ALL LEAD THE BEES TO WEMBLEY WAY
THERE’S doing things the hard way and then there is the Brentford route.
But lifelong fan turned captain Kevin O’Connor insists he has never been more confident that Championship football is on its way to Griffin Park.
Having been at the club since 1999 and going on to rack up 487 appearances for the Bees, O’Connor must have thought he had seen it all at Brentford.
But even he couldn’t have envisaged their last three games going the way they did.
In the 94th minute of the final game of the season against promotion rivals Doncaster, Brentford had the chance to go up automatically after being awarded a penalty.
Despite regular taker and skipper O’Connor being on the pitch, on-loan Fulham striker Marcello Trotta demanded the kick, sending it thundering back off the crossbar before James Coppinger rolled the ball in at the other end to send Donny up as champions and condemn Brentford to the play-offs.
In the first leg against Swindon the Bees were awarded another last-gasp penalty but this time there was no stopping O’Connor, the 31year-old coolly converting to level the tie at 1-1 after the first leg.
And this spot-kick proved crucial as, after a mad second-leg at Griffin Park ended 3-3, Brentford’s future was once again settled from the 12 yards out – the hosts never missing to go through 5-4 in the shootout to face Yeovil in the final.
Brentford aren’t exactly making things simple for their fans, who have uneasy memories of play-off campaigns having sat through six unsuccessful attempts so far.
But O’Connor, who is in his third play-off stint having lost a 2002 final to Stoke and being pipped in the League One semi-final by Swansea seven years ago, is convinced it will all be worth it when the final whistle blows at Wembley a week today.
“The second leg against Swindon was great,” said O’Connor, who is closing in on Ken Coote’s record of 559 Brentford appearances.
“It has been a funny few weeks for the club with everything that has gone on and that was probably a fitting way to get to Wembley.
“To bounce back like we did from the disappointment of the Doncaster game was great and while we made it harder for our- selves, as it probably shouldn’t have gone to penalties, we made the most of the second chance.
“The atmosphere at Griffin Park was incredible and hopefully it will be the same at Wembley.
“We can go to Wembley now with the momentum and form we have built up and really make the most of this second chance.
“Everyone always says that if you could choose a way to go up then it would be at Wembley with a play-off final.
“We had the chance to go up in second place but now we have a chance to win a Wembley final.
“With the penalty against Doncaster Trotts wanted to take it and so did I, but he had the ball and I didn’t want to make a scene so I stepped aside and wished him all the best but unfortunately he missed.
“Before the Swindon game it was decided that I would take the penalty if we got one. We did and I felt confident and stepped up and thankfully scored because it was a big goal in the grand scheme of things. Then to go through to the penalty shootout in the next game was mad.
“I have been involved in three play-off campaigns so far with the club and not won any of them but I can honestly say that this one feels different and I feel more confident.
“It is a different set of players, coaches and all that but also a different style that we play. The gaffer likes to get the ball down on the floor and pass it around and play with pace and I think that if you look at the players we have then promotion is a real possibility.
“Yes I am nervous about the final but that is normal and I am more confident than I have been before that we are set up to do it.
“Without a doubt the club is going places with the new stadium and academy. When you go to the training ground there is a new building springing up all the time. This club is heading in the right direction.”
Six days after Brentford have graced Wembley, two German sides, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, will pitch up for the Champions League final.
But it is another German who calls London home, Uwe Rosler, left, in the Brentford hot seat, that O’Connor is keen to see get his hands on some silverware, insisting it is the former striker’s influence that has transformed the club.
“Obviously I can’t compare us to Borussia Dortmund or Bayern Munich but I think there is an element in what Uwe is trying to do with us in how they play,” he added.
“He likes us to play with pace and pass the ball around and you have to say it is working for us.
“Compared to where we are this season in terms of last year it is just phenomenal how far we have come and a lot of that is down to Uwe and the coaches as they have brought in some great players.
“Uwe is very passionate and encouraging and I have to say that his man management is the best I have played under.
“He can be mean when he needs to be but he is also great fun and knows how to get the best out of his players.”
ON THE SPOT: Brentford’s penalty hero Simon Moore. Inset: Captain Kevin O’Connor, left, and Marcello Trotta