With 12 minutes left at Wembley, the television cameras picked out the lonely figure of Derek Burridge.
The elderly Brentford fan was in the stands when the Bees last rubbed shoulders with the country’s elite.
And on this warm afternoon, he sat alone, surrounded only by red seats and a social distance.
It was an image that encapsulated Brentford’s painful push for the promised land: they have waited 74 years and the final two chapters of this remarkable return have been written under the dark clouds of Covid.
But at long, long last, Burridge will see Brentford among the big boys again.
Heartbreak at an empty Wembley, nine months ago against Fulham, replaced by jubilation for Thomas Frank’s players and the few thousand who’d made the short journey north.
Frank insisted he was not superstitious, that he placed no significance on Brentford’s nine failed play-off attempts – an English record – or the strange curse of red-and-white that had seen sides in Brentford’s colours go 32 campaigns – and 16 finals – without victory.
But there must have been times when he wondered if they would ever make this final step.
Here, those questions were inside 19 minutes – first through Ivan Toney’s early penalty and then through Emiliano Marcondes’ brilliant second.
That left Swansea with a mountain to climb, one that become insurmountable after Jay Fulton’s second-half red card.
Steve Cooper will rightly feel aggrieved at that decision but he will know they were second best here. Their time may soon come. But this day belonged to Brentford’s.
These clubs had come together to lobby for an extra 2,000 supporters to be allowed inside Wembley. By the time those 12,000 took their seats, however, it was clear any lingering solidarity had long been extinguished.
BRENTFORD (3-5-2): Raya 6.5; Dalsgaard 6.5, Jansson 6.5 (Reid 79, 6), Pinnock 7; Roerslev 7, Jensen 7, Janelt 7 (Ghoddos 74, 6.5), Marcondes 8 (Bidstrup 90), Canos 8 (Forss 74, 6); Mbeumo 8, Toney 8
Subs not used: Daniels, Norgaard, Fosu, Goode, Stevens
Goals: Toney 10, Marcondes 20
Yellow: Janelt, Marcondes
Manager: Thomas Frank 8
SWANSEA (5-3-2): Woodman 5; Roberts 6.5, Naughton 6 (Cullen 60, 6), Cabango 6, Guehi 5.5, Bidwell 6 (Manning 82, 6); Fulton 4, Grimes 5, Hourihane 5 (Dhanda 63, 6); Ayew 5, Lowe 6.5
Subs not used: Hamer, Bennett, Smith, Whittaker, Latibeaudiere, Freeman
Manager: Steve Cooper 6
Referee: Chris Kavanagh 6
First the Swansea crowd booed the English national anthem and then their captain, Matt Grimes, dealt the first bruises of the afternoon. The midfielder was lucky no VAR could slow down his lunge on Sergi Canos and convince referee Chris Kavanagh that yellow was perhaps lenient.
The concern for Cooper, though? That was as close as Swansea came to laying a glove on Brentford early on.
The tale of the tape – the Championship’s most prolific attack vs one of its meanest defences – suggested this could prove a long afternoon for Swansea’s back five; the battle between golden boot winner Toney and golden glove holder Freddie Woodman was always likely to be decisive.
But keeping the forward quiet is difficult enough without gifting him a free hit from 12 yards.
Swansea’s supporters were toasting the arrival of Sheffield United’s Oli McBurnie when Canos slid the ball into Bryan Mbeumo, who fell under Woodman’s challenge.
No hesitation from Kavanagh and no surprise when Toney stroked home his 33rd goal of the season – and No 11 from the spot.
From there, Brentford went for the jugular. But the cruel irony? Their brilliant second came from a rare moment of Swansea pressure.
Andre Ayew had the ball inside the Brentford area but within 20 seconds, Marcondes had twisted the knife. A clearance fell to Mbeumo who drove towards the box and waited for the overlapping Mads Roerslev. He showed excellent composure to wait until Marcondes had snuck in at the back post.
It was some finish from the midfielder as the Bees struck twice in 20 minutes – as many as they’d managed in four previous play-off finals combined. Suddenly, just like at Griffin Park in last season’s semi-final, Swansea had been stung twice in no time.
A minute later, Toney collected a bouncing ball and sent a long-range shot that looped over Woodman before clipping the underside of the bar and bouncing out and there was more good fortune for Swansea when Mbeumo failed to punish a defensive lapse, and when Vitaly Janelt’s shot hit a Swansea arm inside the area but the referee blew for an earlier foul.
The first sniff of a Swansea fight back came moments before the break, when Ayew’s looping header hit the bar.
Then, within 20 seconds of the restart, the striker really should have halved the deficit.
Connor Roberts’ dangerous cross was left by Pontus Jansson and Ayew failed to direct his header on goal.
It was a glorious opportunity to test the resolve of this scarred Brentford side and Swansea kept pushing. But Jamal Lowe’s flashed shot across goal was the closest they came to testing David Raya. Then their monumental task became impossible after Fulton’s red with 25 minutes to go.
It was harsh on the midfielder, who accidently trod on the Achilles of Mathias Jensen and inadvertently slipped into the Brentford midfielder from behind.
But the challenge looked nasty on first viewing and that perhaps explains Kavanagh’s decision.
So Fulton headed down the tunnel, shirt pulled over his face, any lingering Swansea hopes following close behind.
EDITED FROM: dailymail.co.uk