What a quite wonderful difference having an extra couple of players can make. Brentford beat Wolves 2-0 at Molineux on Saturday, looking like a team transformed.
It has been well documented (in Brentford, at least) how much The Bees have been decimated by absentees for huge swathes of the season. Yet suddenly that challenge feels like it is nowhere near as grim as earlier in the campaign when even Buzzette was getting perilously close to making the match day squad.
The returning Ivan Toney has hit the ground running. He looks fitter than the proverbial butcher’s dog and sharp as a knife. The combination being forged with loan signing Neal Maupay one which continued to shine against Wolves.
Toney on fire and Maupay making a second coming to match even that of the legendary Jota. Winding up opponents with even greater levels of you know what than we could ever have hoped for. Size no barrier and the player brimming within confidence to match the love being shown from the terraces.
The reward this time around being Ivan’s third goal in four games and the deadly duo’s sixth between them over the same period.
Then there’s Sergio Reguilón. His performances so far in the left-back position have been part revelatory, part blessed relief after the team have had to limp along doing their very best to cover this most glaring (of many) positional gaps.
As for Mark Flekken in nets, well wow! We all loved David Raya but, perhaps, some people forget that he took a while to settle in to the team (and also shipped five the last time he played against us before signing at Griffin Park). To build that relationship and trust with his back line and the supporters.
Goalkeeper is always that most vulnerable of positions. The one where any error is exacerbated tenfold due to the inevitable consequence – a goal conceded. That last line of defence penetrated in the most soul destroying fashion.
Last time out, against Manchester City, Mark stepped things up to hitherto unseen levels of, frankly, world class goalkeeping. He was incredible and scooped the star player award in that one by a country mile. Against Wolves he did it again. Confidence pouring through him and the team like a raging torrent. Mark’s been here all campaign but, like Ivan, Neal and Sergio it feels as though he’s a new man. Huge portions of humble pie being eaten on social media and beyond this morning.
We’ll talk more about all of these shortly but the key takeaways from the game were, the win and the clean sheet aside, another cracking performance from Brentford in recent weeks.
We should have beaten Spurs and could have beaten Manchester City. Forest were put to the sword as the last few games have seen our levels really step up. Ironically Alanis, the team who have predominantly caused the headaches have been Wolves themselves. Even putting the FA Cup to one side, the horror show at the Gtech was one which caused more than a few sleepless nights.
This time it was different. Brentford out of the traps flying and allowed to play a high line by cautious looking opponents. Don’t let the stats deceive you, it was Brentford who dominated. The afore mentioned Sergio and also Nathan Collins allowed to push up (somebody really should make a chant about that) as chance followed chance.
Eventually, the goal came. Wolves had already seen the prolific Matheus Cunha forced off early before their misery was compounded by Christian Norgaard. His perfectly timed header from Reguilón’s corner kick due reward for the Bees. The scent of goal had hung heavy in the air with Neal and Nathan, in particular, coming close before the skipper took the team’s performance to an inevitable next level given the persistent threat.
That’s not to say Wolves weren’t in this one either. Flekken pulling off a quite incredible save from Pedro Neto to preserve his own defence’s impregnability. Unmarked from six yards out, with the whole of the goal to aim at, the downward header seemed bound for the back of the net until Brentford’s number one flung himself down to scoop it clear from the line. Like a bear clubbing salmon in the river, he got a giant paw behind the ball to push it to safety. Top mark(s).
Then there was our old friend, VAR. Craig Dawson’s outpouring of joy at equalising from a second half corner proving to be somewhat early as the video replay confirmed he was, indeed, in an offside position. Very much a premature celebration (come on, we’re better than that) from Dawson and with that, Wolves looked spent.
Brentford pushed on. If there were to be any worries about dropping points from a winning position (a stat that surely somebody would have mentioned had it been of any actual relevance) then who else but Ivan was on hand to put them firmly to bed?
His link up play with Vitaly came to an inevitable conclusion as the Brentford fans were treated to yet another calm, calm finish. The run being timed to perfection. The execution, deadly. 2-0 Bees and with little under a quarter hour remaining, any angst nullified. As much as it could be until the final whistle – it’s Brentford, innit?
All of which means that as of Sunday morning, Brentford go in to the forthcoming double header with Liverpool and then Manchester City in fine spirits. We’ll look to those games in the coming days but for now, the ongoing question as to who made the top five for Brentford? Likewise, who will scoop the overall player of the season? As always, there are five points awarded for star player, four for second place, three for third etc with the totals added up game by game.
2023-24 Brentford Player Ratings from Matchweek 23 (vs Wolves)
1st (Star Player: 5 points) – Sergio Reguilón
Last week’s top five saw Sergio placed second and the question asked whether he could turn out to be be this season’s equivalent of Christian Eriksen? Against Wolves, Sergio answered with an emphatic yes as he went one better to take our star player.
Spoiler alert – it was close to being a 1-2 repeat of the Man City game but this time around, in my opinion, Sergio just edged it. Like the much missed Rico Henry, the attacking threat he brings down the flank brings such added dimension to the Brentford style. Turns us into a team that thrive on proactive attack from all areas rather than reactive defence.
Before his delightful corner straight on to the head of Captain Christian for 1-0, his ball in to Nathan Collins should have reaped a similar reward. It was a slide rule pass that bisected the Wolves defence to drop almost perfectly in front of the back stick. With apologies for going all Dean Smith, it deserved more but kudos to last gasp defending.
Let’s be clear that it wasn’t just these chances. Sergio gave it his all for 90 minutes and at this rate is well on track to becoming a Brentford hero.
2nd (4 points) – Mark Flekken
This was another to rank up there with the Man City performance. Whilst there wasn’t the same proliferation of saves as in that one, there were still enough. Not to mention those game changing moments that ensured we claimed all three points rather than one.
The save from Neto was quite incredible. Close to Gordon Banks against Pele levels of athleticism and ability from almost point blank range. If you haven’t seen it, go do it now.
Then there was a second-half moment of shi*thousery to rival the best of them (my word, having Neal around is great for the team).
With an opposition throw-in awarded near our box and Wolves out numbering us, Flekken sprinted out to grab the ball from behind the touch line. He then carried it ten yards back on to the field of play before dropping it. By the time Wolves were able to take the throw, the Bees’ back line had caught up with play and got into position.
The threat nullified in the most unorthodox of styles and the yellow card that was understandably shown, worth its weight in gold. A cult player in the making.
3rd (3 points) – Nathan Collins
If anyone had a point to prove in this game it was former Wolves’ player Nathan. He’d likely be the first to admit that the 4-1 reverse in the home game probably wasn’t his strongest performance (that’s the polite phrase) but he was like a man transformed this time around.
That high line we mentioned previously saw him create a glorious chance for the team as he played Neal Maupay in early on. Minutes later he had his own opportunity as Sergio’s defence splitter came oh so close to being steered home for the lead.
Alas, it wasn’t to be but it was the sort of blistering start that gave the team confidence to continue pushing up (somebody really should etc etc). That turned threat into eventual reward.
When called upon, he was there at the back doing his day job. One of those games where Nathan was here, there and everywhere. Not a foot out of place and a top, top game.
4th (2 points) – Vitaly Janelt
Tough calls for the final two spots. Christian Norgaard and Neal amongst the potential contenders but for me, Vitaly and Ivan take the points.
Vitaly is fourth. Like Nathan, he seemed to be everywhere. The combination to set up the second goal for Ivan was as delightful a passing move as one could hope to see. The ball into space to meet the onrushing forward just wonderful.
Yet it was as much his duties towards the other end that kept Brentford safe when Wolves flickered in to life. The precursor to the Dawson ‘goal’ was Vitaly’s brilliant challenge in front of Neto when the goal beckoned. Instead of potential equaliser, the ball was blocked and deflected clear for a corner.
Vitaly had that sort of game. The player who so often misses out on the points, this time around there is no question.
5th (1 point) – Ivan Toney
The goal will grab the headlines. Will only increase his value ahead of an inevitable summer move. The reading of the game something of which he has an almost sixth sense, ghosting in behind the back line from nowhere to give Vitaly’s pass the finish it warranted.
It was a finish that takes his top flight record to one every two games with only Erling Haaland as potentially deadlier. As we saw at Wolves, Ivan’s all round game is as much his strength as his finishing. That combination with Neal and ability to open up the game at vital to Brentford as the goals.
Enjoy him whilst you can.
2023-24 Brentford Player Ratings – Top 5 Players Overall (after Matchweek 23)
All of which means that the only change in the top positions is Nathan Collins going clear in fifth. However, with a clutch of players just outside this group the 2023/24 top five has a long way to run
1st – Ethan Pinnock (37 points)
2nd – Christian Norgaard (35 points)
3rd – Bryan Mbeumo (31 points)
4th – Mathias Jensen (27 points)
5th – Nathan Collins (21 points)
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