Brentford go into the Championship playoff final as clear favourites, but there is enough from Fulham to suggest that, despite the odd atmosphere, it could be a game for the ages….
The Championship playoff final is going to be pretty weird this year.
Even though we’ve had time to get used to empty grounds, there’s a different sort of noise at the playoff final which is partly why it’s such a remarkable occasion. Without that, it’s going to be…different, to say the least.
But the game itself should be a cracker. Brentford and Fulham finished in third and fourth place respectively, and while the Bees have been the far superior team over the season, Fulham have shown some more life recently.
“I think Brentford are the better team,” said Adrian Clarke on this week’s edition of the Totally Football League Show. “I feel they have more penetration in forward areas, they’ve got more drive and dynamism from back-to-front. Their back four is solid enough to cope with Fulham.
“Brentford are more comfortable in their manager’s style than Fulham, who are a good possession side but I don’t know if they’ve got the same gear changes as the Bees.
“It will be a fascinating game though, it really will. There will be some great duels: Christian Norgaard against Josh Onomah – Onomah has the potential to destroy anyone in that position, and the goal he scored in the first leg of the semi-final was sensational, although he was quiet in the second leg, so it depends which Onomah turns up at Wembley.”
Sam Parkin added: “Ollie Watkins against Michael Hector: Hector is in that side to sweep up behind Ream who goes and attacks things, so you’d like to think it will be difficult for Watkins to get in behind. Mitrovic against Pontus Jansson: Jansson out-battled him in the two games, Mitrovic has been very quiet, so that’s one to look for. I’d also look at Fulham’s left-hand side too, whether it’s Kebano or Aboubakar Kamara against Henrik Dalsgaard, who is very good on the ball but lacks a bit of mobility.”
Brentford are favourites with most people, not least because of some fitness concerns in the Fulham camp. “I’d be worried about Fulham’s injuries,” said Sam Parkin. “If Mitrovic and Kebano don’t recover, they looked a bit leggy, lacking in ideas against Cardiff, whereas Brentford will be coming off that pitch full of beans.”
However, it’s perhaps not that cut and dried.
“I think a point raising,” said Sam Parkin, “although I wouldn’t read so much into it: nine players remain from the Fulham team that went up a couple of seasons ago, ten if you include Onomah who was playing for Aston Villa that day. So they’ve got the experience of the occasion. I felt the inexperience of Brentford going into it was a concern, although they did alleviate a lot of my fears with the performance [in the second leg against Swansea].”
And there is that resurgence from Fulham, who have got the results to reach the playoffs but have generally been quite underwhelming this season. However, in recent weeks something else has sparked.
“A lot of it is down to a couple of individuals, who have really stepped up and given them another dimension: Neeskens Kebano, who has been really exciting on the left, and Josh Onomah, whose ability to get forwards beyond the striker, to be positive with his first touch, on the half-turn.
“Scott Parker knows how to set a team up defensively, and we saw that against a Cardiff side who did brilliantly [to come back from 2-0 down in the first-leg and make a game of it].”
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