Brentford’s Injury Hoodoo

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[April 2016] I have never known a season in which Brentford have suffered so many injuries, and not just common or garden knocks, sprains, pulls and bruises, but a constant stream of chronic, long-term, recurring and serious injuries that can threaten careers, take vast chunks out of a player’s season and require months to heal.

The success of the last couple of years has gone a very long way towards rebutting and helping us forget that hoary old expression that we long-term Brentford supporters know all so well – It’s Brentford innit but our continuing and worsening misfortune with injuries might well begin to make us think again.

Given the massive changes that we had to face and cope with last Summer in terms of a new way of doing things behind the scenes, the loss of a manager, the arrival of a new head coach, the departure of so many of the squad that had performed so well last season and the arrival of a clutch of new players mainly from abroad who were all totally wet behind the ears in terms of their previous exposure to the Championship, we really needed some time and breathing space to allow everybody to bed in and settle down.

But this was not to be the case as almost from the outset we were assailed by a seemingly non-stop series of injuries which affected many of the more influential members of our squad, new and old. Given this handicap and the consequent need to throw in the majority of our newcomers rather than allow them the necessary time to acclimatise, it is hardly surprising that most of them sank without trace as we got off to such a slow and uncertain start and it was not until Lee Carsley replaced Marinus Dijkhuizen and was able to bring back the solid homegrown core that remained to us and take the likes of Gogia and Kerschbaumer out of the firing line, that our season began to take shape.

At one point late last year it even appeared that there was light at the end of the tunnel and that the injury situation was improving dramatically with the likes of McEachran, Macleod and Jota returning to the fold, but unfortunately that proved to be a false dawn and we then suffered further setbacks which have continued even up until the current time with the loss of Alan Judge to a broken leg at Ipswich last Saturday being the latest body blow that we have suffered.

It might be a salutary experience to look at the entire squad in more detail and outline the number of games that players have missed through injury and how our season has been ravaged by our injury curse.

It is also worth noting that the excellence of our medical team has enabled some players to return to action far earlier than expected and helped ensure that the situation did not get even worse than it did.

Full back Maxime Colin only joined the club in late August as a replacement for Moses Odubajo and immediately made an excellent impression but he only played four times before suffering a knee injury in training which resulted in him missing fourteen games before he returned in mid-December.

He then played regularly until mid-February before suffering a groin and abdominal injury that cost him another four games and it is still possible that he will require surgery at the end of the season, although he has now returned to the team and is currently showing some sparkling form. In all however, injury has meant that we have been without his services for nineteen games, or almost half a season.

Lewis Macleod has unfortunately become the poster boy for ill fortune as he has made only one brief first team appearance as a late substitute at Brighton in February since he joined the club well over a year ago. He fought his way back from a series of long-term hamstring injuries and the effects of apparently tripping over a twig at the training ground and caused some excitement with his performances at the back end of last year in the Development Squad including scoring a wonderful long-range winning goal against Bristol City. Unfortunately the injury bug has since bitten again with fresh groin and knee problems but there might yet be light at the end of the tunnel as Dean Smith remarked almost lyrically just the other day:

He got out on the grass to run after the course of injections he had. Hopefully this will have done the trick. Hopefully this is the end of it. The light that was just a candle is glowing brighter.

Maybe we will see him out on the pitch again before the end of this season but I suspect that we will do our utmost to get him back fighting fit and in contention for the start of the next campaign. He is a real talent and we have barely had the opportunity to see him in action.

Andreas Bjelland was our marquee signing and cost a club record fee from FC Twente. He was expected to solidify our defence and become our on-field leader but the Danish international suffered a season-ending cruciate ligament injury in his first competitive start for the club in the fairly meaningless Capital One Cup thrashing by Oxford United when, ironically, he was one of the very few first team players risked on a night when we fielded a totally makeshift team, as he was recovering from a minor groin injury suffered in a preseason win over Stoke City. He has missed the entire season, a crushing blow for the team and whilst he is now back in training he will not be risked until next season.

Sam Saunders has suffered terrible luck with injuries since the beginning of 2014 when he suffered a serious knee injury at a time when he was displaying his best ever form for the club. He missed months of action until he was eventually sent out on loan to Wycombe late last season but incredibly, he tore his calf muscle just three seconds into the Wembley Playoff Final against Southend United and he missed much of the first three months of this season and is now trying to make up for lost time as he has finally regained full match fitness.

Don’t listen to people who tell you that footballers enjoy an easy life given their constant fear of injury and the hard and thankless work necessary behind the scenes in order to recover from serious injury

Marco Djuricin looked set to become a Brentford legend when he scored the goal which gave the Bees their first victory over Queens Park Rangers for fifty years but just over a week later the striker learned that football is not just about the glory when he was the victim of a nasty tackle against Blackburn Rovers and suffered serious ankle ligament damage. He missed nine games before returning in mid-January but he has recovered neither form nor fitness, has barely looked sharp or like scoring since and his very future at the club remains in doubt. He was beginning to look the part before his injury and had grown into the unfamiliar role of a lone striker but everything changed and this is further evidence of the precarious nature of a footballer’s existence.

Thankfully there is a happier tale to tell about Scott Hogan who was expected to be out for the entire season with his second serious cruciate injury since joining the club, but he made a triumphant return with a goal against Crystal Palace in a Development Squad match in late February. He has understandably suffered from a tight hamstring since but is being carefully nursed and has recovered enough to return to the first team as a substitute, which is a massive boost for both the player and the club and it is hoped and expected that he will be a potent weapon for us next season.

There was great excitement when news broke about the signing of former Chelsea starlet Josh McEachran and he was brought in to be the box-to-box midfielder we were looking for to replace the departed Jonathan Douglas. He also frustratingly succumbed to injury during preseason training after he broke his foot in a training ground collision with Toumani Diagouraga which cost him the first twenty games of the season.

He eventually made his debut at Cardiff in December but found himself struggling to attain full match fitness and make an effective contribution, hardly surprising after so long an absence. He managed to play fifteen matches with varying degrees of success before lightning struck twice and he broke his foot for the second time, again at the training ground, and he will miss the rest of the season and might require surgery which could yet mean that next season is also truncated for him.

Jota was another to require surgery to repair ankle ligaments injured in a clash with former teammate Jonathan Douglas in the opening game of the season. We therefore lost our star player for over three months and just after we welcomed him back, his influence and sheer genius having been much missed, personal problems necessitated his return to Spain. How can any team be expected to flourish when it loses players of his class?

James Tarkowski was another player to miss matches early in the season with a calf injury and also suffered a badly broken nose after an aerial clash that really should have seen Bristol City reduced to nine men at Ashton Gate.

Our final broken bone was suffered by the prolific Alan Judge who had his leg broken by Luke Hyam last Saturday, the second of our players to be crocked this season when playing against Ipswich. What do the conspiracy theorists have to say about that, I wonder? Judge also missed a couple of games earlier in the season with a tight hamstring, a problem also shared by Josh Clarke and Marcos Tebar.

Andy Gogia has not seen much first team action but has also had brief spells when he was unavailable through niggly injuries. Philipp Hofmann has also found it hard to settle down and has not been helped by missing a few weeks in September with a stomach injury and he is currently incapacitated with a bad back.

Alan McCormack’s influence was also badly missed when he missed three months of action through a calf injury that took time to heal and the Bees slumped alarmingly during his absence.

Nico Yennaris has benefited enormously from the opportunities granted him by Colin’s absences but also missed a month through a dead leg incurred in August against Oxford United.

John Swift is also still out with a cut Achilles tendon as a result of a bad tackle received whilst on England Under 21 duty and recent loanee Leandro Rodríguez barely made an impact because of a hamstring injury which necessitated his early return to Everton

Thankfully Brentford have had some Ironmen in David Button, Harlee Dean, Yoann Barbet, Jake Bidwell, Jack O’Connell, Ryan Woods, Konstantin Kerschbaumer and Lasse Vibe who, so far at least, have managed to get through the season to date relatively unscathed but perhaps I should keep quiet about them as I do not want to tempt fate!

Given all these problems and the upheaval that these injuries have caused in terms of team selection and the fact that we have found it hard to fill the substitutes’ bench from time to time, Brentford’s current mid-table placing in the league is even more meritorious than it appears and should we finally manage to get the likes of Bjelland, Macleod and Hogan fit and available for selection next season then there is much to look forward to, particularly as we surely cannot be so unlucky again.

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