There were not many people outside of TW7 or the Community Stadium who were not predicting a quick return to the Championship for West London’s latest Premier League team. Many of those who had been swayed by the club’s start to their campaign were very much back in the “they’ll be relegated” camp when results dropped off midseason. As we all know, that wasn’t to be the case however, and the Bees’ first season in the topflight provided all of the thrills, spills, and exhilaration that their fans could only have dreamt of last August. So how did they achieve their remarkable feat against all the odds?
The start they had was crucial, and to borrow some poker terminology – something owner Matthew Banham will of course be very well aware of – that first game against Arsenal was the nuts, and it set the tone for the season, or at least its early stages. Momentum is huge in football, and it works both ways. It can just as much drag you down and destroy confidence as it can lift you up and pump your chest out. For a promoted club, the importance of that first match and the first month, cannot be overstated. They put a mark in the sand, let everyone know that the hundreds of negative column inches written about them that summer, and the hours of talk radio predictions were all way off the mark. They demonstrated that they are a team to be reckoned with.
You could say it was a poor Arsenal team, but that is by the by. Brentford – watched by the nation – put on a performance that showed exactly what they were: a collective of players, manager and fans who believed that they could succeed. Compare that start to the one made by the other team predicted to go down, Norwich, and the difference could not be more stark.
Questions were asked about the transfer activity – or lack of it – of the club in the summer. One major coup however was the fact they kept hold of the players who had got them there in the first place. Going back to the momentum mentioned earlier, the fact that the vast majority of the team had achieved success, had come back from failures and succeeded together was a great help to the club and team in achieving the mindset that was so beneficial. Keeping Toney – among many others – was crucial, as it not just keeps that player’s attributes at the club, it shows that the philosophy is to improve, not cash in. This is something Fulham could very well take note of.
Players Stepping Up
There are a whole list of players who fit firmly into the category of those too good for the Championship, but not quite good enough for the EPL. Until you jump into the deep end that is England’s top tier you will never know if you will swim or be left floundering. Almost to a man, the Bees’ play-off winning team were able to make the step up to Premier League football as if they had been doing it for years.
Other higher-profile players will get the plaudits, but two need a special mention. David Raya in goal was magnificent, and the team obviously missed his presence during his absence, and Christian Norgaard was immense in that oh-so-crucial defensive midfield role.
Hindsight is a marvellous thing when judging transfers, but the Christian Eriksen acquisition in the January window was a masterstroke. It came at a time when the club were struggling and the bottom three was looking a lot more realistic than a mid-table finish. The Danish maestro’s arrival changed everything. Not only did his performances on the pitch make the difference. In a number of games he provided goals, assists and, crucially, points, that may not have otherwise been forthcoming. The fact a player of his calibre was recruited showed that the ambitions and mentality of the club was very much at the Premier League level.