Watkins' 25th goal keeps unstoppable Brentford's Premier League dream alive
Brentford 1 Preston 0
Ollie Watkins’ 25th goal of the campaign was enough to take Brentford to an eighth straight win, keeping the possibility of automatic promotion very much on the agenda.
Their seventh victory on the bounce since the resumption takes them to within a point of second-placed West Brom and they can still sneak past the Baggies if the Midlanders fail to win both their final matches against Huddersfield and QPR.
There were no early signs of nerves, and if any were bubbling under the surface, they soon dissolved, thanks to a fourth-minute lead Watkins gave them.
Watkins was spotted hovering behind the last defender and a clever chip from Emiliano Marcondes gave Brentford’s top scorer all the space he needed.
Preston, still with half a shout at a play-off place, seemed to cower at first, but raised their spirits a little when Dan Johnson slipped a ball through for Tom Barkhuizen to scamper onto. David Raya was quick to see the danger and raced out to block.
The Bees keeper was also called into action to save a free-kick from Darnell Fisher which was well struck from distance.
But a spell of possession and crisp passing very nearly ended with a goal from Said Benrahma just before the break – a powerful shot from inside the area being beaten into the air by North End keeper Declan Rudd.
There were a couple of scares for the Bees at the start of the second half, with appeals for a penalty after Rico Henry made an iffy-looking tackle and a goalmouth scramble ended with a clearance off the line.
The last knockings could have been a bit more comfortable. A flowing BMW move almost doubled the lead – Watkins firing just over after smart work from his partners in crime, Bryan Mbeumo and Benrahma.
The Algerian was booked for a dive soon after but he was still the man looking most likely to inflict further damage on Preston. One dazzling run in from the left, with North End defenders not daring to dive in with a tackle, ended with a shot flashing inches wide of a post.
Preston made a triple substitution with 15 to play and one of the newcomers, Josh Harrop, got on the end of a cross to nod goalwards, but without sufficient power and direction to trouble Raya. It was the same with a header from Patrick Bauer in injury time which flew well wide.
Preston were game but did not create the clearcut chance which could have dented Brentford’s promotion trip. A sixth clean sheet in eight games underlines just how hard they have become to break down.
Thomas Frank’s men can do no more than keep winning and hope. It’s Stoke away on Saturday before the finale against Barnsley next Wednesday.
Uncertainty will remain until the very last kick at this rate, but one thing that that is crystal clear is that this farewell season at Griffin Park is not lacking in drama.
Brentford: David Raya – Dalsgaard, Pinnock, Jansson, Henry – Jensen (Dasilva 67), Norgaard, Marcondes (Zamburek 87) – Mbeumo (Valencia 75), Watkins, Benrahma. Subs not used: Daniels, Canos, Dervisoglu, Jeanvier, Fosu, Roerslev