Brentford booked their place in the Fourth Round of the Emirates FA Cup with a 1-0 win over Stoke City at Griffin Park. Emiliano Marcondes scored the only goal of the game, putting a free kick in to the top corner from a tight angle late in the first half. And with The Bees producing a resolute defensive display, that was enough to get them the win.
It was not a game that will live long in the memory with both teams making many changes after playing four Sky Bet Championship games in 11 days over Christmas. There were signs of those alterations but the one moment of quality came from The Bees, who took the lead just before the interval and never really looked like losing it. With the home defence performing superbly, Brentford got the win and a place in the last 32 of the competition.
Stoke were the quicker of the two teams to settle. They had more experience in their line-up and included three attackers with lots of Championship football under their belts. That trio linked well in the opening stages and the visitors spent the first 15 minutes on the front foot, albeit the game was being played at a sedate pace.
Luca Racic, playing on the right side of Brentford’s back three, got back to make a recovery tackle when Lee Gregory got in to space inside the first three minutes and the resulting corner dropped to Tom Edwards, but he sliced a shot wide. Racic made another interception when Gregory looked set to meet a Tom Ince cross and Tyrese Campbell lashed well over for the visitors. The closest either team came to scoring in the first quarter of the contest was when Campbell kept a long ball in play by the corner flag and fed Edwards, his low cross just eluded Gregory inside the six-yard box.
By the time the first half reached the midway point, it was a more even contest. Brentford were starting to find space to play in midfield with Dru Yearwood able to bring wing backs Mads Roerslev and Dominic Thompson in to the game. The Bees were doing their best to make light of having a player less in the central midfield area and had a chance to edge ahead when Roerslev charged down the right, he found Joel Valencia and his pass deflected in to the path of Thompson, but the left wing back lashed wide from 22 yards.
A Nick Powell shot deflected wide at the other end, but Brentford were starting to take a measure of control of the game. The Bees were not able to create lots of chances, but they were getting on top territorially and snuffing out what Stoke had to offer. And by the time Marcondes put them in front just before the interval, it may have been just about deserved.
Brentford ended the half strongly and a decent move ended with Yearwood feeding Halil Dervişoğlu, he found Marcondes with a pass but the shot was blocked. The Bees did, however, press Stoke back and won a free kick when Campbell had a horrible hack at Thompson on the left flank. Campbell was cautioned by referee Keith Stroud and Marcondes stepped up. He let fly with a free kick that dipped over goalkeeper Adam Davies and ended up in the top corner. The first goal of Marcondes’ Brentford career was one to savour and gave Brentford a half time lead.
Stoke started the second half as brightly as they had started the first and went hunting a leveller, without really creating anything to trouble Luke Daniels. Racic blocked a shot from Campbell before Powell found some space but his shot was weak and easily saved by Daniels. Campbell drilled a ball across the six-yard box that no-one could tap in and then fired in an effort that hit Gregory and bounced in to the arms of Daniels.
Another Campbell cross just eluded both Gregory and Ince as Stoke pressed. Brentford were holding a good defensive shape and looking to counter-attack when they could with Yearwood attempting to release Thompson and, in particular, Roerslev on the flanks. The Bees almost opened Stoke up with a quick free kick, but Liam Lindsay stopped Dervişoğlu converting a cross from Jan Žambůrek. A clever turn from Dervişoğlu then released Yearwood in to space but he lashed well over the bar when a return pass may have been the better option.
There was a better chance for Yearwood in amusing circumstances later in the half. Ryan Woods was heading back towards his own goal with the ball when he bumped in to Mr Stroud and Yearwood was able to pick up possession. He burst in to the hole left by Woods and got in to the box before firing over. A goal would have been controversial, but Yearwood should have at least tested Davies after breaking free.
Dervişoğlu then fired just over after a superb turn on the edge of the penalty area while Powell missed from distance at the other end. Stoke made a pair of attacking substitutions as they chased an equaliser and Thibaud Verlinden, one of those introduced, cut inside before shooting wide. He was well-placed again to pick up a half-cleared corner later in proceedings but again wasted the chance, firing over the bar.
A Campbell shot was well blocked by Racic, allowing Daniels to gather, and as the game entered the final stages, it began to get more stretched. Julien Ngoy, the third Stoke substitute, almost created an equaliser with a run down the right but Sam Vokes could not convert and Roerslev cleared as Verlinden arrived late. Powell headed a corner over and Vokes missed the target after chesting down an Edwards pass.
Daniels saved another Vokes header as the minutes ticked down and Ngoy nearly levelled at the death as he burst in to the box but Ethan Pinnock, a colossus in the centre of Brentford’s defence, made the block. Davies had to save to prevent Marcondes doubling his own personal tally, and his team’s, in the closing minutes and there was still time for Frederik Hammar, the latest Brentford B player to make a First Team debut, to lash a shot over the bar. A second goal would have cured any late nerves, but it was not required for Brentford to progress.
Brentford: Daniels; Racic, Pinnock, Sørensen; Roerslev, Yearwood, Marcondes, Thompson (sub Oksanen 86 mins); Valencia, Dervişoğlu (sub Dasilva 80 mins), Žambůrek (sub Hammar 80 mins)
Subs (not used): Gunnarsson, Larsen, Jensen, Mbeumo
Bookings: Thompson (69 mins), Daniels (89 mins)
Stoke City: Davies; Edwards, Lindsay, Collins, Martins Indi; Woods, Cousins (sub Ngoy 81 mins); Campbell, Powell, Ince (sub Verlinden 71 mins); Gregory (sub Vokes 63 mins)
Subs (not used): Federici, Ward, Smith, Sørensen
Bookings: Campbell (43 mins)
Attendance: 7,575 (935 away fans)