Those four pubs cannily occupying each corner of the ground here were doing a roaring trade on Friday night after the desired combination of three results came off to put Brentford back in the second tier of English football for the first time since 1993 and only the second in more than half a century. Celebrations at the final whistle were actually a little premature, as Rotherham were still alive and kicking in a remarkable game away to Wolves which they eventually lost 6-4. This time, however, there would be no repeat of last season’s traumas when the west London side missed a penalty and conceded a goal in added time of the final game that cost automatic promotion, then lost the play-off final to Yeovil.
It is a remarkable triumph for the manager Mark Warburton, who relinquished his role as sporting director in December to take over from Uwe Rösler with the team fourth in the table and promptly won his first six League games to propel them to the top. Six points behind Wolves, who won here in February, with three games to play, they are unlikely to finish as champions but that did not seem to bother anybody here last night.
Supporters had been urged to take no notice of what was going on elsewhere, advice that went as unheeded as pleas to keep off the pitch at the final whistle. When referee Keith Hill sounded it, cleverly waiting until he was down by the tunnel, many of the Brentford players were engulfed by jubilant fans before emerging again on various shoulders.
Doing their own job was the most important part of the necessary treble and the home side were fortunate that Preston, without leading scorer Joe Garner, were below par in attempting to maintain a run of only one league defeat in 17 games. They are now jockeying for position in the play-offs with Leyton Orient, whose defeat at Crawley today ended any hopes of automatic promotion, Rotherham and almost certainly Peterborough.
Unimpressive or not, Preston felt aggrieved at conceding a penalty just before the half-hour mark that would eventually decide the game. Two minutes earlier George Saville had a claim for a foul ignored and Preston felt that he went down too easily again. This time the penalty was given and Alan Judge drove it past Declan Rudd. Judge then received the punishment Preston felt should have been Saville’s, for diving, and near the end he missed a chance to calm Griffin Park down from a second penalty. It was awarded for Bailey Wright’s silly nudge on Clayton Donaldson, but Judge slipped as he took it, looking down accusingly at the pitch. By that time the word was that Orient were losing and Wolves were comfortably ahead, so the final whistle brought the relief Brentford have been waiting almost 12 months for.
“Credit to the players for the way they’ve applied themselves after last year’s disappointment,” said Warburton, the former City trader-turned-coach. “Had we lost today, nerves would have jangled. Now we’re in good shape to go to the next level.”
Brentford (4-4-2): Button; McCormack, Tarkowski, Craig, Bidwell; Dallas (Grigg, 83), Judge, Douglas, Saville (Diagouraga, 85); Trotta (Reeves, 75), Donaldson.
Preston North End (3-5-2): Rudd; Clarke, King, Wright; Humphrey (K Davies, 70), Kilkenny (Gallagher, 54), Browne, Keane, Laird; Beavon, C Davies (Holmes, 54).
Referee K Hill (Hertfordshire).