How would you sum up Brentford's season so far?
What an amazing season. No one was expecting us to be anywhere near the payoffs except probably the manager and owner. We were happy with survival in a "Brentford" kind of way. The difficulty is … as the season goes on and we play teams off the park (literally) like Derby (twice), Norwich, Forest, Leeds, Brighton, Boro (even though we lost) and Bournemouth, the expectation rises. So we go into the Reading game with a lot of Brentford fans disappointed because over the last couple of months, we have seen form slip (home form in particular) and have given away some very silly points - mainly through chances not taken and poor defensive errors.
The reality is though - we've done better than Bournemouth did last season after their promotion from League One and everyone was raving about how well they did …. and equally as well as Brighton did in their first two seasons after promotion from League One. In fact, Bournemouth finished 10th with 66 points last season and Brighton made the playoffs in 6th with 72 points last season and 4th with 75 points the season before. We're on 72 points with two games still to go. We could in principle end up with 78 points and still not make the playoffs. Two seasons ago, that would have seen us in 3rd place.
So I'm pleased… with a tinge of disappointment… but proud… and still slightly hopeful we will have a last minute twist… but also slightly scared of the reality of the Premier League which, from what I have been told, is not nearly as much fun for fans as the Football League.
The club are still fighting for a Premier League place, would the club be ready if you did earn promotion?
Good question. Off the pitch, we have Griffin Park. Everyone loves coming to Griffin Park coz its got terraces … no airs and graces .. loads of pubs nearby and the fans are friendly. It’s not written in stone but IF we did go up, the club are trying everything to ensure we stay at Griffin Park (with terraces intact) using the excuse hat we are building a purpose-built stadium down the road near Kew Bridge in a couple of seasons. Much better than sharing at F*lham or QPHaHa if we go up (big big if). Some people say we should hold off until our stadium is built but football doesn't work like that. On the pitch, we have a great team. They play really well together.
Admittedly, this has been a long season and no one at the club (fans or management) would think I am telling a non-truth if I were to say that we have suffered from not quite having the strength in depth we needed. Andre Gray has been playing the lone striker up front pretty much every game this season. He was in the conference last season and has done fantastically well to take that step up - scoring 16 goals in the process. He could have done with another striker to share the burden with him and take the pressure off.
There are a number of reasons for us not getting in the players we needed and I won’t go into that now… but the fact is, it’s over now. Done. If we had one or two extra players to boost our side we may have snuck into the playoffs or even made automatic promotion. But things happens for a reason. And if anything, its given us the confidence to know that we do belong in this division, are as good as any team in this division and we can take that confidence into next season and go and do even more damage.
Players like Jota, Odubajo, Judge, Pritchard, Dallas, Gray won’t go from being good players to bad players in one season. The only thing we can hope for is they are all still with us next season (Pritchard won’t be … he has ‘higher aspirations’ from what I can gather) .. with players potentially leaving … new players joining and a new manager, it will be an interesting season for the Bees next year.
One of the more bizarre bits of news this year was the news that you'll be replacing Mark Warburton whatever happens. How has that impacted the club and what have fans made of it?
We had a blip on the pitch around the time the story was leaked to The Times (I think fans are more angry it was leaked to the paper as that caused the s**t to hit the fan) but that lasted one game really (we lost to Watford but we were brilliant that night and played most of the match with 10 men - going down to a last minute winner from them... against Charlton the game after we were awful). We hammered Bournemouth a few weeks later and the Bees were back on track.
Again this is a long story but the long and the short of it, Matt Benham (the owner) and Mark Warburton have different philosophies on the way they want to move forward with Brentford. Warburton has been incredibly successful doing things his way - finding players and coaching them in the way he sees fit. Benham wants to formalise a sporting director/coach structure at the club which includes the coach having no veto on the signing of players - leaving that to the sporting director. We kind of have this system in place already but it’s very informal - with Warburton moving from Sporting Director to coach (or manager).
Benham (who has supported the club for over 30 years), sees this system as the best for the long term future of the club - deciding to take the difficult option by putting this system in place now (before we reach the Premier League). He could have taken the lazy option that most of us would do and leave everything as it is now - it seemed to be working fine with fans, management and media happy. But he made his decision to do it now.
Benham also owns a club FC Midtjylland in Denmark. He wants Brentford to run in a similar way to them. They were almost bankrupt a few years ago but are now 11 points clear of FC Copenhagen at the top of the Danish Super League and will be playing Champions league football next season. Here is a really interesting article on how they operate.
The fans are very split. Every fan pretty much (there are one or two dissenters) love Warburton and what he has done for the club. The football we are playing is undoubtedly the best football seen at the club ever and this season is amazing. So fans will be eternally indebted to him.
But the fans also know Benham is a Bees fan, has put in £90m into the club and is doing things for the right reasons. He thinks out the box and makes decisions against the grain that more often than not come off. He employed Uwe Rosler out of the blue. Then when Rosler left for Wigan, instead of employing Holloway or Curbishley (the conveyor belt managers were lining themselves up for the Bees gig), he turns to his then sporting director Warburton and gives him a chance that no other team chasing promotion in the middle of a two month winning streak would have done.
Saying that, there is also a contingent of fans absolutely p!ssed off that Benham and Warburton can't see eye to eye and as a result, Warburton is having to leave. #InBenhamWeTrust is the vibe from many fans. But at the same time, its not blind faith. People will still watch and question certain actions from our owner - and to be fair these questions are more often than not answered.
You took a fairly comfortable 3-1 win against us earlier this season, what did you make of Reading that day and from what you've seen since?
It was around that time we started to believe. We had just beaten Leeds and Brighton comfortably at home and then Reading we did the same. It made us feel "actually this division isn't as hard as we thought it would be". A few weeks after playing you we were flying - with our best run of results of the season. I was surprised how poor Reading were that day. I thought they offered very little.
Having seen them on and off on the box over the season, they quickly became a mid table side who every now and again pulled a result out the bag, but in general were there to make up the numbers (not being mean - you asked my opinion). However, in the cup you have been a different kettle of fish. It’s almost like your players removed their "League Match" heads and placed their "Cup Match" head on when it came to cup games. So much more fight and battle from your boys. Glad you’re not in the playoff (if we get there).
5. Who should Reading fans watch out for?
Hard to say. So many. Alex Pritchard on loan from Spurs has been consistently a thorn in every teams side. When he doesn't play, we tend to not have that same spark in our side. Jota on the right wing we got from Celta Vigo, he has the ability to pull something absolutely brilliant out the bag. He scored two late goals against F*lham - one winner at Griffin Park in the 94th minute to send 10k home fans absolutely crazy. One 94th minute nail in the coffin at Craven Cottage to send 6500 away Bees fans absolutely apoplectic.
Gray on his day can be a right pain for defenders. He’s been knackered as of late but I trust him to always pull one out of the bag. He’s due one. Alan Judge is only back from injury a few weeks but when he’s on his game, he’s brilliant. An absolute livewire in midfield. Loves a shot. I have to mention David Button in goal. He has made a few errors this season but also some of the saves he has pulled off have been outstanding.
We will probably have academy player Jermaine Udumaga on the bench. He’s been banging the goals in for the U21s. We’ve been lacking a back up striker all season. We let Will Grigg go off on loan to Franchise FC aka MK Dons at the beginning of the season and he’s their top scorer with 21 goals and could end up being top scorer in the division. We apparently didn’t put in a recall clause. Harlee Dean our centre back actually played up front for the final 15 minutes against Bolton. It would be nice to see Udumaga come off the bench and surprise a few people.
6. Who are Bees fans concerned with?
Cox can be a pest and Mackie is also a player we need to look out for. It will be interesting to see what Chalobah can do on the day - heard a lot about him. And of course, Federici will be taking a lot of stick from the Brentford fans. There will be loads of "It's all your fault" going down. Hope he’s ready for it.
We don’t do clean sheets. So I'm gonna say 2-0 to Brentford!
Thanks to Billy for his thoughts - you can read the fantastic Beesotted blog right here. Jonny and Handbags Harris from our very own website joined the Beesotted podcast to share their views on Wembley, the season so far and Saturday's match - listen to that here.