Saturday, March 25, 2023

Brentford 0-0 Fulham (1-2 A.E.T.): Cunning Bryan secures Cottagers’ top-flight return

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Having dispatched the two Welsh clubs – Swansea and Cardiff City, respectively – in the semifinals, Brentford and Fulham faced each other in the final of the Championship play-offs at Wembley on Tuesday.

A dull 90-minute affair

Despite Brentford topping the Championship chart in terms of goals scored and Fulham boasting the league’s top scorer in their ranks, a final which leads into the Premier League was always going to be a cautious piece of business for both sides that took part in it.

And so it was. The flow of the game swayed this way and that, with Fulham keeping the ball more in Brentford’s half early on and then things turning the other way around, but there didn’t seem to be any call to attack in numbers, and there certainly weren’t any real chances for a very long time.

In truth, it was an interesting contest of two tactically extremely disciplined opponents. Forwards from either side tried their best and their potential often became notable. Fulham’s Josh Onomah showed himself capable of holding the ball up and dribbling past his markers, Brentford’s Ollie Watkins made smart diagonal runs, both of them would often drop deeper to try and get a defender out of position, but the defences were obviously instructed not to allow any space to open up anywhere near their respective boxes. Fulham’s Neeskens Kebano and Brentford’s Said Benrahma, creative as they are, were completely stifled and unable to produce any of their usual sparks.

For anyone enjoying quick, attacking football, it was a dull affair indeed, with very few opportunities for a goal at either end.

Fatigue the key?

Things started changing gradually towards the end of the match. Both sets of players got notably tired., both physically and mentally, and that might go some way to explain the mistake Brentford goalkeeper David Raya made in the final minute of the first half of extra-time. Yes, a cross was expected when Fulham left-back Joe Bryan stepped up and appeared to be looking for his teammates in the box, but the goalkeeper simply had to take some thought for the eventuality of a direct near-post shot.

With nothing to lose, Brentford went in search of an equalizer and their defenders seem more interested in seeing if anything would happen on that front than in defending their own net. Nothing should be taken from the brilliant one-two Bryan played with striker Aleksandar Mitrovic, but the way Pontus Jansson and Emiliano Marcondes allowed him to pass unhindered between them is inexcusable.

The header from Henrik Dalsgaard went in far too late to provide any serious hope for Brentford.

The referee

Martin Atkinson took charge of this game, and did nothing to improve his poor reputation. If you speak to a supporter of any club in the Premier League, you aren’t likely to get a positive reaction on the news that Atkinson would be officiating a game.

To be fair, the referee showed no signs of bias and held the passion of the players largely in check, but there were several occasions when the lack of his whistle sounding had no way of being explained.

Fulham in the Premier League

Scott Parker and his team aren’t likely to look back on this game for too long. They’ve done what they set out to do, that chapter is now over and it’s time for them to look ahead and prepare for the challenges of a league much stronger than the one they’re about to leave.

Of course, there’ll be very little need to tell Parker or his players that; there are some names among them who were at Craven Cottage in 2018/19 when they last played in the top flight and finished 19th with mere 26 points, and they aren’t likely to have forgotten all about the woes they suffered.

Will they be able to do better this time? It seems very ungrateful to make predictions in that aspect at the moment. Nobody could have predicted Sheffield United would go on to have the season they did following their promotion last year, and very few would have imagined Norwich City plummeting to the bottom of the table after they beat defending champions Manchester City early in the campaign.

Parker will certainly need fresh ideas and perhaps some new personnel in 2020/21. Let’s see where he and his team go from here.


Veselin Trajkovic

Vesko is a football writer that likes to observe the game for what it is, focusing on teams, players and their roles, formations, tactics, rather than stats. He follows the English Premier League closely, Liverpool FC in particular. His articles have been published on seven different football blogs.



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