Brentford 2 Aston Villa 1
Brentford stuck to their task and were rewarded handsomely. This win, sealed by Mads Roerslev’s goal seven minutes from time, did not seem on for long periods and an injury-hit side looked several notches short of their best. But Aston Villa squandered a fine opportunity in failing to build on Danny Ings’s opener, brilliantly set up by Emiliano Buendía, and were in trouble when Yoane Wissa levelled shortly before half-time. Steven Gerrard’s side dominated without threatening overly and a fourth defeat in six removes a little shine from the improvements he has wrought since taking over.
Buendía’s moment of inspiration lit up a dank, drizzly afternoon whose opening exchanges had been tough on the eye. He has generally struggled to meet the standard demanded of the £30m fee Villa paid Norwich last summer but this was up there with the best of his offerings at Carrow Road.
To the less imaginative eye there was little on when Buendía took a first-time return pass from Douglas Luiz 10 yards inside Brentford’s half, although his initial layoff and dart into space had at least signalled an intention to get things moving. Christian Nørgaard was quickly at his back but the Argentinian was just too smart, losing his opponent in one movement with a giddying two-touch spin and drag-back.
Now Brentford’s defence was exposed and Buendía made no mistake, supplying Ings with one of the delicately-weighted through balls that earned him renown. The finish across Alvaro Fernandez from a slight angle on the left of the box, was impeccable and Ings had his first goal since October 16th.
Even at that relatively early point, the game had needed it. Four minutes before the goal Buendía and Ings had served notice that they were in sync, Mads Bech Sorensen eventually thwarting the striker with a fine block, but Villa’s territorial advantage had not yielded much else. Both sides were depleted by injuries and, in the visitors’ case, Covid-19, Ollie Watkins’ adding to Gerrard’s concerns with an unspecified issue that denied him a runout against his former club. The result was messy fare although Villa seemed patently better resourced to mitigate the seasonal wear and tear.
Brentford did not see a glimmer of goal until the 29th minute when Mathias Jensen shot wildly after a brief spell of pressure. Beyond that they had been scraping their way to the interval when Wissa intervened out of nothing. Villa had simply not been troubled but were cut open on their left had side by an exchange of passes between Jensen and Mads Roerslev. The latter had room to gain ground and pass inside to the onrushing Wissa, who shifted the ball onto his left foot with a sharp touch before curling past Emiliano Martinez from inside the “D”.
The equaliser brought Gerrard, back in the technical area after missing the defeat to Chelsea with Covid, to his feet in frustration. A rising drive from John McGinn apart, his side had not especially threatened to stretch their lead; they had, though, looked a safe bet to see out the half and a previously flat crowd now had their tails up.
They willed Wissa to find another way through three minutes after the restart but, after being closed down when a similar shot briefly seemed on, he was eventually crowded out. It continued to appear a game more likely to be settled by bolts of brilliance than any sustained cohesion, Buendía heightening that impression by whipping a 22-yard shot past Fernandez’s full-stretch dive and narrowly wide.
Brentford lost Sergi Canos, one of their livelier performers, to injury before the hour; Jensen, who had fleetingly been a pre-match doubt after an issue in the warmup, soon departed too. The game’s shape was barely affected; Villa remained broadly dominant but disappointingly light on ideas, Matt Targett miscuing a decent opportunity to find waiting teammates with a volleyed cross from beyond the far post.
Another lift was badly needed and Frank Onyeka almost provided it when, bursting through the midfield, he weighted a low shot towards Martinez’s left corner and drew a superb save. The keeper tipped it onto the outside of his post and behind; his first significant involvement of the afternoon appeared to have saved a point for Villa.
Similar heroics should have been required of his opposite number almost immediately but, found unmarked by a free-kick, Ings planted a header straight at Fernandez. The game had livened up; for the first time there seemed genuine scope for a winner and Roerslev duly provided it.
The substitute Shandon Baptiste appeared to have lost control on the edge of the Villa area but, given a second bite, found the right wing-back in acres of space. Martinez parried his first effort but was given no chance from the rebound; Brentford had turned it around and, after Fernandez made vital late saves from Ings and Buendía, they could celebrate. – Guardian