BRENTFORD 1 BARNSLEY 2

BRENTFORD 1 BARNSLEY 2

So, at the end of an exhausting regular season, Brentford find themselves third in the Championship, in their highest position since falling out of the top flight over 70 years ago, with a goal difference of over 40, and yet absolutely devastated not to be in the Premier League. West Brom, who we chased down over seven games after lockdown, staggered over the finishing line with one point from the last two games, and with even QPR doing their best to help their West London rivals, it proved not to be our night.
Like at Stoke last Saturday, the very early signs were positive with Emiliano Marcondes, replacing Mathias Jensen in the starting line up, having a shot from the edge of the box in the first few minutes. But, as the half wore on, the very energetic high line of Barnsley meant that we were having great difficulty moving the ball out from the back. Indeed, although we didn’t have the benefit of all the statistics,  it seemed a fair bet that David Raya was seeing more of the ball than our forward line. We were being pressured in and around our own box, and, at one point dragged Christian Norgaard back to share the load with Ethan and Pontus in attempting to play through it. News came in that QPR had scored against West Brom and hopes were raised that even if we just drew we would still prevail in the race for the promised land. Barnsley for all their hard work were not getting through our own defence and Rico Henry, in particular, was having a very strong game and repelling attacks down his side of the pitch. However, Ollie Watkins seemed very isolated up front, and we were finding it almost impossible to feed Said Benrahma the ball in areas where he might frighten the opposition. The midfield was crowded and more often than not, it was Barnsley that were getting on to the second ball and stifling our own efforts. There were a lot of niggly fouls, probably due to the importance of the game to both sides, and Robert Jones, the man in the middle, was rather pedantic in his management of the match without at this stage producing any yellow cards. Brentford had two scares in this period of the game, a claim for handball which might well have been given, and another for a foul by Ethan which looked like a penalty from the Braemar Road stand. They were both waved away but we had been warned. And then just as we were counting down to half time and the chance for us to regroup and perhaps reorganise for the second half, Barnsley scored their opening goal. We failed to clear a cross convincingly and Styles latched on to the ball and struck it with power into the net. It was difficult to keep pace with scores elsewhere but no sooner had Barnsley scored than the news went round the very small crowd that West Brom had equalised and so things had gone from bad to worst.
This only got worse with the news, four minutes into the second half that our rivals had scored again at home  and it was difficult not to think that, even if we managed to recover, things were out of our hands. Thomas started to ring the changes and our performance picked up substantially. The biggest difference came on the hour with the arrival in midfield of Mathias Jensen, replacing Rico Henry. Barnsley had gradually become less of a threat and seemed more concerned to stop our movement with a succession of fouls and to waste time whenever possible. Shuffling the pack and putting more men in midfield immediately increased our impact on the game and as they fell back the distance between Ollie and the rest of the team diminished and he started to see more of the ball. Said too was finding space and he was helping to drive us forward, and Josh was a much greater presence in midfield. Their goalmouth was suddenly busier and it seemed much more likely that we would get the breakthrough. It came from a wonderful mazy run from Said, one of those where you feared he would be tripped or would lose control at the vital moment. He glided past at least three of the opposition, slid the ball to Tariq Fosu whose attempt rebounded to Josh who curled one of his trademark shots into the far corner. We were back in the game and to cap it off QPR had equalised. This might be our night after all.
I have to confess that the next twenty minutes was a bit of a blur, with one attack after another, some close, some not so close. The best move was definitely the one where Said once again made space for himself on the left, curled a beautiful ball across the whole defence to Ollie, who very narrowly failed to do what he has done all season. Undaunted we carried on. Ethan and Emiliano had been replaced by Tariq and Sergi Canos because the threat from Barnsley had diminished as ours had grown. They were, of course, not wasting time any more but their attacks were few and far between and were mopped up by our two remaining defenders, Henrik Dalsgaard and Pontus Jansson.  There was slight bedlam in the stands with everyone shouting out scores from other matches – was it possible that QPR might score again, please God yes – and also of course shouting support for the team. Bryan Mbeumo was replaced by Shandon Baptiste just four minutes from time, but we knew that there had to be at least five minutes of added time and so there was still that chance we could nick the win. And then as we moved into six extra minutes, one of those rare breaks from Barnsley broke our hearts. As ever there were questions about a possible foul on Shandon at the start of the movement but with our makeshift defence and a couple of decent passes by their forwards the ball found its way into the net from the foot of Oduor.
The final five minutes seemed to take ten but nothing we did made any difference to the score. To take 24 points from 8 games and none from the last two was as disappointing as it was surprising, but we came up against a very strong team in Stoke at the weekend and Barnsley also thwarted us throughout the first half and somehow managed to limit us to one goal in the second. We were more like ourselves in the final quarter but ultimately it wasn’t enough. This everlasting season has yet another phase. The departure from the competition of Nottingham Forest was perhaps the shock of the night as they had looked as strong as any team in the top half up to the lockdown. They beat us home and away and were my own favourites to reach the final against us. But it’s now Swansea rather than Cardiff on Sunday and, as ever in the playoffs, form counts for nothing. We’d have settled for the playoffs at some points in the season. Let’s now rewrite the record books and close the deal.

Brentford: Raya; Dalsgaard, Jansson, Pinnock (sub Fosu), Henry (Jensen); Marcondes (Canós), Nørgaard, Dasilva; Mbeumo (Baptiste), Watkins, Benrahma

Barnsley: Walton; Sollbauer, Andersen, J. Williams; Ludewig (Schmidt), Mowatt, Ritzmaier (Odour), Styles; Thomas (Simões); Brown, Chaplin (Woodrow)

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STOKE CITY 1 BRENTFORD 0

STOKE CITY 1 BRENTFORD 0

The only way to start this report is with the final score, 1 nil to Stoke City. Having seen WBA lose last night and having spent the rest of the night and this morning thinking about the opportunity created by that loss, it was deeply disappointing not to take advantage of it. Immediately afterwards, on social media, this was cruelly described as snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, and comparisons were being drawn with the Trotta penalty against Doncaster, but this doesn’t tell the whole story. Before we kicked off this afternoon, we had played 7 high pressure games against dogged opposition, none more tough than against Preston only three days previously, and, as they did today, every member of the team gave their utmost. This is a team that, at its best, and it has been at its best over the same period, is a delight to watch and one that most other teams find impossible to negate. We were all wondering if the intensity of the challenge would take its toll and, together with perhaps the most organised defence we’ve faced in recent weeks, it seems that it might have done.

The pattern of the game was set right from the first minute, with Stoke getting the ball forward into wide areas and putting some great crosses into the box, where Vokes and Gregory were waiting for them. We tried throughout the game to get into our passing rhythm but too often the last pass in the final third was intercepted or the ball was taken off the toes of Ollie Watkins and Said Benrahma. Brian Mbeumo was busy down the right wing, and Rico Henry made some dashing runs down the left but the sharpness and pace of previous games seemed to be lacking in much of our work. Stoke, with Powell Batth and McClean adding their vast experience and knowing professionalism to the two powerful forwards, were making life very difficult, and Clucas was also very busy in midfield. Having said all that, we were quietly confident that for all their threat, they didn’t seem likely to score, and, after all, we would be content with a point if we couldn’t have all three. And then as the clock ticked on towards half time, David Raya failed to either secure a long shot from Clucas or push it away, and Gregory jumped on the rebound to put Stoke ahead. Even then we were not too downhearted as we judged we would create chances just as we have in almost every game this season and we would prevail. But it was not to be. The only notable event in our favour in the first half was a blatant foul on Ethan Pinnock in the box from a set piece that went unnoticed and unpunished. It was a clear penalty but the lack of a decision rather summed up our day. If we were going to get anything from the game we would have to do it despite the officials.
To be fair to Stoke, they had the best chance of the third quarter of the game with another beautifully weighted cross headed only narrowly wide with our central defenders both beaten, albeit for the only time in the match. Our tempo increased after the restart and we seemed to be getting into our stride, but rather fussy refereeing and incessant time wasting made this difficult. If this seems like sour grapes, it probably is, as there was little spark in our work, but one wonders how or why officials are so reluctant to get on top of such frustrating tactics designed to break up play.

Perhaps because our nerves were being shredded by the inability of our forward line to have any impact on the Stoke defence, it became very difficult to watch. Time and time again we passed the ball across the back line, through the midfield, chiefly by great work again by the tireless Christian Norgaard, to Said or Emiliano, who had replaced Josh da Silva on 59 minutes, only to see the move break down on the edge of the packed Stoke box. They were stretched across the park with only Gregory up front, and were so well drilled and, mainly within the rules, physical, that we really didn’t trouble Davies in goal until the last five minutes.Thomas tried a number of different permutations, bringing on Halil and Sergi for Rico and Matthias on 69 minutes, and then Shandon and Tariq for Bryan and Henrik for the last 10 minutes but it didn’t change the pattern of play, now largely Brentford in possession running into the wall that was Stoke’s defence and the odd but ineffective counter attacks. The only impact that Campbell had made as a substitute, in truth, was that his time wasting was so blatant as to finally see Mr Eltringham produce a yellow card. Such was the surprise felt by the official at this point that he then threw his yellow card to the ground and ran off without it. Emiliano I think it was that called him back and retrieved it.
We piled forward in the last five or ten minutes with more pace and purpose and once again Ethan was blatantly pushed over in the box and once again it went unpunished. And after a couple of half chances, one by Watkins that he put narrowly wide from close in on goal, and another by Sergi, where with more match sharpness he might have either had a better shot or a better cross from the right, it was Ethan who finally drew a very good save from Davies in the dying embers of this disappointing game.

I’m sure there will be many theories as to why we finally dropped three points and various views on how it might have been avoided, along the lines of “if only we’d started with x instead of y”, But none of us know what knocks this squad are carrying as a result of the last seven games and only Thomas and the back room team are in a position to balance inevitable tiredness against the need for certain individuals to be on the pitch. The one thing you couldn’t fault today was effort and it simply wasn’t enough on this occasion. Stoke were strong and ultimately too strong for us.
Eight games unbeaten is an extraordinary achievement in this most competitive of leagues, seven in the last few hectic weeks, and it is a tribute to the pressure put on WBA that they started to falter. We are still in the game, with two more chances to gain that promotion, next Wednesday and the play-offs. Four days rest and time to analyse this rare off day should see us bounce back for the game against Barnsley, a game still possibly the last one to be played at Griffin Park.

Stoke City: Davies; Batth, Chester, Martins Indi; Smith, Cousins, Clucas, McLean; Powell (sub Collin) Gregory (Sorensen), Vokes ( Campbell)

Brentford: Raya; Dalsgaard (Baptiste), Jansson, Pinnock, Henry (Dervişoğlu ); Jensen (Canós), Nørgaard, Dasilva (Marcondes ); Mbeumo (Fosu ), Watkins, Benrahma

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BRENTFORD 1 PRESTON NORTH END 0

BRENTFORD 1 PRESTON NORTH END 0

“I can cope with the despair, it’s the hope I can’t stand”. These words, spoken by John Cleese in the film Clockwise, capture rather well the conflicting emotions as we continue to prolong the possibility of automatic promotion. This winning run has some similarities with his journey, as  his character in the film, faced with overwhelming odds, over and over again, and increasingly narrowly,  keeps snatching victory from the jaws of defeat and stays on track. 

The game against Preston looked on paper as probably the most difficult hurdle remaining. They had beaten us at Deepdale and their style, similar to that of of Millwall and Cardiff, is one that traditionally has caused us problems. However, the early goal after only four minutes, stemming from a tackle by Ethan Pinnock near our corner flag and a subsequent quick passing movement and a sublime pass from Emiliano Marcondes to Ollie Watkins, looked as if it might calm our nerves. And for much of the first half, Brentford were able to control the match, with only a couple of stray passes out of defence causing any palpitations. Preston are one of those sides that are not too bothered about the possession statistics; they are well organised, they harry the opposition, and when play breaks down, they all get into the final third as quickly as possible. Their hard work and undoubted physicality meant that Rico Henry and Henrik Dalsgaard needed the support of their teammates to nullify the threat, and although the Bees were dominant,  they didn’t make the most of their dominance and only caused Declan Rudd to pull off one save from a Said Benrahma shot in the first 45 minutes. Notable again for us at the game was the commanding voice of Pontus Jansson marshalling the defence and reminding the whole team to keep the pace in our forward play. 

From the first minute of the second half we knew we were in for a much harder game, with Alex Neil moving from the rigid five at the back formation and pushing Preston much further up the pitch. In some respects he seemed to allow them to play more football, and they started to pass the ball through the midfield with many fewer long balls above their heads. A free kick from Darnell Fisher, whose main contribution had been to foul Rico throughout the first half without the referee taking any action, was probably Preston’s best chance of the game, drawing a great diving save from David Raya. There was a slight breeze against Preston which meant that Rudd’s kicks were holding up rather than going straight through to David Raya as in the first half. There were more occasions prior to the water break when the nerves of the few spectators were tested and it was no surprise when just before that break, Matthias Jensen was replaced by the fresh legs and bigger physical presence of Josh da Silva. It was unclear from the Braemar Road stand whether Thomas had the white board out during the break .I’m told that on TV it looked more like a white pad, but very little changed in the pattern of the game when play resumed. 

As we knew they would, PNE started to ring the changes. Whatever Alex Neil may have said after the game, this was make or break for their season, and he didn’t want to go down without trying different players. So, on 75 minutes, on came Jaydon Stockley, Scott Sinclair and Brad Potts, which, particularly with Stockley, increased the physical threat up front and promised to make life for Pontus, Henrik and Ethan even more uncomfortable. In response, Brentford got slightly smaller with the tiring Bryan Mbeumo replaced by Joel Valencia. Stockley had the immediate predicted impact getting on the end of long balls and more often than ideal seeing the ball bounce off him to a teammate. We started looking anxiously at the clock as our fewer breaks upfield were matched by balls into the box, one in particular causing some alarm and ultimately pain to Emiliano as the clearance smashed into his midriff rather than reaching midfield. Having said all that, Raya was not called into action and most of the trouble was nullified by the defence in front of him. 

Alex Neil’s final changes saw Harrop and Bodin on 84 minutes but by that stage we appeared to be coping with the more direct threat of Stockley and having most of the ball, without making the most of the breaks we created. Watkins was pulling their defence all over the area just outside the 18 yard box, demonstrating once again how well he has managed the transformation from winger to fully fledged centre forward, but neither he nor Benrahma could quite turn chances into that crucial second goal. Joel Valencia was busy but was finding it difficult to get into the game, and it was with some surprise we saw the equally slight Jan Zamburek enter the fray for the final 7 minutes. However, he linked up well with those around him and helped Brentford see the game out, with only one or two final flourishes from the opposition. Throughout the game, the quiet competence of Christian Norgaard could easily have been overlooked but he was the constant fulcrum in midfield, a calm and calming influence, constantly moving into space, making himself available and playing the simple ball to a teammate. 

And so we still have hope.

Brentford: Raya; Dalsgaard, Jansson, Pinnock, Henry; Jensen (Dasilva ), Nørgaard, Marcondes (Žambůrek); Mbeumo (Valencia), Watkins, Benrahma

Preston North End: Rudd; Fisher (Stockley ), Storey, Bauer, Hughes, Rafferty; Ledson (Harrop), Johnson; Barkhuizen (Sinclair), Browne (Potts), Maguire (Bodin)

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DERBY COUNTY 1 BRENTFORD 3

DERBY COUNTY 1 BRENTFORD 3

Even when the gap between the two Championship leaders and the chasers Brentford was eleven points, there were firm believers inside the Bees camp, especially Co-Directors of Football Phil Giles and Rasmus Ankersen. Their team could hunt down Leeds or West Brom, or maybe even both, and in the event of drawing level on points Brentford’s amazing goal difference could come into play. When the season restarted it would need extraordinary consistency over the remaining nine matches and there would have to be days when the Bees took all the points and a leader dropped some. This was to be one of those days and after six successive victories since the restart -seven in all- who is to say there can’t be at least one more day like this in the remaining three matches.

As a result of their evidence-based optimism the landmark of securing a play off place seems a side issue, something we’d almost taken for granted. Hopefully it won’t be needed because our target, our obsession, is an automatic promotion slot that removes the casino of the play-offs. When we reached the play-offs in our first season in the Championship in 2014-15 it was an achievement that justified celebrations in its own right. Those of us who stood in the away end in the second leg at Middlesbrough will accept we were a long way short of Premier League status that night. Now this feels very different, Brentford have earned the right to be taken seriously as contenders for automatic promotion to the most successful league in the world. No ‘little old Brentford’ now.

The game at Derby will best be remembered for one of Brentford’s goals of the season but a goal scored later in the day further north on a ground Brentford rarely win at turned out to be equally important. First that Bees goal. In these strange COVID days there were just ten spectators watching in that corner of Pride Park, nine jubilant Brentford officials and one worried-looking scout from our next opponents, Preston. And how the nine’s cheers echoed round the ground- ‘great noise from the boardroom again’ tweeted Head of Recruitment Lee Dykes- cheers that were even louder than they had been just fifteen minutes before when Said Benrahma got his first goal. That one came when he shot from the left directly right at County keeper Ben Hamer- remember him from seasons past at loan at Griffin Park? – but Hamer managed to fumble the ball enough for it to roll over the goal line. However Said’s second was 100% credit  to ‘the Algerian Messi’, how often do you see a goal scored by a player while running sideways away from goal? A nice pass from Emiliano Marcondes set up Said on the left facing two players. He drove infield leaving them trailing enough in his wake to give him the space to select one target spot in the far corner where he could curve a shot into the net. As Said duly did, Derby’s Wayne Rooney – no stranger to great goals himself- watched in astonishment. The Brentford nine rose in salute and Said saluted back after his sixth goal in three games. For five full minutes the Derby scoreboard resolutely failed to acknowledge a goal had been scored before finally bowing to the inevitable.

Brentford had gone into the game with one more day’s recovery from the midweek matches than Derby, but County had two players back from suspension. Tom Lawrence had served his three game ban and Louie Sibley never started his because it was rescinded. For the Bees, Marcondes replaced Mathias Jensen in the starting line-up and Mads Roerslev, substituted at half-time after a difficult first half against Charlton, was given another chance to stand in for Henrik Dalsgaard.

Derby had been weak bordering on feeble in their game against WBA earlier in the week but they made a much stronger start this time, with 34 year old Rooney inevitably the prompter rather than the executioner. It came to nothing when after only 3 minutes some inter-play on the left between Josh Da Silva and Benrahma set up Bryan Mbeumo for a shot at goal that hit the post and fell into the path of Ollie Watkins. The Brentford striker put it away to take his tally to 24 Championship goals and 3 assists, that’s the same goals but 2 assists more than Aleksander Mitrovic who scored the previous evening for Fulham. Bryan Mbeumo almost got a second but it was headed clear by the Derby defence.

At the other end the Rams tried taking the battle head-on against the Bees two central defenders, but Rooney, realising the height advantage of Pontus Jansson and Ethan Pinnock over his strikers, kept the ball on the ground and from one such attack Derby equalised through Jason Knight. One-all at halftime with the stats suggesting that was a fair score. But Brentford’s standards are now so high that Thomas Frank said afterwards the first half had been the worst half of the six games since the restart.

The second half was changed by those two Benrahma goals and though Rooney continued to threaten with corners and free kicks David Raya was untroubled. Said was, of course, the man of the match but a special commendation for Rico Henry who so often gets overlooked in these awards. Today he was superb even after Knight gave him a kick in the leg with an impact that could be heard around the mostly silent ground. Fluent in attack, efficient in defence, Rico seemed a touch disappointed to have been subbed for the final few minutes to give Dominic Thompson an outing. If there’d been a crowd in the stadium he would have got a standing ovation from Bees fans.

At the end the players went over to the far corner of the ground where the Brentford boardroom delegation were camped out on a distant balcony and a delighted Pontus gave the post-match interview to Sky beaming with confidence about what comes next.

Within minutes everybody’s attention turned to what was about to happen up at Ewood Park and those driving south tuned their radios to Talk Sport 2 for live coverage of West Brom’s visit to Blackburn. After the Baggies dominated the first-half and went in one-nil up, those of us who’d given up four hours during the week watching and waiting unsuccessfully for the two league leaders to drop points probably assumed there was more of the same to come. But Blackburn manager Tony Mowbray did something he could only do under the special rules of this re-started season, make four substitutes at once. An immediate dividend was paid when Joe Rothwell scored. On the radio co-commentator Micky Gray acknowledged this would be especially good news for the Brentford party heading home. Blackburn had another chance to boost their own play-off hopes and Brentford’s bolder ambitions when mid-fielder Jacob Davenport went through through one on one with the WBA keeper but managed to shoot straight at Sam Johnstone.West Brom battled for their own winner but Blackburn held out.

When it comes to pitch side images of the day that tell a story, compare a desperate WBA’s Slaven Bilic wrestling with a Blackburn player to get the ball back with Thomas Frank laughing and joking with Said Benrahma.

Three matches remain for Brentford in the regular season; Preston at home, Stoke away and then Barnsley at home with the very real possibility that Brentford’s last scheduled match at Griffin Park could be the one that decides if we go to the Premier League or face the play-offs with one more ‘Farewell to Griffin Park’, hopefully in a second leg.

By the time Preston, still in with a chance of that fourth play-off spot despite dropping points against Forest, come to Brentford on Wednesday West Brom will have played Fulham. Who knows, they might have dropped points again.That Bees dream is still alive.

Derby County: Hamer; Bogle, Clarke, Evans, Lowe; Rooney, Bird (sub Forsyth ); Knight (Jozefzoon) , Sibley (Whittaker ), Lawrence; Martin

Brentford: Raya; Roerslev, Jansson, Pinnock, Henry (Thompson); Marcondes, Nørgaard (Jensen ), Dasilva ( Žambůrek ); Mbeumo (Valencia ), Watkins, Benrahma (Fosu)

 

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GOOD OMEN FOR BEES AS FCM WIN TITLE IN FRONT OF FANS

GOOD OMEN FOR BEES AS FCM WIN TITLE IN FRONT OF FANS

Matthew Benham’s other club -FC Midtjylland (FCM)- won a hat-trick of Danish league titles on Thursday night when they beat local rivals FC Copenhagen 3-1 in front of their fans, yes that’s right fans. It was, as FCM Chairman and Brentford Co-Director of Football Rasmus Ankersen, tweeted ‘One of those nights’. Matthew Benham himself tweeted ‘3rd championship in 6 seasons, congratulations to Brian and everyone’. Brian Priske is the coach of FCM.

The Danish season came to a climax almost a year after it started because of the break caused by the pandemic but Denmark’s progress out of lockdown meant that 4,800 fans were able to be inside what is normally the 11,432-capacity MCH Arena in Herning. Rasmus tells us the Danish league has protocols for social distancing in the stadium which allow FCM to reach approximately half capacity, but it was a little less yesterday.

Among them was Rasmus himself whose celebrations featured prominently in the Danish TV coverage. The end of the quarantine restrictions on people re-entering Britain means he can now come back in time for Brentford’s game at Derby.

FC Midtjylland were so far ahead in the title race that it was only going to be a matter of time before they won the title.They only needed to draw a game to clinch the Danish ‘Superliga’. But the chance to win at home and against defending champions FC Copenhagen, a much older and bigger club, made the anticipation even greater. It didn’t start well when Mohammed Daramy put Copenhagen ahead after 22 minutes and that was the score at half-time. But in the second-half came three FCM goals, first a Sory Kaba penalty, then the goal of the night from former Brighton winger Anders Dreyer who picked up the ball outside the box and let fly with a stunning shot that flew into the top corner.

FC Copenhagen struggled to respond and when Awer Mabil scored for the home side nine minutes from time it started the celebrations, which continued with  fireworks after the full-time whistle. Former Brentford striker, Lasse Vibe, was on the bench and joined the celebrations. He had played a key role in an earlier game that took FCM to the cusp of the title. Current Brentford player Emiliano Marcondes played 12 games on loan at FCM earlier this season and many credit that loan spell as the turning point in getting him back on top form for the Bees. Both Emiliano and Lasse are scheduled to get a gold medal when FCM receive the trophy on July 26th. That date may collide with the first Championship playoff, but of course if Brentford are promoted through the automatic slots Emiliano will be free to go to the media ceremony on the 26th.

Midtjylland are now 17 points ahead of Copenhagen and they have each claimed three titles in the last six years. FCM go into the qualifying rounds of the Champions League.The club is one of those rare ventures -a new football club, founded as recently as 1999. It was a merger of two clubs in the centre of Jutland, hence Midtjylland which means ‘Central Jutland’, there isn’t an actual place called Midtjylland.

In 2000, the club was promoted to the Danish Superliga and In 2014 Matthew Benham became the majority shareholder of the parent company FCM Holding. Alongside Rasmus on the board are Matthew’s representatives  Cliff Crown and Nity Raj, who are both also on the Brentford board.

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BRENTFORD 2 CHARLTON ATHLETIC 1

BRENTFORD 2 CHARLTON ATHLETIC 1

Four games played since the restart and four games won without conceding a goal, but, in truth, no real pressure on David Raya’s goal in the last two of those matches. One sensed that Charlton would be a different challenge and memories of their dogged defence of the goal that gave them three points at the Valley were soon refreshed by their early goal at Griffin Park. Back then at the start of the season we were frustrated by time wasting that started the minute they scored just before half time, and by what many of us felt was a ref rather too sympathetic to their tough uncompromising style. The only change tonight was that we had longer to repair the damage but they were no less physical and John Brooks was no less indulgent of their approach.

With so many games in such a short time it is inevitable that Thomas Frank has to balance playing his strongest possible selection with ensuring that key players are kept as fresh as possible. The injury to Shandon Baptiste didn’t afford him the opportunity to rest Josh da Silva, but Mathias Jensen started ahead of Emiliano Marcondes in the middle, and Mads Roerslev, having come on late for Henrik Dalsgaard in the previous match, started on the right instead of him tonight.

And, in the eighth minute it was from a lovely deep cross by  Alfie Doughty on our right that the opening goal was scored, Jake Forster-Caskey heading it on to his partner Bonne whose own header evaded David Raya. The move was started by Jonny Williams, who, along with Doughty, was very industrious throughout the first half. Charlton had a couple of chances following that early shock but the first half fairly quickly fell into the Brentford attack against the opposition defence  pattern that we’ve seen since the restart after lockdown. The difference between Charlton and our two most recent opponents was their greater organisation and, some might argue greater luck. Brentford played most of their football in front of the Charlton defence and the few shots we had on goal were long range and frustratingly just too high or narrowly wide.

The start of the second half followed the pattern of the first 45 minutes, with Said Benrahma and Josh da Silva causing the Charlton midfield all sorts of problems going forward and Christian Norgaard, once again, imperious in tidying up behind them and making himself available as a link between them and the back four. Brentford were clearly on top but the scoreboard remained the same. Bryan Mbeumo was being well looked after by the defenders on that side and the central defenders and particularly Lockyer were making life very difficult for Ollie Watkins. Their close marking was thought by those of us there to be rather too close on several occasions but our view was not shared by the man in black.

Then there was a rash of substitutions by both sides, with Charlton I felt being weakened by the departure of Williams and later on by Doughty too, but given their relentless running for the first hour or so, it was inevitable that Lee Bowyer would have to freshen up his midfield. The introduction by Brentford of Henrik and Emiliano made an immediate difference with the former particularly providing much more in attack down the right. Josh da Silva was having a greater influence as the game went on and our only enemy was the clock. There were a number of very close things before the decisive penalty decision in the 75th minute. Said had broken into the penalty area and, although it wasn’t clear to those of us at the ground, texts from friends and family watching on ifollow assured us it was the right decision. After a tense few minutes of arguments and pushing and shoving on the edge of the box, Said stepped up and finally provided Brentford the breakthrough their play had deserved. The following ten minutes produced further heart in mouth moments in the Charlton box, with a measured left footed curler by Josh against the bar perhaps the closest we came to the winner.

Apparently there was some outrage on twitter at Thomas using a white board to help get his point across to the team in the second half drinks break, but together with that message and the inspired introduction of Halil Dervisloglu, he once again demonstrated his own expertise and inestimable contribution to our winning run. Halil was a thorn in Charlton’s side from the minute he arrived, and it was a measure of his approach that he earned the only yellow card of the game from the ever indulgent referee. Finally, on 85 minutes, we broke the deadlock.The goal came after intense pressure from the home side with the Charlton goalkeeper, Philips pulling off one save after another. A shot by Said was pushed to one side for a corner, it was taken short, and then a combination of two of Brentford’s top performers of the evening, Josh da Silva with yet another cross  and Ethan Pinnock’s  header produced the goods.

We only had to endure some further tense but in truth not too tense minutes before celebrating another win and relishing putting even more pressure on those teams above us. This was a massive win. The first time since the restart that we’ve conceded a goal and had to come back from that early setback. It was a colossal team effort, and everyone played their part. All of our games are now being played under extreme pressure, but the experience of Pontus, Christian and Henrik is helping ensure that we stay patient when the chips are down, and that we continue to play our own game. Roll on Derby.

Brentford: Raya; Roerslev (sub Dalsgaard), Jansson, Pinnock, Henry; Jensen ( Marcondes), Nørgaard, Dasilva; Mbeumo ( Dervişoğlu), Watkins, Benrahma.

Charlton Athletic: Phillips; Matthews, Lockyear, Pearce, Sarr, Doughty (Oshilaja); Cullen, Field (Pratley ); Forster-Caskey (Morgan ), Williams ( Lapslie ); Bonne ( Aneke )

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