Brentford came from a goal down to start 2017 in the best possible way. The Bees trailed Birmingham City at half time despite holding the upper hand for long periods. And they made the dominance pay after the interval. Scott Hogan equalised and Brentford kicked on despite the prolific striker having a penalty superbly saved. A David Davis own goal put Brentford in front and Nico Yennaris lashed in a third late on.
The 3-1 win was no more than Brentford deserved. They had an attacking outlook from the off and recovered after falling behind to a well taken goal from Lukas Jutkiewicz. The Bees had the chances to be level before the break and a goal inside the first ten minutes of the second half set them on their way to a win which puts them on a run of one defeat in six and two away wins in three matches.
Both teams started the game with an attacking mind-set. Birmingham began with two wingers and two strikers while Brentford had both Lasse Vibe and Romaine Sawyers in attacking midfield roles and both gave Hogan support in the penalty area. Birmingham had the first sight of goal when Ryan Shotton arrived to meet a David Cotterill corner but he headed it wide. There were, however, chances at both ends in the opening exchanges.
Birmingham’s style was clear to see from the early minutes. They tried to play the majority of balls short from defence and in to midfield while pressing Brentford high up the pitch and preventing them doing the same. With both teams having stretched midfields to deal with the opposition’s intentions, there was plenty of space to play and the game was a good spectacle, albeit the quality was not always the highest.
On two occasions Brentford nearly got in behind in the opening five minutes when, first, Sawyers almost picked out the ruin of Vibe and then a Yoann Barbet pass just eluded Hogan. Hogan then forced Tomasz Kuszczak in to a save with a low snap shot before Vibe turned a Ryan Woods cross wide. Brentford probably had the better of the first 15 minutes but Birmingham’s pressing forced mistakes. A loose Harlee Dean pass gave Cotterill a shooting chance but he blasted over from 20 yards before Barbet played Che Adams onside and he got on to a Robert Tesche pass but he placed a shot wide with only Daniel Bentley to beat.
That Adams chance was the best Birmingham had the in first 20 minutes but Brentford looked the more likely team to score in that period. A great cross-field pass from Andreas Bjelland and a clever knock on from Maxime Colin allowed Sawyers to set up Vibe 14 yards out but he blasted over. And moments later a run from deep from John Egan gave Barbet a chance to cross, it reached Sawyers on the far side but his shot flew across the face of goal.
When Birmingham took the lead midway through the first half it was against the run of play and after a scrappy period. Both teams failed to get the ball under control until Adams found space 30 yards out, he slipped a ball through, Jutkiewicz got away from Dean and flicked the ball past Bentley and in to the net. The goal was harsh on Brentford but they had been fallible in defence and Jutkiewicz had looked the game’s most incisive attacking player. It could have been two moments later when Cotterill robbed Barbet and delivered a cross but Bentley saved from Adams.
Jacques Maghoma had another chance for the hosts when Bjelland was dispossessed and Jutkiewicz set him up but his low shot was well blocked by Dean. And it was Brentford who had control of the game as it moved towards half time. Josh McEachran started to find large pockets of space and he linked with Sawyers to good effect. Brentford were not completely fluent but moved the ball with purpose and in a way that suggested they would find a way to open Birmingham up.
Barbet, McEachran and Vibe combined to put Sawyers in to space in the penalty area but his low shot was turned behind by Kuszczak. And from the resulting corner a powerful shot from Barbet rose narrowly over the bar. At the other end Dean blocked a Jutkiewicz shot and Bentley saved from Jonathan Grounds but Brentford had the initiative. Woods had a volley blocked but the best chance fell to Vibe. The Danish striker was involved earlier in the move and when Hogan could not finish a Barbet cross, the ball flew at Vibe and he could only divert it over the bar.
That meant Birmingham had the lead at the break but Brentford would have gone in at half time confident they could find a goal if they continued to utilise the space afforded to them. And they did not have to wait long for it. Sawyers played a ball over the top nine minutes in to the second half and Colin raced forward, he found Vibe who set up a shooting chance for Barbet, the first effort was blocked but Hogan picked up the pieces, steadying himself before shooting in to the top corner.
The finish was unstoppable and took Hogan to 14 for the season, giving him 21 goals in his last 31 Sky Bet Championship matches. He could have had one just before that but couldn’t reach a Barbet cross and had a golden chance for his 15th of the campaign soon after. Vibe capitalised on a suicidal pass from Jonathan Spector and got to a loose ball ahead of Shotton, who hacked him down on the edge of the penalty area. Referee Geoff Eltringham decided the foul was inside the box and showed Shotton a yellow card. Hogan took the penalty and hit it hard and low to Kuszczak’s right but the Birmingham goalkeeper got down to push it around the post.
That could have dented Brentford’s confidence and Bentley had to be alert to save a Cotterill free kick at the other end to prevent the miss being doubly disappointing. But after a slight lull it was The Bees that took the initiative, Yennaris was introduced to bring fresh energy to the midfield and Brentford prospered as Birmingham tired. And with 17 minutes to go, Brentford went in front. Woods delivered a free kick from the left, Bjelland flicked on and Davis sliced in to his own net with Barbet waiting to pounce. Bjelland might be able to claim the goal but Davis got the final touch.
Birmingham tried to respond but with Dean leading his defensive troops, Brentford stood firm. Substitute Greg Stewart pulled a shot wide and Jutkiewicz missed the target with a header before Viv Solomon-Otabor had a shot blocked. Michael Morrison also headed with for the hosts but they were creating half chances at best. And with three minutes to go Brentford made the game safe. Bjelland played a ball forward and Yennaris strode through midfield, space opened up in front of him and he smashed a shot in to the top corner from 25 yards to ensure Brentford had it won.
Shotton had a header blocked and Morrison missed the target with an aerial effort before Spector smashed one wide late on. But Bentley was largely untroubled in the Brentford goal and his defence provide super protection in front of him. The Bees continued to push for a fourth goal but did not need it as they had already done enough to start the year with a win.
Birmingham City: Kuszczak; Spector, Morrison, Shotton, Grounds; Cotterill (sub Solomon-Otabor83 mins), Tesche (sub Stewart 76 mins), Davis, Maghoma (sub Kieftenbeld 62 mins); Adams, Jutkiewicz
Subs (not used): Legzdins, Robinson, Gleeson, Dacres-Cogley
Bookings: Tesche (32 mins), Shotton (57 mins)
Brentford: Bentley; Egan, Dean, Bjelland; Colin, Woods, McEachran (sub Yennaris 67 mins), Barbet; Sawyers, Vibe (sub Kerschbaumer 83 mins); Hogan (sub Hofmann 90 mins)
Subs (not used): Bonham, McCormack, Saunders, Clarke
Bookings: Bjelland (16 mins) (sixth of season), Egan (67 mins) (sixth of season)
Attendance: 18,030 (780 Bees fans)