Sport Brentford 3-0 Fulham: Play-off final demons banished as Bees progress
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Time is against Said Benrahma and those elusive dreams of Premier League football.
Ever since Fulham ended Brentford’s promotion dreams, he and Ollie Watkins appeared to be on a long walk towards the top-flight.
The only questions, it seemed, were who would buy them? And how much would they cost? Watkins has since departed but Benrahma has done little but wait in the 58 days since that Wembley heartbreak.
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Until last night, when Fulham were the opponents again and Benrahma provided a timely reminder of his genius.
In this 3-0 win, which puts Thomas Frank’s side into the last eight for the first time, he had a hand in Marcus Forss’ opener before scoring two – the second a sumptuous curling effort after he had humiliated Michael Hector with a delightful nutmeg. It keeps alive Brentford’s hopes of the most unlikely return to Wembley but may have ended their chances of keeping him, too.
For now, though, Frank’s side can enjoy a third Premier League scalp; this sniff of revenge and slice of history will do nicely, even if nothing can erase the damage done at Wembley.
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For Fulham, meanwhile, more misery. The early months since that glorious night has meant little else for Scott Parker’s side. Here, without play-off hero Joe Bryan, they lacked threat and rhythm. The only crumb of comfort? Parker can now focus on Premier League survival; Tony Khan can worry about those new signings.
Neither side has undergone major surgery since their last clash so perhaps it was no surprise that this began with similar sparring - two sides poking and prodding without either seizing control.
Neeskens Kebano struck the post with a fine free-kick but beyond that, Fulham were blighted by slow and often sloppy build-up which prompted Parker to kick the floor in annoyance.
At the other end, Brentford took time to settle, too. It wasn’t until midway through the half – when Josh Dasilva curled just wide from 18 yards – that they began to hit their stride.
Parker's plan to keep Fulham up after tough start to top-flight return
EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH DANNY MURPHY: I played at Fulham towards the end of my career and reached a European final. Scotty has gone a step further, hanging up his boots and becoming boss.He was a tough competitor. We often came across each other in midfield, and there are strong parallels in our careers too.
Then just as they were knocking at the door, David Raya almost presented Fulham with another gift.
At Wembley the goalkeeper was beaten by Bryan's long-range free-kick and here his fluffed kick went straight to Jean Michael Seri. Within seconds Anthony Knockaert was in on goal but his effort was wasteful. It was a miss Fulham would rue. Three minutes later, Emiliano Marcondes curled a shot home, only for Forss to be penalised for handball.
Undeterred, the young striker atoned moments after. He beat Seri to a loose ball in midfield before sprinting on to Ghoddos’ pull back – left by Benrahma - and firing home.
Parker responded by bringing on new signing Ademola Lookman at the break as Fulham upped the tempo in search of an equaliser.
It would have come, but for a brilliant one-handed save by Raya, after Stefan Johansen drove to the byline and cut a cross back to Kebano.
They then should have levelled shortly before the hour, when Seri fed Lookman down the left and then ran on to the winger’s low cross. But the midfielder blazed his shot over before collapsing in a heap.
Again they were made to pay. Moments later Dominic Thompson’s free-kick was met by Ethan Pinnock, whose header across goal was met by Benrahma.
Fulham sent on Aleksandar Mitrovic but it was Benrahma who had the final say. If only they could have found this form at Wembley, history would look very different indeed.
Fulham secure the loan signing of Ademola Lookman from RB Leipzig .
Lookman will join the Cottagers on an initial loan deal for a fee of around £2million and has sealed a return to the Premier League following his £22.5m move from Everton to Germany last summer. Winger Lookman, 22, said: 'I'm glad to have it over the line and done now. I'm glad I can be here to help the team.