Swansea City have the upper hand after the first leg of the Sky Bet Championship Play-Off Semi-Final as ten-man Brentford were beaten in South Wales. The Bees had Rico Henry debatably sent off midway through a second half they were in control of and conceded a winner to Andre Ayew late on. Ayew also had a penalty superbly saved by David Raya in a frantic second period but midway through the tie Swansea have a 1-0 advantage.
Over the 90 minutes, the home side might have merited the win, but the game was changed by the sending off. Brentford had the better of the chances in the first hour of the contest and probably deserved to be in front. They certainly appeared to have the initiative before they conceded a penalty, that was brilliantly saved, and had Henry sent off. But The Bees now have to come from behind if they are to make the Championship Play-Off Final.
Brentford started the game brightly and had a couple of early efforts on goal. Josh Dasilva burst in to the penalty area on the left side and couldn’t pick out a pass but when Swansea couldn’t clear, Mathias Jensen delivered from the right and Saïd Benrahma headed wide. The Bees went closer still soon after when Jensen and Bryan Mbeumo linked on the right, the latter got in a shot that looped up in to the penalty area, Ollie Watkins flicked a header towards goal and Erwin Mulder had to get down well to push it away.
Brentford would have been happy with the way they started the game. The contest was being played a pace they dictated, and they dominated possession. Swansea looked to get their team high up the pitch to prevent The Bees playing in to midfield but the movement of Jensen, Dasilva and, in particular, Christian Nørgaard, gave Brentford options when they tried to play out. They were also helped by the fluidity of their front three – Benrahma, Watkins and Mbeumo switched positions regularly in the opening exchanges, which gave Swansea’s back three difficulty in picking them up and Brentford the ability to find space in attacking areas.
The Bees certainly had more sights of goal and should probably have been ahead given the chances they created. When Swansea couldn’t clear a free kick, Henry delivered from the left, Watkins controlled inside the penalty area but was then unable to finish. A Henrik Dalsgaard throw then enabled Watkins to release Henry on the left and get in to the penalty area for the cross. But when it came, Watkins headed wide from ten yards. Nørgaard saw a low shot saved and a deep Jensen corner was met by Ethan Pinnock, but his header was comfortable for Mulder.
But even though Brentford had more chances, the better ones probably fell the way of the home side. They had a great chance when Conor Gallagher flicked a ball from the right away from Pontus Jansson and in to the path of Rhian Brewster, the Swansea striker let fly from 18 yards, but Raya got down well to save. Brewster had another header deflected wide later in the half and Swansea should have scored from the resulting corner. Ayew met Gallagher’s delivery and the ball deflected off Dalsgaard and hit the far post, it looped up but Brewster was unable to head in from close range. The Swansea striker may have been offside but should have beaten Raya from close range and was unable to do so.
The game was level at 0-0 at half time but probably shouldn’t have been. As well as Swansea’s chances, there was a good one for Benrahma at the end of the first period. Benrahma burst from deep and took the ball past two defenders before letting fly from 18 yards, but his effort fizzed over the bar when it could have presented a real problem for Mulder.
The game was becoming increasingly physical as the half wore on with referee Keith Stroud taking an inconsistent approach to what he considered to be illegal challenges. Jensen and Dalsgaard collected bookings either side of half time while Brentford players felt challenges on them were not being punished. There was a chance for Swansea – Raya saving an Ayew header – just after half time but Brentford were seeing more of the ball in the opening exchanges of the second period.
The Bees increased their intensity a fraction and were finding more gaps as it became increasingly hard for Swansea when they didn’t have the ball. But as Brentford pushed on, there were chances for Swansea to counter-attack and the game became end-to-end at the start of the second half. Raya saved a Jay Fulton shot and Ayew lifted an effort just wide of the far post before the penalty and red card that swung the game in Swansea’s favour.
Brentford had looked the team most likely to score in the second half before the match-changing decisions. Benrahma picked up a Watkins pass and put Jensen in behind in in the inside left channel but he dragged a shot across the face of goal. When a free kick was half cleared Mbeumo’s cross just eluded Watkins at the far post and the same two players were involved soon after. Watkins got free on the left and beat Ben Cabango, but his cut back was diverted just away from Mbeumo and also eluded the arriving Dasilva.
But just past the hour mark, the officials took centre stage, with Ayew close behind. Ayew was involved in the penalty incident, creating space for Brewster inside the penalty area, Jansson came in with a challenge and the Swansea man went down. Mr Stroud pointed to the spot and Jansson didn’t muster much of an appeal. Ayew took the spot kick but Raya won the battle, diving to his left and putting up a big hand to keep it out.
Mr Stroud’s next decision had a far bigger impact on the match, the tie and indeed Brentford’s season. Henry challenged Connor Roberts on the touchline by the halfway line and played the ball in to touch. The Swansea players and coaching staff protested vigorously and, seemingly on the advice of Fourth Official David Webb, Mr Stroud sent Henry off. Henry played the ball with one leg and there seemed to be little wrong with the challenge on first viewing.
That gave the home side 25 minutes to try and win the game and they pushed on with Ayew the main danger. Raya saved from Gallagher and then held on more comfortably to a looping effort from the same man. Marc Guehi lashed over from distance and Matt Grimes shot wide before Brewster was booked by Mr Stroud for simulation inside the penalty area as Brentford’s defence looked as if it may hold firm.
But a moment of magic from Ayew opened them up. The Swansea man fed the ball in to Gallagher and then received a pass from Jay Fulton before smashing a shot past Raya and in to the top corner from 18 yards. Ayew’s shot was unstoppable and Swansea had the lead they craved. But they never really looked like adding to it.
Brentford continued to hold firm, believing that they could get back in to the contest in different circumstances at Griffin Park on Wednesday night and probably had the better of the later stages, even a man short. They could have levelled when Emiliano Marcondes and Joel Valencia linked on the right. The cross came in and it dropped to Watkins, but he was crowded out. The whistle blew moments later, and Swansea had their win but one that may not be decisive when the team meet again in West London on Wednesday night.
Swansea City: Mulder; Cabango, van der Hoorn, Guehi; Roberts, Fulton, Grimes, Bidwell; Gallagher; Ayew, Brewster
Subs (not used): Gould, Celina, Dyer, Kalulu, Dhanda, Rushesha, Cullen, Evans, Garrick
Bookings: Bidwell (18 mins), Cabango (55 mins), Brewster (78 mins)
Brentford: Raya; Dalsgaard, Jansson, Pinnock, Henry; Jensen (sub Baptiste 84 mins), Nørgaard, Dasilva (sub Roerslev 70 mins); Mbeumo (sub Marcondes 70 mins), Benrahma (sub Valencia 84 mins), Watkins
Subs (not used): Daniels, Jeanvier, Fosu, Canós, Dervişoğlu
Bookings: Jensen (45 mins) (third of season), Dalsgaard (47 mins) (fifth of season), Nørgaard (90 mins) (tenth of season)
Sent Off: Henry (65 mins)