EFL lover Gab Sutton (@_FootbalLab) feels Brentford have turned a corner in recent weeks and offers reasons why Thomas Frank’s men could be set for a top half push
One To Watch – Brentford in fine form
During Brentford’s run of four points from 10 games just after the change of leadership, Thomas Frank selected a midfield of Josh McEachran and Romaine Sawyers most weeks.
Both players are technically gifted so, when asked to pick up second balls unchallenged and dictate play, they do so with relative comfort.
The problem was that Brentford had difficulties pressing well enough for 90 minutes to tailor the requirements to McEachran and Sawyers strengths; they therefore spent more time stuck in their defensive third than they wanted to.
Recently, however, McEachran has been replaced in central midfield by Kamohelo Mokotjo.
Although the South African’s passing range might not be quite as extensive as that of McEachran, it is still reasonably strong and he offers a lot more in terms of power, mobility and dynamism.
Because Mokotjo possesses the array of qualities required to lock down those central areas, Sawyers has been freed up.
The St Kitts & Nevis was deployed as a Number 10 when working under Dean Smith at Walsall and Brentford, but does not quite have the goalscoring impulse to be described as such in the traditional sense.
His game is more about orchestrating numerous passing moves in the opposing half and getting a feel for the play before picking those killer through balls to release his teammates.
This new role appears to suit him, because he has the insurance of Mokotjo nearby.
The system switch
For weeks, the four-at-the-back system had left them exposed with opposing teams creating countless chances; even in the 1-1 draw at the Hawthorns, West Brom opened Brentford up at will.
Julian Jeanvier though came into central defence for at Hull, where the Bees were slightly unlucky to lose 2-0, but the real turning point was when Jeanvier kept his place and Ezri Konsa came back in next to him and Chris Mepham, as Frank changed to a 3-4-3 for a pivotal 1-0 win over Bolton just before Christmas.
That switch has given Brentford a lot more security, with three wins and three draws in six and only five goals conceded, in comparison with 14 shipped in the previous six.
Jeanvier has added physicality to the back-line and having that extra presence in the penalty area has lightened the load on Konsa and Mepham, who remain bright, young talents.
Left-back had been a problematic position for Brentford for some time since Jake Bidwell, arguably the last consistent incumbent, left for QPR in 2016.
Tom Field did not quite maintain the early promise he showed, so Smith often went with centre-backs by trade like Andreas Bjelland and more recently Yoann Barbet.
Although Barbet’s composure in possession allowed him to fill in for a back-four, he perhaps does not quite have the pace, energy or willingness to run forward with the ball to operate as a wing-back.
For that reason, the change of system has worked out perfectly for Rico Henry, who was in the opposite category; he lacked the defensive awareness to play at left-back but, as a wing-back, he has more defensive insurance and his attacking qualities get further magnified.
Henry, who showed plenty of talent at Walsall, is starting to show his capabilities at Championship level and has been key to Brentford’s forward play in recent weeks.
Not only can the 21-year-old provide width when needed, he can also make winding runs into goalscoring positions, making him a very difficult player to predict.
Benrahma is top banana
Another hard player to read is Saïd Benrahma, who missed the home defeats to Bristol City, Middlesbrough and Sheffield United due to injury.
It is unsurprising that the Algerian, now back at full fitness, has reminded natives that he is a real asset to Brentford’s attack.
The 23-year-old is two-footed, which gives him the option to attack on the outside or cut in from either flank, he brings energy and dynamism to the side and is also technically talented.
After playing a key role from the bench that helped Brentford bag a point at West Brom, he has started eight league games and managed three goals, three assists and delivered a star performance in Saturday’s 4-2 win at Bolton.
Similarly, Ollie Watkins missed the three November defeats due to injury and his absence was keenly felt.
No left-sided forward who has played in more than 10 games in the Championship this season has had more shots from inside the box per 90 minutes than Watkins’ 1.9, which is testament to his excellent movement.
The Betting Angle
In Brentford’s next seven league games, they do not have to face top six opposition.
There is therefore a great opportunity for them to generate a hefty return, which should at least lift them above a stable but uninspiring Sheffield Wednesday side in 16th.
Between eighth and 15th are eight sides on either 40, 39 or 38 points; Brentford need just three of them to accrue seven, six or five fewer points respectively between now and May.
That collection includes Birmingham, Blackburn and QPR, who could all potentially suffer from a lack of squad depth beyond their first eleven.
The sense of Martin O’Neill romance at Forest seems unlikely to last, Aston Villa fans are getting slightly restless while Nathan Jones is having to compromise his methods at Stoke until he can change the personnel.
Brentford have come through their transitional phase, they are united on and off the pitch while playing entertaining yet efficient football; the Bees look well-placed for a top half push.
Brentford to finish in the top half (15/8 Betfair)