AFC Bournemouth and Brentford will both be seeking to claim an advantage when they lock horns in the Championship play-off semi-final on Monday (6pm kick-off).
The Bees head to Vitality Stadium for the first leg on the back of a 12-match unbeaten run which saw them finish third in the table.
It was a sequence which included a 1-0 win against Jonathan Woodgate’s team in April with Bryan Mbeumo bagging the only goal after Brentford skipper Pontus Jansson had been sent off.
Beaten by Fulham in last season’s Championship play-off final, Brentford again challenged for automatic promotion and missed out by just four points.
Thomas Frank’s team closed the regulation season with a 3-1 win at Bristol City with Ivan Toney registering his 31st goal to set a new individual record for the second flight since the division’s rebrand in 2004.
BRENTFORD IN PROFILE
Head coach: Thomas Frank (appointed October 2018)
Club captain: Pontus Jansson
Last game: Bristol City 1-3 Brentford
Leading goalscorer 2020/21: Ivan Toney (31)
League position: Third
Past six league results: DDWWWW
afcb.co.uk: What was the mood among supporters when the Bees were paired against the Cherries?
IW: To be honest, I think Brentford supporters would have rather avoided Bournemouth at this stage, although they also didn’t really want to play Barnsley.
Bournemouth have a very strong squad and will be desperate for revenge after Brentford’s two wins in the regular season.
afcb.co.uk: How do you see the other semi-final going?
IW: I think Barnsley are going to edge it and make the final.
They have proved since late January that they are a match for anyone, and although Swansea did the double over them either side of Christmas, the Tykes have bolstered their squad since then.
They also have a bit more momentum, while Swansea have limped over the line.
afcb.co.uk: Do you think the Bees doing the double over the Cherries will have any bearing on the play-offs?
IW: Not at all.
Brentford beat Fulham twice last season – the away win being the first game after the restart – but lost to them at Wembley, so I don’t think the results against Bournemouth will have any bearing on the semi-final.
Brentford will know that they can beat Bournemouth, but that’s about as far as it goes.
afcb.co.uk: Do you think defeat in last season’s play-off final will be at the back of the players’ minds?
IW: I think it inevitably will be – especially as the bulk of last season’s squad is still at the club.
But I think it will be there as a driving force to try to ensure it doesn’t happen again, rather than as a hindrance.
afcb.co.uk: Discuss Brentford’s record in the play-offs?
They hold the unenviable record of competing in the play-offs the most times without winning promotion – nine.
They’ve reached four finals – in 1997, 2002, 2013 and 2020 – and been knocked out in the semi-finals five times.
The most painful one of those was in 1995 when they finished second, in the season when only one team went up automatically due to league restructuring, and lost to fifth-placed Huddersfield on penalties.
It was the cruellest moment of my long Brentford-supporting life, although the infamous missed penalty against Doncaster runs it a very close second.
afcb.co.uk: Give us your take on Ivan Toney?
IW: Ivan Toney is a special player who will be plying his trade in the Premier League next season – with or without Brentford.
The Bees have a knack of spotting talent, and reports suggested they tried to sign Toney in the January 2020 transfer window. They kept up the chase and clinched the deal last summer.
Why I think he will do well in the top flight is not just his goalscoring, but also his other attributes such as his involvement in build-up play and bringing others into the game, and also his defensive work. You will often find him in their own penalty area clearing set-pieces.
He is the old-fashioned goal poacher with virtually all of his goals coming from inside the penalty area.
He also has a unique penalty style, with a nonchalant walk to the spot while staring into the goalkeeper’s eyes before passing the ball into the net. Nine of his 31 goals this season have come from the spot.
afcb.co.uk: Apart from Toney, who has stood out for Brentford this season?
IW: Vitaly Janelt – a defensive midfielder signed just before the transfer window closed in October.
His arrival was a surprise and fans knew nothing about him. But with the influential Christian Norgaard being injured at the start of that month, Janelt had to hit the ground running and he did just that.
You could see from his first appearance that he was a talent – he had time on the ball, looked calm and confident, and quickly settled into the team.
He stops attacks and starts them for the Bees and has also chipped in with the odd goal too.
afcb.co.uk: Are there any major injury concerns?
IW: Brentford have been without influential pair Josh Dasilva, in central midfield, and left-back Rico Henry over the closing months of the season and both have been sorely missed.
Dasilva has been ruled out of the play-offs with a hip injury, but there is talk that Henry could return from a hamstring injury suffered at Coventry in February, although his chances are said to be touch and go.
Experienced right-back Henrik Dalsgaard has been another injury absentee and will not be available.
afcb.co.uk: What’s your score prediction over the two legs?
IW: I hate making predictions – I always think I am going to tempt fate if I forecast a Brentford win.
With two very talented teams, I think both games are going to be tight, with no more than a goal in the final aggregate score.
I don’t want to put the mockers on the Bees, but I am going to go for a 3-2 aggregate Brentford victory.
You can follow Ian on Twitter – @ianwestbrook
Officials: Tim Robinson (referee), Ian Cooper (assistant), Wade Smith (assistant), Dean Whitestone (fourth official), Lee Venamore (reserve assistant referee).