Just one win and three draws in Brentford’s last four outings needed something special to eradicate them from the memories of the faithful. Five immaculate goals to despatch an admittedly lacklustre Wednesday can be considered job done, even if star striker Ollie Watkins – the EFL London player of the year – remarkably failed to feature on a scoresheet that showed the club regain its position as the division’s leading scorer.
Fulham, four points ahead and due to entertain the Bees next Friday, and West Brom, in second place and visitors to Griffin Park the following Tuesday, have been given food for thought that might develop into severe indigestion if the results go against them. Oh, how delicious.
Here was a game in which not one member of the home team could be criticised for (a) lack of effort or (b) sloppy passing in defence or attack. The tone of the afternoon was set after five minutes, when a Henrik Norgaard rush culminated in Watkins clipping the crossbar with keeper Cameron Dawson beaten. Dawson looked glum, but would look even glummer as the game progressed.
A crowd of 12,270 – depleted somewhat in its later stages as some of the visiting fans departed early, probably in need of a stiff drink – did not have a long wait for Brentford’s superiority to be confirmed. The Wednesday rearguard was in sixes and sevens bordering on nines and tens as Josh Dasilva, recapturing the form that saw him score a hat-trick at home to Luton, drilled a shot through the careering bodies and then between Dawson’s legs,
Nine minutes gone and after another eight Emiliano Marcondes doubled Brentford’s advantage with the sweetest of curled shots, which appeared to increase the distance between it and Dawson with every yard covered on its way into the net.
With first-half possession recorded at 80 per cent, it came as no surprise that with five minutes of it left the treble was achieved. Bryan Mbeumo, who had been having a quiet time of late, livened only by a stunning free kick last weekend, latched on to a ball travelling at speed and ran with it before slotting a fierce shot beyond Dawson’s reach.
The Owls, surprisingly unaccompanied by derisory hoots from the home crowd, regrouped after the interval and David Raya was kept mildly busy until a dazzling run by Said Benrahma ended with a defence-splitting pass to Dasilva, whose turn and perfectly-placed shot deserved a round of applause, although poor Dawson could have been forgiven for not wanting to join the hand-clapping.
Astute substitutions by Thomas Frank, designed primarily to give the recently signed Oxfordian duo further Championship experience, paid off handsomely some nine minutes from time. Tariqe Fosu-Henry, hereafter to be known as Fosu, had been on the pitch only a few minutes before beautifully directing a shot inside the far post to score his first goal for the Bees.
Mention must be made of Benrahma, who dazzled to deceive and frequently left the visiting defence running here, there and everywhere, but rarely anywhere near the space the Brentford number ten was occupying. If he could only resist the impulse when beating a man to go back and beat him all over again, he’ll be the hottest property in the division.
Although perhaps not. He may not have added to his twenty-one goals, but Watkins is a pleasure to watch as he gains authority with every game. ‘Ollie Watkins is the best,’ the crowd sang lustily – and they may be right.
Prior to kick-off, the teams dispensed with the usual handshake – any lurking coronavirus would make such gentlemanly acknowledgement a very bad idea indeed. Very sensible, but what about any collision on the pitch where flesh met flesh? Or handball, or a header? ‘Heavens,’ said my mate Charlie, ‘who’d have thought the beautiful game could be such a health hazard.’
Brentford: Raya, Dalsgaard, Jeanvier, Pinnock, Henry, Marcondes, Norgaard (sub Baptiste), Dasilva (Valencia), Mbeumo (Fosu-Henry), Watkins, Benrahma.
Sheffield Wednesday: Dawson, Palmer, Iorfa, Lees, Fox, Murphy, Pelupessy, Bannan, Da Cruz (Forestieri), Windass (Wickham), Fletcher (K Harris).
After two games where Brentford tried to recover from a two-goal deficit, this time it was the Bees who went two-nil up and blew three points. But the Championship being the extraordinary league that it is we’ve now gone five games without a win yet only dropped from fourth to fifth in the play-off places. Even the most optimistic Bees fans would accept that this winless run can’t go on much longer without us slipping out of the top six.
Brentford had been blown off course at Luton on Tuesday and early Bees arrivals at the Cardiff City Stadium found a fierce wind again threatening to disrupt our style of play. By the time of kickoff the wind had dropped but there were occasional gusts of wind and rain between the sunshine.
Thomas Frank, who’d decided against giving Luka Racic a chance at Luton in place of the injured Julian Jeanvier, now started with him in the centre two of a back four. Within five minutes the young Dane had got his first Brentford goal to put the Bees ahead.
After all those complaints from Bees fans about the quality of the corners at Luton Emiliano Marcondes got the ball past the first man to reach Henrik Dalsgaard and it then fell to Racic who dispatched it into the corner of the Cardiff net.
Sixteen minutes later Marcondes won a free kick right in front of the box and Bryan Mbeumo put it away with a superb strike that left Cardiff keeper Alex Smithies floundering.Twenty minutes gone, two set pieces, two goals.
But Brentford’s winning rhythm was soon disrupted by a lengthy row.
Christian Nørgaard tackled Will Vaulks on the sideline right in front of the dugouts. Those Bees fans in seats a few rows behind the dugouts thought it a perfectly fair tackle. What they judged was not fair was Vaulks’s response which was to move in on Nørgaard as he lay on the ground. Thomas Frank who was even closer thought Vaulks’s knee had made contact with Norgaard’s head .To put it bluntly he lost it, first with Vaulks, then with the Cardiff coaches crowding round him, then with fourth official Matthew Donohue who appeared to have advised referee Simon Hooper that no action need be taken against Vaulks other than a chat. There now seemed a danger that it might be Frank not Vaulks who would be sent off but the Brentford Head Coach and the ref settled it face to face, man to man. Afterwards Frank said it was ‘a clear,clear red card right in front of the fourth official’.
By a further twist it was Vaulks and his long throws who led the Cardiff fight back. Although Vaulks played only a minor part in their first goal, an Albert Adomah cross headed in by Junior Hoilett, his next long throw created the equaliser just before half-time when Captain Sean Morrison headed it on and Joe Ralls beat Raya. On both occasions Cardiff players had beaten Brentford ones to the ball in the air.
It was an irritable way to go into the half-time break and the omens were not good. As it turned out the Bees came out looking stronger. Overall they had nearly double the possession and more than double the corners. They had lots of shots straight at the keeper and the game then turned on two key misses. Brentford’s came when Ollie Watkins failed to convert a cross from Rico Henry. Cardiff’s fluffed conversion was by Joe Bennett, distracted by Raya from putting home a cross from Adomah.
Mr Hooper then made a whole series of decisions in the penalty boxes which annoyed Cardiff fans most. He angered them further when Josh DaSilva played a one-two with him and with Benrahma but nice move though it was Josh blasted it wide. In the final minutes there were chances for Dalsgaard and Mbeumo but keeper Smithies wasn’t really troubled by them. At the other end David Raya limped off after the truly stormy match into the arms of goalkeeping coach Andy Quy.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that a team coached by Neil Harris, successor to Neil Warnock, committed 14 fouls to Brentford’s 6 and earned 4 yellow cards against 1 for the Bees. Brentford proudly put brain before brawn in midfield and and supplement it with some elegantly timed tackles and energetic tackling back. But how the Bees could do with the man we hoped Dru Yearwood would and still might be, breaking up opponents’ attacks and launching our own. Shandon Baptiste, who also just might be that man, was crocked in a 50-50 duel just six minutes after coming on. It was that kind of day.
Cardiff City: Smithies; Sanderson, Nelson, Morrison, Bennett; Bacuna, Vaulks; Adomah, Ralls (sub Ward 80), Hoilett; Paterson
Brentford: Raya; Dalsgaard, Racic, Pinnock, Henry; Marcondes (Baptiste) (Žambůrek) Nørgaard, Dasilva; Mbeumo, Watkins, Benrahma.
For the second time in four days Brentford failed to win after having the best of the first fifteen minutes then going two goals behind by half time. Instead of taking six points in two battles for promotion they came away with just one, with no wins in four games and no clean sheets in eight league and cup games. Fortunately their rivals for the playoff places seem to be going through similarly bad patches.
For the first few minutes Brentford were making all the chances, Rico Henry nearly got his head to a Bryan Mbeumo cross. But in the ninth minute a Luton free kick from the right spun and bounced into the box where Shandon Baptiste stuck out a leg and put it past David Raya. This goal against the run of play ignited the Luton crowd and charged up their players, for most of the rest of the ninety minutes the Hatters were more determined and more forceful than their Brentford counterparts amid the often gusty conditions. It felt like that 7-0 thrashing at Griffin Park still hurt.
As the Bees struggled to get back into the game a problem with their line-up became increasingly apparent. ‘Franking sense’ ran the electronic advert round Kenilworth Road promoting a ‘mail technology’ company. As it turned out Thomas Frank had made a selection decision that didn’t make enough sense for him to stick with it for more than a quarter of the game. In place of the injured centre back Julian Jeanvier the Brentford Head coach had moved midfielder Christian Norgaard to the middle of a back three with Pinnock and Dalsgaard either side of him. It was a decision that got fans asking why if a centre back was needed Luka Racic wasn’t given the slot.
The Norgaard problem was that he clearly wasn’t very comfortable in the role, mistiming one tackle so badly he earned a yellow card that could have been a red. And not having him in midfield meant the Bees were without a central playmaker. Increasingly he was released forward, sadly to no great effect, as Brentford reformed into a 4-3-4 formation. There were chances; Said Benrahma had the best, Josh Da Silva had the most, Bryan Mbeumo had nothing much at all.
Then, just as with Blackburn on Saturday, momentum turned into a further setback and David Raya was at the centre of it. From a Luton free kick on the right he rushed out to try to punch the ball clear but it fell to Martin Cranie, 33 and still going strong, who volleyed it into the net. Raya claimed he’d been barged in the air and as the players went off at half time moment later Brentford assistant head coach Brian Riemer carried on the argument with referee Darren England.
Within a few minutes of the second half Norgaard fell awkwardly and looked in pain. He carried on and by the 60 minute mark he’d helped Brentford get their shape back .But the struggle was too much and he was replaced by Emiliano Marcondes, the Brentford fans packed into the away end going him a sympathetic round of applause sensing it wasn’t his fault he’d started out of position. Tariqe Fosu got a chance in place of Mbeumo and so did Joel Valencia instead of Baptiste as Thomas Frank pushed for the kind of comeback from two-nil down that had brought victory at home to Millwall. Bees got one back thanks to an assist from Mads Roerslev who had another outstanding game after an impressive substitute performance against Blackburn. Ollie Watkins put him away on the right and he crossed back to Watkins who tucked it away for his 22nd of the season. Celebrations were limited as Brentford pressed for an equaliser and in the final minutes there were two more chances: Benrahma, who’d shown admirable concentration and control in difficult circumstances, curled a shot just wide then Ethan Pinnock, taking his customary corner position beyond the far post, headed the ball into a bunch of Luton bodies. Yes Bees could have got a point but when when you keep giving opponents a two goal start your luck is going to run out sometime.
Luton Town: Sluga; Cranie, Carter-Vickers, Pearson, Potts; Rea; Cornick (sub Hylton), Berry, Mpanzu, Tunnicliffe; Collins
Brentford: Raya; Dalsgaard, Nørgaard (Marcondes), Pinnock; Roerslev, Dasilva, Baptiste (Valencia ), Henry; Mbeumo (Fosu), Watkins, Benrahma
Having outplayed the visitors for much of the first half, the Bees trudged off at the interval a goal down and probably singing under their collective breath a snatch of Randy Newman’s ‘Lonely at the top’: ‘All the applause. All the parades… But it’s just a crazy game.’ Crazy it certainly was, with Blackburn on their way to a severe drubbing until Ethan Pinnock misjudged the flight of a speculative punt from goalkeeper Christian Walton, allowing striker Adam Armstrong to lob neatly over David Raya.
The Bees resumed where they had only just left off, peppering the opposition with shots that were ballooned over the bar, ricocheted around the visitor’s penalty area like a pinball or sped wide of the posts like a wayward Guy Fawkes Night rocket. Rovers bungled one other chance and home fans were allowed the consolation of looking up the possession statistic that showed Brentford so far in front that they might soon win the ball outright. We’ll get a goal soon, won’t we? Well, no, as a matter of fact.
Nine minutes into the second period a skirmish in the Brentford area ended with referee Tim Robinson judging Raya to have fouled John Buckley when attempting to reclaim a ball that had slipped from his grasp. Harsh maybe but, hardly surprisingly, Armstrong gracefully accepted the invitation to score his second, competently from the spot. Whereupon Brentford suddenly showed signs of falling apart. With Rovers muscling their way into a game in which they had showed all the signs of being destined to finish second, the home strike force went from the finely-tuned BMW to second-hand Ford Fiesta, while the defence wobbled like a jelly on a plate.
In no game since skipper Pontus Jansson was sidelined through injury has his absence been so noticeable. Pinnock and Julian Jeanvier, struggling in the heart of the defence, more and more appeared like lonely souls (‘You’d think I’d be happy but I’m not’ – R Newman), unsure what to do other than deliver a short pass of dubious quality to someone else with a similar lack of ideas. Even stand-in captain Henrik Dalsgaard, usually so impeccable, delivered a back-pass so pathetic that he clasped hands to head as Raya somehow reached the ball and save the catastrophe of going further behind while simultaneously doubtless wishing he hadn’t left Blackburn for West London last July.
A game-changer became imperative if embarrassment was to be avoided and it came just after an hour’s play. A long ball deep into Rovers’ half from Dalsgaard was captured by an under-pressure Ollie Watkins and a fluid turn and immediate volley saw him score his twenty-first goal of the season, one of such quality it brought a tear to many an eye.
And, with substitutes in place or about to be so, Brentford resumed the bombardment seen earlier on, to little avail until Mads Roerslev, having replaced Jeanvier, bustled and bruised his way into the Blackburn area before being up-ended by a defence now verging on panic. Said Benrahma, whose finishing had fluctuated from unlucky to woeful until then, slotted home the penalty, leaving a little under twenty minutes for the home side to batter the visiting defence in search of that much-required three-pointer.
An electric afternoon and a fair result, said those of generous spirit, and one that showed the validity of the motto on Blackburn’s club crest – Arte et Labore (Skill and Labour) – is no idle boast.
‘Lots of the second,’ sniffed my mate Charlie.
Brentford: Raya, Dalsgaard, Jeanvier (sub Roerslev), Pinnock, Henry (Dervisoglu), Marcondes (Baptiste), Norgaard, Dasilva, Mbeumo, Watkins, Benrahma.
Blackburn Rovers: Walton, Buckley (Gallagher), Nyambe, Lenehan, Adarabieye, Bell, Travis, Downing, Johnson, Samuel (Bennett), Armstrong.
For the second away game in a row, the weather played a major role. Arriving at St Andrews in powerful wind and rain didn’t bode well for the beautiful game and, although the conditions seemed slightly more benign in the stadium than around it, the fear was that Brentford might find it more difficult than the hosts to play their natural game. The team sheet must have also concerned the travelling fans with both Brian Mbeumo and Josh da Silva missing from midfield, replaced by Shandon Baptiste and Emiliano Marcondes. It was surprising to some that Josh had recovered from his injury against Leeds on Tuesday evening and was on the bench, but, in fact, he didn’t survive the warm up and was replaced by Halil Dervisoglu. All in all, both weather and forced changes might be conspiring to break our recent run of form.
The early exchanges did nothing to dispel this apprehension, with young Bellingham tearing through us and Jeremie Bela also proving a handful in the opposition midfield. Within minutes of the start the former had struck a post and the latter had dribbled unopposed through our midfield. Scott Hogan was busy up front, and the suppporters’ natural fear of an ex player coming back to haunt his previous employers looked well founded. To make matters worse, Mathias Jensen limped off after no more than nine minutes to be replaced by Dru Yearwood, meaning that, apart from Christian Norgaard, we had a completely new untested midfield, and we were showing little signs of dealing with a very aggressive and effective Birmingham attack. Their goal, when it came on 13 minutes was disappointing but hardly a surprise, a lovely passing movement breaking down their left and a quick cross which, with a clever dummy from Hogan, presented Jutkiewicz with a tap in. We might have expected a long ball game with plenty of set pieces with his head on the end of them, when in fact we were beaten by a goal we would have been proud of ourselves. Fortunately, we saw little of this passing game from Birmingham thereafter and following our equaliser four minutes later both teams reverted to type, and we found it much easier to cope. The goal itself came from a corner which went beyond the players in the goalmouth and was headed in by Ethan Pinnock. We’ve seen him head back from this position for others to finish but in this instance he saw the gap and beat the goalkeeper on his near post.
From then on, the Bees grew into the game and although Bellingham, so impressive for one so young, remained a threat, Bela was much less effective than in the first quarter of the game. The main danger came from long throws by Marc Roberts, some of which were hurled into the box from just inside the opposition half. My heart sank every time we conceded a throw in as it seemed inevitable, like the innumerable corners from Leeds in the first half at Griffin Park, that one would force a breakthrough. However, we repelled everything literally thrown at us and the half ended with the promise that we might have more success after the break. Shandon had struggled to cope with the pace and aggression in the early part of the game but seemed to be coming to terms with it as the half progressed and Dru looked increasingly comfortable breaking up play alongside Christian and pushing us forward. Emiliano, who has looked a different player since his return from Denmark was causing problems for Birmingham on the wing, not his preferred position, and Said Benrahma and Ollie Watkins were both benefiting from improved service. A fierce shot from Said was brilliantly saved just before the whistle blew and such was the display by both teams, most of us had almost forgotten that the conditions were far from perfect.
Birmingham started the second half much as they had the first, but with our 1500 supporters making it feel like a home game for David in front of them, there seemed less likelihood that they would actually score. And as the game went on, Brentford became stronger and put together some very nice passing movements cutting through the opposition. Dru, having come on much earlier than expected, and having worked ceaselessly for well over an hour, was himself replaced by Tariqe Fosu and as he moved on to the wing, Emiliano moved into his more natural midfield position. Scott Hogan was replaced five minutes later, having picked up a knock, and, although he hadn’t been as dangerous than in the first half, Birmingham seemed much less threatening as a team after his departure and replacement by Dan Crowley. The big memorable chances all fell to Brentford, with Emiliano guiding a header towards goal, every Bees fan waiting for the net to bulge, only to see Lee Camp pull off an excellent save. Fosu was suggesting that, along with the more impressive second half Baptiste, he could be a very strong addition to the squad, and was very unlucky not to score. His shot, which came back off the post, prompted a scramble in the box where successive shots failed to cross the line. Last line of defence fouls by a couple of Birmingham defenders brought them both yellow cards, and Christian responded in kind with a very professional foul that broke up a promising attack towards the end of the game. The game became increasingly scrappy but we were up for the scrap and gave as good as we got. This is a new side to Brentford and as Ethan said in his BBC interview afterwards it demonstrated that we are able to play all aspects of the game.
All in all, it was hardly a classic but, given Storm Dennis it was unlikely ever to prove one for the purists. We played some nice football but we also scrapped well. Our new recruits all stepped up to the plate and, on an afternoon when only Leeds of the top seven teams won, it was a very good point, and kept us well in contention. It was a testing drive home but a contented one.
Birmingham City: Camp; Colin, Roberts, Clarke-Salter, Pedersen; Bela (sub Harding ), Šunjić, Gardner, Bellingham; Hogan (Crowley), Jutkiewicz
Brentford: Raya; Dalsgaard, Jeanvier, Pinnock, Henry; Jensen (Yearwood) (Fosu)), Nørgaard, Baptiste; Marcondes, Watkins, Benrahma
The fact that two goalkeeping errors – each leading to a goal – were the highlights of an encounter between these two promotion-chasing sides is testament that this was not exactly the thrill-a-minute shootout many of us expected. Chances were few. Meaningful shots rare. As a spectacle, it was about as dramatic as crown bowls, although considerably faster.
This is not to say that there was nothing to admire. Leeds’ immaculate passing, for example. Short or long, the ball seemed to home in on its destination as if radio controlled. Such was the accuracy, it was surprising that those with the guided-missile boots that delivered these works of art did not pause to take a bow before getting on with the game.
As for Brentford, their sheer resilience and tenacity were a wonder to behold. As wave after wave of the visiting attack attempted to get round, or over, or, if absolutely necessary, under them, the valiant Bees – best defensive record in the division, remember – fought to stem the tide.
‘They shall not pass,’ could have been their mantra but for the fact that, as exhaustion took hold, ‘they’ sometimes did, only for the visitors collectively to discover that they had left their shooting boots back in Yorkshire.
Extraordinarily, while trying and largely succeeding to stamp their authority on the game, after 25 minutes Leeds handed the home side the lead with a blunder that should have arrived gift-wrapped. Skipper Liam Cooper directed a square back-pass to goalkeeper Kiko Casilla, only for him to fumble it through his hands. The lurking Said Benrahma was on hand to stroke it into the empty net.
Oh calamity! David Raya, having recently committed a similar howler against Hull, celebrated along with his team-mates, perhaps with a sneaking feeling that ‘There but for the grace of God, go I,’ except he’d already gone that route of course. And, having tipped over the bar a fierce shot from Pablo Hernandez, it wasn’t long before the usually wholly reliable keeper gave tit for tat, failing to reach a Jack Harrison corner that pin-balled around his area before a charging Cooper smacked it into the net.
Leeds then renewed their slick approaches. Henrik Dalsgaard found himself under constant pressure from the speedy left-winger Harrison, target of much of that pinpoint passing, while the Bees were busy giving away the ball and conceding enough corners to keep Raya on his toes permanently. Pretty, it wasn’t, and as the first half sped to its conclusion the Ealing Road end’s chant of ‘Leeds are falling apart again’ seemed more hollow by the minute.
The pattern remained after the interval, although Brentford sorted themselves out to the extent that the visitors could not afford to give Benrahma and the once again impeccable Ollie Watkins much space. A Benrahma free kick cannoned back off the defensive wall and Casilla came close to a second catastrophe as he and Watkins both raced for the ball and Ollie bore down on him like a charging bull.
The tension became intense: a buffeted Josh Dasilva was substituted by Emiliano Marcondes and Matthias Jensen and Christian Norgaard began visibly to wilt in midfield, where creative play gave way to dogged, sometimes desperate defence. Thomas Frank, presumably having lost track of time, eventually tossed new signings Tarique Fosu and Shandon Baptiste into the fray, but they barely had time to introduce themselves to the rest of the team before referee Robert Jones ended the all-round misery.
Brentford were able to take a little consolation when learning of Nottingham Forest’s capitulation to Charlton, which saw the Bees ease up a place into fourth on goal difference, although they have to entertain the south London side on what could turn out not to be not so Good Friday.
As for Leeds, the Nearly Men, they had once again failed to win at Griffin Park, having last done so in 1950, or to score more than one goal there, as in in any of their previous 13 visits. They are likely soon to drop out of the top two in the division and face a play-offs place that last season saw them succumb to an unremarkable Derby side.
It’s a tough school in the upper regions of the Championship although, as I said to my mate, they certainly didn’t look like a team that hadn’t won in any of their last six outings.
‘Make that seven,’ said Charlie.
Brentford: Raya, Dalsgaard, Jeanvier, Pinnock, Henry, Jensen (sub Fosu-Henry), Norgaard, Dasilva (Marcondes), Mbeumo (Baptiste), Watkins, Benrahma.
Leeds United: Casilla, Ayling, White, Cooper, Dallas, Phillips, Helder Costa, Hernandez, Klich, Harrison, Bamford (Augustin).