Brentford missed out on automatic promotion on the final day as they were beaten by Barnsley’s injury-time winner – that goal saving the Yorkshire side from relegation at the death. Beesotted contributor Paul Harrison reports on a crazy final day in the Championship.

Clarke Oduor scored a last-gasp winner for Barnsley as the Tykes spoiled Brentford’s automatic promotion hopes, keeping them in the Championship* by the skin of their teeth. The Bees would have sneaked 2nd in the league with a win given how other results went, but it just wasn’t to be.

Congratulations to Barnsley on their survival – based on their performance it seems richly deserved. Although the caveat is that if Wigan manage to successfully appeal their 12 point deduction then Barnsley will be pulled back down to League One. Whilst that would be deeply unfair on the Tykes, Wigan’s points deduction is cruel too.

For Brentford this feels like another opportunity missed, as was reflected in the post-match Beesotted podcast (above). This was singled out as a winnable game long ago.

But the post-match mood wasn’t one of complete dejection. The performance was far from bad and Brentford were agonisingly close to nicking a winner with the score at 1-1. To be this close after such a monumental effort over the last 355 days is more than most would have hoped for.

And … the Bees still have another bite of the cherry – a play-off semi final against Swansea starting on Sunday night.

It’s all to play for.

THE MATCH

Going into the final match Brentford found themselves just a point behind 2nd placed West Brom. The Baggies had picked up just three points in their last four matches – although they were facing a QPR side with seemingly nothing to play for, a win was far from guaranteed.

The scenario was this:

If West Brom won, Brentford’s chances of automatic promotion were gone.

If West Brom drew, the Bees needed to beat Barnsley.

If West Brom lost, Brentford could draw with Barnsley and still go up on goal difference (provided Fulham didn’t sneak 2nd by beating Wigan).

Everyone at Brentford was hoping that this game would be the final one at Griffin Park, a fairytale send-off for a beloved stadium. It was hoped that once the 90 minutes was over Brentford would have confirmed their place in the Premier League for the first time in history.

But the visitors certainly weren’t going to be roll over. Barnsley sat in 23rd before kick-off and needed to win if they had any chance of staying up.

The Tykes may have come into this game as underdogs, but it would have been silly for any Brentford fan to have underestimated them. They dominated against Leeds last Thursday and were unlucky to lose 1-0, before beating play-off hopefuls Nottingham Forest on the weekend.

Rico Henry. Brentford v Barnsley. Griffin Park.
Picture by Mark D Fuller/Focus Images Ltd. 22/07/2020

This was a must-win for Barnsley, and they started with the intensity required. Their midfielders and forwards pressed constantly and collectively. Brentford had lots of the ball but spent most of their time passing it around the back, keeping possession. There were some nervy touches. Barnsley were trying to split Pontus Jansson and Ethan Pinnock into wide positions, hoping to turn possession over and strike through the middle.

This possession-based approach looked more fruitful than going long though – anytime the ball was lumped forwards one of Barnsley’s three centre-halves was there.

Brentford had the best chance of the first half hour. Said Benrahma collected a pass just inside the area but his strong effort was well saved by Jack Walton, the Barnsley keeper getting down low to his near corner.

Then came some positive news. QPR had taken the lead at West Brom.

As it stood, Brentford were in the top two. But not for long.

Barnsley continued to pile the pressure on. When Jansson headed Alex Mowatt’s lobbed pass out of the box, it fell to Barnsley winger Callum Styles. His first time strike fizzed through Henrik Dalsgaard’s legs, past David Raya’s outstretched glove, and into the bottom left corner.

Barnsley had taken the lead. Brentford were no longer in 2nd.

Styles found himself in too much space to shoot, and it was disappointing that neither Jansson or Dalsgaard threw themselves at the shot. But in those moments players can freeze up. Maybe they thought staying on their feet was the right thing to do.

Brentford had a great chance just before the break. Bees shirts flooded the Barnsley box; a bit too frantically as it looked like Rico Henry’s cutback would miss everyone. But it fell to Bryan Mbeumo – he took it first time but his shot was clawed onto the post by Walton.

It was unlucky. And in another cruel twist of fate West Brom had equalised.

Brentford had it all to do in the second half.

Christian Norgaard. Brentford v Barnsley. Griffin Park.
Picture by Mark D Fuller/Focus Images Ltd. 22/07/2020

The Bees looked better and more confident after the break. There was a return to some of the dynamic play that had been ever-present during the winning streak.

Yet chances remained scarce. West Brom then took the lead, but QPR quickly equalised to make it 2-2.

Brentford were still losing though. Something needed to change.

After the hydration break Barnsley started to tire. Thomas Frank made some attacking substitutions: the match ended with Jansson and Dalsgaard as the only two defenders.

Brentford were playing with more urgency. This had the atmosphere of the comeback victory over Charlton two weeks ago.

In similar fashion to that match, Brentford equalised with 15 minutes to go. Said Benrahma made a brilliant run from deep inside his own half. He played in Tariqe Fosu, whose shot was charged down. The ball fell to Josh Dasilva – he created space brilliantly and curled a trademark left footer into the far side of the net.

1-1. At this point all Brentford needed was one goal – for them at Griffin Park, or for QPR up at the Hawthorns.

Crucially Brentford had momentum. Players poured forward in search of winner. You could see a steely determination in all the players’ eyes. They wanted a goal and could almost taste it.

Benrahma slipped a brilliant pass through to Ollie Watkins. One on one with the keeper, but he couldn’t get his foot on the ball. Compared to many of the goals Watkins has scored this season, that chance looked like a banker.

There was another goalmouth scramble, with at least three Bees players having their shots blocked. Barnsley players were throwing their bodies on the line. True fighting spirit.

Do remember that Barnsley were more desperate for a win than Brentford. It was win or bust. They needed to nick a goal at the death.

And they did. In injury time. Brentford players were about to push forward on the counter after Jansson headed another cross clear. But Barnsley recycled possession quickly. Cauley Woodrow was played in, and he crossed across the face of goal to Clarke Oduor for a tap-in.

2-1. In the 91st minute. Barnsley had got the goal they needed, sparking a mass pile-on celebration.

For Brentford it felt like a gunshot to the stomach. So close to scoring a winner, but the chance slipped away at the last.

We were all hoping that the team wildly celebrating at the final whistle would be Brentford. After all this was hopefully going to be the last match at Griffin Park, and many thought that if any team would be euphoric it would be the Bees.

But it was Barnsley who took the shine off the old ground’s final league match. They fully deserved that ecstatic feeling. It’s just a shame that the stars didn’t align for Brentford to enjoy that feeling.

West Brom had crawled over the line to secure promotion to the Premier League. The Bees ran them close, but on reflection of the whole season it’s a deserved achievement for the Baggies.

Josh Dasilva scores the equaliser. Brentford v Barnsley. Griffin Park.
Picture by Mark D Fuller/Focus Images Ltd. 22/07/2020

After the game there was, yet again, suggestions of “bottling it”. In this game? I wouldn’t say so. Barnsley played well and fought hard for their survival. They were the better team on the day. That’s the magic of the Championship – anyone can beat anyone.

There were elements of naivety in Brentford’s performance. The way that Barnsley scored their late goal was disappointing – you would hope that a ball across the face of goal would be well-defended in the dying minutes of any game. But Brentford had nothing to lose and were also pushing on for a late goal.

Brentford did manage to create a few chances that could, on another day, have gone in. But Barnsley defended superbly. and pressed superbly.

The pressure probably has got to the players in truth. The eyes of the footballing world are on them. Bear in mind that none of the players or staff have been in a promotion race at this level (bar Pontus Jansson). Experience is vital in moments like this.

As Brentford fans we have to acknowledge this. We have no right to expect promotion. Clearly the players and staff want promotion – anyone suggesting otherwise is deluded.

Said Benrahma. Brentford v Barnsley. Griffin Park.
Picture by Mark D Fuller/Focus Images Ltd. 22/07/2020

Fans should support the team and not cause grief. Constructive criticism can be useful when used timely. But Thomas Frank is the manager for a reason. He is the one who will be shouting at the players, if they need to be shouted at.

It’s disheartening to hear that players are getting approached and openly criticised outside the ground by “fans”. It’s not pleasant and doesn’t reflect the genuine mood of most Bees fans. Of course there are frustrations with how the last two matches have panned out. But there’s nothing anyone can do to change that.

Hopefully the players use this criticism to fuel their fire ahead of a monumental play-off campaign. But if there are concerns that the pressure is getting to these young players, this surely isn’t the right way to provoke a positive response.

Looking ahead, Sunday’s trip to Swansea for the first leg of the semi-final is the focus now. The Swans play expansive attacking football. Brentford have exploited them twice this season, a 6-1 aggregate victory over the two fixtures.

It will be tough. Swansea come into the play-offs with serious momentum. Against the odds they ousted Nottingham Forest on the last day to come 6th, courtesy of a massive 4-1 win at Reading.

But with a similar squad profile to Brentford they too could feel the pressure. A good result on Sunday for Brentford will be massive and could restore the confidence required to reach the Premier League.

The loss to Barnsley is disappointing. But it’s not important anymore.

POST-MATCH

Brentford’s head coach Thomas Frank said:

“Football is 80% suffering and 10% joy. When you have that opportunity to go direct to the Premier League, that is the emotional part of it – but Barnsley did a good job.”

“Right now everything is tough but this is football and this is life. This was not straightforward.”

“We can’t sit down and cry too long because that will never help anything. We need to go again and pick ourselves up. We will have a sleep and then be ready to fight again.”

When asked if the pressure had told in Brentford’s last two games:

“No.”

Barnsley’s head coach Gerhard Struber said:

“We are safe! I think eight weeks ago I told my boys we need everyone in the squad and I think today Callum [Styles] and Clarky [Oduor] scored the most important goals of the season.”

“Now we are very happy with a big result, we are staying in the league. Now it’s time to celebrate, have a big party, and not speak about the future. We are in the here and now. It’s party time.”

THE STATS

Player ratings, provided by whoscored.com

Barnsley were arguably the better team, with winger Callum Styles standing out. His 8.3 match rating reflects an industrious performance capped by a well-taken goal. Defender Mads Andersen was rock-steady at the back and deserves a mention too.

For Brentford, like against Stoke, no one player had a particularly bad game or made any vital errors. Raya looked a bit shaky at times. Marcondes was caught out of position on occasion. Watkins and Mbeumo struggled when the Barnsley defenders hassled them. But these aren’t indicators of having a bad game.

Benrahma once again showed his class, with silky touches and countless dribbles through Barnsley’s midfield. Dasilva too had a good game, rarely losing the ball when he drove forwards and taking his goal superbly under such pressure.

If all eleven players (and five subs) can rise above the pressure and play with the on-ball positivity they have all evidenced over the season, then Swansea will struggle to cope.

Match stats (Brentford on the left, Barnsley on the right). Provided by whoscored.com

The match stats reflect how even the game was. Barnsley’s 25 tackles is testament to both teams – the Tykes defended with vigour, but Brentford too weren’t afraid to run at their opponents. Considering that the Bees had 17 successful dribbles too, it suggests that the players aren’t afraid of making mistakes.

xG Map, provided by infogol.

In terms of xG there were few opportunities, and the scoreline seemed to be a fair reflection of the chances. Clarke Oduor’s goal (63% chance of scoring) was Barnsley’s only massive chance, and that came at a point when Brentford were stretched in search of a winner.

Brentford’s best chances statistically fell to Benrahma in the 63rd minute (13% chance of scoring) and Fosu in the 82nd minute (also 13% chance of scoring).

Both Styles’ and Dasilva’s goals were well-taken – both with just a 7% chance of scoring.

THE FANS

Brentford

Barnsley