Billy Grant (@BillyTheBee99) writes, podcasts and vlogs for Beesotted (@Beesotted) - http://beesotted.com. You can catch the post-match podcast featuring Reading and Brentford fans on http://PrideOfWest.London from around 7pm on Saturday (two hours after the final whistle)
How’s the season gone for you so far?
Weird season. So much promise in the first two months, went horribly wrong in the next three months, then picked up from the new year.
We looked like world beaters at the beginning. We beat Rotherham 5-1 and played teams like Wigan and Sheffield Wednesday off the park. But little did we know that our away form would cost us dear - not winning out first away game until January (away at Rotherham).
Dean Smith leaving didn’t help. Great manager. And it wasn’t necessarily because we were unable to play the same without him. It was the disruption that killed us. Plus we had the tragedy of losing our highly respected technical director Rob Rowan - a lovely bloke - aged 28. That really shook the players.
We’ve still only won two away matches. The win at Middlesbrough was glorious. We had to get that monkey off our back. We haven’t beaten Boro in the previous 12 matches, losing 10 of those games. For the few hundred Bees fans that made the journey up there, it was like we had died and gone to heaven - so well received was that victory.
Defensively we’ve made too many mistakes. Far too many. The fact that our goal tally of 65 is only beaten by teams in the top six (Norwich 84, West Brom 77, Villa 75, Leeds and Blades 68) shows we have enough up front to be challenging for the top. However, it's goals conceded where we could be better. 55 goals. It’s not the worst, but if we could have shaved off even 10 goals in the back of our net over the season, we would be closer to Bristol City in goals conceded with a better goal tally - easily top 6 material. But all ifs, buts and maybes.
On the up-side, we have done our usual job of unearthing new talent. Saïd Benrahma is - on his day - breathtaking and possibly the best winger we’ve ever had at Brentford (and this is from a set of fans who thought Jota walked on water). Neal Maupay has more than justified his £1.5 million price tag with a goal tally of 25 goals so far this season - the highest total since Lloyd Owusu in our promotion season in 98/99. Moses Odubajo returned home to Griffin Park after his move to Hull - just before they made the Premier League - was curtailed by injury. A free transfer, he will be competing with Benrahma as signing of the season for The Bees.
If you consider our income - we turnover £10 million a year, among the lowest in the division - we don’t have the biggest budget in the world. So we shouldn’t be disappointed with a mid-table finish really. But it is annoying when you think what could have been.
Thomas Frank replaced Dean Smith earlier this season - how’s he done so far?
Thomas had a horrendous start, winning only one game in his first ten matches and losing eight. He did come into the job off a bad run from Dean Smith - the team not winning in six.
He came in for a lot of flak in that time. I can’t tell you why we couldn’t string a win together. It wasn’t as if we were playing particularly bad. We just seemed to have a period when we just lost the plot during the match for 15 or 20 minutes or so. We would blink and before we knew it, we were two or three goals down. We were sill scoring goals, we were just letting in more. We went to Preston, scored three goals and still lost. Went to QPR, scored two goals, still lost. Scored two against Swansea and lost. And the same against Blades. It was really frustrating.
He changed the formation to three at the back and that transformed our season. We beat Bolton and haven’t looked back since. A few weeks later we played Stoke and absolutely wiped the floor with them. The performance was magnificent. As were our matches against Blackburn (5-2) and Hull (5-1). What was good was that Brentford were still playing the slick passing free-flowing football under Frank. Brentford deliberately brought him in from Denmark two years ago to assist Dean Smith and look and learn about Championship football, as opposed to plucking someone from Europe out of the blue and expecting them to swim immediately (we made that mistake before with Marinus Dijkhuizen).
He hasn’t succeeded in eradicating the defensive errors though. In the close season he will have a lot of work to do to ensure that we fulfil our potential - get the defence tight and continue to play good attacking football. He’ll do well to hang onto our key players though.
Having chatted to him a number of times, he’s a top, top, top bloke who is very passionate abut the team, football and Brentford Football Club. He has won the fans over with his attitude. Dare I say he bleeds red and white. That’s the type of head coach we need.
What are Brentford’s main strengths and weaknesses?
Our key strength is finding players that are not on the radar, developing them and getting them to be top stars. Andre Gray, Scott Hogan, Jota. Neal Maupay, Saïd Benrahma, Romaine Sawyers, Chris Mepham and Ryan Woods are all examples of players we have signed for relative peanuts and developed. More often than not, we will sell them on for ten times what we paid for them. It’s great for keeping the club soluble. A tad frustrating for fans who have to get used to a constantly revolving squad. Another big strength is our ability to create chances.
Weaknesses - converting the opportunities we create. if you believe in xG, we always feature HIGH in the charts - meaning we create a large quantity of high quality chances (eg tap-ins from the six-yard box). Our league position basically indicates that we do not convert these chances. Really frustrating. If we converted the chances we created, we would easily be in the top two.
Another weakness - and I think it links to the above - is the tendency to overplay. Yes at times we play really fantastic football - passing, link-up play, neat little movements - but you sometimes feel that the players could be more incisive. Instead of threading the ball through the eye of a needle or going for goal, they’ll try to walk the ball into the back of the net.
Who are the main danger men Reading should be worried about on Saturday?
Neal Maupay is on fire. He’s been overlooked as top scorer in this league as the football cognoscente opt for the trio of Teemu Pukki, Che Adams and Billy Sharp as top goalscorer in the division. That’s fine by us. Keep him (relatively) under the radar. I’ve seen all three play and if I were a manager, I would opt for Maupay every time. He’s young (22 years old) and still learning. He still misses opportunities, but his conversion rate has upped massively since last season (if I remember rightly it was only around 30% or so).
The fact is that he also gets lots of opportunities, many of them created by himself. Having 113 chances this season, he’s had 20 more chances than Pukki (27 goals) and twice as many chances as Billy Sharp (24 goals) and 40 more than Che Adams (24 goals). His conversion rate is not as good as the other three strikers, but it will only get better. This also leads to the fact that he is probably better staying at Brentford as our system creates plenty of chances and gives him the opportunity to develop and improve his conversion rate.
Benrahma is also a genius and if he is on fire, can terrorise any defence. I also really like ‘The General’ Kamo Mokotjo. Since he has made that defensive midfield spot his own, we have looked a lot more solid as a side. When he is on form, his passing is magnificent. Nothing too flashy, but he always makes his man. Derby came last week to try and disrupt the way we play and bashed him up. He was subbed off at half-time and didn’t play midweek so I’m not sure if he will play on Saturday.
Any young talents for us to keep an eye on in the future?
We were lambasted for closing down our academy and starting up our B-team (17 to 21 year olds). However, one of the main reason why we did it was the fact that some of the best young talent we were developing were being poached by the likes of Man United and Man City before we could sign them onto senior contracts.
Our B team has caused a bit of a shake-up. The team is made up of talented teenagers plucked from ‘undervalued’ countries, including Iceland, Denmark and Finland, plus young recruits from Manchester City, Brighton, Chelsea and Celtic, all moulded together with former Bees academy players. The team goes around the UK and Europe playing matches against a variety of sides. From Bayern Munich (who they beat comprehensively in January), AC and Inter Milan (who they also beat), Valencia, Liverpool, Man United and Man City, to Welling United, Wealdstone, Barnet and Dulwich Hamlet first teams who they played in the cup recently. The idea is to try and get the youngsters playing against players who they would normally come up against in league football matches because U23 football can be a bit of a bubble.
We have had 12 players make first team debuts since the B team started a couple of years ago, the most famous being Chris Mepham who we sold to Bournemouth in January for £15 million after he made less than 50 appearances for the first team.
In terms of players for the future, Josh Dasilva (20) made his full home debut on Tuesday against Derby and played very well. A strong box-to-box midfielder, he’s definitely one for the future. Ipswich fans picked him out as the man of the match on Tuesday saying ‘he never put a foot wrong’. Defender Mads Bech Sørenson (20) also made his debut in the last few weeks and will most probably play at the weekend. A graduate of our B team, he made his league debut in Denmark aged 16. Striker Marcus Forss (19) - also a B-team graduate - came on as sub on Tuesday night, whilst Ellery Balcombe (19) is an England U20 goalkeeper and will be on the bench on Saturday.
Behind them, I’m also hoping ex Celtic winger/wing-back Theo Archibald (21) breaks into the first team at some time soon. And it would be great to see friend of Beesotted Reece Cole (21 years) come back from his stint at Macclesfield and make a mark in the first team. Keep an eye out too for very highly rated include Finnish midfielder Jaakkoo Oksanen (18) and Czech midfielder Jan Zamburek (18).
Finally, it would be wonderful if we could get a striker out of the B team. Tom Hardy (20) has scored untold goals this season (when he scored a brace against Bayern Munich in January that took his tally to 24). It would be good if he could make a push on the first team alongside Marcus Forss.
How will the game go, and what will the score be?
Blimey. I have no idea.
We’re terrible away from home. Beautiful football but for some reason we don’t seem to deliver. Maybe we’ll put in one or two more B team players who will be really up for it. Which will change the dynamic.
But you need the results more than us, so being safe I should say 1-1. But I’m going to say The Bees upset the applecart and gain a tight, exciting 2-1 win.