Brentford’s impressive win over AFC Bournemouth may have sealed their Championship Play-Off place, but how should head coach Thomas Frank approach the final three games of the regular campaign?
Before the tense and nervy end-of-season competition, the Bees host Rotherham United on Tuesday evening, then already-promoted Watford on Saturday before rounding off their gruelling 46-game league schedule with an away trip to Bristol City (Saturday, May 8th).
After both Fulham (winning five of the last seven games last season) and Aston Villa (10 wins out of the last 12 at the end of the 2018-19 campaign) won the previous two Wembley finals, recent history suggests Brentford would be best equipped if they were going into the Play-Offs in winning form.
Maintaining their stranglehold on third place in the table would also give Brentford home advantage in the second-leg of the Play-Off semi-finals.
Overall, since the Play-Offs began in 1987, the side which has finished third in the second tier has been promoted on 11 occasions out of 34 – significantly more than the other three positions, which all have similar success rates to each other.
And while games at home haven’t quite been the same without fans, it’s worth noting easing restrictions might allow for some supporters to be in the stadium at that point – something Brentford could look to take full advantage of.
Brentford’s win away at Bournemouth can also paint a different picture though – that sometimes form and home comforts go out of the window with Play-Off football no exception.
Going into Saturday’s game, Brentford were on an incredibly average run of form with six draws in their last seven games in comparison to Bournemouth who were flying, winning seven on the bounce.
After Brentford went down to ten men, it felt like Bournemouth were surely on their way to victory to lift them above the Bees in the table.
However, a resilient second-half showing and a lacklustre Cherries display led to a big win for Thomas Frank’s men in what could be a potential Play-Offs preview.
And if it is a dress rehearsal, it is also perhaps worth noting that the sides which finished third in the last two seasons (Brentford and Leeds United) were not the ones to get promoted to the Premier League.
Similarly, Brentford beat Fulham home and away last season but in the game that really mattered, the Play-Off final, it was the Cottagers that got the upper hand.
So if form and final league position isn’t as crucial as it may seem, should Thomas Frank perhaps look at a more conservative approach for the Championship run-in?
Would resting big names such as Ivan Toney, Ethan Pinnock and Christian Norgaard be beneficial as even more games are added to what has already been a concertinaed season in which Brentford also went all the way to the Carabao Cup semi-finals?
It’s certainly not a new tactic, as David Wagner controversially made ten changes to his side after Huddersfield Town had secured a 2016-17 Play-Off spot.
Despite the outcries and frustration, it proved to be a calculated gamble as an out-of-form Huddersfield, winning only three games of their last 10, achieved promotion after a long, grinding Play-Off final against Reading went all the way to penalties.
But perhaps, instead of viewing it as a rest for the regular first team, it should be viewed as a chance for some players to prove they’re worthy of a starting spot when it comes time for Thomas Frank to name his starting XI for the first-leg.
Players such as Emiliano Marcondes and Saman Ghoddos will be itching for a chance to prove their worth in the remaining few games, while Marcus Forss could seize his chance to prove doubters wrong after a wasteful spell in front of goal in recent matches.
Another important area to monitor in the forthcoming week or so is the injury front with the news that Josh Dasilva will be out for the rest of the season, a massive blow for Brentford’s promotion hopes.
However, the news full-backs Rico Henry and Henrik Dalsgaard could return in time to be considered is a welcome boost for Brentford’s attacking wing-play but it is also vital both feature in the remaining three games so they are not just thrown in cold to the Play-Off pressure cooker.
Whatever happens though, to claim a second successive top six finish with three games to go is an achievement in itself.
But after nine failed Play-Offs attempts and the heartbreak of last season, the hard work starts now with Brentford hoping it really is a case of lucky number ten…