A solid defensive showing, and another Ollie Watkins winner, showed that Brentford have got what it takes to threaten the top two and fight for automatic promotion. Beesotted contributor Paul Harrison looks back on what could prove to be a season-defining result.

The Match

It’s strange, quite unsettling really, seeing Griffin Park with no fans. The club did a smashing job trying to recreate a faint resemblance to a normal matchday experience. Cardboard cutouts of season ticket holders in the stands, pretty accurate use of the pre-recorded crowd noise, matchday announcer Peter Gilham was even geeing the “crowd” up … but this was no ordinary matchday in TW8. How were the lads going to cope without the rapturous support from the Ealing Road terrace spurring them on?

If there’s one thing Brentford tend to deliver on, it’s being smart. Last weekend the Bees put Fulham to the sword with a meticulously-planned 2-0 away win. So when table-topping West Brom rolled into West London on Friday night, the Bees were ready and waiting to sting.

Another goal from Ollie Watkins (his 23rd in the league) in the first half put Brentford 1-0 up, and it stayed that way to the final whistle. A calm and organised performance from the Bees completely nullified West Brom and their array of attacking talents, limiting them to just a few snapshots.

It was a defensive masterclass, masterminded by Thomas Frank and his backroom team. Almost Mourinho-esque but much more pleasing on the eye. The match was a shining example of how far Brentford have improved defensively since last season. Improvements that have turned the Bees into genuine automatic promotion challengers.

On the pre-match podcast Connor from West Brom Fan TV was very complimentary, predicting that Brentford have got what it takes to oust Leeds and finish the season in 2nd, just behind the Baggies. But after this result West Brom should be looking over their shoulders too.

From kick off it was clear that the away side have some very talented attackers – notably Matheus Pereira and winger Grady Diangana, the latter nearly ‘skinning’ Henrik Dalsgaard in the 1st minute.

But the trusty 4-3-3 formation favoured by Thomas Frank worked its wonders again. The midfield trio of Josh Dasilva, Christian Norgaard, and Emiliano Marcondes (replacing Mathias Jensen who was injured in the warm-up) were everywhere. Ex-Bee Romaine Sawyers just couldn’t influence the game like he usually does.

The game started evenly, but it was Brentford’s “desire to defend” – a hallmark of this season – that shone through. Albion’s attacks came to nothing because they simply couldn’t get enough men forward to compete.

In the 16th minute the Bees had their first chance, and it resulted in the goal.

Josh Dasilva played a one-two with Said Benrahma, surging into the box to square it across the goal line. Ollie Watkins once again showed his centre-forward instincts and was in the right place to poke home from two yards out.

Certainly not the prettiest goal, but they all count. And Brentford were 1-0 up.

The first half continued in a similar vein. Both attacks having a go. Both defences holding firm.

When the half-time whistle blew, West Brom gaffer Slaven Bilic knew he had to change things up. Albion made two subs, plopping a 3rd man into midfield and bringing Kenneth Zohore on up top.

Zohore had barely touched the ball before he pinged one off the crossbar from 20 yards out, but that was in truth the closest West Brom came to equalising. Matheus Pereira showed off his talents with a jinking run past a couple of defenders before forcing David Raya into a save.

But Brentford kept him away from the penalty box and limited his creative influence.

West Brom were arguably on top for most of the second half, but they never truly troubled the Bees’ defence. Towards the end, when the Baggies were trying to push for an equaliser, it was actually Brentford who looked more likely to score. Rico Henry surged down the left and pulled a cross back towards Dasilva, his volley trickling just wide.

As the full-time whistle blew, the smiles said it all. Two massive wins in a row, taking points off promotion challengers, all without conceding. The next few games certainly won’t be easy.

But the method seems to be working.

The Managers

Brentford’s Thomas Frank said:

“We scored a beautiful goal on the counter and I would’ve liked to see more football from us like that, but they are the leaders and have been an unbelievably good side all season.”

“Our defensive performance today was spotless. We only gave one opportunity away where they hit the crossbar, which is impressive against the second-highest scoring team in the league.”

“We believe in ourselves but we need to keep hammering that hard-working attitude into each other … that togetherness where we are just running for each other, fighting for each other, playing for each other.”

West Brom’s Slaven Bilic said:

“We were below-par in the first half. We weren’t aggressive enough”

“In the second half we improved a lot and we had some domination but there were not enough clear-cut chances.”

“We’re still not at the level we have been for most of the season. We were too nervous with our passing.”

The Stats

Match stats

Player ratings, provided by whoscored.com

 

The player ratings unsurprisingly highlighted the one man who stood out on Friday night: Ethan Pinnock. His rating of 8.7 arguably doesn’t do his performance justice. The whole defensive display was thoroughly well-organised, but absolutely nothing got past Pinnock. His importance to the team cannot be understated. A couple of tweets below showcase his dominance and excellence:

 

The expected goals map also shows off just how well Brentford did to stunt West Brom’s attacking threat. They may have had 12 shots, but the quality of each of those chances was very low, with an overall xG of just 0.49 in comparison to Brentford’s 1.32. Defence was key for the Bees. This result was far from a lucky Brentford win.

xG Map, provided by infogol. Bigger bubbles represent better chances.

 

The Fans

 Brentford

West Brom

Fulham