Brent­ford’s come­back sets up Wem­b­ley de­cider

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - By Sam Dean

Brent­ford are one match away from com­pet­ing in English foot­ball’s top tier for the first time since 1947 af­ter stag­ing a come­back against Swansea in the sec­ond leg of their Cham­pi­onship play-off semi-fi­nal. The London club can­celled out a 1-0 first-leg deficit with a 3-1 win to put them into the Wem­b­ley fi­nal against Ful­ham or Cardiff City.

From Grif­fin Park to Wem­b­ley and from Wem­b­ley, per­haps, to life as a Premier League team. The ul­ti­mate dream is only 90 min­utes away from be­com­ing a re­al­ity for Brent­ford, who signed off from their home of 116 years with a stir­ring vic­tory over Swansea City on a night heav­ing with emo­tion in west London.

The last match at Grif­fin Park, this most old-school of English grounds, al­ways had the feel of a mo­men­tous oc­ca­sion for the club.

Brent­ford had blown the chance of au­to­matic pro­mo­tion last week, but here, with no choice but to at­tack, they sav­aged Swansea as their flood­lights shone for one last time.

De­nied the chance to say a proper good­bye to their foot­balling home, the Brent­ford fans emerged on to the streets at the fi­nal whis­tle, singing of Wem­b­ley and the Premier League and the at­tack­ing prow­ess of top scorer Ol­lie Watkins. There were chants from in­side the old ground, too, with owner Matthew Ben­ham join­ing his di­rec­tors in hav­ing a beer, and then go­ing for a kick­about on the Grif­fin Park pitch.

To see Ben­ham savour­ing the mo­ment was a re­minder of how re­mark­able it is that Brent­ford are here at all, given the size of the club and their mea­gre re­sources. They have been metic­u­lous in their ap­proach, punch­ing well above their weight on the pitch and off it.

Their “BMW” front line, con­sist­ing of Said Ben­rahma, Bryan Mbeumo and Watkins, has been one of the most thrilling sights in English foot­ball this sea­son. In their big­gest match of the cam­paign so far, all three of them un­der­lined their worth to Thomas Frank’s side ahead of a meet­ing with ei­ther Ful­ham or Cardiff City.

“We were very ir­ri­tated af­ter the first leg,” Frank said. “My adrenalin never dropped since that game.”

With a one-goal lead from the first meet­ing, Steve Cooper’s Swansea opted against a de­fen­sive ap­proach. They were ex­posed as a re­sult, with Watkins, Mbeumo and Emil­iano Mar­con­des all hit­ting the net be­fore 47 min­utes had passed.

“We gave our­selves too much to do,” Cooper said. “To fall short at this crit­i­cal stage is dis­ap­point­ing. It is painful at the mo­ment.”

It took un­til deep in the sec­ond half for Swansea to truly threaten, with Rhian Brewster pulling them back into the match and set­ting up an ag­o­nis­ingly tense fi­nale for the home side.

Amid all the nerves in those fi­nal few min­utes, Frank was booked for phys­i­cally block­ing a Swansea throw-in. It was a night that called for bod­ies on the line, and not just for the play­ers. Tongue firmly in cheek, he claimed he had ac­ci­den­tally dropped the ball be­hind his back, then sim­ply stood in place.

Frank is a won­der­fully en­gag­ing speaker and be­fore the game he made no at­tempt to play down the sig­nif­i­cance of the oc­ca­sion. He de­scribed this as a “defin­ing mo­ment” for Brent­ford as they pre­pare to move to their new home next sea­son, and promised that his team would “come out fly­ing”.

His play­ers cer­tainly took the mes­sage on board, start­ing with a fe­roc­ity and in­ten­sity that was sim­ply too much for Swansea to cope with in the open­ing ex­changes.

In 116 years of foot­ball at Grif­fin Park there can­not have been too many passes as in­ci­sive as the through ball de­liv­ered by Mathias Jensen to Watkins for Brent­ford’s open­ing goal. The pass skimmed through the re­treat­ing Swansea de­fence, fad­ing into the striker’s path as he charged through at speed.

Four min­utes later it was two, the tie turned on its head al­ready. Ben­rahma lived up to his billing as Brent­ford’s pri­mary cre­ative force, curl­ing in a cross from the left which Mar­con­des di­verted into the cor­ner. Shortly af­ter­wards, a rapid counter-at­tack ended with Ben­rahma strik­ing the foot of a post.

“The mes­sage was that we needed to start faster than we have ever started be­fore,” Frank said. “We did that.

“I will cel­e­brate with a glass of red, but we know we want to achieve some­thing big. The fi­nal speech in the dressing room was: let’s go out there and make it one fi­nal mag­i­cal mo­ment at Grif­fin Park.”

Mbeumo made it three in the first minute of the sec­ond half, con­vert­ing Rico Henry’s swerv­ing cross. Brent­ford ap­peared com­fort­able, but there was ner­vous­ness to come. Pon­tus Jans­son soon failed to clear the ball, al­low­ing Brewster to lob a fine fin­ish over David Raya. De­spite the pres­sure, Brent­ford’s de­fence held firm for a vic­tory that may prove to be one of the most sig­nif­i­cant in the his­tory of their cher­ished old home.

Fly­ing start: Ol­lie Watkins leaves Swansea City’s Matt Grimes trail­ing to score Brent­ford’s open­ing goal in their Cham­pi­onship play-off vic­tory, the club’s fi­nal match at Grif­fin Park

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