Brentford were unable to make the most of playing for more than an hour against ten men as they were beaten by Sheffield United at Bramall Lane. The home side took the lead after a competitive opening quarter when Oliver Norwood converted a penalty and they held on to it despite having striker Gary Madine sent off just past the half hour. Substitute David McGoldrick headed in late on to seal a vital win for the promotion-chasing home side.
United are in a three-way battle for automatic promotion with Leeds United and Norwich City and had to call on all their qualities to take the win. Goalkeeper Dean Henderson made some superb saves and he was well protected by those in front of him. Brentford piled on the pressure but were unable to find a way through and United took the points.
It was a highly competitive, closely fought and high-quality contest from the first whistle. There was a contrast in systems but the styles of the two teams complemented each other well and led to a good spectacle when it was 11v11. Both tried to play through midfield and while the home side used a longer ball a little more often, the main aim was to keep the ball on the floor and get players forward.
The home side settled slightly quicker and had the first shot when an Enda Stevens effort was blocked by Ezri Konsa. They then almost scored when a cross from John Fleck just eluded Scott Hogan and Luke Daniels was able to gather. Jack O’Connell headed a corner wide and a fierce shot from Fleck whistled wide from 25 yards. Daniels was flying across to his top right corner and would probably not have stopped the shot had it been on target.
Brentford grew in to the game after United’s bright start. Romaine Sawyers and Kamohelo Mokotjo started to find space in the centre of the field and were able to bring others in to the game. Ollie Watkins blasted wide at the near post after a nice move ended up with Henrik Dalsgaard playing a clever ball inside. Saïd Benrahma then blasted high and wide after finding space to run in to in the centre of the pitch.
It took a superb stop from Henderson to deny Neal Maupay when he met a Yoann Barbet cross ten yards out. The ball was fizzed in from the left and Maupay got a toe to it on the stretch, but Henderson stuck out a leg to deny the striker. The ball was recycled and Maupay fed Benrahma, but his shot was blocked. Henderson then saved a free kick from Benrahma as Brentford pressed before the same man shot narrowly wide of the post after an exchange of passes with Maupay.
But the home side regrouped and put together a spell of pressure that ended in the opening goal of the evening. Kieran Dowell lashed over from 30 yards after finding space before a clever Fleck pass released Hogan in the inside left channel, but his cross-cum-shot was pushed away by Daniels. The home side kept pressing and when a cross was half cleared, Barbet miss-controlled and was robbed by George Baldock. As Barbet went to challenge, Baldock went down and referee Tony Harrington was prompted by his assistant to award a penalty. Mr Harrington initially was not going to give the decision but pointed to the spot and Norwood sent Daniels the wrong way to put United in front.
Daniels saved a Baldock header soon after before a moment of madness from Madine changed the flow of the game. Konsa twisted and turned away from him on the right touchline and the United striker inexplicably launched in to the back of him, raking the studs of at least one boot down the back of the defender’s legs. Mr Harrington decided the offence was worthy of a red card and Madine left the pitch to few real arguments.
With a man advantage, Brentford took complete control. They completely dominated possession for the remainder of the first half as United sat in. The home side only had Hogan as an out ball and his inability to hold possession meant The Bees launched wave after wave of attack. But despite dominating possession and playing mostly in United’s defensive third, they did not create as much as they might have done.
Benrahma looked the man most likely to find a breakthrough and he came closest with a free kick that whistled just over the crossbar with Henderson motionless. Henderson also saved from Watkins after he had weaved in to the penalty are. The ball was then worked to Maupay, but he shot wide on the turn. Benrahma also lashed over from a cleverly worked short corner in the dying seconds of the half but United’s well-drilled back five, as it had become, meant that much of Brentford’s possession was in front of a red and white wall.
The hosts needed to change the flow of the game and made a double substitution at the interval. One of those introduced – McGoldrick – almost scored with his first touch when he got on to a Fleck pass, but Daniels saved high to his left. The Brentford goalkeeper then held on to an O’Connell header when he met the resulting corner. While McGoldrick did help the hosts, it did not change the pattern of play and they brought on Billy Sharp, an extra attacker, to try and stem the flow.
The Bees should probably have been level by that point as they continued to dominate. United sat deeper and deeper and invited The Bees on. But chances came and went. Moses Odubajo saw a shot blocked when he got on to a deep cross and a low shot from Barbet fizzed wide of the far post. Henderson made a fine stop to his left to deny Maupay when the striker let fly from 22 yards and the goalkeeper saved a Benrahma effort a little more comfortably soon after.
A shot from Konsa deflected wide and the resulting corner was worked cleverly for Mokotjo to shoot from 15 yards, the effort whistled past Henderson but smacked against the post. The ball dropped loose but Julian Jeanvier fired over the bar as it bounced up. Another Benrahma shot was blocked and Odubajo, who set up that chance, then fired in to the side netting.
There was a tactical battle being played out as well as the contest on the pitch. With United adding to their attacking resources, Brentford did likewise with Sergi Canós and Emiliano Marcondes on to replace Konsa and Odubajo. United could have settled things but McGoldrick failed to pick out Sharp when he was unmarked in front of goal and they went close again when a deep free kick was worked back by O’Connell, but Dalsgaard stopped John Egan converting.
Those attacks from the home side were rare but they were doing the required job at the other end. Canós lashed over from distance and a Dalsgaard effort was blocked. Benrahma then shot over and Watkins had an effort blocked by the overworked home defence. Maupay shot wide on the turn before a run from Canós looked like it would take him through before he ran in to traffic in the shape of the immense O’Connell and his shot was blocked.
Watkins fired over and an effort from Marcondes was blocked before United sealed the win at the other end. It came from a corner they probably shouldn’t have got when Jeanvier headed out, past the late onrushing Daniels as a long ball dropped in behind. Fleck delivered the corner, O’Connell headed it back and McGoldrick nodded home, via the crossbar.
Brentford kept pushing for a way back in to the game, but time was against them. Henderson saved a low Canós effort and then saw a shot deflect wide. Even in the dying seconds, Henderson prevented Norwood heading in to his own net. The United goalkeeper deserved his clean sheet and Brentford were left with nothing to show for their efforts.
Sheffield United: Henderson; Basham, Egan, O’Connell; Baldock (sub Sharp 60 mins), Fleck, Norwood, Stevens; Dowell (sub Cranie h/t); Hogan (sub McGoldrick h/t), Madine
Subs (not used): Moore, Coutts, Stearman, Duffy
Bookings: Basham (20 mins)
Sent Off: Madine (35 mins)
Brentford: Daniels; Konsa (sub Canós 62 mins), Jeanvier, Barbet; Dalsgaard (sub Forss 90 mins), Sawyers, Mokotjo, Odubajo (sub Marcondes 62 mins); Watkins, Maupay, Benrahma
Subs (not used): Gunnarsson, McEachran, Sørensen, Dasilva
Attendance: 24,463 (324 Bees fans)