Joe Bryan scored twice in extra time to lift Fulham past Brentford with a 2-1 win in the Championship playoff final and earn promotion back to the Premier League at Wembley Stadium on Tuesday night.
With so much at stake, the nerves for both sides were evident from the outset, but both teams settled into a groove and found chances in a first half that surprisingly ended scoreless.
It was more of the same in the second half, but once again neither team could create legitimate scoring chances and the game headed to extra time.
Bryan then fooled Brentford’s David Raya, wrong-footing the goalkeeper from a free kick to give Fulham the lead near the end of the first period of extra time.
The Spanish keeper was slow to react, once Bryan had opted to shoot, but the lead was a deserved one for Scott Parker’s side, who had the better of what had been a cagey 90 minutes.
“We looked at Raya’s positioning from free kicks, he’s very, very aggressive, he’s very aggressive in his starting position,” Parker explained.
“I told him [Bryan], ‘You need to keep an eye on his positioning, and I want you to commit to it, I want you to commit to the shot’, and it’s worked.”
With Brentford looking to level the score, Bryan struck again right before the end of the match, this time calmly slotting home past Raya after a nice give-and-go with Aleksandar Mitrovic.
Henrik Dalsgaard pulled a goal back for Brentford in the final seconds but there was no time for a recovery by the Bees, who were searching for a place in the top flight for the first time since 1947.
COVID-19 related restrictions meant no fans were at Wembley to witness Fulham’s triumph but Bryan still had a night to remember.
“I’m not the hero,” said Bryan, as his teammates celebrated their swift return back to the Premier League a year after relegation — an achievement worth around £135 million over three years for the west London club.
“Every single one of them boys, players, staff, supporters, everything’s been with us all season, it’s been absolutely unbelievable. We’ve been written off, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten times. I think I even read somewhere that we were supposed to be scared of them, but we took it to them we scored twice, they made it hard for us.”
The result sees Fulham return to the Premier League after being relegated following the 2018-19 campaign, to join Leeds United and West Brom as the promoted teams from the Championship.