As Ivan Toney’s long-awaited return drew nearer this week, a question was posed: “But what if he’s just never as good as he used to be?”
Those concerned needn’t have worried. Rarely has one individual dominated the pre-game talk, but Toney rose to the occasion.
For all the montages and music marking Toney’s return which played out around the Gtech Community Stadium beforehand, Brentford were brought back down to earth with the deep thud of Danilo’s right boot within three minutes of kick-off.
A hashed clearance by Vitaly Janelt went up, up, but never away, and onto the ball came Danilo. The 22-year-old Brazilian looped a splendid volley which dipped down and nestled into the corner, past unmoved Mark Flekken.
Forest had struck first, spoiling the first act of Toney’s big day. “Ivan Toney, he should have cashed out" sang the away supporters, revelling in their side’s status as chief disruptors.
More than disrupting, Forest were dominating. But after Thomas Frank voiced his frustration that his side were not progressing the ball fast enough, Mikkel Damsgaard drove forward, was clipped by Orel Mangala, and the Bees had a free-kick on the edge of the area.
Questioning convention as though he’d never been away, Toney picked up the spray foam and then the ball, moving both a few inches forward, out of referee Darren England’s eye-line. Even the smallest advantage might be crucial.
Toney’s last goal had been a free-kick into the bottom corner which he passed round the wall, against Nottingham Forest, all the way back in April. This time Forest had learnt their lesson, placing Danilo on the floor as a human draught-excluder… except Toney produced exactly the same goal.
The 27-year-old sprinted straight to Frank, embraced his manager and team-mates, and held aloft a shirt thrown from the crowd, which read "For You Uncle Brian" on the back.
Brentford’s talisman was back with a goal which showed just the finishing they had lacked in this torrid run of five straight league defeats. Toney looked every bit the “eight-year-old boy obsessed with football” that Frank said he would, winding up a bicycle kick but getting beaten to the ball, and heading a Forest free-kick clear soon after.
If the weeks leading into this contest — and indeed the first half — had been all about Toney, the second 45 became about the top prize: three crucial points for one of these two struggling sides.
From Mathias Jensen’s corner just before the hour mark, Ben Mee got a run on Murillo at the front post and slammed home an emphatic header. The last time he scored was the last time Brentford won. A good omen perhaps.
On a day billed more as a testimonial than a Premier League contest, though, Toney and Brentford had the last laugh. The one-time England international spread play to his right, Mads Roerslev crossed, and Neal Maupay plucked the ball down, swivelled, and thundered a stunning volley into the corner. A Maupay goal for Brentford, of 2018/19 vintage, providing their first win of 2024. Very few people of a Brentford persuasion will forget this day in a hurry. Toney gives them hope.