Norwich City travel to Brentford Community Stadium for Tuesday night’s Sky Bet Championship fixture (7.45pm KO).
Ahead of the game, canaries.co.uk spoke to Brentford fan and Sky Sports News reporter Dan Long, to learn more about the Bees.
canaries.co.uk: How do you assess Brentford's start to the 2020/21 season? It looks like they've made great progress in the Carabao Cup, with more mixed form in the Championship.
DL: It has largely been a solid start, without being spectacular. Obviously, losing the play-off final to Fulham in August was gutting but I would certainly not say there has been any hangover from that. The opening day defeat to Birmingham – the second occurrence in two seasons – saw them get off to a muted start, but the performances have been encouraging since, including in the 2-1 win against Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough. There was a disappointing collapse against Preston, where they lost 4-2 having been 2-0 up, while they fell 3-0 behind against Stoke last time out, with Marcus Forss’ double not sufficient to force a draw. The Carabao Cup has been a welcome distraction, but while the Newcastle game just before Christmas is something to look forward to, the league has to be the priority.
canaries.co.uk: Thomas Frank saw over his 100th game against Stoke with a higher win percentage than any other Brentford manager to take charge of 100 games. Do you believe he is the man to take the Bees to the Premier League for the first time, having come so close last season?
DL: Thomas’ unwavering belief in his side last season irked fanbases of other sides in the division last season and I am certain we’ll see that bullishness should Brentford be anywhere near the top six later down the line. He’s a real character who is not afraid to speak his mind and someone who is very loyal to his players. Some argue he should have led the best Brentford squad in living memory to promotion last season, but he has kept the bulk of that squad together and, in this very open Championship season, could well replicate last season’s third place finish. However, with the jam-packed schedule that lies ahead, I feel it’s going to be the teams with the best strength in depth who will prosper this season.
canaries.co.uk: Who are the danger men for Brentford this season? Marcus Forss looks like a threat with five goals in 2020/21, while Ivan Toney had recently scored more goals in 2020 than anyone else in England's top four tiers.
DL: Quite right – you’d have to say it’s those two. Ollie Watkins left for Aston Villa in the summer and went with everyone’s best wishes but – as had been the case when Neal Maupay joined Brighton the summer before – there was a slight worry as to who’d make up the vast amount of goals he’d scored over the course of last season. But fans have come to realise that when Brentford sell a player, there’s almost always a ready-made replacement ready to go and in Ivan Toney they have that player. He’s handled the step up from League One with ease and has scored seven in his last five games, which is quite a remarkable return, particularly when you take into account the fact he didn’t play a competitive game for six months due to lockdown. He’s also proved a handful when undertaking defensive duties and registered his first assist of the season in Saturday’s defeat to Stoke.
Forss developed superbly during a loan spell with AFC Wimbledon last season and, while he hasn’t started in the league yet, the fact he already has three league goals tells you all you need to know. Brentford haven’t had two out-and-out strikers on their books for a while now so to have both such a rich vein of form is a luxury.
canaries.co.uk: Brentford have provided the PL with some good players in recent years such as Benrahma, Mepham, Maupay, Watkins, Egan, Tarkowski etc. Is that something the club takes pride in?
DL: Simply put, it’s the model that has helped the club get to where they are today. No doubt owing to many years in the Third and Fourth Divisions, Brentford don’t have the same size fanbase as other west London clubs and they have never really been flush with cash either, so outsmarting their competitors in the transfer market has been central to the rise, following lifelong Matthew Benham’s purchase of the club in 2012. They buy undervalued players for a low price – sometimes in largely untapped markets - develop them and then selling them on for an increased fee. It has helped the club to become more profitable – they recorded a £20 million profit in the year ending 30 June 2019 – and so, in January, they were able to hold on to the fabled BMW. There’s no denying it took a while for many to come around to the idea but the success of the model speaks for itself.
canaries.co.uk: Fans used to love going to Griffin Park (in no small part due to the four pubs). How does the new Community Stadium, described as a PL-ready facility, compare?
DL: Fortunately the pubs are less than a 15-minute walk away! It was very sad to leave Griffin Park in the manner that they did, particularly as that route to the play-off final last season would have made for some magical evenings in TW8. It wasn’t to be but seeing the new stadium is quite the consolation. There’s a unique feel about the place that will, undoubtedly, take some getting used to but it’s the next step that will transform the fortunes of the club both on and off the pitch. The enormous increase in hospitality capacity will help to bring the club in line with others in the division, while the slick new dressing rooms are a world away from the cramped ones at Griffin Park. It’s such a shame fans can’t be there to witness this historic first season but with over 10,000 season tickets sold already, once it’s possible again, I have no doubt the place will be rocking.
canaries.co.uk: What are you expecting from Tuesday night's game against Norwich, with both teams looking to be at the top end of the table come the end of the season? What style of play can we expect to face from the Bees?
DL: I’m anticipating a very open, exciting game of football between two sides who have some real top quality players among their ranks. Barring Saturday’s defeat to Stoke, where they matched the Potters up with three at the back, Frank deploys a 4-3-3 formation, where possession is key and the full-backs like to get forward to complement the front three. There certainly won’t be a defensive approach from the Bees and I’m looking forward to this one.