Fulham or Cardiff await next Tuesday in a deserted Wembley, the weirdest last game of this season, and if Brentford is to break their hoodoo of eight successive play-off failures, they can ask for some better platforms.Few better three before Saïd Benrahma, Ollie Watkins and Bryan Mbeumo. Few better midfield bosses than Mathias Jensen. Few better managers than Thomas Frank, who forced Brentford to dream big, to write a new chapter in a beloved story.
Of course, getting into the richest league in the world requires more than a healthy sense of predestination. You need to suffer and you need to sweat, and on a hot evening the two teams played their part in a gripping physical encounter. Frank had promised in the build-up that he would carry his exhausted players off the pitch at the end if necessary, and in an astonishing, full-throttle 15-minute opening that toppled the tie, his team lived up to their word. .
It all started, like many of Brentford’s moves, from the back: goalkeeper David Raya found Jensen, the Danish Under-21 midfielder on the sidelines of the senior national team. All night long Jensen pulled the strings, pulled Swansea this way and that, and here he played the kind of defensive pass – all 60 yards, all the way down the floor, straight down the middle – that you wanted to watch. again and again. A pass with its own impossible choreography, until Watkins’ perfectly timed run, who finished with an assassin’s cool for his 26th goal of the season.
Perhaps Swansea was a little confused by the brutal, geometric coldness of this lens. This would certainly explain the momentary loss of defensive form that allowed Benrahma to advance to the edge of their zone moments later.
As the Swansea midfielder slumped over all three full-backs like a boxer sinking into the deadly embrace of the ropes, Benrahma had a delicious cross over the head of Emiliano Marcondes all the time in the world to flop. Within four minutes, Brentford was leading 2-0 and Swansea’s goal cushion had turned into an ejection seat.
It could have been worse for them. Benrahma was starting to step into the game, enjoying a decent run of openings, and at one point, slamming the inside of the post after a magical little exchange with Jensen. Swansea’s best chance came from Conor Gallagher, and as half-time approached they had almost managed to stem the bleeding.
But barely a minute into the restart, Brentford had hit them again: Jensen again, freeing Rico Henry (recovered from suspension after being sent off in the first leg), crossing for Mbeumo to come home with authority and swagger.
Now, as Swansea threw in a last ditch effort, Brentford’s defense would step up. Raya made a wonderful backup of Connor Roberts. Christian Norgaard made two or three crucial clearances in a row. And for all the kilometers in the legs, the 101 matches that these two teams had already dragged out this season, remarkably the last stages of the match were just as intense and spellbinding as the first. Rhian Brewster threatened a Swansea comeback, 12 minutes from time, taking advantage of Pontus Jansson’s defensive indecision.
But as the six minutes of added time rolled by, as Swansea fared to little effect, Brentford appeared to be strengthening, not weakening. The full time came as a blessing, a sweet catharsis not just for those in the ground, but for the thousands of Brentford fans who would have preferred to watch in person, not through a screen.
There is talk of a proper farewell to the old place at a given moment, perhaps of a socially distant reception, or even of an exhibition game. But in a way, it was the perfect way to make it end. The stalls will soon be homes.
A sparkling new chapel is just waiting on the line at Kew Bridge. It is time, in more than one way, to take the next step.