Brentford came from behind to earn a Boxing Day draw with Bristol City. The Bees trailed to a first half goal before Neal Maupay lashed home early in the second period to bring his team level with his 15th of the season. And with neither team able to get the game’s crucial third goal, the spoils were shared.
It was a point that Brentford had to work hard for but was the least they deserved. Although there were a few spells when City were on top, The Bees had the better of it generally and certainly had the clearer chances. They came back well after conceding against the run of play and stood up strong in the later stages when the home side pushed for the winner to take a point back to West London.
Although City had the first chance of the game, Famara Diédhiou heading wide on the stretch, Brentford probably started the brighter. They were able to use their wing backs – particularly Henrik Dalsgaard on the right – to stretch the home defence. They worked hard out of possession to stop City playing through midfield and they had the upper hand in terms of territory and chances in the opening quarter.
Saïd Benrahma lashed over after a nice turn and was then just unable to reach when Ollie Watkins drove in to the penalty area and fired low across the face of goal. Dalsgaard then saw a shot blocked and, after the ball was recycled, the Danish wing back drilled in a cross that just eluded Maupay. Brentford would have been content with their position 20 minutes in, but they fell behind against the run of play when they failed to defend a corner.
Jamie Paterson delivered it from the City left and his delivery found Eros Pisano unmarked eight yards out. The header hit Yoann Barbet and bounced up awkwardly, past Daniel Bentley and in to the net. It was a goal out of nothing and one Brentford would have been annoyed to conceded but they reacted superbly to falling behind.
With Romaine Sawyers pulling the strings in midfield, Brentford took control of the game. They dominated possession and pushed on, patiently probing for openings. They had a chance to equalised when, after a quick break, Maupay set up a shooting chance for Kamohelo Mokotjo, but he lashed wide from the edge of the penalty area. A bouncing Watkins shot was saved by Niki Mäenpää after Dalsgaard had picked up a loose ball and the resulting corner was flicked powerfully on by Barbet but Maupay inexplicably handed as team mates arrived at the far post.
A Callum O’Dowda headed was easily for Bentley at the other end but Brentford were doing all the attacking, pushing City back and finding gaps as they exploited the width of the pitch. A Benrahma shot was deflected wide when it may have been arrowing in and Maupay when then unable to get over to head in a cross after more good work on the left. Watkins had a shot blocked after Ezri Konsa had stepped out of defence and through a couple of challenges and then lashed wide of the far post after leading a break on the left.
That chance came after a coming together between Mokotjo and Josh Brownhill in the centre of midfield when the City man appeared, at first glance, to have launched himself – out of control – in to a tackle with both legs extended. Both players got the ball and Mokotjo’s timing enabled him to set Watkins away, but many other referees would have dished out a harsh punishment while David Webb let play go on and didn’t even speak to the City man. That leniency was a feature of the first period with little tugs and pulls going completely unpunished while blocking and ankle taps went unseen.
Brentford went in to the break a goal down but both teams could have scored in the dying seconds of the half. City’s chance came after a fortunate ricochet and Bentley was far more alert than Tomáš Kalas to get to the loose ball. Brentford’s was far more clear-cut. For the umpteenth time, Dalsgaard raced in to space on the right and was able to pick out a pass, he found Watkins eight yards out but the shot flew over the bar when the net should have bulged.
Eight minutes in to the second half, however, Mäenpää was beaten. Dalsgaard’s throw was hooked in to the middle by Watkins and Maupay smashed in it on the volley from ten yards. The ball was past Mäenpää before he could move, Maupay had his 15th of the season and Brentford were, deservedly, level.
Brentford had tried to get on the front foot at the start of the second period, but the game had been even after the break. City had reinforced their midfield, tucking their wide players in and asking them to track the Brentford wing backs. This made it harder for Brentford to build the spells of possession they had in the first half.
Bentley had made a comfortable save low to his left early in the half, when Paterson tried an ambitious long-range effort, and City reacted well to Brentford’s goal. Diédhiou should have equalised when he met a cross from the left ten yards out, but he powerfully planted his header wide of the target with Bentley stationary. The City striker could have scored again soon after when he got on to a deep ball and behind Barbet but Moses Odubajo came across to cover and prevent the shot.
But Bretford weathered that storm and regained the initiative as the game moved past the hour mark. They began to take control of the centre of the pitch again and threatened on the flanks. Benrahma lashed high and wide when well-placed before Watkins sting the palms of Mäenpää with a shot from the edge of the penalty area after good work by Odubajo. Maupay went closer still when he picked up a Sawyers lay off and shot from 20 yards, the effort whistling inches past the post with Mäenpää scrambling.
Substitute Sergi Canós saw a shot blocked before Watkins drilled across the face of goal as the minutes ticked down. And City also had their chances to win the game. Adam Webster flicked a header wide and Josh Brownhill fired over from distance before Matty Taylor nodded down to Diédhiou on the edge of the penalty area, but he fired wide. They had another chance in the dying seconds when Webster got a tiny touch to a curling free kick that could have taken it past Bentley, but the Brentford goalkeeper made himself big, got his chest in the way and ensured it finished all square.
Bristol City: Mäenpää; Pisano, Kalas, Webster, Kelly (sub Dasilva 73 mins); Pack; Weimann (sub Taylor 73 mins), Brownhill, Paterson, O’Dowda (sub Eliasson 88 mins); Diédhiou
Subs (not used): O’Leary, Wright, Hunt, Eisa
Brentford: Bentley; Konsa, Jeanvier, Barbet; Dalsgaard, Sawyers, Mokotjo, Odubajo; Watkins (sub Judge 82 mins), Maupay, Benrahma (sub Canós 70 mins)
Subs (not used): Daniels, Sørensen, Henry, McEachran, Dasilva
Bookings: Maupay (26 mins) (fifth of season)
Attendance: 21,207 (550 Bees fans)