Brentford 3 Nottingham Forest 2

Bringing ultimate versatility: Ivan Toney relishing being back centre stage

Third Season: Welcom back Ivan

Thomas Frank made no secret of what he hoped to get from the game: Ivan Toney to score and the team to win. Too much to ask? Not really, especially as Toney was on the scoresheet at 19 minutes to equalise Forest’s three-minutes opener.

It wasn’t any old goal, of course. Toney was playing his first match following eight months’ suspension (266 days, actually, since Nottingham Forest lost 1-2 at the Gtech).

Toney scored that day also – a free kick not dissimilar to his comeback strike, except that was from even further away from the goal. This time it was also controversial, causing some of the Forest camp to howl when Toney moved the ball slightly before taking an extraordinary free kick, but it died away when it seemed no-one could actually say which law had been infringed.

Toney remained unflustered, as is his habit. His shot kept low for the entire journey into just inside the right-hand upright, somehow managing to skip over the prone Forest player deployed to prevent the ball breaching the human wall. Goalkeeper Matt Turner stood no chance at all.

Bearing in mind that Forest, having gone ahead through Danilo after just three minutes, were dominant up until the equaliser, the change in Brentford’s attitude and fluidity of play was especially remarkable. The defence became more regimental in quickly reshaping their line, pushing the opposition back towards halfway with their frustration suffering silently with only gritted teeth to show.

Mee’s goal equalises

Brentford’s ascendancy continued with Mathias Jensen – regaining his poise since returning from getting demobbed from the squad’s injury list – flighted a corner into the penalty area, where the defence appeared to have a momentary blackout. Ben Mee must have noticed and he arrived at speed to place a perfect airborne header beyond Turner’s skills.

Come half-time and the team seemed to be enjoying themselves and their lead. Could it last. Of course not!

Presumably the interval chit-chat consisted of more than discussions about the weather (cold but bright). Certainly, upon resumption Forest largely gave up trying to penetrate the home side’s confidence in their own territory. Pot-shots and more sophisticated long-range efforts began to irritate the defence and Toney and his cohorts began to struggle when attempting to surge goalwards.

Keane Lewis-Potter saw his effort smack the crossbar, otherwise chances to score diminished as Forest gained the upper hand and gained parity through a masterly flick by Chris Wood that fizzed into the far side of Mark Flekken’s goal. Forest’s mobile choir engaged once again with a selection of chants, some of which might have demoralised Toney if he was the type to take the slightest notice of such ribald frippery.

As it was, he was to be found covering every yard of the Gtech pitch, winning every ball in the air – how does he do that? – to helping Lewis-Potter and Mikkel Damsgaard grow in stature by the minute and trying to assist Neal Maupay as he found himself teeny compared to some of the muscular visiting centre backs.

Final goalscorer Maupay reluctantly leaves the field

Thwarted he may have been on many occasions, Maupay had a triumph on 68 minutes when Mads Roerslev produced a highly serviceable cross in his direction. Attended by two big fellows – big compared to Neal, that is – he made a turn so definitive his attendants ended up almost dancing a foxtrot together as the striker struck, his left-foot driving the ball wide of the hapless Turner.

Forest immediately called upon referee Darren England to disallow the goal on the grounds of handball by Maupay but VAR swiftly delivered a not-guilty verdict, which did nothing to deter the visitors from giving notice later that they would complain about Toney’s goal and Maupay’s, one of his finest.

The visitors were still smarting from what they saw as chicanery when Mr England added ten minutes to the action and the home crowd suffered frayed nerves as three points ticked away in line with the extra time. My mate Charlie, a knowledgeable student of the game, was resolute in insisting that referees can exercise discretion on free kick ball placement, give or take a yard.

He didn’t move it a yard, I told Charlie. ‘No, now how about another puzzle’, said Charlie – when Toney scored and ran to the dug outs to hold up a shirt with the legend “For you Uncle Brian”. Who is Uncle Brian?’

THAT GOAL. Photograph by Will Hagerty

Brentford: Flekken; Collins, Pinnock, Mee; Roerslev (substitute Ajer 90), Damsgaard, (Baptiste 74), Janelt, Jensen (Yarmoliuk 90+7), Lewis-Potter (Dasilva 90), Maupay (Reguilón 74), Toney.

Nottingham Forest: Turner; Montiel (substitute Aquilera 86), Omobamidele, Santiago Costa dos Santos, Tavares; Mangala, Danilo; Dominquez, Yates (N Williams 62), Hudson-Odoi; Wood.

Bill Hagerty is a contributing editor to the Bees United website. Photographs by Liz Vercoe and Will Hagerty.

Bill, who lives in Chiswick and is a former Fleet Street editor, has been named Journalist Laureate 2023 the London Press Club awards:

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