Ollie Watkins makes his first return to Brentford as Aston Villa kick off the 2022 action at the Brentford Community Stadium.

It will be Ollie’s first visit to our new home, along with fellow ex-Bee Ezri Konsa, as Villa aim to beat us in the league for the first time in eight matches over 75 years.

Ollie moved to Villa in the summer of 2020, following three seasons at Griffin Park in which he scored 46 league goals in 120 full and 12 substitute appearances after joining us from Exeter in 2017. He hit 25 of those goals in his final season – 2019/20 – in which he was ever-present in the Championship and the play-offs.

Ezri had one season with us – 2018/19 – in which he played 42 league games, scoring once, following a move from Charlton. He moved on to Villa at the end of that campaign.

They have both been regulars in a Villa side which arrives in west London, two points and two places above us in the table after a mixed season during which ex-Brentford boss Dean Smith was sacked and replaced by Steven Gerrard.

Smith’s three-year reign ended after a run of five straight Premier League defeats which followed a 1-0 win at Manchester United at the end of September, which lifted the side up to eighth in the table.

Villa had 10 points from six games at that stage – with their other points coming from wins over Newcastle (2-0) and Everton (3-0) at Villa Park and a 1-1 draw with us.

But no points from trips to Spurs (2-1), Arsenal (3-1) and Southampton (1-0) and home games with Wolves (3-2) and West Ham (4-1) led to the change in the dugout.

Form has improved since Gerrard’s arrival with initial back-to-back wins over Brighton (2-0) and at Crystal Palace (2-1) and further victories over Leicester (2-1) and at Norwich (2-0).

There have been, however, defeats against Manchester City (2-1) and Chelsea (3-1) on Boxing Day, and at Liverpool (1-0).

Away from the league, their Carabao Cup run ended 4-3 on penalties at Chelsea after a 1-1 draw in the third round, following a 6-0 win at Barrow in round two, while their FA Cup campaign starts away to Manchester United on Monday week.

Apart from their three-season spell in the Championship from 2016 to 2019, Villa had only been outside the top flight for one season after 1975 following eight years in the old Division Two and Three as the 1960s became the 70s.

Having narrowly avoided relegation in 2019/20, they improved to finish 11th – their best top-flight finish since 2010/11.

WHO’S IN CHARGE 

Steven Gerrard took over at Villa last month, as mentioned earlier.

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The former England captain left Rangers, after three years in charge at Ibrox, where he guided them to their first Scottish league title in 10 years.

Steven is England’s fourth most-capped player, with 114 appearances for his country, and scored 21 international goals.

He also played 710 games in all competitions for Liverpool, including 504 (466 full and 38 as substitute) in the Premier League, winning the Champions League, two FA Cups and three League Cups, before spending one season in the USA at LA Galaxy.

He then hung up his boots and moved into coaching – returning to Anfield to work with the youth teams before taking the Rangers job in 2018.

WE’VE MET BEFORE

When Brentford faced Villa at the end of August in our third Premier League game, it was only the 13th league meeting between the sides.

Ivan Toney gave us a seventh-minute lead with his first Premier League goal, after Pontus Jansson played a Sergi Canos cross into his path, but Emiliano Buendia equalised with a fierce shot from the edge of the penalty area six minutes later, and the match finished 1-1.

In the other six seasons in which we’ve been in the same division as each other, Villa had the upper hand in the six meetings in the top flight either side of World War Two, but we had the better of our Championship matches.

They also beat us after a replay in the FA Cup fourth round in 1952/53.

Our past league results before this season – with Brentford score first – are:

Division One (now Premier League)

1935/36 – (H) L 1-2 (A) D 2-2

1938/39 – (H) L 2-4 (A) L 0-5

1946/47 – (H) L 0-2 (A) L 2-5

Championship

2016/17 – (H) W 3-0 (A) D 1-1

2017/18 – (H) W 2-1 (A) D 0-0

2018/19 – (H) W 1-0 (A) D 2-2

In 2016/17, we drew 1-1 at Villa Park after John Egan hit a late equaliser to cancel out Jonathan Kodjia’s early opener, while two goals from Lasse Vibe and one from Nico Yennaris gave us a 3-0 win in the return. While the match was taking place, Scott Hogan was signing for Villa and Sergi Canos was joining Brentford.

In the following season’s first meeting, the Bees earned a 0-0 draw at Villa Park in a match we could have won.

Villa keeper Sam Johnstone was the home side’s hero – twice denying Ollie Watkins, while Nico Yennaris, Yoann Barnet and Neal Maupay all went close.

The Boxing Day return was moved to an evening game as it was shown live on Sky, and a goal in each half from Romaine Sawyers and Lasse Vibe – either side of an equalising header from Josh Onomahgave us a 2-1 win, our second successive festive victory, and extended Villa’s winless run to five matches.

Villa snatched a last-gasp point in our first meeting in 2018/19 on a Wednesday night in August, as a see-saw game ended 2-2.

Neal Maupay put us ahead midway through the first half but Jonathan Kodjia equalised before the break. Maupay restored our lead in the 82nd minute, and we seemed on course for a rare away win before Kodjia struck in the fifth minute of injury-time.

The Griffin Park return the following February was settled by a last-gasp Neal Maupay goal to give us a 1-0 win – again in front of the Sky TV cameras.

OPPOSITION VIEW

BBC WM commentator Mike Taylor analyses at the managerial change at Villa Park, tells us how Ollie Watkins and Ezri Konsa are doing, and gives his thoughts on Brentford’s season so far.

Q – How would you assess Aston Villa’s season so far?

A – A bit of a step back from last season, clearly, although it really is too early to make a full judgement while the effect of the managerial change becomes properly apparent. They were beginning to stumble under Dean Smith, although whether he was given a fair chance to recover from it was hotly debated at the time, and may yet be again if no longer-term improvement emerges.

There are some encouraging signs that this will happen beyond the usual new manager bounce, and if Villa are somewhere towards the planned longer-term upward path by the end of the season, most will be satisfied.

Q – What did you think of the decision to part company with ex-Bees boss Dean Smith?

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A – It was contentious at the time. The five-game losing streak that resulted in his departure was a shock, coming immediately after impressive wins, in contrasting styles, over Everton and Manchester United. But the inexplicable defeat by Wolves, having apparently been strolling with a 2-0 lead barely 10 minutes from the end, used up a lot of Smith’s banked credit, and too many goals were conceded in that run.

Insofar as it can be measured through radio phone-ins and social media glances, there was always a surprising minority never really sold on Smith, but on the whole he left with respect and good wishes from Villa fans towards one of their own, and perhaps that will be for the best in the long run.

Personally I was disappointed, having found Dean a thoroughly decent person to deal with while covering both Walsall and Villa, and despite his early difficulties at Norwich I would imagine he will have a strong coaching career for some years yet.

Q – What impact has Steven Gerrard made since his arrival?

A – Positive. I attended his first, and so far only, in-person press conference when he first arrived, and even allowing for the artificial nature of those occasions, he undoubtedly has a quietly authoritative presence. As far as you can judge by media dealings, he is fully credible as a leader of a major club, and although I am very much for managers working their way up the ranks towards top jobs, the fact that Gerrard has chosen two such high-pressure environments for his managerial posts so far says something about his character.

Villa have won four of his first seven games, with the three losses coming against Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea, and though there are rough edges, it’s a promising start. And, if you were a Villa player, having grown up during Gerrard’s outstanding career, would you not think you could have something to learn from the man who just became your boss, and want to impress him? Managers ought to have the respect of their players anyway, but that surely helps.

Q – How are ex-Bees Ollie Watkins and Ezri Konsa doing this season?

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A – It was always going to be a challenge for Watkins to match his outstanding first season. He may have been hampered by the arrival of Danny Ings, in that it was not quite clear how Dean Smith intended to get the best out of both of them. Could only one play at a time, or could they play together – and if they did both play, how would Villa’s pattern change as a result? However, Watkins has retained his place, scored a few goals, and should prosper further under Gerrard.

Konsa is now arguably Villa’s leading defender, and his reputation continues to build despite some of Villa’s defensive problems this season. Villa fans would be expecting England recognition for him sooner rather than later.

Q – What business do you expect Villa to do in the transfer window – both in and out?

A – I suspect Villa will not hugely commit to spending in January, given the recent managerial change and how difficult it can be to get good value mid-season. However, as when any manager comes, there is always speculation that he might bring players with him, and though unkind things are widely said about the standards of play in Scotland compared to the Premier League, there was a lot of early chat about players like Ryan Kent at Rangers, who Gerrard also coached at Liverpool. That may not amount to anything but, if Villa do much business, the defensive and midfield areas are probably where it will happen, especially with Marvelous Nakamba sidelined for a while.

As usual, players who haven’t had much action are linked with moves away, and Anwar El-Ghazi and Bertrand Traore are mentioned in that group, while there has been chat in Italy this week that Axel Tuanzebe is wanted by Napoli – he’s currently on loan from Manchester United.

Q – What are your memories of past Brentford-Villa games?

A – In the mix of reporting on the West Midlands teams, I haven’t covered any! But I’m sure Brentford fans will need no reminding of their impressive performances against Villa in the Championship over recent seasons, and Villa fans will not want to be reminded.

Q – What have you made of the Bees’ season so far from what you have seen?

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A – I covered Brentford’s win over Wolves at Molineux in September, when they were thoroughly impressive, and no front pair has given Wolves the runaround this season as effectively as Ivan Toney and Bryan Mbuemo did that day. Brentford were industrious, quick-thinking, and not at all flattered by a 2-0 result.

Teams newly-arrived in the Premier League often start well before finding the pace of the season wears them down, but despite some of the problems they’ve encountered since then, I think Brentford will be sticking around at this level.

Q – How excited are you about your first visit to the Brentford Community Stadium?

A – I’m sure it’ll be good! Griffin Park was an unusual ground to work at, and not always an easy one, but the welcome was always friendly and I’m sure that will be the same at the new stadium. It was awful luck for Brentford fans not to be able to attend the first few matches at the new stadium, and even worse in a way not to be able to attend the last matches at the old one. But I hope the supporters are pleased with the new investment and I am looking forward to seeing it.

Q – Finally can you give me a possible Villa line-up and formation for the match please?

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A – Assuming John McGinn is fit to return, and at the time of writing this it seems likely he will be, he would be sure to retake his place in midfield. A hugely impressive midfielder who gives Villa their drive and personality. Tyrone Mings is suspended, so either Axel Tuanzebe or Kortney Hause will replace him in central defence.

Martinez;

Cash, Konsa, Tuanzebe/Hause, Targett;

McGinn, Douglas Luiz, J Ramsey;

Buendia, Ings, Watkins

HOW TO FOLLOW THE GAME IF YOU CAN’T BE THERE

If you can’t get to the Brentford Community Stadium for Sunday’s 2.00pm kick-off, there are various ways of following the game.

TV – The game is being shown live on Sky Sports, with coverage starting at 1.00.

Radio – There will be live commentary on BBC Radio London and reports on BBC Five Live and Talksport.

iFollow – If you want Brentford commentary, iFollow audio coverage is available via monthly or seasonal passes. Coverage starts half an hour before kick-off and is advert-free, with Mark Burridge and the team. His summariser on Sunday is Jonathan Douglas.

IAN WESTBROOK

@ianwestbrook

PUBS IN BRENTFORD AND TRAVEL NEWS

For Aston Villa fans making your first visit to the Brentford Community Stadium, there are plenty of pub options pre and post-match and all are most welcoming and away-fan-friendly (as it should be).

The pub areas are split into two zones. There is the area around Brentford’s old Griffin Park stadium. The pubs there are still very busy on match day frequented by Bees locals before heading down the road to the stadium at Kew Bridge which is only 15 minutes walk.

Then there is the area in and around the stadium in Kew Bridge.

It is possible, if you have a good early start, to savour a few pubs in and around Griffin Park and Brentford zone before heading off to the pubs in the Kew zone or even vice versa if you so fancy.

Pubs in Griffin Park/Brentford zone

When at Griffin Park, Brentford was well known for its four pubs – one on each corner of the ground. Three are still operating.

The Griffin is closest to the old away end and has always been very popular with both home and away fans and has its regulars who still make the journey down to the new stadium from there on matchday. The New Inn is on the other side which used to also be popular with away fans before the move. The Brook pub is the other option if you want to savour a pub in and around what is left of our old home. Worth a peep if you want to reminisce about old Brentford.

About five minutes’ walk away from the old ground are two pubs which are enormously popular. The Globe (Windmill Rd) is a “lively but comfortable” pub on matchday. Incredibly friendly and cosy, it has always been popular with a selection of away fans who fancied having a beer a few minutes further walk away from the ground without having to queue six persons deep. After the move to the new ground, The Globe has retained many of lot its regulars from the Griffin Park days and with screens throughout the pub and in its sheltered beer garden, it shows both Premier League and EFL football before and after each match.

Meanwhile around the corner, The Lord Nelson (Enfield Rd) is another incredibly friendly and cosy away-friendly pubs about one minute walk from The Globe. Again with a TV screen for live sports and a lovely beer garden, this is another pub frequented by “away fans in the know”.

The other pub worth checking out in the Griffin Park region is The Black Dog Beer House, formerly The Albany, on Albany Road, if you like your real ales.

There are plenty of other pubs in and around Brentford High Street including real ale pub Magpie and Crown (Brentford High Street) and the cosy Brewery Tap (Catherine Wheel Road) near the river.

For a Griffin Park area pub crawl before heading over to Kew we recommend the following: Take the Piccadilly line to Northfields station. Turn left and walk for 2 mins and you will come to The Plough (Northfields Ave). Then walk to The Lord Nelson (10 min walk from The Plough) & then The Globe (1 min walk from The Nelson) en-route before hitting The Griffin (8 min walk from The Globe) and then The Black Dog (2 mins from The Griffin). You can also try and do the other three pubs on the corner whilst down here if you fancy.

Then you can then either walk (15 minutes from The Globe/The Nelson and The Griffin/Black Dog ) or take a train from Brentford station (which is five minutes walk away from both The Globe/The Nelson and The Griffin/Black Dog) or a bus (237/267) to Kew Bridge.

Trains run at 24 and 54 minutes past the hour to Kew Bridge from Brentford and take two minutes.

Pubs in the Kew Bridge zone

Right next to Kew Bridge station, you will find the Express Tavern – an ale pub with a retro feel. The pub has been refurbished in readiness for the new football season and needless to say, is popular before the match due to its close proximity to the stadium.

Across the road by the river is One Over the Ait – a spacious boozer right next to Kew Bridge. This pub is situated on the location of the now-demolished Oxford & Cambridge pub where Brentford Football Club was founded in 1889.

Across Kew Bridge and the River Thames, there are two pubs on Kew Green – the Cricketers and the Greyhound – very close to the pier where Brentford fans have embarked on their away journeys by water to F*lham, Orient, Charlton, West Ham and even Southend.

North of the river along hoity-toity Strand on the Green, you will find The Steam Packet, in an old Cafe Rouge, and The Bell. A bit further down are The City Barge and the Bulls Head – two pubs side-by-side in which you would often see Ant and Dec hanging out.

There is also The Pilot which you can get to coming out of the BACK entrance of Gunnersbury station and we believe the old John Bull pub at the front of the station has been refurbed as The Gunnersbury but we have never been there so can’t give it a rating.

Transport to Brentford and Kew Bridge

The simplest way on paper to get to Brentford FC from town is to take the tube to Waterloo (Northern, Jubilee lines) or Vauxhall (Victoria Line) and then take the Overground train to Kew Bridge, which is right by the stadium. Brentford is one stop further on if you are on an ‘Original Griffin Park Pub’ mission.

With trains from Waterloo being only twice an hour (22 and 52) and taking 28 minutes, we normally recommend people jump on the tube from King’s Cross or Euston and head to Northfields or South Ealing on the Piccadilly Line as it is quicker (including the time getting across London and waiting at Waterloo) and trains are more frequent.

It is only 40 minutes max station by tube to station meaning you could be in a Brentford pub within an hour of embarking your train at Kings Cross, Euston or Liverpool Street.

The other station option is Gunnersbury. You can walk to the stadium from Gunnersbury tube station (District line) in 25 minutes or take a bus (H91, 237, 267, 110), but note that it is closed for entry for one hour after the match.

For the Brentford/Griffin Park pubs you can get the Piccadilly line tube to Northfields station from King’s Cross or Euston (35 minutes) then walk down to The Plough, The Globe, The Lord Nelson and The Griffin and other pubs from there.

The new stadium is around 25 minutes’ walk from South Ealing station – if you don’t fancy Gunnersbury – or you can get on the 65 bus from across the road which will drop you almost outside in 15 minutes.

You can also pick up the 65 bus from Ealing Broadway (District and Central line) which will take you to the new stadium in 25 minutes.

You can check out Transport for London’s guide to travel on the Tube and Overground.