Brentford’s eight-match winning run came to an end against Stoke City to leave them third in the Sky Bet Championship table going in to the final match of the season. A single goal was enough to condemn The Bees to defeat in Staffordshire, preventing Brentford making it nine victories on the spin and moving in to the top two in the table with days left of the season. The only goal came late in the first half and Brentford were unable to find an equaliser against a resolute Stoke defence.
The home side took the best chance of the game when it came their way and did enough to prevent Brentford levelling. The Bees were unable to breach a Stoke defence, that prevented access to their penalty area and cut off supply in the final third. Defeat leaves Brentford a point behind West Bromwich Albion, who are second, ahead of the final games of the season, on Wednesday night, but still with a chance of making the top two and winning automatic promotion to the Premier League.
Stoke began the game with three central defenders and tried to pack the middle of the pitch. They looked to get their midfield players and wing backs in to advanced areas to stop Brentford moving the ball from the back and while they did not always harry and chase when they were out of possession, they were well-organised and prevented Brentford building early momentum. Stoke had the first sight of goal when James McClean had a shot blocked by Henrik Dalsgaard but there was little action in attacking areas in the opening exchanges.
Brentford tried to be patient in the first quarter of the contest. They wanted to pass the ball forward but were content to move Stoke around the pitch and look for openings. The home side were working hard to maintain a good defensive shape but as the half wore on, gaps started to appear.
Saïd Benrahma began to drift off the left flank as the first half developed. He left space for Rico Henry and Josh Dasilva on the left and was able to link more closely with Bryan Mbeumo, Ollie Watkins and Mathias Jensen. When Benrahma exchanged passes with Watkins and created space, he delivered a cross to the far post, Mbeumo nipped in behind Bruno Martins Indi and headed down but Stoke goalkeeper Adam Davies saved with his legs.
Benrahma then had a shot blocked before putting Jensen away on the right to deliver a cross that Watkins headed wide. Lee Gregory had a shot blocked for Stoke and it was an even contest as it reached the half hour. It was a contrast of styles with Brentford patient and looking to play through midfield while Stoke were happy to get involved in aerial battles and look to play deep in Brentford territory. They had their wing backs, especially McClean on the left, high up the pitch and Brentford needed to defend well.
Gregory, Sam Vokes and McClean won a lot of those aerial challenges and Stoke were starting to look like the team most likely to score. Vokes headed over and other crosses narrowly missed their intended targets before the home side scored late in the first period. Brentford could not clear a cross and Sam Clucas was able to line up a shot from 20 yards, David Raya saved low down, but Gregory was waiting to tap in.
Stoke had shown their threat from those sorts of situations and made the most of Brentford’s inability to clear the first ball. With ten minutes to go until the interval, Brentford went up a gear and looked to hit straight back. They could have done so when an Ethan Pinnock pass released Henry on the left and he immediately fed it inside to Watkins. With Mbeumo waiting for a pass on the right, albeit not well placed to receive one, Watkins let fly with a shot that Martins Indi blocked. There were also penalty appeals for Brentford when Martins India hauled down Pinnock at a set piece but neither referee Geoff Eltringham nor his assistants saw anything untoward.
That meant Stoke had the lead at the break and they could have doubled it early in the second half when McClean got free on the left and delivered a cross, Vokes got free of Henry and met it with a header but nodded wide. That was, however, a rare Stoke attack at the start of the second half. The home side were being pushed back as Brentford increased the intensity and pace of the game and the action was mostly in Stoke’s defensive third.
Henry fired over the bar after picking up a square pass from Dasilva and Jensen then had a shot blocked after working an opening. There was a great chance for Dasilva after Mbeumo and Watkins had opened Stoke up after a spell of possession. Watkins got to the by-line and cut the ball back but Dasilva steered his shot wide from ten yards.
Brentford made changes as they sought the equalising goal that would give them a point and leave their fate, pretty much, in their own hands. Emiliano Marcondes, Halil Dervişoğlu and Sergi Canós, making a first appearance since suffering a serious knee injury in October, were introduced. Brentford pushed on, changed to three at the back and tried to again increase the tempo as they hunted a goal.
Watkins had a sight after cutting in off the left, but his shot was blocked. Marcondes, who set up that chance with a drilled pass, then fired a free kick over the bar before testing Davies with a near post shot. The resulting corner was worked short to Benrahma, but he fired over the bar.
Brentford threw caution to the wind in the dying seconds. More attacking players – Tariqe Fosu and Shandon Baptiste – were introduced and Pinnock was put forward to play as an auxiliary striker. Jansson was the only defender left back for The Bees at the end and they piled on the pressure.
Canós fired across the face of goal after being set up by Watkins and the last seconds were frantic. Watkins appeared to be bundled over but once again Mr Eltringham turned down penalty appeals. When a cross in to the box dropped loose, Pinnock let fly with a shot that looked destined for the corner, but Davies went full stretch to his left to save. The resulting corner was met by Raya, up from the back, but he headed wide.
There was still time for Christian Nørgaard to meet another corner ten yards out, but he headed wide and Brentford’s last chance was gone. The Bees now know that is West Brom beat Queens Park Rangers on Wednesday night they will be promoted. But if West Brom slip up, Brentford can still win promotion automatically. If not, the Play-Offs beckon for The Bees.
Stoke City: Davies; Batth, Chester, Martins Indi; Smith, Cousins, Clucas, McLean; Powell (sub Collin; Gregory (sub Sorensen 88 mins), Vokes (sub Campbell 71 mins)
Subs (not used): Butland, Lindsay, Ince, Oakley-Boothe, Thompson, Tymon
Bookings: Campbell (74 mins), McClean (90 mins)
Brentford: Raya; Dalsgaard (sub Baptiste 83 mins), Jansson, Pinnock, Henry (sub Dervişoğlu 69 mins); Jensen (sub Canós 69 mins), Nørgaard, Dasilva (sub Marcondes 59 mins); Mbeumo (sub Fosu 83 mins), Watkins, Benrahma
Subs (not used): Daniels, Roerslev, Jeanvier, Valencia