Brentford’s Ivan Toney presses England claim with double to see off Brighton | Premier League

If Gareth Southgate needed any more persuasion that Ivan Toney is worth a place in England’s World Cup squad then surely this performance seals it. Two goals from the Brentford striker, including an impudent backheel and another penalty to maintain his 100% conversion record for this club, were a perfect example of the 26-year-old’s qualities at just the right time.

Southgate must name his preliminary squad for Qatar by Friday and despite leaving Toney on the bench during the Nations League fixtures against Germany and Italy last month, the former Northampton and Peterborough striker looks more than a decent bet to be on the plane after moving level with Harry Kane on eight Premier League goals this season, behind only Erling Haaland.

For Thomas Frank, it was a timely result as his side moved into the top half of the table and within one point of Brighton, who are still waiting for a first victory under Roberto De Zerbi. “It was a beautiful ugly win,” said Brentford’s manager.

In the week that Enock Mwepu was forced to retire from football after being diagnosed with a hereditary heart condition, Brighton’s players warmed up with T-shirts bearing the message “Chambishi to the Premier League. Your dream came true. We are all with you” in tribute to the midfielder. The owner, Tony Bloom, was even spotted among the supporters in the away end with a Zambia flag, with Adam Lallana admitting beforehand that the sad news had “put a massive perspective on what matters in life”.

Pascal Gross (front) and his Brighton teammates warm up in T-shirts paying tribute to Enock Mwepu
Pascal Gross (front) and his Brighton teammates warm up in T-shirts paying tribute to Enock Mwepu. Photograph: John Sibley/Action Images/Reuters

De Zerbi could consider himself unfortunate to have only picked up a solitary point from his first two matches since succeeding Graham Potter and selected the same side that were narrowly beaten by Tottenham last week. There was a tweak in formation, however, with his opposite number Frank also opting to ditch his usual three-man defence as he made three changes from the team thumped 5-1 by Newcastle.

Bloom’s frosty relationship with Brentford’s owner, Matthew Benham – a former employee – stems back to an acrimonious split in 2004 that resulted in legal proceedings and means that he usually watches this fixture far away from the comforts of the directors’ box. Aside from an early chance for Frank Onyeka, Bloom will have been encouraged to see Brighton take the initiative here, with Danny Welbeck forcing David Raya into the first save of any note following a Pervis Estupiñán cross. The Brentford goalkeeper then did well to reach a swerving effort from Moisés Caicedo before denying Joël Veltman from the resulting corner.

But instead it was the hosts who found the breakthrough just after Bryan Mbeumo had struck the crossbar with a brilliant left-footed volley that left Robert Sánchez grasping at thin air. This time, the Cameroon forward was the architect as he found space with some excellent skill to release Onyeka and Toney finished with a sublime flick for his 50th league goal in his 100th appearance for Brentford in all competitions.

Ivan Toney watches over his shoulder as his flicked backheel heads towards the Brighton goal
Ivan Toney watches over his shoulder as his flicked backheel heads towards the Brighton goal. Photograph: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

Tempers spilled over just before half-time when Frank clashed with Veltman after the ball had gone out of play and De Zerbi briefly squared up to the Brentford manager. They swiftly shook hands afterwards but both ended up in the referee Michael Salisbury’s book.

Brentford have now won all 10 of their Premier League matches when leading at half-time and their advantage never really looked under threat as Brighton struggled to create any clearcut chances despite recording 72% of possession and registering 21 shots.

“To win games you have to score,” De Zerbi later acknowledged. “The Brentford goalkeeper played very well but we made mistakes at important moments. We are very positive and I trust in my team – with the quality we have shown in the three games we deserved more.”

Sánchez was relieved to see Toney fail to control the ball in a dangerous position after a mishit pass from the Brighton goalkeeper that would have left the goal at his mercy. Yet a moment of madness from Veltman, who brought down Brentford’s talisman right in front of the referee, left the visitors with a mountain to climb. Toney stepped up to convert from the spot – his 20th successful penalty from 20 attempts since joining Brentford two years ago.

“I don’t even know where I’m going until I kick the ball,” he said of his spot-kick technique in an interview with Sky Sports. “I just walk away and think of different things, like being on the beach with a cocktail.”

A frustrated De Zerbi will hope that his moment will come sooner rather than later.

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