In a fantastically frenetic encounter at the Brentford Community Stadium, visitors Norwich City held out for their first league win of the season while Brentford slumped to their fourth straight defeat.
First-half goals from Mathias Normann and Teemu Pukki reflected both Norwich's quality and Brentford's frailty in the opening 45 minutes and, though Rico Henry clawed a goal back in the second period, the hosts didn't do enough to come away with anything on the day.
The result sees Brentford remain 14th in the Premier League table, while Norwich climb up to 19th, off the foot of the table for the first time since the opening day.
Story of the game
Brentford manager Thomas Frank made two changes to eleven that was beaten at Burnley last weekend, and it was the return of two key players for the hosts. Vitaly Janelt took Frank Onyeka’s place in midfield to earn his first start since the thrilling 3-3 draw with Liverpool after a quad injury had kept him out of the squad for three games, while Bryan Mbeumo lined up alongside Ivan Toney up front as Marcus Forss dropped to the bench.
Meanwhile, there were three changes to the visitors’ line-up. The absence of Ozan Kabak and skipper Grant Hanley saw Ben Gibson and Brandon Williams come into defence, and Pierre Lees-Melou slotted into midfield as Daniel Farke reverted back to a four-at-the-back formation.
The hosts started the brighter of the two teams. Amidst a scramble in the Norwich box following a throw-in from Mathias Jorgensen, the visitors could only clear as far as Mathias Jensen who in turn propped the ball up for Toney to finish, but the striker flicked the ball wide of the far post.
Moments later Toney was involved again, this time lunging in recklessly on Andrew Omobamidele as the defender attempted to pass the ball up the line, however referee Jarred Gillett deemed the offence worthy of just a yellow card and VAR agreed.
Brentford had looked on top in the opening exchanges, but it was bottom-of-the-table Norwich who took the lead thanks to a superb individual goal from Normann. The midfielder picked up possession after a skewed clearance from Toney, skipped past Christian Norgaard and Janelt in one swift motion before finishing coolly on his weaker left foot.
The visiting support were sent into raptures, and understandably so — this was the first time Norwch had been ahead in a Premier League match so far this season.
Frank’s side had the chance to equalise 13 minutes in as a throw-in from Charlie Goode — substituted in for Jorgensen who pulled up with what looked like a minor muscle injury — was flicked on by Ethan Pinnock towards Jensen, but Tim Krul got out quickly to deny the Dane from prodding the ball home at point-blank range.
Brentford had the energy but, 25 minutes in, not enough end product to show for it. Rico Henry and in particular Sergi Canos were finding themselves in good amounts of space down either flank but both lacked the directness and precision to pick out Toney or Mbeumo, both waiting patiently for their chance to cause havoc in the Norwich box.
They were set to be made to pay just before the half-hour mark. Normann, enjoying a superb afternoon’s work in midfield, strode forward and thread the ball through to Pukki behind the Brentford defence. The Finland international darted into the box and geared up to slot it past Alvaro Fernandez in goal, but Goode slid in from behind and took him out.
It was a penalty, no doubt, and Pukki made no mistake from the spot, sending Fernandez the wrong way as the Canaries doubled their lead. Norwich were in dreamland, scoring two in a Premier League match for the first time since December 2019; Brentford, however, desperately needed a rethink.
They just weren’t creating enough problems for their visitors. With Norwich doubling up on Brentford’s wing-backs, Canos and Henry time and again were forced to play the ball backwards, to the dismay of Frank: “Attack!” he bellowed from the sidelines. Half-time was going to be make or break for the hosts.
Frank suggested as much with the introduction of Saman Ghoddos for Janelt as the game got back underway, clearly opting to fight fire with fire despite the defensive frailties of his side in the first 45 minutes.
That was almost made to look a disastrous decision just moments into the second-half as Williams darted forward from left-back and passed the ball across the box to Pukki lurking unmarked at the back post, but the forward dragged his effort just wide of the far post.
The frenetic nature of this match was showing no signs of letting up. Brentford went straight down the other end as Pontus Jansson launched the ball straight onto the head of Toney who flicked it on for Mbeumo. One-on-one with Krul, the Frenchman made no mistake to halve the deficit — or not, as VAR then disallowed the goal for offside.
Fighting fire with fire looked like it had its merits, and it was pulling the Bees back into this contest. Toney drove forward and supplied a cross which Omobamidele nearly yanked into his own net, and from the subsequent corner Jensen was again denied by Krul from a matter of inches out — the midfielder really should have scored on that occasion.
Their adventurousness was soon to be rewarded. On the hour mark, Ghoddos summoned up a vicious cross into the box from the right and Henry arrived at the back post to prod the ball home. They’d been pushing, and Brentford finally got what they deserved. Now, could they get the equaliser?
They were getting closer. Norwich were holding on by the skin of their teeth. Henry again found himself in acres of space on the left flank and crossed to Canos on the other side of the box. Instead of hitting it first time, the Spaniard took a touch to evade Gibson and unleashed a powerful effort at goal, but Krul was equal to it.
Against the run of play, the Canaries came agonising close to restoring their two-goal advantage on the 80-minute mark when substitute Josh Sargent nipped in at the back post to meet Dimitris Giannoulis’ cross from deep, but Fernandez and Jensen together managed to scramble the ball away from danger.
Their relentless desire to go forward had apparently cost Brentford a bit of steam. Suddenly, Norwich were afforded acres of space for their counter-attacks, and one such move — spearheaded by Rashica — nearly resulted in a goal but for a good stop down low by Fernandez.
Norwich had a number of opportunities to make it three — Kenny McLean should have done a lot better with his effort having been teed up by Lees-Melou in stoppage time — but the most important fact is that they held out for a simply crucial first victory of the season.
Takeaways from the match
Brentford lack quality at either end of the pitch
For a team previously lauded for their ability to combine attacking dynamism with defensive solidity, there were simply too many holes in the Bees’ defence. Williams was having a field day driving forward from left-back while Rashica helped create an overload that the attack-minded Canos couldn’t cope with.
Although it was a match Brentford might have been expected to win, a little more caution would perhaps not have gone amiss, particularly in the first-half and especially having conceded as many in their last three league matches as they had in their previous seven.
And going forward, Toney and Mbeumo were feasting on scraps. It says a lot that their best goalscoring opportunities fell to Norgaard from the throw-in thirteen minutes in and the corner in the second-half; Brentford didn’t do nearly enough to get their most potent attacking weapons involved.
Norwich hold out for the points
To their credit, City were very much ‘on the ball’ today and their first league victory of the season was nothing but deserved.
Their defensive performance was a marked improvement on recent weeks even with regular fixtures Hanley and Kabak missing. Normann showed touches of class in midfield, balanced by the level-headedness of Lees-Melou and McLean alongside him, and though their chances to score were perhaps few and far between, they were clinical enough to make those they did have count.
And they held strong amidst wave after wave of Brentford attacks in the second-half to close out an immeasurably crucial first three points. Could this result mark lift-off for last season's Championship champions?
Brentford: Fernandez; Zanka (Goode 12’), Jansson, Pinnock; Canos, Jensen, Norgaard, Janelt (Ghoddos 46’), Henry (Forss 69’); Mbeumo, Toney.
Unused subs: Cox, Stevens, Roerslev, Thompson, Onyeka, Bidstrup.
Norwich City: Krul; Aarons, Omobamidele, Gibson, Williams; Lees-Melou, Normann, McLean; Dowell (Giannoulis 74’), Pukki (Sargent 77’), Rashica (Idah 90').
Unused subs: Gunn, Gilmour, Sorensen, Rupp, Placheta, Tzolis.
Following defeat here, Brentford travel to the north east to face Newcastle United after the international break.