Image above: Courtesy of Brentford FC
With trains as rare as stray reindeer, it was no surprise to see many empty seats at the Amex Community Stadium as Brentford set out to give themselves a Christmas present of three points. But fans of both sides who managed the journey on Boxing Day evening – shamefully an 8 o’clock kick-off – contributed to a special atmosphere that the television coverage couldn’t transmit.
Sadly, atmosphere was the only reward for the noble pilgrims from West London. A Brentford squad ravaged by covid and injury failed to get to grips with a home side anxious to record a victory after eleven games without one.
The Bees buzzed well enough in the early stages, despite a line-up born of necessity by Thomas Frank. As Brighton got into their stride, however, Dominic Thompson, a third choice full-back, and a defence lacking Kristoffer Ajer and Zanka began to look stretched as a post-Christmas waistband, while in midfield Mathias Jensen and even Christian Nørgaard failed to muster a creative thought between them.
Just after the half-hour a confident Brighton won the half and, as it turned out, the match, with the first of two splendid goals. Leandro Trossard lured Alvaro Fernández towards him as he advanced on goal before chipping it neatly over the keeper’s head and into the net.
Eight more minutes and and unmarked Neal Maupay, not long since a Bees favourite, ran on to a square pass from Jakub Moder and as a fast-wakening defence bore down on him unleashed a grand shot that swerved a little away from Fernández into the top corner.
The centre-forward was subdued as he was smothered by team-mates, but later was to explain that he didn’t want to celebrate extravagantly in front of the visiting fans. ‘They were very good to me and it’s a great club,’ he told TV. What a gent he is.
Revitalised by Frank’s substitutes, Brentford had the best of a second half in which they quite likely could have collected a point but for a display of acrobatics by home goalkeeper Robert Sánchez and a last-gasp headed clearance from under the crossbar by Marc Cucureller.
Next up for Brentford are League leaders Manchester City, their visitors on Wednesday this week.
That will be a tough one, ’I said to my mate Charlie.
‘Come back Maupay!’ said Charlie.
Brighton: Sánchez; Lamptey, Webster, Burn, Cucurella; Lallana, (sub Groß); Mwepu, Mac Allister; (sub Alzate), Moder; Trossard (sub Welbeck), Maupay.
Brentford: Fernández; Pinnock, Jansson, Canós; Sorenson, Baptiste, Nørgaard, Jensen (substitute Onyeka), Thompson (sub Ghoddos); Mbeumo (sub Wissa), Toney.
Bill Hagerty is a contributing editor of the Bees United supporters’ group