December 2, 2021

Jansson: Brentford are only going to get better

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When Brentford lost to Fulham in last season’s play-off final, it was not only a west London derby defeat in front of the eyes of the world but the ninth time the Bees had tried and failed in the end-of-season lottery.

To compound their misery at a hauntingly empty Wembley Stadium, missing out on promotion in the richest game in football meant it was just a matter of time before prized assets Ollie Watkins and Said Benrahma – two thirds of the fabled ‘BMW’ – would move on to pastures new in the Premier League.

There was a feeling that, with arguably their best squad in a generation, promotion had slipped through their fingers and another chance might not be as forthcoming.

There is no denying they are yet to hit top gear but, having chalked up 20 points from the opening 13 Sky Bet Championship fixtures, Thomas Frank’s team have, in fact, collected two more points than they did at the same stage last season.

Nonetheless, Brentford captain Pontus Jansson has only one thing on his mind.

“We know that because of how last season ended, how intense it was and with no pre-season and short rest [between games] as well, that the only thing we need to take care of is the gap between us and the top two teams,” he tells Sky Sports.

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“With the experience that I have and some of the other players have in this league, we are so calm about it. At the moment it’s only a six-point gap and we have something like 250 games to play!

“There are a lot of points to play for and so we’ve been calm about it the whole season. We are on a run and have started playing better football and the defensive solidity is back again, so we just need to build from that.”

A strong backline was one of the key factors in the club’s rise through the table to the top six last season; their tally of 38 goals conceded in 46 league games was bettered only by champions Leeds (35). With the same personnel lining up in front of goalkeeper David Raya in September, there was, no doubt, disappointment when they shipped 11 in the opening eight.

With the hectic schedule giving them a chance to put things right quickly, they have now conceded just one goal in five games, with a clean sheet against Barnsley their third in succession. Things are starting to move in the right direction.

Ollie Watkins challenges Tom Cairney during the Championship play-off final
Image: Brentford were beaten by Fulham in last season’s Championship play-off final

“It’s always nice to play games,” the Swede continues. “From the first game, we just accepted it [the schedule] and tried not to talk about it too much instead of talking after games and complaining that we are tired. It’s the same for everyone. Instead, we have to do things to be ready for the next one that’s coming. Of course, it’s easier if you win and you play good because the results are key in the recovery part. Winning games is the best way of recovering.

“I think that [not being able to train] has been the problem for the last six months. The only thing we are doing is playing games and the only time we have to train is during the international break, when we have eight or nine players away on international duty, which is a lot compared to other teams in this league.

“When I was injured, I was back and we had around eight players in training. That’s always hard for Thomas and the staff to run a good training session when you only have eight players. The good thing is that there’s no international football until March, so we can focus on playing games and recovering.”

A stumbling block in the Bees’ promotion challenge last term was their inability to seize upon West Brom’s late slip and sneak ahead of the Baggies and into the automatic promotion places. They stumbled to a 1-0 defeat in a cagey encounter at Stoke on July 18 when a win would have sent them second and a final day defeat to Barnsley sent them down the familiar play-off path.

Image: Ivan Toney has scored 11 goals for Thomas Frank’s team so far this term

Jansson is certain that experience will stand them in good stead should they finish in a similar position in May.

“If you look back, the last two games of last season were very special. For the Stoke game, we had everything in our own hands and, on a normal day, we would come away with a point or maybe a win and then everyone would be talking about Brentford in the Premier League. That’s football.

“Some of the younger players were actually quite honest after the games against Stoke and Barnsley, saying they couldn’t perform the way they wanted and I understand it. That’s normal when you have a chance to go to the Premier League when you are only 19 or 20-years-old. If we end up in the same position, we have more experience and calmer heads.

“I think everyone learned a lot last year. We have quite a young team but everyone is now one season older and I think it’s easier then to know what it’s about. I think everyone has that determination to go up this season. It’s a long way until that but hopefully we can make it a little bit easier for ourselves this season. I believe a lot in this team and we’re only going to get better.”

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Highlights of the Sky Bet Championship match between Barnsley and Brentford

On Friday, Brentford will welcome fierce rivals QPR to the Brentford Community Stadium for the first west London derby since they left Griffin Park in July. This week’s news supporters will be permitted to attend events in stadiums in England when the national lockdown ends on December 2 means it is likely to be the last behind closed doors.

As a player who thrives on crowd support, Jansson has taken unorthodox measures to prepare himself.

“You play football for the fans. That’s how I am,” he adds. “I’ve been a fan since I was a kid myself and I always go to games. I love the atmosphere. Now it’s starting to be normality to play football without fans and I don’t want it to be like that.

“Even if it’s only 2,000 or 4,000, it’s going to be so nice to have fans back and that’s the first step to going back to a normal football life. I search on YouTube every day for football chants and atmosphere because I miss it so much!

“When you prepare for the game, everyone around talks about it being a big derby but when there are no fans you don’t get that feeling. It’s a game where we’re competing for three points – like every other game – but it’s easier to prepare for a derby when there are fans because they make it more real for you.

“We just have to accept it. We know it’s a derby and it’s going to be a great game.”