On Sunday, Brentford were left with the acutely tantalising knowledge that a win over Southend in their FA Cup reply will mean a visit from locals rivals Chelsea in Round 4, but having assessed the Bees in the wake of their victory over Boreham Wood in the Autumn, it’s really the League that is beginning to get the club’s fans excited. Here’s Phil Evans:
The packed Christmas and New Year fixture list is one of the great traditions of British football and this year’s looked like it would give Brentford FC the chance to prove their promotion mettle. The west Londoners’ big strength this year has been in taking points off their promotion rivals; of teams in the top half of the division, only Doncaster and Yeovil have beaten the Bees. At the same time important wins have been registered against Sheffield United, MK Dons and Swindon while a goal deep into injury time nicked a point away to league leaders Tranmere. This toughness has been particularly impressive from such a young team – the side that started against United averaged 22 years-old, the oldest is striker Clayton Donaldson at 28.
With home games against rivals Stevenage and the league’s form side Bournemouth, the fans at Griffin Park had hoped to start off the new year with a clearer idea of their young side’s long term chances. Instead questions about how seriously they will contend for automatic promotion have been left largely unanswered, even while the team stretched their unbeaten run to 12 games, taking 5 points from three games.
In that regard the postponement of the Stevenage match was a shame on two counts, not only because of the game’s importance in terms of the promotion race but also as it would have seen by far the biggest attendance at Griffin Park for a long time. Perhaps taking a leaf out of Radiohead’s book, the club sold 10,000 tickets in advance in an innovative ‘pay what you can’ promotion. After Tranmere’s loss the previous evening a win for the Bees would have seen them top of the table on Christmas Day, but the awful weather saw to their chances of that. It would have been a great opportunity for the bumper crowd to cheer on some of the young stars of Uwe Rösler’s team, two of which who are picking up particular plaudits - ex-Watford and Aston Villa winger Harry Forrester and midfielder Adam Forshaw.
Forrester’s story since being released by Villa in 2011 sounds like the kind of crackpot nonsense you might overhear from some loudmouth in the stands, “oh yeah, that Harry, lovely player, had an offer from Ajax but chose the mighty Bees instead” but it is indeed true. Though he was limited largely to substitute appearances in his first season, now that he’s established himself as a regular his talent is clear. His touch is excellent, he’s quick and tricky with the ball and he can even score the odd goal too. Naturally his talents haven’t been entirely forgotten about and with his contract up in the summer, the fans have had to get used to the fact that Harry’s almost certainly at Griffin Park for a good time, not a long time.
While it’s been Harry that’s been hitting the headlines, it’s Adam Forshaw that has many of the fans more excited. Forshaw had a fairly underwhelming loan spell with the Bees last season before returning to parent club Everton after breaking his jaw in a game against Rochdale. Despite winning the Toffees’ reserve player at the year award, he was allowed to join Brentford on a permanent basis last summer. While, like Forrester, Forshaw is often played out wide, he doesn’t have the pace of the flashier Harry. As he showed against Bournemouth however, Forshaw’s dynamism and ability to spot and complete a pass mean he looks best when occupying a central role. Perhaps it was these attributes that, along with with his faintly gingery hue, apparently led to him being nicknamed Scholesey back at Everton. No doubt the lad’s a real talent but he’ll need to work on his shooting if he wants that name to stick.
So, with a 21 year-old midfielder on our books being compared to the English Xavi what’s there to get worried about? Typically some of us fans who tend not to always look on the bright side have managed to find something. In his 21 league starts so far this season Forshaw has only played the full 90 minutes in 6 games, and for some a degree of concern has developed over his fitness, particularly after he played through a persistent abdominal injury last year. He is of course still a young man and it may simply be to protect someone who has only just begun playing regular first team football, something that seems even more plausible when you consider the amount of effort he puts in. Whatever the reason it’s disappointing to see a player who is often our best performer on the pitch frequently taken off with 20 minutes still to play.
This was certainly the case against Bournemouth, whose fans travelled en masse to see in the new year with around 1,400 at Griffin Park. Despite being subbed after 75 minutes it was only Forshaw who made any serious impact for the Bees during a tensely fought midfield battle that Eddie Howe’s busy, pressing team clearly won. Often with another man in support, Cherries full back Simon Francis kept Forrester very quiet while their midfield denied Brentford any time or space, pushing captain Jonathan Douglas well back and taking Tom Adeyemi, on loan from Norwich City, out of the game to the extent that I didn’t realise he’d played the first half.
The consensus is that Bournemouth are the best team to have visited Griffin Park this season (some of us clearly want to conveniently put the Yeovil result down as a smash and grab), and with Howe’s team denied only by poor finishing and some last ditch defending there was relief at the Bees keeping their unbeaten run going. A question I have studiously avoided to consider in the piece is whether such a young team, one that does have its off days even when it’s grinding out positive results, can hold it together for a serious tilt at automatic promotion. Having already picked off some of their closest rivals the game against Tranmere on 19th January is really going to be the time when this team proves itself.