It has been a slow recovery following relegation from the Premier League for Stoke City. The Potters' ten-year stay in the top flight ended in 2018 and since then they've finished 16th, 15th, and 14th in the second tier.
This summer was Michael O'Neill's second at the club and he used it to further mould the squad he wants to challenge at the top of the Sky Bet Championship; Ryan Woods, James Maclean, Liam Lindsay, Jordan Cousins, Moritz Bauer, Bruno Martins Indi, Lee Gregory and Sam Vokes among 22 players to depart over the summer months.
In their place, Ben Wilmot, Jack Bonham, Mario Vrančić, Sam Surridge, Demeaco Duhaney, Romaine Sawyers, and Leo Østigård all arrived in Staffordshire.
Early signs were positive with The Potters taking ten points from a possible 12 to begin the season and making progress past Fleetwood Town, Doncaster Rovers, and Watford in the EFL Cup. Despite a slight dip in form after that fast start, Stoke were still just a point off top following their win over West Bromwich Albion at the start of this month.
However, three straight defeats, to Sheffield United, Bournemouth, and Millwall, have dropped The Potters to ninth, one of seven teams level on 21 points.
The Potters made eight changes for their Carabao Cup Third Round win over Watford with Adam Davies, James Chester, Alfie Doughty, and Sam Surridge the four to start all three ties so far.
Writing for Hot Off The Press, Pete Smith of Stoke-on-Trent Live, said: "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 (above) 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"
Thomas Frank won't be able to call on nine members of the First Team squad for tonight's game. David Raya (knee) will be out for between four and five months joining Josh Dasilva (hip), Julian Jeanvier (knee), and Mads Bech (knee) on the long-term absentee list. Yoane Wissa (ankle), Bryan Mbeumo (hamstring), Ethan Pinnock (hip), Vitaly Janelt (quad), and Shandon Baptiste (shoulder) will also be unavailable for tonight's trip to The Potteries.
The home side have issues of their own with Danny Batth suspended whilst top scorer Nick Powell, Sam Clucas and Morgan Fox remain sidelined through injury. Joe Allen is touch and go due to a leg wound but Tommy Smith and Abdallah Sima should make a return. Tyrese Campbell (top picture) could make his first start since suffering a knee injury last December following a pair of substitute appearances in recent games.
Michael O’Neill made more than 450 appearances, scoring 72 goals, in a playing career that saw spells at 12 clubs in four countries. He played in the English top flight for Newcastle United and Coventry, won the Football League Trophy with Wigan Athletic in 1999, and did a domestic treble at Glentoran in 2003. He also earned 31 caps for Northern Ireland, scoring four goals, before retiring in 2005.
He then moved into management with Brechin City before a hugely successful spell at Shamrock Rovers. In 2011, he made history by being the first League of Ireland manager to guide his side to the group stages of a European competition. His impressive record caught the eye of the Northern Ireland national team and he took charge later that year. He guided the nation to its first ever European Championship in 2016, eventually bowing out to Wales in the Last 16. Following his appointment at Stoke, O’Neill intended to continue with Northern Ireland for the remainder of UEFA Euro 2020 qualifying. However, the postponement of Euro 2020 due to the Coronavirus Pandemic led to his resignation as Northern Ireland boss in April 2020.
THE OPPOSITION VIEW
Tickets for tonight's game are now off sale. Brentford fans that cannot attend can listen live on BeesPlayer as Chris Deacon joins Mark Burridge for live commentary.