Brentford got their ball back, although it needed an almighty wrestle. After Manchester City won here on Wednesday, Ivan Toney likened their thankless chasing of possession to being robbed by “year 11s” in a playground kickabout. Here the striker was similarly peripheral but it proved immaterial because, through persistence and sheer bloody-mindedness, his side confounded most of the afternoon’s evidence with a comeback win that makes their new-year outlook decidedly sunnier.
In doing so they leapfrogged Aston Villa, who will kick themselves at letting this slip. It was not that Steven Gerrard’s players ran Brentford ragged, it was more that, after taking the lead when a piece of magic from Emiliano Buendía set up Danny Ings, they failed to build on their advantage despite broadly dominating the entire game. They were entirely untroubled until Yoane Wissa brilliantly levelled shortly before half‑time and, although that pattern persisted for most of the second period, they did not open up their opponents nearly enough to make their territory count.
Emboldened, Brentford found a new lease of life as the clock ticked down. They served Villa a warning when Frank Onyeka drew a marvellous save from Emiliano Martínez and, seven minutes from time, found their hero. Mads Roerslev has been a deputy for much of his time at Brentford and, at 22, has made a modest 32 career starts. He had a convincing game at right wing-back, though, and had already teed up Wissa’s leveller when Shandon Baptiste found him in space on the right of the box. Martínez parried his first effort but had no chance from the emphatically converted rebound. It was the Dane’s first goal at senior level.
“It’s a fantastic Brentford story, classic us, bringing in a young player that hadn’t played a full season for anyone,” Thomas Frank said of Roerslev, who joined in 2019 after failing to break through at FC Copenhagen. “He’s growing. He got an assist and an even better goal today.”
Frank had been perplexed by Brentford’s performance in the first 43 minutes, finding them sluggish and fretting about their body language. “We were low on everything, quality and energy, in the first half,” he said, and it appeared Villa would make them pay. After a scrappy opening phase Buendía stepped up to provide a reminder of the quality he has rarely shown since joining from Norwich for £30m last summer.
To the less imaginative eye there was little on when Buendía took a return pass from Douglas Luiz 10 yards inside Brentford’s half. Christian Nørgaard was quickly at his back but the Argentinian was just too smart, losing his opponent in one movement with a giddying two-touch spin and drag back. Now the hosts’ defence was exposed and Buendía made no mistake, supplying Ings with the type of delicately weighted through-ball that earned him renown at Carrow Road. The finish across Álvaro Fernández was impeccable and Villa should have pushed on from there.
“Big time,” Gerrard said when asked if they had missed an opportunity. “I couldn’t believe we were level at half-time, I was scratching my head. It was a matter of when the second goal would come.”
The fact was, though, that beyond a rising drive from John McGinn, the visitors had not come especially close to scoring it. Perhaps they missed Ollie Watkins, who was denied a reunion with his old club due to an unspecified problem. Brentford had offered nothing beyond a wayward swipe from Mathias Jensen but, when the midfielder exchanged passes with Roerslev, Villa backed off and provided an opening. There was still plenty to do: Roerslev found the onrushing Wissa, who cajoled the ball on to his left foot with a smart touch and curled it past Martínez from inside the D.
“Sometimes you need that moment of magic in a game where it wasn’t working,” Frank said. It enlivened the crowd but Brentford, already cursing a lengthy injury list, lost Jensen and Sergi Canós to knocks after the break. They were more competitive but remained on the back foot even though Villa seemed light on ideas. Then Onyeka seized the initiative by forcing Martínez to tip onto his left post and, while Ings planted a free header at Fernández in response, there was a visible opportunity for Brentford.
Roerslev took it and Gerrard fumed. “They’ve had three good attacks and scored two goals, it’s not good enough from our point of view,” he said. “If you lose your grit, your fight and your aggression to stop conceding goals it’s going to leave you vulnerable.”
Villa belatedly worked Fernández through Ings and Buendía, while the substitute Trezeguet shamed his club by attempting to bail them out with a disgraceful dive in added time. It was too late; Gerrard faced the most disappointing defeat of his short reign while Brentford, amid the rough and tumble of the schoolyard, continue to mix it with the big boys.