Dominant Bees look to finish the job - Interview
Monday, 15th Feb 2021 17:06 by Clive Whittingham
Brentford's surprise 2-0 home defeat to Barnsley at the weekend ended an unbeaten run of 21 games in the league as the Bees finally look set to get a Premier League promotion over the line. We talked to journo and fan Ian Westbrook about the season so far.
How's the season been so far? Try not to gloat.
Very impressive as you can imagine, despite Sunday's defeat. We are used to seasons after play-off losses - this is the ninth one we have had - and some have gone better than others. I think most of us expected another play-off challenge at the very least, so to be in the top two going into the QPR game is brilliant. We always start seasons slowly for some reason. Usually it is because we are bedding in a lot of new players, but that wasn't the case this time around. There may have been some sort of hangover from the play-off final - especially with the short turnaround between seasons - and we suffered three defeats in our first seven Championship games to drop to eleventh in the table. But since then up until Sunday, the only way was up with our 21-game unbeaten run, a Bees club record in a single season, and the run to the Carabao Cup semi-finals, the furthest we have ever got in the competition. Now the key is to make sure one defeat doesn't turn into a run of them - starting on Wednesday.
Brentford league results so far…
How have Brentford been able to progress again despite the loss of key players from last year's team?
The perception among non-Brentford fans was that we lost half our team over the summer - but that wasn't the case. Of course we lost Ollie Watkins and Said Benrahma, who scored and made more than 50 goals between them last season, but the rest of the side stayed intact. We kept hold of our goalkeeper and the whole of our defence, all of our midfield, and one part of the famed BMW forward line. Ivan Toney took over Watkins' mantle as top goalscorer and as for the rest of the side, the extra year's experience is really beginning to show. This is especially true when you look at the other difference between this season and last season. In 2019/20, we lost nine games 1-0 - this season if we go behind, more often than not we have hit back for at least a draw.
Ivan Toney, quality, or looking good because he plays for a good team? I can't say I'd ever thought much to him pre-Peterborough but he's killing it for you.
Quality, simple as that, although playing for a good team makes him look even better. Not only is he a natural goalscorer, but there is so much more to his game. He holds up the ball, brings other people into the game, helps out in defence at set-pieces and also sets up goals. Not only is he the leading scorer in the Championship with 23 goals, he is also the top assist-maker too with nine. Even when he had a five-game Championship scoring drought around the turn of the year, he was still contributing to the side.
What did you make of the January transfer business - Winston Reid on loan not a very Brentford-type deal?
You are right to say that Winston Reid is not a normal Brentford-type transfer - we don't usually take players on loan any more or bring in older players. But Reid was a good signing and a necessary addition to the squad. We have four first-team centre-halves, but captain Pontus Jansson is out injured after ankle surgery and Charlie Goode has been absent with illness (although he returned to the bench on Sunday) - so we needed cover. I think fans were hoping for one more addition to the squad, possibly on the wing or as an attacking midfielder, but once everyone is fit again, there will be plenty of options.
Summer Ins >>> Ivan Toney, 24, CF, Peterborough, £5.04m >>> Charlie Goode, 25, CB. Northampton, £990k >>> Vitaly Janelt, 22, DM, Bochum, £540k >>> Samman Ghoddos, 27, AM, Amiens, Loan
Summer Outs >>> Ollie Watkins, 24, CF, Villa, £27m >>> Said Benrahma, 25, LW, West Ham, £20.79m >>> Dru Yearwood, 20, CM, NY Red Bulls, Undisclosed >>> Kamohelo Mokotjo, 29, DM, Cincinnati, Free >>> Jaakko Oksanen, 19, CM, Wimbledon, Loan >>> Luka Racic, 21, CB, Northampton, Loan >>> Halil Dervisoglu, 20, CF, Twente, Loan >>> Jan Zamburek, 19, CM, Shrewsbury, Loan >>> Joel Valencia, 25, RW, Legia Warsaw, Loan >> Patrik Gunnarsson, 19, GK, Viborg, Loan >>> Julian Jeanvier, 28, CB, Kasimpasa (Turkey), Loan >>> Justin Shaibu, 22, CF, Released >>> Nikolaos Karelis, 28, CF, Released
Winter Ins >>> Winston Reid, 32, CB, West Ham, Loan
Winter Outs >>> Dominic Thompson, 20, LB, Swindon, Loan >>> Halil Dervisoglu, 20, CF, Twente, Loan
The team is strong going forward, as has been proved by our recent scoring exploits - especially with 17 goals in the four games prior to Barnsley which have made us easily the top scorers in the Championship. Not only that, but while earlier in the season Ivan Toney was almost the only scorer, goals are now coming from other places, with Josh Dasilva and Sergi Canos in particular finding the net on a regular basis recently.
We are weak at defending set-pieces which are played high into the penalty area, and have also become weak at going behind in the first half, which has happened in each of the last four games.
Confident of getting it over the line this year? What's the key difference on previous near misses?
I hate predicting us to go up, in case I tempt fate and it goes wrong. We have all but sealed a play-off place and we have proved we are good enough to finish in the top two, but now have to finish the job. As I said earlier, the experience of last season will be crucial for both the players and also for Thomas Frank and his coaching staff. The desire not to be beaten is really showing through game after game. As I said earlier, how we bounce back from the Barnsley defeat will be crucial, and the squad has shown enough to inspire confidence that one loss won't lead to a run of them.
How does it feel having all of this - last game at GP, Wembley, now seemingly a promotion to the Premier League in a new stadium - all without fans? Any regrets it's happening now?
That is the worst thing about this season - fans missing many once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Last season, there were huge plans for the last game at Griffin Park, which of course never happened, so to miss that, the first game at the new stadium, a semi-final cup run, and potentially clinching promotion to the Premier League for the first time is awful. If we do go up, who knows whether fans will be back in the stadium to watch us in the Premier League - at least initially.
In one respect, it does make fans feel that at least not getting promotion last season means we are not missing a season in the Premier League right now and visits to Old Trafford, Anfield, the Emirates etc. At least we were able to get fans in for two games in December - against Blackburn and Derby. Unfortunately, on the pitch they were both frustrating draws, but at least 4,000 Brentford supporters were able to enjoy their first taste of a game in our new home.
The Twitter @loftforwords, @IanWestbook
Pictures – Action Images
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Letters from Wiltshire #34 by wessex_exile
I won’t dwell on Robbie’s latest message to the supporters – we’ve all read it, and we’ve all probably drawn our own conclusions about what it doesn’t say as much as what it does. To me, bottom line, I suspect the clock is now ticking for Steve Ball (at least), turn around this terrible form pretty damn quick, or start clearing out your locker. Regardless of personal opinions on any of the individuals concerned, I would like to think none of us actually wants to see people made redundant in the current climate. But, these are difficult times that require tough decisions. If Steve Ball is up to the job and can turn this around, I’ll be more than happy to support him. If he’s not, he has to go before irreparable harm is done…and we all know what that will look like, we’ve been there before…
Letters from Wiltshire #33 by wessex_exile
Today we face a trip to Crawley, not usually a venue that bears fruit for the U’s it has to be said. In nine visits we’ve only won once in the league, and once in the League Cup. Of course, we’ll all remember that League Cup victory, indeed many of us were probably there to see us progress through to 5th round and the dream fixture against Manchester United at Old Trafford. All of our goal-scorers that night, Luke’s Norris and Gambin, and Cohen Bramall (okay, technically an O.G.), are no longer with us, so let’s hope at the very least that recent departee and subsequent returnee Frank Nouble can bag another like his late equaliser against Mansfield. Steve Ball commented during the week about how tight the league is at the moment, and he’s right that a couple of back to back victories would see us move significantly up the table away from danger – but we’ve got to win them first Steve – something we’ve failed to do since our 1-0 victory at Scunthorpe on December 8th.
Letters from Wiltshire #32 by wessex_exile
Fifty years ago yesterday, Colchester United of the 4th Division pulled off the greatest cup giant-killing ever, beating 1st Division Leeds United 3-2 at Layer Road. Watched by 16,000, and the Match of the Day cameras, Dick Graham’s U’s, a rag-tag band of mostly aging journeymen, defied the odds to defeat arguably the greatest club side in Europe at the time. “The greatest cup giant-killing ever” is a bold claim, and over the years various football magazines and websites have run their own polls of which was the greatest. Whilst that day at Layer Rd always features, as the years have gone by other feats fresher in the memory have been put forward as a candidate – we probably all remember Ronnie Radford’s screamer against Newcastle, Sutton’s exploits, or even Bradford City quite recently at Stamford Bridge – but these pale into insignificance when you pause to reflect on the Don Revie side that we beat that day. Sprake, Cooper, Charlton, Hunter, Lorimer, Giles etc – all full internationals, all household names – the only one missing was Billy Bremner, and that was because he was injured. By comparison, all we had to offer was Ray Crawford – at his peak arguably on a par with some in the Leeds side, but that peak had been ten years earlier playing for Ipswich and England. Eleven heroes didn’t just try and hold out against Leeds United, they took the game to their illustrious opponents with such tenacity, grit and no small amount of flair, and before we knew it, the U’s were 3-0 in the lead. As legs tired, Leeds got back into the game with goals from Hunter and Giles, but we held firm – typified at the death by Graham Smith pulling off an impossible save to ensure the U’s achieved the greatest cup giant-killing ever!
Letters from Wiltshire #31 by wessex_exile
And so the dust settles on another transfer window closing, and despite (my) expectations that the possibility of incoming business was going to be remote, we have instead seen a veritable flurry of activity, with no less than three coming in. Big Frank Nouble, making a very welcome return on loan from Plymouth Argyle, of course needs no introduction. Neither really does feisty Brendan Sarpong-Wiredu, here on loan last season, and this time signed full-time from Charlton Athletic for an undisclosed fee. Actually paying hard cash for someone did come as a surprise, presumably offset by the sale of Cohen Bramall to Lincoln for a similarly undisclosed fee. However, the fact that the Addicks have insisted on not only a sell-on clause, but a rarely used buy-back clause too, suggests (a) Wiredu’s signing fee probably wasn’t too high, and (b) Charlton are protecting those finances with these clauses. The last one, which would have been a complete surprise for me were it not for a contact leaking me the news earlier yesterday, is left-back Josh Doherty on loan from Crawley. Josh was only announced once outgoing left-back Bramall was confirmed, and presumably his loan is directly related to part-time fashion model, TV and radio celeb and former left-back Mark Wright signing for Crawley on a non-contract game-by-game basis in December. We have also released seven from the academy, Ollie Kensdale, Miquel Scarlett, Sammie McLeod, Michael Fernandes, Ollie Sims, Danny Collinge and Matt Weaire, and I’m sure we all wish them the best for the future.
Letters from Wiltshire #30 by wessex_exile
Friday night football – can’t beat it. Gives you that feelgood factor all weekend, sitting back to enjoy a stress-free Saturday afternoon watching others fail in your wake. Of course, you have to win first, which we’ve been struggling to do for a while now, so be prepared for the possibility of a miserable weekend just in case. We share this evening with Reading v AFC Bournemouth, albeit they kick-off an hour later than we do. In the real world, leaders of the UK’s five largest business groups have written to Boris demanding action on the substantial difficulties they are facing over Brexit bureaucracy, whilst French border authorities are reporting that two-thirds of lorries arriving from the UK are empty (i.e. no exports leaving the UK). Still, at least the NHS can enjoy their extra £350m per week…
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