Amazing final Griffin Park flourish takes Brentford to Wembley after play-off thriller
Brentford 3 Swansea City 1 (3-2 aggregate)
Play-off semi-final second leg
They saved up one of their very best for last.
After 116 years, Brentford finally said goodbye to Griffin Park and they said it in style and on the most important of occasions – a play-off to take the side to Wembley and one step away from the Premier League. But boy did they live dangerously at the death.
Seemingly cruising at 3-0, they allowed their opponents a sniff of a chance in the final 18 or so minutes after gifting them a soft goal.
Suddenly, a team they had largely outplayed had hope and it was a frantic finish. But they did it. The Bees held on. Now, only one more hurdle stands in their way – Fulham or Cardiff City at Wembley on Tuesday.
This was never going to be a mere footnote in history when there was a big opportunity to take a crucial step towards making the top flight for the first time since 1947.
Two goals in the opening 15 minutes not only wiped out the 1-0 first leg deficit but put the Bees firmly in the driving seat – psychologically as well as materially.
The shell-shocked Swans were made to pay for the temerity of snatching that lead in south Wales as Ollie Watkins and Emiliano Marcondes produced the rewards for a blistering start.
This ramshackle old ground has seen many thrilling matches among the 3,000 or so to take place here, but this one will be right up there when the ‘best ever nights’ is definitively compiled.
The shame was, of course, that the wretched pandemic denied fans the opportunity to witness a superb night in person. Hopefully they made the most of it from the comfort of living rooms and pub lounges and can soon return to watch their heroes at the new stadium.
Thomas Frank was true to his word. He predicted a whirlwind from his players generated by grievances from the first leg – when Rico Henry was wrongly red carded. He bullishly predicted a win.
The Bees had never previously won a play-off tie but this team bears no real resemblance to all those that have been this way before, including those who lost to Swansea in a League One two-leg decider in 2006. This is a bunch of players with a sense of destiny.
Brentford were ahead after 11 minutes after a sublime breakaway, begun by a quick throw from David Raya and sumptuous early ball from deep by Matt Jensen which completely exposed the Swans’ defence. There was no stopping Watkins, given all that free space to exploit. He calmly sprinted clear and drilled home for his 26th goal of an amazing campaign.
By the 15th minute, the lead was already established, as a clever chip up from Benrahma found Marcondes ghosting in behind the defence to head past a static goalkeeper.
As early as the third minute, Brentford had showed their intent with a stinging effort from distance by Marcondes, whose venom seemed to genuinely take Erwin Mulder by surprise – the keeper opting to beat away to safety rather than risk catching, even though it was straight at him.
It should have been 3-0 after 18 minutes when Benrahma tricked his way past a floundering Kyle Naughton and crashed a low shot against the inside of the near post – the ball rolling across the line but not over it.
Spurred by the near-miss, the Algerian was soon chancing his arm again more than once – looking for the one that would bring clear daylight. It happened again and again. Maybe they will go in in the final.
It was Bryan Mbeumo who appeared to have made the game safe in the first minute of the second half – volleying home a cross from Henry – the man who might have missed the game had that erroneous red card not been rescinded.
Ethan Pinnock headed a Benrahma free-kick just over and although David Raya had to tip over a Conor Roberts effort, the Swans did not look capable of breaching a well-drilled unit.
But then Swans gave themselves a glimmer of hope on 78 minutes when Raya was left stranded by a lob from Rhian Brewster, the opening created when Pontus Jansson made a hash of an attempted clearance.
It meant there would be more agony in the closing moments.
Sergi Canos came on, and his pass to Watkins paved the way for another Benrahma chance that went begging – he clipped the bar.
With the tension increasing during six injury time minutes Frank also got involved - obstructing a Swans player trying to retrieve the ball. It earned the manager a yellow card and you can bet your life he won’t mind about one bit. Neither will fans who massed outside to chant for their heroes.
There is one more tale to come in this most epic of seasons.
Line-up: Raya – Dalsgaard, Pinnock, Jansson, Henry – Marcondes (Dasilva 77), Norgaard, Jensen – Mbeumo (Canos 77), Watkins, Benrahma. Subs not used: Daniels, Valencia, Dervisoglu, Jeanvier, Fosu, Zamberek, Roerslev