Bees improving on and off the pitch
27 January ~ Brentford supporters have always looked on QPR and Fulham as their main local rivals. Mainly because most will have actually attended league matches against them in the relatively recent past. But when the FA Cup fourth round draw paired them with Chelsea, there was genuine excitement – the clubs had not met in a competitive fixture since an FA Cup tie in 1950. First, a replay with Southend had to be negotiated after Brentford had been somewhat fortunate to survive at Roots Hall. In the past, with a glamour tie at stake, Brentford may well have faltered.
Instead Southend were swept away with a vibrant attacking performance – 28 goal attempts, 18 on target – that characterised the feel-good atmosphere surrounding the club. The financial stability provided by owner Matthew Benham, a thriving academy and the prospect of a new stadium at Lionel Road by 2017 has been matched by an improvement in results and the quality of entertainment on the pitch. On message boards, when discussing the club's plans for the future, the team's ability to rescue points with late goals or even their drastically improved quality of customer service, it has become customary to add the hashtag #newbrentford.
Much of the credit for their emergence as promotion contenders must go to Uwe Rösler and, at a time when every couple of days or so a Championship club sacks their manager, it was a relief when he recently signed a new two-year contract. He has assembled a young squad of players who play a passing game whenever possible. Those watching the Chelsea game on TV should look out for the excellent young keeper Simon Moore, the technical ability of Adam Forshaw in midfield and the exciting unpredictability of Harry Forrester who, rather improbably, turned down a contract with Ajax to join Brentford. In attack Clayton Donaldson is a real handful for any defender and will be looking to maintain his recently improved goals-to-chances ratio.
However, it could be argued that supporters are perhaps getting a little carried away. It's difficult for a team with an average age of 22 to perform at a consistently high level. Recently, only in the Southend replay have they reproduced the sort performance that before Christmas saw off fellow promotion contenders Swindon, MK Dons and Sheffield United. Just one point from this week's home league games with Tranmere and Leyton Orient has been a big disappointment.
Most realistic Brentford fans will be eager to enjoy the Chelsea game but keen to get back to the serious business of trying to close the gap on the League One leaders. But, in a season when Bradford (who were beaten by Brentford in the second round) have shown just what can be achieved, there'll be more than a few of us dreaming of an unlikely upset. After all, it is #newbrentford, isn't it? Chris Dean