For the second time this season, I’m wondering if this is a preview for the last-ever cup tie at Griffin Park.
The Bees were drawn at home to Cambridge in the first round of the Carabao Cup, but we lost 5-4 on penalties after a 1-1 draw.
Stoke have had a tough season and face a fight to retain their Championship status – despite climbing out of the relegation zone during the Christmas period.
The appointment of Michael O’Neill as manager has improved results – with five wins, one draw and five defeats in his 11 league games in charge, including the 5-2 victory at Huddersfield on New Year’s Day. They had only won two of the previous 15.
They have already had cup success this season – reaching the third round of the Carabao Cup.
They won 1-0 at Wigan and then triumphed 5-4 on penalties at Leeds, following a 2-2 draw – but they then lost 5-3 on spot-kicks at League Two Crawley after the match finished 1-1.
STOKE IN THE FA CUP
Stoke had their most successful season in the FA Cup only nine years ago when they reached the final.
The Premier League Potters faced Championship Cardiff in round three and squeezed through 2-0 after extra-time in a replay, following an initial 1-1 draw.
In round four, they won 1-0 at fellow top flight side Wolves, and then beat League One Brighton 3-0 in the fifth round.
The quarter-final draw paired them with Premier League rivals West Ham, and once again Stoke came out on top – this time 2-1 to reach the Wembley semi-final.
In another all-Premier League tie, Stoke thrashed Bolton 5-0 to go through to the final for the first time.
While the Potters failed to lift the trophy – they lost 1-0 to Manchester City – they had the consolation of qualifying for the Europa League, as the Sky Blues were in the Champions League.
They have also reached the semi-finals on three other occasions – in 1898/99 – losing 3-1 to Derby – and then in successive seasons in 1970/71 and 1971/72, when they were beaten by Arsenal on both occasions.
The Gunners won 2-0 in a replay the first time after a 2-2 draw, and the following season triumphed 2-1 at the second time of asking after the sides shared a 1-1 stalemate.
WHO’S IN CHARGE
Michael O’Neill was appointed as Nathan Jones’s successor as Stoke manager in early November.
O’Neill is also Northern Ireland manager and soon after taking the Potters job returned to lead the side in their final two Euro 2020 qualifiers. He will also manage them in the play-offs in March, although it is unclear what would happen if they qualified for the finals next summer.
During his time with the national side, he led them to their first European Championship finals in 2016, where they reached the round of 16 before losing 1-0 to Wales. It was their first major finals since the 1986 World Cup.
In club football, he has managed Brechin City and Shamrock Rovers, who he led to two successive Irish league titles.
WE’VE MET BEFORE
Saturday will be the first time Brentford and Stoke have ever met in a cup competition.
However, it is the second successive season in which we’ve been league opponents.
We were Stoke’s first visitors of last season following their relegation from the Premier League.
A mix-up between Dan Bentley and Chris Mepham gave Benik Afobe the chance to put City ahead but a superb team goal finished off by Ollie Watkins midway through the second half earned us a well-deserved point in a 1-1 draw.
The return in early January was Nathan Jones’s first game in charge of Stoke, but there was no new manager bounce as the Bees cruised to a 3-1 win. There was a frantic start with three goals in a 16-minute spell. Brentford went ahead thanks to a Ryan Shawcross own goal and Said Benrahma doubled the lead, before Benik Afobe pulled one back. But a superb solo effort from Rico Henry – his first Bees goal – made the game safe early in the second half to stretch our unbeaten Championship run to five matches.
Our stuttering start to this campaign continued in mid-September when Stoke held us to a goalless draw at Griffin Park.
Sergi Canos came closest for Brentford when his effort was cleared off the line, while at the other end David Raya denied Peter Etebo.
The result lifted the Bees up to 17th, but left us with only one win from four home Championship games, while the winless Potters at least moved off the bottom of the table.
BBC Radio Stoke journalist and presenter Matt Sandoz tells us how Michael O’Neill has settled in in the Potteries, what has happened to Ryan Woods and Scott Hogan and recalls the greatest FA Cup moment in Stoke’s history.
Q – How seriously do you expect Stoke to take the FA Cup this season?
A – Stoke need to win games to develop confidence so they will treat the FA Cup as a chance to build momentum. For Stoke it’s all about winning, not the competition.
Q – What impact did Stoke’s appearance in the 2011 final have on the club?
A – A lot of Stokies will say the semi-final was really the club’s big day. After the 5-0 win over Bolton, the final was a bit of a damp squib. However the fact that it also qualified Stoke for the Europa League was a fantastic outcome. It took the club and fans to places they never thought they would play in – Croatia, Turkey, Israel, Switzerland and Spain.
Q – What has Michael O’Neill done to spark an improvement in results since his arrival at the club?
A – He’s added a structure and consistency to the team. Prior to his arrival there was constant change in the starting 11, the team could never settle. Now O’Neill has focused on continuity using fewer players.
Q – It seems to have been a frustrating season for ex-Bees Ryan Woods and Scott Hogan so far. What’s been happening to the two of them?
A – They’ve not been getting too much game time and when they have, they haven’t managed to hold down a place in the team. As touched on before, Stoke have a huge squad and there isn’t room for everyone.
Q – What style of football do Stoke play under O’Neill?
A – I don’t think we have seen the best of a Michael O’Neill team as such, because he isn’t working with his own players. What we are seeing is better organisation and a team that is pressing the opposition in the final third.
Q – Are you able to predict a Stoke line-up for the match?
A – Tough to call this one. Does Michael O’Neill persist with his favoured starting 11 to keep building confidence or does he have a look at what others can do in a competitive game?
Maybe the Brentford fans will get to see Ryan Woods on Griffin Park again?
BEESOTTED SCORE PREDICTIONS
Some of the Beesotted crew have given me their predictions for the score and Brentford’s line-up for Saturday’s tie.
2-0 Stoke. Bees rest a number of first-teamers, making nine changes from the team that started against Bristol City, and get tonked by a strong Stoke City. I’m assuming Roerslev starts and maybe one other, with Jeanvier as captain. Matt Allard
3-1 Stoke. A much-changed Bees side with limited Championship experience comes unstuck against a rejuvenated Stoke. The visitors to run out winners, leaving the Bees to focus on an exciting Premier League promotion push. Damien Flenley
2-0 Stoke. Like other recent years, but even more so this season, the FA Cup doesn’t feature high on Brentford’s priority list. A B team Bees lose to a Stoke team, whose only opportunity this season is a cup run. Liberal Nick
3-1 Stoke. Giving priority to the league, Brentford field an inexperienced XI against a strong Stoke side. Despite positive performances, the young side go out of the competition. Valencia with the goal for the Bees. Cham de Silva
3-1 Bees. Brentford’s support cast show they’re ready to contribute and are not just making up the numbers by beating a lethargic Stoke side. Marcondes scores his goal, Jeanvier header and an own goal from a Stoke centre-back. Gregory consolation. XG Dave Anderson
PUBS IN BRENTFORD AND TRAVEL NEWS
For Stoke fans coming to Griffin Park for the final time, you are probably aware there plenty of pub options pre-match and all are most welcoming and away-fan-friendly (as it should be). As you are probably well aware, Brentford is well known for its four pubs – one on each corner of the ground. 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 newly-opened and renamed The Brook pub – which has jumped on the craft beer bandwagon – 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) & 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.
If you decide to get off at South Ealing station, we’ve heard a few people pop into Roddy’s Bar. Whereas The Ealing Park Tavern (back in the day, the infamous Penny Flyer) is fairly busy now that they seem to have lifted their “no football fan” policy. If you like your craft beer, another fairly new pub worth checking out is The Black Dog Beer House, formerly The Albany, on Albany Road, which is fairly busy before and after the match. There is a pub right by Brentford mainline station referred to as … the Pub by Brentford station.
For real 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, and across from the site of the Bees’ new stadium at Lionel Road. This pub is situated on the location of the now-demolished Oxford & Cambridge pub where Brentford Football Club was founded in 1889. There is also The Express Tavern (Kew Bridge Road) – an ale pub with a retro feel. If you sit in the garden, you can see Brentford’s new stadium towering over you.
There are a load more pubs in the river in Kew if that takes your fancy – just take a walk down Strand On The Green. A quick Google search and you’ll find them all. There are many, many more too if you have a look around. Parking near the stadium is a no no but is pretty easy in the streets north of Griffin Park on the other side of the A4 Great West Rd via Ealing Road or Windmill Road. Make sure you look out for the parking signs which change from area to area.
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.
The reality is the tube is easier and quicker (and cheaper). It’s 35 minutes to South Ealing or Northfields stations from King’s Cross or Euston (even less from Paddington) on the Piccadilly Line and then 15 minutes walk to Griffin Park from there (4 mins on the bus) – more if you take the Northfields to Brentford
If you’re feeling lazy you could take the E2 bus from outside Northfields station (turn LEFT outside the station) to either outside The Globe pub (3 stops – serves The Lord Nelson too) or Brentford FC (4 stops – 5 minutes).
If you get off at South Ealing, you can get the 65 from the bus stop across the road – right outside the station.
You can check out Transport for London’s guide to travel on the Tube and Overground.