Disciplined Stoke stay cool to lay superstition to rest

Brentford 0 Stoke City 2
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The Independent Online

Stoke, to judge by yesterday's massive following, can muster support worthy of the Premiership, never mind the First Division. But one promotion will do nicely for the moment. As more than three-quarters of the 42,523-strong crowd celebrated with a raucous chorus of "We're going up", Stoke clinched the Second Division play-off final by dominating the first half with two goals and then showing disciplined defence in the second to blunt Brentford's attempts to pull the match round.

It was just not poor Brentford's day. Not even occupation of the "lucky" north dressing room could help them. All previous 11 big occasions at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff had been won by occupants of the north and, to show their contempt for superstition in the face of superior football, two Stoke players, Deon Burton and Wayne Thomas, paraded round the perimeter at the end carrying a red banner, bearing the message "Dressing room jinx my a***". Brentford even lost the pre-match toss for the right to wear the red-and-white striped shirts which are the colours of both clubs. Just not their day.

This occasion of promotion joy – an Icelandic success which might well have had them cavorting in the streets of Reykjavik last night – may well save the job of their manager, Gudjon Thordarson. The reverse is that it may mean the end of Steve Coppell's time in charge of a Brentford team who are now in danger of breaking up, as out-of-contract players drift away.

The Stoke goals came from set pieces by Icelandic players, appropriately since the club is owned and funded by businessmen from that country. The first, after 16 minutes, resulted from a corner-kick on the right, taken left-footed by Arnar Gunnlaugsson, so recently of Leicester City. The ball was flicked on at the near post by the head of Chris Iwelumo and forced home by Deon Burton, Stoke's on-loan man from Derby.

If there was a touch of Brentford involvement in that first goal – Burton aimed inside the near post and the ball eventually crossed the line by the far upright after striking two defenders – the second goal in injury time was indisputably delivered by Brentford. A free-kick on the left was swung in by Bjarni Gudjonsson, the midfielder who just happens to be the Stoke manager's son. The ball had already taken one slight deflection before it went in comprehensively off Ben Burgess. Coppell called them "two terrible goals".

Having rarely looked like getting the better of the excellent Belarusian, Sergei Shtaniuk, at the heart of the defence, and having been outplayed in midfield, where Gunnlaugsson was outstanding, Brentford summoned more passion after the interval, although it needed two excellent interventions by Brentford's left-back, Ijah Anderson, to prevent Stoke bagging a third within five minutes of the resumption.

After that, it was Stoke on the back foot and Brentford rampant, with the captain, Paul Evans, driving his team forward from midfield. Neil Cutler was under siege in the Stoke goal but never wavered and bad misses by Lloyd Owusu, who had gone off for seven minutes in the first half to have a head wound treated, did not help Brentford's cause. "If we had put one away, it would have been a totally different game," mused Coppell.

Will it be a totally different season for Brentford come August? Coppell merely said that he would "be on a plane in three days" – presumably, heading off on holiday – and of his future would say only: "It is not an issue for today."

But for Thordarson it was very much an issue. His contract is up at the end of next month but, after this week, he is taking a five-week holiday and has heard nothing from his compatriots, the owners of Stoke. "I would love to stay," he said. "But I have no meeting planned with the owners. But I do have meetings with other people. If I got a contract in front of me tomorrow, I would sign it."

Brentford 0 Stoke City 2
Burton 16, Burgess og 45

Half-time: 0-2 Attendance: 42,523

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