Brentford grab derby spoils with late strikes as Championship makes welcome return
Fulham 0 Brentford 2
Two late, late goals gave Brentford the double over their promotion rivals from down the road to close the gap on their neighbours to a point in the race for a top two finish.
A lively game looked to be heading for a draw until the 88th minute, when Said Benrahma slid in at the far post to convert a raking low cross from the right, then sub Emiliano Marcondes, whose cross had produced the breakthrough, cut inside onto his left foot to drill expertly into the roof of the net.
Poetically, it was Benrahma the supplier for that clincher, as the forward returned the favour with an assist of his own.
Surreal the whole experience may have been of staging a match of such importance in front of near-deserted stands, but the intensity we all know and love was there all right.
Football is back in the Championship and we can all be grateful for that.
Without the drowning-out drone of a crowd, the players’ fruity and sometimes anxious exhortations were loud and clear. And the shouting from players and coaching staff only seemed to increase as the match progressed. Perhaps they sensed the dramatic ending that was on the way.
This was like stumbling upon an unfeasably excellent reserve game, where the level of commitment and desire seemed abnormally high.
And indeed the stakes could not be much higher, with both sides in with a shout of making it to the Premier League. Fans were robbed of tasty Friday night encounter back in March, when it became the first victim of football’s covid-induced shut down.
Three months on and those fans will have had to make do with TV screens, if lucky enough to have access to the broadcast. It is not impossible that the Championship play-off final could feature a re-run if automatic promotion ultimately proves out of reach for both sides.
Thomas Frank’s men were the first to show, with Jay Da Silva having a pop from distance, and Marek Rodak getting comfortably behind it, then Aleksandar Mitrovic – barely recognisable in lockdown locks - climbed at the far post to nod down a cross from Neeskens Kebano, but David Raya was equal to it.
Fulham looked the more dangerous side in the early stages and Bobby Reid lashed a rising shot against the crossbar after being slipped into the inside left channel by Harrison Reed.
Moments later, Anthony Knockaert’s first-time effort from outside the box beat Raya but drifted just beyond the far post.
But Brentford enjoyed plenty of possession and poured forward in numbers at every opportunity. Tariqe Fosu ended a sweet move by stinging Rodak’s palms with an angled drive and Ollie Watkins sent a near-post header just over the bar.
After the break, Mitrovic had the ball in the net, but was frustrated by a linesman's flag and was so close to a legitimate goal when he stooped to get his head to a wicked cross in from the left by Joe Bryan. David Raya made a crucial reaction save.
It seemed like we would be in for a stalemate. But there was to be an unwanted sting in the tail for Scott Parker’s men. Pun intended.
The Bees were missing the man who scored the winner when the sides met at Griffin Park in December – Bryan Mbeumo having contracted coronavirus. Everyone will wish him a speedy recovery. For Brentford though, his absence did not prove too significant on this occasion, at least.
Fulham: Rodak – Odoi, Hector, Ream, Bryan – Cairney, Reed (Arter 79) – Kebano (Cavaleiro 71), Reid (Johansen 90), Knockaert (Jasper 90) – Mitrovic. Subs not used: Bettinelli, McDonald, LeMarchand, Christie
Brentford: Raya – Dalsgaard, Jansson, Pinnock, Henry – Jensen (Baptiste 68), Norgard, Dasilva (Valencia 84) – Fosu (Marcondes 68), Watkins, Benrahma. Subs not used: Thompson, Mokotjo, Dervisoglu, Jeanvier, Daniels, Roerslev