David Healy's injury-time goal last night maintained Preston's excellent home form by clinching an entertaining game at Deepdale which either side could have won handsomely.
Healy pounced in the 92nd minute to make the most of approach work by Paul McKenna and the influential substitute, Pawel Abbott, firing in from the edge of the area with Lenny Pidgeley, the goalkeeper on loan from Chelsea who had made a string of fine saves, apparently wrong-footed.
"I hadn't given it up, because I could see the persistence of the team," said Craig Brown, who was full of praise for the contribution of his match-winning Northern Ireland international. "He's had a lean spell, but he's shown resilience and never let his head go down."
Preston had begun with a furious aerial assault, forcing a sequence of four corners, two or which produced goal-bound headers from Chris Lucketti that Pidgeley had to keep out acrobatically. Watford survived that to shade the first half with Scott Fitzgerald having a good header saved and Paul Devlin twice being denied.
The introduction of Abbott at half-time changed the complexion of the game with Brown reshuffling his formation to put the young striker alongside Richard Cresswell, with Healy playing just behind and the versatile Eddie Lewis switching to left-back. Abbott's first touch set up Healy for a shot which he drilled narrowly wide. If that was not enough to announce his arrival, he underlined it a couple of minutes later when Graham Alexander put the ball into the box and Abbott poked it into the far corner.
Watford had been enterprising throughout, so it was no major surprise when they equalised after the hour. Fitzgerald set it up with an angled delivery into the area which caught the Preston defence flat-footed, leaving Danny Webber a simple side-foot in.
Both sides had opportunities after that, perhaps the best of them when no one could capitalise after Dickson Etuhu's powerful header came back off the goalkeeper.
It looked like ending in an honourable draw, but Healy scored his third goal in three club matches, leaving Watford's manager, Ray Lewington, frustrated. "I don't know what we've done to deserve it," he said. "We've played our part in the match and created chances and come away with nothing. A draw would have been a fair result, but if anyone was going to win it, it looked like it would be us.''
Preston North End (4-4-2): Gould; Alexander, Jackson, Lucketti, Broomes (Abbott, ht); McKenna, Etuhu, Keane, Lewis; Healy (Davis, 90), Cresswell. Substitutes not used: Lucas (gk), Cartwright, Lynch.
Watford (4-4-2): Pidgeley; Kelly, Cox, Gayle, Brown; Devlin, Hand, Ardley, Vernazza; Webber (Cook, 81), Fitzgerald. Substitutes not used: Chamberlain (gk), Dyche, Smith, Dyer.
Referee: A Penn (West Midlands).Reuse content