Fulham are back amongst football’s elite!
A 2-1 victory over their West London rivals Brentford have sent the Cottagers back into England’s top flight at the first time of asking. All three goals came in extra time after a slightly monotone first 90 minutes as both teams defended solidly but as soon as the game entered extra time it truly came to life. Here are my main talking points from the Championship Play-off final.
A brilliant brace from Joe Bryan
Both Fulham and Brentford have some of the best attackers the championship has seen this season, Aleksandr Mitrovic’s clinical finishing which saw him earn the golden boot and the tantalising trio of Ollie Watkins, Said Benrhama and Brian Mbuemo (BMW) being a joy to watch. However, it was an unlikely name who stole the headlines with two superb yet completely different goals and that was Joe Bryan.
In a game filled with minimal half chances it very quickly became clear a moment of brilliance or quick thinking would win the game and that was exactly what Joe Bryan produced.
A free kick 40 yards from goal, and with the aerial prowess Fulham have it would seem logical the ball was only destined for the box but Bryan thought smarter than that. The full back beautifully wrapped his left foot round the ball catching out David Raya who was slightly off his line at his near post, the first major risk taken in the game had resulted in the first goal.
The 26-year old was, like the entire Fulham backline, defensively sound all game thwarting Mbuemo on numerous occasions leading to the Frenchman being removed from the game on the hour mark. Both Josh Dasilva and Sergi Canos tried their luck against the Englishman but were unsuccessful as Bryan continued to dominate his side of the pitch and he wasn’t done there.
Deep into the latter stages of extra time, Bryan made a gut-busting run forward playing a delightful one two with Mitrovic and then finishing superbly passed Raya, a goal his golden boot winning teammate would’ve been very proud of.
A modern full-back is now expected to contribute going forward as well as going back, and that was exactly what Bryan did and more in one of the biggest games of his career.
Scott Parker is a genius
Last season in the Premier League Fulham lost 11 of their final 14 games. Scott Parker succeeded Claudio Ranieri late into the season and with things already looking bleak for Fulham their miserable season was compiled on the last day suffering a 4-0 defeat at the hands of Newcastle United.
Parker came into his first season of management with a low confidence Fulham team who weren’t considered favourites to go up but they’re now back in the Premier League and a lot of the credit has to go to the former England international.
Brentford have been one of the most entertaining and attacking teams the Championship has ever season and most would’ve picked them as favourites to go up through the play-offs especially after just missing out on the last day but a tactical masterclass from Parker led to Brentford’s key players not having their usual impact.
The deployment of Josh Onomah in the first half in particular was pivotal to Fulham’s early dominance, the former Spurs man was able to pick up the ball and find gaps in the Brentford defence almost playing as a second striker at times.
Due to the absence of a fully fit Mitrovic leading the line, Parker opted for a front three of Aboubakar Kamara, Bobby Reid and Neeskens Kebano.
The three forwards pressed high early on and allowed Tom Cairney and Harrison Reed to intercept hopeful passes as Brentford tried to get past the Fulham press and the trio continued to be lethal as they swapped positions many times in the first half making it difficult for any Brentford defender to get use to who they were up against.
The selection of Dennis Odoi over Cyrus Christie may have raised a few eyebrows as the latter often offers a lot going forward. But having a less attacking full back in Odoi made it much easier for Fulham to keep Benrahma quiet who through frustration on the left often drifted inside looking to have an impact on the game.
It was a truly perfect game plan from Fulham and the big decisions were made by a man who was just entering his first full season of management and not to mention the majority of the game was played without Mitrovic, Fulham’s biggest threat this past season.
Some may have seen Parkers appointment in February as a safety appointment, someone who knows the club well to see them through until the end of the season. So many were shocked when he was confirmed as the permanent manager but any doubters of his managerial ability will have surely been silenced now.
What does this mean for Watkins & Benrahma?
Regardless of the result it was heavily linked that two players who took to Wembley would end up in the Premier League one way or another and unfortunately now it won’t be in red and white.
Watkins and Benrhama have been unplayable in England’s second tier this year with them both registering over 25 goal contributions. But it always felt as though if Brentford were unsuccessful in their promotion campaign the duo would be heading to the Premier League anyway.
Chelsea have show strong interest in the highly talented Benrahma and Watkins would be a brilliant acquisition for any club lacking a goal scoring striker, both players are destined for a bright future in football and these next few months could be the most important in their career. Do they stay in West London and trust in Thomas Frank’s plan for next season or do they take advantage of their brilliant seasons and push for a move into the Premier League?