As another typically hectic end to the Championship season beckons, with plenty still to play for, Sports Gazette visited playoff hopefuls Brentford to chat to manager Dean Smith and forward Florian Jozefzoon about the final push.
With just two games to go in the league this campaign, the Bees sit three points behind sixth-place Derby County. A trip to relegation-threatened Barnsley this weekend is followed by a visit from Hull, and no less than six points will do if the West London club are to turn those two games into five.
Smith is positive that a top-six finish is still a possibility, but knows that he and the squad can only focus on matters at hand.
“We can’t look too far ahead, we can’t look at Derby, we can’t look at Millwall, we can’t look at Middlesbrough. We’ve got to concentrate on Barnsley because if we don’t win then there’s no point even looking anywhere.”
Brentford have been outside of the playoff places for the entirety of the season thanks, largely, to an indifferent start to the campaign, but a run of seven games without defeat has given them an outside chance of making the top-six.
Despite this, Smith feels that the club have been unlucky this year, that performances have merited better.
“We’ve been consistent all season, but sometimes the small margins mean that we don’t get the result we need.”
“We had a tough start but we felt we were playing on the right path, and playing well enough to win more games than we had done and picked up more points.”
Saturday’s opponents, Barnsley, sit 22nd in the table, two points from safety, yet Smith does not fear a resurgence from a relegation-threatened side when points are at a premium for both teams.
“To be honest it wouldn’t fuss me who we were playing. We went to Fulham the other week, and they’re 20 games unbeaten and nobody gave us a chance and we deserved to win on the day. So the way the players are at the moment, they’ll play against anybody.
“There’s a hunger out on the training ground at the moment and a desire to get into the team, which is always big for me.”
And Smith admits that he himself is relishing the challenge from a managerial perspective at this phase of the season.
“It’s a great stage to be on, pushing to try and get in the Premier League.
“We’ve got a good group of players, and identity in how we play and how we do things, and I think that identity is seen by a lot of other clubs who are a little bit envious of what we’ve got here at the moment.”
In fact, the bookies would have you believe that there are clubs out there who are envious not just of the club’s identity, but the man in charge too, after Smith was yesterday made one of the favourites for the West Bromwich Albion job.
“It’s nice to be linked with anything, but links and speculation is all that it is. As I say my aim is to get linked with the England job and the Arsenal job, so we’ll see, maybe in time,” Smith joked.
The manager’s vehement focus on the task at hand is clear to see, and certainly seems to have rubbed off on his playing staff.
Winger Florian Jozefzoon scored the winning goal in a crucial 2-1 defeat of West London rivals QPR last weekend, and he echoed Smith’s clear priorities, exuding an impressive calmness.
“Everyone [is] feeling good. Even when we lose a game it will never change, the attitude will never change because you learn from the situation when you lose or draw a game.”
“We are very excited. You must be, as a sportsman it’s normal. This is what you train for and play for, so the mood is very good.”
And despite players of his position often being typecast as somewhat selfish on the football pitch, Jozefzoon acknowledges that the team must come first in these final games of the season.
“I will give my all for the games, and I think everybody should. For me I don’t care who scores, we just need to win. Everybody has to give your all now.”
Sporting a t-shirt adorned with the likeness of Basketball star Lebron James – currently involved in his own playoff campaign – Jozefzoon notes that it is hard not to take inspiration from a man of his success going into the final push this year.
“Maybe people think it’s all about physicality, but it’s mostly about mentality: how much do you want it? How much do you want to give yourself up for the team?And how he does it is amazing.”
And whilst James is looking to add a fourth NBA title to his collection, Brentford – a club who haven’t played in the top-flight of English football in the post-war era – are looking to achieve something that might be just as remarkable.