Two goals in six second half minutes condemned Brentford to defeat against Sky Bet Championship promotion-chasers Middlesbrough. After an even first half The Bees appeared to have the upper hand when Jordan Hugill scored, looking suspiciously offside, 11 minutes in to the second half. Marcus Tavernier headed a second minutes later and that sealed the win for the visitors, who ended the day second in the table, despite a goal for Alan Judge inside the final 15 minutes.
Brentford had come closest to scoring during a well-contested first period, with Moses Odubajo testing Darren Randolph, but the defensive solidity of the visitors was clear to see. They defended the edge of their penalty area and presented a challenge that Brentford could not find a way to meet. And when they took a two-goal lead, they withstood the pressure Brentford exerted, particularly after Judge had halved the arrears, to take a 2-1 win.
The game was preceded by a minute of applause for Brentford Technical Director Robert Rowan, who died of heart failure on 12 November. And it was perhaps no surprise that a low-key start followed that sombre moment. The game started at a sedate pace with Middlesbrough having more of the ball and taking a territorial advantage but there were few openings in the first quarter of the contest.
Those that did come fell to the visitors. Mo Bešić saw a shot deflect wide after Nico Yennaris was crowded out in midfield and when Daniel Bentley failed to gather the resulting corner, Aden Flint could probably have done better than smash well over on the turn. Tavernier saw a shot blocked and the best chance of the first 25 minutes fell to Hugill. He was put away in the inside right channel when the ball was turned over, but the powerful shot was parried and gathered by Bentley.
Brentford started to get their fair share of possession as the half wore on. They were looking to move the ball quickly when they could but often found a white wall in front of them in the shape of the Middlesbrough defence. A few times the final pass went awry when a good chance seemed to be on – one Neal Maupay pass to Judge would have put him in on goal – but Brentford were mostly unable to pick the lock and create the openings.
Sergi Canós saw a shot fly wide, perhaps via a deflection – although not according to referee John Brooks, when a free kick was half cleared and had another effort blocked when a corner dropped loose. That corner came when Darren Randolph tipped a deflected Moses Odubajo shot over the bar after Brentford took a quick free kick and when Lewis Macleod delivered another one soon after, a Chris Mepham flick was scrambled away. Danny Batth missed the target with a pair of headers at the other end as the half drew to a close.
There was another chance for The Bees at the end of the first period when Josh McEachran picked up a half-cleared corner and lifted it towards Henrik Dalsgaard at the far post, but the Danish defender shot wide on the stretch. Brentford probably ended the first half with the initiative. They were on the front foot and playing in Middlesbrough territory, albeit they had not created what they would have liked. There was also some frustration that a clear elbow from Hugill in to the face of Mepham during the first period had only been punished by a caution from Mr Brooks when many other officials may have seen it as a red card offence.
And although there was an early aerial opening for Baath at the start of the second half, The Bees also had the initiative after the break. They pressed forward and Middlesbrough were forced to defend deep. Brentford had all the ball and were forcing Middlesbrough in to mistakes in possession. But the well-drilled Middlesbrough backline was preventing Brentford from getting the space to create an opening.
And the visitors then took their chance to breakaway and take the lead. They attacked down the left and Bešić delivered the ball in to the middle, Jonny Howson made a run inside Odubajo and laid the ball off for Hugill to tap in. There were protests from Brentford as Hugill appeared to be offside when he scored but the goal was allowed to stand.
Brentford went straight on the attack, looking to recover that goal. Macleod saw a curling shot saved and Randolph then went away to his left to palm away a fierce Canós effort. The resulting corner was played low to Maupay and he turned and fired in to the side netting.
But with Brentford opening the game up, Middlesbrough also had more space. Hugill got on to a Tavernier nod down and stepped away from Ezri Konsa but Bentley made a brave save at his feet. That only, however, delayed the second goal. The visitors worked space on the right, Dael Fry delivered a cross and Tavernier got in between the central defenders to nod down, past Bentley and in to the net.
Brentford immediately introduced Emiliano Marcondes and within two minutes the Danish attacker had let fly with a free kick that Randolph pushed away unconvincingly, and he needed the help of his defenders as Maupay picked up the loose ball and tried to recycle it. The ball was eventually worked to Macleod and his effort deflected wide. The resulting corner was worked to Yennaris and his shot was blocked.
Emiliano then created a great chance for Maupay but he headed straight at Randolph from ten yards before Canós saw a shot saved. Another Emiliano shot was blocked as he wriggled free inside the penalty area, but the resulting corner led to a goal. The corner was played short by Canós and Judge whipped an effort across Randolph and in to the bottom corner.
That gave Brentford almost 20 minutes to find an equaliser. And Canós could have got it almost immediately when he picked up a Maupay pass and shot from 20 yards, but the effort lacked power and Randolph saved. Judge then lashed a volley high and wide when well-placed before Randolph went away to his left to make a fine save from a fierce Josh Dasilva shot as Brentford pressed.
Middlesbrough should have sealed the game when two of their substitutes – George Saville and Lewis Wing combined. The former created space for the latter to shoot from 15 yards but he missed the target. With Emiliano finding gaps and Dasilva driving forward, there was a further boost for The Bees as Rich Henry was introduced for his first appearance for more than a year. The left back is now recovered from a serious knee injury and got involved on the left to create space for Dasilva in the dying seconds, but the shot was high and wide and Middlesbrough had the points.
Brentford: Bentley; Dalsgaard, Konsa, Mepham, Odubajo (sub Henry 87 mins); McEachran (sub Emiliano 64 mins); Canós, Yennaris, Macleod (sub Macleod 74 mins), Judge; Maupay
Subs (not used): Daniels, Barbet, Oksanen, Clarke
Bookings: Mepham (90 mins) (third of season)
Middlesbrough: Fry, Baath, Flint, Friend; Clayton, Howson; Downing (sub Wing 87 mins), Bešić (sub Saville 79 mins), Tavernier (sub Ayala 90 mins); Hugill
Subs (not used): Konstantopoulos, Assombalonga, McNair, Gestede
Bookings: Hugill (29 mins), Flint (49 mins)
Attendance: 9,430 (1,637 away fans)