Joe Bryan, Fulham’s play-off hero, revealed that his sensational free-kick against Brentford was the result of a deliberate strategy to expose opposition goalkeeper David Raya.
Bryan scored two wonderful goals in extra time to send Fulham back to the Premier League, with his first a free-kick from 40 yards.
The Fulham left-back shaped to cross the ball, even looking towards the back post, before flashing it beyond Raya in the Brentford goal. Moments earlier he had spoken with Scott Parker, his manager, on the touchline.
“He [Parker] said to whip it in the near post because the goalkeeper comes ridiculously far off his line,” said Bryan. “That is something we practised this week.”
Asked about his use of the eyes to divert the attention of the Brentford defence, Bryan added: “That is from my dad. He used to give me the eyes when he made me go in goal.”
Parker said he had brought up the tactic in a meeting earlier in the day. “We had done our due diligence on their keeper and he has a very aggressive starting position from free kicks,” he said.
“I called Joe over but I did not want to let on to Brentford’s bench and players, so we tried to bluff it a bit. I said to Joe: ‘Listen, I want you to go for it. I want you to commit to it.’”
Bryan later finished off a fine team move to score his second of the night, before Henrik Dalsgaard pulled a goal back for Brentford.
“We have been written off five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10 times,” said Bryan. “I even read somewhere we were supposed to be scared of them. But we took it to them.”
Bryan’s heroics meant that Fulham have returned to the top flight at the first time of asking after their disastrous relegation in the previous campaign. It also provided Parker with a memorable end to his first full season as a manager.
“This was a team that 15 months ago lost most weeks,” said Parker. “Everyone could see that from the outside and judge that.
“What people did not see and did not understand was a deep-rooted issue at a club that had some wounds and issues. We have tried to change the mentality. I am proud because I see a team that has transformed.
“Some clear errors were made [when Fulham were promoted] last time and we will learn from that.”
Thomas Frank, the Brentford head coach, did not attempt to hide his disappointment at the result, which prevented his side from returning to the top flight for the first time in 73 years.
“I think it is important that everyone relaxes for a few days and finds out that the sun will rise again tomorrow, that it is not the end of the world,” said Frank, who is likely to lose at least one star player, such as Said Benrahma or Ollie Watkins, to a bigger club this summer.
“I know we are coming back even stronger next season, I am 100 per cent sure of that. I think we are very fine margins away from the Premier League which is an incredible achievement for us. Nobody knows what will happen tomorrow but I know we’ll have a very strong squad next season.”