De Bruyne lines up an attacking triangle with hat-trick-scoring Foden on the left and newly returned Haarland
Third season: City bounce back
Great, scintillating football for the first 45 minutes, with a splendid goal and every hope that the Bees could pull three much-needed points from what has developed into a troublesome second half of the season. But, as all Brentford faithful supporters know, one shouldn’t count their points before the final whistle, and even then it’s worth double-checking in case the opposition scored once or twice when we aren’t looking.
The opening of the game, once the Bees realised they were not playing the big bad wolf, just one of the best sides in the game, saw the Gtech scratch-eleven responding with gumption and do-or-die energy, preferably that of the ‘do’ variety. It was a pleasure to watch therm.
Facing one of the favourites to win the Premier League championship – Manchester’s most powerful side and Liverpool are currently jostling for leadership at the top of the table – Brentford were too frequently knocked out of their stride. But soon Ivan Toney and Neal Maupay hunting deep in a City defence that gave every impression they were having a stroll in the park spoiled, looked capable of seizing one or two of the chances on offer, while Mark Flekken hit a form we didn’t know he possessed and, indeed, had criticised lack of on various occasions.
It was difficult to count how many times Flekken saved from the raiding parties of Erling Haaland, Julian Alvarez and Phil Foden – more of him later – but around 21 minutes in, Flekken, presumably deciding to take matters into his own hands, thumped a long, well-aimed goal-kick up-field.
Toney saw it coming and so did two City rearguard defenders, but Toney’s muscle won the contest and the ball raced on at the feet of Maupay, who judged perfectly the rush from his goalmouth of Ederson and slotted past him a shot that clipped the inside of a post on its way and into the net.
Celebrating his fifth goal in as many games, Maupay, became engulfed by his team-mates. City look as if there must have been a mistake, but the home supporters’ gleeful chorus of ‘There’s one only one Mark Flekken’ proved it was real.
Maupay attempts to repeat his audacious run at goal
Brentford rode the wave of success until the minutes added by referee Jerrad Gillett, were running out, by which time City had shaken themselves back into shape and Flekken made what retrospectively seems his first error. De Bruyne sent a polished 40-yard ball that was only part cleared by Ethan Pinnock and Foden pounced to equalise for the visitors.
It was that man again – only 23 years old but of special maturity – who made space to guide his header past Flekken and, as it turned out, settle the game. And it was this remarkable player who popped up after seventy minutes to evade the attentions of Pinnock and other defenders before turning what had been a fine first-half for Flekken became very much a so-so one for the second.
Bees attack in added time sees Manchester City’s goalkeeper Ederson race out to clear the ball
Overall, Flekken produced the best performance seen from him since the season’s opener. He can be proud of his afternoon’s work, especially the meticulous assist he supplied with the superkick that allowed Maupay to get among the goals again with a panache that might keep quiet the hyper-critics among his own supporters.
Toney was not quite the force we have seen since remerging from his suspension – two of the chances that came his way also came to nothing, a special shame as the fierce volley that sailed over Ederson’s bar would have given the final score a healthier respectability.
Of the others running themselves into the ground, Mikkel Damsgaard, a substitute sent on with fifteen minutes to go, impressed once again in midfield – long may he continue to do so.
They are still smarting from the injuries that have seen the Bees slip to fifteenth in the table, I observed to my mate Charlie. When will they get a rest?
‘Not next week,’ said Charlie. ‘That’s when we play away to Wolves, who’ve beaten us twice and drawn the other game so far this season.’
And next? ‘Liverpool,’ he said.
Brentford: Flekken; Roerslev, Collins, Pinnock, Mee, Reguilón (substitute Ajer 79); Jensen (Damsgaard 76), Nørgaard, Janelt (Yarmoliuk 76); Maupay (Baptiste 90), Toney.
Manchester City: Ederson; Walker, Dias, Ake, Gvardiol; Rodrig\o, Alvarez; Bernardo (Doku 71); Foden; De Bruyne, Haaland (Kovacic 86).
Bill Hagerty is a contributing editor to the Bees United website. Photographs by Liz Vercoe.
Bill, who lives in Chiswick and is a former Fleet Street editor, was named Journalist Laureate 2023 the London Press Club awards:
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