Preston’s form since mid-November has really caught the eye, with just one defeat in 14 league games. What have you made of what you’ve seen during that period?
It came off the back of a run where they lost four games on the bounce in late October into November; they had a pile-up of injuries at the back, with eight defenders out at one point. You can usually deal with injuries by shuffling the pack, but when it’s centre-halves and full-backs it’s another story. That was the reason for that slump - it was purely down to players coming back from injury that helped pick things up again. Since November they’ve been fine but, if I was to offer one criticism, I’d have to say there are too many draws in there. They’re becoming hard to beat again, as well as nicking a few wins along the way.
Preston’s main source of goals over the past two seasons, highly-rated frontman Jordan Hugill joined West Ham United on deadline day. How much will his departure affect the team?
He got 13 goals last season and had scored ten already this campaign, so you are always going to miss someone of his ilk. At North End it’s been a while since they’ve had a 20 to 25-goal-a-season man, so the goals have tended to be spread out quite well. Hugill is a definite loss, he is such a physical presence and that’s an element that’s been taken away from Alex Neil’s armoury. They won 5-1 at Wycombe Wanderers while resting Hugill and a few other regulars, and then at Nottingham Forest last week when he was left out of the squad with speculation bubbling. They’ve shown that they are capable of playing without him.
You said earlier in the season that Preston would be looking to kick on under Alex Neil after successive 11th-place finishes, so how likely do you think a top-six finish is?
It’s certainly within reach. You look at Preston’s budget and it’s down with some of the lowest in the division, but they were steady in the last two seasons and I think they were always aiming to push on and get into the Play-Offs. Wolverhampton Wanderers are running away with it and Aston Villa and Derby County are both very strong, but I think it’s still very open for the remaining places. It’s anyone’s guess as to who is going to take those next three slots, really. I’m not necessarily saying they’ll do it, but I think North End have as good a chance as anyone and will try to push to stay in contention.
How are Preston likely to set up at Griffin Park?
Alex Neil likes to play a 4-2-3-1. He’s got a preference for a fluid frontline with a striker, a number ten and two wide men. He’s played that system in 95 per cent of games this season with brief changes to 3-4-3 and 4-4-2. Hugill’s departure takes away the physical threat they offered. The challenge for North End in the coming games is to find a different way of playing rather than Hugill holding up the ball to bring others into play.
What’s your score prediction for the game?
I’m going to sit on the fence and go for a 1-1 draw because Preston have got a rotten record at Brentford. In my lifetime – both as a fan and a reporter – I’ve only seen North End win once at Griffin Park, back in 1988! With that history, I’ll be happy with a point.
For the full chat with Dave, exclusive interviews with Emiliano Marcondes and Bob Booker plus all the usual favourites, pick up a copy of BEES matchday programme for just £3.50.