Brentford did to Manchester City precisely what the champions did to Fulham here last week with a breathtaking smash-and-grab win in added time, Ivan Toney’s 98th-minute strike ending City’s sequence of 16 consecutive home victories.
For Toney this was sweet: two days after being omitted from Gareth Southgate’s World Cup squad the centre-forward raced into City’s area to roll home his second goal of the game from Josh Dasilva’s cross and seal the champions’ defeat. The result means Arsenal will be top at Christmas.
Despite Pep Guardiola sending out an XI containing 10 players who will touch down in Qatar, Brentford proved unbending opponents. Their main ploys were to hit City on the break or in the air and the latter was how Thomas Frank’s men scored first, Toney heading home after Aymeric Laporte inadvertently touched the ball on to him.
Toney’s opener was cancelled out by a Phil Foden rocket just before the break and City had a slew of penalty claims – mainly for handball – which were all turned down by the VAR. Yet, though the champions dominated, they were never at their finely tuned best, the failure to create enough for Erling Haaland – who did managed a single shot on target – or anyone else leaving them unable to secure the desired result.
Guardiola’s decision to introduce only Julián Álvarez to shake the contest up from the bench was odd given Riyad Mahrez is a game-changer and Jack Grealish in flying form.
The entertainment began instantly when Rico Henry played in Frank Onyeka, his pace too much for John Stones, who watched as Ederson, rushing out, made a low save. Henry then burst down the left and put in a cross that Ederson tipped on to Bryan Mbeumo who squared to Toney. The striker smashed it close to City’s No 1, who dived to save his team.
Duly provoked, Guardiola’s men asserted themselves. Kevin De Bruyne scooped the ball to David Raya’s back post where Haaland, making a first start in three weeks after an ankle injury, leapt and turned the ball back in. Brentford cleared for a corner which, taken by Foden on the left, eventually had Raya saving from Haaland.
Raya then played a vital role in the opener. The keeper’s long free-kick from his half was flicked on by Ben Mee – Manuel Akanji might have challenged him more strongly – and Toney, jumping against Laporte, headed past Ederson.
Game was squarely on between the home winning machine and the division’s draw specialists. It brought Guardiola to the technical area from where he saw Foden and Rodri have shots blocked and a dazzling sequence that had João Cancelo, De Bruyne, Foden and Haaland exchanging possession with balletic poise.
What happened next was helter-skelter. Bernardo Silva’s chip was handballed by Henry and a cry went up for a penalty. VAR said no: the left-back’s feet were out of the area, the offending arm difficult to judge. The free-kick given by Peter Bankes stood, which De Bruyne took and, when Haaland clashed with Mee, the No 9 went down – another penalty claim – before the ball ricocheted off Rodri to De Bruyne who hit the turf with Henry again in attendance. VAR check was not interested – the Belgian did appear theatrical – but Brentford were hanging on. Yet another handball shout – this time after Ilkay Gündogan’s effort – was then rejected at Stockley Park.
For all this a Foden laser repelled by Raya was City’s first attempt on target, 41 minutes in. It reflected how Guardiola’s men were hitting discordant notes, not least when City broke and Haaland galloped 70 yards to Brentford’s area, only for Foden to send his cross too high. But, as the interval neared, the youngster levelled: a De Bruyne corner dropped to him and Foden’s left-foot volley was a picture of perfection. Finally 74% possession had yielded a City goal.
After the break came a lengthy pause to treat a Laporte head injury: the added time was taken advantage of perfectly by Toney at the end.