Well, who would have guessed Brentford would be in such a comfortable position at the start of the season? After being tipped for promotion early on after last season’s heart-breaking conclusion, the Bees started the season lethargically, peaking in a disappointing 2-1 defeat away at Stevenage on 12 October.
A lot has changed in west London over the past few months.
Uwe Rosler’s sudden departure for Wigan Athletic in early December came as a huge shock and, after widespread speculation about who would replace the former Manchester City striker, his successor came from within; 51-year-old Sporting Director, Mark Warburton.
The club moved quickly to steady the ship and within a week of Warburton’s appointment, former Liverpool academy boss Frank McParland had filled the vacant role of Sporting Director whilst former Everton and Rangers captain, David Weir was appointed as Assistant Manager; leading to the departure of coach, Peter Farrell and Rosler’s assistant, Alan Kernaghan.
A new philosophy has been set in place, which allows the players more freedom on the pitch, and contrary to Rosler’s strict style of play, Warburton has stressed that he “doesn’t mind” if players make the odd mistake on the ball.
And it has clearly worked, leaving the Bees just one point off the summit of the division and culminating in ‘Warbs’ and midfielder Sam Saunders winning the League One Manager and Player of the Month awards, respectively, for December. Surely it is the first time a football club has won two consecutive Manager of the Month awards with two different managers?
In terms of individual performances, Saunders has been a revelation under Warburton, aiding the promotion push with an impressive return of four goals in six games; helping to shed the ‘super-sub’ label he had earned under Rosler. Meanwhile, tireless midfielder Alan McCormack has displayed his versatility by keeping right-back Shaleum Logan out of the team and helping the team keep eight clean sheets from the last fifteen games; whilst slotting seamlessly back into his usual holding role against Port Vale, in which the Bees ran out 2-0 winners.
Influential centre-back, Harlee Dean and midfield maestro, Adam Forshaw have been absent last two games. Whilst there have been rumours that both were subject transfer bids, in truth (thankfully) the pair are said to be both suffering with knocks after a hectic Christmas period.
Nonetheless, the team have displayed that their extensive strength in depth without the pair, comfortably beating Port Vale then drawing away at in-form Walsall; club legend Kevin O’Connor – approaching his 500th appearance for the club – comfortably partnering Tony Craig in the heart of defence.
Warburton has used his extensive contacts list to acquire some first-class loan signings during the January transfer window thus far; explosive striker Chuba Akpom joining from Premier League leaders Arsenal and winger Alan Judge from Blackburn Rovers, whilst Marcello Trotta and George Saville have both extended their loans until the end of the campaign.
Former Watford academy coach, Warburton, has also made no secret of the fact that he would like to see Cardiff winger Kadeem Harris back in TW8 after he recovers from a hamstring injury that has kept him out since before Christmas. Wigan’s Rob Kiernan is also rumoured to be returning to west London for his second spell as a standby centre-back after Cardiff youngster Ben Nugent’s loan expired.
Social media rumours earlier this week suggested that leading scorer Clayton Donaldson, who scored his 49th goal for the club against Walsall last weekend, was subject to a £1.5 million bid from Wigan. For starters, the club need to keep their leading stars until the end of the season, at least, so that the aim of promotion can finally be realised; and secondly, who in their right mind puts forward such a large sum of money for a player whose contract runs out at the end of the season?!
It is imperative that the squad stays together, and with a gruelling 20-fixture schedule still to be completed including tough games against fellow promotion hopefuls Wolves, Leyton Orient and Preston, anything is possible.
But there is no reason why the club can’t achieve another top-six finish at minimum and, judging by current form, automatic promotion cannot be ruled out as a possibility either.
It must be pointed out that the fantastic support this club attracts is second to none, with the last three home games exceeding the 8,000 mark and the electric atmosphere created by the diehard Ealing Road faithful week after week no doubt contributing to the the team’s success.
The upcoming mid-week Sheffield United game should attract a large following, with the club generously laying on free coach travel to Bramall Lane. West London neighbours Fulham are rumoured to be taking around 500 fans with the same travel offer this Sunday whilst Brentford will most probably fill the initial allocation of 1,444.
The draw at Walsall may have ended hopes of a club record nine consecutive league wins, however the Bees are still unbeaten under Mark Warburton and improving with each game.
With just 100 days until the season concludes and the Bees sitting pretty in the top two, could this be THE year?