Since the 1990/91 season, Brentford have lost in all nine of their play-off campaigns.
It’s an unwanted statistic that has lingered over the West London club for decades, but after overcoming Bournemouth in a thrilling semi-final, Thomas Frank’s men have the chance to set the record straight and banish the streak to the history books.
Here, we take a look at how the Bees have come up short in the past and whether they can make it 10th time lucky at Wembley on Saturday, May 29…
1990/91 – Third Division semi-finalists
Brentford spent the 1960s, 70s and 80s flitting between the Third and Fourth Divisions of English football but it looked as though they’d finally escape, after years of mediocrity, in the fifth season after the end-of-season lottery was introduced. Their plans for the season took a hit when Steve Perryman quit as manager less than 10 days before the opening day, but his assistant Phil Holder took over and soon had them challenging at the top of the table.
A run to the Southern Area final of the Leyland DAF Cup affected their league form, however, and despite five wins from their last six games, the Bees were forced to settle for a sixth-place finish. In an enthralling first-leg meeting with Tranmere, Kevin Godfrey struck a last-minute equaliser for the hosts at Griffin Park, but a first-half goal from Gerard Brannan on the return to Prenton Park was enough to earn Rovers a 3-2 victory and a spot in the final at Wembley.
How Brentford’s record compares (inc. 20/21)
1994/95 – Second Division semi-finalists
This season was a tale of two halves for Brentford, who were uncomfortably perched in mid-table by November 1994 after a mixed bag to start the campaign. David Webb’s side bucked their ideas up from there, though, and lost just once from November 26 to April 22. A few days later, they travelled to St Andrew’s to take on Birmingham knowing that victory would leave them in pole position for the sole automatic promotion berth in the Second Division. With an immense amount of pressure upon them, the Bees fell to a 2-0 defeat.
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They then lost 2-1 to Bournemouth and drew 2-2 with Bristol Rovers as any hopes of a late recovery were dashed and entered the play-offs with an over-riding feeling of what might have been a few weeks earlier. With no killer instinct exercised by themselves or Huddersfield, both legs were drawn 1-1 and, after extra time, Jamie Bates missed the crucial penalty in the shootout, which the Terriers edged 4-3 at Griffin Park.
1996/97 – Second Division finalists
Webb had largely the same squad from the previous play-off campaign at his disposal as he went in search of an exit route from the third tier and with Carl Asaba having scored 11 goals in the first 11 games, another promotion push looked likely two years later. They rarely moved away from the top for most of the season, until the wheels started to come off in March 1997.
The goals dried up almost completely after the departure of Nicky Forster to Birmingham and Brentford scored just seven in the final 15 games of the season, picking up 13 points from the 45 available. The slump came to a timely end with a 4-2 aggregate win over Bristol City in the semi-final, though there was to be no happy ending, as Crewe came out on top in the final, with stalwart Shaun Smith netting the decisive goal midway through the first half of a narrow 1-0 win.
2001/02 – Second Division finalists
Steve Coppell took over from Ray Lewington in the summer of 2001 and steered the cash-strapped club to the top of the table by September, after their best start to the season in over 60 years. By the end of November, Brentford had lost just two of their 19 league games and they ended the season with just two defeats in 18, but thanks to a dreadful Christmas period and start to 2002, the fate of their season came down to the final day.
With second-placed Reading visiting Griffin Park just a point ahead, a win would have seen the Bees promoted as runners-up to champions Brighton, but a late equaliser from Jamie Cureton salvaged a 1-1 draw for the Royals and set up another play-off showdown with Huddersfield. This time around, goals from Lloyd Owusu and Darren Powell saw Brentford through to the final at the Millennium Stadium, where they were beaten 2-0 by Gudjon Thordarson’s Stoke.
2004/05 – League One semi-finalists
Martin Allen had saved Brentford from almost-certain relegation to League Two a year earlier and now set to work assembling a promotion-chasing squad for a cost of next to nothing in the hopes of following up ‘The Great Escape’ with promotion to the Championship at the first attempt. Though it had been the case with cup runs in previous years, a lucrative run to the FA Cup fifth round didn’t slow the Bees’ momentum, though three straight defeats in the last two weeks of April put paid to any lingering hopes of reaching the top two.
In the play-offs, an early goal from Jon-Paul McGovern gave Sheffield Wednesday the advantage in the first leg of the tie, before goals from Lee Peacock and Chris Brunt put the Owls 3-0 up on aggregate. Left-back Andy Frampton pulled one back with three minutes to play, but it was too little too late.
2005/06 – League One semi-finalists
Despite the disappointment of the previous season and the club’s financial troubles, Allen stayed at the helm and his side repaid him with just one defeat in an impressive two-month run from the end of September to Boxing Day 2005. Again, the team impressed in the FA Cup, but while it brought in much-needed funds, the performances of DJ Campbell – a £5,000 capture from Yeading – piqued interest from both Championship and Premier League clubs.
If promotion had looked likely beforehand, the outlook changed completely once he joined Birmingham on January 31 2006. Not straight away, mind you; Allen’s men bulldozed Walsall 5-0 and followed that up with wins over Bristol City and Southend but won just four of the last 15 games, missing out on a top-two finish by just three points. Jay Tabb helped the Bees – who had goalkeeper Stuart Nelson sent off by referee Keith Stroud – earn a 1-1 draw in the first leg at the Liberty Stadium, before a quickfire Leon Knight double back in west London compounded Brentford’s misery. Allen soon departed, too.
2012/13 – League One finalists
Denied automatic promotion on the final day of the season after Marcello Trotta’s infamous missed penalty against Doncaster, Brentford were forced to regroup quickly ahead of a trip to Swindon – who they’d already beaten twice over the course of the season – eight days later. A cagey first leg encounter at the County Ground ended level as Kevin O’Connor dispatched a late penalty to cancel out Massimo Luongo’s opener 20 minutes earlier.
Back at Griffin Park, Uwe Rosler’s men were 3-1 up on the night and coasting shortly after the break, but Joe Devera and Aden Flint pulled two goals back to send the tie to extra time. In the end penalties were required, with Miles Storey’s missed spot-kick allowing Adam Forshaw to seal a dramatic victory and spark a pitch invasion. Just under two weeks later, though, the red end of Wembley was left in silence, as Yeovil held on for a 2-1 win, with a Harlee Dean goal unable to spark a comeback.
2014/15 – Championship semi-finalists
In the club’s first season back in the second tier since 1992/93, Mark Warburton’s side took many by surprise by finishing fifth in spite of their budget being dwarfed by that of many of their peers. Their smart approach to recruitment, allowed them to sign the likes of Andre Gray and Scott Hogan for less than £1.5m, while the loan signing of Alex Pritchard from Tottenham proved to be a masterstroke.
News of Warburton’s pending summer exit rumbled in the background, but proved to be no distraction on the pitch, as victories over Reading and Wigan in the season’s final two fixtures helped them from seventh to fifth, where they were paired with Middlesbrough. Fernando Amorebieta’s 90th-minute winner saw Boro leave the capital with a 2-1 victory in the first leg, but the Teessiders produced a thoroughly professional performance on home turf, running out deserved 3-0 winners to avoid an unlikely upset.
2019/20 – Championship finalists
Having missed two late opportunities to usurp West Brom in the Championship automatic promotion places, Thomas Frank became the next man to try his hand at banishing the play-off curse that has hung over Brentford for so many years. An entertaining first leg against Swansea at the Liberty Stadium ended 1-0 in the Welsh side’s favour, when Andre Ayew hammered a late volley past David Raya after referee Stroud had shown a controversial red card to Rico Henry that was later overturned.
Frank used the injustice to gee his players up ahead of the second leg at Griffin Park and made the bold claim that he was “100 per cent sure we are going to win” in the build-up to the game. Early goals from Ollie Watkins and Emiliano Marcondes put his side in control of the tie, before Bryan Mbeumo extended the lead with a smart finish. Pontus Jansson’s uncharacteristic error allowed Rhian Brewster to reduce the deficit, but the hosts held on for a final win at Griffin Park – their home of 116 years.
Fulham’s win over Cardiff in the other semi-final set up a tantalising west London derby at Wembley, which ended 0-0 after 90 minutes. In the 104th minute, Joe Bryan caught Raya out with a free-kick from 40 yards and then followed it up with a crushing second three minutes from time, but though Henrik Dalsgaard reduced the deficit deep into stoppage time in extra time, it was too little, too late and an all-too-familiar feeling for the Bees.
2020/21 – 10th time lucky?
Just 40 days later, they were back at it. There was no real hangover upon the return to action, more a smidgen of lethargy that was to be expected, and after seven games, they were sat 11th in the table. An unprecedented 21-game unbeaten run then took Frank’s men to the summit in February, albeit for just 24 hours, before a dip in form, coupled with Watford’s resurgence, curtailed automatic promotion hopes earlier than expected.
They ended the regular season with another 12-game unbeaten run, securing third spot for the second season running and a play-off semi-final showdown with Jonathan Woodgate’s Bournemouth. In the first leg at the Vitality Stadium, Arnaut Danjuma’s second-half strike earned the Cherries a 1-0 aggregate advantage, but in front of a raucous crowd in west London, they came from a goal down to complete the most thrilling of comebacks and advance to Wembley, with goals from Ivan Toney, Vitaly Janelt and Marcus Forss.
Having been defeated at the semi-final stage last term, Swansea will be out to exact revenge, but with another golden chance to reach the top flight for the first time in their history potentially just 90 minutes away, Brentford will be out to learn from their mistakes and right the wrongs of last year.
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