Make no mistake: this was not a question of being edged out of the points, as with Middlesbrough the previous Saturday. Here they suffered a severe drubbing by a well-organised side that beat them for speed, skill and – worst of all – commitment.
With only one win in their last six outings, United impressively got their act together and were thoroughly deserving of elevation to fourth position in the table achieved by what became stroll in Griffin Park. Brentford, left flat-footed and deflated, tumbled alarmingly, with Wigan and Rotherham – Rotherham! Despatched 5-1 here in the opening game of the season – breathing down their necks. Even the most ardent fan would find it difficult to gainsay the seriousness of the situation.
Yet the game began with a Brentford flourish that promised much. After just five minutes a stunning through-ball from Romaine Sawyers found a lurking Neal Maupay running free to place the ball wide of goalkeeper Dean Henderson for his thirteenth goal of the season,
The visitors promptly retaliated, John Lundstram’s thunderous shot rebounding from the crossbar, surprisingly without splitting it in two, and then, after ten minutes of play, Brentford scored again, although sadly here the ball found the net at the wrong end.Ezri Konsa, hopefully not distracted by the day’s rumours of Arsenal’s interest in taking him to the Emirates, found his head in the path of a penetrating cross into a packed penalty area and saw it ricochetpast a helpless Daniel Bentley.
Just five minutes later, United were in front, Oliver Norwood drilling the ball through the defence to beat Bentley from distance. Three goals inside fifteen minutes raised the exciting prospect, should the momentum be maintained, of nine in the first half alone. Instead, the visitors began to dominate, and Brentford to wilt.
Up front, Maupay was a constant threat, so much so that when in danger of him breaking clear an appalling tackle earnt John Basham – by name and nature, apparently – earnt him a yellow card. But the home defence was jittery, bordering on manning panic stations, giving the impression that not only had they never played together before but, indeed, had not even been properly introduced.
Soon after the interval Sergi Canos, who had spent the first 45 minutes typically scampering here, there and everywhere but, untypically, doing so to no avail whatsoever, was substituted, with Emiliano Marcondes providing a temporary boost to the attack’s fluidity and sense of purpose. So when Sawyers made space to drive in a somewhat speculative cross from the right, and United midfielder John Fleck obligingly helped in past Henderson, it looked as though the game might be rescued after all.
Some hopes! United swept back into control and when a throw-in found an unmarked Connor Washington and he crossed accurately to an equally left-alone Leon Clarke, the striker capitalised on a defence loitering on his far horizon to drive home the winner.
Woe was us. And Thomas Frank, it transpired, whose post-match comment included the observation that with the standard of the squad he inherited in , ‘if you’d said to me when I took the job that after seven games we’d have lost six, I would have said, “No way”. “What do you think of that?” I asked my mate Charlie.
“Way,” said Charlie.
Brentford: Bentley, Dalsgaard, Konsa, Mepham, Barbet, McEachran (sub Dasilva), Sawyers, Judge, MacLeod (Odubajo), Canos (Marcondes), Maupay.
Sheffield United: Henderson, Basham, Egan, O’Connell, Freeman, Lundstram (sub, Coutts), Norwood, Fleck, Stevens, McGoldrick (Clarke), Washington (Sharp).