Ivan Toney breaks his Premier League duck - but Brentford's attack far from flying

Grey Whitebloom
Ivan Toney celebrates his first Premier League goal in Brentford's 1-1 draw with Aston Villa
Ivan Toney celebrates his first Premier League goal in Brentford's 1-1 draw with Aston Villa / David Rogers/Getty Images

Stacked down the side of Ivan Toney's torso are eight letters that describe his head-on assault of the Premier League this season: FEARLESS.

After two performances bubbling with industry and endeavour, the Championship's top scorer last season opened his Premier League account at the third time of asking in Brentford's 1-1 draw with Aston Villa on Saturday afternoon.

While doubts inevitably swirled around Toney's ability to transfer his prolific touch from the Football League to the top flight, the striker himself was never one of that number. "If you see yourself as a winner, you’re going to be a winner, you’re going to make sure you become a winner," he told The Guardian on the eve of the season. "If you see yourself as fearless, you’ll be fearless."

Brentford's manager Thomas Frank has also been unwavering in his backing of the 25-year-old, declaring pre-game: “100% Ivan will score goals.”

'Goals', plural, is the operative word there because Brentford can simply not afford to go too many games without their number 17 having a hefty influence on proceedings at the sharp end of the pitch.

Toney's frankly ridiculous 31 strikes last season was not only record-breaking, but also coupled by an impressive ten assists - only Emi Buendia, incidentally the scorer of Aston Villa's equaliser on Saturday, also hit double digits for both goals and assists in the 2020/21 Championship campaign. Toney's 41 goal contributions accounted for more than half Brentford's total league tally, the highest share any second tier player could boast.

As Saman Ghoddos' corner bounced through to Sergi Canos on the right hand side of the box, Toney had his back to the ball, instead swivelling his head to spot the gaping whole Aston Villa's defence had left around the penalty spot. Via a delicate and uncharacteristic Pontus Jansson flick, Canos wriggled a pass to the isolated Toney who rifled a crisp finish into the top corner.

While the outcome of this move will be raucously celebrated by everyone waiting at the 'bus stop in Hounslow', as Frank deprecatingly described Brentford, that it was another set piece which served as the Bees' salvation is a slight cause for concern.

Much like the club's first ever Premier League goal against Arsenal, Brentford capitalised on Aston Villa's failure to adequately clear a corner kick. Coupled with Christian Norgaard's bundled effort on the opening day from a long throw - of which there were countless from both sides on Saturday - Brentford's attack has, so far, been dominated by set pieces.

In fact, going into the weekend, a whopping 70% of Brentford's expected goal (xG) tally has come from dead balls (per Opta). Last term the Championship's top scorers only relied on set pieces for 18% of their attacking threat. This drastic contrast is certainly impacted by the early stage of the campaign, but the sharp climb in opposition quality, and Brentford's adaptation to it, is undoubtedly a factor.

Toney's wait for a Premier League goal took less than three games but another type of set piece, penalties, has masked a sticky patch the striker ended on Saturday. Nine of Toney's league goals last season were from the spot and his unerring accuracy 12 yards out clouded a run of one non-penalty goal from his last 11 games ahead of the weekend.

Brentford can relax into the international break unbeaten from their opening trio of Premier League matches with just one goal conceded, five points on the board and their talismanic forward on the scoresheet.

This is hardly the time for frenzied fretting about a faltering front line, but an acknowledgement of what to improve upon to allay these fears deeper in the season. Toney, in any case, will remain fearless.