BRENTFORD 2 NOTTINGHAM FOREST 1

Bill Hagerty admires some fancy football from Brentford but regrets Forest’s hostile tactics and the delivery of a dozen yellow cards

 

Was it a match, was it a battle, was it a confrontation? Yes, all of those things, which in the final few minutes threatened to explode into a full-scale punch-up.

Brentford deserved to win, no question. Some of the fanciest football seen at Griffin Park since this squad came together consistently threatened to bury a Forest side short on imagination but with its collective sleeves belligerently rolled up above the elbow. Well, hey big spenders: major signings in the close season were predicted to make the club Championship promotion front runners, yet for much of the 90 minutes they looked more like candidates for an army assault course.

 

The Bees dominated the first half with Sergi Canos, Said Benrahma and skipper for the day Yoann Barbet all going close almost before you could say Jack Robinson. Jack couldn’t have been best pleased about that as he was a mainstay of the Forest defence.

And the yellow card count was only two apiece when, in the dying seconds of the first-half added time, Lewis Macleod got on the end of a Benrahma cross to head it past Costel Pantilimon with Exocet precision. This was no mean feat, for at a shade under seven feet and with an arm-span not much shorter than that of a light aircraft, the Romanian international goalkeeper is a commanding presence.  

The interval proved to be soothing for the crowd of only a little more than ten thousand, featuring as it did seven high-kicking young ladies, resplendent in Brentford shirts and waving sparkling pom-poms, together with one acrobatic male. They were celebrating the 1970s, we had been told, although exactly why remains a mystery – the Bees spent most of that decade struggling to escape from the old Football League Fourth Division.

The pattern of the game remained much the same at the beginning of the second period, with a Josh McEachran free-kick looping towards goal only to be thwarted by Pantilimon’s frantic dive. Then a Chris Mepham rush saw the ball bounce back from a post. But Forest, mostly rough but unready so far, slowly bulldozed their way back into the game and just after the hour got their reward, with a sudden attack of butterfingers seeing a shot from substitute Matty Cash sneak through Daniel Bentley’s hands.

Further dismay for Brentford arrived when Ollie Watkins went down and stayed down while a biff on the nose received attention. With a white dressing to the damaged hooter making him especially easy to identify from the back of the stands, Ollie remained bloody but unbowed and it was fitting that he should finally torpedo a Forest side – shock 3-1 winners over Newcastle in their Carabao Cup-tie just a few days earlier and unbeaten in the league – that rarely produced anything but lacklustre football. 

The ever-busy Benrahma, always in the thick of the action, provided the cross that Watkins reached with a burst of speed, leaving the defence flat-footed as he scored from close range.

The final moments of the five minutes of added time saw what had been a smouldering game throughout suddenly conflagrate. Benrahma, incensed by an ungentlemanly tackle, displayed his lack of appreciation and, as often happens, a skirmish involving too many players to count ensued. Barbet did his best to calm the more enraged of his teammates, but it seemed minutes before order was restored.

So Forest managed to win only the yellow-card count – 7-5 – and the customary handshakes followed the final whistle, although one suspected some would have preferred to be shaking their opponents by the throat.

Regarding the Caracao Cup, I mused to my mate Charlie, Dean Smith had said pre-draw that his ideal third-round opponents would be League Two side Macclesfield, at that moment being walloped 3-0 by Crewe, but surely a visit to the Emirates stadium had to be next best.  

‘Watch out, Arsenal,’ he replied. An incurable optimist, that’s Charlie.

 Brentford: Bentley, Dalsgaard, Konsa, Mepham, Barbet, Macleod (sub Yannaris), McEachran (Mokotjo), Sawyers, Benrahma, Watkins, Canos (Judge).

Nottingham Forest: Pantilimon, Darikwa, Hefele, Fox, Robinson, Watson, Colback, Bastião Dias (sub Osborn), Carvalho, Lolley (Cash), Murphy (Grabban).