Brentford recorded their first win of the 2019/20 season and further banished the hoodoo of Middlesbrough with another win on Teesside. Before a victory at The Riverside Stadium in March, Brentford had not beaten Middlesbrough away from home since 1938. But thanks to an Ollie Watkins goal early in the second half, The Bees took their first three points of the campaign and made it two away wins against Middlesbrough in five months.
It was the clichéd game of two halves on an afternoon that felt more like autumn than summer. Middlesbrough had a series of chances in the first half as Brentford failed to get to grips with the game. But it was different after the break as Watkins scored, Brentford dominated and then saw the game out with a minimum of fuss.
Brentford tried to get forward from the first whistle and had a few early openings from balls in to the penalty area, particularly when they were able to get Henrik Dalsgaard forward on the right-hand side. Emiliano Marcondes was able to meet a corner but his flick on looped high and was cleared and other opportunities came to nothing as Middlesbrough’s well-organised defence held firm. And the home side soon had the upper hand.
By the time the game had reached the half hour mark, the hosts had seen a goal ruled out and created enough chances to feel they should have been in front. The disallowed goal was a bizarre one. A poor pass from Ethan Pinnock needlessly gave away a corner and David Raya was out of position as he attempted to retrieve the ball. Marvin Johnson took the corner quickly and a touch from Raya prevented Pontus Jansson heading it away and enabled Ashley Fletcher to poke the ball in. But referee Stephen Martin consulted with his assistant and decided that Fletcher had put the ball in with his hand and ruled it out.
Paddy McNair shot over for the home side and a free kick from Lewis Wing was well off target. A deflected header from Ryan Shotton was then saved by Raya. The Brentford goalkeeper made a better stop from a low, bouncing shot from Wing soon after but The Bees were under pressure. They were unable to hold the ball in attacking areas and were outnumbered in midfield. Middlesbrough’s high position meant Brentford were finding it hard to play their way out and the home side were dominating in terms of possession, territory and chances.
They should have taken the lead when, after a quick free kick, Johnson found McNair and he got away from Jansson, but he pulled a shot wide from the edge of the penalty area. Fletcher had another goal disallowed as half time approached, this one for an obvious offside when he got on to a long ball, and Middlesbrough continued to press on.
Pinnock was robbed by Johnson and it took a fine save to his right by Raya to stop the curling effort nestling in the bottom corner. From the second phase of the resulting corner, Wing delivered a superb cross that Britt Assombalonga was just unable to turn in. And Assombalonga went closer soon after. Julian Jeanvier played a poor pass and Josh Dasilva was beaten to the ball, Assombalonga burst in to the box and his shot beat Raya at the near post but bounced away to safety off the upright.
Brentford were not without attacking intent in the first period. They looked to get men forward when they got the ball and that often led to difficulties and Middlesbrough turned it over sharply and then were able to attack from Brentford territory. But The Bees did create some openings.
It took a fine header from Daniel Ayala to prevent Watkins meeting a cross from the right and when Rico Henry won the ball in Middlesbrough territory, Sergi Canós placed a shot just past the far post. Dalsgaard nodded a deep Mathias Jensen pass in to Watkins and he turned and shot but fired in to the side netting. That was as close as Brentford came in a half that they were probably fortunate to end all square and the home defence was mostly untroubled.
But the second half was a completely different story. Brentford were braver both in and out of possession, pressing higher up the pitch and with Henry and Dalsgaard driving in to attacking areas in the early stages of the second period as Canós and Marcondes were closer to Watkins, as well as the central midfield players, and allowing space on the flanks. They were ahead within ten minutes of the restart and could have been a couple up.
The Bees sprung to life early in the second half and there had already been attacking openings before Jensen let fly from 18 yards and Darren Randolph saved well high to his left. The ball was recycled, Dasilva burst in to the penalty area and found Marcondes but the shot was blocked. Watkins picked up a Marcondes pass moments later and, having dropped off slightly, founds Dalsgaard attacking the penalty area on the right, the shot flicked off Hayden Coulson and flew just over the crossbar.
But the goal was coming, and Brentford did not have to wait much longer. Canós drew Ayala in to the inside right channel, flicked a loose ball away from him and darted on, he got to six-yard line and squared for Watkins to tap in. Canós did all the hard work and laid the goal on a plate for Watkins, who gobbled up Brentford’s first of the 2019/20 season.
It could have been two moments later when Jensen and Marcondes combined to find Watkins inside the area, he appeared to be away from Shotton but stumbled in possession and the chance was gone. Canós picked up the loose ball and blasted wide at the near post. Canós was at it again soon after, getting on to a Dalsgaard header and bursting forward, his run took him from the right touchline to the left edge of the penalty area before he shot narrowly wide.
There was a chance for Jansson to double the lead later in the half when he appeared to be about to meet a Jensen free kick, but the effort deflected away for a corner. And as the half wore on Middlesbrough started to put together some attacking possession and pressed for an equaliser. They made changes to try and alter the flow of the game as Brentford still maintained the upper hand, even if the chances were fewer and further between.
Fletcher turned a Johnson cross over at the near post and a powerful Wing free kick deflected away off a defensive wall. When a cross was half cleared soon after, McNair let fly with a shot that ricochet around the penalty area, hitting three or four bodies and eventually bounced away off Fletcher a few yards from goal. Assombalonga then lashed wide after a good turn 30 yards out and forced Raya in to a low save from another shot, this time from inside the penalty area.
Jonny Howson lashed well over when a corner dropped loose later in the half, but Middlesbrough failed to put together the grandstand finish that may have been expected from a team trailing at home in their opening game of the season. And, indeed, Brentford could have made the game safe inside the final 15 minutes. Marcondes got away on the right and on to a Jensen pass but failed to find a man with a cut back. Canós then had a sight of goal from 22 yards but fired over.
The Bees were able to give debuts to Bryan Mbeumo and Dru Yearwood, who looked like he might mark it with a goal when he darted in to the penalty area before being crowded out. And they were also able to cope with the loss of Ethan Pinnock to injury, Luka Racic coming on and standing firm against whatever Middlesbrough could offer and seeing his team over the line.
Middlesbrough: Randolph; Howson, Ayala, Shotton, Coulson; Clayton (sub Dijksteel 75 mins), McNair, Wing; Johnson (sub Browne 75 mins), Assombalonga, Fletcher (sub Gestede 81 mins)
Subs (not used): Pears, Tavernier, Saville, Bola
Brentford: Raya; Jeanvier, Jansson, Pinnock (sub Racic 72 mins); Dalsgaard, Jensen, Dasilva (sub Yearwood 88 mins), Henry; Marcondes, Watkins, Canós (sub Mbeumo 81 mins)
Subs (not used): Daniels, Clarke, Forss, Valencia
Bookings: Dalsgaard (82 mins)