BRENTFORD spy a top two spot while visitors Preston are chasing the Play-Offs and EFL expert Gab Sutton (@_FootbalLab) previews the encounter.
Brentford v Preston | Wednesday 15th July 2020, 17:00 | Sky Sports
Brentford and Preston were promoted from League One in 2014 and 2015 respectively, before half-a-decade of steady progress has led both towards their most convincing promotion push yet.
The terms of their tilts at the top tier differ, though: Brentford are mathematically guaranteed a top six finish and in the hunt for automatic promotion, while Preston North End are among seven teams scrambling for the final play-off spot.
There are no remaining Championship fixtures that are certain to bear no significance on the divisional status of two clubs – only Reading and realistically QPR know their fate – so the term “massive game” may be used excessively between now and next Wednesday…
Trust us, though, this is a massive game.
Brentford’s 3-1 victory at Derby last time out extended their impressive winning streak to seven games, which is the joint-longest run any team has managed this season.
It seems inevitable that the Bees will end their 73-year wait for top flight football, whether that’s by gaining automatic promotion, by going up via the play-offs or by finishing the job in the next season or two.
They have a top shot stopper in David Raya, a fine centre-back partnership comprising of Pontus Jansson’s experience and Ethan Pinnock’s athleticism, a superbly balanced midfield to which Emiliano Marcondes has added quality in recent weeks and a great ‘BMW’ front-three.
The direct running of Bryan Mbuemo, the movement of Ollie Watkins and the sprinkling of genius provided by Said Benrahma gives them an attacking trio to be envied by all in the division.
Preston players proving a point
North End’s Play-Off hopes have lifted recently with Alex Neil’s troops taking four points off Sheffield Wednesday and Nottingham Forest. That haul is made more significant by successive defeats for competitors Cardiff and Derby, who had both overtaken Preston shortly after the restart.
Substitutions were the key to a 3-1 win at Hillsborough: Scott Sinclair and Jayden Stockley both came on in the 76th minute with the team trailing, before the duo scored a goal apiece to inspire a striking late turnaround.
Stockley has been much-maligned but he is a very positive character seems to have looked sharper and more ruthless in the last two games, as well as winning numerous headers and being a key reference point.
Like Stockley, we are seeing the likes of Brad Potts, Ryan Ledson, Joe Rafferty and Jordan Storey – who have all either gone through difficult patches or been questioned in their PNE careers – start to prove a point at a crucial stage, which is testament to the mentality of each of them.
The tactics board
As well as Stockley has done in the last two games, he is a striker who needs crosses: and North End produced 37 of them against Forest.
The Lancashire outfit are unlikely to replicate that work against Brentford, who will dominate possession, so Alex Neil’s game plan may be more about counter-attacking through Sean Maguire, Tom Barkhuizen and Scott Sinclair.
If Preston are behind in the latter stages, though, they can bring on Stockley for aerial bombardment.
Neil will have to combat the absence of Ben Davies, Ben Pearson and Alan Browne, which means outstanding performances will be required from those standing in – most likely Storey, Ledson and Potts – in order to negate a full-strength Brentford side.
Although the Bees have their aforementioned attacking strengths and a good defence, their visitors might take some optimism from a couple of shaky moments from goalkeeper David Raya, who is fantastic at distribution but has been partially at fault for the two goals they have conceded in the last two games.
The betting angle
A Brentford victory is priced by many bookmakers as short as 1/2, which implies a probability of 66.7%.
For context, Real Madrid were 5/11 (68.8% probability) to win at Granada on Monday: Granada are an overachieving newly promoted club in La Liga, whereas Madrid’s quality and pedigree is self-explanatory – they are 30 points better off rather than 16 in Brentford’s case.
North End are 6/1 to win in certain places: shorter odds can be found on Bournemouth legend Eddie Howe being the next Premier League manager to leave if there’s a dismissal before the season ends.
In short, the traders are very respectful of Brentford’s shot data throughout the season and their current form, to the point that they are considered a dominant force.
That might yet prove to be fair, but it’s important to acknowledge their opponents.
North End have not been in the play-off mix all season for no reason; they come into this game off the back of two good performances and Brentford’s form should not automatically make them comparative minnows.
We’re backing the Lilywhites to be competitive at Griffin Park and at least find the net once, regardless of whether the outcome of the match goes their way.
Brentford vs Preston – Preston to score Over 0.5 Goals (8/11 Betfred)