Dave Seddon's verdict: Preston North End 0 Watford 1 - More Deepdale woe for the Lilywhites as Hornets take the points
Free flowing attacking football and goalmouth action was very much at a premium in Preston North End’s defeat to Watford at Deepdale.
The midweek contest was settled by a penalty, the single shot on target of the whole evening.
Defences were on top, the respective back lines wrapping protective layers around their goalkeeper.
A forward’s challenge in his own box proved pivotal, Tom Barkhuizen tangling with Joao Pedro to give away the penalty.
Pedro bounced up off the deck to bury the penalty and ultimately secure the three points for the Hornets.
North End still had 40 minutes to find a way back into the game after Pedro’s goal.
But as we’ve seen time after time this season, chasing a game is not their strong point.
They are a first goal team, as shown at Blackburn last Friday. Take the lead and more often than not a positive result will follow.
This was a ninth league loss on home turf this season, the fifth by a 1-0 scoreline.
It keeps coming back to those fine margins which managers are so fond of talking about in this division.
At home, Alex Neil’s men often fall the wrong side of those margins.
On their travels they are more robust, PNE’s eight wins up there with the best in the Championship.
Losing narrowly to a side whose fall from the Premier League was softened by the cushion of parachute payments, shouldn’t on its own ring too many alarm bells.
However, the collective of so many Deepdale defeats is annoying and does expose their shortcomings.
When teams take the lead and sit in, North End lack the craft to break them down.
Their success on the road tends to come from exploiting space and gaps left by sides pushing forward.
Such a luxury is rarely afforded when they are the home side.
To be fair to Watford, they ventured forward at 0-0 and did the bulk of the first-half’s attacking play without being too cavalier.
Credit then to North End’s back four who largely kept a talented Hornets front line pretty quiet.
Jordan Storey and Liam Lindsay were very good as a pair in the middle, full-backs Alan Browne and Andrew Hughes dealing well with wingers Ismaila Sarr – valued in the £30m bracket – and Ken Sema.
Last Saturday, Watford had hit Bristol City for six and perhaps with that in mind there was some caution from Preston in their approach.
They were without Ryan Ledson with an injury, so the shielding midfield job was done by Ben Whiteman and Jayson Molumby.
The 4-2-3-1 was back after the use of 3-5-2 at Blackburn and for me, the one up front blunted their attacking intent.
That said, lone striker Ched Evans did have two sights of goal inside the first 17 minutes – the first of which should have been put away.
Whiteman lifted a lovely ball over Watford’s back four to pick out Evans’ run into the box. The striker chested down and volleyed over from six yards.
Back to those fine margins. Had that gone in, we’d have had a different games on our hands.
As it was, the visitors grew in belief and forced six corners before the half-hour mark was reached.
North End repelled that threat well, Lindsay and Storey a big presence at the back.
The layer of rust Lindsay had on his debut has gone if this game and the Blackburn win is anything to go by.
Now that he’s back in the side, Storey will be looking to discover some consistency and display his potential which we’ve seen in patches.
After a goalless first half, the second half was only five minutes old when Watford got the winner.
Sema crossed low into the box, Barkhuizen and Pedro getting their legs tangled with the Brazilian teenager going to ground.
It was the fifth penalty North End had given away since the calender flipped to 2021.
Pedro’s well-struck spot kick beat the dive of Daniel Iversen into the bottom corner. It proved enough to deliver Watford’s first win here since December 1979, some 41 years.
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