Preston’s form has fallen away since the Championship restarted in the summer.
Going into the lockdown break, Sunday’s visitors were holding on to sixth place, but on the resumption they only won two of their final nine matches to finish ninth – four points outside the play-offs.
And this season has started little better, with Alex Neil’s side only picking up one point from their first three matches.
They lost 1-0 at home to Swansea on the campaign’s opening day, before being held to a 2-2 draw at relegated Norwich in a game where they took the lead twice, watched by 1,000 Canaries fans in one of the pilot matches which took place.
Last Saturday, they lost 1-0 to Stoke after the sending-off of striker Tom Barkhuizen, who will be suspended for Sunday’s game as a result. That is a blow for North End as he has scored against us in each of the past three seasons.
They showed better form in the Carabao Cup, where they beat Mansfield 4-0 and won 2-1 at Derby to reach the third round, where they lost 2-0 at home to Premier League Brighton.
Preston are in their sixth consecutive season in the Championship, having been promoted 12 months after us.
They missed out on the play-offs by two points in 2017/18, but have finished around the middle of the table in each of their other campaigns.
North End are also, along with Brentford, one of only seven current Championship clubs never to have played in the Premier League – the others being Bristol City, Luton, Millwall, Rotherham and Wycombe.
They were, however, the first-ever Football League champions – finishing top of the table in each of the first two seasons of the competition in 1889 and 1890.
Preston were last in the top division (old Division One) in 1961.
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.
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 won them promotion 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 10 games since at this level, we have the upper hand with six wins, one draw and three 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 North End 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.
In 2017/18, 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 2018/19’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.
The return on the final day of the season was much more straightforward, as we cruised to a 3-0 win.
Ezri Konsa and substitute Marcus Forss each scored their first Championship goals for the club, while Neal Maupay found the net for the last time in a Bees shirt – his 25th league strike of the season.
The result secured our fifth consecutive top half finish in the Championship, and dropped Preston down to a final position of 14th.
We suffered a disappointing 2-0 defeat in last season’s first meeting at Deepdale in mid-September.
Sean Maguire gave Preston a fourth minute lead and they never looked back, with Tom Barkhuizen sealing the victory 20 minutes from time.
The win lifted Preston into the play-off places, but pushed us down to 18th in the table.
The return in mid-July was settled by a fourth-minute strike from Ollie Watkins – his penultimate Brentford goal – which gave us our eighth win in a row. The result left us in third – a point behind second-placed West Brom with two games remaining – with Preston five points adrift of the play-off places in ninth.
BBC Radio Lancashire commentator Andy Bayes gives his verdict on why Preston have not started the season well, their quiet summer transfer window and his memories of North End’s final visit to Griffin Park.
Q – Why do you think Preston have made such a poor start to the season – is it a hangover from the end of last season or more than that?
A – It’s been a case of being on the wrong end of a couple of one-goal defeats, so very tight margins.
I think the opening day of the season could have gone either way. They got a very creditable point at Norwich, having been leading twice in that match. They could have won that game, conversely they could have lost late on, so a good point. And, last weekend was all about having to play 70 minutes with 10 men after Tom Barkhuizen was harshly sent off. So harsh that the FA downgraded his ban from three games to one, which is a bit of a head-scratcher! I’m surprised they didn’t rescind it altogether.
They won at Derby in the EFL Cup but went out to Premier League opposition in round three. It’s early days, I don’t think a hangover really, it’s one point out of nine, it could and probably should have been more.
Q -How disappointing was it that North End fell out of the play-off places after the summer restart?
A – I think everyone at the club was really disappointed. For whatever reason, they didn’t string together any consistency. The home results in the calendar year haven’t been brilliant, that’s really what’s cost them. More points away than at home in 2020.
Q – What transfer business have PNE done over the close season and do you expect any more before the window “slams shut”?
A – They completed the signing of Danish under-21 striker Emil Riis Jakobsen this week from Randers FC, he’s the only summer signing.
Alex Neil wasn’t interested in boosting squad numbers, wanting players who have enough quality to force their way into the side. Riis (as he’s referred to rather than Jakobsen) is likely to lead the line. I think by the 16 October deadline day, the club will want further additions, probably in the final third of the field, and just as importantly hold on to the players that they value highly.
Q – Who are Preston’s key players likely to be this season?
A – Probably the “Big Four” that are spoken about regularly who are all in the final year of their deals. Daniel Johnson, Alan Browne, Ben Pearson and Ben Davies. They are all integral to North End having a good season.
Q – What are your memories of the Bees-PNE game in an empty Griffin Park in July?
A – I feared North End would be in for a long afternoon/early evening, when the Bees scored early. It didn’t end up being the case. I thought Brentford tried to force it a bit too much and maybe if North End had more firepower they could have left Griffin Park with a point.
Q – How excited are you about seeing a game in Brentford’s new stadium?
A – That’ll have to wait, I won’t be there this weekend. I am very much looking forward to my first visit though, if not a bit sad it won’t be to Griffin Park. I’d like my first visit to be full of fans, we’ll see.
Q – Finally can you give me a likely Preston formation and line-up for Sunday please?
A – Very difficult as the team can change quite regularly. This will no doubt be hopelessly wrong.
GK – Rudd
RB – Rafferty
CB – Bauer
CB – Davies
LB – Hughes
DM – Pearson
DM – Ledson
RM – Potts
AM – Browne
LM – Sinclair
CF – Jakobsen
HOW TO FOLLOW THE GAME
The match is being played behind closed doors at the Brentford Community Stadium at 2pm on Sunday, but is being shown live on iFollow. Season ticket holders have been sent a free code to use to watch the match, but others can buy a match pass for £10.
Live audio commentary is available on iFollow with Mark Burridge and Karleigh Osborne.