Dean Smith will be expected to hit the ground running at data-driven Brentfordby Mike Holden / 01 December 2015, 11:22Tweet
Following Dean Smith's appointment at Brentford, guest writer Mike Holden (@Ratings_Mike) looks at why the former Walsall boss will be expected to hit the ground running at his new stomping ground.
When Dean Smith sits down at his desk for his first day in charge at Brentford, he should be under no illusions about where the club belongs in the Championship. Given their leaning towards analytics, no team in the division has a clearer perspective of the standards they expect to attain and what constitutes progress.
This isn't a rebuilding job Smith is taking on, he has no business with infrastructure. The recruitment strategy is already in place and owner Matthew Benham has already assembled a squad he believes is capable of mounting a promotion challenge. No, Smith and his backroom staff have been acquired for their coaching ability. They will be judged on performance data, and performance data above all else.
Furthermore, the former Walsall boss will be expected to hit the ground running. Invariably, good performance data brings good results and though Smith might have more leeway than he might expect elsewhere if results don't marry up to key performance indicators, Benham has shown already this season that he isn't afraid to wield the axe quickly if he thinks he has taken a wrong turn. Marinus Dijkhuizen was sacked after just eight matches.
With the benefit of hindsight, there's a case to suggest the Dutchman was no worse than caretaker boss Lee Carsley, even though conventional wisdom has credited Carsley with a commendable turnaround. Primarily, the biggest difference between the two spells has been the quality of opposition faced.
If you compare the stats, you'll find that the two men had an identical points-per-game return against bottom-half opposition - and Dijkhuizen even boasted a better shot ratio, despite facing tougher opposition overall. Essentially, the Dutchman drew a short straw, leaving Carsley with a favourable fixture list.
But ultimately, neither record measures up to Mark Warburton and that's the benchmark for Brentford. If you make allowances for the departure of star striker Andre Gray, who scored 16 goals last season, then somewhere in between Warburton's standard of 1.7 points per game and this season's run rate of 1.49 is about par. If Smith averages 1.6 points per game between now and the end of the season, the Bees will finish on 70 points.
The biggest difference between last season and this has been results against top-half opposition. Whereas Warburton held his own against the big-wigs, averaging 1.14 points per game, this season's efforts have been dismal with Brentford taking just one point from a possible 24 against the teams who currently sit above them in the table.
For Smith, a first test against that standard arrives in two weeks when Brentford travel to Cardiff, the team immediately above them. Either side of that, they have games against MK Dons (home), Fulham (away) and Huddersfield (home) from which they would ordinarily expect to collect seven points. That constitutes a fairly nice warm-up. Then the serious business starts.
From Boxing Day onwards, Brentford have five successive matches against top-half opposition. If the Bees emerge from games against Brighton (home), Reading (away), Birmingham (away), Middlesbrough (home) and Burnley (home) with seven points or more, then Benham might just be on course for his wish of another shot at the play-offs.
Mid-January will be the time to take stock. The target between now and then should be 15 points from nine matches. That would constitute a solid start for Smith, putting the Londoners on 40 points with 17 games to play.