Watkins’ fellow occupants of the bench – a rare demotion for the player whose on-field rapport with Neal Maupay was so important when the Bees were flying high – soon returned, having possibly been huddled together for dressing room warmth while enjoying a cup of cocoa. Yet Ollie remained pensive.
Since the glory days among the division’s front-runners, which seem only a few weeks ago because actually they were only a few weeks ago, Brentford had drawn four games and suffered four overall sloppy defeats which sent them tumbling down the League table. And now here was the loss-of-form Ollie relegated to the dugout.
End of sob story, for the Bees having survived fifteen minutes or so of muscular battering – Millwall, with several towering players built like Arnold Schwarzenegger, take no prisoners – Thomas Frank’s finessed side had settled into playing some superb (although, one should confess, also some slightly less so) football.
Examples of renewed flair came from Said Benrahma causing all sorts of problems on the left and twice going close, hitting the angle of post and upright from 25 yards out and then curling a long free kick breathtakingly just wide. And this after a flying David Bentley had contributed what might be his save of the season, finger-tipping a goal-bound ball so narrowly over the bar that it might have collected a lick of paint on the way.
As is his wont, Bentley then allowed carelessness to intrude on his distribution performance, gently pushing the ball into touch when attempting a clearance and putting Moses Odubajo under unnecessary and unwelcome pressure with a sloppy too-short pass.
But for fans starved of quality of late, the side was frequently putting the south London toughies under pressure, with Benrahma fizzing up front, Josh McEachran commanding the midfield while newly-announced permanent captain Romaine Sawyers stayed deep, and Obubajo looking every bit as good, and as fast, as during his previous spell at Griffin Park.
It was not until early in the second half that the team’s swagger – audacious passing that punched holes in the Millwall defence – paid off, Maupay’s inch-perfect short ball finding an onrushing Canos. Displaying commendable cool, Sergi waited until he could see the whites of the advancing keeper’s eyes before comfortably slotting the ball home.
Shortly afterwards Sawyers was seen gesturing towards the bench with both arms simultaneously raised high. What was the skipper signalling: surely not a requirement that Number 11, the solo warmer-upper of the interval, should be allowed to enter the contest?
Coincidental though it may be, Watkins had replaced Canos within minutes and suddenly the attacking team of Ollie and Neal clicked into penetrating action. Maupay, a constant irritant to a by-now blundering defence, produced a shot that sneaked agonisingly wide and was further denied when the underside of the crossbar obstructed a header that refused to bounce backwards when it hit the ground. And then another perfect pass from the striker to his partner-in-destruction enabled Watkins to accelerate away to score sweetly.
There was much more to please and by the close even the visiting Millwall supporters, easily the winners of the vocal support award for the afternoon, became subdued.
That’s more like it, I observed to my mate Charlie.
‘We’ll see,’ he said reflectively.
Optimism doesn’t come easily to Charlie.
Brentford: Bentley, Dalsgaard, Konsa, Mepham, Odubajo, McEachran (sub Dasilva), Yannaris, Canos (Watkins), Sawyers, Benrahma (Judge), Maupay.
Millwall: Amos, Romeo, Hutchinson, Cooper, M.Wallace (Bradshaw), Skalak (J.Wallace), Leonard, Williams, Ferguson, Elliott (Morison).
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