Brentford earn bragging rights over Fulham as new rivalry is born
Sometimes a testy rivalry emerges unexpectedly. It may not be the Old Firm, Villa v Birmingham or even Crystal Palace v Brighton yet, but a compelling battleground is emerging in west London between the Premier League’s upwardly-mobile new middle class.
Brentford and Fulham are both enjoying remarkable seasons, every game between them is a thriller which stokes the flames and each ends no closer to a definitive answer about which of these vibrant teams is superior.
This was undeniably Brentford’s night, so much so that their fans’ chant of “we’re all going on a European tour” has a ring of truth to it. This 3-2 was some payback after Fulham edged them by the same score at Craven Cottage last August, and won the lockdown Championship play-off final of 2020.
“This is for us, in the Premier League, the biggest London derby,” said coach Thomas Frank. “It’s more special against Fulham and in recent years there have been more interesting games between the teams, so of course it meant something extra, especially for the fans.”
Great rivalries are built on fundamental differences. Red v blue, Mersey docks v Manchester ship canal, our bit of town v your slightly demographically different bit of town. Fulham and Brentford are distinct propositions tactically and their fans do not like one another, they have been too close in geography and stature for too long for that. But currently they have more in common than their supporters would care to admit.
Both are punching above their weight with impressive managers, both seem to have mastered the art of recruitment and each has a centre back in Ben Mee and Tim Ream whose every positive contribution is greeted by an exaggerated yelling of their name, e-vowel stretched to breaking point.
Frank’s side started ferociously and went ahead after six minutes when Ethan Pinnock’s shot took a drastic diversion into the bottom corner off Ream. Their frightening momentum was curbed only by a delay after a flare was thrown on to the pitch by their own fans.
The firework faded but Brentford still put together the most sparkling moves. There was an electric directness to their play with and without the ball. There were occasional hints that Fulham’s approach, richer with suave passing, might unlock doors. They collectively realised that you can sidestep rabid closing-down by taking a breath, selling a dummy and calmly moving into now-unoccupied space behind the eager runner.
The first half ended with two free-kicks hitting the woodwork, first Ivan Toney cracking the angle of post and bar from 25 yards, then an attempt from just outside the box from Andreas Pereira. His hit the inside of the upright past a fully-stretched David Raya and the rebound fell perfectly for Manor Solomon to head in, his fifth goal in as many games. Pereira deserved an assist, but so did Brentford’s Bryan Mbeumo for a dozy non-marking job.
More shock and awe from Brentford after the break when a long throw caused panic in the Fulham box and Issa Diop clumsily caught Christian Norgaard’s outstretched foot then leant on the Brentford midfielder. Toney casually blasted the penalty into the bottom right. Another flare followed, with another long delay and Marco Silva understandably seething beyond the touchline.
Afterwards he bemoaned the softness of the penalty, and he had a point. “You want a derby that is really aggressive,” he said. “It was a really harsh decision from the referee, but even so, it was our fault. We were sloppy the way we started the first half and the second half.”
With five minutes left Brentford seized on a woeful Cedric Soares clearance, working it wide then into the box where Mathias Jensen stroked the ball through Bernd Leno’s legs to put some deserved gloss on the scoreline. David Raya spilt a Pereira shot in stoppage time, giving Carlos Vinicius a pointless late consolation.
Another storming game between these teams ended with gleeful celebrations for those in red and white, but what powers a rivalry like nothing else is familiarity. On this evidence there will be many more high-stakes games between Fulham and Brentford.