Bournemouth edged out Brentford 1-0 in the Championship play-off semi-final first leg, in front of 2,000 fans finally back inside the Vitality Stadium.
The limited crowd, quiet early on but fiercely backing their team in the tense late stages of the game, will be hoping to make a trip to Wembley for the final – and a possible place back in the Premier League.
There remains work to be done to get that far, but Arnaut Danjuma was the game’s stand-out attacker and it was he who scored the only goal of the game 10 minutes into the second half, to keep the Cherries’ hopes of promotion well and truly on track.
Championship top-scorer Ivan Toney almost raced in on goal for Brentford just five minutes in, but his chest control was heavy and ran through to Asmir Begovic.
Jefferson Lerma then fizzed a half-volley in from range at the other end which flew just over the bar before Philip Billing scuffed an effort wide from a great position, in a lively opening to the game.
Bournemouth started to impose themselves with a sustained spell of possession and Lloyd Kelly produced a brilliant cross from the left which Dominic Solanke met with a firm header to beat David Raya – but not the woodwork, with the ball flicking wide off the post.
After that flurry of early openings it was very much a case of defences being on top, with some thunderous challenges and fierce work rate pointing to just how much is at stake across these two games and the final ahead.
Arnaut Danjuma was the frequent outlet for the Cherries, with the Dutch midfielder offering a fleet-footed route toward the penalty box with the ball, but it was a set-piece opportunity at either end which could have seen Bournemouth twice take a first-half lead.
Firstly a Brentford delivery was cleared, leaving Solanke to lead a counter-attack from one end of the pitch to the other – but his final pass was wayward.
Then, a Steve Cook header tested Raya’s reflexes, with David Brooks thwarted by a desperate block on the rebound. That was almost the last involvement for Cook, with the Bournemouth captain needing to be subbed off just before the break after an awkward landing.
Christian Norgaard hooked an effort over the crossbar as Brentford tried to make a big splash after the restart, but they were hit for the opener on the break – with the livewire Danjuma finding the route to goal.
A fine pass from Brooks set the Dutch winger free and his composure was absolute, side-footing into the far corner to send 2000 supporters into dreamland.
Brentford threw on three subs immediately to force their way back into the game and one, Bryan Mbeumo, had a golden opportunity to level matters with 12 minutes left on the clock – but contrived to steer a finish wide at the far post after sliding in to meet a low cross.
Danjuma curled a free-kick on target which was beaten away by Raya as the Cherries sought a second, but Brentford eventually seemed to settle for a narrow defeat – which they will seek to overturn in the second leg in front of their own supporters.
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