Said Benrahma scored one of the Championship goals of the season as Brentford kept up their push for automatic promotion with victory at Derby County, which dented the Rams’ play-off chances.
The Bees have now won seven games in a row, including all six since the league resumed on 20 June, and are three points behind second-placed West Brom, who drew at Blackburn later on Saturday.
Ollie Watkins tapped in his 24th league goal of the season to give Brentford an early lead after Bryan Mbeumo’s shot hit the post at the end of a magnificent team move.
Derby’s teenage midfielder Jason Knight ran onto Wayne Rooney’s pass to power in an equaliser, but Brentford were back in front straight after the break when Benrahma’s shot squirmed through the hands of Rams goalkeeper Ben Hamer.
Forward Benrahma made it 3-1 with a stunning 20-yard curler into the top corner, which this time gave Hamer no chance, for his sixth goal in three matches.
Derby were outshone for long periods and struggled to get back in the game after Benrahma’s brilliance, and will find themselves five points outside the play-offs if Swansea beat Leeds on Sunday.
Bees to end long wait?
Brentford have not been in the top flight of English football since 1947, but victories in their final three matches of the season could give them a chance of going straight up to the Premier League.
Thomas Frank’s side host Preston on Wednesday, visit Stoke next Saturday and finish the campaign with a home fixture against bottom side Barnsley on 22 July.
And with their front three of Mbeumo, Watkins and Benrahma in such fine form, it appears few defences will be able to stop the highest scoring team in the Championship.
Brentford’s frontline have now scored 56 of their 78 league goals, while Algeria international Benrahma has netted 14 times in 2020 alone.
However, the Bees are also hard to break down, conceding just twice in the seven-game winning run which began with a 5-0 victory over Sheffield Wednesday before the coronavirus pandemic interrupted the season.
More frustration for Derby
While the Rams are not yet out of the play-off picture, taking just one point from three matches, with a tricky run-in to come, could result in another frustrating season.
Defeat at sixth-placed Cardiff on Tuesday would all but end their hopes of making the top six, before they conclude the campaign with a home game against leaders Leeds and a trip to Birmingham.
Derby have made the play-offs in three of the past six seasons and finished no lower than ninth since 2012-13 but many would have expected them to have returned to the Premier League by now after their infamous relegation in 2007-08 with only 11 points.
Had it not been for Hamer’s error when he spilled the ball into the net to give Brentford back the lead, it could have been a different story for Phillip Cocu’s side.
They will now be hoping results elsewhere go their way on Saturday and Sunday to keep them in the promotion hunt.
‘Ben took full responsibility’
Derby boss Cocu said he was frustrated by the result, but did not blame goalkeeper Hamer for the defeat.
“Ben took full responsibility for his mistake but I think it’s also too easy to only blame the goalkeeper because if a striker, Benrahma, is able to take a shot in the 18-yard box just two-and-a-half minutes after the break it is just poor defending by the whole team,” the 49-year-old said.
“For the third goal, the shot and strike was top quality which is the kind of players they have in the team.”
Bees manager Frank said he felt privileged to be in charge of such a good side.
“We knew when we went into this restart we were 10 points off the top two so that was a very difficult task,” the Dane, 46, said.
“Our aim was to win as many games as possible and first and foremost to secure a play-off place and then see what is happening but now, can we catch them (the top two)? Fantastic but if not, then we want to keep the momentum and good performances and take that into the play-offs.
“Right now, we are in a very good place and we just need to continue. I am spoiled with good players that it is a privilege to coach and be around.”