Behind Enemy Lines: Brentford

THIS will be Millwall’s final league visit to Griffin Park as Brentford will leave the ground at the end of the 2019-20 season.

Adam Barrett remains in caretaker charge of the team as the club’s board continue to search for Neil Harris’ replacement.

Alex Grace spoke to Beesotted’s Ian Westbrook and Brentford fan Nathan Newnham this week.

Why do you support Brentford?

Ian: It's a family thing. My late father and grandfather started watching Brentford after the war and took me to my first game in 1971. It was in Division Four against Northampton and after 35 seconds we were 1-0 down! However, we equalised before half-time and went on to win 6-1 and I was hooked.

I think I assumed it would always be like that – sadly I found out that it isn’t!

Nathan: That's a very good question. Funnily enough, there's split loyalties between my family with my dad's side all being Brighton season-ticket holders and my mum's side Brentford supporters. It was a simple case of being brought to Griffin Park by my grandad and sitting in the Braemer Road Stand. The atmosphere, culture and family spirit at Brentford is unique and once it's inside you you're a Bee for life.

What has been your favourite season following the Bees?

Ian: Even though I am still loving being in the Championship and the season we went up in 2013-14 was truly memorable, I'd still say that my favourite season was 1991-92, when we won promotion to the second tier for the first time in my Bees-supporting life.

We won the title with a 1-0 victory at Peterborough on the last day of the season, pipping Birmingham, and the celebrations at London Road and then back at Griffin Park, with all the players, were amazing.

The thought that we would be out of the bottom two divisions for the first time in my lifetime was very exciting. However, 12 months later we were relegated and were stuck in the lower divisions again for another 21 years.

Nathan: If we are talking recent times it probably has to be the 2014-15 season purely due to the fact that we exceeded so many expectations that year.

It was our first year in the Championship, with a tiny budget and a limited squad and we finished fifth only to be denied a place at Wembley by Middlesbrough in the play-offs.

I'd say that was the year that our identity of attacking and intricate football became regarded by other fans and were arguably the foundations of our reputation today.

And the worst?

Ian: The worst was probably 2006-07 when we managed to get relegated to the bottom tier after finishing bottom of League One behind Rotherham, who had been deducted 10 points!

We'd reached the play-off semi-finals in each of the previous two seasons under Martin Allen, but he left in the summer of 2006 and several players followed and it was all downhill from there.

Nathan: Hard to say in recent times as it's easy to forget how far we've come from 3,000 attendances against Crewe Alexandra in a League Two clash.

Brentford and the Lions have similar records so far this season – what have you made of your season?

Ian: A bit disappointing, if I'm honest. We don't seem to be able to get things right throughout the whole team at the same time.

Defence was a problem last season, with us often letting in gluts of goals in quick succession. The surprise signing of Pontus Jansson in the summer, along with goalkeeper David Raya, has tightened up things at the back, and we now have the joint second-best defensive record in the Championship, with only nine goals conceded in 11 games.

Now, however, we can't score. We sold star striker Neal Maupay late in the transfer window and didn't replace him properly.

Nathan: To summarise in a word: Frustrating. Not just because of the results but because as fans we all had such high expectations for a special season, especially with this being our final season at GP.

To be frank, results haven't lived up to the 20 million-odd we spent in the summer.

We have conceded just nine league goals, but have scored just nine, below expectations for a Brentford side with such talent and attacking prowess.

If we get that sorted I am in no doubt we will start to climb the table.

Thomas Frank has been in post for a year now – do you feel he is still the right man for the job and can take Brentford forward?

Ian: I’m on the fence about Thomas Frank at the moment. I think he was hung out to dry a bit with the Maupay sale, which wasn't down to him, and the fact that we didn't sign a like-for-like replacement.

So the goalscoring problems aren't just his fault. However, I think the side needs shuffling a bit up front and I’m not sure if he will do it or not.

Winger Ollie Watkins has been filling the solo striker role and Thomas has been committed in interviews to helping Ollie flourish there. We did buy a free agent striker called Nikos Karelis after the transfer window slammed shut and I think Thomas should play him against Millwall and move Ollie back to the wing, where he is most effective.

Thomas isn't afraid to change things around when necessary – which is a good thing – and he has swapped between playing four and five at the back. But I disagree with some of his substitutions and some fans think he is a negative manager and are calling for his head.

Nathan: I've always felt that TF is the man for the job and personally believe that if we give him time we will reap the rewards of loyalty.

It's easy to forget that the system we operate in is one which is only suited to very specific head coaches who accept our model. Many factors contributing to our league position have been out of TF's control, especially the loss of Romaine Sawyers to WBA and Neal Maupay to Brighton, who were arguably our best two players.

Towards the end of last season, we lost two of our final 10 matches and were scoring for fun in games that were truly mesmerizing; beating Leeds 2-0 at home.,

It's easy to forget that period but it shows how TF can perform if he has the resources.

In addition to this, in his first eight games he had no win and then went 11 unbeaten, so if there's anyone who knows how to change the fortunes in this squad its TF. In TF's words all we need is it to "click together” (whatever the twitter trolls say!).

The Bees are currently 17th in the table – what do you think would be a good season for Brentford in terms of a final league position?

Ian: Well I still think it's amazing that a club of our size can finish in the top 10 of the Championship for five seasons in a row, as we have done. I will say top 10 would be another good season and a fitting way to sign off from Griffin Park, which we move out of next summer.

Nathan: It's easy to forget that we are just 11 games in and if we can get a few good wins together I am sure we can go on a run and gain some confidence going forward.

In light of what's happened so far, a top-six finish would be great – specially as it means an extra game at GP!

What are your thoughts on Neil Harris’ decision to leave Millwall, and who do you think would be a good replacement for him?

Ian: As a non-Millwall fan, I was quite surprised to see Neil Harris leave Millwall so suddenly. He has always appeared to the outsider to have a great rapport with the players and fans and, with his past Lions history as a player, to be a popular and committed figure.

As for his replacement, there are lots of good managers out of work at the moment and I think you need a bit of experience in charge, so someone like Chris Hughton would be good.

Nathan: I rate Neil Harris as a manager and think he’s a great coach.

All the times we've played Millwall it's never been an easy game and his philosophy gains respect from the players, fans and really revolves around a passion and togetherness in the club.

He really has done so much for you guys and, like us, you find yourself with such a small budget and consistently you have achieved good finishes and got a great fortress in The Den.

As for him leaving, I understand his decision and he could really advance his career elsewhere and possibly go to a higher level. We need more young English coaches like him.

A good replacement for Millwall would be a manager with EFL experience and one which plays in line with Millwall's beefy philosophy. I think it’s key that Millwall keep many of the internal structures the same and don't disrupt the system too much.

Perhaps a manager like Gareth Ainsworth or similar.

If you could sign one Millwall player, who would it be and why?

Ian: Jed Wallace has often caused us problems, so signing him would make games against Millwall a bit easier!

Nathan: Matt Smith because he always causes us problems at the back in previous times when he's played against us for other teams. And his physical presence up front is desperately what Brentford are craving at the moment.

Who will be your key men on Saturday?

Ian: Ollie Watkins – whether he plays up front or on the wing. And Pontus Jansson at the back. We have some talented wingers apart from Ollie, but they are not consistent enough yet to recommend to keep an eye on every game.

Nathan: Naturally, Ollie Watkins, as he's scored seven of our nine goals this season. If he has a chance to score he will likely put it away.

But also potentially Mathius Jensen in the middle who showed his capability to put in a wonderful ball to create goals against Barnsley a couple of weeks ago.

Will you be at the game on Saturday?

Ian: Yes – sitting in the same seat I've had for more than 30 years, with family and friends. I chose it in the mid-80s after the part of the stand we had sat in for a few years was closed in response to the Bradford fire.

I went down to the ground one summer evening to choose the four seats we needed – and when I looked down at the pitch, there was Terry Hurlock letting his dog run around on the pitch!

Nathan: Of course. Brentford fans need to cherish every last moment at GP as the big red board ticks down each week.

What is your predicted Brentford starting XI and formation?

4-2-3-1 – Raya; Dalsgaard, Jansson, Jeanvier, Henry; Mokotjo, Norgaard; Benrahma, Jensen, Mbuemo; Watkins.

Finally, a score prediction?

Ian: Given both teams' recent form, I'd say a draw is quite likely and with our record this season 1-1 is the probable score.

Nathan: It seems like a while since we last won at Griffin Park, though that was an emphatic win. I think Saturday we may see it all click and I can't see anything but a Brentford win.

But only by a narrow margin, as the physical test will be a stern challenge for our young side.

2-1 Brentford. Famous last words…COYB!

Graphic: @ShedCreative