Brentford 3-1 Bournemouth (agg 3-2): Bees fight back to reach Play-Off Final and keep promotion dream alive

·4-min read
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

No one knows the agonies of the play-offs quite as well as Brentford. Nine campaigns, nine failures - the worst record of any side in the country - and yet even they could hardly have been prepared for a rollercoaster like this.

A raucous home crowd, an early hammer-blow, a penalty, a red card, a tackle-turned-screamer, a pantomime villain, a late winner and at the end of it all the prospect of doing it again at Wembley in a week’s time.

That’s where a place in the Premier League will be up for grabs, against either Barnsley or Swansea, after Thomas Frank’s side beat Bournemouth 3-1 to overcome a 1-0 first-leg defeat and book a second successive trip to the Championship Play-Off final in the most enthralling of contests.

Frank himself set the tone with a full lap of the pitch before kick-off, whipping the returning crowd into a frenzy, determined that they create the most hostile of atmospheres, having quipped that the Vitality Stadium had been surprisingly subdued on Monday.

The Bees faithful responded, intent on roaring their team to another Wembley showpiece, having had to watch last year’s heartbreak against Fulham from the sofa. Instead, they saw their side get off to the worst possible start.

Conceding a goal from your own corner is schoolboy stuff at the best of times, but what Brentford did here was verging on criminal. The home side threw everyone forward in a manner which might’ve been acceptable five minutes from the last whistle, but certainly not from the first, and one hooked clearance sent Arnaut Danjuma through on goal from inside his own half, the Dutchman slotting home his second goal of the tie in clinical fashion.

Danjuma gives Bournemouth an early leadGetty Images
Danjuma gives Bournemouth an early leadGetty Images

It was to mark the start of the most frantic of opening periods.

Next, Emiliano Marcondes’ cross from the byline clipped the arm of the sliding Lloyd Kelly and, after what felt like an age, referee Jarred Gillett pointed to the spot.

Frank had called, on numerous occasions, for VAR to be introduced in the play-offs, given the magnitude of what’s at stake, but there was something pleasing in the finality of Gillett’s decision - which might have gone either way given Kelly’s proximity to the crosser - and Ivan Toney stepped up to steer home his 32nd goal of the season, the tenth of them to have come from the spot.

Both he and Asmir Begovic were booked in the aftermath as the Bournemouth goalkeeper began his personal crusade to become the most unpopular man in west London by preventing the striker from racing back to halfway with the ball.

Toney equalises for Brentford from the penalty spotGetty Images
Toney equalises for Brentford from the penalty spotGetty Images

Begovic’s time-wasting throughout enraged the home crowd and bench alike, the big screen regularly cutting to Frank theatrically raising his watch to the sky as the Bosnian dawdled over yet another goal-kick, clearly having decided that Gillett lacked the bottle to show him a second yellow for such an offence.

The referee, however, had little hesitation in sending Chris Mepham on his way after the Bournemouth centre-half had his pocket picked by Mbuemo and could only halt him by producing a covering rugby full-back’s tap-tackle. Chants of “He’s one of our own” accompanied the former Brentford man’s lonely, early departure.

Mepham is shown a straight red card for a foul on MbuemoGetty Images
Mepham is shown a straight red card for a foul on MbuemoGetty Images

Jonathan Woodgate’s hand was forced as David Brooks - who had lit up the first-leg - was withdrawn and Diego Rico was sent on to add defensive reinforcement. He was called into action almost immediately to hook clear on the line after Begovic had come and got nowhere near a long throw.

Things could hardly carry on at such full-throttle, or so the logic went, yet play-off football is a famously logic-free discipline.

We were less than five minutes into the second-half when Vitaly Janelt - one of the finds of the season - rippled the back of same net Danjuma had found equally early in the first half, with a strike that curled away from Begovic from long-range. As with fellow summer signing Toney, Janelt had had little chance to perform in front of his newly-adoring fans, but here he was making up for lost time.

With less than ten minutes to play, the inevitable - though it won’t quite have felt like that for the nervy thousands kicking every ball - goal arrived, Forss doing brilliantly to power home Marcondes’ cut-back and complete the turnaround.

Forss celebrates the winner that sends Brentford to WembleyGetty Images
Forss celebrates the winner that sends Brentford to WembleyGetty Images

David Raya, for so much of the game a spectator, now showed he’d been watching Begovic closely as he took an age over each kick. Begovic himself came up to try and make a difference, but succeeded only in handing a Brentford a pressure-relieving free-kick through the novelty of a goalkeeper being caught offside.

Just as they were a year ago, Brentford are now one game from the promised land. If it’s anything like this one, we’re in for a treat.

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