Brentford 3 Preston North End 0 - Dave Seddon's verdict on a disappointing final day at Griffin Park
A campaign which until quite recently teased the possibility of the play-offs, was to end in a bottom-half finish for Preston North End.
The 2018/19 season drew to a close in London for a PNE side which couldn’t muster one last gallop and somewhat flopped over the finish line.
They were well beaten by Brentford, an outfit both pleasing on the eye and still displaying the energy which had deserted their visitors.
Perhaps the higher energy levels were due to them not having played since Easter due to their game at Bolton having been called-off last week.
On Friday afternoon they were awarded the three points by the EFL from the game which never happened, that decision lifting them above North End on goal difference going into Sunday’s game.
Three points separated them by the final whistle and Alex Neil’s men could have no complaints.
For much of this contest they were second best to their hosts, rarely threatening to make an impact.
Defeat capped-off a big slide in results since that damned international break in March.
Prior to that, North End were 12 games unbeaten, a run which included eight wins. The record since resuming action is one win in eight.
Going into the game, the highest finish they could hope for was ninth place. As it was, Preston finished in 14th on 61 points.
That is their lowest finish in their four seasons back in the Championship, seven places lower than a year ago.
If there was some solace to take, Norwich City finished in 14th spot last season and had 60 points - the Canaries won the title yesterday and will be playing Premier League football next season.
No one is saying North End are going to power their way to promotion next year just because Norwich did so from this position but it shows that where you finish one season, isn’t necessarily an indicator for the following one.
We thought they had a good chance of pushing-on strongly from seventh, with the natural step being to the top six.
Although briefly they did threaten to do that, over the course of the season Neil’s men weren’t quite up to the task.
Suspensions and injuries hindered them, there is no denying that.
A case in point was this game when seven players were missing through injury, an eighth was suspended and a ninth left at home to make sure he didn’t get banned for the start of last season.
Nine players missing from a squad of 24/25 is far too many and the Brentford game was by no means a one-off.
What this drop-off in form might do is sharpen minds even more to what the requirements of next season are, where they need to improve.
Neil has been hinting at having a stronger starting XI having put some depth to the squad in place in the last two or three windows.
This game was certainly the longest North End had played this season.
A head injury suffered in the opening exchanges by Brentford defender Julian Jeanvier necessitated more than 10 minutes of treatment on the pitch.
He clashed heads with Jayden Stockley and the way he landed too concerned the medical staff.
Jeanvier went off on a stretcher with a neck brace keeping his head still.
Fortunately he was back on his feet at half-time and was later able to join his team-mates on the pitch for Brentford’s lap of thanks.
Later in the first half a fan was taken ill close to where the dug outs are at Griffin Park which meant a shorter delay.
It meant 13 minutes stoppage-time was added on at the end of the first half.
Brentford scored in that additional time, taking a lead which their first-half play deserved.
They didn’t look back from that, getting a second nine minutes after the interval and a third in the last few minutes.
Did 3-0 flatter them? Not in the slightest. They were a lot better than PNE on the day.
Consider that PNE keeper Connor Ripley made a couple of very decent saves, and that gives you a picture of how the hosts were dominant.
Neil’s men were restricted to bits and pieces in terms of chances, a Callum Robinson shot which was saved in the first half and another from Josh Ginnelly in the dying moments, as good as it got from the point of view of getting on the scoresheet.
It is frustrating that it will be this game we take with us going into the summer as the reference point.
After all, there were spells during the season when North End were very well.
They didn’t put the 12-game unbeaten run together by accident, neither that sequence of of one defeat in 13 through the autumn.
Those two runs were the highlights, containing some smashing results and indeed performances.
But what did them was the poor start and the poor end to the campaign.
There were 812 PNE fans in the away end at Griffin Park, a ground they will visit only once more before Brentford move house in 2020.
One of the 812 was dressed head to toe in Blackpool FC gear, this game forming part of his stag weekend.
If wearing tangerine was not bad enough, the poor soul saw his side slip to defeat.
All three goals were a bit too easy for Brentford.
The opener came when in normal circumstances we’d all be queuing for a pie but the first-half too had much more time to run due to Jeanvier’s injury.
North End twice made a hash of dealing with a corner, which allowed Sergi Canos the space to put in a low ball which Ezri Konsa swept in from six yards.
Canos, a player under Neil at Norwich, was the supplier too for the second.
The Spaniard got behind the PNE defence on the right hand side of the box, his cross lifted into the net by Bees top scorer Neal Maupay.
Brentford’s third goal in the 83rd minute came on the break, sub Marcus Forss fed the ball 30 yards out from where he pushed on a few strides and sent a daisy-cutter into the bottom corner.
Not the finish to the season then that North End had been hoping for – here’s hoping for a more consistent Preston side in 2019/20.