Last night was like Christmas Eve at Brentford. The presents were all wrapped but Thomas Frank and his squad will not find out until later today what is underneath the paper. “It might be a fantastic new Playstation, it might be socks,” the Danish head coach said.
For a club that has failed to make it through the play-offs in any of their previous nine attempts, that sock drawer is full and even if Frank must wish he could focus solely on the present task, overturning a 1-0 deficit against Bournemouth at lunchtime, reflections and comparisons remain impossible to swerve.
This time last year Brentford found themselves in the same position, one goal down against Swansea. Emotions were high on Griffin Park’s final night of action and the Bees gave it everything in a game of remarkable intensity. Yet by the time they faced Fulham at Wembley a week and a half later they looked flat, the equivalent of a marathoner peaking on their longest training run a couple of weeks before race day.
“We’ve used the narrative of last year’s semi-finals when we turned it around, that’s the experience we’ll try to use going into this game but we also know that it’s not going to be the same game as Swansea last year,” he said. “It’s a new game with a new story. Again, we don’t know if it will be the Playstation or the socks.”
Frank insists they are calmer this time and learnt from last summer but he is also promising that his squad will empty the tank to win on a day when supporters will attend their new stadium for the first time in meaningful numbers.
“You’re a tiny bit more calm, you know what you’re facing,” he said. “We know what it’s all about. We know we can turn this around. We have a good feeling and experience. It’s going to be difficult, Bournemouth have a slight advantage, but the way I see it is playing at home with fans makes it 50-50. We’ll come with everything, leave everything out there. We believe and hope it will be enough.”
For it to be enough Ivan Toney must get more than two touches in the opposition area. The Championship’s record goalscorer for a season was more impactful on the defensive end in Monday’s first leg, where Arnaut Danjuma’s counter attacking goal early in the second half was sufficient to earn Jonathan Woodgate’s team a slender advantage.
Was Toney’s lack of impact in the final third on account of Bournemouth shackling him better than any other defence or a lack of good service?
“We all learnt a bit from the first game, just like Bournemouth did about us. We need our big players to perform and he’s one we hope will hit a top level. I’m not in doubt he’ll be there. He wants to be the big man there at the crucial moment.
“Bournemouth did a good job last time but I’m 100% sure he’ll get a lot of service tomorrow and touch the ball more than two times in their box.”
There is also temptation to return to a back four now Henrik Dalsgaard and Rico Henry, both among the best full backs in the division, have returned to fitness. A switch to a three-man system had served Brentford very well in the final weeks of the regular season as they went 12 games unbeaten.
Denmark midfielder Christian Norgaard stepped into the defence after Frank was inspired by seeing Frenkie De Jong do similar for Barcelona in the Champions League round of 16 tie against Paris Saint-Germain and offered another playmaking outlet against sides willing to sit back.
“I’m extremely tempted to start both of them,” Frank said of Dalsgaard and Henry, although they could easily do so as wing backs. “They are two of our best players. It’s touch and go. Are they fit enough? Are they ready? Are they 100% match fit? Confidence? Those are the big questions I need to answer myself. I’m not sure I can answer but I’ll make a decision, cross my fingers and pray it is the right one.”