A textbook Brentford performance
It was the fifth minute of added time as another stray pass from Wolverhampton Wanderers drifted out of play. It prompted a pump of fists and guttural shout from Brentford full-back Sergio Reguilon.
Moments later, referee Simon Hooper blew for full time.
The situation explained the reaction. Brentford had been in the worst form of any Premier League club since November. Their 2-0 win at Molineux was their second in 11 games and first outside west London this season.
It came with their first clean sheet in 13 league games, the last being October’s 2-0 win away to Chelsea. It ended the Premier League’s longest stretch without a shut-out.
It provides hope for Brentford’s future but indicates how bad things had got — a three-point gap to the relegation zone.
“We just needed to win. It’s been a tough spell. A lot of losses but good performances,” said Brentford captain Christian Norgaard. “We had hopes we could look towards the top spots this season but when you find yourself around 16th, you see other teams doing well around you, it’s hard not to (look over your shoulder).”
That was those inside the camp. On the outside, people had seen this before. This was a club getting dragged into a relegation battle.
Brentford’s reaction on Saturday offered a host of reasons why they should avoid the drop — although maybe they were reminders rather than reasons. In the words of Norgaard, it was “a textbook Brentford performance.”
The first ingredient? Successful set pieces. Norgaard’s opening goal was a close-range header from a corner.
Brentford have scored 42 set-piece Premier League goals since their 2021 promotion. Those account for 30 per cent of all their top-flight goals; the highest proportion of any ever-present Premier League club since then.
Norgaard has played his part in that. All six of the Dane’s Premier League goals have come through set pieces. Only Arsenal defender Gabriel (11), midfielder Jorginho (eight) and Liverpool captain Virgil van Dijk (seven) have more without scoring from open play.
Not that scoring first has always been an advantage. Wolves manager Gary O’Neil bemoaned that first goal for allowing Brentford to dictate the game, but Brentford had dropped a Premier League-high 26 points from winning positions this season. Before this weekend, they had lost more games (six) than they had won (five) when scoring first.
Which is why Brentford’s game management was so apparent. The clock was run down from early in the second half and Molineux struggled to contain its frustration.
Brentford were a success without the ball too, depriving Wolves space to attack for large periods. Their compact 5-3-2 shape, as you can see below, cluttered central spaces and often forced Wolves into poor pass and crossing opportunities.
There were moments when Wolves did break quickly and found space in wide areas, but then their lack of care and quality often let them down.
Brentford were not just deep with their defensive work. They were brave, committing to a high press and winning turnovers — as seen below and with their 77th-minute second goal.
“I’m even more happy for the defensive performance,” said head coach Thomas Frank. “That’s been the one part missing this season. We have conceded way too many goals. It had an extra focus this week. The final meeting was very simple: boys, clean sheet…we win.”
Wolves registered 17 shots — their highest tally in a home Premier League game without scoring since October 2022 — but their expected goals (1.2) was still short of Brentford’s 1.9, showing how Wolves were limited in their shooting opportunities while the visitors created chances of higher quality.
It was the first time Wolves had failed to score at home in the league for a year, which happened to be against a Bournemouth side managed by O’Neil.
As you can see from the field tilt and possession figures above, Brentford were willing to give up the ball and territory at times — although players and coaches admitted in the second half they were too deep and passive.
The final ingredient was there: Brentford carried a goal threat throughout.
Wolves would have looked a complete side with a striker of Ivan Toney’s calibre in their XI. Instead, Toney kept their back line busy. Brentford’s comfort with going direct prevented Wolves being as brave in possession as they wanted.
Both elements played their part in Brentford’s second goal. Toney’s finish was exquisite, with the visitors committing four players to press high and tear through the remnants of Wolves’ back line.
This was Brentford’s fourth attempt at beating Wolves inside 45 days; the previous three failed.
The problem-solving will have to continue. Brentford’s next nine fixtures include Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United and Brighton & Hove Albion at home, as well as Manchester City, West Ham United, Arsenal and Aston Villa away — before a cleaner six-game run-in from April.
Seven of Saturday’s starters played for Brentford in the Championship, Toney is expected to leave in the summer and Frank’s success could yet offer fresh challenges elsewhere.
“We finished ninth last season, so that was a step in the right direction — we’ve also lost key players like Bryan Mbeumo, Rico Henry, Ivan,” said Norgaard, who could have added Josh Dasilva, Aaron Hickey and Kevin Schade to the list. Yoane Wissa and Frank Onyeka make their returns from the Africa Cup of Nations next week.
“We lost our goalkeeper (David Raya on loan to Arsenal) who is very good. Now you see how well Mark Flekken is performing and that’s what we need from him. When we get our players back, you’ll see a Brentford team like you know.”
(Top photo: MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)