After witnessing three goals from Ollie Watkins, Brentford’s travelling support were singing in the rain at Oakwell. The man who was once a skilful, tricky winger has been converted into an out and out centre-forward, and his hat-trick in their 3-1 win over Barnsley last month was proof of his transformation.
When Brentford lost Neal Maupay to Brighton & Hove Albion in the summer transfer window, there were fears at Griffin Park that the goals might dry up, but Watkins has helped to allay those concerns. Maupay was the spearhead of the Bees’ attack over the last couple of seasons, but his departure has not caused the goalscoring deficiencies many were expecting Brentford to experience.
A tally of seven goals means Watkins leads the Championship goalscoring charts, no small achievement given the plethora of proven second-tier strikers in the division. There is a question to be asked about whether Brentford will become too dependent on Watkins to hit the net, but the 23-year-old has shown a maturity beyond his years since joining from Exeter City in 2017.
It was at the Devon club where Watkins made his name, tearing up League Two as Exeter made it to the play-off final, but ultimately lost out to Blackpool. 15 goals and 13 assists told the story of Watkins’ contributions to the Grecians’ run of good form that season.
It was enough for Brentford to pay a reported £1.8 million for the young player’s services, and that investment has paid dividends in the couple of years since his arrival. He has scored 30 goals in total for the Bees in his time at Griffin Park, and this season he is looking to kick on and ascend to the next level in terms of his goal return.
“I think he has all the qualities needed to play higher,” after Watkins’ hat-trick at Barnsley, and the goals he scored at Oakwell were evidence of that. Three headers, not necessarily a trademark of Watkins’, made up his treble, and adding that skill to his arsenal will only make him a more worrisome prospect for opposition defenders.
Naturally, Watkins’ good form will lead to interest from other clubs, particularly those at the top end of the Championship and the bottom half of the Premier League. There was speculation that Crystal Palace had made a bid for the 23-year-old in the closing stages of the summer transfer window, but any advances were swiftly rebuffed by Brentford as they had already lost Maupay.
However, when January comes around, you can bet more clubs will come knocking upon Brentford’s door. It would be hard to blame them. Watkins, with his newfound familiarity in the role of centre-forward, is the kind of striker any team would covet. He is graceful and elegant on the ball, but powerful and bullish when he needs to be, driving at defenders with the kind of verve that causes centre-halves and full-backs to quake in their boots.
Brentford will be eager to hold onto him for as long as they can. With the club moving into their new stadium at the beginning of the season, there is a sense that a new era is beginning at the west London club. A new state-of-the-art ground could be the catalyst for the club to reach new heights, to establish themselves as consistent favourites in and maybe even break into the promised land that is the Premier League.
Watkins would be the perfect player to spearhead such ambitions, to be Brentford’s poster boy as they seek to ascend to the next level, the kind of level Watkins is currently performing that. He is Brentford’s heartbeat, their pride and joy. He has the talent to go as far as he wants in the game, and is proving his worth more and more each week. Without a doubt, there are many more hat-tricks still to come.