AFC WIMBLEDON 0 BRENTFORD 3

Bill Hagerty watches an array of young Bees’ talent defeat the Wombles in an entertaining season curtain-raiser

Not much had happened on the sporting front since last we met to cheer on Brentford, observed my mate Charlie. Apart from the Women’s World Cup, that is. And the ongoing cricket World Cup. Oh, and Wimbledon grand slam tennis, just down the road from this cosy Kingsmeadow ground, where Chelsea’s women’s team also display their skills.

So, we agreed, it’s a pleasure on a balmy Friday evening in south-west London to get back to real business: a pre-season friendly between two clubs about to engage in their last campaign before moving on to new premises and exciting new horizons. 

Thomas Frank fielded a mix of experienced pros and up-and-coming B team talent against the Division One side, whose followers are nicknamed The Wombles, ecology-minded little furry creatures that first entertained children some half-century ago. (‘Remember you’re a Womble’ advised the match programme, as if anyone could forget.)

Interesting as was the opportunity to see some hot prospects from outside the first-team squad, the unexplained omissions from the 22 players on parade were instantly noticeable. Where was Said Benrahma? And Neal Maupay? Worrying no-shows so close to the start of the league season.

Early on, there was little cohesion in Brentford’s play, possibly because many of the players were still introducing themselves to one another. Sergi Canos, was his usual busy-Bee self, Emiliano Marcondes pleasingly creative in midfield and when frequently thrusting forward, and captain Romaine Sawyers contributing his accustomed commanding performance. 

Of the less-familiar faces, new arrival from Barnsley, Ethan Pinnock looked solid in the middle of the defence, unshakeable except when giving a harmless loose ball a hefty smack into touch – ‘Was that a Barnsley chop?’ asked Charlie.

But it was not until the second period, with Frank reverting to a 4-3-3 formation for a new eleven players, that fluidity in midfield and upfront was such that the visiting supporters awoke from uneasy silence to get behind the team.

Dane Christian Norgaard, not long off the plane from Florentina, looked the Bees’ knees in defence and when foraging forward, while Czech teenager Jan Žambůrek scuttled with energy and purpose to expose holes in the Wimbledon defence and send a ‘I’m ready’ signal to the head coach. 

Marcus Forss was as energetic and received due reward when leaving defender Will Nightingale foundering before making ground and shooting past keeper Nik Tzanev. If this wasn’t quite enough to destroy the home side’s confidence, the Finn made certain with an intelligent ball across the box that was met by an outrushing Norgaard to shoot into a wide-open space and express his delight with a first-clenched celebration.

The only disappointment earlier had been the near invisibility of Ollie Watkins, but he remedied this with an electrifying display in the final half-hour. A fine on-target shot brought an equally impressive save from Tzanev, a fizzer of another was goal-bound until deflected by a central defender and then – Ollie at his best – he held off his marker to squeeze the ball between keeper and post.

A beautiful crimson-streaked sky shepherded the faithful Brentford few into the night, encouraged by a job well done.

And what of the Wombles’ performance?

‘I liked Uncle Bulgaria,’ said Charlie.    

Brentford first-half: Daniels, Konsa, Dalsgaard, Field, C Dasilva, E Pinnock, Oksanen, Canos. Coote. Shaibu, Sawyers, Marcondes.

Second-half: Gunnarsson, Clarke, Henry, Racic, Norgaard, J Dasilva, Carroll, Watkins, Forss, Žambůrek, Hammar. 

AFC Wimbledon first-half: Trott, Nightingale, Th omas, Wafstaff, Hartigan, Appiah, Roscrow, M Pinnock, Stabana, Guiness-Walker, Kalambayi.

Second-half: Tzanev, Collins, McDonald, Binnom-Williams, McLoughlin, Rudoni, Wood, Pigott, Macnab, Kaja, Osew, Assal.