There are routine defeats and then there are results like last night’s worrying episode at Brentford. Garry Monk expected some of the routine variety on the way to the play-offs but a comprehensive beating in London left a sudden question mark over Leeds United’s nerve.
Few teams in the Championship have done to Monk’s side what Brentford did for 45 minutes at Griffin Park and as their hosts ran away with a shambolic first half, Leeds’ demeanour was impossible to tally with the confident, exuberant style of their win over Brighton at Elland Road before the international break. The club were on the home straight after that result. Two defeats in four days have set them back significantly.
There is consolation to be found in the fact that the teams responsible – Reading on Saturday and Brentford to a larger degree last night – oozed class in patches while dispatching Leeds but rarely has Monk seen his players’ confidence rattled as it was yesterday. Leeds were two goals adrift at half-time and lucky to be as close to Brentford as that.
Romaine Sawyers scored the first of them after 19 minutes, a breakthrough which had been coming, and Lasse Vibe, Brentford’s in-form forward, buried the second with a close-range finish after the half-hour. Spanish winger Sergi Canos was in the thick of both, proving in little over 30 minutes why Monk had been keen to buy him from Norwich City in the last transfer window. It was only because of an improbable one-handed save from Rob Green, denying Canos at point-blank range, that Leeds were in the game at half-time at all.
Elsewhere, Sheffield Wednesday’s result went against Leeds and the Championship table no longer looks like the sure thing it was a few weeks ago. Preston North End come to Elland Road next and Monk has not had to lift his players from an experience like this since the earliest weeks of the season. It was, in all, a night to forget long before the night was over, regardless of a more spirited second half.
The Bees’ movement and passing did for Monk’s defence and in the midst of the pressure of the run-in, the centre of his backline is causing him sudden consternation. Monk’s bold decision to promote Liam Cooper from the bench last month, pulling rank and demoting Pontus Jansson in the process, proved short-lived last night as Cooper accepted an FA ban for a stamp on Reading’s Reece Oxford on Saturday.
The Bees’ movement and passing did for Monk’s defence and in the midst of the pressure of the run-in, the centre of his backline is causing him sudden consternation.Phil Hay
Cooper was present at Griffin Park but his guilty plea before a 6pm deadline prevented him from starting against Brentford, bringing Jansson to the fore again. The return of the Swede did not avert a shambles of a first half. Jansson had missed Leeds’ 1-0 defeat at Reading with a tight hamstring but was fit enough to regain his place yesterday. It was unlikely, given video footage of Cooper’s offence, that Monk had failed to pre-empt the possibility that Cooper would incur a ban at late notice.
Between all that, an area which was once the most reliable in Monk’s side has become more unstable and volatile. His defence were guaranteed a hard night by a Brentford team whose goals have run to more than 60 this season but it felt reassuring before kick-off to see the line in front of Green return to full strength. In the end, the make-up of Monk’s side counted for nothing. Brentford, more than Reading, could have been out of sight by the end of the first half.
At the back of his mind, Monk knew that Brentford’s goals-conceded column was weighty too and his players were less reserved in the earliest minutes than they had been at the Madejski Stadium but it was Brentford who banged on the door and broke it down quickly. Much of their threat stemmed from a player in Canos who Monk had been priced out of signing in January.
Canos whipped an immediate shot over Green’s crossbar after skipping off the left wing and did likewise with a better chance on 14 minutes which was asking to be drive in from 12 yards. Unmarked on the penalty spot after Josh Clarke sold Stuart Dallas a dummy, Canos lashed his effort high into the away end.
The spate of openings running to the Spaniard had an inevitable consequence in the 19th minute when Canos was left alone on the overlap, free to take a pass from Jota. Green dived to beat away Canos’ shot but Sawyers struck the rebound with a clean volley, driving it into the far corner of Green’s net.
The space in front of Monk’s backline played to Brentford’s strengths, allowing their pace to take hold, and Leeds were limited to speculative attempts. Jansson glanced a header well wide from a corner and Daniel Bentley dived to parry a Mo Barrow shot with more drama than was necessary.
It took 31 minutes for United to fashion an opportunity they should have taken. Hernandez served it up with a hanging corner which Bartley headed back into the six-yard box with plenty of the net to aim at.
The angle of his finish surprised the players waiting there and Ayling hooked a hasty volley over.
It was a moment that Monk was ruing before long. Brentford’s knack of playing through his defence showed itself again on 34 minutes when Canos drew another desperate save from Green and Vibe tapped in the loose ball. Only a brilliant, one-handed save from Green prevented Canos from making it 3-0 during the next attack. Leeds were on the ropes in a way that Monk has never seen, even in the darker days of August and September. Half-time was a badly-needed reprieve.
The early stages of the second period saw chances go begging which Monk desperately needed to go in.
One shot from Barrow was kept out by a header from Harlee Dean and another was smothered by Bentley at his near post on 55 minutes. Alfonso Pedraza took to the field before long and quickly drew a parry from Bentley and as the pressure grew, Dean appeared in the right place again to nod a Jansson effort away from Brentford’s line.
A goal refused to come and before long, Green was back to thwarting Brentford with outstanding saves, winning a one-on-one with Vibe and scrambling superbly to stop substitute Florian Jozefzoon rolling in the rebound
Green left Griffin Park with his reputation firmly enhanced. In the 80 yards in front of him, there were many questions to answer.