Brentford’s impressive 3-1 win away to Nottingham Forest at the weekend marked 11 Championship games unbeaten for the Bees.
Moving into the top six, Thomas Frank’s side seem to have shaken off their slow start to the campaign which saw them lose three of the first 10 and sit tenth in the table and now look poised to challenge once again for Premier League promotion.
With the side entering a busy festive period which sees them face five games in just over a fortnight against fellow promotion rivals, Brentford appear to be hitting their stride at the right time.
They certainly appear to have banished any lingering Play-Off Final hangover which also saw the departure of two of their key players in Said Benrahma to West Ham United and Ollie Watkins to Aston Villa during the summer.
In two of the last three years, teams that made the Championship Play-Off Final have failed to even secure a Play-Off spot the following year – Derby County falling to tenth in the table last term, while Reading had to stave off relegation with a 20th place finish back in 2018.
Instead, Brentford’s season closely mirrors that of the third Play-Off losing finalist Aston Villa, who bounced back from losing the 2018 Wembley showpiece to achieve promotion via the Play-Off route against Derby the following year.
With 18 games played now, Brentford actually sit two places higher than Villa did two years ago at the same point.
It’s also worth noting this is Brentford’s best league position at this point in a season since Mark Warburton guided the side to fifth place after 18 games during the 2014/15 campaign.
More promising is the fact Brentford appear to have plenty of room for improvement as the goals don’t appear to be as free-flowing throughout the team as they were last term.
Ivan Toney has hit the ground running for the Bees, bagging 15 goals in 18 league games which even eclipses Watkins’ total at the same point last year (11).
His contribution also means Brentford have scored 27 goals so far, five more than last season’s prolific Brentford side at the same juncture.
However, even the prolific Toney can improve – with his pressing when out of possession one major work in progress according to his boss.
“The pressing game is crucial, “ Thomas Frank told London Football Scene. “The way we play football in the modern game, we need him to press and keep going. He will keep developing that.”
The other obvious concern is if Toney is not scoring – then who will take up the mantle now that Brentford do not have the triumvirate of the ‘BMW’ around.
The only component of that well-oiled goal machine that remains in Bryan Mbeumo who managed 16 goals and seven assists in his debut season at the club.
However, the Frenchman has so far failed to recapture that form and appears to be lacking in confidence with Franks urging him and the rest of the side to do more in front of goal.
“I would love to see some of the players step up and say, ‘Ok, I’m going to play like Ivan (Toney)’ and put in a top performance. Bryan (Mbeumo) has been fine, but we know he has another level he can go to,” Frank added.
There is also the option of Marcus Forss, who has impressed during his cameo appearances following a loan spell at AFC Wimbledon last season, scoring five times but other than the Finn, the rest of the squad has managed only another five.
Josh Dasilva, Sergi Canos and Emiliano Marcondes are the other notable players with the potential to ‘step-up’ their goal contribution
Whether it be from long, curling efforts from Dasilva’s left boot or smart runs in between the lines like Marcondes all three have proven in the past what they are capable off – they just need to consistently show it.
Canos in particular is one player still struggling to find his best form following his return from a serious knee injury.
The Spaniard produced a fine assist against Forest and scored his first goal of the season against Blackburn, where he seemed to feed off the crowd’s energy.
In the meantime, Brentford can rely on their rock solid backline to ensure if they (or more to the point Toney) can’t score, then they certainly won’t concede.
Aside from two poor performances against Stoke City and Preston North End, Brentford have kept eight clean sheets – the third best defensive record in the league.
It has led to some frustrating goalless draws along the way (Middlesbrough, Wycombe and Derby) but simultaneously kept the side picking up points in a tightly-compacted league where every point counts.
The good thing is, if they can instil goalscoring confidence in the players around Toney to support their defensive efforts, Brentford may not just be on course to follow in Aston Villa’s footsteps – they might even eclipse them.