Brentford were supposed to have said goodbye to this creaking corner of west London by now.
Coronavirus has prolonged their 116-year stay at Griffin Park, so for a few more weeks at least they remain a club with two stadiums and one aim: crash the promotion party and move to swankier surroundings in more revered company.
If this represented a new beginning of the end, it wasn’t a bad start.
Ollie Watkins’ close-range strike was enough for Brentford to down West Brom on Friday
The Championship leaders have offered Leeds a change to pass them after the defeat
The Premier League title race may be over but the battle to join the big boys continues to cook nicely under the summer sun.
Leaders West Brom arrived here knowing victory would put them 10 points clear of the chasing pack – for a few hours at least. Now, after Ollie Watkins’ early goal decided a fractious Friday night clash, Brentford are breathing down their necks.
This long goodbye could yet end with tears of a different kind – even if supporters can’t be here for the ride.
Earlier, as the sun rose on these pivotal few days, the strangeness of this summer sprint for promotion extended beyond eerie silence and empty seats.
Slaven Bilic cut a frustrated figure on the touchline as Brentford contained West Brom
Around Griffin Park, clear skies gave way to brief torrents of rain before Mathias Jensen’s last-minute injury left Thomas Frank’s side a man down before a ball was kicked.
Soon, though, normal service had resumed. The familiar, frantic rhythm of Championship football took over and then Watkins did as Watkins has done all season.
After an opening spell in which West Brom appeared to have settled the quicker, some slick passing freed Said Benrahma down the left flank. The dangerous winger drove towards the box before squaring a pass to Josh Dasilva, whose cross-cum-shot was turned in for Watkins’ 23rd goal of the season.
Brentford’s play-off push is looking gradually more solid after another superb victory
In response, the visitors tried to up the tempo but struggled to string attacks together as Slaven Bilic grew evermore tetchy. Even after a belated sniff of goal – Grady Diangana’s free-kick was saved – Brentford were still having more luck forcing the issue. And by the break, it probably should have been two.
Twice Brentford broke, twice they spurned the chance. First Benrahma’s wayward pass killed a promising move before Dasilva drove into the box, only to fluff his shot.
Bilic responded by shuffling his pack and one of two half-time replacements, Kenneth Zohore, almost sparked an immediate turn of the tide.
With his back to goal, the No 9 spun on the edge of the box and sent a thumping effort into the bar and over. David Raya in the Brentford goal was well beaten and soon the home side were teetering.
West Brom created chances but Brentford scrambled and came through a rough patch
Twice their determination to play out from the back threatened disaster but nothing they tried could stem the tide of green and yellow. It is on such spells that promotion races can swing.
To their credit, Brentford gathered themselves, with Dasilva a driving force from midfield. Soon, he was inches away from doubling their lead, skewing a deflected cross just wide.
Fortunately for the few Bees left inside Griffin Park, West Brom failed to make him pay.
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