By Matt Rowson
A quick memory test to start with : which club were the losing finalists in last year's play-off final having looked in contention for automatic promotion for most of the season?
Unless you are either Dave Webb, or too pissed to remember what was written on the link which you just clicked on, you should at least be able to have a good guess. Looking at the league table now this scarcely seems possible; unlike Luton (and even they are, sadly, showing signs of recovery), Brentford have not been beset by colossal injury problems this season, and yet the team lies in the relegation zone showing barely a spasm of last season's form.
The reasons for the collapse, however, are evident. During the close season, Dave Webb resigned as manager to take the role of chief executive, simultaneously acquiring a majority shareholding in the club. A new management team of Eddie May and Clive Walker was appointed with invitations never opened to other applicants. A sign that Webb knew who he wanted ? Undoubtedly, but not based on May's previous track record (guiding Torquay to 92nd in the league stands out on his portfolio).
Meanwhile, ex-Hornet Barry Ashby headed south to Gillingham along with first teamers Brian Statham and Paul Smith. Most dramatically, Carl Asaba was sold to Reading for £800,000, a meagre amount given today's going rates for the division's leading scorer. The revenue obtained for selling off the heart of the team was £1,200,000. Notably, fans on the Brentford Website were already predicting relegation. Only £100,000 was reinvested as early assurances of the players being replaced were contradicted by a transfer ban imposed on May and Walker who, with their positions as scapegoats-for-hire confirmed, were finally dismissed in November. Webb, meanwhile, continues to earn the wrath of the supporters by appointing puppet chairmen in his stead as he steers wisely clear of Griffin Park. He retains the controlling interest, despite having resigned as chief executive.
Do bits of that sound familiar ?
The new management team consists of Mickey Adams, a man whose name often seems to crop up on these pages, assisted by player-coach and ex-Southampton midfielder Glenn Cockerill. On the topic of one of Adams' previous employers, a certain Internet service provider sold their soul to the devil this week by agreeing a sponsorship deal with Fulham, and will soon be receiving the trial pack they sent me back in the mail with detailed instructions on exactly which drive they can stick it in.
Adams has set about the Brentford squad with relish, a recent clearout seeing the release of former Fantasy Football favourite Gus Hurdle, the sale of midfielder Marcus Bent to Palace (a step downwards morally, if not in status), the review of 11 other current contracts and the potential buy-out of the contracts of the two Tottenham reserves recruited in the summer, Simon Wormull and Simon Spencer. On the way in have come the experienced Nigel Gleghorn from Burnley on loan, victim of Fulham's new dawn Paul Watson and striker Warren Aspinall; since the sad retirement of Ian Baird, Aspinall is the country's leading exponent of the undervalued art of ugly and angry journeyman centre-forwards.
Brentford's away form has been pathetic, the latest collapse coming last Saturday at the ever improving Grimsby. Home form has been marginally better, the last fixture being a home win against the crumbling Millwall, although they previously only got a point out of freefalling Southend. Whilst the attack of Taylor and Aspinall can pose problems, the defence has been guilty of serious lapses and cock-ups in recent games.
On Saturday, Watford's cause is aided by the cavernous nature of the Brook Road Terrace, whose move from home to away terrace was unpopular with Bees fans due to its excellent acoustics.
Let's make sure we use it.