New Beesotted contributor Simon Radford (@sradford22) gives his thoughts on Brentford’s victory over Forest Green Rovers in the League Cup
The early rounds of the Carabao Cup, as far as Premier League teams are concerned, are meant to serve three main purposes. Get some squad players minutes to keep them match sharp. Look at some non-regulars with half an eye on whether they can make a claim to start in league games. And, most importantly, get through to the next round of the cup.
While most of those who started against Palace at Selhurst Park wouldn’t have seen too much to worry them about the security of their positions in the line-up, Brentford go into the third-round draw with some squad players having to have worked harder for 90 minutes than perhaps they expected.
Boxing fans often say that “styles make fights”, but it was Brentford’s first-half system that served to make this a much closer game than it needed to be. The Bees started off in a narrow 4-3-3, with Dervisoglu and Wissa playing inside behind a largely ineffectual Marcus Forss. This lack of width, and Forest Green Rovers’ energy and neat passing, meant that Brentford played much of the first half on the back foot.
Forest Green Rovers, cheered on by a voluble away following, were far from intimidated and were good value for their first-half lead, given to them by Aitchison in the 8th minute after a passage of play littered by mistakes which summed up Brentford’s first half.
The first-half system of two strikers was designed to get minutes for both Wissa and second striker Dervisoglu. This only served to put a particular strain on Brentford’s fullbacks compared to the wider 4-3-3 of last season with two wide attackers,. Mads Roerslev, withdrawn at halftime, will particularly want to forget this match, and his performance will underline some fans’ conviction that a new wingback to challenge Sergi could still be a priority in what is left of the window.
During the first half as the ball was played out to Brentford’s fullbacks, Roerslev and Thompson were forced to look inside for an outlet, and the high-pressing Rovers’ midfield put both the ball receiver and the fullback under pressure, forcing several turnovers high up the pitch.
FGR’s goal came from a weak Roerslev pass under pressure from Cadden, which allowed Rovers to progress into our box and slam home the opener after a scramble. The same trend, with FGR pressing up on midfield out-balls and the winger putting our fullbacks under pressure, led to more and more joy for the visitors, especially down Brentford’s right-hand side.
A lack of movement from Dervisoglu and Wissa, as well as Forss not having the physicality to serve as an effective solo front man, meant that Brentford could not go long and avoid the press, leading to pressurised mistakes by Roerslev and Bidstrup which led to them both being hauled off at half-time.
Mads Bech Sorensen went down hurt as the first half ticked down, with Kristoffer Ajer coming on to relieve him. It was little surprise to the rest of the Brentford crowd that two more first teamers joined the line-up for the second half, meaning all three Mads were subbed: Vitaly dropped into a back three, Canos and Thompson served as wingbacks, and Frank Onyeka added some physicality and intensity in midfield.
This 3-4-3 formation changed the game. Thompson, tidy but forced back in the first half, started marauding down his wing and putting in the dangerous crosses we saw in pre-season. Canos forced his side forward with FGR having to sit further back. And this new width allowed more room for a quietly efficient Ghoddos and the two support strikers to probe and look to play more on the turn.
Just as a new suit can give the person wearing it a heightened sense of confidence, so too did this new formation also give rise to greater effort and intensity. I am resigned to Dervisoglu showing both the skills and turns that led us to pluck him from the Dutch league, but also the lack of full-speed intensity that means he has never been trusted with a run in the first team. However, he found an extra step during his second-half minutes. Wissa showed he understood that he needs to defend from the front in the English game, whilst Thompson and Canos both showed their drive and attacking threat that makes them such effective wingbacks.
After Bryan was introduced for Dervisoglu, the former’s prodigious work rate and ability to run at defences quickly put the game beyond FGR’s reach, even before a red card for the vistors’ impressive central midfielder Ebou Adams underlined the futility of further resistance.
A smartly taken goal from Wissa, his first for the club. A Bryan header from a devilish Thompson cross. And a Forss finish from a loose ball inside the FGR box, gave a gloss to the scoreline that obscured Brentford’s first-half travails.
Best Bees Performers
It is hard to judge players when they are clearly uncomfortable playing in a foreign system. But,of those who played the 90 minutes, Ghoddos, Wissa and Thompson can probably be happiest with their night’s work. Fernandez, our new Spanish loan keeper, also did little wrong.
Ghoddos often had the ball played into his feet facing his own goal in the first half but, unlike Bidstrup on the other side, rarely lost it and kept it relatively simple. Freed to play a more attacking game in the second half, Ghoddos got an assist for his efforts and was neat and tidy. While he did nothing to show that he should be considered for one of the starting midfield spots in a Premier League game, he may have caught the eye of some visiting scouts.
At Selhurst Park Wissa showed a glimpse of what he could do. A drop of the shoulder and he rounded two Palace defenders whilst his failure to quickly close down Palace in possession showed he needed to understand the intensity of the English game. Wissa’s pressing was lacklustre in the first half but much improved in the second. His neatly taken goal and general threat showed why he claimed to model his game on Sadio Mane. Shame he never had had a full pre-season with us as he would have been some threat now. Instead, he will have to continue building his fitness while we enjoy his cameos and potential.
Thompson has long been something of an enigma. Just when he seems too defensively naïve or is caught flat-footed as once again another progressive pass in his direction goes out for an opponent’s throw, he has a game where he puts in crosses that centre forwards love and epitomises the modern wingback. After a tricky first half, Thompson was at his best in the second, and his cross assist for Mbeumo’s goal was just desserts for an impressive second-half display. With a year to run on his contract and being unlikely to dislodge Rico from his position in the team, Dom put in a fine advert for his services.
Fernandez was hardly at fault for the goal he conceded and was quickly off his line to nullify any threat over the top. The first teamers who came on did exactly what could have been expected of them and Mads Bech and Ethan both put their bodies on the line for the cause, with the former’s injury looking worse from a Brentford perspective.
Room for Improvement
Many of the players starting this match had questions to answer in order to make the step into the first team. Can Halil add industry to his mercurial turns and runs from deep? After his sterling play-off appearance, could Mads Roerslev challenge Sergi for that right wingback spot? Could Marcus show improvements in his all-round game to show that he brings more to the party than a smart finish? Sadly, after 90 minutes, most of the questions we have about the players that started still remain.
Whilst established first teamers and new signings like Wissa and Fernandez used the 90 minutes to get that match sharpness, some fans will wonder whether today’s performance highlighted another couple of quality signings could be the answer to the questions about squad depth. We seem much more reliant on the health of Ivan and our two wingbacks than we might be comfortable with, and the lack of Baptiste and Da Silva makes our midfield numbers seem lighter than one might like.
We don’t know what the future holds for some of these players. Some will feature in the first team this season with Carabao Cup minutes proving useful preparation. Others will hardly play but stand ready in case of injury crisis. Yet others will use occasions like this to audition for watching clubs keen to snap up promising players who Brentford can’t keep happy.
Despite being a devoted fan of Thomas Frank as a manager, our Great Dane will also have to take his lumps for sending out the team in a formation which served to confuse rather than liberate role players to show what they could do. Making three substitutions before the second half had even started and not being afraid to change his own mistakes serves as a decent plea of mitigation. But our manager will have had to learn his lesson before the next round.
Forest Green fans showed up in good numbers and were in decent voice, and their chippiness, targeting Brentford fans close to them with chants as well as stating incredulity at our Premier League status and the volume of Brentford’s own singing, gave the feeling of being taken back in time to a League 1 or League 2 game at Griffin Park.
Rovers’ best moment, however, came from their class in recognising the achievements of Ethan Pinnock, as they sang ‘There’s Only One Ethan Pinnock’ as he walked off the pitch injured. Ethan’s own rise from non-league to starring on the New Griffin Park pitch matches Forest Green’s own rise. With neat football and a few promising players, you would not be surprised to see our visitors ascend further still.
The Brentford Community Stadium has proven to be quickly taken to heart by our fans, but this was the first time that many non-season-ticket holders had been able to attend and there were queues of fans unable to get into the ground until the game was twenty minutes old. With a torrid first-half display and the confusion as fans filed in late – coupled with a bunch of ‘strangers’ sitting (not standing) in the singing section of the West Stand, perhaps it was understandable why the crowd seemed only to really get energised in the second half when the West Stand regulars launched into a chorus of “Stand up if you love Brentford” in an attempt to get the crowd standing and energised. After the hour mark or so, however, the West Stand was in fine voice and the Forest Green Rovers fans were no longer audible as Brentford slowly ratcheted up their game.
Brentford fans remember our own cup giant killings of years gone by. And after 45 minutes, it started to look like we might be victims of a very Brentford-like giant killing effort. FGR worked hard, played the ball on the ground, and worked as a unit. We were disjointed, seemed confused with what to do in possession, and were hounded into mistakes.
Moments of threat, like forcing the Rovers keeper into a fine double save from Bidstrup and Halil, were too few compared to dangerous crosses coming in from our right-hand side. The three ‘Mads’- Bech Sorensen, Roerslev and Bidstrup- were all taken off before the start of the second half- as Frank changed system in the second period and inserted some first teamers into the line-up to change things.
In terms of assessing individual players, it is perhaps fairer to do so in the 3-4-3 of the second half. Wissa will come on for the 90 minutes and will be ready to spell Mbeumo from the bench at Villa Park and beyond. Fernandez looked composed and seems an astute piece of business. Whilst squad players like Thompson and Ghoddos showed the qualities that led us to them in the first place.
However, the gap between our first teamers and what amounts to our second team is quite evident. Our Directors of Football stressed the athleticism of the Premier League and that new signings would have to improve on what we had, rather than simply add depth.
Two of those new players came on and showed that they are well ahead of those who might replace them, whilst a larger squad might need further trimming before more quality new additions can raise the bar yet again.
A cup run will prove a learning experience for the players, Thomas, the Directors of Football, as well as the fans as to the qualities of the players who take to the pitch. Whilst we will see both better and worse performances than this from a Brentford team, the only important thing about a cup performance is that we’re in the hat. And I’ll take that.
After all, as last season showed, winning the League Cup needn’t be a completely idle fantasy.
Wembley in February, anyone?
Simon Radford (@sradford22)