A pretty amazing stat was doing the rounds after Brentford’s unlucky defeat at the hands of West London neighbours Chelsea at the weekend… This week Beesotted’s Tim Street looks at The Bees’ woodwork expertise!
The Bees have hit the woodwork more times than any other Premier League team this season – with the ball coming back off the bar or post seven times – and for six of them, the man responsible was Bryan Mbeumo.
Which in turn begged the question as to whether it’s been down to poor finishing or whether the Frenchman has been unlucky to the extent that he might start wondering how many black cats have crossed his path on the way into training. Let’s take a look at the evidence.
First up, the opening day of the season against Arsenal. The game was still goalless in the first half when the ball came to Ivan Toney midway between the halfway line and goal area, and he played a first-time ball over his shoulder into some unguarded space to the right of the area. Mbeumo was onto it like a shot, but the pace on the ball drove him wide of the Gunners’ goal. Pablo Mari tracked him all the way, and with no Bees team-mates inside the area, he had the choice of cutting inside on his left and hoping to get past Mari or getting a shot away. In the circumstances, Mbeumo got a decent effort in on goal which I’m not convinced Bernd Leno would have saved. Definitely not a poor finish given the angle of the shot and pace of the move. In the end, it mattered not as goals from Sergi Canos and Christian Norgaard sealed a 2-0 win.
A week later the Bees travelled to Crystal Palace, and again the game was goalless when Cheikhou Kouyate was penalised for bringing down Frank Onyeka about halfway down the right-hand edge of the 18-yard box. Mbeumo took the free kick and opted to shoot from another narrow angle, his curling left-foot strike beating Vicente Guaita all ends up but bouncing away off the top of the crossbar. Again, a decent effort from that angle, and not a poor finish. Did it cost the Bees? The game may have finished goalless, but Conor Gallagher also hit the post for Palace, while David Raya made a sensational stop to keep out James McArthur.
Following another point on the road at Aston Villa and a first defeat of the season at home to Brighton, Brentford travelled to Wolves in mid-September looking for a first away win and were already 2-0 up through a Toney penalty and Mbeumo’s first Premier League goal when another chance fell to him to seal it late on. Vitaly Janelt picked the ball up midway between his own area and the halfway line and played a lovely ball through for Mbeumo to run onto, hotly pursued by two Wolves defenders. As he turned away from one and passed the other to work a better angle, Mbeumo unleashed a left-foot strike which again had Jose Sa beaten, but which came back off the underside of the bar. It’d be harsh to say he could have done better, and credit where credit’s due for leaving two defenders for dead and the keeper clutching at thin air. More credit also for Mbeumo’s clinical finish earlier in the game, anticipating Toney’s cross where the Wolves defenders didn’t. Fortunately, despite being down to ten men by the time he rattled the woodwork, the Bees comfortably saw the game out.
The woodwork remained undisturbed by Mbeumo during the thrilling 3-3 with Liverpool, but he was at it again the following week in the 2-1 win at West Ham. A corner from the left was cleared only as far as Shandon Baptiste, whose shot was immediately blocked, the ball falling to Mbeumo on the very edge of the 18-yard box, just to the right of the semi-circle. The Frenchman hit an instinctive first-time shot with his right foot which Lukasz Fabianski could only watch, having barely reacted, as the ball crashed off the top of his crossbar and away. Again, it was a great instinctive effort which gave the keeper no chance and which was only a matter of inches away from nestling into the top corner. The game was goalless at this point, and although Yoann Wissa would snatch the headlines with a dramatic injury-time winner, it was Mbeumo who opened the scoring when he showed all the right instincts to get there first at the far post when Fabianski could only push out a shot from Canos.
Which brings us to Saturday’s game, which was still goalless when Canos swung a deep cross from the right into the back post. Successive flicks from Ethan Pinnock and Christian Norgaard saw the ball end up at the feet of Mbeumo on the left-hand edge of the six-yard box, where he fired a left-footed shot into the ground, up and off the near post. Only Ben Chilwell’s goal then separated the sides as Brentford lay siege to the Chelsea goal for the last 20 minutes, coming closest to scoring when sub Marcus Forss beautifully played in Bryan, who connected just inside the 18-yard box but saw his shot cannon back off the near post, with Blues keeper Edouard Mendy for once beaten. The two against Chelsea are probably the ones Mbeumo could have done better with, and this time it did prove costly as the Bees lost to the only goal of the game, although that had as much to do with Mendy’s brilliance than Mbeumo’s wastefulness.
In reality then, although the stats would suggest otherwise, I don’t think there’s too much to be concerned about. What we have are two shots from narrow angles which did well to find the target at all, and two more which Mbeumo was desperately unlucky with having done little wrong. Only after the Chelsea game was I left thinking he perhaps could have been a bit more clinical. Yes. It’s true to say that chances are few and far between in the Premier League compared to the Championship, but to have found himself in so many good goalscoring positions just eight games into his Premier League career – scoring twice too, lest we forget – is to Mbeumo’s credit.
Let’s also look at the nature of those two goals he HAS scored. Against Wolves, he anticipated Toney’s cross when no Wolves defender did and got there to divert the ball home, and against West Ham he anticipated Canos’ shot being parried and was first to react to bundle the ball home. These are not the actions of a striker we should be worried about being wasteful, especially one who for much of his time at the club has played as a wide man cutting in to create chances rather than sniffing them out in the six-yard box. Brentford’s change in formation from towards the tail end of last season has meant adapting to a whole new role for Mbeumo, and for my money, he has done so superbly. Playing as the second striker in a 5-3-2 has required more discipline and responsibility and probably developed him into a better all-round player.
And there’s not many players who are more deserving of being cut a bit of slack. His first season was nothing short of sensational for a youngster playing in England for the first time, Mbeumo’s 16 goals often overlooked as his BMW partners Said Benrahma and Ollie Watkins stole the headlines. His second season was not such a roaring success, having tested positive for covid during the run in to the previous campaign. Although he only missed one game, we will probably never know how much of an effect it had on Mbeumo long term as he struggled to recapture that first season form.
However, he really came into form again towards the end of last season, including two winning goals in four days against Bournemouth and Rotherham. Then, in the play-off final, it was Mbeumo who made a brilliant run before being brought down for Toney to score the opener from the spot, then played in Mads Roerslev to set up Emiliano Marcondes for the crucial second. In pre-season he also looked like a man determined to make up for lost time, and I remember turning to a friend during the friendly win over Valencia and saying the Frenchman would be a key man this season.
And so it has proved. With so much focus on Toney from opposing defenders, Mbeumo has sometimes probably enjoyed more time and space than he thought he’d get in the Premier League. But let’s not forget he has created much of that himself with intelligent runs, great anticipation and a real nose for a chance. He has shown he still knows where the net is, and I’m confident more goals will come. Yes, he could and perhaps should have had more, but I would say bad luck has played far more of a part in his woodwork woes than bad finishing. The danger now is those stats will increase awareness of Mbeumo and he will become more of a marked man, and that could be his next challenge. But if defenders start shifting their focus towards Mbeumo, Toney will need no second invitation to take advantage, and that can only be good news for the Bees.