Brentford reached the Sky Bet Championship Play-Off Final with a 3-1 win over Swansea City, beating their South Wales opponents 3-2 on aggregate. The Bees had one foot in the final after a blistering start that saw Ollie Watkins and Emiliano Marcondes score inside the first 15 minutes. When Bryan Mbeumo volleyed in seconds after half time the game was just about up. There was a nervous finish after Swansea pulled one back, but Brentford progressed.
And there was little doubt the better team won on the night and won the tie. The Bees were unstoppable in the opening exchanges and could have far more than a 2-0 half time lead. Mbeumo’s emphatic volley proved to be the winner after Swansea’s strike and Brentford will now head to Wembley Stadium next week for the Play-Off Final after playing the final game ever at their historic Griffin Park home.
Brentford knew they needed to win the game if they were to have any chance of reaching the final while Swansea had a one-goal lead to defend from the first game in South Wales. The Bees started like a team determined to wipe out that advantage as soon as they could and played like they were driven by injustice, after having seen a red card issued to Rico Henry when the first leg was 0-0 rescinded two days later. They flew out of the blocks and could have been more than two up inside the first 15 minutes.
The goals were superbly executed and brilliantly taken. The first was created by arguably one of the best passes ever seen at Griffin Park on the night of the final game. David Raya gathered a Swansea free kick and found Mathias Jensen in the inside right channel. He stepped away from Conor Gallagher and played a 50-yard pass that split Swansea wide open and left Watkins in on goal. The forward did not need to break stride, he took a touch and slotted it low past Erwin Mulder to level the tie on aggregate.
That parity only lasted four minutes. Watkins found space in the centre of the field and laid the ball wide to Saïd Benrahma, the cross was measured perfectly for the arriving Marcondes to nod past Mulder and in to the net. Marcondes made the perfect late run, leaving the Swansea midfield in his wake and just had to divert the ball in to the net, which he did perfectly.
Brentford completely dominated the early exchanges. The midfield trio, with Christian Nørgaard sitting between Jensen and Marcondes, ran the game. Jensen constantly dropped in to gaps to give his defence another option while Marcondes floated in to spaces in front of them. Benrahma and Mbeumo stayed wide more often than not to create room to play and Swansea had no answer.
An early Marcondes shot troubled Mulder as it dipped and swerved, and the goalkeeper saved it very uncomfortably. Benrahma bent a free kick wide between the goals and Nørgaard saw a shot blocked when a corner dropped loose after the second. There was an early caution for Henrik Dalsgaard for a foul on Gallagher but as the game approached the 20-minute mark, Brentford had command.
Swansea then nearly struck a sucker punch. Gallagher was played in to the inside left channel by Jake Bidwell and got between Brentford defenders. He raced in on goal and fired low, but Raya got down well to save, pushed it away from the arriving Andre Ayew and Pontus Jansson was there to step away from danger with Connor Roberts approaching. Jansson moved in to midfield and found Jensen, the ball was moved on to Benrahma, he wriggled inside Kyle Naughton and let fly with a shot that beat Mulder, hit the near post and rolled agonisingly across the line, inches from going in for Brentford’s third.
Bidwell headed wide for Swansea as they tried to mount a response, but Brentford were still creating the better chances, albeit the game was more even as it reached the half hour. Mbeumo fired over from distance after Brentford worked a chance and the same player was then well shepherded by Mike van der Hoorn when it looked like he may be able to burst in to the penalty area. Benrahma had another sight of goal but pulled his shot horribly with his left foot, the ball hit van der Hoorn and Mulder gathered with relief.
Benrahma shot wide again as half time approached and Brentford looked to put the game to bed. The end of the first period was stop-start with Ayew, who was far less effective at Griffin Park than he had been in the first game, suffering a head injury and then, inexplicably, limping through the rest of the half and Swansea knew they needed some inspiration. They made two substitutions at half time, but it was Brentford that made the start to the second half they craved.
The second period was barely a minute old when Jensen found space on the left, he waited for the right time and delivered a pass for Henry to run on to, overlapping. The cross from Henry was inch perfect, the volley from Mbeumo ripped past Mulder before he could move, and Brentford had a third. A superbly executed, wonderfully taken goal killed any momentum Swansea tried to build and Brentford had breathing space.
It could have got even better for Brentford during a fine 15-minute spell at the start of the second half. Ethan Pinnock headed a Benrahma free kick narrowly over as The Bees dominated possession and territory and Swansea looked for a way to make their new shape – with Yan Dhanda a more attacking option than Jay Fulton, the player he replaced – work. Matt Grimes, deep in Swansea’s midfield, was swamped and nothing they tried had the desired results as Brentford forced mistakes and looked to attack when they could.
Unfortunately for Brentford, when the mistake came, it was made by a home player. There looked to be little danger when a ball was lofted down the middle, Jansson tried to clear but failed to get any purchase on the ball. Rhian Brewster latched on to the loose ball, lifted it over Raya and gave his team hope. It also gave them a big lift when it looked like they might be out of the tie and set up a frantic finish.
The visitors had not really looked like scoring before that. They had created an opening when Ayew and Brewster fed Roberts on the right, he cut inside and hit a shot that Raya tipped over the bar. Raya had also saved a header from Brewster that lacked power and the signs of frustration from the visitors were evident when Dhanda committed a horrible late tackle on Dalsgaard, moments after Ben Cabango had committed a similar one on Watkins. Referee Chris Kavanagh decided both were only worthy of cautions when a more serious punishment was not out of the question.
Swansea were forced to chase the game and introduced Bersant Celina, sacrificing Naughton, just before Brewster brought them back in to it. Celina did have a shot blocked for Swansea at the death but that was all they could manage apart from a long-range Brewster effort that Raya dived on. Brentford seemed to increase their intensity after conceding, protected their penalty area superbly and probably looked the most likely team to get a fifth goal of the night if one was to come.
Josh Dasilva shot wide after nice interplay on the edge of the penalty area before Sergi Canós put Watkins away on the right, he cut the ball back to Benrahma and the fierce shot beat Mulder but clipped the crossbar on the way over. Canós had a shot saved and Dasilva one blocked as Brentford went looking for a fourth.
Benrahma could have put the seal on it when he won the ball on the edge of the Swansea penalty area and bent a shot inches over. That would have been a brilliant way final goal at Brentford’s 116-year-old stadium, but it wasn’t needed to win the game. The Bees had done more than enough over the match and the tie to reach Wembley and will now go for promotion next week.
Brentford: Raya; Dalsgaard, Jansson, Pinnock, Henry; Jensen, Nørgaard, Marcondes (sub Dasilva 76 mins); Mbeumo (sub Canós 76 mins), Benrahma, Watkins
Subs (not used): Daniels, Roerslev, Jeanvier, Fosu, Dervişoğlu, Žambůrek, Valencia
Bookings: Dalsgaard (9 mins) (sixth of season), Benrahma (83 mins) (sixth of season)
Swansea City: Mulder; Naughton (sub Celina 76 mins), van der Hoorn (sub Cabango h/t), Guehi; Roberts, Fulton (sub Dhanda h/t), Grimes, Bidwell; Gallagher; Ayew, Brewster
Subs (not used): Gould, Dyer, Kalulu, Rushesha, Cullen, Garrick
Bookings: Cabango (54 mins), Dhanda (75 mins), Ayew (82 mins), Roberts (90 mins)