Brentford failed to seize the moment and climb above West Brom into 2nd – the Bees were beaten 1-0 by Stoke in a season-defining game. Beesotted contributor Paul Harrison reflects on an agonising afternoon and looks ahead to the opportunities for redemption.

A 38th minute goal from Lee Gregory was enough to give Stoke City victory against Brentford at the Bet 365 stadium to completely railroad Brentford’s automatic promotion chances – placing the ball firmly in the hands of West Bromwich Albion.

The winning streak was going to end at some point. It could have been against Charlton, Derby, or Preston. If it had been, Bees fans might not be feeling quite so dejected.

But this result is a sucker punch.

The post-Stoke Beesotted podcast (above) summarises what many fans are feeling right now.

THE MATCH

Post-lockdown Brentford’s form has been inspired. The Bees had done fantastically well to close a 10-point gap between them and West Brom to just 1 point in midweek. But with two games left the feeling was that it may have been too little too late. Even if Brentford turned an eight match win streak into ten wins, they relied on an unlikely West Brom slip up …

Of course it came as a pleasant surprise when West Brom did slip up on Friday night. The door was wide open for Brentford to sneak into the top two – for the first time all season – with just one game left. To do that, the Bees needed to either draw with or beat Stoke City.

Brentford, for the first time ever, had the prospect of Premier League football in their own hands. And on paper you had good reason to trust that the Bees could deliver – you can normally rely on any team who have just won eight games in a row.

Football is an unpredictable beast though. Cruel, too. Brentford’s trip to Stoke culminated in a gut-wrenching defeat. 1-0 to the Potters.

The moment was there to be seized. And Brentford simply choked it.

It was a match low on quality in truth. Perhaps befitting of a 0-0 draw – ironically that would have been just fine for Brentford. But that’s football. Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don’t.

Certainly no one watching that game could honestly say Brentford deserved to win.

Saïd Benrahma. Stoke City v Brentford, Bet 365 Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
Picture by Mark D Fuller/Focus Images Ltd 18/07/2020

 

Stoke started the stronger from kick-off, and penned Brentford into their own half for the first 15 minutes. The Bees looked a tad nervous, understandably, but the defensive organisation that has served them so well in recent weeks was on show once again.

Brentford settled down and started to play better. Said Benrahma created a golden chance, floating an inch-perfect pass over the Stoke defence to an unmarked Bryan Mbeumo arriving at the back post. But the chance was slightly awkward, leaving Mbeumo in two minds – whether to volley it or head it.

He opted for the latter, stooping to connect his head to the pass. But it was a tame effort and Stoke keeper Adam Davies smothered it.

There was a genuine penalty shout for Brentford in the first half – Ethan Pinnock had his shirt blatantly tugged as he tried to connect with a free kick. There was no excuse for the linesman not to see it. But no penalty given and Brentford’s chance to take the lead disappeared.

Then came Stoke’s chance, and their goal. Sam Clucas with a fierce “hit-and-hope” effort from the edge of the box, which David Raya could only parry. There was Lee Gregory who had anticipated the chance and duly poked home the rebound. Stoke were 1-0 up.

It felt slightly unlucky. Raya will be kicking himself that he couldn’t hold Clucas’ initial shot – in fairness the shot was powerful and the turf and ball slippy due to earlier rain.

Stoke took their lead into the break. A big team talk was required from Thomas Frank, ahead of a huge 45 minutes.

Rico Henry. Stoke City v Brentford, Bet 365 Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
Picture by Mark D Fuller/Focus Images Ltd 18/07/2020

 

It was clear from the outset of the second half that Brentford were going to have all the play. Stoke set up with almost every player behind the ball in a compact defensive shape.

After all this is a Stoke team who were still needing to confirm their survival in the Championship. They needed these three points just as much as Brentford.

A good opportunity fell for Brentford early in the half. Christian Norgaard nicked the ball back in a crowd of Stoke bodies on the edge of the home team’s box, before floating a pass out to Mbeumo. The French winger did fantastically to beat two more Stoke defenders and play in Ollie Watkins. Watkins drilled in a low cross which was met by Josh Dasilva.

Unfortunately Dasilva didn’t connect well with the shot, effectively just poking the ball wide of the post.

Brentford were searching for the equaliser. As time went on the win was no longer important. Just one goal would do the job to get a vital draw.

The later it got the more frantic the tactics became. Stoke clearly weren’t interested in attacking, so Thomas Frank piled on attacker after attacker after attacker. By the end of the match Brentford had two defenders, three midfielders and five forwards on the pitch.

Ethan Pinnock nearly nicked an equaliser with just minutes left. Sent forwards to cause a nuisance in Stoke’s penalty box, he thumped a first-time left-footed shot towards the bottom corner. But Adam Davies got his fingertips to it and pushed the ball mere inches beyond the post.

There was a second penalty shout for Brentford – Ollie Watkins shoved to the ground by James McClean as he was about to compete for a header. McClean was then lucky to only receive a yellow for a clattering foul on Emiliano Marcondes.

Another 10 minutes and maybe Brentford would have grabbed an equaliser. But it wasn’t to be. The full time whistle blew. Stoke 1, Brentford 0.

Sergi Canos. Stoke City v Brentford, Bet 365 Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
Picture by Mark D Fuller/Focus Images Ltd 18/07/2020

An opportunity missed. It wasn’t the kind of performance that one can take many positives from either.

But what’s done is done. The whole club – players, staff, fans – must move on from this blow. It’s now all about how Brentford respond. That is the most important thing – if the club can pick themselves up after this defeat, promotion can still be achieved.

A win and a good performance against Barnsley on Wednesday night will be ideal preparation for the play-offs. The match is live on Sky Sports on Wednesday (7.30pm KO).

And let’s not rule out automatic promotion just yet. There is still only one point separating West Brom in 2nd and Brentford in 3rd.

Most Bees fans probably didn’t believe Huddersfield would do a favour on Friday night. This loss to Stoke essentially restores the table to how it was on Friday morning.

Yes, it would be a crazy surprise if QPR take points off West Brom on Wednesday night. But no Brentford fan is going to pin their hopes on West London rivals QPR (who hate us) and Mark Warburton (who had a falling out with Brentford owner Matthew Benham which led to him leaving the club) doing the Bees a favour.

But who knows?

We’ve all moved on now.

And the truth is. Warburton owes Benham a favour after Benham gave him – a rookie manager – the gig over all the candidates who applied for Uwe Rosler’s vacant role.

If he decided to return the favour now, that would be the ultimate payback.

But all the pressure is now back on West Brom to make the mistakes. They may be in the driving seat, but they are out of form and playing unconvincingly. Brentford just need to be ready to capitalise.

The winning streak was always going to end at some point. Let’s be glad our season hasn’t ended with it.

POST-MATCH

Brentford’s head coach Thomas Frank said:

“Of course we would have loved to go into the final game with everything in our hands. That is the roller coaster of football.”

“What happened out there on the pitch is the past. We can only look forward, do everything we can to settle our emotions and be ready to go again Wednesday.”

“I am very proud of the players. I think they gave everything out there today. We have been on an unbelievable run and if anybody had said to us before the start of the season that before the last game you would be one point off the top two …”

“Also I am 100% sure I am going to be even more proud of them at the end of the season, if it takes one or four games.”

Frank still had time for some kind words for Leeds and Marcelo Bielsa, even after such a crushing defeat:

Stoke’s manager Michael O’Neill said:

“I think it’s always relief when you are in this situation. It’s a relief to get it finally done and to do it and win against a very, very good team is a positive for us as well.”

“But it’s nothing for us to celebrate – it is just something for us to look at the progress we have made, and we will look to continue that going forward.”

THE STATS

Player ratings, provided by whoscored.com

The player ratings on whoscored.com suggested that Pontus Jansson was the best player on the pitch. This is likely due to him spending a lot of time on the ball as Brentford patiently moved from back to front to unlock Stoke’s deep defence.

Stoke’s defenders, particularly James Chester and Danny Batth, played perfect games. Those two in particular were instrumental in the result.

No one Brentford player had a terrible game. No one Brentford player had a great game either – partly down to the way Stoke stifled the Bees’ attacking flow. This result should not be pinned on individuals. It was just a slightly below par effort all round.

Brentford’s players looked tired, nervous, and panicked. The pressure affected each of them a little bit.

But these are the same players who have performed admirably in the last month to claw the Bees right back into the mix. These players have given their all for the club and need our full support for this last stretch.

Match stats (Stoke on the left, Brentford on the right). Provided by whoscored.com

The match stats highlight the mediocrity of Brentford’s performance. Interestingly there was little difference in the Bees’ shooting stats between this game and the 1-0 win over Preston on Wednesday – both times Brentford had 14 shots with just 3 on target.

Brentford were a bit lucky on Wednesday against Preston. Perhaps the footballing gods felt the Bees were due a bit of bad luck.

xG Map, provided by infogol. Bigger bubbles represent better chances.

In terms of xG, Brentford had more clear-cut chances and on another day might well have left Stoke with all three points. The two big chances were Mbeumo’s header (30% chance of scoring) and Dasilva’s shot just after the break (41% chance of scoring). The Bees may have had most of the play but were largely limited to half-chances by a solid defensive showing from Stoke.

THE FANS

Brentford

Stoke