On the final whistle a giant yelp of delight echoed round the empty stands. Normally the victory cry of a Brentford captain after the defeat of the Championship leaders would have been submerged into the crowd noise. But since Bees support inside Griffin Park was barely into double figures Pontus Jansson could be heard clearly.The Bees had beaten the Baggies to move up the table and the gap to the top was coming down. ‘Celebration’ played out across the ground.
From the start the old stadium put on a special show for this Covid-19 BCD (Behind Closed Doors) game. The pitch looked perfect, the Braemar Road stand was dressed with cut-out photos and over a hundred flags. Peter Gilham was on top form on the PA even if there was barely anybody there to hear him apart from the players. ‘Come on Brentford’ rang out as passionately as ever just before kickoff but he couldn’t deliver it from his usual pitch side position because that was in the so-called ‘red zone’. And mascot Buzz Bee certainly wasn’t considered essential enough to be allowed in to collect his normal high five from Peter.
There were many unusual sights around the ground : a temperature check on the front gate with no exception for owner Matthew Benham, face coverings and masks everywhere, the goalposts being sterilised ten minutes before the game, instead of standing fans at the Ealing Road end there was just one steward and one TV cameraman. A mobile shower unit for the away team had been set up where the programme collectors normally buy and sell. Old club offices had been turned into the medical facilities and changing facilities the EFL protocols demanded. The press room had become doping control. Nearly fifty pages of requirements had been delivered to the letter for CEO Jon Varney by Director of Operations Alan Walsh, Stadium Operations Manager Dave Gregg and Safety and Security Manager Barney McGhee. Credit to them and to Club Secretary Lisa Skelhorn and Assistant Claire Hiskett.
When it came to sounds ‘Hey Jude’ was eerie in an empty stadium, there was no fake crowd noise (Sky put that on for TV viewers ) but the Brentford directors made themselves heard with Chairman Cliff Crown in particularly good voice.
During the warm up Mathias Jensen switched from the starters to the subs which was the first clue he wasn’t going to play after all because of an injury and Emiliano Marcondes would take his place. Immediately after the kickoff Romaine Sawyers settled into central midfield and began plotting passes in his usual style, fortunately for Brentford that only lasted for five minutes and the returning hero had a quiet night.
Had this been a normal game the first half would have ended with a standing ovation for the Bees. They had the only goal; a Fosu-Da Silva-Benrahma-Da Silva-Watkins move that ended with Ollie poking it home and jokingly cupping an ear to the empty away end. Brentford had all the best chances.
WBA couldn’t have got much worse in the second half and they didn’t. Two substitutions made them much more positive. Sub Kenneth Zohore hit the top of the crossbar and others missed good opportunities. The Bees goal was under siege but the back four stood strong and Ethan Pinnock was outstanding.
Just as he had at Fulham Thomas Frank held off substitutions until the second drinks break and again the arrivals made all the difference, especially Shandon Baptiste who set up Josh Da Silva for a shot that went wide. When Shandon and Tariqe Fosu were signed from Oxford in the January window who could have guessed how important they would be in a June and July run-in.
Brentford stayed in good shape until the end: Ollie Watkins was still running and delivering clever sideways passes to colleagues and Bryan Mbeumo made a subs appearance that reassured fans his asymptomatic bout with COVID had left no after effects.
At the end there was a moment between Josh Da Silva and Pontus Jansson that seemed to sum up ‘#BeeTogether.
Up in the part of the Braemar Road stand reserved for ‘Scouts’,Wigan manager Paul Cook sat working out how he will resist the mighty Bees in the next game at Griffin Park after our two wins in a week against promotion rivals. He’ll have a worrying week.
But first Brentford have to face Reading away as they go into a Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday merry go round that some in the Bees camp still believe might yet clinch them an automatic promotion slot.
Brentford: Raya; Dalsgaard, Jansson, Pinnock, Henry; Marcondes (sub Baptiste), Nørgaard, Dasilva (Mokotjo); Fosu (Mbeumo), Watkins, Benrahma
West Bromwich Albion: Johnstone; Furlong, Hegazi, Ajayi, Gibbs; Sawyers, Livermore (Harper; Phillips (Krovinović), Pereira (Edwards), Diangana (Robinson); Robson-Kanu (Zohore)
What the Griffin Park Grapevine christened the ‘gatecrashers’: from left Jon Varney, Monique Choudhuri, Stewart Purvis, Rasmus Ankersen, Donald Kerr, Cliff Crown, Eddie Rogers and Matthew Benham.