74 years after their last game at the highest level, Brentford experienced their crossroads among the other 19 big boys.
The man who had spent three seasons trying to get the Bees into the Premier League between 2015 and 2018 and called up Thomas Frank as an assistant was in the opposition dugout: Dean Smith.
The man who had scored 49 goals in three seasons, beloved by all Brentford supporters, was on the Aston Villa bench: Ollie Watkins.
Emi Bundia curled into a super equalizer for Aston Villa from the edge of the box
Ivan Toney had already put the visitors ahead after seven minutes with the first top goal
The striker showed a lot of composure around the corner with aplomb from close range
Aston Villa (4-2-3-1): Martinez, Cash, Konsa, Tuanzebe, Targett, Douglas Luiz, Buendia, Carney Chukwuemeka, Young, El Ghazi, Ings;
Subs not used: Watkins, Steer, Hourihane, Nakamba, Guilbert, Hause, Philogene-Bidace, Archer, Aaron Ramsey
Scorers: Buendia (13)
Brentford (3-4-1-2): Raya, Ajer, Jansson, Pinnock, Canos, Norgaard, Janelt, Henry, Ghoddos, Mbeumo, Toney;
Subs not used: Fernandez, Thompson, Jensen, Forss, Wissa, Dervisoglu, Baptiste, Bidstrup, Stevens
Scorers: Toney (7)
Referee: Peter Bankes (Merseyside)
When Watkins rose from the bench with 11 minutes to go to applause from supporters on both sides, the game looked to be heading for a draw, even a truce, fit for the occasion and kept the away game unbeaten over two in the 15th league game. seasons in a row.
Really, neither side really deserved to win. The newly promoted away side defeated their opponents in the first half and continued to play fearlessly; erasing the fact that they are in the top flight for the first time since 1947. But a drop-off in the last 45 minutes brought Villa back into the game.
Ivan Toney opened the scoring with a strike in the penalty area before new signing Emi Buendia equalized six minutes with a moment of graceful class. A tap, twist, and turn – he just might be a smart signer.
Though it was a moment of controversy that the away side denied sneaking away from Villa Park with all three points in the bag.
Villa goalkeeper Emi Martinez caught an air ball and shot a kick forward after 40 minutes. Throwing the ball inches into the air like a tennis player getting ready for a serve, Vitaly Janelt poked the ball out of his grasp and sent it into an empty net.
A run-up to the crowd with a suspicious look at referee Peter Bankes ensued. There was confusion on the field and in the crowd before the ‘goal’ was rightly ruled out – the rules state that the ball must touch the ground before an opponent can steal it. The ball hadn’t touched the ball in Martinez’s grip.
The game had started on a handicap for the home side after the Covid-19 forced removal of Jacob Ramsey and John McGinn, and Tyrone Mings due to injury.
However, they were the last two names to have ripped the heart out of an already exhausted side since Jack Grealish’s sale to Manchester City.
The belated news of the trio’s absence took effect as 17-year-old Carney Chukwuemeka was called up for his debut and defender Axel Tuanzebe made his first start since his loaned transfer from Manchester United.
Emi Martinez storms off his line to make a smart save and deny Bryan Mbeumo to score
Matty Cash tries to dig out a cross, but Brentford gets bodies around him and steps into the block
Brentford also missed Frank Onyeka due to Covid but had a mostly full team to choose from. A side with a penchant for coming to the fore needs no excuse for that, pushing forward in front of a rowdy Villa crowd.
Toney’s opener at seven minutes was part attendance and part clinical finish. Sergi Canos delivered a low cross that had thrown Pontus Jansson in the direction of the striker.
He shot the ball neatly into the corner without pressure from the Villa defence. Why he was left alone in the box is a mystery.
It had clearly shaken the home side out of their malaise and they equalized six minutes later.
Danny Ings cut from the left into Buendia. The Argentinian made a backward movement, turned, then curled past goalkeeper David Raya; a classy move and a glimpse into why Villa splashed £38million to Norwich for the midfielder.
Raya saved a reflex to prevent an Ings poke in the area from doubling the lead, but the Bees had the upper hand.
Villa won the match, but Dean Smith had to settle for a point against the hidden old club in the end
The result extends Brentford’s unbeaten start into the Premier League season
Rico Henry shot a shot wide of the post from the edge of the penalty area and should have done better, but it was five minutes before halftime where that moment of contention arose. Janelt’s attempt to rob Martinez of the ball in mid-air was rightly ruled out.
Villa started to gain confidence in the opposing half after the break, but the irritability of the offenses between the sides started to creep in.
Christian Norgaard was shown a yellow card for a terrible hack on Anwar El Ghazi’s legs, before the Egyptian tried to retaliate in the same area minutes later.
Nerves were pricked when Ings was rattled by substitute Yoane Wissa minutes later in the 70th minute, leaving him with his ankle on the ground, but luckily the injury prone striker was able to continue.
The Bees manual for bringing out the fouls was clearly frustrated to give up the game’s stranglehold after such a strong first half.
El Ghazi was shy on goal after Buendia maneuvered between three opponents to drive too high on target.
In the end, there was each item on the agenda.