Brentford went down by 2 goals to 1 at the John Smiths Stadium against a very lively and organised Huddersfield side who were well worth their victory.
From the very first minute they caused problems for Brentford with their fast-moving high pressing football – creating a dozen chances over the 90 minutes whilst limiting Brentford to a mere handful.
Two words that sum up Brentford’s opening performance against Huddersfield in Yorkshire.
The signs were there in the pre-season matches that Brentford hadn’t quite got their act together. The performances did not have the intensity, cohesion and spark the fans expected – with the team scoring a total of 5 goals in 6 matches against a mixture of lower-league opposition and international teams.
That was dismissed by many as ‘usual pre-season fare’ with the notion that ‘performances don’t matter so much. Pre-season is more about getting the players fit’.
If you read the FanStand article with Terrier Cass before the match, he was enthusing about how his team came through their close season – beating a load of lower-league teams before losing 2-0 to Liverpool in what was, by all accounts, an enthralling encounter. They then drew against Werder Bremen and beat FC Ingolstadt in Austria to conclude a successful pre-season.
Yes we know it’s very early days. And it’s a marathon not a sprint.
But we also know how important it is to come out of the traps sprinting. Or else – if you are not careful – you could be dragged into the mire … with the team starting to lose confidence.
Last season’s start is very much still etched in my memory banks. It was awful. And fitness was professed as one of the main reasons why we started so badly.
So it really does depend what our end-game is as to how deeply you read into this loss.
If it is another season of mid-table consolidation – which is totally fine but let’s just make that objective very clear from the very start – then we can sit back, take results like this on the nose and hope that everything starts to click into shape over the coming months.
Most fans would be happy with that.
But the problem we have here is when then barometer – which has NOT been set by the fans but by the Head Coach and the Directors of Football – is raised.
At the recent fans’ forum, Dean Smith and Phil Giles told folk that a top 6 finish was the target this season.
No pressure then!!
So, in light of that prediction, Dean Smith’s post-match comments do make me slightly concerned … already.
Not a moan.
But I’m trying to take a balanced view on things, based on what I have seen over the past few weeks and also up at Huddersfield.
To be fair, Smith doesn’t seem overly happy with the way the start of the season has panned out. He absolutely coated our performance at Millwall. He has made it very clear that he hasn’t quite got the full complement of personnel he requires. And he has also highlighted the fact that he has had to deal with injuries to key players.
But to be fair, things could be a lot worse.
Going through his post-match comments below:
We didn’t deserve to win. They were brighter and created more chances than us. We lost it sloppily.
We certainly didn’t deserve to win. It was worrying that Huddersfield beat us at our own game. Pressing high. Passing the ball around. Picking up on our mistakes. Being first to the ball.
We weren’t winning balls enough. We were allowing them to break easily. We weren’t winning the ball high. They were closing us down too easy and we weren’t dealing with it.
All these things which are normally the hallmark of ‘The Brentford game’.
Fans on the terrace and also on the PrideOfWest.London podcast above described Brentford as still being in pre-season mode. Whereas Huddersfield were well and truly ready for battle.
They looked a good three weeks ahead of us in their campaign. Which is slightly worrying seeing as we have had a whole pre-season to prepare for this match
We had players coming out of long-term injuries who couldn’t play the full 90 minutes.
Yes we had Josh McEachran back for his first full game since March (the 1-0 loss to Blackburn) and Nico was brought on in the second half. But to be fair, the whole Huddersfield team seemed a lot fitter and up-for-it than our team – which is a real worry. Im sure Dean Smith would say that was an unfair criticism. But then maybe not reading his comments.
Is Dean saying our fitness regime isn’t quite up to scratch? Is he saying that Huddersfield who – like us last season – brought in a raft of new players were still able to get them fitter than us and able to gel in time for the new season?
I’m actually not sure here.
To be fair, you could immediately see the difference once Nico came on for Josh McEachran. There was more pace to our game. Maybe it’s a co-incidence (and this isn’t a scapegoat … but it is a fact) that McEachran’s injury at the back end of last season didn’t see him feature in the end-of-season run which saw us lose just one match (to Playoff winners Hull) in 9 games – winning 7 of those in the process.
McEachran is a big ‘the jury is out’ player and will really need to pick up his game to get fans on board. He also dosesn’t seem the type of player to throw into a match like this with a Huddersfield team playing with their tails up.
Again in the podcast, the question was asked – why pick McEachran as it had been proven time after time last season that Woods and McEachran in the middle just does not work? Is that because we have no other options?
And if so, that again is worrying. If Nico is the main man for the job – and I believe the midfielder will almost definitely be one of the first names on the team-sheet when he is fully fit – and we DO have a injury in that position, then our options are minimal to say the least.
We’re looking for pace. We need wide players. Sawyers and McLeod playing wide isn’t their game
Dean Smith sounds frustrated here. He obviously knows what he needs to get the team playing the football he wants. And he has been very vocal in saying that he hasn’t quite got it. So he has had to make do with what he has.
Having to play players out of position is always a bug-bear for fans. And surely the players themselves.
This comes back to recruitment once again. And a point we have brought up again and again on the podcast. Have we reached a glass ceiling in terms of where we are (an established Championship side) and what players we are able to bring in (due to finances)?
Have we raised our game so much that we are now struggling to complete the deals for the player we need to get us to another level?
Yes, we know that many British teams wait until August – sometimes for the bun-fight in late in August – to release players, which doesn’t really help pre-season preparations. But surely every team has this problem. Not just us.
Is it a case of Brentford going back to Europe where the players are cheaper and you can pick them up earlier in the summer – as Huddersfield have obviously done?
We lost Jota last season. And fair play to Rob Rowan, he struck a deal with Liverpool to bring in Canos.
Unfortunately, we were unable to snag him at the end of the season.
So at the start of this campaign, the same problem remains – finding players with pace prepared to run at defenders. But this would not have been a surprise. No doubt we will have been looking for months to cover this position.
Huddersfield seem to have most of their bases covered this pre-season. And, unlike us last season, the players they bought in from Europe in the summer seem to be pretty much match-ready.
Word on the street is we are after Ollie Watkins from Exeter. That hasn’t materialised as yet. Maybe he’s coming back on the players coach with us on Tuesday night.
Whether or not we get Watkins, or other signings, what to me is more worrying is the fact that players like Chelsea’s Tammy Abrahams – who I’m sure was touted with a move to Brentford within the last 12 months – gets a move to Bristol City – netting two goals on his debut.
Also I have to ask, how do Huddersfield manage to get hold of midfielder Kasey Palmer from Chelsea – who scored the winning goal with his first touch of the ball – “from under our very noses”? He plays in the exact positions we are looking for – as a No 10 and also on the left wing.
Then there is Ipswich, who we play next week. They signed Rotherham’s Young Player of last season – winger Grant Ward – from Spurs in the summer after a season on loan to The Millers. The fee was reputed to be £500k. He comes on in the second half against Barnsley and scored a hat-trick in 39 minutes.
Then of course there is John Swift – highly rated by the Brentford staff last season as a rough diamond – but we were unable to get a deal over the line when we tried to sign him in the summer due to various ‘ridiculous’ demands. He scored on his debut for Reading.
Surely, all these players must have been on our summer radar?
Is it a case of cementing the relationship with Premier League teams so that your Abrahams and your Palmers and your Wards are an option for us to turn down before they take a trip down the M4 to Bristol or up the M1 to Huddersfield or up some single-track lane to Ipswich?
Moves like these should be our bread and butter. Or have we decided – as was discussed on this week’s pre-match podcast from the pub – against going for loaning players for a season, building up their profile and have no chance of signing? Instead preferring to either build up our own players. Or sign a player (like Watkins .. or dare I say it Ward) who we can develop AND then reap the benefits of his increased value.
This, to me, would have been a very valid question to have asked at the Fans Forum last week (which I was unable to attend) which – the common consensus was – in reality came a month too early. Brentford had not played any competitive matches for fans to formulate any real opinions at that stage.
There’s a fantastic spirit in the team
At least I can take this as an upside. Team spirit is absolutely crucial. And can win you points even if your side is performing poorly.
One of the main things I was hoping for from pre-season was the team went to Germany and came back super-fit (which doesn’t sound like it has quite happened). And the team would bond as a unit like our promotion-winning and Premier League Play-off teams did (which is sounds like it has happened).
From that I suppose I can take heart.
So where do we go from here?
We have a match on Tuesday against Exeter in the League Cup. Dean Smith has already hinted about making a raft of changes for this game.
But hold on … apparently we’re not fully match fit and not quite ticking. So surely, the best way of getting fitness and getting the team to tick is by playing football.
He should know all about that from the debacle when his old team Walsall came to visit in January.
Or have I read this wrong?
Then we then have Ipswich next Saturday, who scored more goals in their first match of the season – against newly-promoted Barnsley – than the total amount of chances we created against Huddersfield.
It sounds like they are also way ahead of us in their season preparations. And they managed to nab a winger for what sounds like a reasonable fee, whereas we’re struggling.
We know their game very well. Big, strong and organised – mixing half-decent football with a more direct game.
To be fair, we are going to have to do much better next weekend to make sure we don’t come a cropper to Mick McCarthy’s boys.
This is less of a rant and more of a reality check.
When the powers that be predict a top six finish, it’s a matter of fact that we need to come into the season better prepared than this.
Yes we’ve had a bit of bad luck. But everyone has bad luck. It’s swings and roundabouts.
So, with the words “top 6 target” still ringing in people’s ears from the fans’ forum, and bearing in mind we still have a few weeks to go until the transfer window slams shut, we all wait with baited breath to see how Brentford evolves over the next few weeks.