Brentford v West Brom: Tough test for managerless Albion
Whatever happens in the dugout between now and the end of the season, Sam Johnstone knows the players hold the key to Albion’s promotion hopes.
The goalkeeper starred as the Baggies began the post-Darren Moore era with a 3-0 victory over Swansea City on Wednesday.
It was a bright spot during a tough few days and weeks at The Hawthorns, which culminated with Moore’s sacking after Saturday’s 1-1 draw against rock-bottom Ipswich Town.
But with a trip to Brentford following on so quickly in the relentless race for promotion to the Premier League, Johnstone knows the players must perform for whoever is in charge.
Caretaker boss James Shan will take charge of the Baggies tomorrow, but Albion are expected to make a new appointment in the international break.
“It’s been a difficult week,” Johnstone told BBC WM. “Darren’s a great guy and a great manager, this league’s tough.
“Jimmy’s come in, we’ve not had long to work, we’ve had a couple of sessions and that was it. He got the boys going.
“Ultimately it’s down to us to go on the pitch and perform, whether that was when Darren was here and now Jimmy. It’s a tough league, it’s just down to us really.”
Lewis Macleod scored a 90th-minute equaliser to deny Albion a couple of precious points when they met Brentford in the reverse fixture at The Hawthorns on December 3.
But after Albion won and the Bees lost in midweek, Johnstone hopes it will be the Baggies who end up smiling at Griffin Park.
He added: “Jimmy will do his best, we’ll do our best, and we’ll see what happens.”
Wednesday’s victory was notable for two things – it was Albion’s first win and clean sheet on home soil since Boxing Day, and marked the return of Chris Brunt to the starting line-up for the first time in almost two months.
“We’ve not kept many clean sheets this year so it was nice to get one, and the three points, that’s what matters,” said Johnstone. “I had a few saves to make but ultimately that’s my job.
“Can’t complain, clean sheet, few saves, three points.”
He added: “We’re glad to get the three points and a clean sheet. The games come quick and fast, we go again Saturday.”
And on club captain Brunt’s return to the team: “Everyone knows Chris’s left foot is unbelievable.
“He put a ball into the area, it misses everyone and goes in. It’s a dangerous ball, we needed that.
“It was a tough night, they’re a good team, they passed the ball and found spaces. Ultimately we worked really hard, we won dirty really. Everyone’s really happy in the dressing room.”
Matt Phillips could return to the team this weekend after missing the win over Swansea.
He is still getting up to speed after the ankle injury that derailed his start to this calendar year.
“Matty (Phillips) just had a little niggle,” said Shan. “With three games in a week, you have to be mindful of managing players and team selection.
"We’ll look different against Brentford, but I’m not sure whether Matty will be up to speed yet. Gareth (Barry) has also got a little niggle.”
The opposition: Thomas Frank approach has got Brentford buzzing
Thomas Frank lost eight of his first 10 league games in charge to leave Brentford teetering on the edge of the relegation zone.
Dean Smith’s assistant, who was promoted to the full-time job when Smith left for Villa, got off to the slowest of starts.
But something changed around Christmas and the Bees have subsequently lost just three of their last 14 league games to lift them into mid-table and give them an outside shot at the play-offs.
“The key game was Sheffield United (in November),” he said recently. “We lost and gave away way too many chances.
“Everything had been building up and accumulating, but it was then we thought we needed to do something. Massively.
“We had a long meeting the day after. We said: ‘If we don’t step up now, we will get relegated’.”
Frank switched to a 3-4-3 system that suits Brentford’s passing abilities and they rediscovered their shooting boots.
They put four goals past Rotherham in January. Last month, they struck five past Blackburn Rovers and Hull City – both at home.
Brentford are in the process of moving homes, but Griffin Park is currently a fortress.
In all competitions, Frank’s men are unbeaten in their last nine games there. They’ve won their last seven.
They’ve score 21 goals in those seven games and conceded just five.
Frank has previously coached the youth teams of his native Denmark, but he also spent three years at Danish club Brondby.
“That Brondby experience was massively helpful,” said Frank, “I knew that if you do what you believe in every day, work hard, bring people together and try to twist and turn the small details and to progress, you know it will turn around eventually.
“You don’t know when, that’s why it’s so hard to be in it sometimes, but that experience where we didn’t win in eight games and then unbeaten in nine shows you can’t go from winless in eight to unbeaten in nine if there isn’t a solid foundation.
“The thing in football is that there is no history, so you’re only going forward and for the next thing.”
That’s a good way of tackling this week, because Brentford were beaten 2-0 by 10-man Sheffield United on Tuesday.
“In spells we didn’t play with enough patience, not enough tempo, and not enough width,” said Frank.
“Too many times we wanted to do it on our own and went through the middle instead of getting around them.”
Albion drew 1-1 with Brentford back in December when they were on a bad run of form. There’s no doubt this will be an even tougher test than that day.
Goalkeeper Daniel Bentley will miss the game with a shoulder injury, which means former Albion academy stopper Luke Daniels will be in goal.
Pie and a pint:
With Brentford hoping to move, there won’t be many more chances to enjoy their four pubs on four corners. The New Inn is best for away fans.
Don Goodman and Kwame Ampadu scored in a 2-1 win in October 1991. The Bees would go on to win the Division Three title, with Albion seventh.
Jay Rodriguez netted his 18th goal of the season in midweek. Whichever role he takes in the Baggies’ attack, he’ll be a goal threat for sure.
Top scorer with 23 goals to his name this season, Maupay is in the running for the Championship’s golden boot.
The 22-year-old’s efforts are naturally interesting clubs in the Premier League and due to Brentford’s business model, he will inevitably be sold for big bucks in the summer.