Match ends, Fulham 0, Brentford 2.
Fulham 0-2 Brentford: Late goals from Said Benrahma & Emiliano Marcondes give Bees win
Late goals from Said Benrahma and Emiliano Marcondes saw Brentford upstage promotion rivals Fulham as the Championship made its return after a 104-day hiatus.
For a match played behind closed doors, confirmation that 14-goal Bees forward Bryan Mbeumo was forced to miss the game after testing positive for coronavirus only added to the strangeness of the occasion.
While it was a game robbed of atmosphere, the ghostly echo of every kick and shout off the terraces at Craven Cottage did nothing to detract from the quality of two sides with Premier League ambitions.
Fulham's Bobby Decordova-Reid went closest to opening the scoring in a first half of high endeavour from both sides, with the forward slamming a shot against the woodwork after meeting a neat pass from Harrison Reed on the edge of the area.
Benrahma's close range finish in the 88th minute and substitute Marcondes' effort in injury time after setting up the opener moves the fourth-placed Bees to within a point of third-placed Fulham, whose hopes of automatic promotion took a late blow.
As has been done in all matches in England since the restart of football this week, the game was used as a platform for both powerful statements and special tributes.
Before kick-off there was a round of applause for National Health Service workers and those on the front line dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.
Then in unison, all players took a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Bees cope with Mbeumo coronavirus absence
With 20-year-old Mbeumo self-isolating after his positive test for Covid-19 which was only confirmed before kick-off, Brentford were unable to field their 'BMW' strike partnership, meaning January signing Tariqe Fosu slotted in alongside Benrahma and top scorer Ollie Watkins.
Thomas Frank's side started brightly, pressed high and quickly carved out the first chance of the day - Josh Dasilva working Marek Rodak from 25 yards despite slipping as he struck the ball.
Fulham responded with the Championship's leading scorer Aleksandar Mitrovic calling David Raya into action with a tame close-range header moments later.
Soon after, Decordova-Reid hit the angle of post and bar with a fierce shot before Anthony Knockaert curled an effort from outside the box narrowly wide.
It took a fine save from Rodak at his near post to keep Fosu out on the half-hour mark as the Bees finished the first half with flurry of chances - the first of which Watkins sent over the bar with a header before while Christian Norgaard had a shot deflected just wide.
Mitrovic had the ball in the back of the net for Fulham early in the second half, but the goal was quickly disallowed as the Serb's enthusiasm to find space behind Brentford's defence saw him drift well offside.
While he seemed to lack the sharpness that saw him score 23 Championship goals before the pandemic-enforced break, Mitrovic's glanced header from a Joe Bryan cross to force Raya into a reflex save was proof of his threat.
The introduction of Marcondes off the bench with 20 minutes remaining proved decisive, with the forward's low cross for Benrahma setting up the victory before his composure on the break sealed a crucial three points.
99 days later
It was just hours before these west London rivals were originally due to kick-off on 13 March that the campaign was brought to a standstill by the global health crisis.
But 99 days later, in a largely empty stadium, two sides with aspirations of reaching the Premier League got the season restarted.
In the days leading up to Fulham hosting the Championship's first game since 8 March, Cottagers captain Tom Cairney said there would be "no room for slip-ups" in the quest for promotion.
For more than three months, they sat six points adrift of second-placed West Brom waiting for the chance to reduce the gap.
Likewise, Brentford remained just one spot and four points behind their city neighbours in the play-off places awaiting the season restart.
Victory for the Bees means they have only lost one of their past nine league games and consolidates their place in the play-offs. Meanwhile Fulham face a huge challenge against table-toppers Leeds United next weekend.
The Championship is the third English competition to resume in four days, following the restart of the Premier League on Wednesday and the League Two play-off semi-finals 24 hours later.
Like the Premier League, the intention is for the Championship to be played to its full conclusion.
League Two and League One, the other two competitions that make up the English Football League, have instead come back to decide only the final promotion spots via the play-offs after both campaigns were curtailed and decided on an average points-per-game system.
'Said is a top player'
Brentford boss Frank was full of praise for Algerian Benrahma as his side continued their push for a place in the top flight for a first time since 1946-47.
"Said is a top player in this division and an extremely important player for our team," Frank said.
"And we know if we want to have a chance to achieve what we're dreaming about, he and some of our top players need top form.
"I think Said played a fine game but a tough game. He was a little bit not top sharp on his touches and decision making. But we still know he can make a difference.
"I was very satisfied with his goal today, because he just managed to be patient, stay away from the ball and work that last line in the box and that's something we've constantly been working with him on."
Meanwhile, Fulham manager Scott Parker said they would have to put the defeat behind them quickly.
"I thought we had a very good spell in the second half when we had a goal disallowed. Then the keeper pulled off a great save from Mitrovic," he said.
"We just needed one of those to go in and see out the game. So it's a killer blow, a sucker punch, and the second is a runaway goal when we were trying to push.
"Overall it's disappointing but we dust ourselves off and move on. I was pleased with the players' application and efforts."
- 21ReedSubstituted forArterat 80'minutesBooked at 90mins
- 24KnockaertSubstituted forJasperat 89'minutes
- 14De Cordova-ReidSubstituted forJohansenat 89'minutes
- 7KebanoSubstituted forCavaleiroat 72'minutes
- 20Le Marchand
- 43S Sessegnon
- 8JensenSubstituted forMarcondesat 70'minutes
- 14DasilvaBooked at 37minsSubstituted forValencia Castilloat 85'minutes
- 24Fosu-HenrySubstituted forBaptisteat 70'minutes
- 16Valencia Castillo
- James Linington
- Shots on Target
Second Half ends, Fulham 0, Brentford 2.
Offside, Fulham. Sylvester Jasper tries a through ball, but Stefan Johansen is caught offside.
Shandon Baptiste (Brentford) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Foul by Ivan Cavaleiro (Fulham).
Offside, Fulham. Michael Hector tries a through ball, but Ivan Cavaleiro is caught offside.
Goal! Fulham 0, Brentford 2. Emiliano Marcondes (Brentford) left footed shot from the centre of the box to the centre of the goal. Assisted by Saïd Benrahma following a fast break.
Corner, Fulham. Conceded by Pontus Jansson.
Attempt blocked. Aleksandar Mitrovic (Fulham) right footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked.
Harry Arter (Fulham) is shown the yellow card.
Foul by Emiliano Marcondes (Brentford).
Joe Bryan (Fulham) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Substitution, Fulham. Sylvester Jasper replaces Anthony Knockaert.
Substitution, Fulham. Stefan Johansen replaces Bobby De Cordova-Reid.
Goal! Fulham 0, Brentford 1. Saïd Benrahma (Brentford) left footed shot from very close range to the centre of the goal. Assisted by Emiliano Marcondes with a cross.
Emiliano Marcondes (Brentford) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Joe Bryan (Fulham).
Attempt saved. Ethan Pinnock (Brentford) header from the centre of the box is saved in the top left corner. Assisted by Emiliano Marcondes with a cross.
Corner, Brentford. Conceded by Michael Hector.
Substitution, Brentford. César Joel Valencia Castillo replaces Josh Dasilva.