Beesotted’s Jim Levack takes a deep breath and gathers his thoughts as Thomas Frank and his players head off into the international break ahead of the final push to the end of the season.
If someone told the average Brentford fan their side would be in with a shot at automatic promotion the season after last year’s play-off final defeat, they’d have bitten your hand off.
So when I see growing numbers among us throwing in the towel on a top two finish with NINE games and 27 points still up for grabs, it’s pretty bewildering.
Sure, football’s an emotional game where heart rules head, especially in the vile cesspit that is social media where anonymity makes cowards brave.
Over the past few days, I’ve seen users laying into Thomas Frank and the players with often personal and bile-fuelled attacks they’d never repeat face to face.
No one was more disappointed than me at dropping four points from winning positions. Ask anyone, I’m a dreadful loser (especially when it’s 18 we’ve missed out on from winning positions).
That’s why I’ve waited a few days before writing this.
The criticism of a good man like Thomas Frank who has led a squad that ended last season weeks after every other side in the country, taken us to an historic Cup semi-final, nurtured another striking diamond and acted with dignity and humility even when the inevitable fatigue set in, is incredible.
And all that criticism at a time when surely – if you all care as much as I know you do – we should all be putting negativity aside to fight for the common cause.
No army will win a war if its various regiments are fighting each other. The time for recrimination and post mortems is when the war can no longer be won… and we’re a long way from that.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not an apologist for the club, its management team or players and that’s why I’ve always strived to remain credible by being impartial in my coverage for the past 36 years.
I’m pretty centrist, don’t wear the rose-tinted specs of some or spout the vicious animosity of others, so here’s my middle-of-the-road Top Ten take on where we’re at based on some of the social media opinions out there.
1. Reality check required:
It’s been a nightmare of a season. Congested, with games coming thick and fast, no time to train or finesse tactics. Players from every side except those with deeper squads and the luxury of parachute payments are showing signs of fatigue.
Brentford’s season ended later than most so hardly surprising that sides like Coventry and Barnsley – who both had standard or even extended breaks – still have the legs.
2. Thomas needs to be more brave:
There might be some merit in this. If we have an academy, then why not use it instead of playing good young centre backs like Mads Bech on the left where the absence of Rico Henry’s bursts down the wing has been the biggest factor in our recent blip?
The failure to secure cover in that position is an issue that might be worth analysis at the season’s end, but for now giving a young full back his head and encouraging him to get forward might be the ‘s or b’ response the critics are calling for.
Mads Bech will learn from this experience and he’s done well, but a left back capable of pinning his opposite number back, he isn’t.
3. Thomas has been let down by the Directors of Football
I’ve got the greatest respect for the DoFs, but (you knew there’d be a but) if they were brutally honest, they’d probably admit that January’s window was where they slipped up.
Just one signing, no quick winger brought in and letting cover go out on loan could come back to haunt us because they were too focused on looking for value when sometimes the value comes in the bigger prize.
Then again, it’s easy for me to say – it’s not my money, but notwithstanding the effect of the pandemic and loss of revenue and with the benefit of hindsight, we were too cautious.
4. Over reliance on Ivan
The exit of Halil to Turkey was a strange one. He looked like a player with guile and a bit of an edge who might have been a decent option for us right now to freshen things up.
Ivan has been nothing short of exceptional and deserves all that’s coming his way, but if he doesn’t score, we’ve too seldom had others stepping up to take responsibility.
The in and out form of Bryan and Sergi, both huge talents whose time will come maybe even in the next months or so, has meant we’ve had to go longer than usual.
That has meant we’ve sacrificed the slick passing football that was such a joy to watch for a far more predictable slow, slow, quick, slow tempo.
5. We’re stronger each window
Despite the superb signing of Vitaly – further proof that the DoF’s are still ‘on it’ when it comes to unearthing tomorrow’s stars – that is arguable.
We don’t have a player capable of producing a game changing moment of brilliance to create the ammunition for Ivan. Just imagine him with Said.
The players out on loan mean we’re more reliant on our academy talents, so if we trusted them enough to let some of those senior boys go, then maybe now is the time to bite the bullet.
What might be holding the club back is the effect it could have on the youngsters if it doesn’t work out.
6. We’re bottlers
We shouldn’t be now with so much experience in our ranks and hopefully we’ve learned from last season’s collapse – only time will tell if the current squad have the mental strength to go on a similar run to the two previous ones.
Perhaps now is the time for the social media mob to take the pressure off a little – yes, I know they’re professionals paid good money, but they are also human beings.
7. Is the system working?
Every season when we go close, the side is dismantled and we have to start from scratch, leaving us needing a perfect storm to actually take the next step.
It’s a common refrain of the internet warriors, and they have a point. It’s demoralising, depressing and makes the blood boil, but that’s when a degree of perspective is needed.
Before I sat down to write this, the Brentford facebook group featured the results page of a Brentford v York 3-3 draw where just a couple of thousand were watching.
So it’s pretty safe to say that however frustrated we all feel right now the system is working a damn sight better than it was back then… although we did have Francis and Roger Joseph on the scoresheet that day!
That said, I’d love the club to dig its heels in one season when the spine of the side is right – like it is now – and say to the key players “give it another go, you owe it to the fans in a full stadium”.
8. We’ve been rumbled.
The most common online refrain, it dates back to the Barnsley game where their manager changed up the front three to maintain an energetic high press.
Since then, sides have done it at various stages in games against us to good effect, which brings us neatly back to fatigue and the injuries it causes and in turn the failure to strengthen In January.
The International Break gives us an opportunity for some to get a few days’ break, others to get the boost that playing for your nation brings… a change of scene that’s as good as a rest.
I don’t think we’ve been rumbled. On our game there are few sides that can live with us. It’s just that that game relies on us playing at a high tempo.
9. “We were abysmal against Forest”
Had to laugh when I read that one and can only assume anger lay behind it.
To my mind the first half at Derby and for spells against Forest we looked good… tired and a little leggy still, but good. The contrast of the second half at Pride Park was what incensed so many – and rightly so.
After Forest, Thomas was castigated again for suggesting that on another day it’s 4-1. I was there and he was right, but fine margins, good last ditch defending and that little bit of luck all play their part in this damn game we all love so much.
10. Let’s stay positive
I’m not naïve and I know there’ll be plenty reading this who will lump me into the ‘blind faith’ camp, but trust me, that certainly isn’t me. I’m as critical, frustrated, angry and maybe even a little confused as the rest of you.
It’s asking a lot I know when fans aren’t there and are watching from home, but if we can channel that emotion into something more positive for just the next nine or 12 games, then let’s just see where we’re at.
If it doesn’t work, then that is the time for a full blown, frank and honest explanation from the club on why we fell short again.
If it does, then it’s happy days. We’ll have finally achieved what we ALL want.