Ollie Watkins scored the only goal of the game at Griffin Park as Brentford beat leaders West Bromwich Albion to hot up the Championship automatic promotion race.
The Bees striker’s goal-line finish in the 16th minute was enough to leave Slaven Bilic’s Baggies still winless – and goalless – in their two games since the return of football following the coronavirus suspension.
But Brentford’s second straight victory moved them to within five points of top spot, before second-placed Leeds United’s game with fourth-placed Fulham on Saturday.
Leeds, who trail Albion only on goal difference, need only a point to return to the top. But if Fulham were to win, it would reduce the gap between the top two and the chasing pack to four points.
The game’s only goal in west London was a beautifully worked team move to earn Watkins his 23rd Championship goal of the season, taking him level as the division’s top scorer with Fulham’s Aleksandar Mitrovic. But it still owed a little to luck.
A nice five-pass cross-field move got Josh Dasilva into a menacing position inside the left half of the penalty area. But, when his low left-foot cross took a cruel touch off the covering Semi Ajayi’s heel, that wrong-footed keeper Sam Johnstone to allow the grateful Watkins to turn the ball in almost on the goal-line, muscling in ahead of the recalled Ahmed Hegazi.
For all their attacking endeavour in a decent game, the closest Albion came to an equaliser was when half-time substitute Kenneth Zohore crashed a right-foot curling shot from 20 yards against the bar.
Bees truly dreaming of the top flight
While Albion have now gone four league games without a goal, going back to the 1-0 home defeat by Wigan and the 0-0 draw at Swansea that preceded the season suspension, Brentford have made a tremendous restart.
If Saturday’s two late goals at Fulham were not enough to get them excited, beating the Baggies must really have Bees fans now seriously dreaming of starting life in their new home come September in the Premier League.
They were forced into a late change in midfield when Mathias Jensen injured a quad muscle in the warm-up, with Emiliano Marcondes – one of Saturday’s goal heroes against Fulham – forced to start in his place. But it did not deflect them and, on the first-half balance of play, they were worth their interval lead.
Albion could have been hampered when main playmaker Matheus Pereira was hurt following a hefty challenge from Christian Norgaard.
He stayed on following lengthy treatment and, following the introduction of Zohore and Filip Krovinovic in a double interval reshuffle, Albion did at least carry a greater threat in a revised 4-3-3 formation.
Yet, apart from Zohore’s effort against the bar just seven minutes after coming on, their only effort was from Pereira who had a run and left-foot shot straight at keeper David Raya. And Thomas Frank’s Bees had late chances to have won by more.
Brentford, who have now gone three-and-a-half games without leaking a goal, now go to Reading on Tuesday, while Bilic’s Baggies are back in action 24 hours later at Sheffield Wednesday.
Brentford boss Thomas Frank:
“We scored a beautiful goal on the counter and I would have liked to see more football from us like that, but they are the leaders and have been an unbelievably good side all season.
“Our performance team and the medical staff have done a great job in keeping the players fit during the lockdown period. But all credit to the players for staying fit and pushing each other.
“Now we’d like to see Fulham win at Leeds on Saturday and create a truly competitive last seven games of the season. But, for us, the most important is now at Reading on Tuesday. Winning these two games will mean nothing if we don’t follow it up.”
West Bromwich Albion head coach Slaven Bilic:
“We were below par in the first half. We weren’t aggressive enough.
“In the second half, we improved a lot and we had some domination but there were not enough clear-cut chances.
“We were still not at that level we have been for most of the season. We were too nervous with our passing.”