Southampton 4 Brentford 1
With a broad smile on his face and a Southampton scarf in his hands, it is probably worth someone telling the watching Dragan Solak, the Serbian billionaire behind the club’s recent takeover, that it is not always like this.
The own goal, which pinballed off a post and in via the back of the goalkeeper’s hand, summed up a taxing night for the visitors. In the end a rasping equaliser by Vitaly Janelt was nothing more than a footnote for Brentford, who succumbed to their heaviest defeat of the season.
This marked the first home game of a new era, with Solak, in club colours – a red tie and white shirt – sitting alongside the Southampton chief executive, Martin Semmens, in the directors’ box. Since the takeover by Sport Republic, in which Solak is the main investor, the manager, Ralph Hasenhüttl, has talked up the benefits of the investment group’s plan to put Southampton at the heart of their multi-club empire and alluded to the “big news” in his programme notes.
“They are good people who know about football, know about business and will help us in the future,” Hasenhüttl said.
Solak, the founder of Serbia’s biggest telecoms and media provider, has a love for golf – he is a keen player and owns courses in Slovenia – but with five minutes gone here he appeared to have the football bug. James Ward-Prowse sent an inswinging corner into the box and Bednarek nipped in front of Ivan Toney at the front post to glance a header beyond Fernández in the Brentford goal. Solak and Semmens, all smiles, rose to their feet in celebration.
For Thomas Frank, it will have been a particularly maddening goal to concede given the Brentford head coach had forewarned his team of Ward-Prowse’s prowess from set pieces, and, in the build-up to this game, even making a case that the Southampton captain may be the best right-footed free-kick taker on the planet.
This was a corner but it was a delicious, pinpoint ball into the six-yard box and Bednarek did the rest. Southampton were in the driving seat, Brentford a little out of sorts, and a few minutes later Broja did brilliantly to create a wonderful opportunity for the hosts to double their advantage. Broja beat Pontus Jansson on the edge of the area and crossed from the right but it dribbled harmlessly across the six-yard box.
Frank cut a frustrated figure on the sidelines, bemoaning a sloppy pass by Kristoffer Ajer that went awry in defence, but his team replied in style. The usually reliable Toney swiped at thin air after Christian Nørgaard flipped a looping ball into the box but Brentford levelled a minute later.
Bryan Mbeumo sped down the right, breaking clear of Mohammed Salisu and then stood up a cross towards the back post. Toney missed it but Janelt, lurking a few feet behind the striker, did not, unerringly scissoring across a bouncing ball with his left foot and emphatically smacking the ball into the bottom corner. Janelt almost put Brentford in front two minutes later but Fraser Forster repelled the German midfielder’s powerful drive from outside the box.
It was almost as if Ibrahima Diallo, one of three changes from Southampton’s extra-time victory at Swansea on Saturday, had been inspired by Janelt’s strike. When a corner was cleared to the edge of the box, Diallo sent a left-footed shot thudding towards goal that rattled a post and cannoned in off Fernández’s right glove. Frank could only chew on his gum that little bit faster.
Brentford could argue Southampton were a touch fortunate and Fernández unlucky but they only had themselves to blame when Broja extended the hosts’ lead. Oriol Romeu exposed a gaping hole in the Brentford back line with a defence-splitting pass and Broja slotted in, via a kind deflection from Fernández’s left boot.
Credit to Southampton, who went from the edge of their 18-yard box to bearing down on Fernández within three slick passes. Diallo, Salisu and Romeu interlinked before the latter played Broja through on goal with Pontus Jansson trailing for company.
Solak and Henrik Kraft, the co-founder of Sport Republic, rejoiced in the stands. Frank recognised he needed to stem Southampton’s flow, introducing Yoane Wissa and Mathias Jensen from the bench, but his defence unravelled again when the ball was pumped forward by Diallo clearing his lines.
Diallo intervened to stem a Brentford attack, walloped the ball forward from deep and Adams, fresh from arriving off the bench, got the ball under his spell with his first touch before dinking past a stranded Fernández with his next.
There was still time for arguably the moment of the match, or a contender for that accolade at least. Brentford switched the ball from right to left and just as Wissa looked primed to apply the finishing touch, a hurtling Ward-Prowse charged in to rake the ball to safety. It was almost the perfect night. – Guardian