The outcome was inevitable. There were many challenges and uncertainties throughout the journey – and no one expected a spectacular winning goal from Neal Maupay – but the expected storyline finally unfolded as Ivan Toney’s return led Brentford to their first victory in 49 days, propelling them above Nottingham Forest and Crystal Palace.
Toney was suspended for eight months due to violating Premier League gambling rules. Despite this, he scored a goal during the game, as the stadium announcer shouted. This goal, along with his presence on the team, significantly improved Brentford’s performance and alleviated concerns about being relegated.
After Toney’s final game with Brentford, a 1-0 loss to Liverpool in May, Manchester City achieved a treble, locations for the next two World Cups were chosen, penalties for violating profit and sustainability rules have become a real concern, Chelsea spent £400 million, and Jordan Henderson briefly relocated to Saudi Arabia before returning.
Since then, Brentford’s situation has become much more uncertain. They were in ninth place when they played against Liverpool, but by the end of the season, they were 25 points ahead of the bottom three. However, going into Saturday’s match, they were in 16th place with only a three-point lead over the relegation zone. They do have a game in hand, but two of their main competitors, including Forest, may face point deductions in their fight to avoid being relegated.
In recent games, the team has been struggling, losing five in a row. This is mainly due to the limited offensive choices available, as Toney is suspended and Bryan Mbuemo is sidelined with an ankle injury. With Yoane Wissa away representing DR Congo in the Africa Cup of Nations, Brentford is in desperate need of Toney’s presence. While Maupay may have a different impact in the team’s colors, his performance at Everton was uninspiring and indecisive. He cannot be relied upon to carry the team to survival solely through his goals.
Toney’s recent comments about wanting to play for a “big club” and potentially moving during this transfer window have caused some discomfort, especially since he had previously expressed gratitude towards Brentford for supporting him during his suspension. It’s possible that he was just being truthful and setting the stage for a potential move in the summer, considering his age of 27 and how his time away from the game may have made him more aware of time’s passing. However, it may have been more appropriate to handle the situation diplomatically.
There didn’t seem to be much concern from anyone at the Brentford Community Stadium. Toney was given a special introduction, complete with highlights of his goals and dramatic shots of him in a dimly lit tunnel. The live camera caught him glancing nervously to the side, possibly at the red signage, before grinning widely as the referee signaled. He then walked hand-in-hand with the tousle-haired mascot, saying “Let’s go.” As he stepped onto the field for the first time in eight months, he touched the grass, made the sign of the cross, and calmly took his place in front of the Premier League logo on the field. Despite the crowd’s cheers when his name was announced by the announcer on the sidelines, he remained composed.
Aside from one brief moment, it was clear that this situation did not faze him. He was prepared to fulfill his duty to the story and lead Brentford’s efforts towards safety. However, football can be unpredictable, as hinted by his glance to the side. In just three minutes, Danilo scored a goal of incredible quality, putting Forest in the lead. The jubilant Forest fans chanted “Ivan Toney, you should have taken the money and run!” It’s likely that he will hear similar taunts throughout the rest of the season.
However, Toney is a resilient character and was not affected by this. He had a free-kick opportunity 20 yards away from the goal, on the right side. The wall was set up in anticipation of a cross towards the back post. Instead, Toney cleverly changed direction twice before taking a powerful low shot that curved around the edge of the wall and into the goal, showcasing both his strategic thinking and precision – although Forest may question their decision to make it easier for their former star player.
However, Toney’s impact goes beyond just scoring goals. He excels at controlling the ball and using his body strength to fend off defenders, then passing it to teammates making runs ahead of him. This was evident twice in the hour mark, resulting in scoring opportunities, with the second leading to a corner kick that led to Brentford’s second goal by Ben Mee. Although he may not be known for his ability to drop back and assist in playmaking, it was Toney’s pass to the right that set up the cross for Mads Roerslev, ultimately resulting in Maupay’s winning goal.
Toney’s return has brought Brentford back to their former glory, with the slide now halted.