Thomas Frank could have been forgiven for thinking his luck had passed. But after a few weeks of testing which saw his team struggle for the fluidity that came so easily earlier in the season, the Brentford manager watched in delight the equalizer of Pontus Jansson and then Bryan Mbeumo’s penalty in the fifth minute. additional time ensured an unlikely comeback victory.
Leading thanks to Emmanuel Dennis’ seventh goal of the season in the first half, a first clean sheet in the league this season was a touching distance for Watford and their manager, Claudio Ranieri, until defender Jansson strikes with six minutes to go. Mbeumo’s winner on the spot after William Troost-Ekong inexplicably hacked substitute Saman Ghoddos must have felt like a dagger in the heart of the Italian veteran.
“Things weren’t as we wanted them all along, but we never gave up,” Frank said. “The game against Leeds last week was brutal but we agreed to concede a goal at the last minute and this week we scored at the last minute. It’s a fantastic feeling.
The very first high-level meeting between these clubs was always likely to be a tense affair given the stakes. While Brentford came into the game after claiming just one league win since early October, Watford had just ended a streak against Arsenal, Manchester United, Leicester, Chelsea and Manchester City successively.
For Brentford – who had confirmed earlier today that club co-director of football Rasmus Ankersen would be leaving – the absence of top scorer Ivan Toney for the second game in a row due to Covid meant Frank had turned to Mbeumo for lead the line. The forward has the questionable record of hitting the woodwork seven times this season – more than any other player – but has now found the net three times in the league since being promoted from Brentford.
Sheldon Baptiste’s instinctive third-minute shot that Daniel Bachmann did well to knock over the bar gave an early indication the hosts were serious on a cold night in West London. The Austria international made an even better save to stop Mbeumo’s curler just outside the box before Watford took the lead against the run of play.
Joshua King’s shot deflected before hitting the post and being cleared. The next turn was taken by Tom Cleverley and led home by an undercover Dennis.
Brentford tried to respond but – also defender Ethan Pinnock missing due to Covid and suspended winger Sergi Canós – didn’t have the creativity to break through a stubborn Watford defense and looked really dangerous as ‘at the break. Their victory here last season as both teams ended up being promoted was their first against these opponents since they doubled against them in the 1976/77 Division Four campaign.
At the start of the second half, the hosts struggled to increase their intensity to the required level and it was only after the introduction of Ghoddos and Marcus Forss on the bench that Brentford finally appeared to move on to the top speed. Bachmann’s stopping to deny Vitaly Janelt turned out to be a warning of what was to come, but it wasn’t until after a breakaway that King had a golden chance to seal the victory after being set up by Dennis. His shot was disappointing, albeit from a tight angle.
This was to prove crucial as Jansson’s late header to Janelt’s cross, after Watford failed to clear a corner, allowed Brentford to equalize before Mbeumo did the rest there. The victory already brings Frank’s team to the 20-point mark, having played less than half of the season.
“We had a very good chance to score the second goal but ended up conceding twice,” said Ranieri. “But this is football – you have to concentrate until the end. We will learn our lesson.