For a few torturous moments, an eerily quiet Wembley fell silent.
Over 105 minutes, neither Brentford nor Fulham had been prepared to twist in this final tussle for the Promised Land. They had poked, prodded and prolonged this already-elongated season. And then Fulham left back Joe Bryan decided to gamble.
His reward? The £135million jackpot.
Towards the end of the first period of extra-time, the defender stood over a free-kick 40 yards from goal.
Everyone – including Brentford keeper David Raya – awaited the cross.
Instead, Bryan curled straight for the near post. Raya scrambled across his six-yard box, hearts stood still and then? Bedlam on the Fulham bench.
Bodies streamed from the stands and piled on top of Bryan, while manager Scott Parker pulled away – his face a picture of furious joy and relief. Bournemouth’s hopes of prising him away now? Futile.
It was Parker’s idea to profit from Raya’s advanced position; it was a skill Bryan had honed with his father. And there was more to come.
As Brentford poured forward, Bryan took another punt.
Despite their slender lead, he ventured forward once more and picked up possession. Bryan drove towards the box, exchanged passes with Aleksandar Mitrovic and beat Raya once more.
And so this year-long tussle for promotion – between two sides boasting the Championship’s most prolific forwards – was eventually settled by a left back with one league goal before Tuesday night.
His second and third have earned Fulham a ticket back to the Premier League at the first time of asking.
Henrik Dalsgaard headed in a late consolation for Brentford, whose remarkable campaign ends in heartbreak. For a team who pride themselves on marginal gains at set pieces, the opener will sting and the wounds of this defeat – which costs them £160m and extends their 73-year wait for top-flight football – could take a while to heal.
What will become of this exciting team is a question for another day. First they must stomach a sixth Wembley defeat and a ninth play-off failure – no one boasts a worse record.
They have done brilliantly to go toe-to-toe with rivals who follow a different model and operate in different financial worlds.
But when the final whistle sounded on their fairytale, Brentford bodies collapsed.
Raya lay on his back and among the first to console him? Mitrovic. While his team celebrated, the Fulham striker helped Raya up and put an arm around his shoulder.
Parker’s side know enough about heartbreak. But after two play-off wins in three season, they’ve tasted their fair share of Wembley joy, too.
And how they celebrated. Nothing less than promotion was acceptable but boy they have made hard work of it.
Down the other end of the pitch, Pontus Jansson, Christian Norgaard and other members of Thomas Frank’s staff watched the celebrations. The play-offs have never had much time for romance.
So Brentford’s first season in their new home will be another in the second tier, while Fulham’s old cottage will host the country’s finest once more.
Parker knew his year-long rebuild would be judged on this night alone, so the decision to leave the fit-again Mitrovic on the bench until the 90th minute was a brave one.
Without his 26 goals, Fulham’s dreams of an immediate return to the top flight would have died long before now. Josh Onomah is among those who have stood up in his absence and here again he impressed as Fulham settled the quicker.
The midfielder tested Raya with a long-range strike before the Brentford keeper’s first brush with danger.
From a heavy backpass, Raya stabbed the ball straight to Bobby Decordova-Reid inside his own area. The ball squirmed to Onomah, the goal gaping. Instead he looked to pass and the chance went begging. Not long after, however Raya was forced into a smart save as Onomah tested him once more.
In these early exchanges Brentford struggled to keep the ball, let alone build any pressure.
Their press was being bypassed, their 59-goal forward line feeding off scraps.
Perhaps, given the chasm in experience of occasions like this, it’s no surprise they took longer to settle. But midway through the first half, Mathias Jensen’s teasing cross was floating towards Bryan Mbeumo when Michael Hector found a vital header to avert the danger.
It was a deft touch but Harrison Reed’s contact with Norgaard’s ankle minutes later was anything but.
Sliding to collect a loose ball, studs up, the Fulham midfielder crashed into his opposite number. He was given a yellow but had VAR been in-play – as Frank has demanded – he would have had a call to make.
Without that helping hand, Brentford continued to stutter. Instead it was Parker’s side with their neat interplay who occasionally enlightened a game struggling to catch fire.
Moments into the second half, the pocket of Fulham faces inside Wembley thought that pressure had finally paid off. After Decordova-Reid was fouled, Neeskens Kebano fired a free-kick towards goal but his effort curled just the wrong side of the post.
Frank had claimed Brentford were so ready that it wouldn’t matter what he said in the dressing room. But as his side threatened to freeze on a third shot at promotion, they needed inspiration from somewhere.
Instead, on the hour, Brentford were given another let-off as Decordova-Reid blazed wide from 10 yards out. Then, after Frank shuffled his pack, Brentford did stir.
A corner hit the arm of Hector but nothing was given and then Watkins, with his first sniff at goal, forced Marek Rodak to tip his shot over. Another glorious chance fell to the forward right at the start of extra-time but from a low cross, he couldn’t find the target. At the other end, Mitrovic was faring little better until Bryan ventured forward and needed a hand scoring his second.