Brentford head into the second leg of the play-off semi-final one goal behind Swansea, in a match stained by a controversial Rico Henry red card. Beesotted contributor Paul Harrison reflects on a frustrating evening in South Wales.
Andre Ayew’s superb strike gifted Swansea a 1-0 advantage over Brentford heading into the second leg of their play-off semi-final at Griffin Park (Wednesday, 7.45pm KO).
But the game was evenly poised at 0-0 with 25 minutes to play when a baffling decision was made by referee Keith Stroud – sending off Brentford’s Rico Henry for a tackle in which Henry clearly won the ball.
From that moment on the Bees set up to hold out for a 0-0, but Ayew’s goal was enough to give the Swans a crucial advantage heading into the second leg.
On another day Swansea might still have won without that controversial decision – Ayew’s penalty was well saved by David Raya, who had a stellar performance in the Bees goal.
The mood of Bees fans on the post-match podcast (above) is one of injustice. Anger. Frustration.
But given the circumstances – a one goal deficit with a whole 90 minutes to turn it around – things could be much worse. The Premier League dream is still alive and kicking.
Just four days prior to this play-off Brentford had suffered an agonising defeat at home to Barnsley – had the Bees won that game automatic promotion would have been secured.
It was tough to take – after an eight game winning run, all Brentford actually needed to do to secure automatic promotion was draw their final two league games. But two defeats later and the team needed to pick themselves up ahead of the play-offs.
The opponents were Swansea, who secured the final play-off spot in the most dramatic of circumstances on Wednesday – Wayne Routledge’s injury time goal at Reading sneaking them above Nottingham Forest into 6th.
Swansea crucially had momentum. Momentum has seen many teams who hit form to sneak into 6th place perform above expectations in the play-offs.
Brentford had done the double over Swansea in the regular season, with an aggregate scoreline of 6-1.
Bees fans would have been kidding themselves if they expected a similar aggregate score in this semi-final.
The first 20 minutes or so were steady. To our relief Brentford looked much more comfortable than they had in the last two games. Possession was well-secured. The passing was zippy. Collective pressing was on display. Perhaps the impromptu players-only meeting called after the Barnsley game had something to do with this.
Swansea did look comfortable too. But there were no real similarities to how either Stoke or Barnsley played. The Swans looked beatable.
The first chance fell to the Bees – Mathias Jensen won the ball back high up the pitch. It fell for Bryan Mbeumo whose shot from distance was deflected high into the air and into the box. Ollie Watkins out-muscled the giant Swansea centre-half Mike van der Hoorn – Watkins’ backward-header edged towards the far corner but was tipped away by Erwin Mulder in the Swansea goal.
But this evolved into a game of back-and-forth. Swansea had their first sniff when Rhian Brewster fizzed a shot goalbound, pushed away by David Raya.
Brentford came back at the hosts. Rico Henry stormed down the left wing, evading a couple of Swansea defenders and sending a brilliant cross towards Watkins at the first post – but his header flew wide. The jump from Swansea’s Marc Guehi perhaps puts him off. But many of us expect Watkins to score that.
Swansea then had a golden opportunity, one of those “how did that not go in” moments.
Conor Gallagher’s corner was whipped in to the box. Andre Ayew got to the ball, and his header came back off the post. There was Brewster, directly in front of the goal, but his reaction header was straight at Raya who did well to clutch the ball in a congested six yard box.
Very lucky for Brentford. Would the pendulum swing in the Bees favour because of that moment?
Just before half time Said Benrahma went on a trademark mazy run through a crowd of Swansea defenders and into the box. But he, uncharacteristically, spooned his shot over bar.
However the positivity demonstrated by the players was promising. It was a first half performance to build on.
The Bees survived some early Swansea pressure in the second half, before carving out a chance. Jensen got himself into a great position in the box and was slipped in by Benrahma. But he scuffed his left-foot shot wide of the far post. A golden chance that probably fell to the wrong man.
Jensen was visibly distraught with himself for the miss. He had played much better in the first half than recent performances would suggest. But this miss appeared to rattle him and he struggled from here on out.
That didn’t slow the Bees though. Watkins went close with another header after he connected with a fierce Mbeumo cross, but again narrowly missed the target.
The feeling was that Brentford needed to take one of these chances sooner rather than later. Swansea had the quality to grow into the game.
That feeling intensified when Swansea won themselves a penalty. Brewster darted into the box and drew a foul from Pontus Jansson.
A clear penalty. No real complaints from Bees players. A player of Jansson’s experience shouldn’t be sticking his leg out in that situation.
Andre Ayew put the ball on the spot, waited for the ref’s whistle, and took his time with the run-up. He struck his penalty towards the centre of the goal …
And Raya saved it. The keeper dived to his left, but was primed and ready to get a vital right hand to the ball.
A huge moment for Brentford. A let off. Raya’s performance all game long was inspiring confidence in the Brentford defenders in front of him.
Would this moment inspire the Brentford forwards to score a winner and get a foot up in the tie?
They do say luck evens itself out. Raya had definitely done his homework when it came to Ayew’s penalties, so maybe it wasn’t lucky per say. But the Bees certainly suffered from terrible luck minutes later.
Swansea are looking to counter down the right with Connor Roberts. Rico Henry slides in brilliantly to thwart them, winning the ball and putting it out for a throw-in. All the Brentford coaching staff stand up and applaud the defensive effort.
Hang on: why’s the referee blown his whistle? Keith Stroud appears to be claiming it’s a foul. And a dangerous one too – he reaches for his back pocket without hesitation and shows Henry a straight red card.
Information has since come to light that Stroud was instructed by his fourth official, David Webb, that Henry’s tackle was dangerous and demonstrated excessive force. After all Webb has an almost direct view of the incident. Stroud almost certainly can’t see it.
VAR has drawn its critics from Premier League fans. But in the Championship, a league blessed with below-par officiating, a bit of VAR would be nice. In this case VAR gives Stroud an opportunity to review the incident. It takes the pressure off him to make an instantaneous decision when he hasn’t even had a view of the challenge.
The Swansea players immediately crowded the referee, clamouring for a red card. Does that influence Stroud’s decision? It shouldn’t – if Stroud has any doubt he shouldn’t give a red. Simple as that.
Either way the club will appeal the decision, and are confident it will be overturned so Henry can play in the second leg on Wednesday night.
But the complexion of the first leg completely changed. With 25 minutes to go Brentford had to change how they played. Mads Roerslev and Emiliano Marcondes came on for Josh Dasilva and Mbeumo, and the Bees shifted to a 4-3-2 formation.
It was going to be backs to the wall. Brentford haven’t had to do that for a while. The Bees had to get over that decision and defend valiantly until the final whistle.
Swansea slowly increased the pressure, but the Bees were well-organised and limited the Swans to long-range effort. When they did break into the box though there were protests for a second penalty.
Guehi played a brilliant incisive pass into the area. Gallagher slipped but his pass was met by Brewster. The young striker tried to draw a foul from Raya, bundling over. But fortunately Stroud came to his senses and booked him for diving.
Hard to tell on the replays but it looked like a minute amount of contact. Brewster threw himself to the floor though. Giving a penalty there would have been soft.
Swansea were patient though. They knew chances would come their way. The chances they needed to edge ahead in the tie.
And not long after the Swans got their goal.
Andre Ayew picked the ball up on the right wing before cutting inside. There were a couple of tidy flicks and passes between Gallagher and Jay Fulton. Ayew got onto one of these passes just inside the box and struck a first time volley that flew into the top corner.
It was a brilliant goal. Ayew showed his undoubted class. Raya had been excellent for Brentford in goal but could do nothing to stop that one.
Brentford chose to hold on to a 1-0 deficit until the final whistle. Elements of frustration crept in. Christian Norgaard was booked for a furious tirade at referee Stroud.
When the full time whistle went, emotions were mixed.
Henry’s controversial red card completely turned the game against Brentford. A poor refereeing decision had cost the Bees in the first leg, and could prove to be the factor that shatters promotion dreams.
But to only be 1-0 down with a whole 90 minutes still to come at Griffin Park, Swansea failing to score their penalty and missing a couple more golden chances: it could be a lot worse.
Brentford will need to come out flying in the second leg. The players have to, and surely will, show greater urgency going forwards. Before the red card there were chances but little forward penetration. You would hope that Thomas Frank will engineer the tactics on Wednesday to get the fearsome BMW on the ball more and more.
All we can do as fans is keep the faith. The second leg could be a night of despair.
But it could be a night for the history books.
Brentford’s head coach Thomas Frank said:
“I’m very proud of my players. It showed top personality from the first second.”
“We had two minor setbacks but we dominated the game and I think we were the best team.”
“The red card changed the game. After that, they worked so hard and showed top togetherness. We only gave one chance away, one bit of brilliance from Ayew.”
🗣 “The determination and irritation in the players is so high, they will be bang on it Wednesday”
— Brentford FC (@BrentfordFC) July 26, 2020
Swansea’s head coach Steve Cooper said:
“I am satisfied with tonight. We knew Brentford are a good team. I thought the first half was a bit edgy, quite tactical. They did some things we had to manage at half-time.”
“I thought it was a clear penalty. I haven’t seen the second (appeal) on Rhian when he got booked for diving, but my analysts thought there was a good shout for a penalty there.”
“The red card, you can’t do that nowadays. You can’t be as excessive as that, as dangerous as that, whether there is a touch on the ball or not, and expect to stay on the pitch. Times have changed. The only positive was that Connor got up because I really feared for him.”
David Raya was the star man for Brentford, keeping the Bees in the tie with a vital penalty save and numerous other stops. He showed confidence on the ball too and was comfortable claiming crosses and corners.
Andre Ayew showed his Premier League experience, frequently taking the responsibility to spur Swansea forwards. His goal was superbly taken and he showed great character to get over missing a penalty.
The match stats aren’t truly reflective of how Brentford played, as the red card completely changed how the Bees had to go about their business. More tackles, lower pass success, less possession – all expected when trying to hold on for a 0-0.
Very hard to argue that Swansea didn’t deserve the win on the balance of chances. Ayew’s penalty (77% chance of scoring) and Rhian Brewster’s first half header (57% chance of scoring) could have gone in on another day, completely changing the game.
Ayew’s goal was incredibly well taken though (3% chance of scoring).
Brentford’s best chances weren’t as good statistically. Mathias Jensen should be hitting the target at least with his chance early in the second half (25% chance of scoring) – and he knows that. Ollie Watkins crafted some great opportunities for himself but nothing quite fell for him in the end.
My request for a little luck in the PO’s went well! Throw the lot at these on Wednesday & let the chips fall where they fall. 🐝
— Neal Goddard (@NealNgoddard68) July 26, 2020
Keith Stroud. Quelle surprise!!!
— Natalie Sawyer (@nataliesawyer) July 26, 2020
With a referees performance like that I’ll take a 1 nil loss all day long.
Missed pen. (Great save)
A sending off that shouldn’t have been off.@daviidraya1 MOM.
We’re still in it at least.
The world against us it seems.
Let’s show everyone wrong @BrentfordFC 🐝
— HeadlessBee 🔴⚪️⚫️ (@pjheadless) July 26, 2020
You are the Ref. Tackle or Red Card? pic.twitter.com/xxtuDQRRA0
— Griffin Park Grapevine (@bfcgpg) July 26, 2020
Keith Stroud. Allegedly the “best ref in the #Championship”. Shows how shockingly bad the overall standard is, and how big a factor this level of ineptness can be in deciding the outcome of a whole season. https://t.co/CsmQEfbHIG
— Jon Restall (@TheCondorman) July 26, 2020
How many times did the opposition keeper make a save that a Sunday league no. 1 wouldn’t make? It was another shot performance that no outfield player deserved above a 5. If that’s a decent performance what standards do we keep regardless of our budget??
— Sam Dorrington (@SamDorrington86) July 26, 2020
Good performance today just lacked the final touch and a referee.. we should go into wed with confidence restored. Need to change things up a little though.. must appeal the joke of a red card… We can still do this!!
— Peter Howe (@phathowe) July 26, 2020
Not Swansea’s fault. He also didn’t give us a blatant second penalty, he was dreadful towards both teams.
— The North Bank (@thenorthbank2) July 26, 2020
Great win. If we benefitted from any decisions going our way I’ll take them as compensation for some awful decisions going against us all season. Sky commentary so biased it was like watching Brentford TV. So unprofessional it was like listening to Brentford fans commentary.Poor
— Buster (@luburogi) July 26, 2020
Can Cooper please address his issue with bringing on subs?
— Alun (@alun08) July 26, 2020