Fulham back in the big time
Fulham booked their immediate return to the Premier League as Joe Bryan struck twice in extra-time to see them past Brentford 2-1 in the Championship play-off final.
Bryan scored a remarkable 105th-minute free-kick at Wembley last night to give his side the lead. Facing a 35-yard distance between himself and the goal, Bryan looked as though he was going to cross it but instead bent one straight into the corner, completely wrong-footing David Raya in the Brentford goal.
The left-back then added another in the dying minutes to seal his side’s spot back in the Premier League after just a season away.
Brentford, meanwhile, who were trying to end a 73-year wait to reach the big time, will have to deal with yet another play-off failure.
Henrik Dalsgaard grabbed them a last-gasp consolation, but there was no way back and it is now nine attempts in their history without managing to seal promotion on a single occasion.
It was a strange first half in many ways. An open, attacking game was expected due to the lack of an atmosphere that usually builds so much pressure for a play-off final, and it was Fulham who dealt with the conditions earlier on, pressing Brentford high up the pitch and creating a couple of opportunities for Josh Onomah to test Raya.
While Brentford may have felt a little fortunate to go into the break goalless, they could also have felt aggrieved to not go in with a man advantage. On 30 minutes Harrison Reed could easily have been dismissed for a studs-up challenge into the ankle of Christian Norgaard, but referee Martin Atkinson opted to only book the Fulham midfielder.
The game became cagier as it went on, as play-off finals so often tend to do. Midway through the second half Fulham may well have picked up another red card as Tom Cairney went in rashly on Said Benrhama, but again the referee opted only for a yellow.
It became a question of when, not if, Scott Parker would introduce Aleksandar Mitrovic – and the Championship Golden Boot winner, who missed both semi-final legs, finally came in in second-half stoppage-time.
But it was Bryan who provided the magic in the end, with his free-kick nudging his side in front, before combining with Mitrovic in the 117th minute and sending a low strike past the helpless Raya.
Dalsgaard then managed to bundle the ball home in added time in extra-time, but there was no way back for Brentford.
They had to watch their fierce rivals celebrate at full-time, and will now have to prepare for another season in the Championship.