Fulham finished the Championship season on the same number of points as Brentford – 81 – after a good campaign following their relegation from the Premier League.
The Cottagers, who were promoted two years ago, only to come straight back down to the Championship, have been in the promotion picture all campaign – twice putting together four-match winning streaks.
Their home record was the third best in the division behind Leeds and us, and they had the sixth best away record – although they only lost five games on the road, the second best record in the Championship.
One area where they have been inconsistent is up front. They were the lowest scorers in the top five, with 64 goals, and they have relied very heavily on Aleksandar Mitrovic for the goals they have scored.
Mitrovic, who just pipped Ollie Watkins to the division’s Golden Boot by one goal in the regular season, scored 26 times in his 40 league appearances. The next highest individual haul was from captain Tom Cairney with eight.
However, without Mitrovic in the side, Fulham don’t have a bad record as they have won six and drawn one of the seven games which he has missed.
The striker was absent from both legs of the semi-final win over Cardiff with injury, so it remains to be seen whether or not he lines up at Wembley on Tuesday night.
That 3-2 aggregate victory over the Bluebirds, which booked Fulham’s place at Wembley, was based around their 2-0 away win in the first leg. Cardiff won the Craven Cottage second leg 2-1, but it was not enough to prevent our west London rivals going through to meet us.
Fulham are in their fifth season in the Championship in six years, after their 13-year spell in the Premier League ended in 2014.
They mostly finished in the bottom half of the table during their top flight stay, although they did have four seasons when they came between seventh and ninth and in 2010 reached the Europa League final, where they lost 2-1 to Atletico Madrid after extra-time.
Beesotted got together with the Fulhamish podcast to produce plenty of pre-match listening, which you can enjoy here:
WHO’S IN CHARGE
Scott Parker was appointed permanent manager in the summer, following a spell as caretaker boss following the dismissal of Claudio Ranieri in February last year.
Parker had been the club’s first-team coach since 2018 after moving from Spurs, where he had coached their under-18 squad following his retirement as a player a year earlier.
As a midfielder, Parker won 18 full caps for England, and nine at under-21 level. He started all four matches in the Euro 2012 finals.
In his playing career, he had long spells with Charlton, West Ham and Fulham and also played for Norwich (on loan), Chelsea, Newcastle and Spurs.
All Bees fans reading this will know about Brentford’s miserable past play-off record – having failed to win promotion even once from eight appearances.
I won’t go into too much detail, but for the record our appearances are:
1990/91 – Finished 6th in Division Three (now League One) Lost 3-2 on aggregate to Tranmere in the semi-finals.
1994/95 – Finished 2nd in Division Two (now League One) Lost 4-3 on penalties to Huddersfield in the semi-finals after 2-2 aggregate draw.
1996/97 – Finished 4th in Division Two (now League One) Lost 1-0 to Crewe in the final after beating Bristol City 4-2 on aggregate in the semis.
2001/02 – Finished 3rd in Division Two (now League One) Lost 2-0 to Stoke in the final after beating Huddersfield 2-1 on aggregate in the semis.
2004/05 – Finished 4th in League One – Lost 3-1 on aggregate to Sheffield Wednesday in the semis.
2005/06 – Finished 3rd in League One – Lost 3-1 on aggregate to Swansea in the semis.
2012/13 – Finished 3rd in League One – Lost 2-1 to Yeovil in the final after beating Swindon 5-4 on penalties after 4-4 aggregate draw.
2014/15 – Finished 5th in the Championship – Lost 5-1 on aggregate to Middlesbrough in the semis.
Fulham have only gone up once in their four appearances in the play-offs.
That was two seasons ago when, after finishing third by two points in the table, they beat Aston Villa 1-0 in the final with a 23rd minute goal by Tom Cairney, despite the second half dismissal of Denis Odoi for a second yellow card. They overcame Derby 2-1 on aggregate in the semi-finals.
The first time they reached the play-offs was in 1988/89 after they came fourth in Division Three (now League One), when they lost 5-0 on aggregate to Bristol Rovers in the semis.
They were sixth in the same division – then known as Division Two – in 1997/98, but once again failed to reach the final as Grimsby beat them 2-1 on aggregate in the semis.
In 2016/17, they finished sixth in the Championship, but could not get past Reading in the semi-finals as they slipped to a 2-1 aggregate defeat.
THIS SEASON’S MATCHES
Brentford did the double over Fulham this season for the first time in four campaigns, with a 1-0 pre-Christmas win at Griffin Park, followed by a 2-0 victory at the Cottage in the first Championship game after the restart.
Bryan Mbeumo scored his fourth goal in consecutive matches midway through the first half of the home game, and the Bees also hit the woodwork three times in a dominant display, as we moved up to fourth in the table, while Fulham dropped down to sixth.
In the return at Craven Cottage on 20 June, late goals from Said Benrahma and Emiliano Marcondes gave us a win that saw us close the gap in the table to the third-placed Cottagers to a point and to the top two to eight points.
Q – How would you assess Fulham’s season?
A – After the way last season panned out, with two changes of manager, a pre-Premier League spending spree which failed to deliver the results that were required, and of course the eventual disappointment of relegation as they limped towards the end of the campaign, a season of solidity and calm was required. I think Scott Parker has delivered that.
Despite a couple of spells where the nerves may have got a little jittery and pressure from some of the fans may have increased, I would suggest that to have had a chance of automatic promotion on the last day, however slim, and now to be a potential 90 minutes away from a return to the top flight is a pretty good return.
No doubt there would have been hopes of a top two finish, but as we all know the Championship is not an easy channel to navigate, and many a relegated team has failed to make an impression in the first season back down. I suppose the frustration may be the number of away draws, created by a solidity, and a couple of the home defeats to the likes of Barnsley, Reading and Hull which could have made the difference.
There is a definite identity under Parker now and they appear to have found a way of coping with the pressure that their status as an ex-Premier League team creates externally and internally.
Q – What did you make of their performance in the play-off semi-finals?
A – They were solid and ultimately impressive in the first leg where they effectively sealed the aggregate win with the 2-0 scoreline. The game in Wales also saw the value of Josh Onomah, who has grown in stature post-lockdown and shown just why he was a valuable player to sign as part of the deal which took Ryan Sessegnon to Spurs. The first game also displayed the defensive parsimony which they have the capability to switch on, although the question remains whether that element of the game is consistent enough.
The second game at Craven Cottage was a different affair and despite cancelling out Cardiff’s first goal quickly the nervousness created by the second from the Bluebirds was pretty clear. Marek Rodak had to make some important interventions and perhaps the pressure of the situation and the prize which was on offer just started to weigh on their minds. I suppose that there must have been a sense of relief come the final whistle rather than at Griffin Park, where the Bees had overturned a deficit to make it to Wembley.
Q – Fulham seem to have had decent results without Mitrovic in the side – Thursday aside. If he fails to make the final, how disruptive would that be?
A – It is strange to think that the Championship’s top scorer during the regular season may be seen as a player whose place in the starting line up could be questioned. No one in TW8 would suggest dropping Ollie Watkins of course, but that is because of what the “Newton Abbot Neymar” does for the whole team effort.
Mitrovic is a quality striker and I have commentated on a few games where his goals have made a profound difference to the outcome. A lack of his presence in the side forces Fulham to play a slightly different way and can free up others to express themselves. It also allows Scott Parker to incorporate more players who pose different questions, so suddenly he can use Knockeart, Onomah, Cairney and Decordova-Reid in his starting 11.
I’m not sure how fit Mitrovic is. If he is not 100% then the question is would Fulham start him, or use him later in the game either to chase or hold what they have?
Q – Harrison Reed looks to have been a key player for Fulham since the restart, who else should Brentford fans watch out for on Tuesday night?
A – I have been impressed with Harrison Reed since the resumption in the role he plays as the deeper-lying midfielder, he has a good reading of the game so can break up opposition play as well as a decent range of passing. His presence has certainly allowed the other midfielders to impose themselves in a creative way while giving the defence a little extra protection, displayed in the fact that just twice in the last nine games have they conceded more than one goal.
I suppose due to his hair I likened him to Ryan Woods in commentary, and although that’s not a precise comparison, I see Reed as a very dependable member of the team who provides an important cog.
Q – What was it like being at the last-ever game at Griffin Park?
A – It was a real privilege to be at Griffin Park last Wednesday, not just because it was the final game at the ground but also because of the nature of the tie and the Bees’ performance, which was tremendous.
Of course it felt surreal to be in a mostly empty stadium and wrong not to be enjoying the experience with thousands of Brentford fans, the collective experience it what makes going to football so special. Despite the fact no-one was actually there, I did feel as if I wasn’t alone and especially once the game started I was so engrossed in events on the pitch that it seemed as if there were a full crowd in the stands and on the terrace. All we could do on the radio was to try and convey what it was like in the ground to those who weren’t able to be there.
— Brentford FC (@BrentfordFC) July 29, 2020
The gorgeous nature of the evening with summer sunshine streaming on to the pitch, then the gradual darkening of the skies so by the end of the game the old floodlights were burning through the night, made the whole experience very atmospheric.
It also made me quite reflective and although at the end of the night the big countdown board by the tunnel proclaimed “0 Games To Go”, in reality the last game for anyone will be the last time you were there. That 5-0 thumping of Sheffield Wednesday will be the case for many including my household, so perhaps that is the one we should latch on to.
Q – And what has your experience of commentating in empty stadiums been like?
A – Being at games without fans has certainly been unusual and the weirdness of having less interaction with people on match day, sitting further apart from colleagues and various testing methods have all contributed to a surreal experience. The quality of games has varied, as you would expect, but on the whole I have seen some decent matches, especially in the Championship.
Credit has to go to the clubs who have organised things really well and, but for a couple of over-enthusiastic individuals, the experience of getting in and out as well as being in the stadia has been as calm and as relaxed as could be.
I thought that I would be more self-conscious of being loud in empty stadia, but when the games are under way I just get lost in the action.
Tuesday will be my first experience of a Covid-controlled Wembley and I am expecting a slightly tougher entry regime and even more echoes around the ground, but the game should be fabulous.
Q – Finally, can you give me a possible Fulham line-up and formation please?
A – Rodak
Christie/Odoi Hector Ream Bryan
Knockeart Reid Kebano
HOW TO FOLLOW THE GAME
The match is being played behind closed doors at Wembley Stadium, but is being shown live on Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Sports Football – broadcast details here.
Live audio commentary is available: on iFollow with Mark Burridge and Mick Cabble, on BBC Radio London 94.9 and Digital with Emma Jones, Phil Parry and Steve Brown, with Billy Reeves also in attendance and on Talksport.