Brentford ended 2021 with a home defeat against Premier League leaders, and defending champions, Manchester City. A goal early in the first half was enough to give City the points on a mild December evening. The Bees had chances, particularly when the game was 0-0, but could not find a way through and the visitors took the points.
It would be hard to argue that the visitors deserved their win. They had two goals disallowed for offside and also hit the woodwork. But Brentford were never out of the contest and may, on another day, have earned themselves a point.
The visitors had a lot of the ball in the opening exchanges, with Brentford happy to let them play in non-threatening areas. Most of City’s possession in the first minutes of the game was in their own half, or in front of a well-drilled Brentford defence. And it was Brentford that had the first chances of the contest.
Shandon Baptiste sliced a shot wide when a cross dropped 25 yards out before a series of chances just before the quarter hour. When The Bees won the ball on their left, Yoane Wissa was able to release Frank Onyeka to run in to space. Onyeka attacked the penalty area and was able to shoot low, but he was denied by Ederson. A pass across the penalty area to the arriving Ivan Toney, may have given an even better chance.
Mathias Jensen tried an ambitious effort from just inside the City half when he robbed Jack Grealish. Ederson was scrambling but content to watch the ball sail wide. Onyeka and Wissa combined again soon after with the latter breaking free in to the penalty area. The near cross-cum-shot took a deflection and Ederson had to push it away.
The resulting corner was headed down by Pinnock and reached Wissa again. His shot was flicked up by Ederson and just eluded Toney, rising to head in. The ball would still have crossed the line but for the intervention of João Cancelo, who cleared the ball on his own line.
The importance of that moment was magnified when City scored seconds later. They worked space in the inside right channel and Kevin De Bruyne was able to measure a cross. Phil Foden was able to find space to meet it first time ten yards out and his shot beat Álvaro Fernández. The ball was inch perfect, Foden just onside, did not have to adjust at all, and his first-time left foot finish nestled in the bottom corner.
The goal was harsh on The Bees when it came. City had barely been in the Brentford penalty area to that point, playing in areas that did not hurt The Bees. Brentford were patient in midfield, waiting for opportunities to win the ball and spring forward. They could have been ahead but instead found themselves behind 20 minutes in.
And it remained that way until half time. The game did get a little more open as the half developed, with City able to create more chances. Brentford were, however, dangerous on the counter-attack and had multiple chances to break halted by City fouls, none of which were punished by more than a free kick. Toney was unable to direct a header from one deep Jensen free kick, but Ederson was untroubled.
The same could also be said of Fernández. A shot from Gabriel Jesus, after he cut in off the right, deflected across the face of goal and Jensen blocked a shot from Fernandinho with his face. Fernández did get down to stop a Cancelo shot, but Referee David Coote was in the process of halting the game as Jensen was down after his block.
The visitors seemed to move up a gear after the interval. They made a subtle change with Grealish moving out of a central position and swapping with Foden, which seemed to suit them both. Foden had the ball in the net from a Jesus cross early in the second half but this time he was confirmed to be in an offside position and the goal was disallowed after a check from Video Assistant Referee Jared Gillett.
Fernández saved a shot from De Bruyne when he found space on the edge of the penalty area and Foden flicked a header inches wide. De Bruyne delivered that cross and was at the heart of everything for City. Brentford were working hard out of possession and Fernández got down well to save a cross-cum-shot from Jesus after a move that once again was made in the inside right channel De Bruyne was dominating.
Brentford were not able to offer much as an attacking threat in the early stages of the second period. Baptiste picked up a loose pass and drove towards goal, but his shot from 20 yards was blocked. Frank Onyeka saw a shot blocked when a corner dropped inside the penalty area and The Bees did have some set pieces with which to put pressure on, but most of the chances were coming at the other end.
De Bruyne hit the post with a drive from 25 yards and then acrobatically hooked the loose ball in to the side netting. De Bruyne also fired over the bar and a shot from Jesus was blocked as City pressed for a second goal. But as the game entered the final 15 minutes, there was just a single goal in it.
Unfortunately for The Bees, they could not find a way to carve out a chance and give themselves an opportunity to earn a point. The hosts battled to stay in it, Fernández saved from Jesus after he cut in off the right and Aymeric Laporte had a goal disallowed when he headed in a De Bruyne free kick from an offside position, as identified by Mr Gillett. That gave Brentford the time to level, but they could not find a way through, and City took the points.
Brentford: Fernández; Pinnock, Jansson, Bech; Roerslev, Baptiste, Jensen, Onyeka (sub Bidstrup 75 mins), Thompson (sub Ghoddos 81 mins); Toney, Wissa (sub Canós 69 mins)
Subs (not used): Cox, Stevens, Peart-Harris, Forss
Manchester City: Ederson; Cancelo, Dias, Laporte, Ake; De Bruyne, Fernandinho, Silva; Jesus, Grealish, Foden
Subs (not used): Steffen, Carson, Sterling, Gündoǧan, Zinchenko, Mahrez, Mbete, Palmer
Attendance: 17,009 (1,712 away fans)