Manchester United will be up against it on Wednesday night against newly promoted Brentford.
Ahead of the match, I caught up with Brentford blogger Nick Bruzon, who gives his Last Word on all matters related to his beloved club here.
You can also follow Nick on Twitter (@nickbruzon).
Before we get on to this season, let’s talk about last year: after threatening to be promoted for a few years, you must have thought about never getting to see Brentford play in the Premier League?
Nick: “It did have that feel to it after the previous season. Brentford have been building to promotion since our first season in the Championship in 2014. We actually reached the play-offs at the time of asking after finally getting of League One before our (then) bogey team Middlesbrough did us in the semis. There then followed a few seasons of consolidation and adjusting to not just a new level of football but a new squad and system too. Top, top quality teams have been built – seemingly from nowhere – as fans and coaching staff alike have adjusted to our forward thinking recruitment strategy. With it have come some incredible players and a feeling that the Premier League would, eventually, come. We’ve been building to the moment and then fell flat on our faces two games out from the line at the end of 2019/20. Instead, of automatic it was the play-offs once again and a game played out at an empty Wembley against Fulham. Brentford and the play-offs have never been the best of bedfellows and the less said about that on the better. A dreadful performance, a dreadful game and a dreadful atmosphere. The sort of night where even the England Supporters band might have lifted the mood. Possibly.
“On the plus side, Fulham came straight back down last season. A top flight campaign spent rattling around empty stadia and ending in misery. For the Bees, we took the pain, bottled it and gave the quintessential example of ‘going again’.”
Worst play-off defeat you have witnessed?
Nick: “Where to start? Any of them. All of them. 1995 was bad, very bad. As much because we’d actually finished the season second behind Birmingham City but Premier League downsizing meant there was only one ‘automatic’ slot available to reach the second tier. We’d come so close in the regular campaign , playing a winner takes all fixture at St. Andrews with just three games remaining. They won and, err, took all. Losing the semis at home to Huddersfield, on penalty kicks, about as hard as it comes.
“The other truly horrific occasion being, of course, 2013 against Yeovil Town. Blinkin’ Yeovil Town. Yet it wasn’t even the fact we’d lost to Gary Johnson’s team of ‘rush and kick (us)’ merchants but as much what came before. Namely, that infamous ‘winner takes all’ last game of the season at home to table topping rivals Doncaster. Brentford were awarded a last-minute penalty at the home end with the scores locked at 0-0. What happened next has launched a thousand compilation clips of when football goes wrong. Needless to say, Doncaster won and, err, took all.”
Brentford have impressed this season, and I think this will be a tough game for United, but what has been your favourite result so far this season?
Nick: “There are few but just for the sheer emotion it has to be the opening game. Friday night under lights against Arsenal. The start of the Premier League campaign and our first at the new home in front of a full house. The atmosphere was incredible. The team played out of their skins. When Sergi Canos scored the opening goal, the roof came off. When Christian Norgaard doubled the lead close to full time you could hear the roar all the way up to north London. Brentford finished the night top of the table. Don’t @ me ; the stats don’t lie.
“Which team were you most looking forward to welcome at Griffin Park Lionel Road this season?
All the ‘big names’ are much of a muchness in terms of the headline grabbing excitement they bring. How do you pick between Manchester City and Liverpool ? Man U over Chelsea? They’re all global names that we couldn’t have imagined lining up against even a few seasons ago, let alone a bit further back when we were kicking around the wrong end of League One. Yet for me, it is Leeds United. Of all the self-entitled, arrogance as they sneered at us – despite being in the same division. The chants of ‘bus stop in Hounslow’ as Leeds fell apart, again. A club whose fans thought they were too good for the lower levels just because they’d once been any good. How satisfying will it be to host them as a Premier League club? We entertain them in the last game of the season and if their own form doesn’t improve, it could be the sweetest of finales. One can but dream.”
Thomas Frank has been brave with his Brentford players in the top-flight, playing attacking football and trying to entertain in your first season following promotion. Tell us more about his qualities as a manager?
Nick: “He’s fiercely loyal. Enthusiastic. Honest. Doesn’t make excuses when we’re bad. Has a wonderful rapport with the supporters and a squad who would do anything for him. He just comes across as a down to earth human being and the sort of guy you’d love to go for a beer with.”
Who has been your top 3 players this season?
Nick: “Rico Henry at left wing back has been phenomenal. Christian Norgaard and Matthias Jensen are the dynamic Danish duo who link the midfield. The later has been off his game a bit at the moment but as they say – form is temporary ; class is permanent.”
Brentford are currently 14th in the Premier League, but where do you hope and expect to finish after the final game in May?
Nick: “Top ten. We’re still good for that.”
Who is your all-time favourite Brentford player?
Nick: “Now there is a question. I’ve been following the Bees since 1979 and have had many, many heroes. Gary Blissett comes close but it’s a relatively modern-day player who tops the list. Jota (the proper Jota rather than the charlatan at Anfield) came to Griffin Park in our first Championship season. Nobody had heard of him but that didn’t last long. Oh, the skills on the ball. The trickery down the flank. The love letter to the fans when he left, only to make good on his promise and return even better than before. The last-minute goals which inspired their own song. He was like nothing we’d ever seen before, The first of those ‘next level’ players of the conveyor belt of secret talent. The day he signed for Birmingham City was up there with Mrs. Brown’s Boys being commissioned for another series. It was THAT gut wrenching.”
Who is going down this season?
Nick: “Norwich City. Burnley. Watford. Although I’d happily trade any of them for Newcastle United.”
How do you expect Brentford to line-up against United?
Nick: “We won’t change formation. Three central defenders and two attacking wing backs. Three in the middle and then Ivan and Bryan up top. There’s no secret as to how we line up. Only the names have been changed.”
Finally, are you confident Brentford can get a result against this United side?
Nick: “Confidence is my middle name when it comes to Brentford. Moreso on these ‘free hits’ when everybody outside TW8 expects us to lose. Yet we’ll be so up for the challenge that the noise is going to be immense. The players feed off the energy and if we scent blood, the place will erupt. It’ll be crucial for United to score early if they are to have any chance of taking anything from the game. The bookies will fancy them but, for me Clive, this is the sort of fixture Brentford relish. A full house under lights hosting a team of the highest reputation but, perhaps, a little on the ropes at present. Oh to see Sergi Canos deliver another killer blow.”