A 3-2 victory in Oxfordshire on Tuesday 14 December saw to it that Brentford B would end 2021 in fantastic fashion.
The win over Oxford United carried many positives, whether it was making it five matches unbeaten, Nathan Young-Coombes grabbing his 17th of the season, or the fact that the side had run out winners over an Oxford starting XI which boasted more than 1,600 senior appearances between them.
“The players are in a fantastic position,” explained B Team Head Coach Neil MacFarlane. “We’ve had a terrific first half of the campaign and the boys have been a real credit to themselves. Right from the first moment of pre-season they’ve worked so hard, and you can see that within our team and how we play. We’ve showed a lot of quality and had two really good spells where we’ve had unbeaten runs. At this particular point we can see how much the players have grown, and we want to kick on with that in the next part of the season.”
The B Team fixture programme has thrown up some tough tests for the young Bees so far this season, and it’s fair to say that the side have risen to every challenge. There was a trip to Cobham in August to take on a vastly experienced Chelsea XI where the group were narrowly beaten despite a performance which merited much more in terms of the result. Also in their way has been a Crystal Palace XI which was stacked with Premier League experience as Christian Benteke got on the scoresheet before the impressive Fin Stevens popped up to fire home a header at the far post in South London.
On some of the tests that the side have come up against, MacFarlane continued: “When we’re focusing on high performances, the Chelsea game was a really good performance from us, and we deserved to take something from the game. We want the boys to be tested against top players and we’ve been able to sample that lots of times. We’ve also had the likes of Crystal Palace too; these are the games that you want. There are a number of games that we could go back to, and that’s a good thing because it shows a degree of consistency. We came up against a Palace side that had Benteke and Conor Gallagher as well as more senior players like Nathaniel Clyne and Martin Kelly. We drew that game 1-1, and should have won it with Lachlan’s late goal, but it wasn’t given by the referee.
“Also, games like we had at Southend, against a non-league opponent, where we found ourselves a couple of goals behind in front of a big crowd but then won the game 3-2. The lads were stressed in a different kind of way and put under pressure. You then get to see a lot of different aspects come out in their play.”
There is no doubt that the trip to Cyprus jumps out when reflecting on the first part of the campaign. The first tour since March 2020 saw the side play in the Korantina Homes Cup against senior opponents in Pafos FC, Rodina Moscow and Aris Limassol, and they are the exact tests that MacFarlane and his staff are looking for.
Discussing the trip to Paphos in November there is no doubt that the B Team Head Coach thinks the trip served a fantastic purpose and provided tough fixtures for the players in a different environment. Having faced Rodina Moscow, less than 24 hours later they were required to go again against Limassol, and despite many of the players having just played 90 minutes, they were able to grind out a 3-2 win to round off the trip fantastically. MacFarlane continued: “To get the tours back is fantastic and we really appreciate it. Getting contact time with players and staff and to bring everyone together and continue to build what is already a close bond was important.
“Aris Limassol felt like a real watershed moment for the team with two games in 24 hours. The boys had to go again and that showed me the desire and spirit that we have in the group.”
A top scorer naturally grabs the headlines in the team, and whilst it has been a bright start to life with the young Bees for Nathan Young-Coombes, who has featured in match day squads in the Premier League in previous weeks, MacFarlane believes it’s tough not to praise every single player for their performances so far this season.
He continued: “Nathan is a player who embodies a lot of what we have done in the B Team in previous years. He’s a player who had a bit of a setback previously, but he’s come to us and it’s our job to refine him and help him to get better. He’s been absolutely exceptional and become a real catalyst for us in terms of his tempo and high press, he really ignites the tone and the team follow that in their structure. There have been many good performers, Lewis Gordon has been fantastically consistent for us and that’s one of the most important features that we look for because that shows progression.
“We’ve played with a back three a lot this season and whoever has played there has done well. Ben Hockenhull has really benefited from the non-league aspect of our games programme where you’re tested against a more direct style of football. He has also been important in terms of going in between the First Team and the B Team which is exactly what we want. If we look at Paris Maghoma and Fin Stevens, who are more with the First Team group in recent months; that’s really pleasing. It’s tough to single out anybody because there has been so much togetherness and a real team effort. Whatever is thrown at these players, they just keep responding.”
Of course, a part of Brentford B is that opportunity to step out on loan to play competitive first team football. This season Aaron Pressley has featured heavily for AFC Wimbledon in Sky Bet League One, whilst Alex Gilbert has earned some excellent experience with Swindon Town and Jaakko Oksanen has gained significant minutes up in Scotland with Greenock Morton. On those players and their loans, Neil believes they are providing important learning curves every week for the young players.
He explained: “For them to go and get the minutes that they have is really good. The loans are really helpful because the players go into a different environment, sometimes to a different style of play, they then have to fight for their place and they have to understand that sometimes they won’t play and then they have to respond to that. It’s all these different things that we try to get into the players all the time throughout this project. The three of them can be satisfied but they should also want more and more.”
So, how does the 44-year-old see the coming months for the B Team? No doubt there is set to be more tough tests on the horizon for the young group as they continue to be readied for first team football. The B Team Head Coach also says the staff are always on the lookout for individuals who can come and continue to add to the team.
“We’re always looking for good players and the more the Club continues to progress, that means you have to keep striving for an even better standard of players,” explained MacFarlane. “We’re always looking to push and see if we can make the group better. From my perspective as Head Coach, I never want to rest or stop pushing to improve, and everyone at the Club is so supportive in that.
“I really want to see the players’ performances continue to improve because that’s what we’re judged on. To see a number of boys on the bench and in and around Premier League squads is fantastic, and we believe those opportunities can continue to come for the players and we just have to keep raising the standard all time.
“I demand high standards, whether it’s against teams such as Broadfields United or Crystal Palace, we want the players to keep progressing because we’ve got a real belief in them. Whether it’s for Brentford or elsewhere, we won’t stop helping them to achieve their goals whilst they’re with us. We’re in a project where we don’t play for three points, but one thing you can say about our games is that no match has ever been played as a friendly. It’s always about full match tempo and that’s why when you speak to opposition managers, they want to play us again because they know that they’re going to be in a game and their players are going to be tested. If they have players that need games, they know they’re going to get a proper game.”