Which of Brentford's Players Will Step Up?
Having recently conducted a player by player analysis of Leicester City’s readiness for Premier League football, it’s clear that the exercise is a markedly different one when it comes to the process of transition lower down the pyramid.
Take League One — a division that has been fearsomely tough this year, with six teams dominating to the degree that the points total enjoyed by Preston North End would have been enough to challenge for the very title in League 2.
Wolverhampton Wanderers should never have been relegated in the first place for instance, Preston have shown remarkable solidity in only losing six matches under Simon Grayson, Rotherham have been swashbucklingly impressive in following up their last gasp promotion from League 2, Leyton Orient positively hared out of the blocks, and Peterborough have been good enough to deal out some right hammerings — just ask Reading who lost 6-0 at London Road in the Capital One Cup.
See also Brentford, a side who I was lucky enough to see in action as they clinched promotion against Preston on Good Friday and a team who looked markedly stronger in comparison to the last occasion I saw them in action — an FA Cup win at Boreham Wood in the autumn of 2012.
Given the ease with which last year’s promotees Bournemouth have adapted to life in the Championship, it would be a brave man who betted against Wolves competing for a play-off spot next April and while that might be overstating things for the Bees — their last excursion into second tier waters ended in immediate relegation in 1993 after all — the team looks plenty strong enough to comfortably survive.
Brentford are a big side with lots of strength and muscle but there is also poise on the ball and the back four and midfield in particular would give anyone a game — their FA Cup exploits of last season when they took neighbours Chelsea to a replay is evidence of that. I don’t think a top 10 place in the Championship is out of the question while any player by player analysis like the one I afforded the Foxes is rendered moot — I’d expect the vast majority of the squad to step up without bother.
Even missing arguably their best player in Adam Forshaw, the midfield quartet looked full of imagination with the only question mark surrounding the fact that Alan Judge and George Saville are only on loan, from Blackburn and Chelsea respectively.
Judge had a lively match, bursting forward from purpose from midfield and scoring the historic penalty that took the Bees up, before slightly blotting his copybook by spooning a second over the bar. Saville meanwhile looked all languid class, possessing a great deal of time on the ball of his own making and always looking for the intelligent pass. Whether each will be available next season is open to question although the elevation in standard will probably encourage the Blues to be generous again. As for Judge, he can be a mardy so and so and his taunting of the Preston fans did him no credit but he has looked capable in the second tier before.
Of the midfield men with permanent contracts, trailblazer of the ‘footballers with beards’ phenomenon, Jonathan Douglas always does a good job as the holding midfielder and Northern Irishman Stuart Dallas was busy after a groggy start following a hefty collision.
Of the defence, that cup tie in Hertfordshire had revealed Jake Bidwell to a be a left back of real quality and so it proved again here while Alan McCormack was outstanding in the right back role, tackling vigorously and taking advantage of Paul Gallagher and others’ unwillingness to track back. Meanwhile, centre halves Tony Craig and James Markowski are of the angular variety — but both let nothing pass and Brentford’s goals against column of 37 speaks for itself.
Which leaves perhaps the two areas of the team which might need tinkering with. Bees fans with whom we entered into conversation in The Griffin pub before the game are deeply unconvinced by goalkeeper David Button although Richard Lee provides a likely better option and the attack includes two players in Marcello Trotta and Clayton Donaldson who are happiest pulling out to the wings rather than battling with big centre backs in the middle.
Both are highly valuable men and Donaldson in particular showed great control in veering in from the left, but with Trotta still only a temporary employee, Mark Warburton will no doubt cast his eyes elsewhere for a person to lead the line in August. With such a great midfield and defence at his disposal, that is a luxury he can probably afford.