Brentford 5, Leeds United 2

Image above: Brentford fans at the Brentford – Leeds match, 3 September 2022

Revenge is sweet

‘Looking at strikers on form, Harry Kane is number one, but there is not a better one after him other than Ivan Toney.’ So spoke Thomas Frank and a host of commentators and pundits following the Brentford hotshot’s hat-trick against a Leeds side revitalised by some buying and selling and a rethink of their playing strategy.

First things first: what is the new plan introduced up there in Yorkshire that has been introduced by Leeds United’s head coach, Jesse Marsch?

Well, according to Jesse Vertical Play dictates that as soon as you win the ball, you are looking to get a shot on goal. You are looking at a matter of seconds before the ball is in the box or around the box and you are putting pressure on the opposition’s goalkeeper. It’s direct football, without being route one.

Clear? I thought not, so let us move on to the rise and rise of Ivan Toney, beginning with a flashback to the last game of the Bees’ return season to the Premier League, when only victory could save Leeds from relegation to the Championship. Several mishaps determined that Brentford finished with nine men on the pitch – careless, you may conclude – and Leeds won 2-1, guaranteeing them another PL season and removing some of the gloss of the Bees’ promotion the previous season, although their collection of players and supporters being what it is, limited depression lasted only a few minutes before the Freedom from Desire song and dance took over.

Now flash forward to Saturday’s first return match, which saw the home side start out like a firecracker. What a difference a few months makes. Leeds, dangerous in attack, resolute in defence, matched the Bees for all of half-an-hour. Then the fireworks really began, with one player constructing a game plan of his own, namely win the ball, get it into the goal and repeat as many times as possible.

A demonstration of this began after half-an-hour when a long throw-in was seized upon by Toney, arriving like an express train, only to be brought down from behind by winger Luis Sinisterra. Referee Robert Jones appeared not to know whether it was a penalty or teatime and four minutes passed while he visited the touchline monitor and studied the evidence before awarding the penalty. Toney, as is his wont, fired his kick into a corner of the net while keeper Illan Meslier departed in the opposite direction.

Despite Leeds’ efforts, Brentford’s pressure mounted following the goal and thirteen minutes later Toney scored his second with a finely judged free kick from outside the box that flew inside that same goalpost as Meslier gaped, possibly in disbelief.

Sinisterra, possibly beginning to see the light shining in the Brentford striker’s eyes, narrowed the scoring gap – a splendid shot that deserved more appreciation than it received – just before the interval. But this was Toney’s day and he claimed it and a hat-trick after fifty-eight minutes with the most picturesque goal of the trio.

A long ball into the Leeds’ half required Meslier to make ground in an effort to claim it, but Keane Lewis-Potter shared his ambition. The lurking Toney collected the ball when neither succeeded and set of on a diagonal run that evaded the remainder of the defence and a scampering Meslier, suffering, it seemed, from the misapprehension that he could catch him.

Toney’s chip floated over a rapidly backtracking defender Robin Koch on its way into the net. Meslier, possibly by now searching for a pair of binoculars, came third.

Visiting coach Marsch departed around this time, red-carded for over-the-top appeals for a penalty that did not impress Mr Jones. Then Marc Roca prodded another Leeds’ goal, only for the Bees to respond within a minute when Bryan Mbeumo raced clear to stroke home score number four.

Done and dusted? Not yet. In the first minute of the eight of extra time awarded by Mr Jones – that’s right, eight! – Yoane Wissa planted the ball in Meslier’s net for the fifth, his present to himself on his twenty-sixth birthday.

The home crowd didn’t take long to launch into Freedom From Desire and the arm-waving celebration that accompanies it. Ivan Toney took the lap of honour with his teammates, match ball clutched under his arm.

‘And all done without vertical play,’ I observed to my mate Charlie.

‘Eh?’ said Charlie.

Brentford:  Raya; Hickey, Jansson, Mee, Henry; Baptiste (substitute Onyeka 68), Janelt (M Jorgensen 67), Jensen (Damsgaard 83); Mbeumo (Wissa 83), Toney, Lewis-Potter (Dasilva 59).

Leeds: Meslier; Drameh (Ayling 70), Koch; Llorente; Struijk; Adams, Roca (Greenwood 83); Sinisterra (Summerville 59), Aaronson, Harrison (Bamford 45); Gelhardt (Klich 59).

Bill Hagerty is a contributing editor of the Bees United supporters’ group. Pictures by Liz Vercoe.

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