Brentford started 2016 with a sickening late loss to Birmingham City. The Bees dominated for long periods but were beaten by Birmingham, who scored an 89th minute winner to take the points. When Philipp Hofmann came off the substitute’s bench to equalise inside the last 15 minutes it looked as if The Bees would take at least a point from the afternoon. But Maikel Kieftenbeld struck at the death to give the hosts the win.
The defeat was tough to take for Brentford. They had the better of a relatively quiet first half without really working Tomasz Kuszczak in the home goal and then conceded soon after the restart. But they responded superbly and when Hofmann levelled it up, it was the least Brentford deserved. They had chances to win it but Birmingham took the one that came their way and snatched the points.
Brentford started positively. They played in an attacking manner from the first whistle, looking to get players forward and create chances. Ryan Woods and Toumani Diagouraga dominated the centre of the field and looked to find the attacking midfield trio – Alan Judge, John Swift and Sergi Canós – in pockets of space.
But Birmingham were well-drilled defensively and made it hard for The Bees. They had two defensive midfield players happy to sit in front of a back four that ventured forward infrequently and let Brentford come on to them. The Bees dominated possession and were allowed to have the ball in their own half, Birmingham only pressing once Brentford crossed halfway. However, due to the blue wall they faced, there were few first half chances, and no really good ones.
An early short corner almost set up a chance for Lasse Vibe but Judge’s cross was scrambled away. Judge then curled a free kick wide from 25 yards after a Swift run had been unceremoniously halted by Kieftenbeld. Vibe was just unable to get on to a lofted ball forward from Harlee Dean soon after before a run from Woods led to him firing across the face of goal with no Brentford player on hand to tap in.
Judge had a shot blocked by Paul Caddis after a fine weaving run from Swift and Canós had a shot blocked soon after. Brentford appeared to be the team most likely to get a first half goal and should have done so when James Tarkowski flicked a Judge corner on but no-one was able to touch it in at the far post. Swift also missed the target with an effort after good work by Diagouraga before, in the dying stages of the half, Vibe brought down a Jake Bidwell cross but was crowded out before he could shoot.
Birmingham offered almost nothing in an attacking sense in the first half. Jon Toral headed a Caddis cross wide but his most noteworthy impact of the opening 45 came in the dying seconds when he was very lucky to escape with only a caution after a horrific lunging tackle on Bidwell that caught him well above the ankle. Referee Graham Scott could not have seen the incident in full due to the lateness of the tackle and that may have saved Toral.
The home side were also hindered by an injury to striker Clayton Donaldson. The former Brentford man was hurt in an aerial challenge with Dean just past the half hour and limped his way to the break, playing almost no part in proceedings. It was no surprise to see him withdrawn at half time and replaced with James Vaughan.
The loss of Donaldson made Birmingham change the way they played. With a shorter striker, they could not play long and had to move the ball through midfield. They looked a more dangerous team at the start of the second half and started to create chances. David Button was forced to save from Viv Solomon-Otabor after he weaved through and Toral fired acrobatically over the bar after a free kick was half cleared.
Brentford also had chances at the start of the second half – Woods fired wide from 25 yards after picking up a Judge lay-off and Vibe fired across the face of goal when getting on to a Swift pass – but when Birmingham scored ten minutes after the break, it wasn’t completely against the run of play. It was no surprise that Toral made the most of Mr Scott’s first half leniency to play a key part. The attacking midfield player found space and picked a perfect pass for Jacques Maghoma to run on to and smash past Button.
But Brentford responded well to falling behind. Birmingham seemed content to sit on their lead, retreating in to a defensive shape while The Bees immediately found another gear, passing the ball in a more incisive manner and using a now very wet playing surface to their advantage. Tarkowski could have equalised almost immediately when he got in front of Birmingham goalkeeper Kuszczak to meet a Judge corner but he headed it down and wide.
The Bees dominated the later stages of the game, they played on the front foot and were happy to take chances to create openings. Judge fired a free kick in to a defensive wall and a Canós volley from a Bidwell cross was blocked soon after. Judge then fired wide after exchanging passes with Canós before Hofmann shot wide on the turn. Judge should have levelled it with 18 minutes remaining when Diagouraga’s pass set him through with only Kuszczak to beat but he lifted the shot over the bar.
Birmingham were trying to counter attack and there were chances for Vaughan, smashed over at the near post, Solomon-Otabor, blocked, and Kieftenbeld, blasted high. But it was Brentford who had the initiative and they deservedly levelled with 13 minutes to go. A short free kick was worked between Maxime Colin and Judge before the latter let fly from 35 yards, it dipped, swerved and Kuszczak would only hold it, allowing Hofmann to react quickest and tap in.
Brentford looked the likely winners at that point and set about getting their second goal. Andy Gogia had a shot from a Judge corner with his first touch that Kuszczak saved and Hofmann then volleyed a Colin cross over. Dean then forced Kuszczak in to another save with an overhead effort. But it was Birmingham who won it. Vaughan got away down the left and fired in a shot that turned in to a perfect cross for Kieftenbeld, arriving late, to tap in.
There was still time for Brentford to chase it and they poured bodies forward. Kuszczak punched a Judge free kick away and countless balls were crossed in to the penalty area. But Birmingham’s defensive resolve held and they kept The Bees out to take the win.
Birmingham City: Kuszczak; Caddis, Morrison, Robinson, Grounds; Kieftenbeld, Gleeson; Solomon-Otabor, Toral (sub Shinnie 83 mins), Maghoma (sub Davis 75 mins); Donaldson (sub Vaughan h/t)
Subs (not used): Legzdins, Spector, Lowry, Brock-Madsen
Bookings: Kieftenbeld (11 mins), Toral (45 mins), Vaughan (63 mins), Grounds (84 mins)
Brentford: Button; Colin, Dean, Tarkowski, Bidwell; Woods, Diagouraga; Canós (sub Gogia 80 mins), Judge, Swift (sub McEachran 70 mins); Vibe (sub Hofmann 65 mins)
Subs (not used): Bonham, O’Connell, Yennaris, Saunders
Bookings: Dean (17 mins) (fourth of season), Tarkowski (45 mins) (sixth of season)
Attendance: 17,555 (1,237 Bees fans)