Brentford were once again left to rue bad luck and missed chances as they were beaten by Birmingham City at Griffin Park. The Bees dominated most of the match but were hit twice by sucker punches and could find no way to get back on terms. They fell behind to a penalty won and converted by Clayton Donaldson early on but should have been level by half time. They failed to take their opportunities and were hit again as Ryan Shotton scored a second against the run of play after the break. A Scott Hogan goal proved to be no more than consolation.
Birmingham will be wondering how they came away with a 2-1 win. Brentford hit the woodwork twice and visiting goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak made a series of fine saves. The Bees also failed to take chances presented inside the six-yard box on at least four occasions. The visitors threw bodies in the way and by-hook-or-by-crook kept The Bees out and then took their chances when they came.
Brentford started with three central defenders and wing backs for the first time in recent memory and had the better of the early exchanges. With Maxime Colin and Yoann Barbet keen to get forward from the wide positions, The Bees often had more men forward than the visitors could deal with. Nico Yennaris and Ryan Woods were able to find space in midfield and used diagonal passes to open Birmingham up as well as picking their way through the lines with Romaine Sawyers. There was space for Birmingham on the counter-attack, and Lucas Jutkiewicz headed a David Cotterill cross over from one break, but Brentford dominated the opening section of the game.
A clever Woods free kick almost set up the opening goal as Barbet smashed it across the face of goal but Andreas Bjelland was just unable to turn it in at the far post. Yennaris saw a shot blocked and a Scott Hogan cross just eluded Colin soon after. Colin should have scored when he met a Barbet cross ten yards out but shot wide before a Lasse Vibe cross was just behind Hogan, who would have had a clear shot from eight yards.
But just when it seemed as if Brentford had Birmingham on the rack, they fell behind. A loose Yennaris pass was picked up by Maikel Kieftenbeld and his through ball set Donaldson in behind, the former Brentford striker appeared to be going to ground before he ran in to Daniel Bentley but referee Andrew Madley decided an offence had been committed and awarded a penalty. Bentley was booked under the change in law that sees a player only cautioned for a genuine attempt to play the ball when a goal scoring opportunity is restored by a penalty but could not prevent Donaldson rolling home the kick to put Birmingham in front.
Birmingham reacted strongly after taking the lead. Bentley prevented Jutkiewicz converting a David Davis cross at the far post and the Brentford goalkeeper then did well to keep out a dipping, swerving free kick from Cotterill. But after a short spell to regain their composure, Brentford came again and dominated the rest of the first half. They had countless chances in the second quarter of the match and should really have gone in to the break all square, at least.
Kuszczak made a fine save away to his right to keep out a Vibe shot, after making a low save from a weaker one from the same man, before Hogan and then Yennaris saw shots blocked. Vibe saw another shot blocked before wasting the best chance of the half moments later. A Sawyers pass put Hogan in behind and he lifted a shot over Kuszczak towards the arriving Vibe, the Danish attacker got away from Shotton but then blasted a shot against him when four yards out.
Robert Tesche blasted well over for Birmingham but all the action was at the other end. A fierce shot from Barbet flew in to a sea of bodies and bounced clear rather than in to the net and Woods saw another shot blocked by the overworked defence soon after. Another Woods shot deflected wide as half time approached and Birmingham went in to the break with the lead, albeit they had to work incredibly hard for it and would have been aware of the threat Brentford had.
Donaldson blasted wide at the near post early in the second half for the visitors but the game soon resumed the pattern that had been established in the first period. Brentford dominated the ball and territory while Birmingham camped inside their own half, looking to break quickly if they could. They defended resolutely and in large numbers but regularly gave the ball away and Brentford soon built up a momentum after the break.
Vibe had a shot blocked after a quick free kick and then forced Kuszczak to tip a shot over the crossbar after letting fly from 20 yards. Kuszczak made a fine save to deny Colin and then an even better one to prevent Hogan slotting home the rebound as Birmingham’s goal led a charmed life. Davis missed the target by a large margin and Yennaris went slightly closer at the other end before Birmingham scored their second, once again against the run of play.
It came from a free kick on the left won by Donaldson, although John Egan’s protests that he got some of the ball were vociferous. Cotterill delivered it, Donaldson flicked it on and Shotton arrive late to smash home at the far post. That gave Brentford a mountain to climb but the introduction of Sullay Kaikai, Josh Clarke and Josh McEachran gave them fresh impetus. There was also a switch to the 4-2-3-1 system they have used most of the season. Birmingham had spent most of the half sitting back, using Donaldson as a secondary left back and they retreated further with a two-goal lead, albeit Reece Brown went close to making it three with a near post shot.
Kaikai could have halved the deficit when he met a Hogan cross but there was not enough power on his effort and Kuszczak saved. The Birmingham goalkeeper made a better stop when Hogan met a Woods cross with a downward header six yards out, the Polish stopper somehow getting a hand to it and diverting it on to the crossbar and over. The first half mistake he made came 13 minutes from the end and he was punished. Kuszczak stopped as he attempted to come for a Clarke cross and that enabled Hogan to get in front and nod over him and in to the net.
That gave Brentford just over quarter of an hour to get something from the game and they poured forward, setting up a frantic end-to-end finale. Kaikai came within a whisker of levelling with a clever chipped effort that beat Kuszczak but bounced off the face of the crossbar while Bentley got a hand to a toe-poke from Donaldson at the other end to keep it out. Che Adams almost sealed the win with a low shot but Bentley saved well.
Kuszczak kept out a fierce Clarke shot after a clever pass from McEachran and when the ball was recycled Woods delivered a cross that Bjelland met, Hogan appeared to get a toe to it to knock it over the line but was deemed to be in an offside position and the goal was ruled out. It is possible that if Hogan had not touched it the goal may have stood but the movement of the Brentford man definitely affected Kuszczak and he would probably have saved it without the touch.
Donaldson shot wide as Birmingham tried to seal the win and Adams could have done so with a 70 yard run but Egan cleared off the line after the shot had beaten Bentley. At the other end Kuszczak denied Kaikai again and that was enough to give the visitors the win they scarcely deserved.
Brentford: Bentley; Egan, Dean, Bjelland; Colin, Woods, Yennaris, Barbet (sub McEachran 71 mins); Sawyers (sub Kaikai 62 mins), Vibe (sub Clarke 71 mins); Hogan
Subs (not used): Bonham, Field, Kerschbaumer, Hofmann
Bookings: Bentley (13 mins), Egan (20 mins) (fourth of season)
Birmingham City: Kuszczak; Dacres-Cogley, Morrison, Shotton, Grounds; Davis, Kieftenbeld, Tesche (sub Adams 64 mins), Cotterill (sub Brown 64 mins); Jutkiewicz (sub Robinson 83 mins), Donaldson
Subs (not used): Legzdins, Fabbrini, Maghoma, Stewart
Bookings: Cotterill (48 mins), Davis (80 mins)
Attendance: 10,925 (1,659 away fans)