Sergi Canós scored a second half hat-trick as Brentford came from behind to take three points on Boxing Day. Cardiff City took the lead in the dying seconds of the first half as Will Vaulks scored from inside his own half, but Brentford roared back. Canós tormented the hosts in the second half and scored three times in 23 minutes to give The Bees a lead they never relinquished. Vaulks, who could have been sent off for an horrific hack at Vitaly Janelt, scored his second of the afternoon late on but it was Canós’ day.
It was an archetypal game of two halves with almost all the action crammed in to the second 45 minutes. The home side played with a strong wind at their backs in the first period and probably used it to score their goal, albeit they did not make the most of it overall. The Bees went up a gear after the break and with Canós irrepressible, they did enough to take a 3-2 win.
It was clear from the early stages that the conditions were going to play a part in the contest. Rain fell almost non-stop and it increased in heaviness throughout a first half that was mostly forgettable before easing back a little after the interval. There was a clash of styles as well with Brentford looking to play through the midfield and build from the back while Cardiff sought a territorial advantage. They often sat off The Bees and let them play in front of them and then chose moments to get their players high up the pitch, looking to win the ball back and attack in Brentford territory.
The home side often left Robert Glatzel isolated in the Brentford half and The Bees were able to build, playing around him. The visitors dominated possession in the first quarter of the contest without creating any really good chances. Arguably the best opening came inside the first five minutes. Ethan Pinnock lifted a ball in to the left channel and Canós got away from Leandro Bacuna, he found Ivan Toney inside the penalty area but Joe Ralls came back to make a recovering tackle as the Brentford striker prepared to shoot.
Canós sliced a shot wide from a deep Bryan Mbeumo corner and then had a shot blocked after cutting in from the left but The Bees mostly played in front of Cardiff. There were other opportunities to deliver balls in to the penalty area or find a final pass that failed at the final hurdle in the first half. Mostly those moves broke down due to the solidity of Cardiff’s defensive shape but Brentford’s passing often went astray and too many touches and passes failed to find their mark.
The home side probably had the upper hand in the later stages of the first half, but it was still a surprise that they went in at the break ahead. They used corners, free kicks and long throw in to press Brentford back but they came to nothing. David Raya had gathered everything comfortably and did not have a shot to save until the dying seconds of the half.
The Bees were on the attack but, again, unable to find a way through. Vaulks played a ball in to Glatzel and then received it back before launching a shot from ten yards inside his own half. Perhaps helped by the wind, the ball flew perfectly over Raya and in to the net. The Brentford goalkeeper was ready to help his defence if a ball was played over the top but could do nothing to stop a shot that arced over his head and in to the net from more than 60 yards.
The last seconds of the first half were the only moments that would stick in the memory. Cardiff had looked to disrupt the game by fair means or foul and Brentford had been unable to get a high enough tempo to stop it mattering. The home side had a sight of goal immediately after the restart when Junior Hoilett got a Glatzel pass and had a shot blocked, but that was not a sign of things to come.
There was an immediate obvious difference to Brentford’s play in the second half. Emiliano Marcondes and Mathias Jensen were higher up the pitch with Mbeumo and Canós holding wider positions. Canós sensed that Bacuna was not able to cope when the Brentford man ran at him and with Cardiff either unable to double up or not noticing the obvious weakness, The Bees went on the attack.
They could have scored from a Jensen corner when Pinnock headed down and Pontus Jansson flicked it towards goal, but Alex Smithies touched over, albeit a little uncomfortably. The Cardiff goalkeeper was even more uncomfortable seconds later. The home side dealt with the first ball and then the second as Jensen delivered again, but it dropped to Canós. His first shot was blocked but when it came back to him he looped an effort from 22 yards over Smithies and in to the net. Canós had caught the goalkeeper out of position and Smithies ended up in the net with the ball as Brentford levelled.
Smithies held a looping effort from Marcondes soon after and Canós lashed well over as Brentford pressed. A great pass from Janelt then released Henrik Dalsgaard on the right, he exchanged passes with Marcondes before delivering a cross than Toney looped towards goal, Smithies back peddled unconvincingly and pushed the ball over the top. That Janelt could play the first pass of the move was remarkable as seconds earlier he had been scythed down by Vaulks. Janelt was leading a break when Vaulks wrapped both his legs around Brentford’s marauding midfield man and hacked him down. Janelt was lucky to be able to carry on, let alone complete the game, but referee Dean Whitestone decided the offence was only worthy of a caution.
Raya saved a shot on the turn from Glatzel, but all the action was at the other end. Marcondes should have finished off from ten yards when a Jensen free kick isolated Canós on Bacuna, the cross came in but the shot was wide when it should have tested Smithies. Canós decided that he would go on his own next time. Pinnock played the pass to the left and Canós ran at Bacuna again, he weaved away from his opponent and then past Sean Morrison before shooting low in to the net from 16 yards. Canós was a man Cardiff couldn’t stop and Brentford had turned around a half time deficit.
Canós curled a shot over from 22 yards after Cardiff were once again unable to fully clear a set piece. Smithies then saved a looping effort from Toney, but the pressure was mounting and the third came soon after. Janelt started the move as he won the ball deep in Brentford territory. Marcondes, who grew in influence throughout the game, released Toney and he found Canós on the left. Bacuna was once again left exposed and Canós got free to shoot from the inside left channel, the ball burst through the hands of Smithies and nestled in the back of the net. Canós had a hat-trick and Brentford had breathing space.
It was breathing space they needed as Cardiff pulled one back. A corner was played deep in to the penalty area, Morrison headed down and a Vaulks volley flicked off Toney and beat Raya. That was the only time Cardiff had been in Brentford’s penalty area in the second half and they had a lifeline in the contest with 15 minutes remaining.
The home side could not have pretended they deserved anything from the game, but they had time to grab an equaliser and looked to press on. With Jansson and Pinnock able to deal with the physical challenge posed by the hosts, The Bees saw the game out comfortably. And as Cardiff pushed on, Brentford could have grabbed more goals.
Canós picked up a Marcondes lay off and let fly from 20 yards but Smithies’ hands were surer this time and he kept the shot out. Smithies denied Canós again soon after as Brentford turned defence in to attack quickly. There was also a chance when Canós found Toney and the striker burst in to the penalty area. As he prepared to shoot, he seemed to have his heels clipped by Morrison but Mr Whitestone waved away the appeals. That would have given a chance for a fourth goal, but it wasn’t needed for The Bees to take the win.
Cardiff City: Smithies; Bacuna, Morrison, Nelson, Bennett; Vaulks, Ralls; Ojo (sub Murphy 74 mins), Wilson, Hoilett (sub Harris 68 mins); Glatzel
Subs (not used): Phillips, Benković, Bagan, Cunningham, Pack, Patten, Whyte
Bookings: Vaulks (55 mins)
Brentford: Raya; Dalsgaard, Jansson, Pinnock, Henry; Jensen (sub Dasilva 90 mins), Janelt, Marcondes; Mbeumo (sub Fosu 77 mins), Toney, Canós (sub Forss 90 mins)
Subs (not used): Daniels, Stevens, Thompson, Sørensen, Haygarth, Ghoddos