Brentford still have a sting without Ivan Toney amid ban threat

Brentford still have a sting without Ivan Toney amid ban threat

A packed home crowd unmoved by the exit signal of the final whistle, a familiar playlist of celebratory tunes and Thomas Frank leading his players on a deserved lap of appreciation.

This has quickly become a familiar scene here at the Gtech Community Stadium, the Bees enjoying so many of these cliched but no less special nights under the lights and consistently claiming marquee results here since beating Arsenal on their Premier League bow in August 2021.

In just a season-and-a-half, Brentford have five wins and four draws from their 18 meetings with Big Six opposition, but last night’s 3-1 victory over Liverpool came with a notable difference, the first of those positive results achieved without a certain Ivan Toney.

Victory minus their top scorer came not only as a feather in the Bees’ cap, but also as a cause for small optimism when looking to what may lie ahead.

Brentford’s Yoane Wissa celebrates after scoring his side’s second goal last night. (AP)
Brentford’s Yoane Wissa celebrates after scoring his side’s second goal last night. (AP)

Toney, missing through injury after being carried off on a stretcher against West Ham three days earlier, is expected to be fit by the time Bournemouth come here in the League on January 14 and perhaps even for the FA Cup visit of the Hammers on Saturday. Beyond that, however, is the looming possibility of a lengthy ban should the forward be found guilty by an ongoing FA investigation into 262 alleged betting breaches.

In some aspects, Brentford’s over-reliance on Toney has been overplayed, Frank having built, above any individual, a team that is versatile, supremely well-drilled and perfectly at ease with its identity. Toney is a talismanic figure but in men such as midfielder Christian Norgaard, left-back Rico Henry and goalkeeper David Raya, the Dane has several more outstanding players, whose performances last night were typical of the level they have produced since setting foot in this division — and for some time before that in the Championship, too.

In the goals department, however, Toney has looked irreplaceable, with only Harry Kane and Erling Haaland scoring more times in the Premier League in 2022. Taking this season alone, ahead of last night’s fixture, behind Toney’s 12 League goals Brentford’s next most prolific forwards had scored only three times apiece, but both Bryan Mbeumo and Yoane Wissa added to their tallies against Jurgen Klopp’s side.

Mbeumo, the established foil to Toney and perhaps the League’s unluckiest finisher until Darwin Nunez turned up, slotted home the late clincher after outmuscling Ibrahima Konate on the break, sealing the three points just as Liverpool looked to be building a push for a leveller following Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s header early in the second half.

But it was Toney’s replacement, Wissa, for whom Frank reserved strongest praise after the 26-year-old scored the goal that put the Bees 2-0 up at the break, having already seen two efforts chalked off in quick succession for offside after Konate’s own-goal opener.

“He’s our second top-scorer in the Premier League but is in a position where, when I play with two strikers, it’s Ivan and Bryan, the dynamic duo, and it’s difficult for him to force his way in,” said head coach Frank. “But every time he comes in, he scores — that’s a pretty good ability, to have that.”

Toney was at the Gtech last night, sat behind the home bench to greet both Mbeumo and Wissa as they were withdrawn late on.

Ivan Toney is facing a possible ban for betting charges. (Action Images via Reuters)
Ivan Toney is facing a possible ban for betting charges. (Action Images via Reuters)

More than any other player, the Englishman has embodied Brentford’s fearlessness at this level and their willingness to go, quite literally, toe-to-toe with the established elite but the spirit now appears infused in every member of the squad.

“The players have big belief,” Frank added. “We constantly talk about that attitude where we are confident but humble. We need to have that confidence to believe we can beat any team in the world.

“I try to constantly boost them and tell them and, of course, it’s a bit easier when we win against some of the big teams and perform well. We have a game plan that is working quite well against them.”

It is one that undoubtedly works best with Toney as its spearhead, but on this evidence need not be torn up without him.