Bryan’s special puts Ful­ham and Parker back among the elite

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport | Football - Sam Wal­lace

The des­per­ate bat­tle for the last place in the Premier League in the year that Covid threat­ened to de­stroy the game, and it all came down to a glo­ri­ous, trick free-kick from Joe Bryan that went in one way while ev­ery­one bar the Ful­ham full-back was look­ing in the other di­rec­tion.

There were two ex­tra-time goals from Bryan that launched Ful­ham back into the Premier League at the ex­pense of Brent­ford, here to dis­rupt the Cham­pi­onship but just one win short of the promised land. Spoiler alert: this was a ter­ri­ble game but it came alive when Bryan de­ceived the Brent­ford goal­keeper David Raya and pos­si­bly ev­ery­one else in Wem­b­ley bar his man­ager with a dis­guised free-kick that crept in at the near post in ex­tra time of the play-off fi­nal.

A great mo­ment for Bryan who added a sec­ond at the end of the game – he had scored only one all sea­son be­fore this – just be­fore Brent­ford’s Hen­rik Dals­gaard scored when it was all too late. This was a tri­umph for Scott Parker, the young Ful­ham man­ager who led Eng­land as cap­tain at Wem­b­ley in 2012 and has al­ways seemed des­tined to be a coach. Now he finds him­self cat­a­pulted into the big league.

Af­ter­wards, there was a de­ter­mi­na­tion from the Ful­ham man­ager not to al­low the emo­tion to carry him away as his play­ers col­lec­tively lost it with cham­pagne and tro­phy. Ever since he jug­gled a foot­ball as the child prodigy on the McDon­alds ad­vert there has been some­thing very se­ri­ous about Parker when it came to foot­ball, and re­ally – what a ca­reer. As a player and as a man­ager he has been an over­achiever and al­though he was in situ when Ful­ham were rel­e­gated a year ear­lier, now he has earned his place.

There will be no glo­ri­ous end to the 73-year top-flight ab­sence of Ful­ham’s west Lon­don ri­vals, Brent­ford, who must say good­bye to Grif­fin Park next sea­son and move into their new home with­out a place in the Premier League.

Brent­ford came so close but they were un­done by some re­mark­able quick think­ing by Bryan.

It had, all told, been a dread­ful game when at the end of the first pe­riod of ex­tra time, Bryan sized up a free-kick in the left chan­nel at about 40 yards out. His body shape and the pat­tern of the play­ers lin­ing up on the edge of the box sug­gested an­other cross – and that was, at least, what Raya ex­pected. In­stead, Bryan aimed for Raya’s right post and bent his left-foot shot in­side it just be­fore the goal­keeper could rush across.

Bryan would later say that it had all been prac­tised and that Parker had ear­lier called him over to tell him that Raya was too far off his line. Bryan’s sec­ond goal came af­ter a break­away and an ex­change with Alek­san­dar Mitro­vic, Ful­ham’s bigearn­ing, Cham­pi­onship top-goal­sBy cor­ing striker who had started the game on the bench. The Serb came on at the end of the reg­u­la­tion 90 min­utes, still not fully re­cov­ered from a ham­string in­jury.

Bryan’s sec­ond meant that the best of the west had been de­cided – the two sides from west Lon­don locked to­gether in an ex­haust­ing Cham­pi­onship play-off fi­nal that may be re­mem­bered for lit­tle else other than the full-back’s first goal. The great threat that has been posed by Brent­ford this sea­son, es­pe­cially from Ollie Watkins and

Said Ben­rahma, never ma­te­ri­alised. This in­ven­tive, break­out Cham­pi­onship side who had come out of lock­down at an elec­tri­fy­ing pace did not play to their po­ten­tial.

On both sides, there were few chances and two man­agers who were un­will­ing to take many risks in the game that was worth as much as £160 mil­lion for Brent­ford and just £30mil­lion less for Ful­ham.

It had been a long sea­son, 368 days since the gru­elling Cham­pi­onship had first be­gun, and it showed in ev­ery­thing these two sides did. Both played a solid mid­field base and di­rected at­tacks wide. Michael Hec­tor and Tim Ream were strong in the cen­tre of the Ful­ham de­fence. As for Brent­ford, Thomas Frank’s team – the Cham­pi­onship’s top goalscor­ers – looked slug­gish and af­ter the stronger start found them­selves un­der pres­sure.

The only no­table mo­ment of the first half was a wild chal­lenge by the Ful­ham mid­fielder Har­ri­son Reed just be­fore the half-hour. The 25-year-old on loan from Southamp­ton un­doubt­edly caught the Dane Chris­tian Nor­gaard on the an­kle and there was a strong case to be made that the force was ex­ces­sive. With­out re­course to a video as­sis­tant, there a sug­ges­tion that ref­eree Martin Atkin­son de­cided to play this one safe and reached for yel­low in­stead of red.

Bryan Mbeumo did not go much past the hour un­til he was re­placed. Bobby Decor­dova-Reid had one fleet­ing chance from a Neeskens Ke­bano cross that came from Ful­ham’s best move of the first half. Later, Watkins would have a pow­er­ful hit saved by the Ful­ham goal­keeper, Marek Ro­dak.

There was an un­will­ing­ness from ei­ther side to com­mit play­ers for­ward and even the in­tro­duc­tion of Mitro­vic was a straight swap for Decor­dova-Reid. The qual­ity of the Wem­b­ley pitch also seemed to have an ef­fect on the stan­dard of the ac­tion and there was not much that was typ­i­cal of the av­er­age Cham­pi­onship game when risks are taken and mis­takes made.

For Ful­ham there was a strong bench and Parker called upon an­other play-off vet­eran, An­thony Knock­aert, in the clos­ing stages of the 90 min­utes. They went on to ex­tra time with ev­ery­thing at stake. Then came Bryan’s free-kick, the game’s one true mo­ment of cre­ativ­ity, and his sec­ond to seal the win. The header from Dals­gaard came too late and Brent­ford could not turn it around – their ninth play-off cam­paign, none of which have yielded a pro­mo­tion.

Perfect plan­ning: Ful­ham go ahead (above and left) through Joe Bryan’s 40-yard free-kick af­ter the full-back had been urged by man­ager Scott Parker (far left) to catch David Raya off his line; the pair cel­e­brate to­gether (right)

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