Southampton left rock bottom after Ivan Toney sparks Brentford win | Premier League
There is something charmingly special about Ivan Toney, whose influence was once more decisive for Brentford. An abundance of quality, yes, but also a mental moxie that his teammates must find awe-inspiring.
Faced with uncertainty, with 262 alleged breaches of Football Association betting rules, with the prospect of an enforced absence during his peak, Toney continues to excel. A first-half tap-in was Toney’s 16th league goal of the campaign. That set up a victory sealed by substitute Yoane Wissa deep in injury time. Toney, naturally, provided the assist.
“I don’t think I have any more [superlatives] for him,” Thomas Frank said of Toney. “A big character, a big player for us.” On hearing that Toney had jokingly suggested that Arsenal were catchable, Frank laughed: “He is a fantastic player to work with. That optimism and belief – he transmits that to his teammates. An unbelievable winning mentality.”
On Thursday, Gareth Southgate names his squad for England’s Euro 2024 qualifiers against Italy and Ukraine. Toney has been called up previously but is yet to make his debut. Footballing reasons were cited for his World Cup omission: “I don’t expect anything in football,” Frank said. “It is up to Gareth, but Ivan has done more than enough to give him a positive headache. If you look at pure English goalscorers, he has the second most goals after Harry Kane. I think Gareth should be thinking about calling him.”
Brentford remain hot on the top seven’s heels, while Southampton remain without a team to glance down at. Rubén Sellés claims never to have been in his “comfort zone” but he must clamber out of another zone now. “We didn’t manage the key moments of the game,” he admitted. “We need to work on keeping the structure, on keeping our principles.”
Brentford, as they do, prepared, arrived and executed. Frank knew Jan Bednarek and Armel Bella-Kotchap were effective blockers, so focused on attacking Southampton’s full-backs. But two early warnings were ignored, and soon, from an inswinging Bryan Mbeumo corner, Christian Nørgaard flicked on at the front post for Toney to finish at the back.
Brentford huddled around their star; Frank urged the engagement of brains. His players did just that. True, they were largely without possession, but they were largely untroubled too.
Southampton’s first half amounted to a zippy, rising strike by Carlos Alcaraz and ample frustration. James Ward-Prowse screamed as one attempted raking pass was blocked by the referee, Michael Salisbury.
“Is there a fire drill?” teased the visiting supporters with the night under 40 minutes old. St Mary’s was incandescent with silence, an apparent apathy having been washed in with the teeming rain. It was improbable, if not impossible, that Saints would not improve.
After the interval there was at least some impetus. Che Adams will spend the rest of the week wondering how Aaron Hickey’s goalline intervention denied him an equaliser. And there is the difference: Brentford’s line is led by a natural goalscorer, Southampton’s by an occasional one.
The hosts took their turn to flood the flanks, and there was an uptick of sorts. Though soon momentum, if indeed there was any, was stymied when Kyle Walker-Peters limped off. On came James Bree, the last reminder of Nathan Jones’s ill-fated tenure.
Then came the moment: a Ward-Prowse free-kick in Ward-Prowse territory. A slow clap began, as if an Olympic triple-jumper was at the top of their mark. Locals prayed that one talismanic figure would negate another: the strike drifted tamely wide.
Wissa added the latest of glosses, meaning Frank’s side have yet to lose when going ahead in the Premier League: 23 matches, 19 victories. “I love the bounce-back mentality,” Frank said. “I think these players and this team are great in many, many ways.”