It’s a well-told story that at the end of Blues’ summer transfer window in 2017, Blues hit the panic button and signed three of Brentford’s stars.
Maxime Colin slotted in at full-back and been a pillar of consistency, a rarity in the last 18 months. Jota has taken his time but has kept his head down and started to thrive under Garry Monk’s tuition. And then there is Harlee Dean.
At first, Dean wasn’t trusted. Like Marc Roberts and Michael Morrison, he struggled under Harry Redknapp and Steve Cotterill. Yet his whole-hearted displays slowly endeared him to the Blues faithful and he is now seen as one of the leaders of Garry Monk’s Birmingham City.
Yet in attempting to build a relationship with his new fans in amidst a difficult period for himself and the club, Dean also found himself burning bridges with those at Griffin Park. Brentford fans don’t like us anyway following our late spending spree but social media is rife with hate for Harlee Dean. They don’t like us. They certainly don’t like him.
Before departing, he refused to sign a new contract. Then prior to the Second City derby last season, he claimed “I’ve been in teams where we’ve finished fifth in this league and missed out on promotion via the play-offs and this squad is ten times better than that”. Blues were just hovering outside of the bottom three at the time.
After being on the receiving end of all sorts of chants during Brentford’s 5-0 victory over Blues last season, Dean decided to nudge the Beehive a little more following Blues’ 1-0 victory over Bolton Wanderers in front of a 5,000 strong away support.
“I’ve never seen anything like it. I really haven’t. Coming from Brentford, I’ve never had a following like that before and I don’t think many teams would have”. Brentford argued they brought 8,000 to Fulham.
And if that wasn’t enough, Dean’s pre-match interview ahead of tonight’s fixture only makes him the target yet again.
“I just hope I nod one in against them and get a bit of revenge.”
Beautiful. All eyes on Harlee Dean. Let’s have it!
It’s clear through his displays on the pitch and his comments off it that Dean is a whole-hearted character but an emotional one too. He’s somebody who feeds of the love of his supporters and his words and performances have ensured cult-hero status at St.Andrews.
He heads everything and kicks everyone. He tackles hard and attacks every ball with intent. He slaloms out of defence and takes on opposition midfielders. He’s quick, he’s strong and so rarely does he get bullied. Dean’s a proper defender, often old-school in his approach to defending but occasionally modern in his willingness to try and play from the back.
The only concern with Dean is that his emotions can run too high and he can get a bit excitable. Chasing out of defence when he may not need to. Attacking a ball he probably can’t win. It’s rare, but it happens. And tonight of all nights, he needs to stay level-headed and do the right things.
Dean will know better than anybody that Brentford can rip their opponents apart in the blink of an eye if you let them. Stopping them from playing, scoring and winning on their home turf will probably be one of our most difficult tasks this season.
The statistics back it up. At home, Brentford have dropped only two points. Only West Bromwich Albion have scored more goals, only Aston Villa have had more shots and nobody has had more on target. Only Leeds United have kept more possession and nobody has a better pass success. Nobody creates more efforts inside the six-yard box as Brentford.
And they have the quality to continue that form. They have the division’s top scorer in Neal Maupay who is only bettered by Said Benrahma for assists in the entire Championship. Ollie Watkins has four goals and two assists. Lewis MacLeod is in the top 20 for most key passes in the division and Romaine Sawyers and Josh McEachran average 85% pass accuracy.
Yet Blues will enjoy the challenge. It’s what we do. We sit in, we watch the opposition dominate possession then wait the perfect moment to dive in, nick the ball and break. Blues often defend on the front foot and it’s a game made for the likes of Maikel Kieftebeld, Harlee Dean and Gary Gardner, should they play.
It won’t be pretty at times. Blues will probably improve on giving away the most fouls in the division. Jota and Maghoma will often be seen defending on the edge of their own box, doubling up on Canos and Watkins with Colin and Pedersen. It will mean Jutkiewicz awkwardly keeping hold of possession during spells of high Brentford pressure. It will probably mean Kieftenbeld crudely taking out Sawyers at some point.
Yet if we play with the same intensity that we did against Leeds United, as we did in the second half against Ipswich Town, as we have done for most of this season, Brentford won’t enjoy themselves all that much. Organisation, discipline, aggression and quick breaks are the name of the game. If Blues get it right, we could be in for a hell of a night.
And maybe, just maybe, Harlee Dean will nod one in and get revenge at Griffin Park.
Brentford are without Said Benrahma after the winger was sent off during their 2-2 draw with Reading at the weekend. Sergi Canos and Alan Judge are in contention to replace the Algerian. Rico Henry remains absent.
Connor Mahoney and Maikel Kieftenbeld have given Garry Monk a selection headache ahead of the trip to Brentford. The pair were game-changers last time out and Gary Gardner, Charlie Lakin and Jacques Maghoma will be looking over their shoulders. Isaac Vassell and David Davis are out.
Overall: Played 10; Won 4, Drawn 4, Lost 2; For 18, Against 12, GD 6; Points 16
Home: Played 5; Won 4, Drawn 1, Lost 0; For 13, Against 4, GD 9; Points 13
Most starts: Bentley, Dalsgaard, Mepham, Barbet, Watkins, Sawyers – 10
Most goals: Neal Maupay – 9
Worst discipline: Said Benrahma – 2 yellow card, 1 red card
Birmingham City: 17th
Overall: Played 9; Won 1, Drawn 7, Lost 2; For 9, Against 10, GD –1; Points 10
Away: Played 5; Won 1, Drawn 2, Lost 2; For 4, Against 5, GD –1; Points 5
Most starts: Colin, Morrison, Dean, Pedersen, Jota, Maghoma, Jutkiewicz – 10
Most goals: Che Adams & Lukas Jutkiewicz – 3
Worst discipline: Kristian Pedersen & Maikel Kieftenbeld – 3 yellow cards
Last five played:
Brenford 2-1 Nottingham Forest
Brentford 2-0 Wigan Athletic
Ipswich Town 1-1 Brentford
Derby County 3-1 Brentford
Brentford 2-2 Reading
Blues 0-0 Queens Park Rangers
Blues 1-1 West Bromwich Albion
Sheffield United 0-0 Blues
Leeds United 1-2 Blues
Blues 2-2 Ipswich Town
When we last met:
Brentford 5-0 Birmingham City
Yikes. How Brentford enjoyed this one. Having recently lost 2-0 at Villa Park and 1-0 at home to Millwall, the pressure well and truly back on Steve Cotterill with nobody ever really warming to a man who so willingly through everybody under the bus except for himself. Blues managed just one show on target against Millwall and the expectancy was for a far better performance against an exciting Brentford side. It was an embarrassment. Blues conceded 28 shots, Stockdale fumbled two, Marc Roberts scored an own goal and Blues were well and truly thumped.
Opposition Player to Watch: Neal Maupay
I do my best to avoid goal scorers on these things but how can anybody not select Neal Maupay? After an indifferent opening to his Brentford career, ex-France U21 international Maupay has scored 9 goals in 8 matches, adding three assists and scoring a brace on three occasions – including one against that lot at Villa Park. Ollie Watkins and Chris Mepham are pretty lively youngsters too.
Brentford 1-1 Birmingham City