Fulham – and particularly Joe Bryan – just have that greater Premier League quality. That was the real story of this play-off final, that sees Brentford beaten 2-1, and their “dream” for this campaign destroyed. Reality hit.
Fulham, with one of the most expensive squads in the Championship, now also have that last Premier League place. That was after a poor final that often felt like it was going on as long as Brentford’s 77 years outside the top tier. They will have to wait another season, their story for this campaign ending in disappointment.
It has always been a much more engaging story than Fulham’s, because of their size, but that’s where there’s a bit of a narrative twist, too.
Download the new Independent Premium app
Sharing the full story, not just the headlines
The key moment came from a piece of ingenious thinking Brentford would be proud of, but also the type of long-range shot their analytics approach wouldn’t usually encourage.
Aleksander Mitrovic picked a fight, Bryan picked his spot.
The latter’s free-kick was one of the few moments of class in the game, as he caught David Raya and everyone else out, taking advantage of the distraction from Mitrovic’s chaos.
Bryan then secured it with a surging run late on, rendering Dalsgaard late goal irrelevant. It just wasn’t enough for Brentford. They didn’t give enough on the night.
There were long spells when it was difficult not to wonder whether Brentford had put the majority of their remaining energy for the season into the semi-final second leg, and their last game at Griffin Park. Fulham just had much more impetus from the off. The first 20 minutes saw Brentford struggle to get the ball away from their area, and encounter real difficulty with Josh Onomah. True to form, he had Fulham’s first long-range shot – by now a staple of this team – after just three minutes.
The only problem was that was pretty much it for the first half, from either side.
Fulham deserved credit for their energy, but the inability to do much with it illustrated one of the problems with this side, and a general paucity of ideas in attack.
Brentford being penned back meant Pontus Janssen was starved of the ball, which was a reason for their inability to play and the game’s general lack of quality. It was little surprise that the only real moment of ingenuity in the first half came when he finally got on the ball just outside the box, and played in a tantalising inviting cross that Michael Hector did well to get his head to.
Whatever about Brentford’s lack of charge, though, it wasn’t the first time that this final has failed to take off. It actually happens more times than not.
Perhaps that’s the inevitable consequence of endlessly describing this game as the most lucrative in football, and all the pressure that brings. That was something Henrik Dalsgaard referenced on the eve of the game.
It brings restraint, rather than release; safety rather than expression. There’s so much on the table.
It also meant a lot of the players spent time on the ground. Games like this are always going to be tough, with a lot of fouls.
As a consequence, two of the biggest moments of the “third quarter” were long-range free-kicks. Neeskens Kebano put one into the side netting, that the Fulham contingent here initially thought was in. Emiliano Marcondes blazed the other well over – and no one thought that was in.
A later Said Benrahma free-kick that pitifully drifted out seemed to sum up the 90 minutes.
Brentford did begin to find a few angles in extra-time, having got out of Fulham’s boxy midfield to try and work their way into the box.
Fulham were meanwhile still largely trying their luck from distance.
It ended up working.
Bryan’s strike just displayed an elevation of thinking and quality, amid so much drudgery. It probably helped that the moments leading up to it saw substitute Mitrovic – of course – get into a confrontation with Marcondes. There was just that sense of distraction, and it’s hard not to think it played on Raya’s mind as he slightly moved towards the right, and that area of the box.
With all attention there, and everyone waiting for the ball to be put there, Bryan brilliantly put it into the corner. Raya – previously so solid – was left scrambling across. He couldn’t get there.
Bryan put him past it again minutes later, as it felt like all the game’s action had been reserved for the final minutes.
It all meant Fulham reserved their place in the Premier League.
Source: Read Full Article