Here we go then, the final game of the 18/19 season is upon us. Our last away day is a trip down to the Brentford in a game which neither team has anything left to play for but pride and bowing out for the summer on a high.
Preston head into the game off the back of the entertaining 3-3 draw with Sheffield Wednesday whereas Brentford have had a quite bizarre week with an unexpected break after their game against Bolton was postponed.
It’s since been announced by the EFL that as the game couldn’t be rearranged within the provisional four days after the season concluded that Brentford were awarded a 1-0 win, meaning they leapfrogged Preston into 12th and the two sides both sit on 61 points.
Looking at the recent form of the two sides it is quite a mixed bag, in terms of the last six games (discounting Brentford’s non-match with Bolton):
- Preston: LLLWLD
- Brentford: LDWLDW
Brentford certainly haven’t had an uneventful season. They started positively and after twelve games sat up in 6th spot. However, on the 10th October head coach Dean Smith left for Championship rivals Aston Villa. Thomas Frank, previously their assistant head coach, was appointed shortly after but a poor run of results followed. In an interview, the new Brentford boss cited the loss vs. Sheffield United as a key point and after this, they went back to basics and it certainly had an impact as they managed to steer themselves away from any trouble. Similarly to Preston, they had a flying start to 2019, though tailing off slightly they are comfortably sitting in 12th.
North End have also been slightly up and down in terms of form after the uncertainty surrounding Alex Neil’s future a few weeks back. However, we can now look ahead to next season with renewed optimism after he committed his future to the club by signing a new 3 year contract.
The play-off hopes that we harboured, unfortunately, came to a premature end after a run of four defeats on the bounce and with many fans now looking towards next season, presumably the club too, this recent period has been an ideal time for Alex Neil to give some different players an opportunity.
Home & Away Form
Brentford are very strong at home picking up 43 points out of a possible 58. That’s 74% of their points that have come at Griffin Park this season. This puts them 4th in the home form table behind only Sheffield United, Norwich City and Leeds United. In their last home game on Sky Sports against Leeds United, they came out on top with an impressive 2-0 win following goals from Neal Maupay and Sergi Canos.
As far as North End are concerned, our home form could have certainly been better this season. After having played all of our 23 home games, we sit 15th having only picked up 34 points.
Moving on to away form Preston sit 10th overall having collected 27 points on the road so far this season. Preston are generally better away from home although bucking the trend since the international break losing the last three away games against Wigan, West Brom and Reading. However, we did go on an incredible run of away games earlier in the season setting a new record for 6 away wins on the bounce.
In contrast, Brentford sit 20th in the away form table, even below relegated Bolton Wanderers, having only picked up 15 points on their travels this season.
Our games with Brentford aren’t usually dull affairs. In the reverse fixture last October, Preston came out 4-3 winners in what was a very entertaining game under the lights at Deepdale on a Tuesday night. The last five league matches between Brentford and Preston have produced 25 goals (14 for Brentford, 11 for Preston) an average of five per game.
Brentford and Preston haven’t been shy in front of goal this season scoring 136 goals in total. Brentford (69) and Preston (67) putting us 6th and 7th in the championship goals scored table respectively behind the current top five clubs.
Brentford’s 2-0 win against Leeds may lead Frank to go with the same starting line-up, including their star striker Neal Maupay. The Frenchman has scored 24 goals this season, 3rd in Championship top scorers list behind Pukki and Abraham, and has 8 assists to his name – an incredible direct role in 46% of Brentford’s goals. He’s in a good run of form with four goals and one assist in his last five.
Preston fans will remember him as he scored against us in October and once again, I’m sure he’ll prove to be a handful for Davies and Storey. Brentford will do well to keep hold of him during the summer as he’s already being linked with a move to Aston Villa as former boss Dean Smith eyes a reunion at Villa Park.
Sergi Canos is also a pick for me. The Spanish winger has scored 11 this season and has 5 assists, whilst that only places him fourth in Brentford’s top scorers table – he’s an excellent young player. He is very quick and can cut inside effectively and works well in the system Brentford often play. He scored a sensational goal against us from outside the box in October and he brings a new dimension to the way Brentford play.
For Preston, Alan Browne and Callum Robinson are the top two in the North End scoring charts for the season. Robinson with 13 goals in all competitions and 4 assists and Alan Browne has 12 goals in all competitions and 5 assists. They have both excelled this season, though both have suffered from a stint on the sidelines through injury.
Since they have made their returns and are getting back to full fitness both have really shone and shown the North End faithful what we have missed. It’s now a question of who will finish on top.
In the last match Alex Neil made three changes to the side bringing in Ripley, Browne and Stockley. There were a number of impressive performances, particularly in the first half, from Fisher, Johnson, Browne and Stockley. Ginnelly has also come off the bench in the last four and looked promising so he may be considered for a starting place.
Alex Neil will also have midfielder Ben Pearson back in contention this week though there’s a question mark over whether he will start due to his card tally and it seems the gaffer and the fans alike would rather not risk him getting one more yellow and missing the start of next season through suspension.
This week we have Greville Waterman providing the opposition view. You can find him on twitter here – @GrevWaterman.
If you’d have told any self respecting Brentford fan back when we were promoted in 2014 that, five years on, not only were we still in the Championship but we were also established as one of the most progressive clubs in that league punching well above its weight given our lack of resources and the handicap of playing at an outdated if gorgeous stadium that produces little in the way of commercial income, I suspect that none of us would have believed you.
Ironically in a season that began with such high hopes, it is almost certain that the Bees will finish in their lowest league position since promotion – well outside the top ten. Pretty much everything that could go wrong did go wrong after an exceptional start which saw us fans harbouring giddy hopes about the prospect of reaching the Premier League. A perfect storm of injuries to key players, the loss of talismanic head coach Dean Smith to Aston Villa, the tragic early death of development director Rob Rowan, the constant concession of soft goals in spurts – as was the case at Deepdale earlier this season – and defensive aberrations combined to form a perfect storm that saw the Bees plummet towards the relegation zone despite continuing to play some effervescent football.
New head coach Thomas Frank, promoted from within, lost eight of his opening ten games in charge and the season seemed to be in tatters but just as quickly as things turned sour they began to improve with the turning point being Frank’s brave decision to switch from the tried and tested 433 system to an unusual 343 formation that initially worked like a treat.
Three central defenders tightened up a wobbly defence and two attacking wingbacks bolstered our already potent attack. Results changed for the better and for a mad spell in February a belated playoff challenge even seemed a possibility until reality kicked in and a mid-table finish seems about right.
So what will Preston face on Sunday? A team capable on its day of playing a wonderful brand of quick, vibrant and deadly attacking football with pace-a-plenty but one also that is far from clinical in front of goal and still guilty of overplaying in defence and gifting the opposition soft goals. We have been blessed with some exceptional displays at Griffin Park with the likes of Leeds, Hull, Aston Villa, QPR and Blackburn sent home with their tail between their legs and on our day we are a match for any team in this league.
Away from home, we have been appalling, failing to kill poor teams off and winning only twice on our travels. The message for next season is clear: What is required is more consistency, more toughness, more streetwise defending, better goalkeeping and less open goals missed and gift goals conceded – surely not too much to ask for.
As always it will be a question of who goes and who stays. Chris Mepham brought in a massive fee of £12million+ in his January move to Bournemouth and he could be followed out of Griffin Park this summer by some of our remaining stars in Neal Maupay, Said Benrahma and Ezri Konsa.
Whatever happens we know and trust our directors of football who can be relied upon to bring in more emerging young talent who will be developed and nurtured in our positive environment, allowed to flourish in a team that is dedicated to playing football as we all love it to be played, and then – unfortunately – sold off for a massive profit when their time comes. Such is the way of the world for a club of our size and paucity of riches.
Our best players have been the little wizard, Benrahma, now crocked and missing the rest of the season and Neal Maupay who has amassed an incredible tally of 27 goals playing as a lone striker. He is brave, relentless and niggly – never giving opponents a moment’s peace and has been a revelation this season.
The elegant Romaine Sawyers keeps us moving in midfield, seeing and making those passes that seem beyond the power of lesser mortals and threading the ball through the proverbial eye of the needle. What a player!
Sergio Canos scored a worldy at Preston this season and is finally recovering some vestiges of his form and promise. Rico Henry is a tiny attacking left back who comes forward with gusto and is tenacious in the tackle.
With so much talent in the squad, why are the Bees no higher in the table? There is no easy answer and hopefully, next year will be the one in which Brentford commemorate their last season at Griffin Park with a solid promotion challenge.
As for a score prediction, this is now the last game of the season after we were awarded a 1-0 win against Bolton for the game that got cancelled and with both teams pretty much on the beach, anything can happen. It will certainly be an open and exciting match and I am going for a 1-1 draw.
See you at Griffin Park on Sunday!
Those of you who follow me on Twitter (I’m here if not, @SarahWarren__, come say hi!) will know how bad my predictions often are, so I wouldn’t encourage anyone to put a bet on anything I say in this section! 😬
I think, given the style of play and goal scoring tendencies of both teams this game has the potential to be a high scoring game. This point is magnified with there being no pressure on either team having promotion/relegation battles looming overhead – so fingers crossed it gives the players the freedom to play.
With this in mind, I’m going for a 2-2 draw or perhaps a narrow home win with 3-2 to Brentford – though (obviously) I hope not!
Finally, don’t forget that we’re giving away a signed shirt on Facebook and Twitter with the winner being announced on Monday so head on over to our social channels and check out how you could get your hands on a shirt signed by the whole squad!