Can Brentford Shed Unwanted Reputation in Championship Promotion Hunt?
Brentford FC came within 90 minutes of a Premier League 2020/21 season. That was three times.
Embarking on a nine-game unbeaten run towards the end of last season, Brentford were the team no one in the Championship wanted to face as they rocketed up the table to threaten season-long top two West Bromwich Albion and Leeds United. Led by the ‘BMW’ triple threat of Said Benrahma, Bryan Mbuemo and Ollie Watkins, who scored 57 league goals between them, the Bees leapt into second place with two games to go.
With West Brom losing to Huddersfield, Brentford only had to win one of their remaining two games to secure a maiden promotion to the Premier League, but went on to lose to relegation contenders Stoke City and Barnsley. Forced to settle for the playoffs, they overcame a first-leg deficit to beat Swansea City in the semi-finals, only to be heartbroken in extra time against Fulham at Wembley to narrowly miss out on promotion.
This time around, manager Thomas Frank wants no mistakes.
The Bees haven’t needed to surprise anyone this year. Floating around the top two for most of the season, Brentford sit second-favourites at 4/6 in the Championship betting markets to go up, despite stiff competition from teams of a former Premier League pedigree in Norwich City, Swansea City and Watford.
Striker Ivan Toney alone has 34 goal contributions (25 goals, 9 assists) so far, an astonishing total with a quarter of the season still to go – last season’s Championship Golden Boot winner Watkins managed 26 for the whole campaign. A midseason unbeaten run of 21 games was bettered only by Premier League juggernaut Manchester City in English football and had the Bees knocking on the door of the automatic promotion places.
However, a 1-0 loss to league leaders Norwich City in early March allowed the Canaries to widen the gap at the top of the Championship and now the promotion contenders – Brentford, with Watford, Swansea, Reading and Bournemouth in close attendance – are surely competing for a single automatic promotion place.
Brentford have certainly shown that they have the quality to finish the job this time around. Despite selling star players Benrahma and Watkins to Premier League teams – and both are showing the kind of form that would have made Brentford a worthy addition to the Premier League this year – Thomas Frank has his side playing fast-paced attacking football that sees them top scorers in the division. The Dane, manager since 2016, has impressed many by turning a midtable Brentford side into a promotion contender on a shoestring budget, and can finally plant his flag as an up-and-coming manager in English football by securing promotion at the second time of asking, and arguably with a lesser squad.
For Brentford to hold off the hungry teams around them, though, they will require a steel and consistency that deserted them at the death last season.