BRENTFORD 3 STOKE CITY 1

 

Stewart Purvis was among the fans and the scouts who saw the Bees at their best.

Almost five months to the day Brentford went to Stoke, outclassed them but only got a draw. This weekend they didn’t just go one better but a whole lot better, totally demolishing a team that were once favourites for promotion and who fielded no fewer than ten players with extensive Premiership experience.

This was a superb team performance by the Bees.  No wonder that most of the eight thousand Brentford fans stayed on at the end to applaud the team off. The Stoke fans had been reduced to silence long before.

Before the match I noticed that the seating occupied by scouts from other clubs was noticeably busier than normal. Representatives of Aston Villa and Leeds were amongst them. They could just have been checking us out for their teams’ visits to Griffin Park later this season but more than likely they had an eye on players who will be the subject of bids as the climax of the transfer window approaches.

What a show the fans and the scouts got, there were so many candidates for Man of the Match you lost count. I got it down to a shortlist of six in alphabetical order; Yoann Barbet, Said Benrahma, Rico Henry, Julian Jeanvier, Kamohelo Mokotjo and Romaine Sawyers. Rico got the nod in the club poll. And that list doesn’t include two names regularly mentioned in transfer speculation, Neal Maupay and Ollie Watkins. Plenty to fill up the scouts’ notebooks and to report back on. One fan tweeted ‘Anybody else secretly hoping that Maupay has a shocker today?’.

For once Brentford got an early piece of luck. In the seventh minute a corner by Benrahma was met by Watkins and the ball was heading for goal when Stoke's Benik Afobe hacked it away. The next second the ball was in the net. Momentary confusion about what had happened- Peter Gilham didn’t announce the name of the scorer- was cleared up by the sight of Stoke defender Ryan Shawcross laying prone on the ground having scored an own goal with his face.

Just ten minutes later a much classier goal came as Watkins set up Sawyers on the right and one of those crosses that never seems to get put away was swiftly despatched to the far corner of the net by Benrahma. He ran half the length of the field to share his delight with somebody in the crowd who merited a hand heart.

Two goals up in only 18 minutes was too good to last and with their only shot of the half Stoke struck back. Ezri Konsa made an uncustomary clumsy clearance and Afobe was put through on goal.

Stoke started the second half by subbing their other striker Saido Berahino, who made eight starts for the Bees during a loan period back in 2012. He’d been played out of the game by the controlled aggression of Barbet. Ryan Woods wasn’t having much luck on his return to Brentford either. New Stoke manager Nathan Jones, replacing the sacked Gary Rowett, is a fan of a midfield diamond which meant that Woods got rotated and swapped out of his best position as a defensive midfielder. He was then subbed.

By comparison Brentford were enjoying great success in midfield with Mokotjo probably having his best game yet, constantly nicking the ball off attackers, getting first to 50-50 battles. Even Sawyers was seen to win a tackle or two as he orchestrated the playmaking and set up the clinching goal. Those little flicks he makes with the side of the foot don’t often land on target but this one fell into the path of Henry at full speed who swept into the box and smashed it home past Butland. What a wonderful moment, the first Brentford goal for a player who has had such long layoffs with injury but always shows great pace and determination on his return. The switch to wing backs gives him even more chances to go forward. Rico tweeted later ‘the boys were an absolute joy to play with today’ and that said it all.

This wasn’t one of those days when you fear the Bees can’t hold onto a lead. As they swept forward time and again in search of the fourth goal which they deserved, Maupay and Watkins both hit the woodwork and even Konsa had a crack from 25 yards out. Thomas Frank always emphasises the importance of pressing the offence and he must have been delighted with the way every player harried and harrassed, blocked and bustled.

The Head Coach now has six unbeaten games- five league, one cup- under his belt since he switched to three central defenders and two wing-backs. Kevin O’Connor joined him as Assistant Coach just a week before. So success for a new line-up on and off the pitch. No wonder Frank said it was one of his best days as Brentford Head Coach in charge of ‘more or less a complete performance’. He also praised the analysis team who had predicted Stoke’s approach based on Nathan Jones’s time at his previous club Luton Town. The final stats showed the effectiveness: 16 Brentford shots to Stoke’s 2. 

With the B team winning 5-2 against Bayern Munich’s youngsters in Germany, truly a very good day for Brentford Football Club.

 

Brentford: Bentley; Konsa, Jeanvier, Barbet; Dalsgaard, Mokotjo, Sawyers, Henry; Watkins (sub Ogbene), Maupay, Benrahma (Canós)

 

Stoke City: Butland; Edwards, Shawcross, Williams, Pieters; Allen, Woods (McClean), Clucas; Ince (Crouch); Berahino (Etebo), Afobe