Brentford 1-3 Manchester City: Mark Flekken heroics not enough as Phil Foden hat-trick steals the show

Phil Foden was the hero for Man City in west London (Getty Images)
Phil Foden was the hero for Man City in west London (Getty Images)

Phil Foden’s sumptuous hat-trick did more than earn Manchester City a comeback victory away to a side which did the double over them last season.

More importantly, his treble moved the treble-winners ahead of Arsenal on goal difference and to within two points of leaders Liverpool. And Pep Guardiola’s side still have a game in hand on both.

The title race took an ever-so-slight swing in their favour at the Gtech Community Stadium, even if Brentford had momentarily freaked them out by edging ahead on Monday night.

The Bees’ January signing of extra goalkeeper competition in the form of Hakon Valdimarsson appeared to summon peak Mark Flekken. The Brentford shot-stopper was on a one-man mission to keep City out, repelling each of their first-half efforts until the very last one.

Julian Alvarez twice forced top saves from Flekken with curling efforts, before Kyle Walker stung his gloves with a fierce drive from distance.

City’s intricate attacks were not yielding the opening goal they craved, and so to add considerable insult to injury, Brentford took the lead at the other end with as ‘route one’ a goal as they have surely ever scored.

Incredibly, Flekken, of all people, turned provider, moving level with Jack Grealish on one Premier League assist for the season. His long ball upfield saw Ivan Toney kindly adjudged not to have interfered with play, despite being offside and nudging Nathan Ake away from the ball. Through the gaping chasm ran Neal Maupay to tuck home.

There was understandable shock from both sets of supporters. Then City reinstated the status quo, with Erling Haaland — on his first start since December 6 — Josko Gvardiol and Kevin De Bruyne all bringing the best out of an inspired Flekken.

But with seconds of stoppage time remaining, Ethan Pinnock failed to clear a speculative cross from De Bruyne and Foden pounced to equalise. Flekken finally beaten.

Brentford, spearheaded by a blossoming strike partnership of Maupay and Toney, were as industrious and adventurous in the second half as they were in the first.

City ramped things up a notch, though, and when De Bruyne’s cross was missed by Pinnock, Foden’s glancing header gave City the lead.

Thomas Frank and Brentford lived to regret the narrow misses of Mads Roerslev and Christian Norgaard as they searched for an equaliser. More power on Norgaard’s shot may well have denied Ruben Dias the time to get down and make such a superb diving block.

A give-and-go with Haaland saw Foden through on goal only moments later. He slipped the ball past Flekken with unerring confidence.

Then it was the hat-trick for the England forward. He’d been quite something here as he earned City all three precious points.