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Fulham 0-2 Brentford
by Kaleem Aftab
at Craven Cottage
LATE goals from Said Benrahma and Emiliano Marcondes gave Brentford victory at Craven Cottage, taking them to within one point of their West London rivals.
It leaves both sides now eyeing a date together at an empty Wembley Stadium when the play-off final takes place.
One might have expected Fulham to have the advantage of playing in a strange atmosphere. They had inadvertently prepared for the new no-fans coronavirus rules so early that they had played the whole season without the Riverside stand.
That stand has been turned into a great big building site separating the pitch from the river as Fulham strive to increase the stadium capacity at Craven Cottage.
There was a time in the late ’80s when this West London derby could have opened its doors to the fans and still have abided by the social distancing rules.
But times have changed and now both teams are striving to reach the promised land of the Premier League.
This game was originally due to be played 99 days ago in front of a full house on the Friday evening that the football season was brought to a virus-induced halt.
Now it was a Championship game played with the sound effects of a Sunday League game (minus the swearing), hearing players yell each other’s names and squealing for the ball.
When the team sheets were announced, there came an unneeded reminder of why football is being played in such eerie circumstances.
Brentford's 14-goal forward Bryan Mbeumo was forced to miss the game after testing positive for coronavirus. Before kick-off, there was a minute of applause for the NHS workers who have done so much. Then the players took the knee in support of Black Lives Matter. 2020 is going to be a year that no-one will forget.
As for the quality of the football match, it was low, which was probably to be expected after several weeks away. It didn’t feel like an important derby at the tail end of a season.
Fulham manager Scott Parker lamented: “Without fans, you are always going to miss a little bit of edge to a football match.”
Fulham had the best chance of the first half when Bobby Decordova-Reid hit the crossbar. The game ebbed and flowed in the second half, with the Championship’s leading scorer Aleksandar Mitrovic having an effort ruled out for offside.
Brentford had the decisive moment – substitute Marcondes crossing for Benrahma to score on 88 minutes. Marcondes’s day got better, snatching a breakaway goal in injury time as Fulham threw caution to the wind.
Looking ahead, Bees manager Frank said: “We know if we want to have a chance to achieve what we’re dreaming about, [Benrahma] and some of our top players need to be in top form.”
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