Discord for Watford as Nugent wields axe

Watford 0 - Preston North End 2
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The Independent Football

Tom Finney was still playing for Preston the last time they sat at the top table of English football, but after 45 years on the outside they are close to a return to eating with the élite again. This win, extending their run to just one defeat in 16 Championship games, was inspired by the hypnotic skills of midfielder Paul McKenna, who made one goal and scored another.

Tom Finney was still playing for Preston the last time they sat at the top table of English football, but after 45 years on the outside they are close to a return to eating with the élite again. This win, extending their run to just one defeat in 16 Championship games, was inspired by the hypnotic skills of midfielder Paul McKenna, who made one goal and scored another.

Watford, meanwhile, have gone from play-off hopefuls to being in danger of dropping out of the division. They are three points above the relegation zone, have not won for six matches and show little sign of improving. There are enough poor teams below them, however, which should keep them up.

The only way is up for Preston and they have a six-point cushion keeping them in the top six play-off places.

That is not to say they were impressive in this dire game. They were, as manager Billy Davies pointed out, professional, determined and showed the crucial ability to win a tricky game on a ropey pitch, when not playing to their full potential.

"It's all about the three points at this stage of the season," Davies admitted. "It's another game out of the way, but we have to keep going and can't think about the play-offs just yet." To ease the tension, Davies is giving his players a few days off as there are no games this Easter weekend due to the international break. "It could not have come at a better time for us," he said.

Watford's best chance of getting an edge on Preston probably came and went in an early 10-minute spell when Preston were reduced to 10 men while striker Eddie Lewis was having treatment on a cut above his left eye.

Preston were well on top once both sides had the same number of players again. The poor quality of the game, apparent throughout, was highlighted by the appalling finishing of Watford's Heidar Helguson and Preston's Lewis, who both failed to hit the target from good chances in the last minute of the first half.

At least there was a decent atmosphere, aided by Preston's large following and Watford's decision to slash tickets to £5 for adults and £1 for kids. One can only assume they were charging more to get out and that is why they stayed to see Dave Nugent volley Preston ahead on the hour. McKenna played a pass forward and Nugent struck with a low right-foot volley from the edge of the area.

Watford briefly threatened to come back, but any hopes were dashed when McKenna scored Preston's second in the 71st minute. He was the beneficiary of a neat square pass from a Graham Alexander free-kick before finishing with a low shot from just over 20 yards out.

The 2,000-strong Preston contingent spent the rest of the game singing about promotion to the Premiership, while the Watford supporters lost their voice, apart from a few calling for the head of manager Ray Lewington.

He said: "We've had our chances to pull clear, but now it is going to be tight. The players are going to need to show a lot of character to dig us out, but we'll keep pushing and encouraging them to get the points we need."

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