The man on the bus thought Josh McEachran had been the man of the match until he was subbed on 55 minutes, but agreed there were plenty of other candidates among them goalscorer Ollie Watkins and Romaine Sawyers, today named as the captain for the day of the team that doesn’t have a captain. So dominant were the midfield led by Sawyers in the first half hour that it was easy to forget that Ryan Woods, having been saved for the nation, wasn’t in the starting line-up or even the bench. My busmate thought we hadn’t missed him. Dean Smith said afterwards that Ryan’s head was not yet ‘in the right place’. Reflecting on the Woods-free midfield my own mind went back to an end of season lap of honour when Josh McEachran and Lewis Macleod, their seasons destroyed by injury, skulked at the back of the procession. Lewis even wore a hat to hide his embarrasment at a wasted year. But just when I was rejoicing at their sheer artistry now on display in midfield, behind them something horrible happened on 28 minutes. I had it down as a 50-50 , half of the blame on Bentley for rushing out when he didn’t need to and half to Mepham for not looking where he was heading the ball. Stoke’s new striker Afobe could believe his luck and helped it over the line, ‘scored against the run of play’ doesn’t quite capture the moment.
Captain Sawyers urged his defenders to get over it but Stoke inevitably took heart and there was almost a second when Bentley and Mepham nearly did it again. Then Konsa headed off the line, symbolic of an impressive display that, pardon the heresy, was better than his centre-back partner’s. At the other end Maupay, for the second time, hesitated when through and when the trigger definitely needed pulling.
In the second half Brentford re-established their dominance with sub Benrahma showing he was tough enough to cope with the distinctively Stoke style of defending. The Bees were always more likely to score and after good link -up play with Maupay it was Watkins who placed it elegantly to the left of England World Cup squad goalie, Jack Butland. When he shot a few minutes later Butland got a palm to what would have been a deserved winner.
On Friday Dean Smith had told Bees United that he expected our supporters to be ‘vociferous’ at the Bet365 Stadium and they certainly were, taunting the home fans with ‘Where’s your famous atmosphere!’ All the noise, nearly all the action and most of the skill belonged to Brentford. No wonder that at the end, the 1,390 Bees fans gave a great ovation to ‘Deano’ and his men and the Head Coach punched the air in response as if to say ‘here’s to the next one (and let’s make sure we win it)’. Then we got on the bus knowing that in the first Championship match in their new away kit ‘the Jaffa Cake boys’ had much the better of some very flat Staffordshire oatcakes.
Stoke:Butland,Bauer,Shawcross,Martuns Indi (sub Williams),Pieters,McClean,Fletcher (sub Crouch),Allen,Ince,Bojan (sub Etebo),Afobe.
Brentford:Bentley,Dalsgaard,Konsa,Mepham,Barbet,McEachran (sub Mokotjo),McLeod (sub Yennaris) Sawyers,Watkins,Maupay, Canos (sub Benrahma)