You always want to vote for Player of the Year when everything is done and dusted, not when we’re still deeply embroiled in a fight against relegation. And especially in this case when surely it’s a close call between three candidates: Phillips, Lockyer and Pratley. Nobody else I think comes close (Cullen and Pearce undoubtedly merit mentions in dispatches, while Taylor, Gallagher and Solly ought to get a mention of a different nature) and one of the three could swing it with fresh heroics in the final five games.
As things stand I’ll cast my vote for Lockyer. Like Phillips he’s been an automatic selection all through the season and the foundation of the defence. But it’s a close call.
Just as it’s surely a close call how Bowyer sets us up for tonight’s game. We’ve seen the same starting X1 grind out the results against Hull and QPR, the seven changes for the start alternative get the highly valuable point at Cardiff, but then the reversion to the first group come up short against Millwall. Of course in each case the plethora of substitutions mean we’re not looking at 11 for a game, while each game has different requirements. We know that tonight the emphasis will have to be on keeping another clean sheet and if that means the forward(s) fighting for scraps so be it.
It's obvious to all I think that in addition to setting up conservatively we have problems when it comes to scoring. Bonne and Hemed have both had good chances in the games since the resumption and have not only not taken them but really failed to put in good enough attempts. They haven’t gelled especially well as a front pairing in a 4-4-2. At the same time Bonne doesn’t look to me effective as a lone striker, the one who does is Aneke but he is also our best impact substitution up front. And since the resumption we’ve not been finding a place for either Green or Williams, players who you look to for creativity in the final third.
I’m always reluctant to suggest any line-up as for all I know they guys I’d select are not right physically or mentally. But for Brentford I’d make it a 4-4-2, with two solid banks in front of Phillips. Defence of Matthews, Lockyer, Pearce and Purrington. With Pratley and Cullen in central midfield, I’d go for Morgan on one side and Doughty on the other (and not as a wing-back). Of course you could start with McGeady and have Doughty come on. I’m not sure they would hit it off together but would be tempted to start with Green and Bonne, with Aneke and Hemed the outright forward replacement options (I’m assuming if all are fit they will get the nod ahead of Davidson at the moment), Williams an option depending on how the game pans out. We will need both good outlets tonight and some weapons to hurt Brentford, even if the emphasis is on keeping it tight.
We could of course hope that, with WBA and Leeds both winning at the weekend, leaving a five-points gap with only five games to go, Brentford will decide that it’s time to plan for the play-offs and give their first-team a rest (before bringing them all back further down the line for their games against Stoke and Barnsley). OK, that’s not going to happen, and there are still far too many permutations – including Wigan’s prospective points deduction and the curious circumstances behind their going into administration – to be able to make any confident predictions. Except that I’m confident if we come away from tonight’s game with something I’ll be happy.