It’s been an exhilarating and thrilling nine months for Brentford as the Bees revelled in their debut Premier League campaign, finishing the season an impressive 13th in the table.
Thomas Frank’s side took many outside of TW8 by surprise, particularly as their top tier place was only secured via the Championship Play-Offs after a second successive third-place finish.
But while champions Norwich City and runners-up Watford faltered, Brentford hit the ground running with an impressive opening night victory over Arsenal in front of a boisterous home crowd – many enjoying the newly-built Community Stadium for the first time following last season’s coronavirus restrictions.
That dominant display over their more illustrious North London rivals belied the fact the Bees were making their first appearance in the top-flight since 1947 and set a precedent for what was to come in the opening few months of the season.
Of course there was the usual fresh and joyous excitement around a newly-promoted club but there was also a fearlessness as the Bees did not hesitate to go toe-to-toe with any opposition, no matter their status.
The opening months saw Brentford pick up 12 points from their first seven league games with a frenetic 3-3 home draw with Liverpool and a late win at West Ham United the stand-out results as the Bees quickly became ‘Premier League darlings’ and everyone’s second-favourite team.
However, narrow home defeats to Leicester and Chelsea soon saw Brentford’s early season momentum halted before being dealt a reality check with damning defeats against Burnley and Norwich – providing both struggling sides’ with their first league wins of the season.
Brentford’s loss of form coincided with a three-month injury lay-off for goalkeeper David Raya with the Spaniard’s ball playing ability and distribution from the back a vital component in the Bees’ attacking armoury that was sorely missed during this period.
Alvaro Fernandez and later, fellow loanee Jonas Lossl, struggled in Raya’s absence as Brentford continued to struggle and at times looked devoid of ideas.
Narrow victories over fellow strugglers Everton and Watford, as well as a hard-fought draw at Leeds, helped keep Thomas Frank’s side firmly entrenched in mid-table but with a coronavirus outbreak and other niggling injuries, there was a feeling the impending January transfer window could be the right time to bolster a depleted squad.
Yet despite targeting a full-back, creative midfielder and a back-up striker, Brentford endured a frustrating and ultimately fruitless month – albeit the signing of Christian Eriksen which looked like a calculated gamble if the Dane could prove his fitness after overcoming a cardiac arrest just seven months earlier.
With an increasingly thin squad and injuries piling up, Brentford went on a run of eight games without a win which stretched into late February and left the side just three points off the bottom three with those around them having games in hand.
The final game of that winless streak, a 2-0 home defeat to Newcastle, would see Eriksen make an emotional return to action as a second-half substitute just 259 days after suffering a cardiac arrest.
Although unable to turn the tide in that encounter, he was the much-needed creative spark Brentford needed and his first start in the following game at Norwich saw an instant improvement as the Bees ran out 3-1 winners.
Forward Ivan Toney in particular looked reinvigorated, as free from a play-making burden, he linked up well with Eriksen to claim his first Premier League hat-trick against Norwich and a subsequent brace at home to Burnley.
With Eriksen pulling the strings, Brentford never looked back – taking an incredible 22 points from a possible 30 when he was in the starting eleven – the 4-1 demolition of Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and home win over West Ham the highlights.
While Eriksen’s impact can’t be understated, Frank’s tactical flexibility in reverting to a 4-3-3 and adjusting to a 5-3-2 in big games was also a key switch that undoubtedly helped Brentford win seven out of their last 11 league games.
Similarly, Brentford’s overall team ethic cannot be downplayed either and, while top goalscorer Toney and Eriksen will get plenty of the plaudits, unsung heroes such as Christian Norgaard, Rico Henry and Ethan Pinnock continually proved their Premier League pedigree.
Finishing 11 points clear of the drop zone in their inaugural Premier League campaign and with one of the smallest playing budgets is nothing short of remarkable for everyone connected with the club.
Brentford have proved to have real quality within their ranks and, should they be able to keep hold of players as well as strengthen the squad, there is nothing to say this season can’t be the deserved beginning for Thomas Frank’s upstarts.