Brentford, having beaten Fulham home and away in the regular season, were favourites for many. Fulham’s golden boot winner Mitrovic was not fit enough to start, and the Brentford side had finished top scorers in the Championship season. Brentford were also able to equal a fantastic Leeds side with a goal difference of 42 for the season, having conceded the second least goals in the league (just 38). This was also a ‘second-chance’ for the Bees to enter the top-flight for the first time in 73 years, having narrowly missed out on automatic promotion after failing to defeat then - 23rd place Barnsley – surely the Bees could capitalise this time!
On the other hand, Scott Parker’s side had much more experience, having competed in the final 2 years prior... and won
The bigger-named side also had an impressive season, finishing level with Brentford on points, and also holding an impressive defensive record.
It was a very quiet 90 minutes throughout the match, and both sides were able to hold on well to prevent the other from scoring, despite both sides having fierce attacking players – exactly what you would expect from two sides with such impressive defensive records. Fulham had the better of the chances in the regular time with David Raya being called upon to stop shots from Onomah and Reid; there was also a heart-in-mouth-moment for Brentford players soon after the half-time break, when former PSG player Neeskens Kebano narrowly missed the goal with a free kick that ended up hitting the side-netting. Unfortunately for Brentford, their front three of Watkins, Benrahma and Mbeumo, who netted 59 goals between them in the regular season, were unable to score, and the only chance of any true note was Watkins’ powerful strike from outside the box, which was matched by Fulham keeper Marek Rodak.
So, goal-less after 90 minutes, the match moved to extra time, and with both teams looking more concerned with scoring, rather than worrying about potentially conceding, the game continued to be an exciting one. Soon after the restart Ollie Watkins was gifted an opportunity to score after a beautiful cross into the box from Bees midfielder Sergi Canos, but he failed to net the opportunity with Denis Odoi managing to complete his defensive duties for the Whites and distract the Bees striker.
It wasn’t long after this when we saw some true magic from Fulham left-back Joe Bryan. The free kick is what I described to a friend as a ‘fantastic’ yet ‘rubbish’ goal. Fantastic from Joe Bryan, not so good by David Raya. From 40-yards out, the left back was able to convince the keeper that he would be putting in a cross to his fellow teammates, leaving Raya completely exposed to Bryan’s aggressive, curling shot into the goal at the near post. Raya was left almost hopelessly scurrying across his goal-line, ashamed, embarrassed, beaten by the better man. Only 12 minutes later, a charge forward from Bryan saw him score again following a cheeky ‘one-two’ with Mitrovic, splitting the Brentford defence. The left back “moonlighting as a striker” was just the man that Fulham needed to take them back to the top-flight in English football.
A goal from Dalsgaard for Brentford in the 124th minute turned out to be little more than a consolation, as referee Martin Atkinson called it a day very soon after, blowing the whistle on a Championship playoff final that must have felt like a lifetime for both sets of players.
So, the chess match was played, and with almost identical statistics throughout the match, it seemed Joe Bryan was the piece that would take out Brentford, and win Fulham £150 million alongside promotion. Welcome back to the Premier league Fulham!