Brentford got 2020 off to the best possible start with a New Year’s Day demolition of Bristol City. The Bees were helped by playing the majority of the game against ten men, but they already had the lead by the time City’s Ashley Williams was sent off and Brentford ruthlessly exposed it. Bryan Mbeumo and Saïd Benrahma scored in the first half before Ollie Watkins added a late brace to take his tally to 17 Sky Bet Championship goals for the season.
And while 4-0 may have been a touch flattering, it gave an indication as to the way Brentford were able to utilise their one-man advantage. They were never troubled after going ahead inside six minutes and the red card only added to Bristol City’s problems. The third and fourth goals came late on but were excellently executed and ensured Brentford took a win that lifts them to third in the table at the start of the year.
There was a very subdued start to the game, which suited Brentford down to the ground. They were a goal up within six minutes, had a man advantage before the quarter hour had been reached and were well in control of the contest. The game was played at a sedate pace in the opening exchanges and with the crowd mostly quiet, apart from the pocket of Brentford fans behind one goal, there was a Bank Holiday feel to the first minutes.
City had probably had more of the ball – and the first shot on goal, one from Famara Diédhiou that deflected wide – when Brentford went ahead six minutes in. It came from a Brentford corner that the home side cleared and the ball ended up back with David Raya. His pass was a raking one from inside his own half to Watkins on the left, the striker weaved his way in to the box and past Jack Hunt, a tackle came in, but the ball popped out to Mbeumo and he lifted it in to the net. Raya’s pass had opened City up and they never recovered, Mbeumo was lurking and scored his tenth of the season from close range.
Even before the goal, the game was being played at Brentford’s pace. The Bees were content to control possession and look for gaps in City’s 4-4-2 system. Christian Nørgaard was able to dictate the speed of the game while Josh Dasilva and Mathias Jensen moved in to space and attempted to bring the attacking players in to the game. Mbeumo, Watkins and Benrahma were pulling all over the front line and the home side were struggling to pick them up.
It was this movement that gave Brentford a man advantage to go with their one-goal lead. The Bees had the ball in midfield when the eyes of the officials were drawn to an altercation between Watkins and City defender Ashley Williams. They had their hands on each other and Watkins was indicating he had been elbowed. But referee Matthew Donohue decided both were at fault and cautioned the pair.
Seconds later, however, Watkins raced down the middle and was fouled by Williams. Mr Donohue deemed Williams to be the last man and showed him a straight red card for denying a goal scoring opportunity. Watkins had played the ball a long way ahead and may not have caught it, but Williams definitely committed a foul and walked off with little protest.
City decided to play on without reinforcing their defence and Brentford took complete control. They gave City nothing, dominating possession and territory and inviting the hosts to try and get the ball back. Benrahma fired the free kick in to a defensive wall but did not have to wait long for his goal. It came when Dasilva spread the play from left to right to isolate Mbeumo on City left back Jay Dasilva. Mbeumo cut back inside and returned the pass to the roaming Dasilva, the Brentford version, before it went on again to Jensen, he let fly with a shot that City goalkeeper Daniel Bentley could not hold and although Watkins was unable to force home the loose ball, he fed Benrahma, who slotted in.
The goal was clinically taken and gave Brentford the control on the score sheet that they had on the pitch. There had been an earlier chance when Mads Roerslev overlapped brilliantly and delivered a ball that flew across the six-yard box with neither Watkins or Benrahma able to get a touch. Later in the half Jensen and Benrahma worked a short corner between them and the latter delivered a cross that was met by Nørgaard with an overhead effort, but it flew just wide.
After the second goal, City changed tack. They brought on a central defender and restored Korey Smith to his midfield role after a spell in the back line. That gave them an ability to play through the centre of the park and they found a foothold in the game. There were free kicks, corners and long throw-ins for Brentford to deal with, but Pontus Jansson and Ethan Pinnock were imperious and Raya was largely untroubled.
Smith had a shot blocked and Raya held on to efforts from City’s Dasilva and Marley Watkins but The Bees were pretty comfortable at half time, albeit Diédhiou’s power and pace were a factor in the contest. And The Bees should probably have killed off City early in the second half. While Raya had to save a Hunt header, it was the visitors that continued to hold the initiative at the start of the second period and had chances to get a third.
Watkins headed a Benrahma headed inches past the far post with Bentley rooted to the spot and a chance he had moments later was even better. Andreas Weimann played a terrible blind pass in to his own centre back area and that left Watkins one-on-one with Bentley. Watkins rounded the goalkeeper but was held up enough to allow Tomas Kalas to come back and make a challenge. Watkins will know that if he had been a little speedier, it would have been three. Benrahma also saw a shot deflect wide as Brentford pressed and City started to lose their discipline with Weimann booked for dissent.
City were battling bravely and looked to attack to try and find a way back in to the game. But they were unable to create much, despite numerous balls in to the penalty area, and Brentford sought to counter-attack when they could. At times The Bees attacked quickly, moving from one end to the other in a few passes. At others they were patient, pulling City from side to side and using the two-goal cushion, as well as the extra man, to their advantage.
One very long spell of possession in City territory ended with Rico Henry feeding the ball to Nørgaard on the edge of the penalty area but he lashed over. The game was slowing down as the minutes ticked by, City lacked the wherewithal to get back in to the game and Brentford had the lead they needed. Substitutes Kamohelo Mokotjo, Jan Žambůrek and Emiliano Marcondes, just back from a loan with Danish side FC Midtjylland, were introduced in the later stages as Brentford sought to see the game out. And in fact, they did better than that.
The third goal was a masterclass in how to play against ten men, using the extra player and speed of pass and thought to clinically punish an opponent. Jansson stepped out of defence and played a pass from the inside right to the left wing where Benrahma killed it first time, he then played a pass inside City left back Dasilva for Žambůrek to run on to and he crossed for Watkins to tap in. The ball went from Brentford’s central defence to the City net in the blink of an eye and Watkins had his 16th of the season.
The third goal had been coming. Watkins met a Benrahma cross with a powerful header that deflected inches over the bar and the resulting corner was met powerfully by Pinnock, but Bentley was able to claw it out just before it crossed the line. Mr Donohue took a good look at his watch to see if it flashed to indicate a goal before allowing play to go on, but Pinnock had been denied.
Watkins, however, was not soon after and there was still time for him to get another. Marcondes led a break on the right and Roerslev was again dashing forward on the overlap. Marcondes weighted his ball perfectly and Roerslev’s cross was inch perfect for Watkins, who met it with a powerful header. Bentley made a superb stop to deny him first time, but the ball dropped loose and Watkins slotted in to end a great afternoon for The Bees.
Bristol City: Bentley; Hunt, Kalas, Williams, Dasilva; Watkins (sub Nagy 73 mins), Brownhill, Smith, Eliasson (sub Moore 28 mins); Weimann (sub Rodri 79 mins), Diédhiou
Subs (not used): Mäenpää, Semenyo, Pereira, Massengo
Bookings: Williams (11 mins), Dasilva (54 mins), Weimann (58 mins)
Sent Off: Williams (13 mins)
Brentford: Raya; Roerslev, Jansson, Pinnock, Henry; Dasilva (sub Mokotjo 69 mins), Nørgaard, Jensen; Mbeumo (sub Marcondes 74 mins), Watkins, Benrahma
Subs (not used): Daniels, Dalsgaard, Jeanvier, Thompson, Žambůrek
Bookings: Watkins (11 mins) (third of season), Henry (61 mins) (fifth of season)
Attendance: 20,858 (1,027 Bees fans)