Ivan Toney continued his hot streak of goalscoring form this season to send Brentford back to winning ways at Barnsley.
The Bees had endured three consecutive draws including back-to-back stalemates in the past two, and this largely uninspiring match looked to be heading for the same fate until Toney made the difference.
He headed in a Mathias Jensen corner midway through the second half to earn Brentford a win that they eventually deserved on the balance of play, and inflict a first Oakwell defeat on Barnsley head coach Valerien Ismael.
Story of the match
The last time these two sides met it was a hugely significant occasion for both on the final game of last season. Barnsley’s injury-time win sealed their survival while the result denied Brentford promotion to the Premier League, but anyone expecting a fiery sequel would be hugely disappointed.
The Bees did look strong in the opening minutes as Tarique Fosu, making a first league start of the season, and Rico Henry had decent efforts from the edge of the penalty box. But as Barnsley established their presence it became a tactical battle, and one which was devoid of action.
As expected Brentford wanted plenty of the ball, but Ismael’s usually high-tempo pressing side showed their more patient qualities to sit in and, through disciplined organisation, deny their visitors any space to pass through their half of the field. That denied the Reds their own attacking opportunities though, with their only good first-half effort courtesy of an Alex Mowatt drive kept out by David Raya.
Barnsley made a more assured start to the second half and applied some pressure, but the better chances fell to the Bees. After Bryan Mbuemo had sent a curling strike narrowly over the top, the best opportunity of the match so far found its way to Jansson, but he headed straight into the chest of home goalkeeper Jack Walton.
Happily for Brentford, they do have one man who is clinical when it matters. Perhaps inevitably it was Toney who would break the deadlock, glancing a Jensen corner in off the far post for his 11th goal of the season.
Barnsley pushed in the final quarer of the match but that only left more space for their opponents. Toney had two chances for a second but saw his stab at goal from a scramble blocked, before firing wide on the counter.
Substitute Marcus Forss was then denied by a fantastic Walton save, but a sound defensive effort meant the one goal would be enough.
Toney reliance now a problem
Toney got Brentford out of trouble with a fine glanced header to score the only goal, the first that Thomas Frank’s side had scored in exactly 300 minutes since – guess who? – Toney netted against Swansea City at the beginning of the month.
The key question is whether Toney is papering over the problem, or whether the man signed from Peterborough United in the summer is indeed part of that problem.
While Toney has impressed with his formidable strike rate of 11 goals in 13 matches, the rest of the team have only scored seven goals combined. Where Brentford scored 1.74 goals per game last term, that has slipped to 1.38 this season.
Toney’s link-up play is good and he can hold the ball, so there is no reason why he should be a detriment to the team. The biggest issue is a very new-look front line, after the departures of Ollie Watkins and Said Benrahma, struggling to find a tune with each other, not helped by the persistent chopping and changing of wingers.
But individuals must take responsibility too. Mbeumo, the last of 2019-20’s famed trio still standing, has not looked the same player this season, while Sergi Canos blows hot and cold and Saman Ghoddos has yet to fit in. Forss is the only other player to score more than once this year, making a big impact off the bench.
Fosu, given a first league start of the season by Frank here, did impress in spells, and is likely to be given further opportunities to show that he can be a part of the solution.
Puzzles for Ismael
This was just a second defeat of Ismael’s tenure at Barnsley, and 12 points out of a possible 18 still represents a very successful return for his first half-dozen games in South Yorkshire.
Like in the first of his losses, a 3-0 defeat at Cardiff City, there is plenty for him to learn from their struggles against a team who play with their own particularly defined style. While that defeat came against a side who despise possession, this one came against a team who fetishise it.
Barnsley came prepared for Brentford’s game and did adjust their game accordingly, recognising their skill in possession and being less reluctant to press and leave themselves vulnerable. Until the goal came, it was an approach that worked in frustrating their guests.
Whether another approach would have yielded a different result is hard to say, but Ismael will have found out plenty about how his team should respond to such a challenge. Like after Cardiff, it is in how they learn from this defeat that he will be judged.
Man of the match: Mathias Jensen (Brentford)
On a night when no player really shone, let along a creative one, Jensen was the most influential when able to get on the ball, particularly with his set-piece deliveries which fashioned the best chances including Toney’s winning goal.