“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)
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)
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.
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 )
Brentford’s Director of Fan Relations, Sally Stephens, brings yet more flags into Griffin Park as Bees United launches a ‘Spot Your Flag’ service. We’ve tried to photograph as many as possible of the flags. We couldn’t quite manage all 150 plus of them but not to worry, the club will be doing a better version later in the week and that should include the fan photos too. In the meantime see if you can spot your flag here:
Brentford had sympathy with but no mercy for a Wigan team owed wages by their invisible owner and possibly doomed to relegation by his bizarre decision to go into administration just when things were going well.
A hat-trick by Said Benrahma and so many other great performances in the wake of Said in the battle for Man of the Match that you lost count, all we needed was a Bees crowd inside Griffin Park to enjoy the fifth clean sheet in succession (495 minutes since a goal conceded to be precise) and the ninth goal since the restart.
There were more fans flags on display but when it came to human beings it was still just the Directors Ten, the rotating list of Brentford board members and associate directors who are allowed by the EFL into each game. At one point Peter Gilham on the PA urged ‘Come on Bees Fans, Come On Directors’. And how they cheered their team on during and after a superb display by a Brentford team full of confidence and still focused on an automatic promotion slot.
Shandon Baptise got a deserved start with Josh Da Silva resting on the bench, but after 40 minutes Shandon had to go off with an injured back and Josh came on. It says a lot about the quality of the Brentford squad that bringing on a sub strengthened the team. By then the Bees were already one nil up after Benrahma turned in the box to put home his first.
His second was a ‘did he mean it or not’ cross that Wigan keeper David Marshall misjudged and had to watch as it landed in the net. From the Braemar Road stand it looked as if it was going wide. ‘Oh’ said Peter Gilham. To complete the hat-trick Said finished off an excellent move in which Christian Norgaard and that man Da Silva also had starring roles.
There were so many moments to enjoy: the aerial battles between the two two-metre high men Ethan Pinnock and Kieffer Moore, the first touch sweeping passes of Norgaard, the boundless energy of Rico Henry, the endless running of Ollie Watkins and yes the happiness of captain Pontus Jansson beaming with delight as his team headed for victory.
To add to the growing list of sounds we don’t normally hear: one hell of a crunch as Rico collided with a bulky Wigan bloke then promptly jumped up as if nothing had happened and a precious moment at the end as Wigan captain Sam Morsy shouted at fellow defender Antonee Robinson that he was a ‘xucking xickhead’. It was that kind of day for Wigan who also had sub Joe Garner soon sent off for a high kick in what looked a harsh decision.
No wonder former England international turned Wigan’s ‘football consultant’ Peter Reid was a forlorn figure in the stands.
Brentford: Raya; Dalsgaard, Jansson, Pinnock, Henry; Marcondes (sub Jensen ), Nørgaard (Žambůrek ), Baptiste (Dasilva ); Mbeumo ( Valencia ), Watkins, Benrahma (Fosu)
Wigan Athletic: Marshall; Byrne (Mlakar ), Kipré, Balogun ( Massey ), Robinson; Morsy, Williams; Lowe ( Fox ), Dowell ( Evans ), Naismith; Moore ( Garner )