The fight for the final spot in the 2020-2021 Premier League season was one for the ages. Once more, the game was held behind closed doors in the famed Wembley Stadium between Brentford and Fulham. This is just Brentford’s fourth play-off final and first since 2013 when the Bees were in the third division of English Football. Fulham’s last stint in the Premier League was in the 2018-19 season when they finished in 19th place while Brentford’s last taste at top flight football was 73 years ago.
Both Leeds and West Bromwich Albion are already automatically promoted to the Premier League because of the teams top two finishes after 46 games. However, teams who finished between third and sixth place go through a playoff style format of football to see who is worthy of promotion. And it just so happens that the two teams to make it to Wembley have a deep rooted history against one another. The two London clubs grounds are separated by just four miles and have seen some of the English games most iconic and historic matchups.
Everything was on the line for the two teams. Brentford held a bettors favorite to win the final while Fulham were major underdogs with lines posted at +285 for the Lily Whites.
The first half was quite timid from the two sides. Fulham had an early advantage with possession but were not able to register a sufficient amount of shots to challenge Brentford’s keeper. It seemed as though both teams would do everything right in their offensive build up plays but would lack that final pass or instinct for where their teammates were. Still, Fulham had the better chances in the first half, with a great effort at goal by Josh Onomah but an even better save by the fingertips of David Raya.
The second half began with more of the same from the first 45 minutes; Fulham taking charge of possession with only a few shots on goal. The 59th minute saw arguably the best chance of the game thus far with Bobby Reid finding himself unmarked in the penalty box and sending the ball over the crossbar. The game continued to progress without a goal scored and signs were pointing towards extra time being involved. That mentality would soon change after the water break when Brentford seemed to be going after the win with more purpose and fervor.
At the 83rd minute, Brentford had established complete control over Fulham. The previous 10 minutes saw Brentford with 78 percent of the possession, but once again, the end product wasn’t there. 90 minutes of football resulted in no goals and resulted in extra time.
Ollie Watkins was so close to putting Brentford in the lead just one minute into the extra time period from an inviting cross that nearly caught the entire Fulham defense behind. But it was Fulham who took the lead from one of the smartest free kicks you will ever see from Joe Bryan in the 105th minute. He caught David Raya off of his line and scored the free kick from just about 35 yards. Fulham were now just 15 minutes away from their return to the Premier League.
It was in the 117th minute where Joe Bryan once again scored for Fulham with quick thinking and precision passing from a counter attack to secure their return to the Premier League. Henrik Dalsgaard scored in the 124th minute to give Brentford a consolation goal, but it wasn’t enough as the match ended 2-1 to Fulham. To give more context, winning the play-off to get promoted earns teams an average of 170 million pounds (or 216 million dollars). That is a huge boost for struggling clubs who want to re-invest in their squads and stadiums. Brentford will spend another season in the English Championship while Fulham will earn a spot in the Premier League after their 2 year absence.
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