Brentford’s final pre-season friendly before the start of their 2018/19 Sky Bet Championship ended in defeat to Watford. The Bees started the game superbly and deserved the early lead given to them by Ollie Watkins. But Premier League side hit back and were ahead by the half hour after two defensive errors. Henrik Dalsgaard scored an own goal to level the game and former Brentford striker Andre Gray got on to a loose Daniel Bentley pass to score what proved to be the winner.
Defeat on the afternoon was probably harsh on Brentford, who went toe-to-toe with their Premier League opponents for most of the contest. They were much the better side in the early exchanges and the second half but when Watford had the upper hand they got two goals and made life difficult for The Bees. Brentford pressed after the interval but couldn’t find a way to level the match.
With the EFL starting a week before the Premier League, it was to be expected that Brentford would be closer to top speed than their visitors. Watford also came in to the game after playing another friendly against Stevenage the day before, with eight of their starting XI at Griffin Park featuring for the final 30 minutes in that match. And that may have explained why Brentford started quicker and got themselves in front within five minutes.
The goal came from a free kick that was lashed towards goal by Emiliano Marcondes Camargo Hansen. The effort dipped and swerved and had Watford goalkeeper Ben Foster scrambling, he managed to get hands to it but could only push it out to the waiting Watkins, who converted with ease. The Bees could have been ahead before that when Nico Yennaris fed the ball in to the box and Watkins turned and got a shot away, but that effort was blocked and Neal Maupay couldn’t get on to the loose ball.
The lively Watkins had another shot blocked soon after good work by Romaine Sawyers, who was at the heart of most of what Brentford did well in the opening exchanges, and Yennaris saw a shot fade wide from 25 yards. But Brentford’s hold on the game loosened as the minutes ticked by. They were not helped by an injury to Maupay that saw him withdrawn and replaced by Marcus Forss before the quarter hour. Maupay had linked well with Watkins and Mohamed Saïd Benrahma in the early stages and the delay for the change also affected Brentford’s momentum.
Isaac Success had seen a shot saved early in the piece for Watford, but it was as the first half approached its midway point that they began to take control. They pressed Brentford higher up the pitch and The Bees stopped threading the passes through. The visitors had possession deep in Brentford territory and were creating chances.
An effort from Roberto Pereyra flicked the crossbar on the way over after Daryl Janmaat won an aerial challenge in the penalty area and Gray then lashed over after an Ashley Charles shot was blocked. Watford were threatening an equaliser but when it came, it came in strange circumstance. Gray had nodded down in to the path of Pereyra and Bentley made a superb save from the low shot, Dalsgaard had time to clear but rushed it, taking his eye off the ball and slicing it in to his own net.
Watford’s second, ten minutes later, was also one for Brentford to forget. The pressure applied by the visitors told as Bentley passed straight to Gray 20 yards out, the striker steadied himself and placed a shot back past the Brentford goalkeeper and in to the net. It could have been worse for Brentford as Bentley was forced to push out a curling José Holebas corner underneath his crossbar between the goals.
But having got themselves in front, Watford seemed to ease off a little. Brentford regrouped as half time approached and Benrahma had a sight of goal only to see his effort fly over the bar. The Bees continued to hold the upper hand after the break and an early shot from Josh McEachran, after a short corner, was palmed away rather unconvincingly by Foster. There was also an opening when Watkins got on to a loose ball but the eventual shot from Benrahma was saved.
A plethora of substitutions on the hour mark from both teams could have caused the game to stagnate but it, in fact, came to life. Brentford moved up a gear while Watford regrouped after seven changes and The Bees had chances to level, albeit Isaac Success almost weaved through at the other end before Ezri Konsa came across to make a vital tackle. Watkins shot wide for the home side before seeing a header from a Benrahma cross deflect wide.
Lewis Macleod met the resulting corner from Benrahma but Foster beat Forss to the loose ball. Macleod then shot across the face of goal after exchanging passes with the increasingly influential Benrahma. Another cross from Benrahma then deflected towards Watkins at the far post but he was unable to force it in.
Most of Brentford’s chances were falling to Watkins, who was moved into a more central position after more substitutions from the home side with 20 minutes to go. He had a low shot saved after a great run from Yennaris and then lashed over when he got a Sawyers pass at the end of an incisive attack. The best chance may have been when he capitalised on a high ball that Adrian Mariappa failed to deal with, but he took time to control and was crowded out.
Watford had the ball in the net twice in the second half, both from clear offside positions, and Pereyra curled a free kick over, but most of the action was at the other end. Alan Judge shot over when a Luke Daniels goal kick bounced all the way through and in the dying seconds a Sergi Canós shot was deflected in to the arms of Foster. But Brentford couldn’t find a way through and Watford had the win.
Brentford: Bentley (sub Daniels 60 mins); Dalsgaard (sub Clarke 60 mins), Konsa, Mepham (sub Barbet 60 mins), Yennaris; McEachran (sub Woods 71 mins); Benrahma (sub Canós 71 mins), Sawyers (sub Mokotjo 71 mins), Emiliano (sub Macleod 60 mins), Watkins; Maupay (sub Forss 14 mins (sub Judge 71 mins))
Watford: Foster; Janmaat (sub Navarro 60 mins), Kabasele (sub Prödl 60 mins), Britos (sub Mariappa 60 mins), Holebas (sub Masina h/t); Pereyra, Charles (sub Wilmot 60 mins), Capoue (sub Rodwell 60 mins), Sema (sub Jakubiak 60 mins); Success, Gray (sub Deeney 60 mins)