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With the stakes high and the pressure on, enter Arnaut Danjuma, whose effortless finish capped a devastating counterattack to earn Bournemouth a leg-up against Brentford in the Championship play-offs. Bournemouth’s outstanding performer did it again with his 16th goal of the season, his most defining yet, but there is still work to do if they are reach Wembley.
Brentford found themselves in this situation last season after losing to Swansea but went on to overturn a first-leg defeat to reach the final and their manager Thomas Frank is adamant his team can reverse Bournemouth’s slender advantage when the sides duel again on Saturday.
“This is just like we are going out for the second half and we are one-nil down,” Frank said. “There is plenty of time to turn this around, 100%. We know we have 90 minutes to do that and that will be more than enough time. We will come flying out.”
At the final whistle there was a hearty roar from 2,379 returning home fans and, while Bournemouth finished strongly – Danjuma went close to doubling his tally with a fizzing free-kick – Brentford should have levelled. The substitute Bryan Mbeumo could only look to the skies and smile in disbelief after somehow failing to convert Christian Nørgaard’s cross with the goal gaping. “It was a massive chance – it doesn’t get any bigger,” Frank said.
In the buildup Frank acknowledged the importance of cool heads and Danjuma was unflappable when the match-winning moment arrived 10 minutes into the second half. The Dutch winger collected the ball deep inside the Bournemouth half after the Brentford captain Pontus Jansson ran into trouble on the right flank and Danjuma scurried forward, feeding Dominic Solanke, who sprayed the ball wide. Danjuma carried on his run, bursting down the left flank and taking David Brooks’s perfectly weighted pass in his stride before applying an ice-cool finish, leaving Jansson on his backside.
“We do work on those scenarios, of breaking quick,” his manager Jonathan Woodgate said. “For me it is never in doubt when Arnie gets into those situations. It does not happen overnight. We’ve scored a lot of goals on the counterattack. But this tie is far from over. We know how difficult it’s going to be going to Brentford. We know we’ll be right up against it. It’s only half-time.”
Bournemouth had already found joy on the break in an entertaining and oscillating first half and Solanke was guilty of misplacing the final piece of the jigsaw, moments after Philip Billing skewed wide inside the box.
Solanke charged forward at speed but with only Mads Roerslev to beat the striker played a poor pass behind the advancing Danjuma to his right and, in the end, Vitaly Janelt was on hand to hoover up. Three minutes later the Brentford goalkeeper David Raya repelled Steve Cook’s header before the 31-goal striker Ivan Toney prevented Brooks firing in the rebound.
Bournemouth looked dangerous going forward but vulnerable defensively in what turned out to be an enthralling game for the neutral. Brentford had the first whiff of goal when Roerslev centred the ball after raiding down the right flank, causing panic in the box. In the nervy minutes that followed the Bournemouth captain Cook, who was forced off on the brink of the interval with a knee injury, made a couple of crucial clearances. Cook oozed calm and had the measure of Toney and his strike-partner, Marcus Forss.
Toney was tamed but Frank, who has repeatedly advocated for the use of VAR technology in the play-offs, was furious that his side were not awarded a first-half penalty when Adam Smith collided with Tariqe Fosu. “It was 100% a penalty,” he said. “It is these situations we need to get bang on. I think … what is it … we’re only playing for about £170m?”
For Woodgate, it was the perfect result on a night when he met supporters for the first time following his appointment in February. “It’s electrifying when fans are in the stadium,” he said. “The atmosphere was brilliant and I felt it helped our players. But now we’re going to Brentford and the shoe will be on the other foot. We know we are going there and it’s going to be game on.”