After the EFL’s will-it-be-played-or-won’t-it? Bolton debacle ending, correctly, with the Bees being awarded the three points and a phantom goal, there were plenty of reasons to see off Preston in style. Dignity and pride, for example. The outside chance to register their fifth consecutive Championship top-ten finish for another. Winning the heart of a good woman, too. Okay, I made up the last one, but you get the picture.
Like so many scenarios involving the Bees, the match potentially had the makings of a good, taut movie. What with a 12.30pm kick-off, it could be another High Noon, which is maybe from where I stole the good woman idea.
And although there was no Grace Kelly-like female wringing out a handkerchief at Griffin Park, there was drama enough from the first minute to wonder if Gary Cooper might make a guest appearance.
Defending the first Preston attack Julian Jeanvier climbed high, took a blow to the head and descended like a cast-iron skillet. Much consternation among staff and fans saw a stretcher summoned and after summary medical attention the centre back was carried from the pitch. Fortunately, he would return for the team’s end-of-season lap of honour, but the incident served to emphasise recent demands for a unified concussion protocol in contact sports.
After an 11-minute break Moses Odubajo was substituted to join Rico Henry in the wing-back team and Ezri Konsa moved into the middle of the defence and the experimental pairing of Josh Dasilva and Emiliano Marcondes worked hard to compensate for the absence of Romaine Sawyers’ midfield authority. Luke Daniels did well to save a fierce angled shot from Preston’s Callum Robinson. Konsa, well-placed as he raced into the goal area, fired high, wide and not at all handsomely.
Then, more drama: the stretcher reappeared as a spectator near the Brentford dug-out was taken ill and despatched from the proceedings in similar fashion to Jeanvier. When the fourth official decided 13 minutes would be added to the first half, the game seemed barely to have got going.
Thirteen – unlucky for some. But not Brentford or, particularly, Konza, who after relentless Brentford pressure on the opposing goal found himself in space to score his first-ever goal for the club.
Into the second half with clock ticking, the big hand moving along. Well, sort of. Brentford’s clock, not one of the ticking variety and having no hands, reset itself to zero and for the second time in the afternoon headed off towards 45. Then Sergi Canos, bustling his way to the goal-line, clipped a perfect pass to an unmarked Neal Maupay, who snapped up the chance with the nonchalance that has characterised many of his finishes: 25 league goals – what a season he’s had.
By now Dasilva was impressing more with every blink of the clock, penetrating Preston’s defence with ease and looking as dangerous as a hired gun, while the introduction of Marcus Forss and Jaakko Oksanen in place of Canos and Ollie Watkins, brought fresh ammunition to a final shootout.
It was Forss, the 19-year-old Finn, who settled the encounter, producing a drive from way out west that beat goalkeeper Darnell Fisher, defending the Ealing Road end, for meticulous accuracy rather than pace.
More than 11,000 supporters – the sizeable contingent from Preston, the club that once boasted the services of legendary Tom Finney, the fastest gun of his time, were warmly applauded for their presence – were on hand to see the final reel of the season wind to a close.
Results elsewhere dictated that the Bees finished a topsy-turvy season in eleventh place. Not quite High Noon, but pretty darn close, I told my mate Charlie.
‘Do not forsake them, oh my darlin’,’ said Charlie.
Brentford: Daniels, Konsa, Jeanvier (sub Odubajo), Racic, Dalsgaard, Marcondes, Dasilva, Henry, Canos (Forss), Maupay, Watkins (Oksanen).
Preston North End: Ripley, Rafferty, Storey, Davies, Fisher, Johnson, Gallagher, Maguire (Ginnelly), Browne, Robinson (Moult), Stockley (Nmecha).