It’s never been in Thomas Frank’s nature to lose his cool. Even after Brentford’s latest setback in midweek – a 4-1 drubbing at home against Wolves that made it six defeats from their past seven matches – the manager who cut his teeth as a coach working with Denmark’s youth teams remained positively upbeat.
“I told him, with a smile on my face, it will never be a bad as that, it is not possible,” Frank said of a conversation he had after the game with the defender Nathan Collins, whose mistakes gave Wolves two goals. “But the big thing in this football world is to stay calm and believe in process that is what we do and have come out of it again like we have before during bad spells.”
A few miles up the road in west London, a rather different scenario was playing out at Stamford Bridge. Like Brentford, Crystal Palace have been struggling in recent weeks and made it eight matches without a win when VAR ruled Eberechi Eze had given away a late penalty that was won and converted by Chelsea’s Noni Madueke.
Roy Hodgson made his feelings clear to the referee Michael Salisbury at the full-time whistle and was seen spitting on the ground in frustration as he made his way down the tunnel. Questioned about his demeanour by a radio station, the 76-year-old – not for the first time this season – was clearly riled. “Let’s talk about football, shall we?” he responded. “Telling me how I look and how I feel and then suggesting that I should have a reason for how I feel. That’s not what I came on the radio to discuss, ask me some questions about the game and I’ll answer them.”
The former England manager was also dismissive of the suggestion that his side could be dragged into a relegation scrap despite being only three points ahead of 18th-placed Luton, who have a game in hand. “The gap now doesn’t matter, it’s the gap at the end of the season that matters,” he said. “It’d be worse if we’re actually in that relegation zone with the need to climb out, at the moment we aren’t there. We had a very difficult run of fixtures, we believe that the way we’re playing we’ll get ourselves further away from the relegation zone in the weeks and months to come.”
Yet with Hodgson the bookmakers’ favourite to be the next Premier League manager to lose his job and pressure mounting behind the scenes, it is doubtful he will get the chance to find out if Palace were to lose at home to Brentford on Saturday. It is understood that the chairman, Steve Parish, has been sounding out potential replacements including the former Wolves manager Julen Lopetegui, and the sudden availability of Steve Cooper after his sacking by Nottingham Forest has increased the scrutiny on the oldest manager in Premier League history. Cooper is believed to have spoken to Parish in the summer about potentially taking over before Palace opted to hand Hodgson a year’s contract and could be tempted to make a swift return to management if called upon.
The Lille manager, Paulo Fonseca, and Oliver Glasner, who has been out of work since leaving Eintracht Frankfurt in the summer, have their supporters in a Palace boardroom where divides remain between Parish and three other major shareholders. Paddy McCarthy, who was promoted to assistant manager when Hodgson returned, has also been earmarked as the long-term replacement by Parish but it would take a brave call to throw him in at the deep end.
Frank surely has no such worries, having stepped up from his role as assistant to Dean Smith when he departed for Aston Villa in 2018. Brentford won only one of his first 10 matches in charge but have not looked back since then, having achieved an incredible ninth-place finish in their second season in the Premier League last year.
Frank’s side even seemed to be coping without Ivan Toney as he serves an eight-month ban for gambling offences until Bryan Mbeumo limped off against Brighton and was ruled out for three months. They have suffered four successive defeats but should have Toney back in contention when they face Forest on 20 January. The England striker is thought to be focusing on regaining his form rather than any potential transfer next month despite strong interest from Arsenal and Chelsea in particular. If Brentford’s Premier League status remains in doubt, the owner, Matthew Benham, will surely not allow his prize asset to leave until the summer.
Frank should relish the clash in style with Hodgson’s side at Selhurst Park, especially given that their five previous Premier League meetings have ended in draws. While there has been no historic animosity between two London clubs that had not met in the league since a Third Division South meeting in 1964 until Brentford’s promotion, their respective issues should ensure there is plenty of extra spice.
“It’s tough but I’m pleased when I looked around and the fans stayed after the game, backed the team throughout the game, and I want to thank them for that,” Frank said after the Wolves defeat. “It’s not as easy as it looks and we need them, we need each other, and we need togetherness.”