Billy Grant (@billythebee99) is back from his West Midlands awayday to give his low-down on Brentford’s hard-earned draw against Dean Smith’s Aston Villa

Overall Perspective

 

The Bees remain unbeaten in the Premier League as we go into the first international break of the season

Let that sink in.

If you ask any Bees fan how they thought this season would start, not very many would have predicted this. Those who know this division better than I do have told me – how you start your season is very important in this division.

Looking at last season’s promoted teams, Fulham took five games to notch their first point – against relegation rivals Sheffield United – and then another couple of games to get their first win – against relegation rivals West Brom.

West Brom went nine games that same season before they hit the 9 point marker. 

Meanwhile it took The Blades until 21st January (18 games) to match the Bees’ current total of 5 points

But we’re not getting ahead of ourselves. Not at all. We all know we have some tough games on the horizon – with the likes Liverpool, top-of-the-table West Ham, Chelsea and Leicester to play in the next month or so.

So bagging points early is a necessity.

So back to the day itself. Villa Park is a fabulous stadium. Old skool in nature with a new skool twist. Villa fans were looking for blood. Send in the league’s new boys in for the slaughter.

And whilst Villa were still finding their feet, Brentford shocked them by taking the lead in the 7th minute – Sergi Canos’ cross beautifully flicked on by Pontus Jansson to Toney, who smashed the ball into the top right left hand corner of Martinez net from 10 yards before celebrating – very strangely – by flashing a Birmingham City ‘zulu’ symbol at The Holte end.

Ivan Toney of Brentford celebrates scoring the opening goal during the Premier League match between Aston Villa and Brentford at Villa Park, Birmingham. Picture by Mark D Fuller/Focus Images Ltd, 28/08/2021

Ivan is obviously blissfully unaware of Brentford’s chequered history with The Blues which dates back to the 90s – and more recently Harlee Dean’s ‘ten times better’ debacle.

Unfortunately, the only time in the match we really took our eye off the ball, Villa capitalised. There was always an air of danger around Danny Ings but was kept in check for most of the afternoon – being restricted to one shot all match.

However, his little one two with El Ghazi on the wing teed up Buendia on the edge of the box who cleverly took the ball away from the area, spun and buried the ball in the bottom corner of the net. A brilliant goal.

If there was any criticism, it would would be no-one picking up Matty Cash’s run in the build-up to the goal from midfield causing Rico Henry to hesitate in shutting Buendia down. One would have thought if Frank ‘The Tank’ Onyeka was on the pitch, the Argentine midfielder would not have had it all his way.

Raya came to the Bees’ rescue in the 19th minute with fantastic save from Villa’s best chance of the match. Konsa didn’t quite connect with his header and the clearance fell to Ings who’s shot was brilliantly saved by Raya.

The Bees, unphased by the roar of the 42,000 crowd, kept on Villa’s heels and with a little more composure, Rico Henry would have put the West London side ahead again after popping up unmarked on the left flank after bring teed up nicely by man-machine Janelt.

His shot flashed past the far post generating oooohs a plenty in the away end. But I have to admit disappointment – more composure would have seen the Bees go into half time with the upper hand which would have changed the  way the second half was played out somewhat.

Janelt thought he had scored his first goal of the season – cheekily kicking the ball into the back of the net after keeper Martinez lobbed the ball up in the air to teeing up his goal kick. But his attempt was ruled out.

The second half was more a game of chess. There was lots of action in the middle of the park but neither goalkeeper was forced into a save until Ollie Watkins came on late into the match. 

Villa fans were upset with the way Brentford controlled the game in the second half with accusations of sh!thousery from the likes of players like Sergi Canos who went down injured once or twice. But Bees fans would see it as more of a maturity thing – Brentford historically always struggling to see out matches and falling for the tricks of the likes of your Nottingham Forests after dominating matches to go home with zero points.

Bees fans were praying Ollie Watkins wouldn’t spoil our day as he looked lively against a Bees side now missing their midfield dynamos – Onyeka and the substituted Janelt. But his two chances were easily saved by Raya as the game ran out as a draw.

Thomas Frank was full of praise for The Bees and felt they could have nabbed the winner if they were more adventurous in the second half.

“We were brave, pressed high and scored and I felt we were really on top of the game. Then one miscommunication and it gave them the chance. In the second half I felt we started better. It was more even in the last part of the game. I would like us to be even braver. My message before every game is to go for a win, play forward and attack. I just probably need to keep reinforcing it.

Being unbeaten is a good feeling. We have been very difficult to break down and in all three games we have had solid performances and been brave, pressing high and going forward. But I know they are good enough to show even more.”

Whereas, Dean Smith thought a draw was a fair result

“I didn’t think we were good enough in the final third to win the game”

 

 

Bees Best Performers

Ivan Toney was a constant thorn in Aston Villa’s side. Like last season, it’s taken him a few matches to get off the mark. But what a Premier League debut goal from the Northampton lad.

He caused problems in the air for Villa’s centre backs Konsa and Tuanzebe all match – winning six of his aerial battles.

His work rate off the ball was second-to-none and his hold-up play was again excellent. The only slight down-side was his second-half booking. And not too sure about the zulu celebration personally

Saman Ghoddos has got to get a special shout out. After coming to Brentford a year after a transfer his initial transfer broke down where he was cited as the player to slip into the rather large shoes of Neal Maupay, Bees fans – including myself I have to admit – have been perplexed as whether the Iranian midfielder will be able to bring enough to the party to warrant a place at the first team top-table.

And with the absence of Frank ‘The Tank’ Onyeka due to testing positive for Covid, Ghoddos had his work cut out. No sauntering about in midfield. This was a game where he was going to have to press hard and stop the Villa midfield getting a handle on the game.

And he did not shirk his duties. He not only dished out the most Brentford tackles – alongside Sergi Canos – but was also posing a threat up front like when he played in Bryan Mbuemo with a sublime pass. He also had two shots blocked by a resolute Villa defence.

Meanwhile, the back three of Ajer, Jansson and Pinnock was sublime. Pinnock dominated in the air but also had more touches than any other Brentford player. Ajer does what it says on the tin. Cool, calm and composed. Whereas Pontus Jansson has surprised a few, stepping up seamlessly in this division with some commanding performances – his touch-back teeing up Ivan Toney for Brentford’s goal was tremendous.

Room For Improvement

Fitness may be an issue for The Bees. The final 10 minutes of both the Crystal Palace match and the Villa matches, Brentford had to change it up – presumably because the tireless engines Frank Onyeka, Vitaly Janelt and Ghoddos had run out of steam. This has been the period where we have looked most vulnerable in both matches – Ollie Watkins carving out two decent chance this match coming off the bench.

But no doubt the fitness will come.

Opposition Watch

Emi Buendia shows what a good player he is. When he played for Norwich last season they ticked. When he didn’t, they were distinctly average. He showed glimpses of his trickery and class in this match. Scored a great goal which – according to the xG – normally only 8 out of 100 similar chances would find the back of the next . And was not afraid to put in a shift – working hard off the ball and forming a relationship with Matty Cash which the Bees had to work extra hard to manage.

Fans’ Performance

The first ‘proper’ awayday for 18 months (London derbies don’t really count as an awaydays) didn’t disappoint. Over 2,500 Bees fans made the trip up to the Midlands and found themselves in fine voice on a beautiful sunny Saturday.

They were up against solid opposition – the super impressive Holte end creating a two-tiered wall of fans which made me reminisce about Brentford’s Royal Oak end and made me wonder what Griffin Park would have been like if we had kept the old structure as it was back in the 80s but were also able to update the stadium itself.

Ivan Toney’s early goal helped to keep the Bees fans’ noise levels right up there. But I have to admit when Villa equalised, the roar from the home fans was  incredible and that could have given Villa the advantage. But the team and the fans didn’t let it phase them as we both continued to make our presence felt.

Brentford were arguably on top for most of the first half and one thing I know about Villa Park – having been there as a neutral a few seasons back – is if the opposition get on top in the game, it can really silence the home crowd. And there were large periods during the match where the Bees fans did (as the song goes) “Sing on their own” as Villa fought to get a grip of the match.

Terrace banter saw Bees’ fans chant of “Jack Grealish. He left coz you’re sh!t” was batted back over the net by Villa fans with “Ollie Watkins. He left coz you’re sh!t”.

And in another show of #manners from Brentford fans, matching the reception they gave to the Arsenal winger Saka after he was was racially abused after the European Championships, Ollie Watkins’ appearance off the bench was met with warm applause from the travelling support as he played his first game of the season after coming back from injury.

Before and after the match, we had chatted to the Villa fans who were hospitable, knowledgable and friendly. As you can hear on the post-match podcast from the stands, they paid Brentford huge respects and tipped us to stay up this season. Which will do in my books as all for me, survival is key.

Summing Up

I always thought this Villa match would be the toughest of our first three games. I see Villa as a Championship side. Not as a Championship side in quality as per se. But a side who has been down in the lower divisions like we have. They know how to graft and battle their way out of a division. And also, because they know us from our time in the Championship, they will be more like us than – say – Manchester City or Arsenal. They also know how we play.

Listening back to the post-match podcast from the pub, Villa fans were a tad disappointed with the point but at the same time, were full of praise for Brentford and some thought we could have even nicked a result. We had more of the ball – 57% – but also were much better with our management of the game both with and without a the ball.

People talk about our inability to put key chances away but what they do not notice is our work off the ball  – especially in the early stages of this match – which caused a number of problems the hosts problems. Villa struggled to build from the back forcing them to go long which Brentford are happy to defend all day long.

Ajer, Jansson and Pinnock have very rarely put a foot wrong this season and their confidence on the ball, coupled with their positioning off the ball and their aerial domination means we are in a very good place. A tight defence increases your chances of not losing. But with the quality of the players in this division, you have to be on the ball for the full 90 minutes – as Buendia taught us.

Saying that, Brentford have certainly put their flag in the sand. We have arrived. We have come to play football. And we can show we can compete.

All we need to do is work harder on taking those chances. We won’t get many. So we really need to put the ones we do get away.

So all in all not a bad day at the office. The players can go off on international break buoyed by the fact that we have had a positive start.

The next few days – with a flurry of activity expected both in and out of Brentford in the forthcoming transfer window – will prove to be crucial in how we continue in our quest for Premier League survival.

 

Billy Grant