Brentford’s interest in the Emirates FA Cup is at an end after they were beaten by Walsall at Griffin Park. On a wet and wild January afternoon, the visitors took the lead in a first half where Brentford failed to reach the level they usually play at and Walsall showed why they are chasing promotion from Sky Bet League One. And after the break a much-improved Brentford were unable to break through. A Sam Mantom goal, just past the half hour, was enough to settle it in favour of the visitors, who move through to the Fourth Round.
It was a match between two teams playing similar formations and styles and approaching the game in a similar way. The midfield was congested with both teams playing three centrally and wide players that sometimes drifted inside. There was hardly a long ball played and Walsall followed The Bees in looking to pass through midfield and use lone striker Tom Bradshaw either to come short and link the play or turn the Brentford defence. The majority of Walsall’s play went through midfield trio Adam Chambers, Mantom and Romaine Sawyers and when they were able to find space, they created chances for the visitors.
Brentford used Philipp Hofmann as their lone striker and looked to get Sergi Canós and John Swift moving in to attacking positions from the flanks. The Bees probably had more of the ball in the opening exchanges but they did not dominate possession and were unable to get their midfield players moving in to the penalty area. Walsall were comfortable with it and looked to press high to stop The Bees playing out. They were also incredibly well organised and there were very few occasions in the first half hour when Brentford were able to use space left by Walsall’s pressing to attack.
It was a first half of few chances. Harlee Dean probably had Brentford’s best of the opening 45 and that came from a Jake Bidwell corner 11 minutes in that he headed down and wide. Hofmann miss-hit a volley from a Jake Bidwell knock down and Ryan Woods saw a shot blocked following a short corner. The Bees had another good chance soon after when Josh McEachran linked with Canós and Swift but tried an extra pass rather than a shot and the door was shut by the visiting defence.
Walsall hadn’t threatened much early on – one long range effort from George Evans flew well over – but could have gone ahead midway through the half when a cross was nodded down but Bradshaw was crowded out and Mantom fired wide. Milan Lalkovic then blasted over after a run from deep. But the visitors had shown their quality on the ball and looked capable of finding the right pass to create a chance. And when they did it just past the half hour, they went ahead. The ball was worked through midfield for Mantom and the midfield player found space to curl a left footed shot past David Button and in to the net from 20 yards.
Canós fired over for Brentford and Hofmann looped a heard off target from a Bidwell cross but Walsall were doing more than holding their own and goalkeeper Neil Etheridge was well protected. The stopper was called in to action late in the half to keep out a curling Alan McCormack effort but Walsall also went close to doubling their lead when Sawyers set up Lalkovic but his shot was off target.
Brentford would have known they needed to be better in the second half and Head Coach Dean Smith made a change. He introduced Alan Judge for McEachran and immediately The Bees had better balance. McCormack was able to drop in to a deeper midfield role from the one he occupied in the first half and there was a link between Hofmann and the midfield pack.
With Brentford having a more attacking midfield, the game opened up and with the rain pouring down, the second half was an entertaining spectacle. Walsall should have scored early on when Lalkovic pulled a shot wide after good work by Sawyers and Bradshaw while Bidwell fired wide at the other end. Sawyers then saw a shot blocked by Dean before Bidwell set up Judge for a shooting chance that Etheridge pushed out.
Judge’s introduction had injected more energy in to Brentford and the match as a whole and The Bees pushed forward to try and ensure they did not exit the FA Cup at the first opportunity. Etheridge made another good save from a Hofmann shot after Swift had lifted a clever pass forward before Button denied Mantom at the other end as the game started to get stretched. The Walsall goalkeeper was called in to action soon after to keep out a low Swift shot before Judge had a shot deflected wide and then blocked.
Sawyers shot over for Walsall but Brentford were starting to pile the pressure on. Konstantin Kerschbaumer and Marco Djuricin, just back from injury, were introduced as The Bees looked to keep the momentum and Canós curled a shot wide of the far post after finding space in the penalty area. Etheridge was turning in to the game’s key figure and he made a fine save to deny Judge after Canós had robbed Rico Henry. Dean then headed the resulting corner from Bidwell wide when well placed and Djuricin fired wide on the turn.
Djuricin missed a better chance soon after when Woods delivered a low cross and Dean, who had strode out of defence, dummied but the Austrian striker fired wide from 15 yards. Button saved from Bradshaw and a Mantom shot deflected wide as Walsall tried to kill the game on the counter attack and the Brentford goalkeeper then made a better save from an Evans shot. James O’Connor should have made the game safe from the resulting corner but headed a cross from Kieron Morris against the far post with the goal gaping.
With the minutes ticking by Brentford were piling bodies forward and chances were coming. Woods saw an effort deflected wide and Etheridge then got down well to save from Swift. The Walsall goalkeeper then made a superb stop from a deflected Canós effort that looked destined for the bottom corner. Yennaris cut inside and shot over and in the dying seconds Etheridge was in action again, saving at the feet of Kerschbaumer after interplay on the edge of the box. And that was enough to give his side the win and eliminate Brentford.
Brentford: Button; Yennaris, Dean, O’Connell, Bidwell; Woods, McEachran (sub Judge h/t); Canós, McCormack (sub Kerschbaumer 60 mins), Swift; Hofmann (sub Djuricin 69 mins)
Subs (not used): Bonham, Barbet, Gogia, Saunders
Walsall: Etheridge; Kinsella, O’Connor, Downing, Henry (sub Taylor 76 mins); Chambers, Mantom; Evans, Sawyers, Lalkovic (sub Forde 76 mins); Bradshaw (sub Morris 86 mins)
Subs (not used): MacGillivray, Preston, Flanagan, Cook
Bookings: Bradshaw (59 mins), Mantom (67 mins)
Attendance: 7,950 (1,661 away fans)