Among Brentford’s many widely admired innovations and quirks, has been their employment of a set-piece coach.
So often this season clever routines, a blur of runs and pinpoint deliveries have reaped rewards.
How cruel then, that their Premier League dream began to unravel like this, with a moment of extra-time free-kick genius from Joe Bryan, David Raya and the few hundred others inside Wembley convinced a cross was coming, when in fact it was a £135million shot for glory.
To point the finger at Raya would be a touch harsh. His golden-glove winning form this season as part of a defence that conceded 21 goals fewer than a year ago is part of the reason why Brentford’s campaign arrived here at Wembley on a balmy August evening in the first place.
He was the reason, too, why at the end of one of their poorest halves of football all season they reached half-time in a position of parity.
They had Josh Onomah to thank for that once, yes, as he dallied and allowed namesake Dasilva to recover, but more often it was Raya as he twice denied the same player, first from range and then with a much tougher low stop.
Thomas Frank had returned to the tried and tested by including Dasilva in midfield ahead of Emiliano Marcondes, but in the opening 45 minutes Brentford met a different Fulham to the one they had beaten twice in league west London derbies this season; one that harried and hounded as Barnsley had the last time the Bees were playing for a place in the Premier League.
Aboubakar Kamara led a four-man pressing effort that left the backline clipping hopefully into the channels for Ollie Watkins to chase. The forward had promised to run himself into the ground for the cause, having departed the Wembley turf feeling he’d left something in the tank when Exeter City were beaten in the 2017 League Two Play-off final.
No one could accuse him of that here, as he clashed time and again with Tim Ream in the air, winning balls he had no right to.
But on a night when the BMW’s engine did its usual running, the tyres looked flat: Said Benrahma was unable to influence the game and Bryan Mbeumo, a yard off the pace, getting a coating from Watkins for not pouncing on a hard-won loose ball, was eventually the first man sacrificed by a manager who has been reluctant to break up his front-three even deep into their more mediocre performances.
On the eve of the game Frank urged his side to sit back, take stock and enjoy the moment, but rarely can anyone have taken less pleasure from a night of his team’s football this season – fans because of what was at stake, casual observers because of the lack of rhythm to a game they’d been told was between two of the league’s best footballing sides.
By the time the second-half drinks break came around, ‘cagey’ was still the word on everyone’s lips and as Frank got his infamous tactics board out, you just knew it wouldn’t be for the final time. Only Watkins’ rasping strike even came close to settling this without the need for thirty more minutes.
As it had at level-pegging against Barnsley on the final day of the Championship season, the golden chance fell Watkins’ way, after a teasing low cross from substitute Sergi Canos early in extra-time. Here, he at least made contact, but not decisively so under close attention from Michael Hector.
Bryan struck once and then again on the break, an unlikely hero on a pitch full of match-winners well below their best. Dalsgaard’s header in response came too late inspire a miracle comeback.