Notts County will arrive at Griffin Park in good form and riding high in League Two after an impressive first half of the season.
Kevin Nolan’s men are currently second in the table – four points behind leaders Luton but seven points ahead of both fourth-placed Wycombe, who are in the first play-off spot, and Exeter, who are just outside the play-off zone.
They are strong at both ends of the pitch, being the third highest scorers in League Two, with 44 goals, and having the fourth best defensive record – having conceded only 26 times in their 26 games.
It is a far cry from this weekend last season when, instead of playing in the FA Cup third round, they suffered their 10th consecutive defeat – going down 4-1 at Morecambe in the league to slip to 22nd in the table, only a point above the relegation zone.
That was the only game under the caretaker management of Alan Smith, following the sacking of John Sheridan, and before they next took to the field, Kevin Nolan had taken charge.
Nolan transformed the club’s fortunes and led them to 10 wins and three draws in their final 21 games to guide them to a 16th place finish – 10 points clear of the drop.
Their good form has continued this season with County winning 14 and drawing eight of their League Two matches in a sustained bid for promotion.
They are unbeaten in 13 matches at Meadow Lane and have only lost four times on the road, while they have only been beaten in one of their last 10 league games.
Nolan has plenty of experience in his squad with a front line of Jon Stead, who has played nearly 600 senior games and scored close to 150 goals, and former Newcastle striker Shola Ameobi, while ex-Leeds and Manchester United midfielder Alan Smith has been a regular substitute.
The only ex-Bee in the squad is midfielder Rob Milsom, who made six appearances on loan from Fulham in the second half of the 2007/08 season.
And of course Alan Judge, who could make his long-awaited comeback on Saturday, spent three seasons with Notts County from 2010 to 2013 – making more than 100 appearances for them.
COUNTY’S CUP RUN
Notts County have not had an easy ride to the third round – being taken the distance in both of their first two ties.
They were one of the first three round one matches on the Friday night when they entertained League One Bristol Rovers and found themselves 2-0 down after only 12 minutes. However, a double from Ryan Yates meant it was all-square at the break and Jon Stead gave them the lead in the 58th minute before Jorge Grant finally made the game safe in the sixth minute of stoppage time to wrap up a 4-2 triumph.
Grant scored another very late goal in round two to finally see off the challenge of National League South side Oxford City, as this time he found the net five minutes into stoppage time to give the Magpies a 3-2 win.
County had looked all set for a replay after goals from Richard Duffy and Stead, with a penalty, had twice been cancelled out by the non-leaguers, but Grant had the final say.
This is the first time in six seasons that Notts have reached the third round.
On the last occasion in 2011/12 they were a League One club and won 2-0 at Championship side Doncaster before losing 1-0 at Stevenage in round four.
They also reached the fourth round the previous season – losing to Manchester City 5-0 in a replay after a 1-1 draw at Meadow Lane – and the year before that they made it through to round five, where they went out 4-0 at Fulham.
WHO’S IN CHARGE
Kevin Nolan became a player-manager for the second time in his career when he took charge at Meadow Lane a year ago next week.
He previously had a 15-game spell in charge of Leyton Orient in the first part of 2016.
Nolan made more than 600 appearances as a midfielder in a playing career which started in 1999 and which is still officially going. He is registered to play for County although his last match was in a 3-0 defeat with the O’s in April 2016.
He spent nearly 10 years as a professional at Bolton, after coming through the club’s youth ranks, two-and-a-half at Newcastle and four-and-a-half at West Ham – helping all three clubs in promotion to the Premier League and spending most of his time playing in the top flight.
He also won two England under-21 caps but did not make a full international appearance.
LAST TIME WE MET
This will be the first time we have faced Notts County since the 2013/14 season, when we completed the double over them on the way to promotion.
The game at Meadow Lane was settled by a solitary Will Grigg goal – his third of four for the Bees and his only one away from home – just before half-time.
Alan Judge scored twice against his former club to ensure Brentford were no fools on County’s last visit to Griffin Park on 1 April 2014.
Judge’s brace either side of the break and a penalty from Adam Forshaw gave us a 3-1 win – our 15th victory from 16 home matches.
Forshaw put us ahead from the spot, after Magpies defender Haydn Hollis had been sent off for bringing down Clayton Donaldson, and Judge doubled the lead from an Alan McCormack pass before making it 3-0 after Toumani Diagouraga’s shot had been blocked.
Former Brentford loan player Jimmy Spencer hit a late consolation for the visitors.
Saturday will be the second FA Cup meeting between the sides – the first occurred in the second round of the 1964/65 competition and we won 4-0 at Griffin Park.
BBC Radio Nottingham’s Notts County correspondent Charlie Slater tells us how the Magpies have defied many expectations this season, why our visitors will be taking the Cup deadly seriously and what he shares in common with Ollie Watkins.
Q – How would you assess Notts County’s season so far?
A – Remarkable! I don’t think anybody expected the season to go as well as it is. All credit must be given to owner Alan Hardy and manager Kevin Nolan who have taken Notts from the threat of relegation to the non-league to serious promotion contenders in the space of only 12 months. They’re doing an incredible job.
Q – What were the expectations – promotion or play-off push, mid-table or relegation battle and why?
A – I think if you were to go back 12 months and ask fans, “what is more likely in a year’s time, second in League Two or second in the National League?” many would have said second in the National League, so bad was the first half of last season. However, after Nolan turned their fortunes around I think most fans would have hoped for a play-off push this time around but settled for mid-table just because how tough the last few seasons have been.
Q – How seriously have County been taking the cup this season and what will their approach be on Saturday?
A – They’ll go for it. I don’t doubt that at all. The FA Cup isn’t the priority for Notts but it’s certainly something that the club and the manager care deeply about. They will want to go as far as possible in this competition and hope to reap the financial rewards that could come with a televised game against one of the so-called ‘big boys’. Nolan has picked a full strength squad in the first two rounds of the FA Cup (unlike the approach to the much maligned Checkatrade Tophy) and I expect him to do the same at Brentford.
Q – What difference has Kevin Nolan made to the club and the style of playing since taking over?
A – A huge difference and he deserves a massive amount of credit. Do consider that the vast majority of this current Notts squad were also at the club last season and were all part of the 13-match winless run under John Sheridan where they lost 10 league games in a row.
If it weren’t for the smart decision by Alan Hardy to appoint Kevin Nolan I’m not 100% certain Notts would still be in the Football League. He demands, and gets, absolutely everything from his players and is the leader that many always thought he would be when watching him as a player. His team is solid, committed and well drilled.
Q – Which Notts County players should we watch out for?
A – Jorge Grant has scored 16 goals this season already…and he plays on the wing. So he’s pretty good and on his day will trouble any defence. The 23-year-old Forest loanee has the kind of vision that is fairly uncommon in League Two and he has the uncanny ability of being able to go through a game without much incident only to pop up and get a goal or assist.
Another Forest loanee that’s worth watching is Ryan Yates. He’s only just turned 20 but I’m certain he could go all the way in the game. He’s tough, committed and can pop up with a goal as well, with six so far this season from the centre of midfield. Throw in the experience and size of Jon Stead and Shola Ameobi and the Magpies should prove to be a good test for Brentford.
Q – Which Brentford players will you be wary of?
A – OLLIE WATKINS! I’ve watched him play since he was a kid and we even played for the same schoolboys club for a time…although quite a few years apart!! I watched him develop at Exeter and was impressed by his pace and power in possession. I’m not surprised at all that he’s been able to make the step up to the Championship and I absolutely expect him to go on to establish himself in the Premier League.
Q – Do you have any good, bad or amusing memories of previous Brentford-County matches you’ve been at either as a fan or for work?
A – This will be my first visit to Griffin Park but everybody keeps hitting me with the same bit of Brentford trivia…there’s a pub on each corner. Although I hear one is closed now?! (Ed – Not any more!! Details in pub guide below)
Q – Finally, are you able to give me a possible Notts starting line-up and formation too please?
A – Best guess is something like this…
Tootle Duffy Brisley Jones
Alessandra Yates Hewitt Grant
PUBS IN BRENTFORD
For Notts County fans coming to the game, you are probably aware there plenty of pub options pre-match and all are most welcoming and away-fan-friendly (as it should be).
We are now back to the traditional four pubs around the ground, following the reopening of the Royal Oak.
The Griffin is closest to the away end (like 30 secs walk) and is very popular with away fans – but also very, very busy. The New Inn is on the other side and is also popular with away fans. The Princess Royal and the Royal Oak are the other options.
Other pubs slightly further afield for the more creative amongst you include (and this is by no means a definitive list) …. The Globe (Windmill Rd) is the Beesotted pre-match pub. This boozer & The Lord Nelson (Enfield Rd) are both incredibly friendly and cosy away-friendly pubs and about 1 min walk from each other …. frequented by ‘away fans in the know’.
The Plough (Northfields Ave) in Northfields is a decent stop-off if you are coming by tube to Northfields. The ‘Northfields run’ makes a much better pub crawl route than South Ealing – getting off at Northfields station, turning left and stopping off at The Plough (2 min walk), The Lord Nelson (10 min walk from The Plough) & The Globe (1 min walk from The Nelson) en-route before ending up at The Griffin (8 min walk from The Globe) by the away turnstiles.
There’s also a relatively new tiny microbrewery pub in Northfields called The Owl and The Pussycat (Northfields Ave)– right turn out of the station away from the ground as opposed to left.
There is a pub right by Brentford station referred to as … the Pub by Brentford station.
For ale head to the Magpie and Crown pub on Brentford High Street. The Royal Horseguardsman (Ealing Road) can probably hold 15 of you at a push.
The Brewery Tap (Catherine Wheel Road) is a cosy boozer by the river. And if you are super adventurous, get off at Kew Bridge and visit One Over the Ait (Kew Bridge Road) – a spacious boozer right next to Kew Bridge with a beer deck overlooking the river – and The Express Tavern (Kew Bridge Road) – an ale pub with a retro feel.
A quick Google search and you’ll find them all. There are many many more too if you have a look around.
Parking is pretty easy away from the ground going up towards and over the A4 Great West Rd (ie. North) via Ealing Road or Windmill Road.
Getting to Brentford from town – many fans get the tube to Waterloo (Northern, Jubilee lines) or Vauxhall (Victoria Line) then take the Overground train to Brentford.
This is relatively straight forward but can actually take longer than if you get the tube due to waiting times (overground trains come every 15 mins and the journey from Vauxhall or Waterloo to Brentford is 30 mins on the fast train – 51 mins on the slow train – so you could find it takes you over an hour including the journey from Kings Cross/Euston/Paddington).
Many fans choose the tube over the overground. It’s 35 minutes to Northfields station from Kings Cross or Euston (less from Paddington) and then 15 minutes walk to Brentford from there (4 mins on the bus) – more if you take the Northfields to Brentford pub crawl outlined above (Plough, Lord Nelson, Globe, Griffin) of course. If you’re feeling lazy you could take the E2 bus from outside Northfields station to either outside The Globe pub (3 stops – serves The Lord Nelson too) or Brentford FC (4 stops).
You can check out Transport for London’s guide to travel on the Tube and Overground.
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