All square at Craven Cottage
A goal from Nico Yennaris and a penalty save from Daniel Bentley helped Brentford to a draw against Play-Off bound Fulham. The Bees fell behind early on as the influential Tom Cairney scored but Yennaris burst from deep to level it up late in the first period. Cairney had a chance to restore Fulham’s lead with a penalty in first half stoppage time but Bentley made a superb save and that proved to be crucial. Neither team could find a way through after the interval and the spoils were shared in a 1-1 draw.
That the game only produced two goals would have surprised most in attendance. It was very open and end-to-end for sustained periods. Bentley made a few superb saves but Marcus Bettinelli was also busy at the other end. Fulham had the better chances and more of them but Brentford ended the game well and could have taken the points. Over the course of the afternoon, they will probably feel they earned their point against the top six side.
Fulham made their game plan clear from the early stages. They consistently looked to their left side to feed full back Scott Malone and teenage attacker Ryan Sessegnon in front of him. They tried to capitalise on the absence of the injured Maxime Colin and double up on his replacement Josh Clarke. Brentford tried to pull Jota back to assist and their central midfield trio were also trying to help but with Cairney and Stefan Johansen playing in the inside left channel and Sone Aluko drifting from his right wing positon to get involved, the hosts took the initiative early on.
They had probably established command of the game before they took the lead just past the seventh minute. Cairney scored it and Sessegnon got the assist but Aluko played the key pass. He cut open the Brentford defence with a ball that released Sessegnon, the youngster found Cairney ten yards out and he rolled the ball home with ease. The game probably didn’t need an early goal for it to come to life, given the proximity of the teams and what was at stake, but it set up a thrilling contest.
Fulham’s attacking prowess was evident, particularly on the left, and they looked to add to their lead. Cairney, the hosts’ key player, shot over after good work by Johansen before a fine piece of covering defending from Yennaris stopped Sessegnon getting a shot away. Bentley denied Floyd Ayité and when the same man had the ball in the net soon after from a corner, referee Darren Bond ruled it out for an obvious tug back. Ayité then missed a golden chance to double the lead when a superb Malone pass put him through with only Bentley to beat, the ball bobbled awkwardly but that did not explain the striker firing nearly 20 yards over the bar.
Brentford had been forced to play on the counter attack. The quality of the home side had pushed The Bees back and with Fulham pressing high up the pitch, Brentford were finding it difficult to play through. The visitors almost equalised out of nothing when Lasse Vibe let fly from 20 yards in the inside left channel but Marcus Bettinelli saved to his left and Jota fired high and wide soon after following a superb cross-field pass from Yoann Barbet. Brentford had been able to put spells of possession together but Fulham had the lead and the initiative as the game headed towards the half hour.
The hosts were looking to build on that lead. Kevin McDonald saw a shot blocked before a Malone cross flew across the face of goal. Cairney also had a shot blocked and Bentley saved from Aluko as Brentford were withstanding the pressure the hosts were putting on. The Bees made a change in their midfield, dropping Romaine Sawyers slightly deeper and pushing Yennaris and Konstantin Kerschbaumer higher up. This meant they could press Fulham’s defensive players and move the ball forward with more incisiveness. And it enabled them to level ten minutes before the break. Yennaris burst forward from midfield, exchanged passes with Kerschbaumer and smashed high past Bettinelli and in to the net from 18 yards.
The goal came at a time when Brentford were finding a foothold but Fulham would have been miffed to find themselves all square with half time approaching. The Bees had improved but the hosts had the upper hand, were dominating possession and territory and were creating more chances. They set about restoring their lead. Cairney had a shot blocked after determined work by Sessegnon on the left and an Ayité header deflected wide.
Ayité was starting to become one of the game’s key figures and he missed a header when unmarked ten yards out after a great run on the right by Ryan Fredericks. Fulham were starting to show the versatility in their play, using Fredericks and Aluko on the right and asking The Bees different questions. Bentley saved from Fredericks as half time approached and in stoppage time the hosts were awarded a penalty. Brentford contributed to their own downfall as Sawyers lost possession to give Fulham and three-on-two break, Barbet tried to recover but hacked Johansen down as he raced back and Mr Bond pointed to the spot. But Bentley superbly saved Cairney’s effort low to his left and then made an even better recovery stop when the Fulham man looked favourite to get on to the loose ball.
That penalty stop ensured parity at the interval but Fulham would have been confident winning if the game continued in the same pattern. Fulham continued to dominate possession after the break but were largely reduced to shooting from long range as Brentford’s defence, with Sawyers providing an effective shield and producing some sublime touches, held firm. Bentley saved well from Cairney on two occasions and Johansen shot narrowly wide from 18 yards after good work by Aluko and Sessegnon. McDonald then landed a header on the roof of the next and Malone blasted over.
Brentford were shutting Sessegnon down, so much so that he was replaced, while the introduction of Florian Jozefzoon gave The Bees additional energy at both ends of the pitch. Lucas Piazon had a shot blocked for the hosts and Bentley denied Malone before saving at the feet of Aluko. But the home side were starting to run out of ideas, Brentford were moving the ball up the pitch effectively and creating chances of their own, albeit mainly on the counter attack.
Vibe forced Bettinelli in to a low save after a good turn before a clever Tom Field pass gave Jozefzoon a sight of goal and his shot was beaten away at the near post. Vibe came closest to putting Brentford in front with a fierce low shot but Bettinelli saved with his feet. Kerschbaumer then had a shot blocked and Jozefzoon blasted over before a deflected, looping effort from Jota was saved.
As the game moved in to its final stages it became apparent that a point would give Fulham an assured place in the top-six – barring a mathematical miracle – and while both teams chased the win, it was not a frantic finish. Bentley held on to a low cross from Fredericks and a Sawyers shot was saved at the other end. A Piazon effort deflected wide before Tomas Kalas missed the target from ten yards and that ensured the game ended all square.
Fulham: Bettinelli; Fredericks, Kalas, Ream, Malone; McDonald; Aluko, Cairney, Johansen, Sessegnon (sub Piazon 59 mins); Ayité (sub Kebano 79 mins)
Subs (not used): Button, Odoi, Parker, Cyriac, Madl
Bookings: Johansen (90 mins)
Brentford: Bentley; Clarke, Dean, Barbet, Field; Sawyers, Yennaris, Kerschbaumer (sub Westbrooke 76 mins); Jota, Vibe, Canós (sub Jozefzoon 61 mins)
Subs (not used): Bonham, Egan, Bjelland, Hofmann, Shaibu