He was deservedly named the Player of the Year after bagging 26 times and generally becoming one of the most renowned strikers in the country. Although Brentford failed to jump the final hurdle, defeated by Fulham in the playoff final, Watkins did get his dream move to into the top division after Aston Villa broke their club-record fee to persuade him to choose Villa Park.
Thomas Frank will now have to endure a season without his leading marksmen and arguably best player as he attempts to go one further than the accomplishments in the previous adventure.
Brentford’s era without Watkins could not have started in the worst fashion, losing to Birmingham City 1-0 on the opening day of the Championship chapter.
Thomas Frank’s side dominated the game in terms of possession and chances created, yet they simply could not find the back of the net as hard as they might. They hit the woodwork twice, squandered several good opportunities, and were denied by the Blues teenage ‘keeper on a frustrating afternoon for the visitors.
To dig the knife even deeper, Watkins opened his Villa account in a friendly fixture against Manchester United in typical, clinical fashion. It is this ice-cool composure in front of goal that the Bees sorely missed. Ten of Watkins’ league goals came from just one shot on target, adding a further two for the brace he netted against Swansea. He never went above four shots on target before scoring, and on both of those occasions, he bagged a brace.
Granted, Watkins was not the only outlet Brentford had at their disposal. Saïd Benrahma and Bryan Mbeumo formed the infamous BWM, a formidable front line that managed 57 goals league between them. Unfortunately, Benrahama began on the bench against Birmingham amidst speculation he wants away from Griffin Park, whilst Mbeumo missed two glorious opportunities to draw the game level.
Frank has filled the gap with another, deadly finisher in the form of Ivan Toney. Like Watkins, he was named the League One Player of the Year after also scoring 26 for Peterborough United. In fact, they are both the same age and scored the same number of goals, plus Toney’s accuracy is just shy of his predecessor. On seven occasions, he scored with one shot, the highest he managed before finding his objective was five.
On paper, the pair are extremely similar, and the type of goals they scored support this.
Take both of their respective league hattricks. Everything revolved around good positioning, great anticipation, and deadly dispatching. For Toney’s first, he sensed that Rochdale was in danger before the ball was kicked. He was virtually on top of the ‘keeper before he can make his kick and bundled it over the line.
Number two was a direct pass straight through the middle of the defence, Toney then having the composure to round Robert Sanchez for a simple tap in.
To seal the hattrick, Rochdale made a hash of their clearance, allowing the ball first to bounce then sending a weak header towards their own goal. Throughout, Toney waited patiently for his moment, before pouncing and burying his shot into the bottom corner.
Compare this to Watkins treble away to Barnsley and although the finishes are dissimilar, the approach is distinctive. For all three of his goals, he meets a cross with a header. He places himself in the correct area to meet the cross, ensuring all his energy is directed into burying his effort, predicting exactly where the ball will end up for him to attack.
Tony demonstrated just this in the 4-0 victory over Oxford United. He had already made his run to the back post before his teammate had delivered, allowing him to steal in front of the defender for a tap in.
Talking of being ahead of your marker, Watkins deceived Ben Wilmott with a change of movement in the 3-1 win over Swansea. Running in front of the Swans centre-back, he subtly switches direction to pull off Wilmott and again meets the cross with perfect precision.
Evidently, both earned their stripes through predatory instinct and the knack of timing their actions, ending in only one outcome. In this aspect, Toney is a fine addition to the Brentford squad and could well fill the sizeable boots left by Watkins.
The rest of the Brentford Bunch
As mentioned, Benrahma and Mbeumo made up the deadliest trio in the Championship, driving Brentford onto the brink of promotion.
They made 43 and 42 appearances respectively, managing 32 goals and 17 assists between them, acting as excellent wingmen to Watkins escapades.
However, Mbeumo may be the final part of the BMW machine left running, with Benrahama heavily linked with a transfer, Crystal Palace the rumoured front runners. Take the Bees’ most valuable assets away, and they are left with very little in the offensive tank.
Only Josh DaSilva scored 10 goals or more, the next highest coming from centre-back, Ethan Pinnock. Break down the league goal percentages, and it is clear how crucial the front three were to Frank’s front-foot thinking philosophy.
Brentford have two other recognised strikers in their ranks. Marcus Forss spent part of the previous campaign on loan at AFC Wimbledon, whom he scored 12 goals for in 20 matches. Unfortunately, his successful stint was cut short thanks to a hamstring injury, now reassigned to aiding Brentford in their title ambitions.
There is a case that if the Finish forward had stayed fit, he could have reached the figures of Watkins or Toney. Forss was also a part of the hattrick club, sending Southend to the sword in a 4-1 win. He too exhibited a natural threat in the opposition box, especially for his second goal, where he lurked on the six-yard line until the ball finally rebounded for him to prod home.
His opener was dispatched with much more finesse. Controlling the low cross, he took two further touches to move into space and thus into a shooting position, his drive too hot to handle for the ‘keeper.
In the 2-2 draw with Bolton, he further expanded his goalscoring repertoire. Having won possession in midfield, Wimbledon released the 21-year-old on his own, having already shifted his momentum into second gear. Forss then strides past the defender and slots into the far corner.
The leveler in additional time was a classic case of goal poaching. Initially, he sneaks to the back of the crowd unmarked, ensuring he has a free header. The original shot is saved, yet Forss was first online to smash in the rebound.
He has the attacking attributes of both Watkins and Tony, and Brentford may benefit from his dangerous nature close to the opposition goal, as well as his versatility. With Franks insistence of utilising his wide men in the final third, Forss could thrive off crosses or deflections. Presently, he is preferred as a substitute, but he could be a real menace from the bench.
Halil Dervisoglu is another young, prospering supplement in the striker’s department. Brentford reached an agreement with Sparta Rotterdam last August for the 20-year-old, his move finally completed in January thanks to international clearance.
Before greeting Griffin Park with his presence, the Turkish youth star scored five in the Eredivisie, all as a centre forward. In the 2-1 victory over FC Twente, Dervisoglu’s opener was executed with composure beyond his years. Just avoiding the offside flag, he raced unchallenged towards the goal, and where so many have faltered because of the time afforded, he simply picked a spot and committed to it. Prying on the last man is a skill Tony exhibits well and between them, they would certainly exploit those Championship clubs who deploy a high line.
Frank has a real talent and if nurtured correctly, Brentford may have captured a future superstar. Dervisoglu is not just your conventional striker, he can easily be deployed on either flank. With pace to burn a trick up his sleeve, he suits the Bees mold and is could be key to the club’s ambition of becoming champions.
Best of the rest
The transfer window closes on the 5th of October and although teams will still be tinkering their transfer activities, many will want a settled squad into going into the winter months.
Brentford have been a pioneer in the market, using data-driven methods to recruit in a Moneyball style operation, that has reaped the rewards both on and off the pitch.
Since his appointment as head coach in 2018. Frank has recruited efficiently, whilst making a decent profit from sales. He has generally opted for younger, exciting products, with the exception of Pontus Janssen, who was crucial to the Bees defensive overhaul.
His expenditure has never been vast, therefore on these factors, there are a couple of potential striking options that Brentford could coop before the window slams shut.
Jean-Christophe Bahebeck and Nouha Dicko have both become free agents after being released by FC Utrecht and Hull City respectively. Admittedly, they are nearing their 30s, but are still within the catchment age Frank tends to preference.
Bahebeck was brought up through the Paris St German ranks but has rarely featured for the French giants. Dicko will be familiar to EFL fans having featured for Wolverhampton Wanderers, Blackpool, and Wigan Athletic.
Their statistics over the past few years are certainly not prolific, managing 37 between them across 177 games.
Although their scoring exploits were brief, Dicko and Bahebeck bagged goals that Brentford striker’s past and present would be proud of.
Bahebeck’s run and first-time finish throw shades to Watkins’ hattrick against Swansea.
Whereas Dicko’s anticipation and unnerving accuracy has the attributes of Tony against Rochdale.
They may only be used in cameos or as backup, yet for their value moneywise, Frank could make a shrewd investment by acquiring the services of two out of favour forwards.
Brentford will be sore seeing their pride and joy experiencing life in the Premier League without them. Ollie Watkins’ will be a major miss, although Thomas Frank does have strong reinforcements to try and replicate his goalscoring qualities.
This analysis has highlighted the Bees’ current personnel and their strengths, whilst offering alternatives that could be bought in the transfer market.