Championship play-off final: Brentford and Fulham set for richest game

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Brentford beat Fulham when the teams last met in June at Craven Cottage

Brentford play Fulham on Tuesday for the chance to return to the English top flight for the first time in 73 years – and earn about £160m in the process.

The west London rivals, separated by just four miles, meet in the Championship play-off final at Wembley.

Fulham could seal an immediate return to the Premier League.

Victory in the match, often dubbed the richest game in football, would be worth £135m to Fulham and about £160m to Brentford over the next three years.

Brentford finished third in the table, one place above Fulham on goal difference, and won both league meetings during the regular campaign.

If they fail to win, the Bees will have taken part in more unsuccessful play-off campaigns in the English Football League than any other club, with this their ninth attempt.

Free-flowing Bees eye historic promotion

Brentford recorded eight straight victories either side of the coronavirus lockdown to give themselves a chance of automatic promotion, but narrowly missed out on a place in the top two following defeats in their final two matches of the season.

Head coach Thomas Frank, who was appointed in October 2018, has moulded an attacking side which finished as the top scorers in the Championship this season.

Including their play-off semi-final win over Swansea, their forward line of Said Benrahma, Bryan Mbeumo and Ollie Watkins have scored 59 goals between them – but the Bees also have the second-best defensive record in the division.

“We have big ambitions and big dreams,” Frank said. “We believe in ourselves but need to go to Wembley confident but humble.”

The Bees have enjoyed their best campaign since suffering relegation from the top flight in 1946-47 and will move into a new 17,500-capacity stadium before next season.

Opponents Fulham spent 13 consecutive seasons in the top flight before dropping back into the Championship in 2014, and Slavisa Jokanovic led the Craven Cottage outfit to promotion via the play-off final two years ago.

“They are a bigger club than us,” Frank said. “This is not a mind-game, this is a fact.

“They got relegated from the Premier League last year and have the parachute money.

“They have experience from the final two years ago and they have more experience in their squad to play a game like this than us.

“Yes, we beat them twice [this season] and that can maybe give us a bit of confidence. But the final is another story.”

Parker revives Fulham fortunes

Fulham lost their home leg of the semi-final with Cardiff but went through on aggregate

When Scott Parker took over Fulham in February 2019, initially on a caretaker basis after the sacking of Claudio Ranieri, the Whites were heading for relegation from the Premier League.

He lost his first five games in charge, and the club had suffered 27 defeats and conceded 81 goals by the end of the top-flight campaign.

“I realised that this season was going to be a massive challenge for us,” Parker said.

“When teams get relegated there are big wounds, and we were in a low spell.

“The biggest challenge was obviously trying to implement a philosophy and install a real identity on the pitch.

“It’s been a rocky road this season because you can’t just have a magic wand to go from a weak mentality to fighting to win the division you are in.

“I see a massive improvement from where we were, and a team that is progressing and resilient.”

Whites have Wembley experience, Bees only play-off woes

Fulham have their 1-0 victory over Aston Villa at Wembley in 2018 to draw on, with captain Tom Cairney and 26-goal striker Aleksandar Mitrovic among nine members of the matchday squad that day who remain at Craven Cottage.

“We have got lads who have experienced it, been there with the pressure and got the job done,” Fulham midfielder Harrison Reed said.

“We can certainly use that to our advantage.”

However, Brentford captain Pontus Jansson thinks the fact the national stadium will be largely empty because of social distancing measures will level the playing field.

“If it was a full Wembley, it would be a little bit of an advantage for them,” the Swedish centre-back said.

“I can’t see any advantage for them, even if they have been there before. It will be a normal corona game.”

Brentford have never won promotion in their eight previous play-off campaigns, losing three finals.

Two of those defeats came at Wembley, with the most recent being the League One play-off final in 2012-13 – but there are no survivors from that team left in the Bees squad.

“I don’t know any results in the past that Brentford have had in the play-offs,” Jansson said.

“We have a lot of new players and none of those played in the play-offs with Brentford before.

“We just focus on this one. This is a game which lives its own life.”

Team news

Fulham striker Mitrovic won the Championship’s golden boot this season, but the Serbia international missed both legs of the semi-final win over Cardiff City through injury.

However, Parker says he has a fully fit squad for the final.

Whether Mitrovic and forward Neeskens Kebano, who was withdrawn in the second leg against the Bluebirds with a hamstring issue, are fit enough to start remains to be seen.

Bees boss Frank has chosen a largely settled side during the run-in, with his biggest decision seeming to be a choice between Emiliano Marcondes and Josh Dasilva over who will start in midfield.



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