Fulham will be playing Premier League football next season after defeating Brentford 2-1 after extra-time in the Championship play-off final thanks to a Joe Bryan brace.
On the stroke of the interval in extra-time, Bryan saw goalkeeper David Raya was off his line and beat him from a deep free-kick where a cross was expected, instead firing past the scrambling goalkeeper at the near post to decide the richest game in football.
Bryan, the hero of the match for Fulham, added a second even deeper in extra-time to cap off a dramatic win - and promotion for Scott Parker's club - with a late consolation from Henrik Dalsgaard proving irrelevant.
The two teams ended the regular season on the same number of points and there was little to separate them in a cagey first half where flowing football wasn’t coming from either side, but Fulham were marginally on top and had the better chances.
Josh Onomah produced a couple of smart saves from David Raya - once from 30 yards out, once from eight - while the Brentford goalkeeper was also lucky to escape without conceding when he gave the ball away inside his own penalty area.
The Bees picked things up after the break and got forward in numbers more often, but chances remained hard to come by and Fulham had the better ones, with Bobby Decordova-Reid squandering a close-range opportunity.
Brentford’s best opening came when Ollie Watkins was afforded time to shoot from the edge of the box, but his well-struck effort was too close to the goalkeeper.
Extra-time was needed and Fulham’s Aleksandar Mitrovic, the Championship’s top scorer this season, was on the pitch for it, having only been fit enough for a place on the bench.
Getting booked for a needless confrontation was his first contribution of note, but with Bryan’s first goal the next kick of the game he may claim it contributed to Raya’s misjudgement.
Mitrovic then teed up Bryan for the second, which came after Fulham opted against trying to keep the ball in the corner, and tat two-goal cushion proved vital.
Fulham bounce back at the first attempt. The Cottagers needed only one season to get back into the Premier League, and that’s a feather in Scott Parker’s cap. After a scattergun approach to recruitment blew up in Fulham's faces last season, Parker had a tough job at hand - and that’s before you factor in his inexperience. The club brought in some players with impressive records at this level, but he still had to bed them in and turn around a side in a downward spiral. Fulham have been fairly consistent all season - a four-game winless stretch was their worst - and ultimately got the job done. It wasn't the prettiest, but they were assured at Wembley and had the aura of a big brother compared to Brentford's stage fright. Whether their current formula can be replicated successfully in the Premier League remains to be seen, and having only five weeks to plan the for new season certainly leaves them at a disadvantage, but tonight is about basking in the glory.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Joe Bryan (Fulham). It has to be. His first goal was clever and a well-struck shot in its own right. The second was taken brilliantly and a fine reward for Fulham not just sending the ball into the corner. Add in that he kept the dangerous Bryan Mbeumo very quiet, it was a fine all-round performance. In a game generally lacking real quality, Bryan stepped up.
10’ - LUCKY GOALKEEPER! Massive let-off for Raya! He takes a loose touch and then gives the ball away inside his own box, but neither Decordova-Reid or Kabano can get a shot away and the Bees scramble clear.
17’ - SAVE! Cairney finds Onomah in the Brentford box and he in turn funds room to shoot, but Raya makes an excellent save to deny him.
29’ - YELLOW CARD! Reed and Norgaard go for a 50-50 and the on-loan Southampton man wins some of the ball before catching Norgaard on the follow-through. There was a hint of studs, but his foot was fairly low and the referee opts for a yellow card. No VAR here, so we can get on the game, but Reed is perhaps a bit fortunate.
58’ - CHANCE! Decordova-Reid squanders the best chance of the game yet! Following nice build-up play, a cross from the right gets past the first line of defence and falls to Decordova-Reid, who hits it on the swivel but slices narrowly wide.
71’ - SAVE! Watkins is fond in space on the edge of the box and has time to steady himself and then shoot. Watkins hits it well, but it's too close to Rodak who tips over.
92’ - CHANCE! Watkins makes a good run to the near post and Canos finds him with a low cross, but Watkins can't make a clean connection as Hector slides in.
105’ - GOAL! Brentford 0-1 Fulham (Bryan). Quick thinking from Bryan, but the goalie has had a shocker! With a free-kick near the halfway line, Raya expects it to be sent into the mixer, but Bryan sees he is off his line and fires goalwards instead, beating Raya at the near post.
118’ - GOAL! Brentford 0-2 Fulham (Bryan). He's done it again! Rather than take the ball into the corner, Fulham look to keep possession. Bryan charges forward, gets the ball, plays a one-two with Mitrovic to go through on goal and then dinks the ball past Raya to double the lead!
120+4’ - GOAL! Brentford 1-2 Fulham (Dalsgaard). Late hope? Brentford send a free-kick into the box and Dalsgaard turns it in after a scramble.
Brentford: Raya 5, Dalsgaard 6, Jansson 6, Pinnock 7, Henry 7, Norgaard 5, Jensen 5, Dasilva 5, Mbeumo 5, Benrahma 5, Watkins 5. Subs: Canos 6, Marcondes 5, Dervisoglu 5, Fosu 5.
Fulham: Rodak 6, Odoi 6, Hector 7, Ream 6, Bryan 9, Cairney 6, Reed 8, Kebano 6, Decordova-Reid 6, Onomah 8, Kamara 6. Subs: Knockaert 6, Cavaleiro 6, Mitrovic 6, Christie 6, Le Marchand 6.
- Bryan had only scored two goals for Fulham in 77 games before tonight.
- Brentford have now failed to get promoted in each of their nine play-off appearances.
- Fulham were winless in their last five meetings with the Bees.
- None of the Brentford's squad had played in a Championship play-off final before - nine of Fulham's had.