Behind Enemy Lines: Brentford

MILLWALL are looking for their first away win since April 10 on Saturday as they make the trip across the Thames to Griffin Park.

Each side won their home meeting last season, with the Bees' win coming in controversial circumstances with play pulled back for a penalty, which Lee Gregory missed, just after he had put the ball into the net.

Having seen manager Dean Smith take over at Aston Villa, Brentford have lost their last three under new boss Thomas Frank, and are without a win since September 15, when they defeated Wigan to go second.

Lucas Ball spoke to Billy Grant this week.

Twitter: @billythebee99

Why do you support Brentford?

I was born down the road in Isleworth and used to bunk over the turnstiles to get to the match with a load of other local kids when I was at school. The roar of the Royal Oak terrace (which has been reduced in size to the now-away end) had me hooked.

What’s been your favourite season following the Bees?

Difficult. But probably when we won Division Three (now League One) in 1992. The first time in my lifetime we had any success.

The season we won Division Two – the fourth tier – in 1999 when Ron Noades was manager and we had players like Herman Hreidersson, Lloyd Owusu, Paul Evans, Gavin Mahon, Ijah Anderson and Tony Folan in the side was pretty special, too.

When we reached the Championship play-off semi-finals in 2014-15 I only missed one game that season. That was a tremendous season and, though it ended in a low, Bees fans are still very proud of what we achieved.

And the worst?

There was the season when Leroy Rosenior was manager in 2006. He was in charge for 18 matches in League One. He got less than a point a game. He was sacked after a few months. We were woeful.

Scott Fitzgerald (now Millwall’s head of academy) took over to try and stop the rot. It got worse. Barry Quinn then took over for the final month but it didn’t stop us finishing rock bottom of the division and being relegated to the bottom tier.

Saying that, the following season Terry Butcher took over when we were in League Two. Thinking about it, we were actually worse under Butcher. He will definitely go down as the worst Brentford manager in recent times though his points average over his 22 matches was one point per game. He was sacked just before Christmas with the Bees in 19th spot in the table. We lost 11 games out of 12, not even scoring ONE goal in November. He had to go.

Andy Scott took over and saved the day to be fair that season – getting us out of relegation trouble so it won’t go down as the worst season. But that period when we couldn’t buy a win has got to be the worst period in 40-plus years for Brentford.

Owner Matthew Benham invested his first £3m in the club (secretly) immediately after Butcher was sacked. I would guess Brentford being that horrendous may have prompted his actions. So some could say from a bad situation came a lot of good.

Jed Wallace fires in a shot at Griffin Park last season.

How much of a blow was it to lose Dean Smith to Aston Villa?

Dean Smith was a lovely bloke and a very good manager. The players liked him and he guided Brentford through a really tricky period – after losing a number of key players from the team that got to the 2014-15 Championship play-off semi-final.

After Uwe Rosler got us playing our passing style of football and Mark Warburton continued it, adding an even more attacking edge, Smith ensured that we were established as a top-10 championship side playing great football.

Very patient, he put up with a lot of crap – players striking, dressing-room politics. all that nonsense – while steadying our ship.

Of course, him going is always going to be a blow as we lose some continuity. Us fans have no real idea what goes on behind the scenes. Will players be personally affected with him leaving? Although he has a team of people around him who all contribute, how much of ‘Brentford’ is actually Dean Smith? All of this is hard to tell.

One thing we do know is he always took Brentford on weird runs. Like non-winning runs where we would win, say, one game in 20 or so. Then winning runs where we would win nearly every game in a 10-plus match run.

He left us for Villa in the middle of one of his barren runs and we haven’t been able to snap out of it. So it will be interesting to see what we do differently over the next few months.

Saying all of that, as lovely a bloke as Dean Smith may be, he’s now at Villa. Personally I wish him the best as he’s a decent bloke. However, I hope Villa finish mid-table or even below this season as they are vying for a play-off spot. And they have the players to do some damage in this league if he can actually get them to play together.

So I can’t wish Dean any luck, actually, as Villa manager. I think he will understand that.

Was Thomas Frank the right appointment?

I have to admit, I know very little about Thomas Frank except the research we did on him when he was appointed as Dean Smith’s No. 2 a couple of years ago.

The question we asked at that time was: why would someone who was manager of Brondby (the second or third best side in Denmark) and guided them through two Europa League campaigns want to move his whole family to England to become No. 2 to Dean Smith at Brentford?

We had a feeling that he was there to look and learn. Add his knowledge to the pot. And if Dean Smith were ever to leave, he was to take over.

I do like the idea of a seamless head coach change. Matthew Benham rejigged the way we did business during the Warburton era to try and avoid the scenario of Brentford being all about one person. And when that one person leaves, everything comes down like a house of cards.

Ironically, it has been a somewhat seamless join since Smith left – with the Bees continuing their winless run they started under him. This time we would have preferred if it were a bit more disjointed, to be honest.

From what I have heard he is technically sound. He comes across very well in his interviews. What he is like with the players, I have no idea. But that is when the team around him comes into play. Put the right team around him and you start to tick all the boxes.

We have employed one assistant: Brian Riemer, who was assistant at FC Copenhagen. We are looking around for a second assistant manager. Ex Bee and B-team head coach Kev O’Connor’s name has been touted. He was mooted for the same gig three years ago when Marinus Dijkhuizen was manager. Whether this will be Kev’s time, who knows? He knows the club inside-out. He understands the players. And he has done a great job bringing key players like Chris Mepham through the B-team to being an A-team regular and Gareth Bale’s room-mate for Wales.

With this change, do your expectations for this campaign as a whole alter?

I have to admit I have no idea. We looked like world beaters at the start of the season. Now we look like egg beaters. Saying that, we have the same players. We’re just lacking confidence. Three wins is all you need to get yourself back on track. If we don’t let this patch drag us down too much, we’re very much good enough to hit the play-offs again this season.

But a lot can happen between now and the end of the season. And the January window is possibly going to be a tricky one for us with vultures circling trying to buy their way to the Premier League picking up players with a proven track record of being half-decent in this division.

Looking ahead to January, where do the Bees need to strengthen?

We need another striker. Without doubt. Doesn’t everyone? If Neal Maupay gets injured, we have no back-up.

We also possibly need a midfielder (we have loads, yes…but we need one more). A box-to-box midfielder would be good.

We will have a few players back from injury in January. Full-back Rico Henry should return as should midfielder Emiliano Marcondes, who was top scorer in Denmark last season.

We will also hopefully be seeing the highly-rated Josh DaSilva make an appearance. We signed him from Arsenal in the summer but he was injured on arrival. If all three of these players fulfil their potential, they should all feel like new signings.

Who will be the danger men for the hosts?

Maupay is the one to watch. He’s a great forward. He has scored 11 goals even though he’s been suspended for three matches. Says it all really.

Likewise, which Millwall players will Brentford be wary of?

Lee Gregory is always a player to be fearful of. Hopefully we’ve done our homework on him and our centre-back pairing of Chris Mepham and Ezri Konsa (who have a joint age of 40 years old) are on top form.

Lee Gregory missed a penalty in the corresponding fixture in 2017-18.

What are your thoughts on Lions boss Neil Harris?

Managed Millwall for over 200 matches. I have a lot of respect for Harris. He’s honest and his players obviously play for him. He has his team playing a certain way. He has them organised and it works. One of our podcast lads, Liberal Nick, has met him and says he’s a lovely bloke.

If you could sign one of his players, who would it be and why?

Mahlon Romeo – son of Jazzie B from Soul II Soul. Merely so we can play Soul II Soul’s “Back to Life, Back to Reality” on the PA system every week.

What’s your predicted starting XI and formation for Brentford?


Bentley; Dalsgaard, Konsa, Mepham, Barbet; Mokotjo, Yennaris; Canos, Sawyers, Watkins; Maupay.

Will you be at the game on Saturday?

Of course. I took a few days out with my son this week – who has a different half-term than the rest of the world – to fly over to Europe. I went to Antalyaspor v Yomra in the Turkish Cup on Tuesday.

If we think we’re badly treated as away fans in the UK, try going to Turkey. We didn’t get in till 30 mins after kick-off after the ONE person on the turnstile had registered everyone’s ID and then printed their tickets off on – quite literally – a dot matrix printer.

Then I walked into the stadium to find myself penned in an area which wasn’t quite as bad as the Millwall Cold Blow Lane ‘away fan cage’ from the 80s and early 90s…but was nearly as bad.

I ended up peering at the match through a Perspex screen and net obscuring my view with absolutely no way of escaping to the front or the sides if you needed to. An archaic way to watch football. I left at half-time. It was pretty dire.

I’ll be flying back Friday night for the match on Saturday.

Finally, what’s your score prediction?

Tough one, but we have to end our unbeaten run sometime. I’ll go with the same result we had last season. A hard-fought 1-0 win.

Graphic: @ShedCreative