The last time Brentford played in the top flight, the future Queen Elizabeth II had yet to announce her engagement to Philip Mountbatten; Charlie Chaplin was being threatened with deportation from the United States for suggesting that capitalism caused wars; and Derby County were about to make Billy Steel the subject of British football’s first £15,500 transfer. Minds were blown a few months later in 1947 when Notts County paid Chelsea £20,000 for Tommy Lawton so football inflation was already in effect. But anyone trying to convince people that Brentford would one day win a match carrying a reward of at least £170m across three years might have been told to ease off the Burton.
Yet here Brentford were, contesting such a showdown for the second time in two seasons – and at last they prevailed.
Swansea are no strangers to the pain of near misses, having lost at the semi-final stage last season, but that experience did not make them wiser. At Wembley they were too tightly wound, fortunate that Matt Grimes was the only one of their players booked in an opening quarter of an hour when fizzing nerves made them reckless.
Ivan Toney moved in perfect contrast to that, canny and calculating throughout. It was not just his predatory instinct that convinced Brentford to sign him last year before selling Ollie Watkins to Aston Villa, but also his savviness in a wider sense. Thomas Frank thought his players were too naive and Brentford’s scouts reported that Toney’s skills included an ability to influence teammates and officials without causing offence. It was no surprise, as the minutes ticked down at Wembley and the tension rose, to see Toney cajoling and gesturing at his teammates to stay cool, to just keep doing what had taken them to the verge of glory.
He had already exemplified that when giving Brentford the lead. In the eighth minute Freddie Woodman escaped a yellow card after clattering into Bryan Mbeumo but Toney was never going to spare the goalkeeper from the spot. He has not missed a penalty since his early days at Peterborough in October 2018, back when he was being ridiculed by social media bravehearts for saying he believed he would eventually play in the Premier League.
He brought that dream closer to fulfilment by converting from the spot in his customary style: a slow, short run-up that speaks of confidence and a touch of mischievous cruelty, as if giving the goalkeeper an opportunity to simply award him a goal without having to go through the indignity of diving with no chance of saving. No keeper can accept such charity, of course, so Toney did to Woodman what he does to all the others, stroking the ball into the net beyond a proud, pointless dive.
That brought his tally for the season to 33 goals and it says a lot about his method that, if the 11 penalties are included, all but three of those finishes involved a single touch. This is a striker who anticipates brilliantly and acts with rare efficiency, adjusting his body to finish in whatever way serves. There are no superfluous touches: he ensures he is ready to send the ball into the net as soon as it reaches him, bringing to mind Sade’s Smooth Operator, who “moves in space with minimum waste and maximum joy”.
Which is not to suggest Toney is some kind of goal-hanger. This is a team player in a powerful – if not particularly muscular – collective. Swansea know Toney is a menace at both ends, since he headed many of their set-pieces away. When he nodded a free-kick out for a corner in the 19th minute, Swansea fancied they might equalise: instead Brentford stung them with a rapid counterattack. On this occasion Toney was the decoy as Mads Roerslev fed Emiliano Marcondes, who dispatched a first-time finish that his teammate much admired.
Toney nearly made it 3-0 with a swirling shot from 20 yards but it bounced out off the crossbar. And he botched a chance in the 81st minute with an uncharacteristically weak effort. But by then Swansea had been reduced to 10 players, Jay Fulton sent off after treading on Mathias Jensen’s heel and falling in a way that made it seem as if he was trying to use his opponent as a toboggan.
It might have been a long time since Brentford were part of the elite but they are a happening club with a bijou new stadium, smart recruiters, a slick team and a striker who will score plenty of goals for them in the Premier League if he is not sold for big modern fee.