Josh McEachran’s first goal in club football earned Brentford a point in a fiesty match at Griffin Park. The midfield man equalised at the end of an even first half, scoring the goal that won his team a share of the spoils. But Brentford would have ended the evening thinking they could have had more than a 1-1 draw.
Birmingham were reduced to ten men for the final quarter of the contest and sat very deep for the later stages. Brentford dominated possession throughout without creating as much as they might have liked. And that was particularly the case in the last quarter when Birmingham’s organisation and determination got them a point.
The game started at quite a sedate pace. Birmingham sat in with two banks of four and largely invited Brentford to play in front of them. An early free kick from Gary Gardner hit a defensive wall but Brentford had most of the possession and territory in the early stages. They did not, however find a rhythm in the first ten minutes, the compact nature of the challenge in front of The Bees meant there was little early action.
And Brentford never really got to grips with the Birmingham system throughout the first half hour. The visitors were narrow in midfield with their attacking players dropping in and that meant The Bees could not work the ball through the centre of the pitch. They waited for Brentford to overcommit in attack and broke quickly, mostly through Jota on the right wing. Brentford did have some openings in the first 20 minutes but they came and went.
When a corner was half cleared, Yoann Barbet found Alan Judge and a wicked cross almost reached Neal Maupay at the far post and was scrambled away by the visitors. Lewis Macleod headed a Sergi Canós cross wide when a free kick was half cleared and Judge then tested Lee Camp with a curling shot after good work by Romaine Sawyers. The closest Brentford came to the opening goal was when Canós got away from Kristian Pedersen inside the box and pulled a cross back, Sawyers arrived late and his shot deflected inches past the post.
Those chances all came in a seven-minute spell, Brentford’s best of the first half hour. Birmingham started to push a little higher up the pitch and began to force mistakes. Brentford’s passes went astray and that gave time and space for the visitors to break. Jacques Maghoma tested Luke Daniels with a low shot and there was an even better save from the Brentford goalkeeper soon after. The home side gave the ball away, Jota got away on the right, his cross was dummied superbly by Che Adams and that left Lukas Jutkiewicz with only Daniels to beat, the shot was arrowing towards the bottom corner from 15 yards but the Brentford man got fingers to it to push it past the post.
Daniels saved from Jota soon after before a deep free kick was nodded back in to the danger area by Harlee Dean and a Jutkiewicz effort deflected wide. That only delayed things for a second. Jota delivered the corner, Michael Morrison met it at the near post and powered a header off the far post and in to the net. It was a superb header and a goal for the visitors had been coming. Daniels had to save a Dean header soon after and an Adams shot was blocked as Birmingham went for the jugular.
Maghoma should have given his team breathing space when Adams got away down the right and delivered but the wide man missed the target at the far post. That was the best of a series of chances and Brentford were rocking. But The Bees recovered, Birmingham started to lose their shape, stopped pressing high and Brentford found space to play. They could have levelled when a Canós cut back was met by Macleod but it looped on to the roof of the net with referee Tim Robinson ignoring claims it had been deflected.
Sawyers blasted well wide after an exchange of passes with Maupay as Brentford started to reassert their authority late in the half and The Bees pushed their visitors back. Maupay saw an effort saved after a nice turn before a clever Sawyers pass looked like it had released Macleod in behind, it took a fine tackle from Morrison to prevent him shooting and the follow-up effort from Canós deflected wide.
When Brentford levelled before the break it almost came out of nothing. Judge was felled by Maghoma by the right corner flag and while players from both sides were pushing and shoving in the middle, McEachran bent a free kick wickedly in to the near post. Camp got hands to it but was beaten by the pace and McEachran had drawn Brentford level. It had taken 83 Brentford games, 167 games in English football and 188 club games but McEachran was finally on the score sheet.
It should probably have been 2-1 to The Bees moments later when Canós got on to a half cleared free kick, tricked his way free and set up Judge but the shot was high and wide from 15 yards. And Jota almost turned the game the other way at the other end. He cleverly went for goal with a free kick from 35 yards with everyone, including Daniels, waiting for a cross and watched as it bent narrowly wide of the post.
On the balance of play of the first half, Brentford probably just about deserved to be level but Birmingham certainly had the better chances and they had other good ones at the start of the second period. Morrison headed a corner over when well placed before Adams saw a shot well blocked by Ezri Konsa after good work on the right by Maxime Colin. Colin probably should have picked out the unmarked Jutkiewicz but instead went for Adams with less effect.
The second period followed a similar pattern to the first with Birmingham starting compact and inviting Brentford to play before looking to counter-attack with speed. Once again it took Brentford some time to find a rhythm but soon McEachran and Sawyers were linking up to good effect and dictating play. Judge saw a shot saved after being set up by Maupay before McEachran let fly from 20 yards with his right foot and tested Camp in sterner fashion.
Camp made another save from Judge after Sawyers had found the Irish international with a brilliant pass and Camp made a better save soon after. Canós weaved his way through the Birmingham back line and saw a shot blocked, it looped up to Judge and his shot was arrowing across Camp and in to the corner before the goalkeeper got down to save. That preceded the game’s flashpoint at the midway point of the half.
The teams were contesting the ball on the Brentford left and Birmingham were awarded a throw in. Off the ball, Maupay went down and Mr Robinson, after consulting with his colleagues, decided that Maikel Kieftenbeld had committed an offence worthy of a red card. The decision angered the Birmingham players and staff, so much so that visiting boss Garry Monk was also dismissed.
Birmingham sacrificed Adams and set up camp in front of their goal. They packed the midfield and although Jutkiewicz saw a shot saved by Daniels, Birmingham had hardly any of the ball in the later stages. They invited Brentford on and backed themselves to hold on. In truth, they limited Brentford to few chances. Canós let fly after his cross had been half cleared and Camp saved well before Macleod fired wide at the near post after robbing Jota.
With seven minutes of stoppage time announced there was time for Brentford to push, even if the time wasting of the visitors may have warranted a few moments more. Moses Odubajo saw a shot deflected wide and the resulting corner dropped to McEachran 15 yards out but he blasted over. Camp made a superb save from a Henrik Dalsgaard header after Konsa had delivered from the right and Kamohelo Mokotjo fired wide when the corner dropped loose.
The game ended with another minor flashpoint. Maupay and Dean tangled with the Birmingham defender seeming to knee the Brentford man in the head. Players piled in and time ticked by as Mr Robinson stood back. He booked Dean, Morrison and Maupay and added only a fraction of the time that was lost. It summed the evening up.
Brentford: Daniels; Dalsgaard, Konsa, Mepham, Barbet; McEachran; Judge (sub Odubajo 78 mins), Sawyers (sub Mokotjo 81 mins), Macleod (sub Yennaris 84 mins), Canós; Maupay
Subs (not used): Bentley, Clarke, Jeanvier, Sørensen
Bookings: Dalsgaard (41 mins) (third of season), Judge (58 mins) (second of season), Canós (70 mins), Maupay (90 mins) (third of season)
Birmingham City: Camp; Colin, Dean, Morrison, Pedersen; Jota (sub Mahoney 89 mins), Gardner, Kieftenbeld, Maghoma; Adams (sub Lakin 70 mins), Jutkiewicz (sub Bogle 83 mins)
Subs (not used): Trueman, Roberts, Soloman-Otabor, Harding
Bookings: Gardner (6 mins), Maghoma (40 mins), Jutkiewicz (83 mins), Dean (90 mins), Morrison (90 mins)
Sent Off: Kieftenbeld (67 mins)
Attendance: 9,715 (1,156 away fans)