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A season to forget? Remembering it will make Brentford stronger

Brentford reach the conclusion of what has been a sobering Premier League campaign as they face Newcastle United at the Gtech Community Stadium this Sunday.

Their aspirations to play European football were alive as they entered last season’s final day but there is considerably less at stake this weekend.

Thomas Frank sits on the left hand side of the desk in the Brentford press room with a serious expression as he gestures to the media and speaks
Thomas Frank (left) during Thursday’s press conference

The Bees cannot fall lower than 16th – the position they currently occupy – and they can only climb as high as 15th with Emirates bound Everton leading them by one point.

For many Bees fans, this is the uninspiring end befitting a season they will be anxious to forget.

Reeling from what seemed an ever-worsening injury crisis, Thomas Frank’s side exchanged a hunt for European football for a narrow escape from the jaws of relegation. Survival, as Frank points out, is no mean feat, but the mood is one of ambiguity more than celebration.

“Every year you are in the Premier League is a success if you are a club of our stature,” said the Brentford boss.

“I just hate saying it because we want so much more: we want to be an asset to the league, we want to dream big, we want to do something special.”

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Strong performances, like in this 1-1 draw against Manchester United, have often ended on a bitter note

It may have been a season of unrealised ambitions, but Frank is hardly content to let it fade into oblivion.

Instead, he hopes that the lessons of a challenging campaign can lay the foundations as Brentford enter a fourth consecutive season in the Premier League.

“I think in tough times we learn a bit more about each other, rather than in the successful times,” he said.

“It’s when it’s painful that you learn the most, no doubt about that.”

The particular pain of Brentford’s season was captured in their last clash against Newcastle, a 1-0 defeat at St James’s Park in mid-September. A strong performance went unrewarded with Callum Wilson converting what Frank remembers as a ‘very debatable’ penalty for the home side.

But a far bigger blow had come earlier in the match when left-back Rico Henry limped off with the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) injury that ended his season.

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Henry is hoping to be fit for Brentford’s pre-season

This, unfortunately, was a sign of things to come. Kevin Schade suffered an adductor injury in the warm up for Brentford’s next fixture against Everton, and the German winger only made his return midway through last month.

In the remainder of the season, injuries have been endemic to such an extent that the club has launched an internal review into the matter.

Henry’s full-back partner Aaron Hickey played his final game of the campaign against Chelsea in October, suffering a hamstring injury during the 2-0 win.

Bryan Mbeumo’s early season goalscoring form had been crucial in easing the absence of Ivan Toney, who was sidelined until mid-January due to breaches of the FA’s betting rules, but the Cameroonian forward was ruled out for three months with an ankle injury in December.

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Mbeumo added to his goalscoring tally during last weekend’s 2-1 win at Bournemouth

Ben Mee, who extended his contract with the club this week, is unavailable to face Newcastle after an ankle injury ended his season in late February, while his partner in central defence Ethan Pinnock has missed time too. This means that Brentford have faced stretches of the season where none of their four first-choice defenders have been available.

Josh Dasilva is another who Frank will count amongst those who feel like ‘new signings’ when they return, having put pen to paper on a new contract while his recovery from a significant knee injury continues.

In a season of such instability, it is fitting that Brentford’s players’ player of the season award was handed to Vitaly Janelt on Wednesday evening. Availability has been as important as quality in distinguishing the German midfielder, having featured in all 37 of Brentford’s Premier League ties thus far.

“Vitaly has been hugely important for us in the past four seasons he’s been with us,” said Frank, pointing to the 36 starts the German has made in the Premier League and adding, “he’s another unsung hero, he’s the glue that makes everyone better.”

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Ethan Pinnock, supporters’ player of the season, was also commended on account of his consistency.

“He doesn’t get the headlines enough, but this is his fifth season with the club and he’s been the most consistent and best centre-back in all five of those seasons if you ask me,” said Frank.

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That consistency and availability have come to rank amongst the most prized attributes is emblematic of Brentford’s season, one that his figured more as an exercise in steadying the ship than seeking new shores.

Heading into the campaign, it was expected that Frank would steer toward a more free-flowing brand of his football, most commonly seen when lining up in his 4-3-3 rather than his 3-5-2.

That more offensive setup has been used in their previous five fixtures with the squad moving closer to full fitness and making use of January reinforcement Sergio Reguilón, but there is a feeling that Brentford have not developed tactically in the way they might have.

“I still sometimes imagine what kind of season this would have been if we had a normal amount of injuries,” said Frank.

“This season we haven’t played as many (games in the 4-3-3) and that’s definitely down to injuries. If you take your two best wingers out and your two best full-backs out it’s difficult to play a system where you need two full backs and two wingers.”

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Injuries have demanded pragmatism

Though a stormy season has stilted Brentford in some senses, there are others which point to proverbial silver linings.

Injuries create problems, but they create opportunities too. While key players have been sidelined, those previously in the margins have assumed centre stage.

Keane Lewis-Potter and Mikkel Damsgaard have finally begun imposing themselves after struggling for form and fitness since arriving in the summer of 2022.

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Lewis Potter has impressed both as a winger and an auxiliary wing-back

Brentford B graduate Yehor Yarmoliuk has caught the eye with several impressive cameos and six Premier League starts and the 20-year-old may not be far from convincing Serhiy Rebrov to place him in Ukraine’s squad for the European Championships.

With Toney expected to leave in the summer – though Frank insists he wants the striker to stay – the form shown by Bryan Mbeumo and Yoane Wissa is another source of encouragement, with the latter netting 11 Premier League goals.

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Wissa assisted Mbeumo and scored one of his own against Bournemouth

As well as his star striker, Frank is reportedly coveted by some of the Premier League’s ‘bigger’ clubs including Manchester United.

But the Dane cited what he called a ‘perfect football life’ as he assured that he is happy at the West London club, a feeling that this trying season has only reinforced.

Frank revealed that he had recently thanked Brentford’s staff for their hard work, dedication, and togetherness throughout the ‘tough season.’

“I think our secret sauce is not the data – it’s the people, the togetherness,” he said.

“There’s so many good things here and so many structures and processes and people that make this the best possible place for a lot of people to work at.”

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Some may welcome Sunday’s game as a chance to say a definitive goodbye to a treacherous season, but they will do well to take heed of its lessons.

It has reminded Brentford of the precariousness of Premier League status and, in their disappointment with simply surviving, it has underlined the growing ambition of the club.

Brentford may want to remember a most forgettable campaign.


  • Jonny Coffey

    Jonny Coffey, 21, is a London-based sports journalist focusing on football. Fascinated by tactics, Coffey is famed for his introduction of inverted full backs to the second division of Cambridge college football, and his admiration for Carlo Ancelotti’s eyebrows. A lifelong Arsenal fan, his interest in analysing wing play is a thinly-veiled ploy to rave about Bukayo Saka.