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  • Julian Taylor at the Etihad Stadium

Bees undone by untimely Ajer slip as City claim three vital Premier League points



Manchester City 1 Brentford 0


The night was full of encouragement for Brentford in Manchester - until they were undone by a slip and the most clinical of predators.


The Bees had held off Manchester City for long spells of this nervy clash at the Etihad - until Kristoffer Ajer lost his way with 20 minutes remaining.


Erling Haaland does not pass up golden chances when through on goal, and the powerful Norwegian has now netted against every Premier League opponent as City claimed three vital points in the latest episode towards an ultra-competitive league conclusion. Pep Guardiola's side now sit second and one point behind Liverpool.


It was rough luck for Thomas Frank's visitors who had acquitted themselves well. But there was to be no repeat of previous winning feats in the east side of Manchester. The Bees were determined not to be cruelly exposed again as they were against Liverpool and indeed against City, who beat them 3-1 just 15 days ago in this rearranged fixture.


The universe and the fixture list has been arguably rather unkind to Brentford lately - hosting Liverpool before this trip to City and three London derbies coming up, at West Ham before playing Arsenal and Chelsea. But such is life at the sharp end for the west Londoners, currently 14th in the table and - whisper it - relatively comfortable in terms of points above the relegation zone.


Standards


By Brentford's self imposed high standards, the 4-1 defeat last weekend against Liverpool at home was a particular disappointment in terms of what we have come to expect of them. Defensively shapeless and brittle, the Bees were exposed by the league leaders. And this was poised to be another of those exacting tests.


Bees chief Frank has lamented a number of key absentees lately, with Ethan Pinnock - so often a reassuring rock at the heart of the defence - injured for a few weeks, joining the likes of Rico Henry and Josh Dasilva. Pinnock was sorely missed against Liverpool with his replacement Ajer having a luckless afternoon. And there was an encore for him here.


Frank dropped Nathan Collins, another shorn of confidence, with Zanka coming in. Yoane Wissa also claimed a starting place at the Etihad at the expense of Neal Maupay, with the manager seeking fresh solutions up front. How the Brentford boss much have felt looking at an elite figure such as Kevin De Bruyne sitting on the Manchester CIty bench.


For all that Pep Guardiola's champions enjoyed copious early possession they were not finding a way past Bees' keeper Mark Flekken. Indeed, there were twin threats at the other end as Brentford enjoyed moments of encouragement. Firstly, Frank Onyeka sped on to a fine, raking Wissa pass in the 15th minute, only to be denied by City keeper Ederson. A a couple of minutes later, Ivan Toney fired a free kick a few inches over the crossbar. Intent had been served by the Bees.


Brentford's strategy of keeping numbers behind the ball was working within reason, as City laboured in terms of getting behind their opponents and also displaying slight notes panic in sight of goal.


Ominous


It took until the 34th minute for the Citizens to fashion their best chance, when Manuel Akanji drove a 25 yard shot destined for the roof of the net, only for Flekken to turn the ball over. However, things were taking a more ominous turn for the Bees, who were living dangerously. Under pressure, Ben Mee, amid a congested penalty area, kicked a shot from City attacker Oscar Bobb off the line.


Conversely, with the home fans becoming increasingly nervous, on another raid from the visitors, Ederson made a superb save from a well placed Onyeka header a couple of minutes before the break.


Could Brentford keep repelling Guardiola's men in the second half?


With an animated Frank cajoling his side from the touchline, City had, oddly, the appearance of nervousness with much at stake for them. Lacking rhythm, passes going astray, an inviting shot from Phil Foden blazed over the bar - and even Haaland being kept quiet, Brentford's game plan was working very well. As time wore on, the plaintive cries of 'Blue Moon' by the City faithful told its own story.


Slip


Everything was all going so well for the west Londoners- until the 70th minute and Ajer's critical slip. The Norwegian lost his balance midway inside the Brentford half when a pass by Julian Alvarez sped towards him - and, scenting an opportunity, Haaland bore down on goal before planting a left foot shot past the exposed Flekken. Unsurprisingly, Ajer was the picture of isolated misery in the midst of his compatriot's celebrations.


Haaland then had a headed goal chalked off for offside against Kyle Walker as City looked to cement their advantage. The hosts nearly doubled their lead in the dying minutes only for Flekken to save well from a Foden piledriver.


This was a good and disciplined display form Brentford. Yet, hurt by the finest of margins, the points belonged to City and Guardiola.


Bees: Flekken, Mee, Ajer, Roerslev (Ghoddos 88), Norgaard, Wissa (Maupay 67), Reguilon (Lewis-Potter 76), Zanka, Onyeka (Damsgaard 88), Toney, Janelt (Jensen 76)






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