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  • Writer's pictureBy Dan Evans

Toney wins the battle of the strikers but Brentford fall further behind in race for Europe

Brentford (0) 1 Toney 65

Aston Villa (0) 1 Luiz 87

It was inevitable that the meeting of two in-form strikers contending for a place in the England squad would be dominated by one or the other at Brentford on Saturday.

Despite former Bee Ollie Watkins returning to Brentford for the first time since his departure in 2020 on a run of 11 goals in 12 matches that has propelled Aston Villa into Champions League contention, it was his replacement in west London who more likely went home content.

Arms outstretched, drawing the acclaim of his adoring public not long after the hour mark, Toney had just tucked home a Bryan Mbuemo cross to cap a performance that perhaps explained why it is he rather than Watkins who is currently Harry Kane’s first reserve for Gareth Southgate - and more importantly why he is so adored at Brentford regardless of on-going off field issues.

Despite an FA charge for breaching betting rules hanging over his head, Toney has now scored 19 goals this season. He surpassed his tally for last term by early February even after a month off for a World Cup which he surely should have been at, and his intelligent movement and expert link-up play was once again on display in this draw against Villa.

Although he had fewer touches than any other player on the pitch in the first half, he was still the game’s most dangerous presence.

A smart early combination with Mbuemo teed up the Cameroonian winger to shoot powerfully at Emi Martiniez in the Villa goal, before a similarly intelligent pass released Vitaly Janelt as he sent in a cross that only a brilliant interception by Alex Moreno stopped Mbuemo turning into the net.

A game of little rhythm and supreme defensive organisation unsurprisingly resulted in few chances to score. Toney’s only opportunity of the first half came and went when a scooped effort from a Kevin Schade cross was placed too close to Martinez, allowing the ‘keeper to make a reaction save.

Although the goals have continued to arrive at a steady rate for Toney in recent weeks, it has been the form of Watkins that has caught the eye. However, his run of scoring never looked likely to be extended at the Gtech Community Stadium.

One of his few moments of note arrived when he set up John McGinn to curl wide from range before the break, yet that was one of just 15 successful passes all afternoon and he failed to register a shot on goal until an awkward falling header in second half injury time.

Whilst this was a result and performance that once again showed what Toney brings to Brentford, an indication of what life might be like without their talisman arrived early in the second period.

In a game of few chances and even fewer clear-cut openings, Mbuemo looked up and spotted Brentford’s January signing Schade in one of the few patches of space that opened up all afternoon.

The young forward has joined on loan with an obligation to buy in the summer. His attempt to finish on this occasion indicated Matthew Benham’s famous transfer experts may need to dip back into the market should Toney’s charges result in a lengthy ban.

With just replacement goalkeeper Robin Olsen to beat, Schade hurriedly headed the ball towards goal. An unconvincing save from Olsen offered a second, glorious opportunity, but with the net gaping and the home crowd ready to jump from their seats, the German international blazed well wide of the target.

Fortunately, Toney’s moment arrived not long after. A controlled finish at the end of Mbuemo’s teasing cross earned him a first goal from open play in four and looked destined to earn Brentford a merited three points.

However, with less than five minutes to play, brilliantly composed work from Emi Buendia saw him set up Douglas Luiz to score an equaliser that left Thomas Frank hurling a bottle of water across his technical area.

Even though Brentford did not pick up the result they deserved and are now without a win in six, there can be little doubt about which forward won the battle of the England hopefuls.

Brentford: (4-3-3) Raya – Hickey, Pinnock, Mee, Henry – Jensen, Norgaard, Janelt – Mbuemo, Toney, Schade. Subs not used: Cox, Zanka, Ghoddos, Baptiste, Roerslev


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