An Ollie Watkins goal inside the first four minutes was enough for Brentford to beat Preston North End at Griffin Park and make it eight victories on the spin. The only goal of the game was lashed home by the top scorer in the Sky Bet Championship with just over three minutes on the clock. And that was all it took to settle a very competitive contest between two teams pushing for promotion.
The Bees maintained their third place in the Championship with the win and are now just a point behind West Bromwich Albion, in second, with two games to go. They had to work hard for the win against a North End side looking to secure a top six spot but defended magnificently and kept the visitors at bay. In a game of few really good chances, Brentford deserved their 1-0 win overall and added Preston to a growing list of teams beaten on a record-equalling run.
Brentford started the game superbly. The Bees dominated the opening exchanges and fully deserved the lead that Watkins gave them inside the first four minutes. The goal was a superbly executed and brilliantly taken one. Ethan Pinnock won the ball and Saïd Benrahma burst away on the left before feeding the ball in to Mathias Jensen, who found Emiliano Marcondes. After a few touches, Marcondes delivered a pass with the outside of his right foot in to the path of Watkins, between two of Preston’s three central defenders and he smashed home first time.
The Bees had gone from one of the pitch to the other in a few seconds, Marcondes picked the lock and Watkins lashed in his 25th goal of the season with Declan Rudd grasping thin air. That set up Brentford to maintain control of the first part of the game. They moved the ball through midfield at pace with Marcondes and Jensen linking the play. Benrahma fired over when well placed for The Bees and when Marcondes found Watkins inside the area, he had a shot blocked on the turn with Jensen waiting for a pass.
Preston were forced to defend deep in the early stages. They had five across the back and the five in front of them were chasing the ball. But as the half wore on, they began to get higher up the pitch, plugging the gaps Brentford were trying to play through and looking dangerous when they won the ball. They would have levelled when Daniel Johnson got on to a loose Pontus Jansson pass and found Tom Barkhuizen in the inside right channel. The Preston man got away from Pinnock, but David Raya rushed out to make a smothering block.
Barkhuizen also blasted wide after cutting inside and there was a chance for Ryan Ledson when a free kick was half cleared. His volley was travelling and may have tested Raya but for a fine block from Watkins. With Preston needing to win the game to maintain a realistic chance of making the Play-Offs, they were increasingly positive as the first half wore on and the game was end-to-end at times.
Brentford were having plenty of chances of their own, with the game opening up. Marcondes saw a shot deflect just wide and, following a short corner, Jansson set up Watkins to blast wide. A clever flick from Watkins then appeared to be sending a Jensen pass in to the path of Marcondes but Andrew Hughes made a superb last-gasp tackle to stop the shot.
Raya had to make a good save low to his right to keep out a powerful free kick from Darnell Fisher and, as Preston recycled possession, Johnson then saw a shot blocked. But it was Brentford that came closest to a second goal at the end of the first half. After a series of passes, maybe as many as 30, with The Bees keeping possession and pulling Preston this way and that, space was worked on the left, Rico Henry found Benrahma 20 yards from goal and he played a one-two with Watkins before letting fly, but his powerful shot was well saved by Rudd. The Preston goalkeeper was then alert to get to the ball as it looped up, to prevent Watkins scoring.
There were signs of players from both teams tiring as the second half got underway and the pace of the game was noticeably slower than many in recent weeks. Preston maintained their positive outlook and looked to get as many players in to attacking areas as they could as often as they could. They won a lot of set pieces early in the second period and the balls in to the penalty area did pose Brentford problems.
From a free kick just after half time, a misdirected Pinnock header was in its way towards goal before Watkins cleared deep inside the six-yard box. The ball hit Marcondes, ricochet around the penalty area and bounced out for a corner. Johnson had a shot blocked by Henrik Dalsgaard from another set piece and Raya had to make a low save from Ledson after good play on the right by the visitors.
Preston had their full backs higher up the pitch and that left space for Brentford to exploit. Benrahma and Bryan Mbeumo tried to stay wider and leave space for Brentford’s midfield players to step in to. The Bees were pushed back a fraction but broke quickly when they could and probably had the better of the first part of the second half.
Marcondes had a shot blocked after a free kick was played low. There was then link up between Mbeumo and Benrahma to create a shooting chance for Watkins, but he lashed over the bar. Benrahma then put Watkins away in the left and was there for the return pass, but he curled a shot wide from 25 yards.
Benrahma shot wide after getting on to a Dalsgaard pass and then fizzed an effort just off target after getting on to a Marcondes pass and weaving his way across the penalty area. Preston made a series of substitutions and increasingly played longer, looking to get the ball to newly introduced striker Jayden Stockley. Jansson and Pinnock had to head a lot of balls away as the minutes ticked down with Christian Nørgaard sweeping up in front of them.
Watkins shot wide at the other end after an exchange of passes with Joel Valencia and then, after another long spell of patient possession, Nørgaard found Benrahma and he turned and fired over the crossbar. There was another chance in the dying seconds for The Bees when Benrahma found Josh Dasilva inside the penalty area, but his shot lacked the necessary power to trouble Rudd.
There was some late defending to do for The Bees to get their win and equal the record for most games they have ever won in a row in a single Football League season. A deep free kick was nodded back to Josh Harrop ten yards out, but his header lacked the power to beat Raya. And a late free kick found Patrick Bauer but was headed wide. And that was Preston’s last chance gone, meaning Brentford took the win.
Brentford: Raya; Dalsgaard, Jansson, Pinnock, Henry; Jensen (sub Dasilva 67 mins), Nørgaard, Marcondes (sub Žambůrek 87 mins); Mbeumo (sub Valencia 75 mins), Watkins, Benrahma
Subs (not used): Daniels, Roerslev, Jeanvier, Fosu, Canós, Dervişoğlu
Bookings: Benrahma (63 mins) (fifth of season), Watkins (90 mins) (fourth of season)
Preston North End: Rudd; Fisher (sub Stockley 74 mins), Storey, Bauer, Hughes, Rafferty; Ledson (sub Harrop 84 mins), Johnson; Barkhuizen (sub Sinclair 74 mins), Browne (sub Potts 74 mins), Maguire (sub Bodin 84 mins)
Subs (not used): Hudson, Gallagher, Huntington, Nugent
Bookings: Rafferty (53 mins)