Brentford were beaten on the first day of the 2019/20 Sky Bet Championship season as a solitary goal settled the game in favour of Birmingham City. The visitors rode their luck for much of the first half but scored 18 minutes in and that was enough to give them the points. Brentford hit the woodwork three times in a first period they dominated but could not get the goal their play deserved, and Birmingham got the win.
While there can be little doubt Birmingham were fortunate to be ahead at the interval, given they had barely mustered an attack and been forced to defend very deep, they were not in much trouble after it. They held a firm defensive shape and protected their goalkeeper Lee Camp so he had few saves to make. Brentford did not lack for effort but were unable to find the killer ball to earn at least a share of the spoils.
The Bees went on to the front foot from the first whistle. With Ollie Watkins dropping in to space in front of Birmingham’s three central midfield players and Mathias Jensen linking play in the centre of midfield, Brentford looked to get forward and were creating chances in the opening moments. Watkins looked as if he had turned free of Marc Roberts inside the first 90 seconds, but the ball ran away from him and the chance was gone.
Wing backs Rico Henry and Henrik Dalsgaard spent most of the early stages in attacking areas. With Emiliano Marcondes and Sergi Canós happy to move inside and leave space on the flanks, the Birmingham defence and midfield were stretched. Canós pulled a shot wide from distance and then did the same again when Dalsgaard nodded a chipped pass from Jensen in to his path.
Birmingham had barely been in to the Brentford half in the first ten minutes but when they did break quickly, Lukas Jutkiewicz found space in the inside left channel for a shot that was blocked by Pontus Jansson and picked up by David Raya. Julian Jeanvier then turned a low free kick wide before a mad three-minute spell. Brentford laid siege to the Birmingham goal without scoring and were then hit with a sucker punch at the other end.
Watkins looked to have broken through when he found space in the penalty area and cleverly rolled Roberts, the shot flew past Camp but hit the crossbar and bounced away. There was a better chance second later when Canós found space and cut a pass back to Marcondes, the shot was again true and beat Camp but hit the crossbar again. Birmingham were lucky to escape as Marcondes had most of the goal to aim at and plenty of time to pick his spot. The ball was recycled and Dalsgaard delivered a cross that was a fraction too high for Marcondes.
With Brentford pressing, Griffin Park was rocking and when Josh Dasilva was penalised for a trip in midfield it was seen as a chance for Birmingham to regroup. Instead, the ball was played short and Steve Seddon delivered a ball that was met by Pedersen 19 yards out. The header looped powerfully and perfectly over Raya and in to the net to give the visitors the lead, very much against the run of play.
The goal took the sting out of The Bees a bit. The tempo dropped a fraction and while they maintained control of the game, they were unable to create in the way they had done just moments earlier. And it took a brave save from Raya at the feet of Jacques Maghoma to stop the visitors going two up. But a bad challenge by Gary Gardner on Jansson, over the top of the ball and in to the shins of the Brentford defender – which may have resulted in more than a caution, seemed to revitalise the home side.
Dalsgaard fed another chipped pass in to Marcondes with only Camp to beat but this time the goalkeeper repelled The Bees rather than the woodwork, although the frame of the goal was in play seconds later. A short corner was worked via Canós and Jensen back to taker Watkins and he weaved in to the penalty area before letting fly with a shot that beat Camp and hit the near post. Once again, the visitors were fortunate as Brentford were inches from levelling.
Canós fired wide of the far post later in the half but The Bees went in at the break behind, despite taking almost complete control of the game. An early run from Dalsgaard and a clever pass that ended with Marcondes pulling a shot wide from 20 yards, seemed to suggest the second half would go the same way. But Birmingham had other ideas. They sat in a little deeper, were more compact and made themselves hard to break down. The Bees were lacking a little in tempo and initiative and the game drifted towards the hour mark.
Dasilva fired a free kick high over the bar from 25 yards when a ball in to the box may have been better and at the other end Jutkiewicz should have done better than head weakly at Raya when he got free at a free kick. After a free kick was half cleared, Jensen delivered, Janvier nodded on and a Canós header was saved by Camp. Ethan Pinnock then headed wide.
The introduction of Marcus Forss for Marcondes with 25 minutes remaining, changed Brentford’s attacking output. With Watkins moved to a wide position, The Bees had a different focal point and immediately looked more potent. Canós, now on the left, forced Camp in to a save after a Henry cross had caused difficulty for the hosts and been half cleared. Canós then got away on the left and delivered a cross that Forss looked set to head in but Maxime Colin diverted the effort wide.
Dalsgaard had a header from a Jensen corner blocked while most eyes were on players going down in the middle as they tussled for space. Jeanvier went down holding his head at one set piece but referee Gavin Ward took no action against the Birmingham players in the vicinity. And that summed up the later stages of the game. Birmingham did exactly what they had to do to keep Brentford out.
Brentford B midfield player Jan Žambůrek came on to try and open up the Birmingham defence but there was no way through. The only time Brentford created even half an opening came in stoppage time when Dalsgaard got on to a Jensen pass and crossed but the deflected effort from Forss fell in to the arms of Camp. And with that the clean sheet and three points were secured for the visitors.
Brentford: Raya; Jeanvier (sub Žambůrek 81 mins), Jansson, Pinnock; Dalsgaard, Jensen, Dasilva, Henry; Canós, Watkins, Marcondes (sub Forss 64 mins)
Subs (not used): Daniels, Racic, Hammar, Clarke, Oksanen
Bookings: Jensen (87 mins)
Birmingham City: Camp; Dean, Roberts, Pedersen; Colin, G. Gardner, Davis, Seddon (sub Harding 58 mins); Maghoma (sub Mrabti 88 mins), Jutkiewicz, Crowley (sub Šunjić 74 mins)
Subs (not used): Stockdale, C. Gardner, Vassell, Clarke-Salter
Bookings: G. Gardner (29 mins), Crowley (56 mins), Harding (90 mins)
Attendance: 11,332 (1,658 away fans)