Fulham is back in the Premier League following a one-year stay in England’s second tier.
The Cottagers won Tuesday’s Championship playoff final — dubbed “the world’s richest game” with promotion to the Prem estimated to be worth north of $200 million to the winners — against west London rival Brentford on two extra-time goals by journeyman left back Joe Bryan.
Bryan’s brace was among the few highlights of a tense and cagey match, understandably so considering the stakes involved, that remained scoreless though the usual 90 minutes.
It opened up a bit early in added half-hour, but the first goal might not have happened at all if not for an egregious and ultimately fatal mistake by Brentford’s Spanish goalkeeper David Raya, who was caught badly out of position by Bryan off a free kick in the 105th minute:
Joe Bryan gives his team the lead with a WILD free kick!— ESPN (@espn) August 4, 2020
Fulham are just minutes from the Premier League 🙌 pic.twitter.com/r1NLPludMU
With the Bees forced to chase the equalizer during the second and final period of extra time, the game opened up and Fulham — and Bryan — added another goal. Brentford would pull one back through Henrik Dalsgaard with seconds remaining, but it was too late to change the outcome at that stage.
For Bryan, the goals were just his third and fourth in more than 70 matches with Fulham. The 26-year-old previously played for lower-tier clubs Bristol City, Bath City and Plymouth Argyle before arriving at Craven Cottage two summers ago.
United States national team defender Tim Ream played the full match once again for Fulham, which spent 13 straight seasons in the Prem before being relegated for the first time this century in 2014. Ream helped Fulham return to the top flight four years later only for it to go straight back down again at the end of the 2018-19 campaign.
For Brentford, the misery continues. Tuesday’s match was the club’s sixth final in its 130-year history, all of them losses.
The Bees have also now missed out on promotion to the Prem on an astonishing nine separate occasions. The star-crossed club has not appeared in England’s top division since the 1992-93 campaign, the first year the Premier League — the world’s most popular sports circuit for most of the last half century — was contested.
With its latest defeat at Wembley Tuesday, the long wait will continue for at least another year.
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