From Brentford Community Stadium – A curious piece of advice a friend of mine who supports a Championship club once told me was: “If Brentford are linked with a player, your club should just buy him instead.”
At this point, the Bees’ recruitment policy and use of data isn’t a secret. Been there, done that, bought the theoretical xG t-shirt.
But this season was the first time Brentford entered one among the favourites for promotion to the Premier League. Their eight-match winning run toward the end of the previous campaign didn’t go unnoticed (we were all indoors watching a million games of football a week, anyway).
Defeat in the playoff final to Fulham meant they were unable to keep ahold of their two best players, with Ollie Watkins and Said Benrahma heading to Aston Villa and West Ham respectively.
Any team – any team – would be massively worse off without their two best players, least ones who combined for 42 league goals last season.
Brentford weren’t able to bring in a direct replacement for Benrahma, instead relying more on players they already had in Tariqe Fosu, Sergi Canos and Bryan Mbeumo. But a new striker was lined up even when it looked like they would be playing in the Premier League – Peterborough United’s Ivan Toney.
It took him a while to get firing in his career, with a move to Newcastle from Northampton Town in 2015 proving to be premature. But after moving to the Posh in 2018, he hasn’t stopped scoring, and when last year’s League One campaign was curtailed early, top tier sides were already looking at Toney, who finished the season with 24 goals in 32 games.
The Bees swooped in to take him off Peterborough’s hands, reportedly interested regardless of the division they would be playing in, and Toney has stepped up to spearhead another Brentford promotion push.
He won a penalty within the opening 15 minutes of their 1-1 draw with Nottingham Forest on Saturday, being pulled to the ground by Gaetan Bong.
Toney picked up the ball, strutted to the spot to place it down, then strutted back home to calmly tuck it into the far corner.
In the second half, he beat Forest’s offside trap and picked out Mbeumo with a clever cutback, only for the Frenchman to have his goal-bound shot blocked. Two clever flicks into the path of Saman Ghoddos followed, but he wasn’t as fortunate to have had such service.
Canos and Mbeumo felt his wrath on several occasions for failing to spot his runs, pulling Forest apart but to no avail. Brentford were unfortunate not to win, but that certainly doesn’t fall on Toney’s shoulders.
Toney’s gait is one of a player with real confidence, that of a Premier League player, prowling the pitch like Homer Simpson prowling the Springfield Chilli Cook-Off – ‘they say he carved his boots himself…from some bigger boots’.
Heading into this weekend, Toney led the Championship in goals (27), goals plus assists (35), goals plus assists per 90 (1.05), non-penalty goals (19) and non-penalty goals plus assist per 90 (0.84). Only the total NPG stat was close, too.
With nine games remaining in the Championship season, plus a potential three more should Brentford only reach the playoffs, Toney has already outscored anyone from five of the last six seasons in England’s second tier – only Teemu Pukki in 2018/19 (29) notched more.
It would be a complete disservice to Harry Kane to compare a Championship striker to him, but as someone who has been privileged enough to watch the Tottenham man’s career blossom from close proximity, there’s at least stylistic elements of him in Toney.
He has the strut and the gait and the goalscoring (think I’ve made that clear by now), he’s comfortable in the channels and dropping deep, but there’s a rare trait that the two share – neither believe they will come out of a duel second-best.
Toney’s agility and physique give him unique advantages against the opposition, easily able to trap the ball and beat them off the dribble. He can flick it over or under them, round them and past them with enough pace to skin most defenders.
The striker turned 25 earlier this week, now firmly in his physical prime. It’d be a risk for a club in Europe to take a punt on him, but the chances of him being a flat-out failure are minimal.
Premier League clubs should be after two strikers this summer – Ivan Toney, and whoever Brentford are linked with to replace Ivan Toney.