As galling as this derby defeat appears, it is worse because Fulham were the architects of their own downfall at Griffin Park. Slavisa Jokanovic’s side looked in control of this strangely subdued local skirmish once Neeskens Kebano stubbed home a low cross from Ryan Fredericks, but failed to hold onto the advantage their patient, probing passing had delivered. The visitors couldn’t hold out for more than eight minutes and both Fredericks and David Button were culpable as first the dangerous Sergi Canos was allowed far too much space to cut inside in the box before his deflected shot squirmed under the goalkeeper’s body.
The jolt of being pegged back by Brentford’s only shot on target of a largely forgettable first half turned to nothing as the Bees seized control of the contest. Dean Smith’s side played at a far higher tempo after the interval and their pressure paid dividends. The lively Ollie Watkins, who had made the equaliser with a determined individual run that carried him through the Fulham defence, returned a poorly cleared set-piece into the box and – after Yohann Barbet’s fierce drive came back off the base of the post – Sawyers smashed his fourth goal of the season.
The atmosphere around Griffin Park charged and Fulham looked jittery at the back. No one portrayed this sudden lack of confidence more than Denis Odoi, who had injured his knee in a challenge at the start of the second half. The Belgian inexplicably remained on the field, despite finding it difficult to run, even after he received a final warning from referee Bobby Madley. The official eventually put Odoi out of his misery – showing the defender a second yellow after he blocked Watkins as he burst down the right flank.
Jokanovic, who had started with a curious variation on his favoured 4-3-3 with no recognised striker and Stefan Johansen as an advanced playmaker behind two wide forwards in Sheyi Ojo and Neeskens Kebano, showed little appetite for rejigging the ten men who had 37 minutes to find a response to going behind. His belated substitutions did little to alter the game’s pattern and, with both Aboubakar Kamara and Yohann Mollo left on the bench throughout, invited more questions than answers.
Brentford’s tails were now up. Barbet bent a free kick over the bar and Ryan Woods saw a shot deflected behind for a corner. From being in control of the contest, a fragile Fulham side were clinging on for dear life. Button batted away a Barbet header at his near post and both Watkins and the returning Lewis Macleod drove efforts into the side netting.
In a game that was becoming increasingly open, Fulham’s ten men threatened sporadically on the counter attack – but every break left more space for the home side to attack. Sheyi Ojo had a header blocked and John Egan threw himself in front of a Johansen drive, but the clearest chance was fashioned by Tom Cairney after a surging run from Ryan Fredericks. The Fulham captain took aim from 20 yards and his curling shot had Dan Bentley beaten but cannoned back off the crossbar.
The visitors kept pushing forward, epitomised by young Ryan Sessegnon’s raids from left back but when the teenager lost possession high up the field, Fulham’s feint hopes were extinguished by a clinical Bees counter. After Woods and Kamohelo Mokotjo had played a bit of keep ball, the South African spotted the overlapping run of Sawyers down the right and his low cross was guided home by Watkins, who won’t have an easier finish all season, at the back post.
Desolation had been the last thing on Fulham’s mind after they had enjoyed the better of a first half that was full of pretty, passing football. Cairney tested Bentley’s reflexes from the edge of the area and Ojo buzzed around the box with intent, but Jokanovic’s side looked most dangerous when the full-backs advanced into full third. The goal came that way with Fredericks driving to the by-line and, even though his low cross was missed by Norwood, Kebano snaffled up the chance with glee unattended at the back stick. Fulham spurned decent chances to extend their advantage – with Bentley pushing away an Ojo drive at his near post and Norwood’s drive blocked at source – and such profligacy ultimately proved costly.
BRENTFORD (4-3-3): Bentley; Barbet, Clarke, Egan, Bjelland; Mokotjo, Yennaris (J. McEachran 80), Woods; Watkins, Canos (Macleod 72), Vibe (Sawyers 17). Subs (not used): Daniels, Mepham, Chatzitheodoridis, Archibald.
GOALS: Canos (33), Sawyers (49), Watkins (85).
FULHAM (4-1-2-1-2): Button; Fredericks, R. Sessegnon, Kalas, Odoi; McDonald; Norwood, Cairney; Johansen (de la Torre 77); Ojo (Graham 86), Kebano (Fonte 63). Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Djalo, Mollo, Kamara.
BOOKED: Odoi, Cairney, Fredericks, Norwood.
SENT OFF: Odoi (53).
GOAL: Kebano (25).
REFEREE: Bobby Madley (Wakefield).