Joe Bryan was the hero for Fulham as his two goals lead the Cottagers to victory against Brentford in the Championship Play-off final at Wembley. After a goalless 90 minutes, Bryan grabbed two goals before Henrik Dalsgaard notched a consolation for Thomas Frank's side.
Story of the match
It was a tentative opening five minutes from both sides, and Fulham's Josh Onoma was the first player to have a shot from range in the final with a good strike from 30 yards, but Brentford goalkeeper David Raya was more than equal to it. Brentford's first attempt at goal came from a free kick won by Said Benrahma on the edge of the area, but the Fulham wall did it's job and blocked the effort.
Onomah had a chance soon after, but couldn't capitalize on some poor Brentford defending. He could have shot or squared it to Neeskens Kebano, but in the end couldn't do either as Brentford scrambled the ball away. It was Fulham who looked the most likely to score in the opening ten minutes in a game of enormous magnitude.
On 16 minutes, Tom Cairney threaded a ball through to Onomah who once again brought an excellent save from Raya. Pontus Jansson cleared the ball back off the keeper immediately afterwards and Brentford did not look confident at the back in the early stages. It wasn't until Rico Henry whipped in a cross from the left hand side for Brentford, with Bryan Mbeumo with a half chance. Marek Rodak had an easy task of gathering the ball just before the drinks break.
After the quick break, which saw the infamous Thomas Frank tactics board - Harrison Reed was incredibly lucky to only receive a yellow card after a challenge on Christian Norgaard. Nothing came of the resulting free kick, however, with Brentford's set pieces ineffective in the first half hour.
The much-lauded BMW trio (Benrahma, Mbeumo and Ollie Watkins) was kept quiet in the first half with only Benrahma showing some flashes of forward play. Fulham had the bit between their teeth and were controlling play for the most part, but neither side really looked like scoring as half time approached, and so it proved. Martin Atkinson's whistle sounded for half time with the sides locked at 0-0.
The second half saw Kebano go very close from a free kick, but could only find the side netting from 25 yards out. Fulham started the second half as they did the first - with plenty of purpose - and for all the talk about Thomas Frank's tactics, Scott Parker was doing a superb job of nullifying the Bee's threat.
Brentford started to grow into the game as the second half wore on, with a couple of half chances and some pressure on the Fulham backline. Bobby Decordova-Reid had a golden chance for Fulham as the hour mark approached but shot well wide. The ineffective Mbeumo was withdrawn for Emiliano Marcondes as Frank's side looked to inject some creativity into the Bee's front line.
On 70 minutes, Ollie Watkins had his first clear cut chance from the edge of the area, but Rodak was equal to it. Harrison Reed had a go from a similar distance minutes later for Fulham, but blazed well over. It was looking like a game that had extra time written all over it as the final 15 minutes approached.
Anthony Knockaert entered the fray for Fulham with ten minutes to go as both teams pushed to try get a winner. Henrik Dalsgaard blazed over and Aboubakar Kamara hesitated when he breached the Brentford defense and saw his opening come to nothing. Mathias Jensen went into the book with two minutes to go after cynically bringing down a furious Knockaert, but again Fulham failed to take advantage of the free-kick. After Watkins brilliantly won a free kick as full time drew closer, Benrahma wasted the opportunity with a poor free kick.
Aleksander Mitrovic came on in added time, and as the game finished 0-0, it was the seventh time that a Championship play-off final had gone into extra time. Not since Huddersfield Town's victory in 2017 had a final gone past 90 minutes.
Ollie Watkins had a great opportunity a minute into the first period of extra time, but Michael Hector managed to put the striker off enough for him to spurn the chance. The game ebbed and flowed one way than the other, until the defining moment of the extra time period came after a long Rodak kick caught Raya in no man's land. His hasty clearance lead to a free kick being given to Fulham. This resulted in a scuffle before the resulting free kick was taken. After it had been calmed down though, a magnificent hit from Joe Bryan caught Raya unaware to whip the ball into the net a send the Fulham bench into raptures.
Brentford threw everything at Fulham in the second half of added time, but Scott Parker's side looked to be in control as the game entered the last five minutes of added time. As the Bees pushed forward, Joe Bryan drove forward, did a one-two pass with Mitrovic and finished smartly. Brentford did get a consolation with one minute of added time to go, with Dalsgaard scoring a header - put it proved to be too little, too late. Bryan's brace made sure that Fulham will be competing in the Premier League in the 2020/21 campaign.
Takeaways from the match
It was a case of tactical stalemate from both coaches for the majority of this game, as Parker's Fulham restricted the Bees massively in midfield with an unconventional set up which allowed them to have the majority of the ball. Despite being frustrating to watch for many neutrals who were expecting a goal fest, it allowed for an incredibly close final that was a fascinating tactical battle.
Perhaps it was unsurprising that in a game of such magnitude there were two sides who did not play as freely as they had done since the re-start back in mid-June. The fact the final went to extra time really showed just how cagey and tentative attacking teams can be when a huge reward is attached to a one-off game such as this.
Unfortunately for Brentford, it was a mistake by their usually dependable goalkeeper David Raya allowed Joe Bryan to score a quite audacious effort from all of 35 yards to seal it for Fulham.
The goalkeeper's position is to be questioned, but the hit from Bryan was spectacular and well worthy of winning the Championship final. Parker's tactical ability was confirmed as he switched formation slightly to five at the back to snuff out any spaces out wide Brentford could capitalize on. Bryan grabbed a second late on to ensure the victory as Brentford fell at the final hurdle - despite grabbing a late consolation - having looked certain for promotion barely two weeks ago.
Who else but Joe Bryan? After 90 minutes without any real chances to speak of for either side, the defender hit a spectacular free kick to put Fulham ahead at the end of the first half of added time before driving forward and bagging a brace to send the Cottagers to the Premier League. The defender's fitness in the later stages of the game was outstanding and he proved to be a worthy match winner.
Brentford: Raya, Henry (Fosu 105'), Jansson, Dalsgaard, Pinnock, Jensen, Dasilva (Canos 83'), Benrahma, Watkins, Mbeumo (Marcondes 61').
Substitutes (not used): Daniels, Valenica, Dervisoglu, Jeanvier, Zamburek, Rasmussen.
Fulham: Rodak, Hector, Ream, Odoi (Christie 110'), Bryan, Reed, Kamara (Cavaleiro 104'), Onomah (Le Marchand 110'), Cairney, Kebano (Knockaert 80'), Decordova-Reid (Mitrovic 90').
Substitutes (not used): Bettinelli, Macdonald, Johansen, Sessegnon.