Opposing View: Brentford
Vital Watford: Sitting pretty in fourth position, having occupied a play-off spot for the majority of the season so far, Brentford seem to be the so-called 'surprise package' of this year's Championship. Are Bees fans as surprised as the pundits, or did you think you could sustain the type of form that has kept you in the mix? What's the secret to your success so far?
Billy Grant: As we keep telling people, we`re just happy to be here. Not many expected us to stay up, never mind be where we are. Part of the problem is perception. Many people believe if you don`t buy 'big time players` or players with experience of Championship football then it`s all over for you. It`s quite an old school way of thinking.
Luckily, we`re run by a set of new school thinkers. Because we cant compete with the likes of say Norwich, with their parachute payments, who can bid £4m for a player in the most recent transfer window… and then £2m for another. No, we have to think smart. We unearth players from under rocks that most other teams either don`t know about or would be too scared to throw into their first team squad.
People are watching what we are doing though, trying to mimic us. Recently Crystal Palace signed that Keshi Anderson from Barton Rovers. The thing is, he was on trial for us in a match against Palace and scored a six minute hat-trick against them after coming on as a sub. They signed him a few days later. I can guarantee you, they only signed him because they thought 'Brentford are after him... he must be good'.
Many people forget Andre Gray was playing in the Conference last season. We were told we were mad to play him in the Championship as he didn`t have the experience. But Mark Warburton believes in talent, nurturing, and giving players a chance.
Jota is a revelation. He scored our goal against you guys earlier this season. He`s got even better since. Our midfield, when it`s on the money, is unbelievable. Pass and move is an understatement.
So to answer to your question... we always knew when we were building a team in League One that they could compete in the Championship. We knew the players were good enough. It`s just taken us by surprise how good we have been in comparison to established teams in this division.
I`ll be honest, I thought we might drop away to around 10th or 11th by now. We had a blip in December, but we`re back. And looking at the league and thinking back on who we`ve played so far, I really do believe there aren`t any teams outside of the top six that I think are better than us at this very moment in time. If you check both our Norwich post-match podcast after we won, and our Middlesbrough post-match podcast after we lost, both sets of fans in the pub following the games said we were the best team they had played that season - even better than Bournemouth and Derby.
So we will either have to have a severe dip in form (which can happen) or another team will have to have a massive upturn in form (which can happen) to take us out.
The plus side is that we have a loss in the JPT, a play-off final loss, and a 94th-minute-last-game-of-the-season-penalty-for-promotion loss, all over the past few years, which has toughened us up. We don`t buckle so easy under pressure any more.
VW: There are a few Hornets connections in the Brentford setup, with your manager Mark Warburton coaching at the Harefield Academy only a few years ago, as well as plenty of ex-Hornets in your playing squad including Richard Lee, Toumani Diagouraga, Jack Bonham, and Watford legend Tommy Smith. Give us a quick appraisal on each of the aforementioned.
BG: Warburton is the don. Great tactician. Great man-manager and lovely bloke. Thinks outside the box with him being an ex-city trader. Spent his time off after banking scouting around Europe and looking at the way clubs in Spain etc. went about developing players.
He set up the Next Gen series - Champions League for academies. He was our sporting director, finding many of the young players currently forming the core our team when Uwe Rosler was manager, including Adam Forshaw (now at Boro via Wigan), Jake Bidwell, Harlee Dean, and Stuart Dallas. He believes wholeheartedly in attacking football. And his motto is "If plan A doesn`t work, do plan A better".
Richard Lee is a hero. Great bloke. Had a good spell at Brentford. I'll never forget the amazing saves he pulled off in our JPT cup run (lots of penalty shoot outs) including the three incredible saves v Charlton in the Southern semi-final. He`s been injured quite a lot recently and announced his retirement a few weeks ago to come at the end of the season. We even gave him his own Bob Marley-influenced song at Tranmere last season ('With Richard Lee in goal... it`s gonna be alright'). We sang the song at Dagenham earlier this season… he let in six goals and two penalties...
Toumani has been the biggest revelation this season. Seen last season as a 'standard mid-table League One midfielder`, sometimes he would be good, other times not so good. He found a place in the side a struggle and went to Portsmouth in League Two on loan to get game time (and he was a hero there). When he came back, when we were looking to gain promotion from League One, Coventry came in for him. We all thought he would go but he said he wanted to fight for his place in the Brentford team. Fair play to him.
This season, he got his break in the 2-0 home defeat of Leeds. Then he played against you guys at Vicarage Road. But it took him a few weeks for him to turn from Touamani into the Brentford Viera… and he was and is magnificent. His performance against F*lham was stunning (with a Jota 94th minute winner). And after that, he started turning in performances week in and week out and he`s been an ever present since.
Bonham had a nightmare start to his career at Brentford. Rosler played a weakened side against Derby and lost 5-0 with him in goal. He came on in goal for Button who was red carded at Bradford early in the game and we lost 4-0. He spent a lot of time playing development games and made his first team debut against Brighton in the FA Cup a few weeks ago. We lost 2-0 but he had a great game.
Tommy Smith has been out injured quite a bit. We saw how he changed the game big style when he came on as a sub for our first game of the season at home to Charlton. We were 1-0 down, he came on... we just looked like scoring and he caused Charlton`s defence all sorts of problems.
Since then, he`s mainly used as a sub to shore things up, hold the game up and steady the ship. And also just cause problems by really testing the opposition defence with his runs. One of your Watford fans tells me we should call him "Uncle Tommy".
VW: In the return fixture, Watford came out on top in what was an extremely close affair thanks to a bit of a wonder strike from Matej Vydra that came against the run of play. What are your memories of that game? Do you feel you did enough to win the game that time and see this match as a bit of a chance to put things right?
BG: You can catch the vibe of that match in our Watford match fan terrace video shot at Vicarage Rd. We shoot one of these for every match home and away.
Absolutely packed in our end. Petty stewarding and police making people sit down - really killing the vibe. You couldn`t find your mates, meaning there were lots of pockets of lively Bees spread all over that away end trying to get the atmosphere going. There were a lot of Bees fans there. But it wasn`t the most 'fun` it has to be said.
As for the match, we were unlucky. The penalty decision that led to your first goal was well dodgy.
VW: Surely not... It was pretty clearcut as I remember it, even if Ighalo went down pretty easily. (You can check the highlights here.
BG: Well, you also scored a great goal which made us tip our hats to you. But we were proud that we more than matched a team that we were certain would be up there vyng for promotion.
VW: It's been a long time since Watford last visited Griffin Park - our most recent trip was back in 1998. A seven-year-old me sat in the home end with my grandad (and presumably someone who supports Brentford) that day, and I remember three things from the game: we won, you scored, and before the match some kids near us with a programme all laughed at Tommy Mooney's surname for a good few minutes. Has Griffin Park changed much since 1998? What should we expect?
BG: No it hasn`t changed at all. Your fans will be in the same end they would have been in during that game. The Wendy House. It's still as old and as battered as it always was. But it goes to show when it comes to what 'real` football fans want… we don`t care much for 'facilities` and 'lovely comfy seats`... we would rather be in a stadium with a vibe and great atmosphere. And Brentford is CONSISTENTLY voted as the best away-day by travelling fans (win or lose), not because of the facilities, but because you have a right laugh before, during and after the match... in the pubs… and on the terraces.
Most of your fans will be in the terraces behind the goal. It`s shallow. But you will make loads of noise.
VW: Which pub(s) are best for us Hornets? Do we get allocated one of the famed pubs on one of the corners of the ground or are you all too friendly for segregation?
BG: There is no segregation. That`s a nonsense. We have four pubs around the ground and you can go into any Brentford pub with colours on. The Griffin is 30 second walk from the away turnstile and is the most popular by far - decent pub. But gets PACKED on a match day. The next most popular is The New Inn. The Princess Royal and Royal Oak are the other pubs - if anything the Oak (with the bouncers) may not let away fans in. But you have plenty of other choices.
Brentford has a ridiculous amount of pubs so you are not limited to these four. The Globe and The Lord Nelson are two decent pubs for fans who would rather be a wee bit further afield (still less than 10 minutes walk to the ground though). There is a little pub crawl down from Northfields Station (a better walk than West Ealing as there are pubs en route).
First The Plough (out station... left… one minute walk) for a swifty… then walk down Windmill Road… turn left on Grove Road into Enfield Road to The Lord Nelson… tucked in the houses... then come out and walk 30 seconds to The Globe... from there its eight minutes walk to The Griffin where you can tuck in for a quick one before going into the ground. There are loads of others including The Royal Horseguardsmen, The Magpie and Crown and One over the Ait (a bit further away on Kew Bridge).
VW: Well it sounds like we're pretty well catered for on that front then. In fact, the sheer volume of drinking establishments within spitting distance of Griffin Park sounds a tad daunting... Sounds like you'll miss out on a few good pubs whichever route you take.
Finally though, do you have a particular player to watch, and how do you think the game will go?
BG: Alex Pritchard, who we got on loan from Spurs (via Swindon), is the player many scouts have been down here watching. He was runner up League One player of the year last season (behind Adam Forshaw who played for us then). He`s well tricky. You will find him a handful.
Other than that, Jota is sublime. Skillful Spanish midfielder who will leave players standing. Odubajo causes even more problems now he has ben shifted to right back - the definition of a flying full back.
And striker Andre Gray - works tirelessly. Won`t always score. But you`ll bring him down on the edge of the area. And he played for Luton (£500k buy... top scorer in the Conference last season) so no doubt he`ll be wanting to get one over on you guys.
VW: I'm sure plenty of Watford fans will enjoy that fact about him.
Thank you very much for speaking to us, and enjoy the match tonight.
Billy Grant (@billythebee99) writes for Beesotted (@Beesotted) fanzine and blog (www.beesotted.co.uk). Catch up with all the Beesotted videos (http://bit.ly/1KAXZAM) and Beesotted podcasts (http://bit.ly/11OGHPo).
You can catch the Beesotted in conversation with Mike from "From the Rookery End" right here.