was rocked by the tragic sudden death of technical director Robert Rowan at the age of 28 and Thomas Frank couldn't buy a win. The new year has been a different story, however, with some superb performances which leave us with a feeling of "what if" over some of the points and games we have thrown away.
Billy was very happy with the appointment of Thomas Frank when we last spoke, but he started off on a long losing run. Why was that? Was the pressure building on him?
Thomas Frank took over when the side was already on a winless run of six games - five in the league and the Carabao Cup exit at Arsenal. That meant he needed to arrest the slide quickly, but in his first two months in charge he failed to do that - presiding over a run of eight defeats in his first ten matches. It appears the club didn't put him under any pressure, but calls for his head were mounting on messageboards and social media and while fans at games were patient, a 2-0 defeat in the sleet at Hull in mid-December finally saw that patience crack and several fans chant for him to leave during the game, and afterwards when he came across to applaud us.
And how has he turned it round so spectacularly?
He was brave enough to change the way the side had played for a long time and switch from a flat back four to three centre-halves and two wing-backs for a game at home to Bolton just before Christmas. We scraped a 1-0 win that day and haven't looked back since, as that started a run of two defeats in our next 11 League matches - at Nottingham Forest nearly three weeks ago and at Sheffield Wednesday on Tuesday. During the bad run, we had got into a habit of conceding gluts of two or three goals in quick succession - the QPR game was one match where that happened - but the defence tightened up initially, and that led us to start winning again. Although we have recently started shipping an average of two goals per game, we have learned to come from behind and have started rattling in plenty of goals at the other end, so it matters less.
I don't want this to sound like bitterness - because it's honestly not - but no, I never thought Dean would take Villa into the play-offs this season and I still don't. He is a decent coach and our players obviously really liked him and played for him, but Villa's squad is totally different to ours. The Brentford squad is one of the youngest in the division, whereas Villa's is much older and used to playing in a different way. I understand why he went there with it being his boyhood club, but also think it was a gamble as he had a very safe job at Brentford, but that may not be the case at Villa Park. I hope they give him the time to bring in his own players over the summer - unless they are any of ours of course! - and would be happy to see him do well there, just not at our expense.
Just one away win, compared to ten at home, why the struggles on the road?
That's the big question and I don't have an answer I'm afraid. I've seen most games this season, home and away, and we play the same way wherever we are. It is becoming almost psychological now. Certain games we lost or drew because of silly individual mistakes but we have lost exactly half of our matches on the road with one win, seven draws and eight defeats. Some people blame our brown and orange away kit - I'm not a fan but don't think that's the reason, especially as we have been in red and white for most away games - but there must be more to it than that.
Stand-out players and weak links in the team?
Currently winger Said Benrahma is our stand-out player. Not just because of his hat-trick against Hull last Saturday but he is one of those players who has a little bit of magic about him and who is exciting to watch. We signed him last summer and after a shaky start, including a needless sending-off against Reading, he has learned his lesson, and once he pinned down a regular starting place, has been crucial to our attacking play. His total of 11 Championship assists is the joint highest in the division and he has also scored seven goals. Top scorer Neal Maupay - 19 league goals and three in the cups - is another one to watch of course.
Our weak links are at the back - not any particular defender, but we struggle to defend set pieces and often can't cope with high balls played into the box.
Do you fear another summer of departures disrupting the current momentum? Or are hopes high for next season?
We always fear a summer of departures - that's the model we work to and most of understand it, even though it is frustrating. It is why the club has survived for five seasons in the Championship and is set for a sixth next term - the money made on players has kept us going. But it would be nice to think that players like Benrahma, Maupay, Watkins and Sawyers will be with us beyond the end of the August transfer window, so we can mark the final season at our beloved Griffin Park with a real promotion push. Several players are out of contract so are likely to be moving on, but the real issues come with those who only have a year remaining on their deals, as the club don't often let the ones who won't renew run down their deals and will sell to avoid them leaving for nothing.
The Twitter @loftforwords, @Beesotted. @ianwestbrook
Pictures – Action Images
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