It is a younger, hungrier team with a strong identity; Michael O’Neill has really put his stamp on the squad. He had a lot of work to do when he took the job on as there were 37 players with first team experience when he arrived and he has, gradually, whittled that number down and brought in his own players. This is the first season where we are seeing the real O’Neill team come through and it looks really promising.
Last week, Tyrese Campbell (main picture) made his return from a serious knee injury suffered last December. It was a bittersweet return, with Nick Powell taken off injured against Bournemouth, but how much of a boost will it be to have him back?
Brentford will know, because he was so good against them in the first half of last season, just what an exciting player he is. Before the injury, he was creating goals, scoring goals and was definitely up there with the best players in the Championship. To be honest, I think it is still going to be a bit of a journey before he gets back to his old self, but he has put in so much hard work and is such a lovely lad, so everyone is thrilled to see him back and we can’t wait to see him in action for the rest of the season.
The Potters have reached the quarter-finals of the Carabao Cup twice and the semi-finals once in the last eight seasons. Given that they have laid the foundations for a promotion push, how much of a priority will the competition be this term?
Having got to this stage, they will want to win because you can start to get a feel for a really long cup run by this time in the competition. It’s worth pointing out that next year will be the 50th anniversary of Stoke winning the League Cup, which is still the only major trophy that they have won. The club is really proud of the team who won it and the players are remembered very fondly. In 2016, they reached the semi-final with a pretty special team under Mark Hughes and while I don’t think anyone expects Stoke to win it this time around, it is good fun and, if it doesn’t have too much of a detrimental impact on the league form, then they are here for the ride.
Which player should Brentford fans be keeping an eye on on Wednesday night?
The one who will catch your eye at the back is defender Harry Souttar, who has made real strides in his progression over the last season. He is 22-years-old, 6’7”, really good with the ball at his feet and reads the game really well, too. He looks destined for the Premier League.
How is Michael O’Neill likely to set up his side?
It will definitely be three at the back and most likely a 3-4-3, which is a formation that has allowed O’Neill to get Mario Vrancic and Nick Powell in the same line-up. They are both creative, floaty No 10 type players, so they have been playing just off a central striker. There was rotation in the previous round against Watford, but I think there may be less temptation to do so this time around.
What’s your score prediction for the first League Cup meeting between Brentford and Stoke?
I’ll go for a 2-2 draw, with the game going to penalties and Stoke – who have a dreadful penalty record – managing to squeeze it out somehow!
Tickets for tomorrow's game are now off sale. Brentford fans that cannot attend can listen live on BeesPlayer