Brentford are aiming to reach the League Cup quarter-finals for the first time in the club’s history when we take on Fulham on Thursday evening in the first-ever floodlit game at the Brentford Community Stadium.
The Bees are in the fourth round for only the third time (1982 and 2010 were the other occasions) and are at home at this stage for the first time.
Wins over Championship rivals Wycombe (4-2 on penalties) and Premier League duo Southampton (2-0) and West Brom (5-4 on penalties) have taken us to this stage, while Fulham, who started in the second round, have beaten League One Ipswich (1-0) and Championship Sheffield Wednesday (2-0).
However, they are still searching for their first victory in the Premier League, having lost all their three matches so far this season.
They were beaten 3-0 at Craven Cottage in the opening match of the top flight season, and then went down 4-3 at fellow promoted side Leeds, before another 3-0 home defeat – to an Aston Villa side featuring Ollie Watkins – on Monday night.
WHO’S IN CHARGE
Scott Parker was appointed permanent manager in the summer of 2019, following a spell as caretaker boss following the dismissal of Claudio Ranieri in February last year.
Parker had been the club’s first-team coach since 2018 after moving from Spurs, where he had coached their under-18 squad following his retirement as a player a year earlier.
As a midfielder, Parker won 18 full caps for England, and nine at under-21 level. He started all four matches in the Euro 2012 finals.
In his playing career, he had long spells with Charlton, West Ham and Fulham and also played for Norwich (on loan), Chelsea, Newcastle and Spurs.
PREVIOUS LEAGUE CUP MEETINGS
Thursday’s tie will be the fourth season in which Brentford have met Fulham in the League Cup, and the Bees have gone through on two of the previous occasions.
The first two occasions were two-legged first round ties, and the most recent a single leg second round game.
The first meeting was in 1988/89, when the competition was called the Littlewoods Challenge Cup, with both teams in Division Three (now League One). The first leg at Craven Cottage got off to an extraordinary start when Andy Sinton put us ahead after only 18 seconds – one of the quickest goals in our history. Justin Skinner equalised from the penalty spot for the Cottagers midway through the first half and Andy Sayer put them ahead in the 70th minute, before a long-range screamer from Roger Stanislaus ensured the tie ended 2-2.
The second leg went to extra-time before Gary Blissett scored the only goal of the night to take the Bees through to a second round tie with Blackburn.
When our paths crossed again in the competition – then known as the Coca-Cola Cup – in 1992/93, Brentford were the higher-placed team having been promoted to Division One (now the Championship) at the end of the previous season, one division higher than Fulham.
This time, the Bees completed a 4-0 aggregate victory with 2-0 wins in each leg. Gary Blissett was on target in each game, with Bob Booker also scoring at the Cottage and Jamie Bates finding the net in the second leg at Griffin Park to earn us a second round tie with Spurs.
In 2014/15 – with both teams in the Championship – a goal by Ross McCormack midway through the second half of our second round Capital One Cup tie at Griffin Park was enough to earn Fulham a 1-0 victory and a third round tie against Doncaster.
WE’VE MET BEFORE
Brentford have had the upper hand in the five seasons in which the sides have met in the Championship with six wins and only one defeat in the 10 matches.
We won both the 2014/15 matches – 2-1 at home (Jota in the last minute) and 4-1 at the Cottage (in front of 6,000 travelling Bees).
We drew 2-2 at Fulham just before Christmas the following season, before winning the return 3-0 at the end of the campaign.
In 2016/17, the Cottagers grabbed their only league win so far in this series in a televised GP encounter, as a goal in each half from Sone Aluko and Tom Cairney, in second half stoppage time, gave the Cottagers a 2-0 win.
A first half penalty save by Dan Bentley from Tom Cairney, and a stop from the follow-up, ensured the Bees drew 1-1 at Fulham at the end of April. Cairney gave them an early lead but Nico Yennaris equalised after a one-two with Konstantin Kerschbaumer.
In 2017/18, despite Neeskens Kebano putting Fulham ahead midway through the first half at GP, Sergi Canos quickly equalised and then Romaine Sawyers put us ahead shortly after half-time. Denis Odoi was then sent off before Ollie Watkins’ third sealed a 3-1 win.
Aleksander Mitrovic put Fulham ahead in the 70th minute of the late-season return, but Neal Maupay’s last-gasp equaliser earned us a point in a 1-1 draw.
Brentford did the double over Fulham for the first time in four campaigns last season, with a 1-0 pre-Christmas win at Griffin Park, followed by a 2-0 victory at the Cottage in the first Championship game after the restart.
Bryan Mbeumo scored his fourth goal in consecutive matches midway through the first half of the home game, and the Bees also hit the woodwork three times in a dominant display, as we moved up to fourth in the table, while Fulham dropped down to sixth.
In the return at Craven Cottage on 20 June, late goals from Said Benrahma and Emiliano Marcondes gave us a win that saw us close the gap in the table to the third-placed Cottagers to a point and to the top two to eight points.
However, Fulham secured the biggest win of all by beating us 2-1 after extra-time in the Championship play-off final at an empty Wembley, with two goals from Joe Bryan. Henrik Dalsgaard hit a late reply for us.
Q – How much has the way Fulham have played so far this season been reflected in their results so far?
A – I think that the start to the season, while disappointing for the fans and those in the club, is perhaps not too surprising. We can see that they have the capability to create (Leeds away) but also the propensity to give away chances and of course goals – the 10 conceded in the first three games of a Premier League season equalling a record.
The top flight is unforgiving and if chances aren’t taken and opportunities are presented to the opponents, then the resulting outcomes can have an air of inevitability. It’s not too surprising either that they have reached the fourth round of the League Cup with wins over teams from lower divisions. The selections for those games on paper should be able to secure the results that they have.
Q – What summer transfer business did they do and how many of the new players have forced their way into the side?
A – The sympathy that observers will have for Scott Parker is the shortness of turnaround time between the play-off final and the start of the new season, especially as it was apparent that his squad would need strengthening for the Premier League.
Harrison Reed, who impressed in their run-in, is now a permanent signing, while Antonee Robinson and Kenny Tete have also arrived. Neither appears to have made a major impact yet with Robinson only playing in the Carabao Cup.
They’ve signed another goalkeeper, an area which appears to have been a difficult conundrum in recent years, in the shape of Alphone Areole on loan, and both Ola Aina and Mario Lemina have temporary status too. All are yet to really play enough to make too much of a judgement. The director of football/general manager Tony Khan went very public the other day to insist that they are looking to sign defenders, although the wisdom of those posts are being questioned by some.
Q – What are Fulham hoping for this season, survival or more than that?
A – The reality for Fulham, considering the last incarnation in the top flight and the transfer business that has so far been done, would be that fourth bottom or better would be a good achievement.
As with all promoted teams, consolidation in the first year is not easy, but provides a building block. Of course you get the Sheffield Uniteds who sweep upwards with momentum, but you also get the sides such as Norwich and Fulham two years ago, who slip after one year up. I think realistic supporters knew this was going to be a tough year, and survival would be no mean feat.
Q – How big an achievement was it for Scott Parker to win them an immediate promotion last season?
A – It was Scott’s first-ever full season as a head coach and he had to first eradicate the hangover of relegation and sweep aside the previous season, which had seen two managerial changes and a demotion. He also had to cope with the pressure of expectation, having at his disposal a side people assumed should challenge and a squad of players assessed as good enough to get up.
He managed it and showed some tactical adaptability too, changing things where necessary and getting the squad to buy into what he wanted them to do. He deserves the credit that he got for the achievement, but now as a relatively inexperienced manager he needs time and patience.
Q – Who do you think their key players are going to be this season?
A – One obvious answer would be Alex Mitrovic – as the leading scorer over the last couple of years he will have to deliver up front again to give them a chance in the Premier League. With the transfer window still open the key players may not yet even be in the building, but what is apparent from the early games is that some defensive resilience is going to be required. I wonder whether Harrison Reed can help with that, he’s a neat and tidy player in front of the back four with a decent range of passing. It could be a season where he steps up and does it on a higher stage.
The other stardust factor will be leadership, tough times call for some strong leaders on the pitch even if they are not always the players getting the top marks. Scott Parker is going to need his lieutenants on the pitch to show courage and fortitude.
Q – How much have they been changing their side for cup ties so far?
A – Scott has been using his squad in the cup ties and making sure that as many players get game time as possible, but he hasn’t been changing his whole XI. With no pre-season to speak of, the players need game time and the matches have also allowed the manager to try out some different combinations.
I would imagine much of the same on Thursday. He went with a three in defence to start with against Villa on Monday, but persisting with that may not be the way he goes at the Brentford Community Stadium.
Q – What do you think their likely line-up and formation will be for the game?
A – I’m afraid this is more guesswork, Scott will make changes with a tough game at Wolves to come on Sunday, but he will no doubt still want to win.
Odoi Hector Le Marchand/Ream Robinson
Knockaert Onomah Kebano
Q – Assuming you are going to be there, how excited are you at being at the first floodlit game at the Brentford Community Stadium?
A – Unfortunately I will not be at the game, and that’s a real shame as I would love to see the floodlights in full operation.
On my first visit to the ground they were one of the parts of the design which really struck me. I loved a sort of retro feel about them that would not look out of place in the coverage of a European Cup tie in the 1980s. The new ground is fabulous and while it’s a privilege to get the chance to go and work there, I cant wait to share that experience with fans.
HOW TO FOLLOW THE GAME
The match is being played behind closed doors at the Brentford Community Stadium with a 5.30pm kick-off, but is being shown live on Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Sports Football – broadcast details here.