For anyone thinking we had eased our way into life in the Championship, the 3-1 defeat to Bournemouth last time out was a lesson in the gulf in quality between ourselves and the better teams at this level. With this next fixture against losing play-off finalists, Brentford, it doesn’t really get much easier here. However, getting a result could be the kind of confidence boost this team needs after such a dispiriting defeat last time out.
This game is the start of a frantic run of seven games in the space of four weeks that could define just whereabouts in this division our immediate prospects are. On paper, it’s hard to identify anyone out of Brentford, Swansea, Blackburn, Middlesbrough, Reading, Nottingham Forest and Watford that we can expect to beat, however, it’s hard to identify too many teams in this entire division that we can expect to beat. This is why the Championship is such a hard division for newly-promoted clubs. We can either complain about teams being able to outspend us, or roll our sleeves up and get on with the task of staying up at this level.
The absence of Gustavo Hamer for this game – and the two to follow – is an undoubted blow. Just under half of the chances we’ve created this season have come via Hamer, and we haven’t exactly created a tonne of chances this season. It’s not just about who comes into the side to take Hamer’s place but what the rest of the team does to account for the creative hole he leaves.
While Liam Kelly’s likely return to the side in place of Hamer won’t address that loss of creativity, however, adding an extra defensive presence in midfield could provide others the freedom to be more positive in possession. In particular, Ben Sheaf seems like he’ll offer more to the side with less of a defensive burden on his shoulders. The Arsenal loanee has struggled to impose himself in his first few appearances but has shown occasional moments of quality in picking out longer-range passes and getting forward, which he should be freer to do with Liam Kelly alongside him.
The big selection decision for this game is just who to play in that attacking line along with Matt Godden and Callum O’Hare. While Jamie Allen’s work-rate could be useful against a side in Brentford who are likely to dominate possession, it feels like Godden and O’Hare would benefit from someone who offers more of a presence – either physically or creatively – in that area of the pitch to bring them into the game. This is perhaps a chance for Tyler Walker to show what he can do from the start for us, however, I wonder whether Amadou Bakayoko’s pace and physicality could be more effective here.
Elsewhere, this could be the game where Michael Rose returns to the side, in the wake of a difficult 45 minutes last time out for Leo Ostigard. Both offer fairly similar qualities on the right side of the back three as forward-thinking passers of the ball, however, Ostigard has seemed a little over-eager to win the ball, which has threatened to leave space in behind him. Rose tends to be more disciplined, which could be what is required for this game against a mobile Brentford forward line and midfield.
Last Time We Met
The last time these two teams met, the Sky Blues were towards the end of the post-Leon Clarke death spiral that had threatened to turn an unexpected play-off bid at Sixfields into the relegation that most had thought was coming heading into the season. Brentford, meanwhile, were on their way towards automatic promotion, which meant there was only really going to be one winner – despite an early Callum Wilson goal to put Coventry City ahead and Joe Murphy saving a penalty-kick.
With the Bees eventually cruising to a 3-1 victory, the most notable thing to come from the game was a visible touchline confrontation between Arsenal loanee Chuba Akpom and our then manager Steven Pressley. Akpom, having been one of several severely underwhelming replacements for Leon Clarke somehow carried himself with the air of someone who thought he was much better than the level of football he was currently struggling to perform at, with Pressley unleashing the frustration at him over a perceived lack of effort that many fans also had.
The Manager – Thomas Frank
A former Denmark youth-team manager, Thomas Frank was initially brought in to Brentford to assist former manager Dean Smith but eventually stepped pretty seamlessly into the hot-seat at the West London club. The Dane has added a level of steel and determination to Brentford’s play that has turned them from a side that played nice football but ultimately fell short when under pressure to get results to one that has looked capable of winning automatic promotion.
Although Brentford are still an attractive team to watch under Thomas Frank, there is a meticulousness to their approach in and out of possession that has seen them tighten up defensively and move the ball from back to front more efficiently. At their best, Brentford can consistently win games without giving their opponents much hope of a result, however, there has been a tendency at times to be slightly overly methodical to the point of ponderousness that has allowed opponents to sit in and contain Brentford’s attacking threat fairly easily on their off-days.
Who To Look Out For
This summer has seen Brentford lose their 25-goal top-scorer from last season, Ollie Watkins, to the Premier League, with key playmaker, Said Benrahma, looking likely to follow, at the time of writing – 10am on transfer deadline day. However, Brentford retain a squad with a diversity of threats in midfield and attack along with a solid defensive core.
The two players expected to replace Watkins and Benrahma are, respectively, Ivan Toney and Bryan Mbeumo. The two aren’t exactly like-for-like replacements for their predecessors, with Ivan Toney much more of a physical presence than Watkins and Bryan Mbeumo a pacier, more direct dribbler than the mazy improviser, Benrahma. While the two offer their own unique threats, the creativity of midfielders Emiliano Marcondes and the impressively well-rounded Josh Dasilva will be important in bringing Toney and Mbeumo into games.
At the back, the signing of Christian Norgaard last season was an important addition to the squad, providing the presence at the base of the midfield to reduce the threat opposition teams pose on the counter. With a physical and experienced centre-back duo of Ethan Pinnock and Pontus Jansson, Brentford are now an imposing team in their defensive third. In goal, not only is David Raya the kind of ball-playing keeper important to Brentford’s style of play but he is incredibly positive in coming to claim crosses, which can further help stymie the threats opponents pose.
Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost
As impressive as Brentford look to be, they haven’t quite found their mojo this season, looking a little rusty going forward as they try and integrate new players into their attacking unit. As such, we need to make Brentford have to work for any goals they may score in this game, rather than allowing them something soft which could help them build the confidence and take the game away from us. Defensive discipline will be essential, as will be defending set-pieces effectively against a side that puts a lot of work on the training pitch into scoring from them.
With Gustavo Hamer missing, it feels especially important that our forward line has more of a presence about it in order to bring the rest of the team into the game. Moreover, a more competitive attitude than we saw last time out against Bournemouth is the minimum that I would like to see here. If we don’t get anything out of this game, we at least need to show that have a way of getting results from the division’s better teams.