The Championship play-offs usually defy such banal things as form and statistics but at least Brentford enter this end-of-season lottery with the advantage of momentum.
This comfortable win over Watford was their third on the spin and an 11th match undefeated. Only time will tell if any of this matters but at the moment Thomas Frank’s men can do little more.
It was a memorable afternoon for their brilliant striker Ivan Toney whose second-half penalty made it 30 Championship goals for the season, equalling the number scored by Crystal Palace’s Glenn Murray in 2012-13.
Brentford confirmed third place in the Championship on Saturday with a victory over Watford
Watford’s promotion was already confirmed but the Hornets surrendered the title challenge
Toney has next Saturday’s trip to Bristol City to beat Murray’s tally, which is a record for the Championship since it was renamed in 2004.
His spot-kick, after Marcus Forss had opened the scoring just after half-time, ensured a third-place finish for Brentford and a home second leg tie in the semi-finals.
If that even counts for an advantage in what is typically one of football’s most unpredictable events, with the small matter of £100million plus riding on it all.
Their hard work is only just beginning as they try and avenge last season’s play-off final loss to Fulham but, of the quartet extending their seasons, they appear to be in the best shape.
BRE V WAT MATCH FACTS
Brentford (3-5-2): Raya; Jansson (c), Norgaard, Sorensen; Roerslev (Stevens 89), Bidstrup (Goode 80), Jensen (Marcondes 80), Fosu, Canos; Forss (Ghoddos 73), Toney (Mbeumo 73)
Substitutes not used: Daniels (GK); Reid, Janelt, Gordon
Manager: Thomas Frank
Scorers: Forss 46; Toney pen 60
Booked: Bidstrup, Canos
Watford (4-3-3): Bachmann; Cathcart, Kabasele, Sierralta, Masina; Cleverley (c) (Success 30), Hughes (Wilmot 85), Gosling (Pochettino 85); Hungbo (Zinckernagel 23), Gray (Perica 85), Sema
Substitutes not used: Foster (GK); Troost-Ekong, Lazaar, Navarro
Manager: Xisco Munoz
Referee: Lee Mason (Lancashire)
Toney struck from the spot to double the lead, burying the spot-kick to the keeper’s left
Watford saw their slim change of overhauling Norwich and winning the title slip away. Their Premier League return was secured last weekend and they played for the most part like a team already looking forward to their summer holidays.
Xisco Munoz had been determined to continue their fight for the title until mathematically impossible.
Accordingly, it was a strong side fielded at the Brentford Community Stadium but one featuring 21-year-old winger Joseph Hungbo making his full debut in place of Ismailia Sarr.
Brentford handed a full debut to 20-year-old Danish midfielder Mads Bidstrup but Frank resisted the urge to rest a few key personnel ahead of the play-offs as he searched for some more winning momentum.
The visitors threatened first when Hungbo stretched his legs down the right flank before picking out Dan Gosling unmarked in a pocket of space inside the box. The midfielder’s shot was sharp but repelled by Bees keeper David Raya at full stretch.
Marcus Forss thought he’d opened the scoring in the first-half but had the goal later ruled-out
Forss got his goal moments after the break, connecting to Canos’s cross to smash home
But Hungbo was forced off with what appeared to be a hamstring issue 10 minutes later and skipper Tom Cleverley followed him down the tunnel a few minutes later.
By that time, Brentford had settled into the contest and they created several presentable chances before half-time.
Sergi Canos drilled a shot wide after Watford hadn’t adequately cleared his initial cross from the left.
And the visitors weren’t alert to spot the late run of Christian Norgaard to the back post to meet Mathias Jensen’s flighted free-kick. Norgaard side-footed just over the crossbar.
Forss, favoured in the forward line to Emiliano Marcondes here, back heeled through a crowd of yellow shirt into the net only to be flagged offside.
With promotion already confirmed Watford couldn’t break through against the west Londoners
Toney, without a goal in his last four outings, planted a firm header at keeper Daniel Bachmann after Forss had dug out a good cross.
But Brentford didn’t have very long to wait for their breakthrough after the restart. 58 seconds to be precise.
Tariqe Fosu advanced down the left as Will Hughes backed off and he slipped a ball through down the inside channel into Canos.
His cross was just beyond Toney, who was being well marked, but nobody had picked up Forss at the back post and he rifled home his ninth of the campaign.
While Watford can look to their summer break, Brentford must try their luck in the play-offs
Watford didn’t really mount a response and Brentford were handed a brilliant chance to double their lead just before the hour mark.
Francisco Sierralta tripped Toney inside the box after Canos had initially crossed from the right. Toney stepped up and with perfect placement into the corner reached his personal milestone for the season.
Against the run of play, Isaac Success rattled the crossbar for Watford before Xisco handed a debut to 20-year-old Maurizio Pochettino – son of PSG boss Mauricio – in the closing stages.
It was almost 3-0 to Brentford as we entered stoppage time as Canos cut infield and rattled the crossbar with a cracker of a shot.