What's going wrong at Brentford? We assess the factors affecting the Bees' slide down the Championship table
Brentford face Sheffield United on Tuesday evening, live on Sky Sports Football via the red button
Last Updated: 26/11/18 6:30pm
With a new stadium set to open in 2020, the positive start to the campaign left Brentford fans quietly confident their final season at Griffin Park would also be their first in the Premier League.
A 5-1 thrashing of newly-promoted Rotherham on the opening day set tongues wagging, and until mid-September the Bees were competing right up near the top of the table.
But Brentford have won just once in their last 11 games and are four points above the drop zone heading into their Sky Bet Championship clash with Sheffield United on Tuesday night.
But why has their form suffered so greatly? Here, we take a look...
Much has been made of Brentford's weakness in defending aerial threats of late. It was something Middlesbrough were keen to exploit at Griffin Park on Saturday evening and after numerous missed opportunities, Marcus Tavernier scored the second of the evening when he headed home Dael Fry's cross.
It was the fifth occasion the hosts had conceded a header in the league this season, some way short of Preston's league high of nine, but still an undesirable figure. In addition to that, they have conceded eight from set-pieces, while in a third of their league games this season, they have either drawn or lost from winning positions.
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Deploying a central-defensive pairing of 21-year-olds Ezri Konsa and Chris Mepham is brave but, while the pair clearly have big futures in the game, the backline has appeared understandably naive on occasions and looked at sixes and sevens in the build-up to Tavernier's goal.
Meanwhile, in goal, Daniel Bentley regained his place between the sticks when Thomas Frank took over last month, having been dropped by Dean Smith after two errors in a 2-2 draw against Reading in September. His distribution is still a little wayward but Luke Daniels will remain his deputy for now.
Time for Frank to blood some fringe players?
The final midweek round of fixtures in 2018 gives Thomas Frank the chance to shuffle his pack for the visit of the high-flying Blades and two players who shone after coming off the bench against Middlesbrough on Saturday are Emiliano Marcondes and Josh Dasilva.
Having gone 2-0 down on 61 minutes, Frank soon gave fellow countryman Marcondes his first minutes of the season, before introducing ex-Arsenal trainee Dasilva 10 minutes later. The pair injected much-needed energy going forward, with the former delivering a glorious cross for Neal Maupay that the Frenchman wastefully headed at Darren Randolph, while Dasilva came within a whisker of an equaliser with a dipping strike that was turned around the post.
The added energy could prove welcome against Chris Wilder's men, who can sometimes be susceptible to counter-attacks, given their innovative high-pressing approach, whereby defenders Jack O'Connell and Chris Basham - who are often found in advanced positions - play a key role in their forward play.
Meanwhile, Alan Judge made just his fifth league start since returning to the first-team squad in January, following a severe leg break sustained against Ipswich in April 2016. The Irishman played on the left wing in the absence of Ollie Watkins and capped the occasion with a well-taken strike with 15 minutes remaining to set up a tense finale in west London.
The 30-year-old's ability has been called into question, but his desire to succeed in the final year of his contract is quite evident. Speaking to the club's official website following Saturday's defeat, Judge admitted he has been "trying to learn to play as an out-and-out winger" and game-time in the role can do him no harm.
Is there a lack of leadership?
In days gone by there was a berth in the Brentford midfield occupied by a tough enforcer in the shape of either Alan McCormack or Jonathan Douglas. Those times are in the past, but they could surely benefit from added steel and ruggedness in the middle of the park at this moment in time.
They seem to lack a figure of that ilk, as well as touchline encouragement. Though he is a vibrant character, Frank appears to be rather quiet and methodical in the dugout and does not fit the animated mould of predecessors such as Martin Allen, Andy Scott or Uwe Rosler.
On a positive note, former boss Smith scrapped the traditional idea of one player taking the captain's armband at the start of the season in favour of a leadership group, but the hard-working Romaine Sawyers has been appointed skipper following Smith's departure. He leads by example and will be a welcome figure when he returns from suspension in midweek.
Is Frank the right man for the job?
First and foremost, it seems incredibly harsh to judge a man taking on his first senior management role in just six games, particularly given the fact Brentford had won just one of Smith's final six league games in charge before he replaced Steve Bruce at the Aston Villa helm last month.
Frank is a well-respected character, who looks more closely into the meticulous details of pre and post-match analysis and owner Matthew Benham, along with the directors of football, are not a group that make knee-jerk decisions, particularly when filling leadership roles.
But, as the saying goes, the stats don't lie. Since Frank was installed as Smith's successor, he has overseen just the one win and only Bolton (six) have taken fewer points that Brentford (seven) over the past 11 Championship games.
What is important to note is that the performance against Middlesbrough was not bad. There was a killer touch lacking, perhaps, yet Brentford did not disgrace themselves. They face tough battles against Sheffield United and West Brom over the next couple of days and need to start picking up points to nip this miserable run in the bud.