Dave Seddon's verdict: Watford 4 Preston North End 1 - Defeat pours fuel on a fiery debate

This was a strange game to call, perhaps not the drubbing the scoreline suggests but at the same time deeply worrying for the Preston North End faithful.

By Dave Seddon
Sunday, 29th November 2020, 7:00 am

The 96 minutes played at Vicarage Road was just the forerunner for the debate which followed in the hours afterwards.

Should the blame be laid at Alex Neil’s door or those above him at Deepdale?

PNE fans seem to be split on that question, a third loss in four games fuel to those who want a change in the manager’s office.

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Preston North End midfielder Ben Pearson challenges Watford winger Domingos Quina at Vicarage Road

Others look higher up to Neil not being given all the tools he needs to work with, the inconsistency of the 2020/2021 season so far down to standing still and not going forward.

Some will think of it as a mixture of both – Neil going through one of the roughest patches of his time at PNE, not helped by some things which are out of his control.

The contract issues of Ben Davies, Ben Pearson, Daniel Johnson and Alan Browne are clearly a source of concern for Neil, a subject he references frequently.

He had the ‘two Bens’ as they are commonly know, back on the pitch together on Saturday for the first time since October 18.

Watford take the lead against PNE as Domingos Quina gets ahead of Jordan Storey

They were North End’s two best outfield performers on the day, Neil pointing out post match that they are seven months away from finishing their current deals.

Strong rumblings of discontent among the supporters isn’t helped by the fact they can’t see the matches in person.

This was the 26th league and cup game they’ve been locked out of, peering at iFollow, listening to the radio and flicking through social media no substitute for the real thing.

Defeat to Watford came on the back of the derby reverse to Blackburn, with seven goals shipped in the two games.

North End defender Patrick Bauer sees his shot blocked by Watford goalkeeper Ben Foster

For 45 minutes, perhaps an hour, the performance was way better than the tame surrender against Rovers.

The final half hour was a tougher watch, the Hornets swarming all over Preston knowing they had the safety blanket of a three-goal cushion to fall back on.

Watford are a good side and will expect to be in the shake-up come the end of the campaign.

Some of their play and movement around the edge of the box was a cut above the norm in the Championship.

North End striker Emil Riis closes down Watford defender Christian Kabasele

That said, it took them a good while to shake the Lilywhites off.

While Watford struck as early as the ninth minute to take the lead, North End had twice gone close before that through Sean Maguire and Brad Potts.

At 1-0, only a good piece of goalkeeping by Ben Foster prevented a Patrick Bauer equaliser.

When the home side went 2-0 up with a penalty which was contentious to say the least, Tom Barkhuizen quickly pulled them back into sight with a goal – aided by a big deflection it has to be said.

Then at 3-1, Preston will argue with some merit that they should have had a spot kick of their own when Emil Riis went down.

Conceding the fourth was to put the game out of reach, Watford toying with the visitors from then on.

It is second place Bournemouth next on Tuesday night, a game which falls very much into the same tier as this one.

Then the attention will fall on the visits of Wycombe and Middlesbrough to Deepdale.

North End had a shortage of full-backs at Watford, more accurately they didn’t have any.

Neil steered around that by changing to a 3-5-2 system, with Scott Sinclair and Barkhuizen playing as wing-backs.

Barkhuizen got the left side in order to track back with Ismaila Sarr.

It is a formation which I think suits PNE’s needs at the moment. Neil is able to keep the engine room staffed with three midfielders, while also playing two up front. Maguire and Riis started together in attack for the first time, the big man/small man combination.

Early on Maguire got some joy, first with a shot from 20 yards which Foster tipped over the bar, then when he got behind the home defence and cut the ball back to Brad Potts who drove an effort just wide.

Soon though, the good work from that strong start was undone by Watford taking the lead.

Declan Rudd made a diving save from Domingos Quina, the ball going out of the box and collected by Jeremy Ngakia on the right.

PNE switched off at this point, Ngakia laying it back to Sarr who delivered a fine cross to the far post when Quina turned it home.

It stayed that way until the 53rd minute when the hosts won a penalty.

Sarr went to ground as he took the ball past Jordan Storey, the footage showing that the winger was on his way down before any contact.

Referee Jarred Gillett, the Aussie officiating in England, pointed to the spot and Troy Deeney drove it straight down the middle above Rudd’s head.

Within two minutes PNE halved the deficit, Pearson’s delightful diagonal ball finding Barkhuizen.

There didn’t look too much on as he came inside off the wing but he worked his way into a shooting position and hit a right-foot shot which hit Garner on the chest and flew past a wrong-footed Foster.

It only briefly gave North End hope though, within four minutes Watford were 3-1 up.

Nathaniel Chalobah took possession outside the box, passed to Deeney and carried on his run to meet Deeney’s clever flick. He lost Potts in the process, running into the box and volleying across Rudd.

The our turn, your turn pattern of scoring might have continued had Mr Gillett had a better look at Christian Kabasele’s tackle on Riis, one which fell into the ‘I’ve seen them given’ category.

It wasn’t unfortunately, with Watford going on to get a fourth with 13 minutes left.

Garner’s corner was helped on by Craig Cathcart, leaving Joao Pedro with a simple finish at the far post.

History which show if this game was defining in any sense but it certainly sparked a whole load of debate.

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