BIRMINGHAM CITY 0 BRENTFORD 0

Donald Kerr reports on how Brentford’s defence proved once and for all they are not a soft touch as they come away from St Andrews with a clean sheet.

 

If ever there was a game of two halves, this was it. At his Thursday press conference, Thomas Frank had forecast a low scoring match in which he expected we would see plenty of the ball, and so it proved for the first 45 minutes, as the home side sat back, didn’t press us to any great extent, and did little to threaten on the few times they broke forward. One can only suppose that Garry Monk had a few stern words in the dressing room at half time as they came out fighting in the second half, both figuratively and on several occasions, physically too. 

The result was a second 45 minutes that bore little resemblance to the first, with little flowing football from either side, long high balls at every opportunity from Birmingham, and strong resilient defence by Brentford denying them all all but one or two shots on goal. In the past couple of seasons, and earlier in this one, Brentford fans have often complained that we were bullied by the opposition, and that, as a younger less physical team, we were a soft touch. Well, not today. St Andrews was no place for softies and all those that were there could testify that Brentford gave as good as they got. Indeed, the referee, who will be remembered for giving us 7 yellows at home to Forest earlier this campaign, and only one to them, felt compelled to repeat his one-sided view of the source of any disruption to play, by repeating that imbalance, this time by five to none. Neal Maupay was at the heart of several scuffles as it seemed the home team sought retribution for his role in getting their teammate and their manager sent off at Griffin Park. There were loud boos when his name was read out at the start of the game and he assumed the role of pantomime villain until Thomas wisely removed him from the fray, both to protect him but also to prevent the referee from seizing the chance to send him off. 

The home crowd were largely silent in the first half, as we took charge and played around them, rarely giving the ball away and never cheaply, and you could sense a growing frustration at their side’s passive and defensive behaviour. For all of our possession, there were few genuine openings but the Bees’ growing comfort with the new formation was evident when Rico Henry appeared on the edge of their box, received a lovely diagonal pass from Josh McEachran, and saw his shot into the ground bounce just over the far corner of the goal. The pattern of the game in that first half really suited Josh, playing in place of the rested Kamo Mokotjo, as he was given plenty of time on the ball and used it to good effect on more than a couple of occasions. It was little surprise that, as the game became uglier and the oppositions tactics much more direct in the second half, he was replaced by Nico Yennaris. 

The first half ended with the first of many unnecessary confrontations, a portent of what was to follow. And as their team showed greater urgency after the break, the home crowd responded with both increased noise and incessant accusations of cheating, wasting time and feigning injury by Brentford.Their involvement in the action spilled over at one point when some items including a plastic bottle were thrown in the direction of Brentford players. 

Romaine Sawyers had been booked early in the game as the ball bounced away from him and he stretched to regain control, but he didn’t allow this to disrupt his command in the midfield, and he played a full captain’s part in trying to ensure that we remained focused on the job in hand amidst the mayhem.and rash of yellow cards for his team. He set an example to others in red today, his work rate was incredible and he didn’t shirk the physical side of the game either. Sergi Canos, in for Said Benrahma, worked hard but flitted in and out of the gameand Ollie Watkins , while making more impression on play didn’t get many chances to shine today. But Daniel Bentley was definitely more decisive than in recent games and appears to be moving the ball more quickly too. It was difficult when the dust settled to select a Brentford man of the match and he was probably a prime candidate. However, given the second half onslaught and the seemingly endless awards of free kicks in dangerous positions, some deserved some questionable, the man of the match today has to come from the defence. They were magnificent  - not always pretty, as there were many balls just hoofed out of defence and up the park – but so much more solid than only a few weeks ago. Rico played extremely well, jumping against attackers so much bigger than him, Moses Odubajo, playing his third game in ten days showed tremendous stamina right to the end, and Ezri Konsa also seems to be regaining that early season form. But, in the end, it really was a toss up between Yoann Barbet, who is giving us both height, balance on the left side, and uncomplicate4 clearances when necessary, and Julian Jeanvier, who seemed to be on the end of every ball into our area today, and whose presence in the new set up seems to have made the biggest difference.

Each game over Christmas has seen us face more difficult opponents, and Norwich will no doubt present anotherchallenge. But, with two clean sheets from three games and a home win and two away draws, we will be approaching that test with much more confidence and optimism than we could have imagined a month ago.

 

Birmingham City: Camp; Harding, Dean, Morrison, Colin; Jota (sub Mahoney 82 mins), Kieftenbeld, G. Gardner, Maghoma; Jutkiewicz, Adams (Bogle 79 mins)

Brentford: Bentley; Konsa, Jeanvier, Barbet; Odubajo, Sawyers, McEachran (Yennaris 79 mins), Henry; Watkins, Maupay (Benrahma 66 mins), Canós (Judge 82 mins)