After a poor start in 2016/17, the first months of this season have been very encouraging for Preston – what have you made of what you’ve seen?
Last year they took three points from the first six games and then had to play catch up but ended up having a pretty decent season so you wonder, had they had a better start, what might have happened. The season before was the first season back in the Championship and they had a good first four or five games and then had a dreadful September and October; they’ve not started the past two seasons well but this year I think the priority was to do that. The defeat at Wolverhampton Wanderers last Saturday was only the second in 13 so it’s been a very encouraging start.
Preston have been far from outplayed in the two league games they’ve lost – do you think Alex Neil can take them one step further than last season?
When they got beaten at Derby County it was probably the poorest performance of the season – they weren’t great but neither were Derby. Against Wolves though, Preston had by far the best of the first half hour at least but conceded just before half. North End hit back, scored two of their own, and in the end Wolves were hanging on for dear life, really. They should have taken a few chances early on and might have taken something from the game had they done so.
Striker Jordan Hugill has built on his ‘breakout’ season by bagging seven goals in all competitions already. How important a figure is he at Deepdale?
He’s really important to Preston – Alex Neil plays a 4-2-3-1 formation so he’s very attacking and acts as the central spearhead figure, linking it all together with a number ten behind him and two wide lads. He’s got three in his last three, but he’s also very good at holding the ball up and bringing others into play, which is a vital part of his game. He’s done very well, hence the interest in him in the summer just gone.
Is there any other player who has particularly caught your eye so far?
Sean Maguire has done very well since coming in from Cork City in the summer. The club agreed to sign him in June but because the League of Ireland runs from February to October, they allowed him to remain there until July. He had a spell at West Ham United when he was younger and a loan spell at Accrington Stanley, but this is his first real taste of English football and he’s done ever so well. He joined as a striker but he’s tended to play behind the striker or on either wing. Paul Huntington has stepped up as captain this season and has done well at centre-half as has 18 year-old Josh Earl. He’s a first-year pro and the club were prepared to loan him out to get some First Team experience but towards the end of the window, regular left-back Greg Cunningham got injured and Earl got preferred over Kevin O’Connor who’s also just signed from Cork; he’s really one to watch for the future.
What should Brentford expect in terms of the way Preston set up this weekend?
It will be a very hard-working, high-pressing game. They will push the attackers high; if the Brentford goalkeeper’s got the ball and wants to go short, they’ll push on to the centre-halves and the full-backs to make sure that’s not an option. When they have the ball themselves they like to get it on the floor and play but when they aren’t in possession, they press high and go hunting for it.
Based on the performances Brentford have produced this season, popular opinion amongst fans is that their league position is somewhat false – what are you expecting from the Bees?
For some reason, North End have found it tough against Brentford down the years and the home win last season was the first for a little while. Historically it’s been a good fixture and I’m a little bit surprised to see Brentford where they are considering how well they’ve done in the last two seasons. It’s the old cliché but there’s no easy games in this division and there’s no one at Preston thinking Brentford will be an easy three points. I think it’ll be a tough game like it always is. Dean Smith’s sides always seem to do well against North End as well which they could do with changing.
If you could add one Brentford player to Alex Neil’s squad, who would it be?
I’m going to go historically here, with players who’ve done well against Preston in the past. I remember Ryan Woods had a couple of really good games for Shrewsbury Town when the club was in League One and the fans really liked the look of him. Another one is Romaine Sawyers who always used to have very good games against Preston when he was at Walsall, but I’ll pick Woods.
What’s your score prediction for Saturday?
I’ll go for a 2-0 Preston win – can’t go for anything else!