A first-half penalty from Ivan Toney condemned Everton to defeat on their first visit to Brentford Community Stadium.
The striker converted after the VAR advised referee Darren England to rewatch Andros Townsend’s challenge on Frank Onyeka just inside the 18-yard box.
Everton dominated the second 45 minutes, summoning increased urgency and intent to force Brentford onto the retreat.
Abdoulaye Doucoure, back from a six-week absence, grew into the game, injecting tempo and drive into Everton’s attacking football.
Salomon Rondon slammed a close-range volley into a defensive body, Alvaro Fernandez saved from Alex Iwobi and Demarai Gray came on and supplied a handful of menacing deliveries.
Jordan Pickford, relatively busy in the first-half, became a bystander, not called on until five minutes of stopped time, as the home team tried to capitalise on holes opening up with Everton frantically chasing an equaliser.
But Brentford defended for their lives, blocking and challenging and mounting a considerable rearguard.
The home side scarcely troubled Everton prior to their breakthrough. It was clear from the locals’ roar every time their team had a set-piece, however, that they fancied something was afoot whenever a player dressed in red and white stood over a dead ball.
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BENITEZ ON WHERE EVERTON MUST IMPROVE
The hosts didn’t live up to expectation, initially, one right-wing free-kick from Sergio Canos not travelling beyond Iwobi at the near post, while Brentford’s heralded long throws were amounting to nothing.
Canos, however, got a second bite of the cherry when a corner from the left went behind off the chest of Allan.
The Spaniard’s second delivery was far better – fast and vicious but punched out from under his bar by Pickford, who had earlier sped out t fist clear Vitaly Janelt’s nasty inswung, fifth-minute cross from the right.
Onyeka, the Brentford, midfielder motioned to head the ball racing clear from Everton’s box but received a kick from the raised boot of Townsend.
Play continued – indeed, we got as far as Everton going up the other end of the pitch through Anthony Gordon, with Ethan Pinnock blocking the eventual shot from Rondon.
Once referee England was told by Jon Moss, the VAR, to have another look, the decision felt inevitable. Sure enough, England spun from the pitchside monitor to point to the spot.
Toney had scored his past 14 penalties before this encounter, a run stretching back three years. The striker looked like a man who liked his chances, waiting for Onyeka, dabbing his nose with a tissue, to leave the field, before taking two steps and whipping the ball into Pickford’s bottom right corner.
Everton hadn’t created an awful lot until now. There were a couple of Andros Townsend balls in from the right claimed by Fernandez in the home goal. Gordon on the left flank, meanwhile, was causing a headache for Canos and Charlie Goode, the wing-back and right-sided player in Brentford’s back three struggling to keep tabs on the Everton forward.
But the away team were very close to levelling within 60 seconds of falling behind.
Lucas Digne swapped passes with Iwobi, operating in a central role to allow Townsend to move to the right and aim balls at Rondon, then scurried to the byline.
Pontus Jansson thought he had the situation under control when Digne’s cross arrived with Rondon, who had his back to goal.
Centre-half Jansson was alarmed, then, to suddenly have sight of the number on Rondon’s back from a distance of two yards after the Venezuelan turned 180 degrees to roll the defender.
The shot was aimed across Fernandez but kept out by the Spaniard.
A game hitherto contested in the middle third began swinging from end to end. Pickford, excellent again, was quick off his line to intercept with Bryan Mbuemo poised to convert a delivery along the floor from Onyeka.
The upright Toney used his quick feet to elude Michael Keane and slid in Janelt, who momentarily had only open space between himself and Pickford.
But Abdoulaye Doucoure’s long limbs were whirring and, in the nick of time, the Frenchman was back in the box to get his body across Janelt and prevent the shot.
Pickford held a Pinnock header under his bar following a long throw from Goode, now finding his range from both sides of the pitch, and the Everton keeper did well again three minutes before the break, getting down to his left to save Mbuemo’s swept effort from 18 yards.
There were only two minutes of added time, which seemed a bit measly following the pre-penalty delay. And it was Brentford grateful for the whistle after spending the period immediately before the break scrapping to preserve their lead.
Onyeka went in the book after planting his left hand in the small of Gordon’s back as the Everton player dashed through the heart of the pitch. Digne, however, lifted the dead ball high of Fernandez’s goal.
Townsend – the other player cautioned in the opening half, for impeding a Rico Henry surge – had almost exclusively been ducking back onto his left foot to cross until the 45th minute.
He sent over a flat ball, perfect for Doucoure, arriving late but heading into the body of Goode from eight yards.
Canos was over with a volley straight after the restart when Keane headed out a Goode throw-in.
Fernandez was redundant when Rondon miscued a strike on the full and the keeper was similarly not needed soon after, Jansson and Goode combining to crowd out Iwobi as the former Arsenal player tried to fasten onto Townsend’s clipped ball over the top.
Everton’s football was becoming more urgent, Doucoure driving Everton forwards from midfield and Seamus Coleman surfacing as an attacking proposition from right-back.
Doucoure received a pass from Keane to feed Coleman, who ate up 20 yards, advancing unchallenged to stand up a delivery that Norgaard could only head towards the darkening sky.
Rondon met the dropping ball flush and couldn’t believe his misfortune when the goalbound volley clattered into Norgaard.
Fernandez would inevitably be worked before long, although he might have thought he was off the hook again when Doucoure skewed his effort from another Coleman delivery.
Doucoure reacted first to apply the next touch, Allan darting in to layoff for Iwobi. He aimed at the near post but was denied by Fernandez, holding on down to his right.Gray replaced Townsend and Everton progressively pinned Brentford into their defensive third. The home team had five defenders strung across the width of the pitch and the five men in front of them working furiously to deny Everton space. Toney, meanwhile, the robust centre-forward, was operating as an auxiliary left midfielder, a defensive one at that, a sign of Brentford adopting a ‘we’ll-hold-what-we-have’ approach.
Gray was playing through the middle, Iwobi ushered out to the right, and the two linked-up on 78 minutes.
Iwobi’s pass through a narrow corridor was accurate, Gray running onto the ball and taking a terrific first touch to advance.
The cross was good, too, speeding through the six-yard box, with none of Doucoure, Rondon or Gordon arriving fast enough to make contact.
Gray slung in another tremendous ball from the right touchline with four minutes remaining but same story: no takers.
Those Gray deliveries sandwiched Coleman finding Rondon with a high cross from deep, the attempt steered wide of the near post.
Iwobi lopped a header into the gloves of a backtracking Fernandez following a Digne cross.
Five added minutes featured frantic toing and froing – both sides carving out half chances but nothing to add to Toney’s penalty strike.