368 days after the 2019/20 season began, the curtain came down on the Sky Bet Championship campaign under the Wembley arch this evening.
Just the second-ever all-London tie to grace the Championship Play-Off Final, only six miles separate the grounds of Brentford and Fulham as they competed for a place in the Premier League.
The Bees were looking to reach the Premier League for the first time, while Fulham were looking to end just a one-year stay in the second tier of English football.
There were some hairy moments for Thomas frank's side in the opening 15 minutes, most notably as David Raya’s clearance was intercepted as Brentford attempted to play their way out from the back. Fortunately for the Bees, Fulham couldn’t quite get their shot away and the Bees recovered.
In addition to posing a threat in attack, Scott Parker’s side looked to frustrate in defence as they filled their own half with numbers each time Brentford came forward, forcing them to play their way around the penalty area.
It was a bright start for the Whites, who continued to dominate possession and it took a big one-handed save from Raya who got down low to his right, to deny Josh Onomah the opening goal. The Spaniard in the Brentford was goal both quick and alert to make an important save.
There’s no doubt that as we paused for a drinks break the closer looks at goal had come from Fulham. In the absence of Aleksandar Mitrovic, Onomah was proving to be a real threat going forward, Bobby Decordova-Reid and Aboubakar Kamara also causing the Bees’ defence problems.
Brentford experienced short spells of possession, but the defence from Fulham was suffocating, who closed the Bees down at every opportunity. Their best chance came through a dangerous Christian Norgaard cross from the right, which was cleverly deflected behind for a corner by Fulham defender Michael Hector.
There were few clear-cut chances as the first half came to an end - a frustrating half for Brentford whose much-talked about front three barely had a look in thanks to some disciplined defending from the Fulham back line.
A game well and truly in the balance heading into the second half, with all still to play for.
Half-time: Brentford 0-0 Fulham
Brentford got the second half underway, but it was Fulham who went agonisingly close just minutes in.
A free-kick specialist in recent weeks, a sizzling effort from Neeskens Kebano had Raya beaten, only to see his effort curl into the side netting.
The Bees grew into the second half, as Said Benrahma worked hard to try and create opportunities. His cross into Jensen was met with a heavy touch allowing Fulham to clear, before another cross swung in by the Algerian was headed away by Tim Ream, with a third effort from Bryan Mbeumo going over the crossbar. Brentford’s best spell yet.
Having endured a short spell of pressure, Fulham came calling again, this time going close through Decordova Reid. His effort however, sailed just wide of the post.
The Bees looked to take advantage of a free-kick given on the edge of the area, but Emiliano Marcondes wasted the chance, firing his effort over the bar.
As the clock wound down, it looked as though a moment of magic or one mistake could be the difference.
Having been kept quiet for large parts of the game, Ollie Watkins forced a great reflex save from Marek Rodak, as he found space on the edge of the area to strike a vicious drive towards the top corner.
Brentford moved the ball around, trying their best to stretch Fulham and find a way through, but Parker’s side continued to defend brilliantly and frustrate the Bees’ attacking force.
A game of few chances, 90 minutes couldn’t split the West London neighbours as extra-time beckoned.
Full-time: Brentford 0-0 Fulham
The sides regrouped and two minutes into extra-time Watkins had a golden chance to finally break the deadlock, as substitute Sergi Canos swept a deadly ball into the middle, but the Bees’ top scorer couldn’t get a clean connection and saw his effort trickle past the post.
Brentford edged their way into the contest but Fulham were not to be broken down and on the stroke of half-time in extra-time the deadlock was finally broken.
So solid in the Brentford goal all season, golden glove winner Raya was caught out by a Joe Bryan free-kick from 40 yards. Noticing Raya off his line anticipating the cross, Bryan smartly curled the ball into the corner. A huge moment for Fulham.
With two minutes to go, the man of the moment and man of the match Joe Bryan popped up again, as he coolly slotted the ball past Raya after a one-two with Mitrovic.
Thomas Frank’s side did pull a goal back in stoppage time as Henrik Dalsgaard headed in, but Bryan’s brilliance was enough to secure promotion back to the Premier League for Fulham.
Full-time in extra-time: Brentford 1-2 Fulham
Brentford: Raya, Dalsgaard, Jansson, Kinnock, Henry (Fosu-Henry 106’), Jensen (Dervisoglu 105’), Norgaard, Dasilva (Canos 83’), Mbeumo (Marcondes 60’), Watkins, Benrahma
Unused substitutes: Valencia Castillo, Jeanvier, Daniels, Zamburek, Rasmussen.
Fulham: Rodak, Odoi (Christie 110’), Hector, Ream, Bryan, Reed, Cairney, Kebano (Knockaert 80’), Onomah, Decordova-Reid (Mitrovic 90’), Kamara (Cavaleiro 115’)
Unused substitutes: Betinelli, McDonald, Johansen, Le Marchand,, S.Sessegnon
Referee: Martin Atkinson