The Christian Eriksen-inspired state of grace continues to guide Brentford to safe, Premier League shores of contentment.
A maiden season in the top tier was almost guaranteed in the seismic, generation-spanning, memorable 4-1 win at Chelsea last weekend. And another London derby triumph, here at the Community Stadium against West Ham, a team tilting at the Europa League, was fully deserved. Thomas Frank’s side were brighter and sassier going forward, with Eriksen and Rico Henry the pick of Brentford’s bunch. Second-half goals from strike partners Bryan Mbeumo and Ivan Toney, the currency.
Tired West Ham’s top-four hopes are appearing increasingly remote – and on this evidence, hustled and harried throughout, the impression was that their Europa League adventures are a main concern. David Moyes also has to contend with an injury to Kurt Zouma, ahead of their quarter-final second leg at Lyon on Thursday.
Frank made two changes to the vibrant team which stormed Stamford Bridge. It was, in reality, probably asking too much for them to emulate similar drama, but they largely coasted here.
Centre-back Zanka was a late addition, coming in for Pontus Jansson, absent from the match-day squad due to illness, while impact winger, Yoane Wissa, who scored Brentford’s fourth goal at Chelsea, replaced Mads Roerslev. Christian Nørgaard took over the hosts’ captaincy for the day from Jansson.
Manuel Lanzini was in the West Ham side, meanwhile, after recovering from the effects of a car crash. He was one of three changes to the team that earned a 1-1 draw at home to Lyon on Thursday in the Europa League quarter-final first leg, chosen ahead of former Brentford striker Saïd Benrahma, who dropped to the bench. Alphonse Areola, West Ham’s preferred Euro goalkeeper, made way for Lukasz Fabianski, while Vladimir Coufal came in for Ryan Fredericks at full-back.
Eriksen was orchestrating Brentford’s initial probing as they aimed to add West Ham to both Chelsea and Arsenal on their London hit list. Yet, other than a tame Mbeumo header easily saved by Fabianski, the nervy, early skirmishes produced little drama, with the onus on Brentford to get top scorer Toney into the game.
On several occasions Eriksen, with his precise passing, was to discover some of his ponderous teammates were not quite on his wavelength. The rewards did come, though.
Unsurprisingly, with the trip to France in mind, West Ham were reluctant to press forward at will. The visitors were particularly cautious and clearly feeling after effects of those home exertions against Lyon: a weak Tomas Soucek header, with the midfielder unmarked and in a good position, reflected as much. Even Jarrod Bowen, the club’s man of the season, appeared a marginal figure for the most part.
This was not to be Zouma’s afternoon either, the injured defender hobbling off for Issa Diop as Moyes was forced to ring an early change. Doubts now exist over Zouma’s availability for the crucial trip to the Grand Stade de Lyon.
Brentford nearly broke through a minute from the interval, with West Ham defender Coufal very fortunate to see his header spin over when meeting a viciously spinning Eriksen set piece. At the other end, a wild lash wide from an inviting close-range position by Aaron Cresswell summed up an unremarkable West Ham.
Mercifully for the home support, Mbeumo punctured events with a timely opener two minutes into the second half. The forward skipped past Cresswell, fastening on to a neat assist from Toney, via a move begun by a Kristoffer Ajer throw-in, to drive a left-foot shot under Fabianski. The breakthrough provided welcome, deserved relief for Brentford as West Ham were subsequently challenged to act with greater spark.
Benrahma, meanwhile, appeared as a 56th-minute substitution for Lanzini to a warm reception from the Brentford faithful, many of whom occasionally pine for their former forward.
Nevertheless, it was Toney, a contemporary hero for Brentford, who doubled the lead on 64 minutes from an expertly created move. The hugely impressive Henry sat in a deep cross from the left, which was willingly back invitingly by Mbeumo, before Toney headed the ball contemptuously past an exposed Fabianski.
From then on, Frank’s side dominated and West Ham’s fatigue showed. That the visitors were on damage limitation mode with at least 20 minutes to go – other than a speculative, deflected shot over by Benrahma – must concern Moyes. The east Londoners need to absorb this disappointment quickly, while their Europa League quest remains alive.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism