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Preston North End preview and pub guide: Battle is on for a top half finish

Preston North End preview and pub guide: Battle is on for a top half finish

Brentford and Preston will be meeting each other next season – but on Sunday we will be battling them for a finishing place in the top half of the table.

Both of us have achieved a top half finish in each of our seasons since our last promotions – four years in our case and three in theirs.

And our “win” at Bolton moved us up to 12th place – ahead of North End and Hull on goal difference.

Preston were hoping for better this season, especially when their 1-0 win over Birmingham in the middle of March moved them up to seventh – outside the play-off places only on goal difference.

But five defeats in their next six games – including four in a row – ended their promotion hopes and meant they will once again kick off in the Championship in August.

North End are also, along with Brentford, one of only five Championship clubs never to have played in the Premier League – the others being Bristol City, Millwall and Rotherham.

They can, however, point to being the first-ever Football League champions – finishing top of the table in each of the first two seasons of the competition.

WHO’S IN CHARGE

Alex Neil was appointed Preston manager in early July 2017, in succession to Simon Grayson, who had left to join Sunderland.

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Neil had been sacked by Norwich in March after 27 months in charge, during which time he led them into the Premier League – although they were relegated after one season.

Before that, he managed Hamilton and led them into the Scottish Premier League, after helping them to a similar feat as a player in 2008.

He also represented Airdrie, Barnsley and Mansfield in a playing career in which he made more than 400 senior appearances.

WE’VE MET BEFORE

Brentford and Preston have been regular opponents in recent years – with the most memorable game from our point of view being the 1-0 win in April 2014 that clinched our promotion to the Championship.

In the seven games since at this level, we have the upper hand with four wins, one draw and only two defeats and there has rarely been a dull game.

We did the double in 2015/16 with a 2-1 win at Griffin Park and 3-1 victory in the return.

The following season saw us hammer them 5-0 early on in the season in TW8 but come off worse in another goal glut as we lost 4-2 at Deepdale in the return.

Last season, Ollie Watkins was the match-winner at Deepdale as, after taking the lead three times, we finally won a five-goal thriller 3-2.

Nico Yennaris gave us the lead before being knocked out cold after a clash with Jordan Hugill straight after Preston kicked off. Sean Maguire equalised before half-time, but Romaine Sawyers restored our lead, only for Tom Barkhuizen to hit North End’s second leveller.

Watkins had the final word, though, as he turned in Florian Jozefzoon’s cross for the winner.

The home game in February finished 1-1 with Florian Jozefzoon cancelling out Tom Barkhuizen’s opener before North End’s Greg Cunningham was sent off.

There were goals galore once again in this season’s first meeting as, in Thomas Frank’s second game in charge, we lost 4-3 at Deepdale in a Wednesday night clash.

We were 3-0 down after only 23 minutes, as goals from Alan Browne, Callum Robinson and Tom Barkhuizen put North End in control. Sergi Canos quickly replied, with one of our goal of the season contenders, and Ollie Watkins gave us hope after the break before Robinson hit his second. Neal Maupay pulled another one back but Preston held on for victory.

OPPOSITION VIEW

BBC Radio Lancashire’s Preston correspondent Gary Hunt looks back at Preston’s season and tells us where their play-off bid faltered, how they can do better next season and the style of play Bees fans can expect to see from our visitors on Sunday.

Q – Preston were on the verge of the play-off places in the middle of March – why has their form suddenly dipped so badly?

A – Injuries mainly, but also a run of very tough fixtures against the top sides. They played Leeds, Norwich West Brom and Sheffield United in that period and at that point were without eight or nine of the squad, and probably, of those, four or five would have been starters.

Q – What were the expectations at the start of the season and what is the feeling about a mid-table finish?

A – Having finished on the verge of the play-offs last term, the expectations were for another strong top 10 finish with hopefully another play-off push. Despite not having a top half budget, they continue to overachieve.

Q – How important is it that Alex Neil has signed a new long-term contract with the club?

A – Well on the one hand it’s huge as he turned down West Brom to do so and he’s made a massive impact at PNE. He has made smart recruitment, is tactically very sharp and clearly the players love him and would run through the proverbial brick wall for him.

He has had assurances about financial support for the 2019-20 season from the owner and he’s genuinely excited about the future at PNE. On the other hand what’s a contract worth these days?

Q – What do North End need to do in the summer transfer window in order to have a chance of promotion next season?

A – In my opinion they need competition for places in the wide areas and central midfield and if Lukas Nmecha can’t be re-loaned or signed from Manchester City they will need a central striker too.

Q – What style of play can Bees fans expect to see from Preston on Saturday?

A – Preston are flexible, they like to play good football as their default style but can also be direct when needed. Alex Neil will look at Brentford and pick the team he feels will be best suited to combat Brentford’s strengths and expose their weaknesses.

For example, if he thinks a smaller, quicker more mobile striker is best he will play Sean Maguire in the central striker’s role and play through the thirds. If he perceives an aerial weakness, then Jayden Stockley is a target man type, so if he plays Preston will get it wide and put crosses in. They always play four at the back then it will be either four or in midfield and two up or three and three.

Q – Who are the main players who Bees fans should watch out for?

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A – Attacking-wise, Irish international Sean Maguire is a class act – he’s quick, skilful and has an eye for goal. Callum Robinson is also a big threat – another Irish international, he has scored 13 goals I think from a mainly wide position and he’s missed half the season with injury.

Paul Gallagher, as most people recognise, is a class midfielder with a wonderful delivery from set-pieces. The young centre-back pairing of Jordan Storey and Ben Davies have also been outstanding this season and have grown into one of the best combinations in the division in my opinion.

Q – Finally can you tell me a likely Preston line-up and formation please?

A – As I said in the earlier question its likely to be a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3 but they are very flexible and if Neill thinks its not working as well as he would like he will change early on.

I would say the following will start.

Ripley

Rafferty, Storey, Davies, Fisher

Browne, Pearson, Johnson. Robinson

Stockley, Maguire

Nmecha and Gallagher may well start but that’s my best guess.

BEESOTTED SCORE PREDICTIONS

Some of the Beesotted crew have given me their score predictions for Sunday’s game.

4-0 Bees as we finish our home games with a flourish. Gerry the cabbie

3-0 Bees as we benefit from their enforced week off and sign off the season at Griffin Park in style. Liberal Nick

3-3 In a game I thought would decide the final play-off positions, Bees and Preston play out an exhibition. Absent-minded defending tied up with classy attacking. David Anderson

2-0 Bees PNE play off bid has run out of steam, whereas our players are nicely rested (albeit reluctantly) Gary Paul

3-1 Bees We run out confortable winners with some liquid football at fortress Griffin Park. Damo

IAN WESTBROOK

@ianwestbrook

PUBS IN BRENTFORD AND TRAVEL NEWS

For Preston fans coming to the game, you are probably aware there plenty of pub options pre-match and all are most welcoming and away-fan-friendly (as it should be).

As you are probably well aware, Brentford is well known for its four pubs – one on each corner of the ground.

The Griffin is closest to the away end (like 30 secs walk) and is very popular with away fans – but also very, very busy. The New Inn is on the other side and is also popular with away fans.

The Princess Royal and the Royal Oak are the other options.

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Other pubs slightly further afield for the more creative amongst you include (and this is by no means a definitive list) …. The Globe (Windmill Rd) & The Lord Nelson (Enfield Rd) are both incredibly friendly and cosy away-friendly pubs and about 1 min walk from each other …. frequented by ‘away fans in the know’.

The Plough (Northfields Ave) in Northfields is a decent stop-off if you are coming by tube to Northfields. The ‘Northfields run’ makes a much better pub crawl route than South Ealing – getting off at Northfields station, turning left and stopping off at The Plough (2 min walk), The Lord Nelson (10 min walk from The Plough) & The Globe (1 min walk from The Nelson) en-route before ending up at The Griffin (8 min walk from The Globe) by the away turnstiles.

There’s also a relatively new tiny microbrewery pub in Northfields called The Owl and The Pussycat (Northfields Ave)– right turn out of the station away from the ground as opposed to left.

And another new pub worth checking out is The Black Dog Beer House, formerly The Albany, on Albany Road.

There is a pub right by Brentford mainline station referred to as … the Pub by Brentford station.

For real ale head to the Magpie and Crown pub on Brentford High Street. The Royal Horseguardsman (Ealing Road) can probably hold 15 of you at a push.

The Brewery Tap (Catherine Wheel Road) is a cosy boozer by the river. And if you are super-adventurous, get off at Kew Bridge and visit One Over the Ait (Kew Bridge Road) – a spacious boozer right next to Kew Bridge, and across from the site of the Bees’ new stadium at Lionel Road, with a deck overlooking the river – and The Express Tavern (Kew Bridge Road) – an ale pub with a retro feel. There are a load more pubs in the river in Kew if that takes your fancy.

A quick Google search and you’ll find them all. There are many, many more too if you have a look around.

Parking near the stadium is a no no but is pretty easy in the streets north of Griffin Park on the other side of the A4 Great West Rd via Ealing Road or Windmill Road. Make sure you look our for the parking signs which change from area to area.

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Getting to Brentford from town – many fans get the tube to Waterloo (Northern, Jubilee lines) or Vauxhall (Victoria Line) then take the Overground train to Brentford.

By tube, it’s 35 minutes to South Ealing or Northfields stations from King’s Cross or Euston (less from Paddington) and then 15 minutes walk to Griffin Park from there (4 mins on the bus) – more if you take the Northfields to Brentford pub crawl outlined above (Plough, Lord Nelson, Globe, Griffin) of course. If you’re feeling lazy you could take the E2 bus from outside Northfields station to either outside The Globe pub (3 stops – serves The Lord Nelson too) or Brentford FC (4 stops).

You can check out Transport for London’s Easter guide to travel on the Tube and Overground.

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About The Author

Ian Westbrook

Bees fan since 1971 - been through all the ups and downs. Written about, reported on, commentated on and wittered on about all things Brentford in that time as well as watching hundreds, if not thousands of games, and loved every minute of it!

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