Less than a year after suffering the abject despair of yet another failure to survive the Championship play-offs, Brentford have dusted themselves off and will once again play for promotion into the Premier League at Wembley.
What it took was victory in one of the most chaotic, glorious games of the season as they overturned a two-goal deficit to defeat Bournemouth in a contest that included calamitous defending, a penalty, a red card, countless fouls and a ballistic atmosphere. It was ultimately decided by substitute Marcus Forss’s winner in the 81st minute.
“What a rollercoaster of emotions,” said the Brentford manager, Thomas Frank. “I think only sport and especially football can do that.”
As Brentford attempted to recover from a 1-0 first-leg loss for the second straight year, what unfolded was the purest demonstration of the impact of fans as around 4,000 fans streamed into the new stadium.
The home team deliberately ended their warm-up with a lap of honour and when the game began every cheer, scream and insult hurled across the pitch seemed to imbue the moment with even more significance. Frank ranked the performance of the supporters just above that of his players.
However, disaster struck for Brentford within five minutes as their early corner was cleared directly to Arnaut Danjuma. He was furthest from the box of either team and made Brentford’s sleeping defence pay, driving with the ball from well inside Bournemouth’s half before ending his solo run with a composed finish.
“I smashed my foot into the ice cooler after the 1-0 goal,” said Frank. “And then I thought, ‘No, keep your cool.’ And then five seconds later I smashed my foot into the bin next to it. And after that I thought, ‘OK, next moment.’”
Despite the frustration, his team refused to dwell on their predicament. They imposed immediate pressure on Bournemouth and in the 16th minute Emiliano Marcondes’s cross struck the outstretched arm of Lloyd Kelly inside the box. The referee, Jarred Gillett, ruled it a penalty, which Ivan Toney took with the supreme confidence of a striker who had scored 31 Championship goals this season.
This was also the moment the game exploded into madness. Toney picked up the ball and Asmir Begovic flew in to snatch it from him. The Bournemouth goalkeeper ended up on the floor and both players received a yellow card.
Between the two swift goals, the nerves of the occasion and a crowd roaring every act on, chaos reigned.
In the 27th minute, Chris Mepham’s poor touch was pounced on by Bryan Mbeumo. As Mbeumo dribbled away, Mepham stuck out both hands and brought Mbeumo to the ground. He was sent off, leaving Bournemouth to hold on for more than an hour.
As Mepham departed, Brentford took full control of the game and they levelled the tie after the break. The ball rolled out of the box after an attack and as Vitaly Janelt struck the ball with his left foot, he nearly collided with Marcondes and fell to the ground as the ball floated into the top left corner of the goal.
Bournemouth could only sit back, hold on to the aggregate draw and hope for luck to fall their way. It did not. With nine minutes left, Forss arrived on the end of a Marcondes cross to volley a poacher’s finish into the net and take his team to Wembley next Saturday.
Jonathan Woodgate expressed his distaste at the referee’s penalty decision while hailing the mentality of his squad. Woodgate, who joined the club as a coach on 1 February and took over as manager two days later, said he has not thought about whether he will continue next year.
After the hopes of an immediate return to the Premier League after last year’s relegation were dashed, another year in the Championship awaits for Bournemouth, the future unknown.