Less than two months on from the Championship play-off final – Fulham’s night of glory and Brentford’s near-miss – plenty has changed in west London.
The rivals met again here for the first derby at the brand new Brentford Community Stadium and the Bees marked the occasion by beating their now Premier League neighbours to take another small but not insignificant step in their ongoing development, reaching the quarter-finals of the League Cup for the first time in their history.
That they did so, though, was in large part down to one surprising constant: Said Benrahma.
Few expected the Algerian to still be plying his trade here this season, but he marked his first start of the campaign with a double in a 3-0 win, the first giving Brentford breathing space just as Fulham threatened a leveller and the second an outrageous showcase of his talent to seal the deal.
For Scott Parker’s side, the glow of Wembley has faded fast, replaced by the gloom of transfer inactivity and what already looks an uphill battle for Premier League survival.
This competition has provided brief reasons to be cheerful in amongst a series of top-flight reality checks, but no more, though perhaps that will prove a blessing for Parker, who made his priorities clear by making ten changes to the side that started the 3-0 home defeat by Aston Villa.
Thomas Frank made eight to his Brentford side, too, but they included restoring Benrahma and no1 goalkeeper David Raya between the sticks, as well as handing a debut to new signing Saman Ghoddos.
Ghoddos’ first act of note was to concede a free-kick on the edge of his own box which Neeskens Kebano curled with his customary finesse over the wall, only to see the ball come back off the woodwork.
t was as close as Fulham came in a half that Brentford enjoyed the better of as Mathias Jensen and Josh Dasilva bossed the midfield battle, the latter going close to opening the scoring with a curling effort from makeshift right-back Tariqe Fosu’s cut-back.
The breakthrough came on 37 minutes, when Anthony Knockaert gave the ball away in midfield and Jean Michael Seri failed to get him out of trouble, allowing Brentford to break.
They did so ruthlessly, working wide to Ghoddos, and though the Iranian’s cut-back might have been meant for Benrahma, it found Marcus Forss, who crashed home emphatically.
Ademola Lookman, who arrived on loan from RB Leipzig this week, was sent on at half-time and sparked life into Fulham immediately, teeing up Seri for what should have been the equaliser, only for the midfielder to sky horribly.
Just after the hour mark, they were made to pay as Dominic Thompson’s free-kick was headed back across goal by Ethan Pinnock and there was Benrahma stealing in to poke home.
Then came the magic, a goal to light up the first evening game at this spectacular new ground, as Benrahma back-heeled dismissively through the legs of the onrushing Fulham captain Michael Hector, swivelling beyond him to bend a stunning finish into the far corner and cap the Bees’ third successive victory over top-flight opposition.
With the transfer window still open, Benrahma’s genius may yet prove a parting gift. Still, it’s one few Brentford fans dared dream of only weeks ago.
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