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Beesotted contributor Lewis Holmes kicks off the New Year with an article on how he sees the rest of the 2023/24 season panning out.

I’m used to it, I’ve been an eternal optimist all my life. I queued up on opening day expecting the same giddy, anarchic high from Ghostbusters 2 as I got from the original film – what I got was a bored Bill Murray, some dodgy goo and a message of love. I waited for 15 years for Guns n’ Roses to release a new album, and after finally giving it a spin I tried, with a straight face, to say it was worth the wait. I managed to persuade my long-suffering wife that a trip to the cinema for the fifth Die Hard movie was a brilliant way to spend Valentine’s Day, sitting there with a rictus grin slapped on my boat while the offensively stupid A Good Day to Die Hard made me long for the relatively gritty realism of Die Hard 4.0. I willingly stumped up my hard-earned cash to see Green Day in 2022 and expected them to still be the tight, snot-nosed three piece I saw at Reading Festival in 1995. Those high hopes persisted until six middle-aged dads ambled out on stage. Yes, six of them – how the f*** do you need six guys to play a bloody Green Day song?

Of course, if Green Day session musicians had an eye for goal I’d suggest we get all of them into Jersey Road ASAP. I’d even take the portly drummer if he looked like he could get on the end of a cross. There’s no denying that the current #crisis is probably the worst we’ve seen since our Lord and Saviour Matthew Benham took over. Take out both wing backs, a senior centre back, the creative midfield spark, and three first choice attacking players and any team in the world would struggle. Take all of that out of little old Brentford, and it’s a legit miracle that we’re not sat at the foot of the table, hugging it out with Sheffield United in a red-and-white striped death-spiral.

The fact is though, we’re not. We’re not even in the relegation places, and while the gap to that dreaded dotted line is vanishing quicker than my patience did with John McClane back in February 2013, there’s still a buffer, and that is all this eternal optimist needs to raise his head and straighten his back. We’ve faced crises before and they’ve always righted the ship. You’ve got to go with historical precedent on this sort of thing, and we’ve got a pretty good example in our immediate past.

So, I’m going to slap on my Mystic Meg clobber (the blue cape really sets off my beard) and tell you exactly how I see the rest of the season panning out. None of this may happen, but as the eternal optimist I’ll hold onto the belief that it will until it’s too late to believe anything else. Consider this a gift to you, my fellow Bees – a metaphorical comfort blanket to ward off the cold every time you look at that league table over the next couple of weeks.

First and biggest, I’m reversing my early season prediction and saying that Ivan Toney sticks around until the summer. The teams who want him can’t afford him (particularly Arsenal, who need to settle some old debts before Phil Giles even picks up the phone); we need his leadership just as much as we need his goals; he needs to prove to everyone that eight months of X-Box hasn’t dulled his effectiveness. If he comes back and bangs in 12 goals like he’s never been away, then that only adds to the summer price tag. And then there’s that pretty good historical precedent I was talking about.

Much like with the Miraculous Rehabilitation of Christian Eriksen, Ivan Toney’s return would present an irresistible, simple narrative for the legions of experts who pay scant attention to the rest of the league outside of the top six. Big club fans, performatively hysterical YouTubers, actual paid journalists – all of them incapable of acknowledging luck, circumstance and chance, clinging to binary black and white like drowning men clinging to driftwood. You can expect the ‘Toney saves Brentford’ line to get trotted out more times this spring than Basil Brush is at panto season.

We all know it’s never that simple. Exactly as Eriksen had key players returning, so too will Toney. Around the time he laces up his boots again, we’ll get Aaron Hickey, Kris Ajer and Ben Mee back. Their return will see a settled backline for a nice little run of matches, enabling Mark Flekken to finally settle into his role as number one. The fans who are only happy when they’ve got someone to dig out (you know who you are) will blink owlishly for a game or three, then swiftly forget Saman Ghoddos’ heroics as the human Swiss army knife over the winter, immediately going back to giving him stick for no reason. This will persist even following a perfect hat trick while deployed in his natural position away at Burnley.

The Neal Maupay Nostalgia Tour of 2023 will quietly come to an end (a bit like 2022 Green Day, his pugnacious best days are unfortunately behind him), but not long after defence settles down, Kevin Schade will rise like Lazarus from the treatment table. He will swiftly form such an effective partnership with Toney and KLP that a returning Wissa will have to settle for super sub status again (he needs and deserves a little break though, bless him). Bolstered by such a wealth of attacking resources ahead of him, Matthias Jensen will set a Premier League record for assists in one month. His performances will, in turn, encourage a resurgent Mikkel Damsgaard to fire off pinpoint one touch passes, rather than bimbling hectically at defenders. Meanwhile Christian Norgaard will gratefully realise that he does not need to do everything around here, and will quietly settle back into being the best midfield anchor there is.

The return of so many walking wounded, coupled with a midfield that’s purring beautifully, will inspire Thomas Frank to deploy increasingly bold and attacking line ups throughout the spring, culminating in a 7-0 rout of Fulham at the end of April. A Toney hat-trick, Schade brace and Jensen worldie free-kick will be followed by Flekken getting the seventh as the result of an audacious goal kick. Debate around whether he meant it or not will crash the GPG servers. The season will end with a glorious vanquishing of Newcastle, who have overcome their own injury woes to become title challengers once again. A returning Bryan Mbuemo will score the winner in a 4-3 thriller that sees Brentford take all three points and finish comfortably top half. The fans party so long and hard into the night, they all miss the Bees being first on Match of the Day.

Lewis Holmes